Creating the music of Electric Desert

Tuesday, March 12 2019
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Creating the music of Electric Desert
By Julian Grefe

I spent a lot of time sitting with the idea of Electric Desert before we got to actually working on the arrangements. I had taken a trip out to Arizona as well to just sit and 'be' there... to see how it sounded naturally, how it smelled, how it felt. I had done the same thing at Longwood Gardens, but Desert Botanical Garden is a bit more organic and exotic than your normal European-style botanical garden, in my opinion.  

The staff at Desert Botanical Garden were very open to Ric and Klip doing what they love to do, and do well. I spent a lot of time in dialogues with Ricardo about how to best represent his vision. It was a ton of work, but overall a truly joyful experience, and I think it shows.

I used Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey as further inspiration for organizing the vibes of the discrete areas. The desert can be a very mystical place.

There were very elemental themes throughout the pieces... air, fire, earth, and — most evidently — water. Both in the figurative and literal senses; both musical themes and actual sampled environmental sounds.

For instance: Gillian and Jon's vocals on “Secrets” are all AIR. Breathy and sustained. A nod to the 'Aleph,' but also the thin and quiet desert winds. I had began working on that piece the afternoon of my father-in-law’s funeral, so there's a bit of melancholy in there, but it's balanced out by the lilting vocals.

“The Meeting” is all EARTH vibes... low rhythmic pulsing. A very Pink Floyd moment. In the Garden installation there are 5 channels with the arpeggios all circling at different rates to create a kind of vortex.

In the Cactus Gallery, “A Sticky Situation” has WATER vibes to really showcase the animated cactus.

“Opening” is FIRE-ish... dancing lights with skittering electric sounds.

… and Metempsychosis, at the Butte, is all of these things coming together.  

Regarding the players...

The only piece not written by me was “The Phoenix” by Thomas Fehlmann. Thomas is a musician living in Berlin, who most famously was one half of the legendary electronic music act THE ORB, although he’s an accomplished producer in his own right. His influence was key in my musical upbringing, and his work is loved by Ric and many other of the artists at Klip. I was lucky enough to be introduced to him by the musician Sheldon Tompson, who was the Surround Engineer for the “Metempsychosis” and “The Meeting.”

Mary Lattimore had contributed to the Nightscape soundtrack and was a longtime Philadelphian, and she was the first person we reached out to as we had such a great experience with the Longwood gigs. She tracked the harp in LA, where she lives now.

Jon Philpot was the singer from the band BEAR IN HEAVEN, which I adored. I had always wanted to work with him, as he is both a great guy and has a killer voice, a bit like Jon Anderson but less groomed. Jon recorded the vocals at Justin Geller's studio in Philadelphia.

Gillian Chadwick was an old colleague from Philadelphia as well, with whom Justin Geller and I had collaborated previously. She was in Scotland working on a record and flew over to the Berlin studios to track vocals on a whim.  

All in all a good time.

On the technical end…

All the pieces are written so that they all work musically in a harmonious manner when they are all played simultaneously. So, if you were to play all of the tracks at once in a program, it wouldn’t turn into a huge jumble.

They are all in lengths that work with each other... all in multiples of 4 minutes. 4 minutes long, 8 minutes long, 12 minutes, 24 minutes, etc.

They are all in keys that are harmonious with each other. C major,  A pentatonic, G, etc. They are all in tempos that are relative to each other, or divisible in ways that work musically. 110 bpm, 55 bpm, 165 bpm etc.

The crescendos of one piece fall in the decrescendo of the adjacent area, so as not to overwhelm. For instance, an arpeggio in one section is followed by one in harmony with it at the same time in a different area. This is to minimize any sort of un-harmonious or cacophonous instances when people are walking through the exhibit. As it's outdoors, sound containment and control is a difficult feat. So, taking into account that there would be some audible bleed, I just worked with it.

• • • • • • •

The CD is available at Desert Botanical Garden’s Garden Shop, and includes Thomas Fehlmann’s “Phoenix.”

The online version of the soundtrack is also available, and it includes everything but “Phoenix.”

Track listing:

  • Opening  (Entry Garden)

  • Secrets (Succulent Gallery)

  • Phoenix (Sculpture Gallery) — CD only

  • A Sticky Situation (Cactus Gallery)

  • The Meeting (Contemplation Gallery)

  • A Breath of Fresh Air – Intermission

  • A Brief Respite – Contemplation Redux

  • Off the Beaten Path 1 – Encounter 2 drums

  • Off the Beaten Path 2 – Encounter 3 guitars

  • Sideways (Sonoran Loop)

  • Metempsychosis – The Electric Desert (Butte)

All songs written and arranged by Julian Grefe for Klip Collective except “Phoenix,” written and recorded by Thomas Fehlmann. Thomas Fehlmann appears courtesy of The Orb.


Jon Philpot: Vocals on “Opening,” “Secrets,” and “Metempsychosis.”

Mary Lattimore: Harp on “Opening,” “A Brief Respite,” and “Metempsychosis.”

Gillian Chadwick: Vocals on “Opening,” “Secrets,” and “Metempsychosis.”

Julian Grefe: All other instruments

Sheldon Tompson: Additional mixing on “The Meeting” and “Metempsychosis.”

Justin Geller: Engineering for Jon Philpot

Thom Monahan: Engineering for Mary Lattimore

Jenifer Gaul: Mastering

All music except “Phoenix” is property of Klip Collective. All rights reserved.

℗ 2018