At the time I started corresponding with multi-instrumentalist, composer, modular synthesist, and clinician Lisa Bella Donna, she was preparing for the release of the album Destinations. That album was released on October 1st. Since that time she has released two more albums Night Shift, which was released on October 12th and Tramontane, which was released on October 26th. If you look at and listen to each of these releases you’ll soon realize the work and artistry that has gone into composing and producing each of these albums. The unbelievable thing is that I don’t think that’s the end of her releases for this year, if I remember correctly there might be one more on its way! (If I’m wrong, that’s still pretty incredible.)
Lisa is a well accomplished musician having been featured in the Moog rollout of the Matriarch keyboard, toured with Boris, spent many years as a session musician and “developing extensive techniques with musique concreté, modular synthesis, analog and digital recording techniques, drumming and percussion, micro-tonal music, orchestration and film composition.” The list goes on and on. I encourage you to check out her website for more information on this artist and her Bandcamp page for all the releases mentioned above and more.
We asked Lisa to pick three albums that have influenced her and her music. Her picks are great and the stories behind each one are equally as great. A fantastic read from start to finish.
MERCYFUL FATE – Melissa (1983) Megaforce Records
Then in the center frame a large red hollow inverted cross. Inside it a dark elusive photo of the vocalist whose name was “King Diamond“.
Seated between two candles, he was adorned with ritualistic face paint and garnished with inverted cross earrings in both ears and a matching large inverted cross necklace. It was alarmingly sticking and immediately sent shudders all through my body. Looking up at the clerk, he chimes in with “this looks like some serious occultist shit or something? Are your parents going to call us and freak out when they see this?” Without answering, I paid my balance, said “thank you” and scurried out of the store making my way through the blizzard to go back home.
Once I arrived, my mother was not too thrilled after seeing the cover and titles. However after some affirmation, she eventually sent me to my room to listen to it.
Then I played it…
‘Melissa’ is one of those rare records and moments of your life that become pivotal cornerstones of your own muse. It immediately became one of mine. I’d never heard or felt anything like it come roaring out of the speakers. It was vicious and intense. Unquestionably urgent and fearless, then at times beautifully seductive in the quieter sections. The arrangements themselves were haunting, moving you through a phantasmagoric forest of feelings and atmosphere. The guitar solos on this record still go unmatched today for being so off the cuff, wild and electrifying. The rhythm section a thunderous and interconnected.
Then I heard these LYRICS as the vocals came soaring through the speakers like some wild, unleashed banshee.
Then at times warning you with deep growling premonitions. It all blew my fucking mind into an entirely otherworldly perpetual dimension.
To this day, I still feel strong electrical surges when this music soars into the open air. For me, it’s the most liberating musical experience in some very mystical way. It’s a monolith of art that’s been truly molten with international purpose. It’s a talisman. There’s an oracle within its resonance that is clarifying for those living on this earth that are outside the confounds of conformity.
This music punches & grinds. It swings and sways through the halls of fearless obscurity. It’s alive and time tested. It is the epistle of the infernal eternal.
JOHN DENVER – Greatest Hits (1973 RCA Victor)
Growing up in West Virginia I was forever an outsider and a quiet, deep, motivated thinker. I basically lived in either a public library or the vast woods and countrysides of my surroundings. I became clearly obsessed with music since age 3. I was initially attracted to hard rock of the era: Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Aerosmith etc. by age 6 I had also become very much into the music my parents listened to: Steely Dan, Gary Wright, Average White Band, Peter Frampton, Seals and Crofts, Pink Floyd, etc When my parents finally split around age 9, my mother remarried. Her new husband, Dana Piersol was a brown eyed, auburn haired, soft spoken yet very masculine man. We moved in with him to his inviting and rustic home out in the country. It was the highlight of my childhood.
Dana worked as an engineer at a local factory and loved including us in his home and simple lifestyle. Dana was rich with many cultures, skills, and knowledge. He taught me how to garden, taught me calligraphy and penmanship. As well as woodworking, fishing, and charcoal sketching. He constantly gifted me amazing books of all these interests and offered himself as a patient resource. He used to wake me at 4am on autumn weekends to go fishing and hiking through the Allegheny. He had a dry and adorable sense of humor, much like Garfield whom he adored.
This brings me to my favorite part about Dana Piersol. He had the most amazing record collection. Which was in an open natural open wood floor room. The long, two tiered walnut record case was handcrafted. On top of it was a Phillips turntable and an Advent amplifier. All facing out a long pane glass window facing the countryside. Advent speakers spread far and wide on each side of the windows beautiful view.
Every morning and evening, I would join Dana in either one of the rocking chairs and he would expose me to such a beautifully diverse array of music. Usually accompanied with stories of his own discovery of each artist or of episodes of witnessing many of these legendary artists in concert.
This was between 1981-1984. Dana turned me on to the likes of: Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bach, Ravel, T2, May Blitz, Fairport Convention, Chopin, XTC, Adam and the Ants, 999, Dion, Donavon, Ralph Towner, Oregon, Niel Young, Jan Garberek, Pat Metheny, The Byrds, Blind Faith, Bedlam, Gordon Lightfoot, Nick Drake, Mandrake Memorial, Wendy Carlos, the list goes on and on, far and wide…
One of the recordings he put on was John Denver’s Greatest Hits. Initially, it was one of the ones I disliked and deplored. “Thank God (I’m a country boy)”?? C’mon, give me break! At that young age, I just wasn’t having it. However I remember Dana stating “When you’re older, there are many other songs on this record that you’ll come to identify and empathize with”. I didn’t listen or seek it out again for 25 years…
When the untimely sad dissolution of my mother and Dana’s marriage, Dana pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to gift me his entire record collection. I couldn’t believe it. It was an extremely bittersweet turning point. I so enjoyed my times with him as much as the music. However I accepted his kind and generous offer and i still have nearly half of those records in my collection with his last name written on them.
Many years later, I went digging in my downstairs library of records to look for something I had maybe missed. I randomly pulled out this record, in fact it was sealed copy. I took it upstairs, opened it up, and sat down with it. Within the bookends of this collection of songs and music, I discovered what I feel is some of the most profound poetry I’ve ever experienced. Timing is truly everything. As ever shifting calibrations of our own life and times correlate with the resonance and affirmations of another’s journey.
I feel John Denver was a true prophet of the 20th century. As well as one of the most singular and prolific songwriters of our time.
To dig into the grooves of his records, especially this one, travels so much much further than meets the eye. It surpasses style or form.
He totally blazes his own personal trail of timeless music. His riffs are even unique and step long outside the confines of popular music.
However his lyrics and voice reach me through me like cascading leaves falling down and floating on a rippling river. Songs like ‘Starwood in Aspen’, ‘Goodbye Again’ and ‘Leaving on a jet plane’ all felt like pages from my book of life’s chapters, desires, rejoices, and challenges. Pieces such as ‘Rocky Mountain High’ & ‘Sunshine on my shoulders’ immediately teleport me to a place that feels like home. He weaves so many timeless & inspiring moments in his words and the portraits they paint. He gives you the keys to the plane of higher existence. He welcomes you into his home of music wholeheartedly with each piece. A conceptual intention I have always felt strong in my own work. You can feel this mans purest intentions through his music. No dependency on stylistic safeties. Just sincerity matched by a strong and naturally beautiful riff.
Most of all, the song ‘Rhymes and Reasons’ which he states in the liner notes “though it’s never requested, is one of his most favorite songs and set of lyrics” evoked a pure and unfiltered epiphany for me. Such radiant, resonant truth & prophecy within it. It was this very listening session that I felt the deep and clear calling to become a parent of a beautiful child. To not allow fear to come first and to be open to the miraculous of the eminent change and beauty they bring into our lives. There is no clarification greater than the connection you have with your children. They awaken our own infinite personal wilderness and allow us access to our own garden of graces. They are the true weavers of dreams and promote harvest of our own fears and disillusionment. They change our sense of space and time in a way nothing else can. There is no desire greater than the circulation you have with a child. This record opened that door for me and so arrived many seasons of both personal and musical changes, healings of the heart, and parting the ways of clouds in the mind.
John Denver was an immeasurable gift to our world and the music that guides the way for many of us that seek the harmonic convergence of the sympathetic resonance which is its truth.
ERJE RYPDAL – After the Rain (1976 ECM/Polydor)
I was turned onto the wild, wonderful world of Terje Rypdal around age 21. My stepdad Dan Piersol’s best friend growing up was a gentlemen named Kevin McGinnis. Kevin and I remained friends through the years. Both as musicians and as kindred music listeners.
Right about this time I began writing and recording my own music with my then new, Fender Rhodes Electric Piano. An instrument that became a milestone along my musical journey.
I had just finished a record of music that I mixed to a high-quality cassette. I telephoned Kevin and asked him if I could stop by sometime soon to play it for him. I always had great respect for Kevin, his musical knowledge and very sophisticated sense of style and taste. He invited me up and we listened to the recording.
He was equally proud and impressed at how far I had come as a young musician. During our post listening conversation he stated that the music reminded him very closely of Terje Rypdal and ECM. I was unfamiliar. This made Kevin burst into surprised excitement and disbelief. He asked if I had time to stay and do some record listening. I of course agreed. So we head up a level in Kevin’s sprawling home where sat a record shelf and system identical to that of Dana’s setup.
Apparently, they both made these beautiful walnut record shelves in shop class together in high school in 1971. Same Phillips turntable and Advent system. Except Kevin had a full quadraphonic setup. I remember an open forest green carpeted living room.
Kevin returns with two ice cold coca-colas and freshly rolled joint. He puts on a series of records that just continued to both equally blow my mind and affirm this unique path of outside music that I was seeking in my own music.
As we sat cross-legged on the floor in center of the four sets of towering speakers, slowly but surely enjoying the emerald essence of the joint, Kevin played me: Terje Rypdal, Eberhard Weber, John & Alice Coltrane Infinity, Magma, Tomita, Vandergraff Generator, and then finally, Kenny Wheeler’s Deer Wan. Unbelievable initiation…I believe during that epic setlist I left and returned to my body numerous times by way of aural time travel. It was truly a shamanic experience for me.
All concluded by Kevin’s sweetness, humble humor, genuine kindness, and always such a classy host. We repeated these sessions over the next couple years. We even spent a few years in a band together with great memories. At one point he offered his finished basement to house my studio when I was having a rough patch financially in my mid 20s. An amazing man and friend. I miss him dearly.
This brings me to After the Rain. Of the many Terje Rypdal records that have nothing short of revolutionized my passion and awareness of music, this particular record has become a mainstay of inspiration as a composer and recording artist. As well as a homemaker and romantic partner. It’s one of those rare, obscure recordings that has this very secretive and transformative way of decorating each moment so beautifully and individually.
Mostly entirely self performed, Terje voyages on through several chapters of autumnal changes. His approach to touch, tone, and taste is very singular and evident through his entire discography. He’s an artist I identify with per comparison the most. He’s sensual and fearless to form. He is clearly adaptive and creative within in many different roles and rapport as both a composer and multi instrumentalist.
I love that most of this record is solely orchestrated. With the exception of his wife adding beautiful voices in many moments throughout the LP. Terje finger-painting with Guitars, Fender Rhodes, ARP String Ensemble, Flutes, Soprano Saxophone, chimes, bells, and gongs etc. all very tastefully and dynamically. It’s crystal clear it’s only about the music not the means, the style or confounds. Also, his harmonic structure always has this very esoteric and personal thread. As if part of a much broader stroke of his entire muse as an entity. He is one of the few artists who are fearless enough to stand naked in their own writing and work. Sometimes his music is richly warm, inviting, and providing many possibilities of reflective comfort. While other times his music can be wretched and remorseful. Lost, alone, and painful without repose. Other times he is playful and sassy, ready to reach for that sense of Miller Time. He’s absolutely brilliant and forever an immense inspiration to me.
I have listened to this record hundreds of times and it always sounds new and different. It’s a beautiful record to forget about your own earnings or hangups about music. It transports you to a place that inspires you to become cognizant with your own environment.
It’s private, yet open to touch and taste. It’s warm and aromatic such as the essence of autumn itself. To me, it’s revealing and erotic, it’s an invitation to undo the laces of our own over calculated and saturated times. To listen to silences as muse as the notes chosen in the space of the music. To open up all the windows and quietly float naked through the peacefulness of your home. It’s timeless and needs no curfew.
It reminds us that not only is time preciously short, but that it’s totally our own. When we exhume our gratitude for our moments, the music simply becomes a frequency modulation of it’s grace through our own resonance.