Liner Notes from the Vinyl edition of Spark Of Being.

Posted by: Dave Douglas on September 23, 2010 @ 8:18 am
Filed under: Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts), Spark Of Being

Just this week it was reported that scientists created synthetic life from computer-generated genomes. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein foresaw the dangers and the responsibilities of life science and its link to one of the most fundamental and eternal questions about existence: What does it mean to be human? The impact of technology ups the ante in crucial ways. Science now pervades every aspect of human activity, including music and the arts.

This session is special for me because it represents a new way of working. For one thing we spent a week in California in a beautiful old mansion on a hilltop in Santa Clara County. That helps explain the relaxed quality to the playing. For another thing, the music was imagined in tandem with the creation of the Bill Morrison film Spark of Being, while watching clips and considering thematic elements. Finally, the integration of electronic music with live improvised forms became a part of the compositional process as never before. Most of the sounds here were created especially for this piece; many of them stem from sonic building blocks created in the refurbished villa that houses CCRMA, the Center for Computer Research in Music and acoustics at Stanford University.

The music for Spark of Being was written around these themes, with empathy for Shelley’s creature, reflections on the circumstances of his creation, and the nexus between human creativity and technological innovation. On EXPAND, the second collection of these recordings, Keystone the band tears into the themes with relish.

On the song Spark of Being note the sonic palate DJ Olive has cobbled together from several sound sources, sensitively enfolding one of the first melodies I wrote after watching Bill’s film clips. Creature Theme brings together several of the main melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic motives interwoven throughout the score. Several of the rhythms were derived from Morse code; the main melodic idea was written during my first visit to the Stanford campus. Tree Ring Circus is a feature for drummer Gene Lake and he takes the constantly shifting rhythms to a whole new place. For me this piece is about growth and change. Fittingly, Bill brilliantly matched it to a sequence on the creature’s emotional and scholarly education. Observer is a canon that was orchestrated by Adam Benjamin in GarageBand using all the splendid native sounds inherent in that application. Adam masterfully catches the quirks in the melodies and manages to highlight them on the most unlikely synthetic instruments. The rest of us come in and try to play like humans. Chroma is based on understated dance rhythm and represents awedding scene in the film. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland plays a particularly poignant solo here. The version of Travelogue on this album shows the playful energetic push and pull of Brad Jones on the baby bass, along with willing collusion from Gene and Adam. For the soundtrack, Prologue is played simply as a theme with little improvisation. For EXPAND we decided to record a version of the tune with solos on the form, opening up the possibilities inherent in the melody.


  1. Wish the liner notes from the boxed set were this easy to read. The booklet with the box set is beautiful, but your graphic designer make some typeface choices that make the text all but impossible to read for older eyes. Some of us older folk need bigger text and more contrast (black text on red background – uugghh!).
    The booklet reminds me of cd’s that chose to reproduce the liner notes from the back of an lp, only shrunk down to cd size. Never could read those either. Great music of course and the book IS beautiful, just wish I could read the notes.

    Comment by Gary — September 24, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  2. We’ll be sure to post the box set liner notes here soon!

    Wish it was all on LP… But as a certain young person said to me today, on seeing the Spark of Being vinyl: “Wow, that’s cool. Do people have things that play that?”

    Glad you are enjoying the music. So fun making that.


    Comment by Dave Douglas — September 24, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  3. Hey guys – love the recordings! Now I wanna see the movie. Just saw Decasia via NetFlix and was amazed. Anybody know if and when Spark of Being will be released on DVD for general consumption?

    Comment by Marvin Collins — September 29, 2010 @ 5:04 am

  4. Hey Marvin,

    Bill’s work is amazing. Glad you saw Decasia, there are also great pieces of his at youtube and at his Hypnotic Pictures site.

    Spark of Being, the film, is under consideration at some of the film festivals and for theatrical release. But you can see a screening with live music on October 7 in Minneapolis, or in New York on October 24. Also European shows coming up, listed here:

    We’ll be sure to shout about it when the film comes out for distribution.

    Glad you are enjoying the recordings.

    Comment by Dave Douglas — September 29, 2010 @ 6:55 am

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