Welcome to my website. Here you will find eighteen records of solo, improvised acoustic and electric guitar music.
The first of these recordings was made in Delhi, India and the final one in The Gambia and Senegal. I have also wandered around the U.K., Norway, Finland, the United States, France, Germany and Iceland in my quest to find and record in interesting locations and environments.
As much as is possible, I have tried to bring the whole of myself to this music. Working in unfamiliar environments can bring a new dimension to the process of improvisation as I attempt to adapt to them.
I am currently involved in a new recording project which develops as my time allows. There is no completion date for this record. This is an experiment in itself - all of the recordings mentioned above were made spontaneously and are presented here without any added overdubbing or mixing. The new project reflects an attempt by me to produce a recorded work which is the essence of my experience. Quite when this will be realised by me is unknown; this is the main aim of this experiment. The record's working title is "God Is Love".
Please do contact me if you would like any additional information on this music or if you wish to use it for commercial purposes by emailing svenhenryolsen@gmail.
Please note that I do not employ Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform.
Through Christmas carols, this recording tells my story of Christmas 1974 when I lived in Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire.
After 36 years, I returned there on December 13th - 14th (2013) to make this record.
The weather was foul as I recorded, the rain fell in buckets and the wind from the sea blew so fierce and cold that I had to retreat to the calm of my car, where I tried to play in the most cramped of conditions. The Eden guitar is no small-fry and neither am I so, as per usual, I used what I had and did the best I possibly could under the circumstances (at one point, I gave up trying to hold a plectrum and simply hammered the fingers of both my hands onto the fretboard).
In September 1974, I was eleven years old and had started to attend a dreadful grammar school in nearby Poulton-Le-Fylde. The school was populated largely by monsters, teachers (‘masters’) of the worst and most brutal kind, and pupils whose behaviour was increasingly praised the more disgusting it became. By Christmas, I was desperate to get away from the place. I remember the bus journey from the school back to my home at the end of the last day of term and I was elated and totally relieved to be free for the next two weeks.
It is this journey that I have tried to capture in the music, 36 years later, retracing the original route. The feelings I had on the journey home that day came back to me so vividly and powerfully that once again I became the terrified little eleven-year-old who was so alone and desperate to return to the safety of his native North-East, back to Gran and Grandad, Cullercoats Methodist Church and my old accent.
I am used to facing my inner demons on a daily basis but making this record was quite a test. I’m not sure if the music is good or bad but I’m pleased that it is now made and in your ears, should you choose to listen to it.
Please note, I intend no irreverence to these sacred pieces of music.
This album, recorded at dawn on a chilly 17th November 2013, was simple and enjoyable to make, sitting as I was on a little ‘head’ in Morecambe Bay just behind the fabulous art deco beauty of the Midland Hotel. My Father, Jim, had turned 80 the previous Thursday 14th November and I had driven him to Lancaster from Stratford-Upon-Avon so that he might say hello and goodbye to his birthplace. He has always admired the Midland Hotel and, as a young boy, he dreamed of staying there now he was, in Room 217. I found out later that I had recorded at the exact spot in the Bay where he used to paddle in the shallows with his Mummy and Daddy.
The previous day, Saturday, we had walked around Lancaster and visited some of his old friends and neighbours, one of whom, Nellie, remembered him as a 2 year-old toddler and called him "Jimmy". She is now 92 and has lived in the same two-up-two-down council house since it was built in 1927. So when I recorded, early that morning, I had a head full of voices and as the sunrise shone its grey light on the incoming tide, I felt a gladness that was both welcome and refreshing.
The cover of the record shows the top window of the room in the John O’ Gaunt pub in Market Street, Lancaster to which Dad was brought back from the midwife’s house after his birth. The rear cover shows him with Nellie, at No.3 Richmond Avenue, Lancaster.
My rather grand(iose) introduction was Northern end-of-pier intentional, but my voice is so rough in the early-morning that I sound like a Capstan Full-strength/Whisky-voiced comedian, backstage in his dressing room at the Palace Theatre. Or perhaps I’d lost myself in the part...
'A Yard Foot And A Thick Wide’ is one of Dad’s sayings and always comes out when we are measuring something together. His favourite Spoonerism is “A Shistol Pot!” and he will often ‘Inposstigate the Vestibilities’ He swears blind that he knows a man called Hamilton Sandwich. Or was it Athelstone Popkiss?
This record is for him - Happy Birthday Dad.
This recording was made in my kitchen at 10.32 a.m. on 2nd July, my Mother's time of death; again on July 5th in the Council Cemetery in Stratford-Upon-Avon, by her grave and in a small chapel nearby; and finally, on July 12th, the day of her funeral, again in my kitchen.
The Eden guitar was used throughout and I recorded it with my Neumann and Coles microphones. On location,the DPA and Core Audio mics were used, plus one Neumann KM86 for a distant ambience mic.
In my opinion, this is my most successful recording to date and I am very pleased with all of it.
In my experience, one of the hardest parts of my bereavement was coming to terms with the idea that the rest of the world would be unaffected by my loss. As I walked through Stratford-Upon-Avon after the service, I watched the people in the streets chatting about nothing, on their mobile 'phones, or getting cross that someone had taken their parking space or looking at a pair of shoes in a window and wishing they could afford them. If only they knew, I thought, but then why should they know? Death is upon us every minute of every day and there is no way around it.
I have been an unwilling athiest for many years now, even before I knew what an atheist was. The Spirit of God, any God, has never filled my heart or my soul, nor has it ever popped in for a quick how do, not even when I have undergone trauma, tragedy or appalling loss. As I move ever closer to my own grave, I wonder if I will ever have a genuine religious experience; this idea was unattractive when I was in my twenties, but now that I am in my fifties, I have become fascinated by the possibility of a genuine epiphany.
My father believes that my mother is in heaven and has gone to glory. I believe simply that she is dead and her ashes are buried six feet beneath my feet, as I write this, standing as I am by her little burial mound. My father's faith gave him the strength to come to terms with her death; my lack of faith left me floundering in the low-tide sea of nothingness.
I just hope I die well and I hope I don't die before I get old.
This album was made at home, in my kitchen, which is fast becoming my favourite place to record when I am making my indoor/static recordings.
It's quite a large space and the walls and the floors are very hard surfaces, so there is a lot of 'early reflections' and big mids. Remarkably, there are no parallel surfaces.
There is a little more of a compositional method used in these tracks because I deliberately chose a guitar which I thought would suit the 'image' of the piece. Notable too is the fact that I played electric guitars again, with amps and effects pedals.
The music documents a very important relationship in my life of which I was one half. The relationship ended for the best of reasons but against my will and I miss it still, although there is no going back.
Although the record is presented as one piece, there are 15 sections each played on a different guitar. Now that this album has been recorded, every one of these guitars, with the exception of the Eden acoustic, has been placed in storage. It is my intention to leave them there for one year so that my only available instrument will be the Eden 8-string acoustic guitar. This will be an interesting experiment.
You may know that "Gudbuy T' Jane" is a song which was recorded by Slade, written by Noddy Holder and Jimmy Lea. I am old enough to remember the release of this record and when concert footage of the band performing the song was shown on that week's Top Of The Pops, I watched it on a Rediffusion, black-and-white, valve-powered television set in the front room of my boyhood home in the North-East.
It was a magical, wonderful and beautiful moment for me. I remember telling myself that one day, I would be in a band, on 'Top Of The Pops' but that I'd have to stand at the back because I was fat.
It's interesting for me to think about the instruments which were played on this album. The Gibson ES 175D and the ES330 have been my studio instruments and, as such, have been used on many recordings. When I came to play freely on these guitars, I couldn't avoid cliche and dreary repetition (these guitars simply refused a new approach), preferring instead to play it/me safe. This is why the Eden and MaSh guitars have been so successful: they have never played jazz, rock and roll or rock or reggae or any other type of musical form. There is no precedent.
However, I was pleased to play a Fender Stratocaster copy which incorporates a tremelo arm (or a 'whammy bar' - it's actually a vibrato device). This piece yielded some pleasing results, probably because I have very rarely played this guitar and never used the trem arm.
So, to me, this album half-works, half-fails, but thanks for listening or thanks for trying to listen. Email me if you'd like details of the guitars, pedals and microphones used.
This recording was made on 14th February, Valentine's Day at just after 9.00 a.m. It was released at 1.10 a.m. on February 21st, just as I was, fifty years ago.
On the scheduled day of the recording, both my children were ill with 'flu, but, lying in my bed in the loft room of my house in front of a James Bond movie, drinking iced water, they were quite happy to let me have an hour in which to record in my kitchen. Here is the first problem with this record - it wasn't made privately or anonymously, but as I always say, things are never ideal and I believe that my skill as an artist is tested by being able to work in difficult and less-than-ideal conditions. That said, the recording situation was wholly representative of my present-life circumstances, that particular morning. I do try to live in the moment, in the here-and-now, even if it means that I couldn't find out how to turn off the damned freezer, which burped and farted throughout the whole recording.
The week before the recording day, I had placed 50 A4-sized photographs on my kitchen wall in chronological order, the images depicting my birth to the present-day. I then played to each photograph for one minute only but not with pauses between pieces. Here is the second problem with this recording: I had to keep looking at my computer to monitor the time spent on each piece. This was especially difficult to manage. Therefore, although there are fifty pieces, the music is one fifty-minute piece in itself. These fifty images are shown in the slideshow which can accompany the recording. One of the images is shown as a blank, because I want to protect the privacy of the person to whose picture I played.
Just before I started playing, the photo of the car-crash fell off the wall. You can hear it on the record. I might believe that it was the ghost of my mother who swept it off the wall, not wanting me to play about an incident which could so easily have killed her, and of which I still think of daily.
I used six microphones to record the Eden guitar - two Neumann KM86s in omni as a spaced-stereo pair in front of the guitar, a Coles 4050 stereo microphone placed over my head and looking down onto the soundports on the upper-bout side, an AKG C60 with Telefunken M7 (cardioid) capsule looking straight at the guitar and at the height of the front soundhole, and another AKG C60 with a CK26 omni capsule for a room mic pointing up and to the left-side of the recording area. I also used the internal DPA 4060 omni mic within the Eden guitar (The Neumann KM86s are wonderful microphones. If I had to choose just one microphone, then this would be it).
The ambient noise on the recording is unavoidable, as it was recorded in a large domestic kitchen, therefore the best I can hope for is that it gives you, the listener, a sense of place. However, as I've said before, the lo-fi approach/aesthetic of recording free music is certainly not for me. (The idea that lo-fi recordings are more 'democratic' and less bourgeois is simply nonsense).
This recording was many months in the planning and preparation but took exactly fifty minutes to record - a little like Christmas shopping, which takes months and then the opening of the presents, which takes minutes. The presents never look as good in the front room as they did in the shop because the anticipation has gone and one is left with the bare reality of the goods. Only then is the cost regretted. But it does feel like I have waited all my life to make this record. The collection of world-class microphones, the design of my ultimate guitar, my life-experience (or world-weariness) with all its joy and pain, love and not-love and money or none, the vision and the hearing of my own music and its execution - it all came together on this morning, or so it felt. Three hours after I had played the last note, I wanted to try again, but, wise man that I am, I had broken down all the equipment and taken it back to my studio, knowing that I would indeed want to do another take, but knowing also of my hatred of setting up recording sessions! You live and learn. Mixing the record was easy - I didn't - I put all the faders up to unity gain and mixed straight down to two-track stereo. No compression, eq, limiting, plug-ins ... nothing. I didn't even master to my old Revox A77. What you hear is what I heard through my headphones when I played. Watch your ears, mind - those dynamic peaks haven't been tamed. The other reason for this approach is that by the time I came to mix, I'd developed the 'flu bug from which the children were suffering. As a consequence, my ears were blocked and I didn't dare make sonic judgements in such a condition. Engineers please note: I DID check the phase of my mics!
The phrase, "The first thought is the best thought", is often used in Improvised music, but there are times when I feel that I need time to get used to "something", so that my conscious mind may rest and be distracted or become lazy. Or that I can dream. This is the third reason that this particular recording fails - I was under so many pressures of one kind or another that I was unable to dream. However, as mentioned above, having unlimited time was against the brief and I had hoped that these time constraints might help the whirlwind musical journey that I had in mind, but I'm not sure that my brief allowed me to inhabit the music as I usually do.
However, this record now exists. If I hadn't recorded it, it wouldn't. So, however I now regard it, it is done. And so, for the time being, am I.
This recording was made in a small cabin in Natvika, near Älesund in Norway, on 31st August 2011, a few days after the car-bomb detonated in Oslo and the murders took place on Utøya.
I heard the news on BBC TV and was stunned - the Government Building, which was shattered by the blast, is where I had made my first Norwegian record ("North By North East") in the basement. My friend Emil Nikolaisen's studio is right behind the building. Immediately, I called Emil. He answered.
"Thank God you are safe", I said. He was very shaken and told me that something was going on on Utøya but he didn't know exactly what. "It's war", he said.
In this recording, I tried to play how this conversation with Emil sounded and then how I felt afterwards.
These recordings were made between 18-20th February 2011 in Helsinki, Finland. My hotel room was another wonderful example of a cheap downtown room with a tiny bathroom and old radiators thickened with years of cheap paint. The outside temperature in Helsinki was -29 °C when I arrived late at night and on the Friday morning, I rushed to the Stockmann department store to buy warm clothes, just as Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) does when he arrives in Helsinki, in the 'Billion Dollar Brain' movie, directed by Ken Russell. This film has been one of my favourites for a long time and the score by Richard Rodney Bennett is superb. I quote the main theme throughout the album.
This was a difficult record to make, not least because of the extremely cold conditions outdoors. Walking around Helsinki was no mean feat either, covered as the pavements were with at least an inch of black ice.
During the recordings made on an icebreaking boat in the Gulf of Finland, I suddenly realised that the little finger of my right hand had actually frozen to the top of my guitar. I became quite frightened. There is a photograph of me making this particular recording in the photo gallery. Nearly three months later, my little finger is still quite numb to touch. Cold air is very dangerous and I now have great respect for sub-zero temperatures. When working, I noticed that I was quite slow in my movements and worse, the freezing conditions effected a mental depression in me very quickly. I really had to push myself to get anything done, as I would have preferred to stay in my hotel room, drink hot milky coffee and keep warm. As I did not wear gloves when playing, holding a plectrum and striking and fretting the frozen strings of the guitar was sometimes very painful indeed.
The title of this album, 'Sisu' means 'Guts' in Finnish and I believe that the Finns are very gutsy people, to be able to live and be happy in such a cold place.
This record, made in Reykjavik, Iceland in April 2010 was made all the more interesting by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. As I touched down at Keflavik Airport at 5.00 a.m., after a lousy and badly-delayed flight out of London, the authorities closed all the airspace over Iceland and the UK, so my first thought upon arriving at Keflavik was "how am I going to get back home?"
I had two full days to record - a luxury. Day one was spent scouting for locations and sleeping off the crappy journey and I recorded on day two, using my new binaural microphone system with my Edirol R44 field-recorder. I also used the internal DPA 4061 mic and the Schertler contact mic, both of which are installed inside my Andersen Little Archie LANCS guitar. The binaural system consists of two miniature omni-directional microphones which are clipped onto each side of my reading glasses, just in front of my ears.They record very life-like ambience and give the listener a very good impression of my surroundings when I record.
A week before I left for Iceland, my daughter drew a picture for me and told me that I should put it in my guitar case and look at it whenever I felt lonely.The title of the picture was "Family Love In Reykjavik".
My first location was a small lake right in the middle of Reykjavik called Lake Torvein. This is where all the small children come with their mummies and daddies to feed the ducks and the geese. I played a duet with the geese whilst watching the young families and I began to miss my children and get more worried about when I was going to see them again as the flying ban was total and didn't look like being lifted anytime soon. By the end of this segment of the recording, I was in tears and gulping big sobs but was very comforted by the fact that none of the onlookers seemed unduly concerned about my presence and seemed pleased by my musical attempts.
Perhaps my favourite part of the record is the recording I made in the bathroom of my hotel room. I had two hours to kill before I began my eight-hour journey to Akureryi airport in the north from where I would (hopefully) fly to Glasgow. The cold water tap in the bathroom dripped incessantly, a ticking clock, reminding me that I had time on my hands and that I was far from home. I was utterly miserable and very lonely so I tried to play how I felt, accompanied by the dripping tap. I can hear my frustration coming out in the music as I beat on my guitar. The Andersen is scarred for life after enduring this recording.
Iceland is a magical place and I want to go back there soon. Next time, I will take my wife and children.
This record was made in a disused studio very close to where I live in London. I had noticed on a previous visit to the studio that the recording room was very quiet indeed i.e. it excluded most external ambient noise and that, as a result, I could hear my tinnitus loud and clear. Tinnitus is a horrible thing to have to live with. Mine was caused by a Primal Scream gig in Nagoya, Japan in 1990 just after I had had my ears de-waxed. The onstage sound at the gig was terrifyingly loud. I woke up in my hotel room later that night and realised that the ringing in my ears wasn't going to go away (it usually did). Twenty years later, I have come to accept the condition somewhat, but it's still scary and it's here to stay. Tinnitus can make me much more sensitive to loud or persistent noise and the ringing in my ears can get much worse when I'm stressed or when I drink alcohol. As soon as I walked into the studio that day, my 20 year-old tinnitus made itself very apparent.
I used the Andersen Archie with the DPA 4061 and the Schertler contact mic which, at this time, was mounted outside the guitar on the top by the bridge. My Rode NT4 mic was used to record the room ambience. Unusually, I plugged the Schertler into my Silverface Fender Princeton Reverb amp and managed to coax the guitar and amp into feedback. Amazingly,the feedback was at exactly the same pitch as the ringing in my right ear, which is the worst affected.The music came very naturally and I was very glad to externalize my tinnitus through my guitar. Through the making of this recording, I also realised how upset I am about having tinnitus. Never again will I be able to experience silence. However, I was also relieved that I had been able to turn a negative into a positive. As a result, I'm very proud of this record.
This record was made in Belgium in two WW1 cemeteries. The first, 'Caesar's Nose' is near Ypres and the second, which didn't appear to have a name is in Mont Noir, right on the Belgian/French border. The Andersen Archie now had the DPA mic. installed in a different position, velcro'd to the inside-back of the guitar and pointing up and out towards the soundhole, rather than pointing across the soundhole, as it had been before. Also,a Schertler contact mic. had been installed in the body under the bridge. Some of this album was recorded with an Edirol R44 Field-recorder, which I had purchased because my Macbook Pro was NOT designed to be used in the snow and rain! I also used a Rode NT4 to collect stereo ambience.
This album was made under harsh conditions. It was raining hard sometimes and the wind was whip-cold. The Andersen did not respond well to the chilly winds: like me, it seizes up in cold weather, but we got through it somehow.
I usually make these trips on my own, but on this one, my friend, the writer and broadcaster Tom Blass was with me. Tom took the shots which were used for the front and back covers of the album and I think he captured the misery of the Caesar's Nose Cemetery. This burial site was originally in No-Mans' Land between the English and German fronts. It was a very sad place in the wind and the rain and it got to me. Whilst playing, I imagined my own son being sent to these killing fields and 'falling' - dying in agony, choking to death, face down in the shit and the mud, dead finally, in a rainy field in Flanders. And for what.
By the time we had arrived at the Mont Noir location, the sun had come out and I rejoiced in the beautiful little walled garden in which those poor soldiers are buried, playing to their gravestones, which quickly became my silent audience.
The sheer amount of gravestones in some of these cemeteries is awesome and shocking. I can recommend this experience to anyone, at any time.
A note about my outdoor clothes: I choose my working clothes carefully. I wear Meindl walking boots, lightweight waterproof hiking trousers and I swear by my Rab Generator softshell smock, which is featherlight and amazingly warm and windproof. As I become more ambitious in my choice of locations, my clothing will become more and more important, particularly when I start to camp at remote (and very cold) locations all over the world. I also choose my recording equipment very carefully to minimize weight but to maximize sound-quality. I try to produce audiophile-quality recordings - no easy thing in adverse weather conditions.
Recorded on the Andersen Archie with the internal DPA 4061 mic. My new Calton case for the guitar was a great purchase.
Made in August '09, on my son's 4th birthday, in Disneyland Paris, this was a fun record to make because of the cat-and-mouse games I played with the security staff there. It was very hot and a lot of people were curious as to what I was doing, but no-one came near to talk or to argue/rant/smile etc. The security guards were too snobby to move me on. Perhaps if I was Sting they may have had me arrested. Obviously,I just wasn't important enough...
This was a quickly-made album, recorded in just one morning, over a number of different locations within Disneyland. I was interested in the relationship between my cynicism for the place and my children's pop-eyed wonderment at the spectacle of the theme-park, particularly as they watched the night-time finale/parade. I concluded that they were happy, so I was happy. My son, Shadi, introduces the record. I usually do this as a tribute to Prince Buster records.
My neighbour, the poet and writer Berta Freistadt called me one Wednesday afternoon after she had returned from a short stay in hospital. She had been told that her cancer was terminal and that she had weeks to live. Her condition was made much worse by her advanced Parkinson's Disease. During the 'phone call, she asked me if I would like to bring my children to her garden to pick apples from her tree. We agreed that we would all go over to her house on Sunday morning and make her an apple pie with cinnamon and raisins - her favourite.
Berta died on the Saturday night. We never did get to pick the apples, or make her pie.
On being told of her death, I waited until her body had been taken from her house and then let myself into her kitchen, where I made this record. I do try to take myself out of my 'comfort zone' when I work - it's all part of the music, but this was something else. Her damp clothes were still drying over the Aga and there was fresh catfood in a bowl for Bluebell. Her downstairs deathbed was unmade and there was an opened carton of milk on the table. Then I saw a note written in terribly shaky handwriting, attached to her fridge by a magnet, to remind herself that the Olsens were coming to pick apples on Sunday morning ...
I had made a short recording of solo guitar four or five years before Cowboy Sari was recorded and I gave Berta a CD of the music.
"Give it a listen", I said, "and tell me ... er ...".
"I will", she said and closed the door quickly, a very private person who wasn't keen on the unexpected ringing of her doorbell.
A few days later, an email appeared in my Inbox. 'Only three tracks?' it began. 'Berta.' it ended.
Her encouragement was enough for me to continue with my solo playing, even when everyone else thought I'd lost my mind. When she died, it made me all the more determined to keep making my music. And I will ...
This record was made in Oslo, Norway in three different locations: Takkenheimen Studio,'The Bunker' and on Akker Brygge, on the downtown waterfront. At Takkenheimen, the Andersen Archie was recorded using an old RCA 'Birdcage mic. pointing at the bridge of the guitar, a Josephson 'Steve Albini' model condenser over the soundhole, a Broyer large-diaphragm condenser mic collecting room ambience and my new DPA 4061 lavalier mic which was mounted in the soundhole of the guitar. On this location, I brought with me my new AKG 701 reference headphones, together with my Focusrite Saffire LE Firewire Preamp and my Mac laptop. At 'The Bunker', we used a Shure SM8 mic, a Brauner condenser for ambient sound and the DPA internal mic. At Akker Brygge, I used only the DPA internal mic.
I had wanted to record in Norway for years and jumped at the chance when my good and long-time friend Nick Terry invited me over there for a weekend in the Spring of 2009. Nick had been mixing a record in Oslo for Serena Maneesh, a band from Norway fronted by Emil Nicolaisen, whom I took to straight away when I met him - a wondeful man. I had a beautiful, tiny room just by the waterfront in a cheap little hotel which was so charming. Led by Nick and Emil, I recorded first at The Bunker, a large underground space owned by Madrugada, Norway's biggest band. This 'room' had the most incredible sound and I sat facing a corner and played and played - I couldn't stop. Then Nick and Emil took me to Emil's studio - Takkenheiman, a wonderful, small studio, full of vintage recording gear, underneath Norway's version of No.10 Downing St. The studio is built into a nuclear bunker, under the Parliament building. I was tired suddenly and played weakly and I hadn't put the laptop into record mode so none of the music was recorded. I was bothered by this and despite being invited to a lovely dinner with some very kind and friendly people, I was introspective and ruffled. And exhausted.
Next morning, Sunday, I walked down to the Akker Brygge waterfront at 6.00 a.m. and started to play, looking out over the water. Halfway through the recording, the church bells started to chime and I began to play a duet with them. Unfortunately, the DPA didn't 'hear' them as I had intended and the bells were very quiet on the stereo master recording. There was talk of recording in a mausoleum - Frode from Madrugada told me about this wonderful space - but I ran out of time ... I can only spend three days maximun away from home.
Later that day,I met up with Emil and Nick and went back to Taakenheimen to record again. I don't like to do this usually, to go back to an already-visited location, but I loved the studio so much that I wanted to get the space 'on record'. This time, I pressed the record button and lost myself completely in some of the most minimal music I've ever played. Then I dashed to the airport and flew back to my family. A very memorable weekend and some good recorded moments.
My Mother would stand me on the little beach in Cullercoats Bay, in the North-East of England and point out to sea. "Over there", she would say, "is the land of milk and honey. When you are old enough, get out of this dump and go and live there". 'There' was Norway. I am a mummy's boy; I ask my wife if we can move there at least twice a month but she always refuses. "It's too cold ", she says. She was brought up in a desert.
I set up all of these components and went to bed, leaving everything powered up and ready to record first thing in the morning. The session started minutes after I had awoken at 7.00 a.m. with me playing in my pyjamas, yawning and scratching, half-asleep. I deliberately didn't visit the bathroom before I went downstairs to start. Dad's operation was due to start at 7.05 a.m. so this was when I pressed the record button and started to play. Dad had told me all about the hip replacement procedure and I tried to be 'with him' as I imagined the progress of the operation as I played. That's him on the front cover of the album, playing the MaSh. The rear cover is a photograph of me playing my first ever 'jazz' gig at the Castlefield Art Gallery in Manchester,1985, with my Gibson ES175D guitar.
This album is interesting to me but it was hard to stay 'in the moment' because I kept wondering which guitar I should play next. Nevertheless, it was a worthy experiment, but this was the last time that I used multiple instruments on a single recording. It was also on this recording that I came to the (rather painful) conclusion that I don't much like playing electric guitars and amps.
My third album took me to rural Glamorgan, Wales, where I recorded with my friend Huw Price at the controls. Huw has some beautiful vintage Neumann microphones and microphone pre-amps and is a first-rate sound engineer, so he seemed to be the right person to record my new Andersen Little Archie 7-string archtop guitar, which I had received just before Christmas 2008. We had been discussing where best to record the album, but when I arrived at Huw's house that day and heard the superb acoustics of his downstairs hallway, I decided then and there that this is where we should make the record.
The Andersen was very new to me then and I was constantly experimenting with different types and makes of strings and picks. I also played some guitars from Huw's collection - a Hofner Club 60 guitar through an old Vox AC10 amp, a very old Washburn parlour guitar and a Dearnley Taff Delta also through the AC10. Sometimes, picking up a strange and unfamiliar guitar and recording with it immediately can yield some very interesting results, but it has always been my intention to thoroughly explore a single guitar. At the time of writing, I am 'faithful' to my Andersen Archie.
The track "The Daughter Of The Lady From Ebbw Vale" came out very well indeed and was a turning-point for me in the development of this music.
One day, whilst browsing through the 'Sacred Destinations' website, I noticed a link to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Following the link to the museum's website, the 'Fallen Leaves' installation looked very interesting to me so I sent an email to the Director of the Museum and, three weeks later, was on a aeroplane to Berlin. This album was recorded and engineered by myself using my new Apple Macbook Pro running Logic Audio v.8, a Focusrite Saffire LE Firewire Preamp and a Rode NT4 stereo condenser microphone. Again, I used the MaSh guitar and its internal Schertler contact microphone.
I had been told to report to the museum at 9.30 a.m. and, after a security check, would be able to record until 10.00 a.m. (when the doors opened to the general public). I rang the front door bell at 9.24 a.m. but no-one answered. A burly policeman with a very large moustache appeared and started to shout at me in German. I couldn't understand what he was saying and I became quite flustered until a museum employee came to see what all the fuss was about and, after asking me (in English) what I was doing at the museum, led me inside and took me to the Fallen Leaves installation. I had just 18 minutes left to set up my equipment and make the record!
The kind lady who was supervising me allowed me to play until 10.06 a.m. and then I had to break down the gear and leave.
Then I headed for the Holocaust Memorial in Potzdammerplatz and recorded amongst the monoliths and encountering piss-taking divish students and little lads who, on instructions from their mothers, who were begging, were trying to steal my laptop and microphones. It was such fun and I played until I was told to move on by another large moustachio'd policeman, who was obviously itching to arrest me.
I like to stay in the cheapest hotels that I can find, when I'm on location. Small, clean rooms, decorated in cheap floral patterns without a television are the best. My Berlin hotel, in Stressmanstrasse was a classic. The room was tiny and dark, but scrubbed and honest - perfect. I recorded in the room with all the doors and windows open and played freely whist it rained and rained outside. I can work in all weathers, but the rain is particularly challenging, with all of my electrical gear exposed as it is to the elements.
I was delighted with this recording. The reverberant characteristics of the Fallen Leaves installation were magnificent. I spent a lot of time in Berlin in the mid-1980's, when the wall was still standing and had developed a fascination with the place. It's very different now but still enjoyable.
This was my first solo guitar album, recorded in April '08 in Delhi at Tarang Studios in the Patparganj District by Vinod Thapliyal. I used the MaSh guitar, which was recorded in stereo using a condenser mic (a Manley?) on the soundhole and another ( a Rode NT1, I think) pointing at the nut. The internal Schertler pickup was used too.
I was quite ill on the morning of the recording date, suffering from food poisoning and I was very tired and jet-lagged too. The drive from my hotel to the studio (a few miles) was a nightmare and when I arrived at the studio, I was an hour late because a cow had settled itself on the freeway and would not (and could not) be moved. I played for about ninety minutes and then stopped the session early as I didn't have the strength to play another note. I was worried about the journey back to the hotel.
This record was very much a first attempt at playing unrehearsed, improvised music, although I had been interested in free music for many, many years.I did 'lose' myself in the music quite well, when I was playing, but I was always conscious of the recording studio and its connotations. The MaSh guitar was a wonderful companion and helped me to develop my 'Indian Voice' quite quickly. Vinod, the engineer said that my music was 'dangerous' and looked quite worried when I started to play. Nowadays, I wouldn't look for another's reaction, but at the time, my habit of seeking approval from 'the other side of the glass' in the studio control room was ingrained in my practice from my session-musician days.
Of all the memorable things I saw in Delhi, I'll never forget the child-beggars, some of whom were missing eyes and limbs. Looking at my two children (who are half-Indian), it was hard not to draw comparisons between the haves and the have-nots and harder still not to feel sad about the plight of these poor little sproggets and angry with a country which 'allows' such destitution. Whether or not this comes across in the music is unclear, but when I was playing, I could think of nothing else.
It was with this record that I launched www.henryolsen.com .The website has been a great success. By the way,the title came from my daughter who saw a tartan sari in a fashion shop in Connaught Place in Delhi. "Look, Daddy! A cowboy sari! ".
These MP3s are for domestic usage ONLY. Please contact by email at svenhenryolsen@gmail for commercial licensing details and AIFF sales.
In 1983, sitting in a library at Salford University, I started to sketch out an idea for an 8-string acoustic guitar. The idea was that the guitar's lowest string would sound at the same pitch as that of a bass guitar or double bass, so I settled on a tuning of E A D G C F A and D and having seen a picture of an ancient stringed-instrument called a Cittern, which employed multiple scale-lengths to the neck, I decided to use a fretting system which later became known in guitar-building as 'fanned frets'.The rationale behind this new design was that I couldn't decide whether to be a bass player or guitarist, so I wanted an instrument on which I could be both.
I remember my guitar teacher chortling as I ran the idea past him one day.'You should buy a double neck and be like Jimmy Page', he ribbed. But I'd already discounted the idea of two necks on the grounds of portablity (and I didn't want to be like Jimmy Page). When I showed him the rough sketches for my design, his reply was unhelpful: 'You can't even play six strings, let alone EIGHT!'. More chortling followed. Oh well. I forgot all about the idea, bought a 'Jazz' guitar, learned how to play be-bop, graduated from university and joined a Rock And Roll Band.
In New York ten years later, I visited Fodera Guitars and asked Vinny to make me a 6-string solid-bodied bass guitar tuned B E A D G C,the low B and the high C strings being of special interest to me. This instrument had 28 frets so the highest note in the range of the guitar was an E, which seemed 'symmetrical' to me. This was the first time I had commissioned a custom-build and I was very excited by the possibilities of this instrument, but when it arrived one snowy Christmas-time, I realised that the scale length (36") and the width of the string-spacing was totally inappropriate for my needs, a serious mistake on my part and a costly one too, but I had learned a very valuable lesson. As beautiful and as expensive as the guitar was, it was totally useless to me.
In the following years, I commissioned more custom-builds, including the MaSh guitar and the Andersen LANCS 7-string archtop and I bought many Gibson, Fender, Epiphone and Klein guitars too. I experimented with pickups, amplifiers, strings, plectrums and many effects pedals before coming to the conclusion in 2010 that what I really wanted was an acoustic 8-string guitar with fanned frets, just as I had designed back in 1983. The task was to find a luthier who could build such an instrument.
There were many contenders for the job but, leafing through the 'Fretboard Journal' magazine one day, I came across an article written by Henry Kaiser about Allan Beardsell from Winnipeg, Canada. An accompanying picture showed a 7-string guitar with fanned frets built in a style reminiscent of a Selmer, 'Modele Jazz' guitar as used by Django Reinhardt et al. I was intrigued and visited Allan's website. Five minutes later, I wrote an email to him asking if he would make my guitar for me using his 4G guitar as the basis of the design. He readily agreed and the deal was done. The guitar was delivered to me on August 2012 whilst I was on vacation in the North-East of England, my birthplace, and sounded wonderful from the off. It is a very inspiring instrument and is a great success. The Eden guitar took its name from the Eden rose but I also liked the connotation of lushness and fertility... paradise ...
I am indebted to Allan Beardsell. To finally realise my ideal guitar is a magnificent achievement and I am very proud of this wonderful creation.
My favourite flower is the Eden Rose and the picture shown was taken by me of some examples which were growing in my garden at the time. I attempted to use the colours of this rose as a template for the colours of the wood to be used in the guitar build.
I chose German Spruce for the top of the guitar because it is so well regarded by luthiers for its tonal and projective properties. Most guitarists view Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia Negra) as the best of all acoustic guitar woods. This wood, however, is now very rare and its harvesting is banned under the CITES Treaty, which also disallows its transport across certain international borders. Therefore, my choice of wood for the back and sides of the Eden was Cocobolo, a member of the Dalbergia family of rosewoods with similar sonic properties to Brazilian.
I chose a very beautiful set from Hibdon Hardwoods in Minnesota, USA.
The fingerboard is unusual in that it is made from Bois De Rose, another rosewood and a beautiful alternative to Indian rosewood. This wood was also used for the binding and the bridge.
Honduras Mahogany was chosen for the neck because it is lightweight, very strong and resonant.
A triangular insert of Pink Ivory wood was placed into the back of the guitar for decorative purposes and to represent the colour of the inside petals of the Eden rose.
(Main details can be found at www.beardsellguitars.com)
The main departure from Allan's usual 4G design was that a pliage was incorporated into the design of the top of the guitar. This was a feature of the Selmer Guitars - the wood is bent down over a hot pipe to provide an increase in tension below where the bridge sits, resulting in a louder and more projective sound.
Although there is no cutaway to the body, there is an indentation in the top so that a 'rest' may be created to allow access to the upper frets.
Two Core Audio omni-directional lavalier microphones are fitted internally to the guitar - one on the tailpiece and the other to the headstock. These microphones record ambience and replace the mics that I wore on my spectacles to provide a binaural soundfield. A DPA 4061 omni-directional microphone has also been attached to the guitar, placed just below and in the middle of the soundhole. These microphones are all wired to a 12-pin jack, which breaks out into three XLR cables.
A 'paddle' tailpiece' cast in bronze was used, as opposed to the more traditional tailpiece, so as to provide a much longer string length behind the bridge. I believe that this increased length adds a primitive form of spring reverb to the guitar.
There are many different ways to approach the making of an acoustic guitar string. The materials used for the manufacture of the core of the string and the materials which are wound around it all impart their own sonic signature. I use a stainless steel core with a hexagonal cross-section. Having experimented with nickel, stainless steel and phosphor-bronze for the windings, I decided to use phosphor-bronze.The gauge (width/diameter) of the string and the core have dramatic effects on the tension of the string and hence its timbre.
My strings are custom-made for me by Neil Silverman at Newtone Strings,U.K. They are of excellent quality.
My pick of choice is a Red Bear Trading Classic 2, extra-heavy gauge, made for me by Dave Skowron at Red Bear. I will practice occasionally use a Michel Wegen pick, named the Inner City in 1.4mm gauge. I have also used picks made by Herco and Dugain. The shape of pick or plectrum and the material(s) from which it is made can have a large bearing on the tone produced by acoustic instruments. I usually choose my pick according to which instrument I play.
The case for the guitar was custom-made by Keith Calton at Calton Cases UK. It is unique in that it is wheeled, which is a great help because the case is neccessarily heavy.
I do not use an electronic tuner to tune this guitar. Instead,I use a 440Hz 'A' tuning fork and tune the guitar the old-fashioned way - by ear.
Top. German Spruce
Sides. Cocobolo,highly figured.
Back. Cocobolo with pink ivory insert.
Neck. Honduras mahogany.
Fingerboard. Bois De Rose.
Tuners. Waverley Black Ebony.
Scale length, Treble. 26", Bass. 30".
Binding. Mother Of Pearl and Bois De Rose.
Made in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Case custom-made by Keith Calton at Calton Cases.
Further information and pictures at www.beardsellguitars.com
'Walking With Angels' - the new album from solo guitarist Henry Olsen, is released this week (14.10.08) and features his iconic 'MaSh' guitar. Harry Georgeson caught up with Henry on a sunny Autumnal day in North-West London.
Can you tell us about your MaSh guitar?
Yes. It was made by master luthier Dave Dearnaley. He has a workshop in Splott, a suburb of Cardiff, Wales and he builds exceptional guitars. I also have one of his Swamp Monsters, in Olympic White, with a rosewood fingerboard. He maintains my guitars for me too. Huw Price introduced me to him in 2006 and I asked him to build the MaSh for me in April 2007.
It has a mahogany body with a spruce top and a one-piece Indian rosewood neck. The wood was reclaimed from an old bank in Merthyr, I believe! The tuners are Steinbergers and there is a Schertler microphone installed inside the guitar, fixed to the underside of the top just underneath the bridge on the treble side.The bridge is pinned to the top and is made of Indian rosewood.
I use Newtone Django strings and a 1992 Dugain rams-horn pick.
The guitar is a new design and is unique. What inspired its design?
I bought a Klein Electric Guitar in August 2006. This guitar was made for Bill Frisell by Steve Klein. When I first plugged in the guitar, I was astounded by the sound and the playability of the guitar. In January 2007, I was lucky enough to acquire another Klein Electric that had also belonged to Bill Frisell. This guitar was the best electric guitar that I had ever played. I had also bought a 1961 Gibson ES 125T, a non-cutaway model with a single P90 pickup. This guitar had a very 'angry' sound and was full of character. So, I asked Dave to build me a guitar that would take the best elements of the Klein guitars and the ES125T. I ordered the plans for a Klein Harp Guitar that was made by Steve Klein for Michael Hedges, from the Guild Of American Luthiers. We met at Huw Price's house in Cardiff one wet Sunday afternoon and took measurements from the Klein guitars, the 125T and my favourite 1962 Gibson ES 330 guitar.
The guitar was ready in September 2007.
Did Dave have a lot of input in the design?
It is his design! I just outlined a concept, an idea; but Dave brought the whole thing to life; ... and that guitar has a life of its own, let me tell you!
You love it !
Well, I have a tremendous respect for the guitar and yes, I have great affection for it too. Sometimes, I don't think of it as a guitar...
When I play a Fender guitar or a Gibson guitar, or a Gretsch or a Danelectro or a Burns guitar, I play a certain way i.e. I use the guitar as a messenger. When I play the MaSh, I become the messenger and the MaSh is the message. It is a very influential instrument. When I was a 'professional' player, I prided myself on being able to play consistently in any environment. My goal was also to sound like 'myself', regardless of the type of guitar that I was playing. These are both highly desirable achievements to most players.
I now try to be as affected as I can be, by the guitar and the playing environment. I've reversed my methods.
There are many sympathetic resonances and overtones in the MaSh.
Yes. These 'wolftones' are seen as undesirable in guitar design, particularly in acoustic models. The MaSh resonates in E which, as I use standard guitar tuning, can be very useful. Also,because of the geometry of the guitar, when plucked, the string length between the bridge and the tuner on the low E string sounds one octave up from the open string, but has a strange, haunting sound. I use this note frequently.
Do you practice? If so, what is your routine?
No, I don't practice at all and rarely pick up a guitar to play. If I do play at home, I play my 1962 ES 330 TD - I never play the MaSh until it's time for me to record. When I play the 330, I play Beatles songs and Wilko Johnson licks.
Is this because you want to sound fresh, when you record?
Partly, but also because I don't like to think like a guitarist. In fact I'd go further by saying that I don't like to think like a musician any more. Of course,my technique on the guitar and my knowledge of music is ingrained now, indelibly inked into my conscious and unconscious mind, but it is important for me to attempt an unlearning of my learning,if I can put it that way.
What is the Schertler microphone?
Best thing to do is go to www.schertler.com. They are a Swiss firm and I believe that Stephan Schertler is a double-bass player, working in jazz. I use it because I can record outdoors and in noisy environments and it only picks up the sound of the guitar. It's a great sounding mic.
The MaSh is a prototype. Will you and Dave build another, better version?
I doubt it. Dave got the guitar right first time.I have shown him my plans for an 8-string guitar, which would be along similar lines to the MaSh, although the body shape is quite different. The neck would have fanned frets and it would be tuned low to high A, D, G, C, F, A, D, G. The money isn't there to build it at the moment, but I would like it to be built eventually.
The MaSh completely changed the way that I approach the playing of the guitar - it has been totally inspirational and has a unique voice. I think of it as the star of the show. This is why my "Walking With Angels" album is credited as 'MaSh Guitar And Henry Olsen'. I dread losing it, but it's so small that I can carry it with me at all times and it's small enough to take onto an aeroplane cabin.
Yeah, it's a very special instrument!
'Walking With Angels' is now available as a free MP3 download from www.henryolsen.com. You may also like to read another interview with Henry Olsen about the MaSh Guitar, at the 'Building The Ergonomic Guitar' website, run by Robert Irizarry.
Can you tell us about your Andersen 7-string guitar?
Yes. I call it the LANCS guitar, an acronym for Little Archie Non Cutaway Seven. I like that name because my Dad is from Lancaster U.K. and is a proud Lancastrian. I lived in the County of Lancashire for a few years, in 1973-76 and again in 1982-87 and these periods were very important to me as regards my musical development, so the name of the guitar is apt.
It was built by Steve Andersen, who is a luthier based in Seattle, USA. I first played the guitar on Christmas Day, 2008 at home in London.
The story of the guitar starts with Bill Frisell, who moved to Seattle in 1989. I believe that Bill had taken his Klein guitar to Steve and asked him to build an archtop that had similar proportions to the Klein. The result was the Little Archie guitar, which is a standard model in the Andersen line and which Bill helped design.
I own both of Bill's Kleins and after playing them a lot, I had Dave Dearnaley make the MaSh guitar for me in Summer 2007.The MaSh was designed to be an 'acoustic Klein' with a floating bridge and it was very successful. However, I wanted to have a 'traditional' archtop guitar too, hand-carved from solid woods. I asked Steve to build me an Archie but with 7 strings, (i.e. low B and then E A D G B E ), without cutaway, scratchplate or pickups.
The guitar features a European spruce top,with American maple sides and a one-piece maple back. The neck was carved from a single piece of American maple and the fingerboard is ebony. The tuners are made by Waverley and the brass tailpiece was hand-made by Steve. Scale length is 25.4" and with the fingerboard extension, there are 24 frets for the G, B and E strings.
I use Newtone strings and am currently experimenting with gauges and different materials, particularly for the 7th string. I will probably settle on a heavy set, with a 14 on top and a 58 on the bottom. The 7th string will probably be a 72. At the moment, I am favouring Phosphor-Bronze strings with a round core.
For this guitar, I am using Custom-made Red Bear picks, made by Dave Skowron at Red Bear Trading. They are slightly smaller than the 'Classic 2' picks are are of light gauge, with grip holes and a standard bevel.
To amplify the guitar, I use a DPA 4061 miniature microphone, attached beneath the soundhole. This leads to a Focusrite microphone pre-amp and then into the desk for live work or to my computer when I record.
Why did you omit the cutaway and the fret-position dots from the neck binding?
Steve had sent me some photographs of the top and the back before he had cut out the cutaway. I fired off an email to him to ask if he'd be interested in omitting the cut. He replied that he would... so it's as simple as that really. I had an idea that the symmetry of the top and back plates would help the sound, but the jury is still out on that one! I asked for the dots to be omitted because I relish the idea of conscious confusion when I'm playing. I've noticed that I rely heavily on fret markers when I play my other guitars. The idea was to keep the guitar design as simple as possible.
To be continued...
Klein Electric Guitars #022 and #104 were formerly owned by Bill Frisell, as were the American Standard Telecaster and the Japanese Re-issue Jazzmaster. Klein #104 is the guitar used by Frisell on 'Nashville', and 'Good Dog Happy Man' and many other recordings. Klein #022 was the guitar that Bill used on his album 'Have A Little Faith', one of my favourite records.
The Fender Jazz Bass was given to me by Fender Guitars as a gift, for me to play on the Primal Scream World Tour of 1994/5. It is my main bass guitar and has been used by me on hundreds of recordings and gigs.
The Fender Precision Bass was given to me by Beth Orton after my Fodera Imperial VI Bass was stolen in Nashville, whilst on her Autumn 1997 North American tour. This Fodera was replaced by the Anthony Jackson Signature Model. The Imperial Bass has never surfaced. There is a substantial reward for any information that might lead to the recovery of this guitar. Please contact my website.
The Harmony 'De Luxe' archtop was sold to me by the actress Dame Thora Hird for five new pence, in 1973.
The 1962 Gibson ES 330 TDC is the guitar that I always play at home. It has the fastest action of any guitar that I have ever played.
The 1977 Fender Stratocaster was my first 'proper' guitar,bought by me, aged sixteen, in 1979. Originally finished in 'Antigua', it has been through many refinishes, but finally, I treated it to a Dave Dearnaley refin.
The Jerry Jones Bass 6 was first played by me on the 'Dixie Narco' E.P. by Primal Scream,in 1991. It was bought for me, in 1999 in Memphis Tn. by my fiancee, later my wife Hooria. Formerly owned by the producer Joe Hardy.
The MaSh acoustic guitar was made by Dave Dearnaley in 1997. It was with this guitar that I recorded 'Cowboy Sari'.
The Lovetone effects pedals shown are now highly desirable amongst collectors. I was one of Lovetone's first customers - the Brown Source pedal shows serial no. #0001!