Alternate Landscapes
(Alchemy Records)


Ambient-fusion guitar composer Jon Durant continues to amaze the music world with his 2019 solo CD called Alternate Landscapes. The perfect follow-up to Jon’s 2017 Parting Is album, the four-track Alternate Landscapes album features several cuts that clock in over 15 and 20 minutes with track 2, “Aragon” being the shortest, at nearly 7 minutes. As Jon has said, Alternate Landscapes heavily accentuates his ‘Cloud Guitar’ technique and as a result, his usual lead guitar sound has been further sublimated into the mix, replaced by ethereal, atmospheric ‘Cloud Guitar’ patterns for which Jon is very well-known. Speaking about the differences between his current solo albums, Jon tells, "The two records are really very different from each other as I hope all of my records are—I really don’t want to repeat myself. If Parting Is was a representation of how I play on a daily basis, Alternate Landscapes is a representation of how far I can stretch the sonic possibilities of the guitar. I very consciously used a totally different palate of sounds for Alternate Landscapes and included some elements that I’d previously used in other contexts but now have running sort of front and center. In particular, the use of synth sequences that I play on the guitar synth. I’d done similar things on the first couple tracks on Burnt Belief’s Emergent and also on a track on the upcoming Edwin-Durant-Kovtun record." Compared to Jon’s work as a member of the adventurous instrumental fusion band Burnt Belief, Alternate Landscapes is yet another compelling Jon Durant solo album filled with impressionistic soundscapes that will surely appeal to listeners that favor ambient-flavored instrumental guitar-centric music. presents a new interview with

: Are you spending more time on the West or East Coast these days? You recorded Alternate Landscapes in your Oregon studio? I imagine it’s much more laid back than the high pressure of the East Coast. Is recording in Oregon more to your liking after living so long on the East Coast?

Jon Durant: I’m spending more time on the west coast these days, but my wife still has a full time job that keeps her from being able to be out there as much. For some reason, I find that the space I inhabit in Portland has definitely had a great impact on my creativity. It’s certainly a more laid-back vibe out there, and a great food scene too! Most of the Burnt Belief records were written in Portland, as well as Parting Is. It’s a small space, and I can’t have amplifiers cranked so I did a lot of the final guitars for those records back East, but with Alternate Landscapes that wasn’t a concern so I was able to do the whole thing in Portland.

mwe3: Can you go further on the explanation of your Cloud guitar sound that you detail on the Alternate Landscapes CD? You xplored the art of solo guitar on last year’s Parting Is album so is Alternate Landscapes a continuation of your current sound or is it something different yet again?

Jon Durant: The two records are really very different from each other. As I hope all of my records are—I really don’t want to repeat myself. If Parting Is was a representation of how I play on a daily basis, Alternate Landscapes is a representation of how far I can stretch the sonic possibilities of the guitar. I very consciously used a totally different palate of sounds for Alternate Landscapes, and included some elements that I’d previously used in other contexts but now have running sort of front and center. In particular, the use of synth sequences that I play on the guitar synth. I’d done similar things on the first couple tracks on Burnt Belief’s Emergent, and also on a track on the upcoming Edwin-Durant-Kovtun record. But there, the synths are background elements, whereas on Alternate Landscapes they are right up front, the way Tangerine Dream used them. The track "Dinkelsbühl" features the synths, the fretless and some other guitar textures as well. And... I used a fun technique that I’d seen David Torn do years ago. There are sounds that I recorded on my iPhone from a train station—trains, voices, etc—that I played on speaker over the active pickup on the guitar, and processed through my guitar rig.

mwe3: Are certain instruments easier to record with while making an album? You have a different lineup of guitars on each of the four tracks on the Alternate Landscapes CD. For example is the guitar synth on the 16 minute track “Systravatn” an easier instrument to track than, say the E-bow guitar sound on the 20 minute track ”Ciel du Cheval”? The E-bow sound brought me back to the mid-1980s again! When did you first discover the guitar synth and when the E-bow?

Jon Durant: Well, each instrument provides its own unique challenges and rewards when tracking. The guitar synth is always tricky as it’s often very unforgiving. But thanks to MIDI, it’s easy to fix little issues that arise from glitches in tracking. I’m using a couple really nice Arturia plugin synths, the Mini Moog and Modular. My first guitar synth was back in 1982, when I got the Roland GR300/303—the one Fripp, Summers and Metheny were playing. The E-Bow is something I got into back in the early 1990s when I was doing a lot of clinics for Lexicon. It’s been a big part of my playing since. And in the last few years, I’ve been playing a lot of fretless guitar, which has a whole different set of challenges but I absolutely love the phrasing possibilities of it.

mwe3: On Alternate Landscapes did you try to get a more vintage sound and does your computer programs allow you to model your sound on some vintage instrument? It’s like pulling vintage elements like guitar synths and E-bow from the past four or five decades and bringing them back via 21st century technology. Virtual reality is here to stay I think. There’s no going back anymore.

Jon Durant: With the guitar, almost nothing gets done in the computer. All the sounds and textures are generated by my guitar and some processors—delay, reverb, etc—that all go to the tracks “live”. I do very little processing after. As for the synths, they’re definitely classics that are being reborn in the digital age. And I can play them on my guitar, which you couldn’t do back in the day!

mwe3: Are you still playing the Koll guitars as you did on last years Parting Is album? What other developments in the guitar world you’re excited about? Is the traditional guitar sound losing its shape as new technology unfolds for musicians in general? You and artists such as Kevin Kastning are truly changing the landscape of the traditional guitar as we knew it.

Jon Durant: Saul Koll built my fretless and electric 12 string guitars, and I play them all the time. He’s currently working on a double neck for me, with a fretless, with sustainiac, and a fretted 6 string with MIDI that will be a perfect guitar for me to do pretty much everything I do. To be honest, I’ve never had much interest in traditional guitar sound. The players who interested me, from day 1 were the ones who made the guitar sound very different. And yes, Kevin Kastning is very cool, and taking the guitar in very different direction from me.

mwe3: VST (virtual sound technology) and other computerized genres is an area in which you said might lose your original voice as an artist. How do you stay creatively focused on your unique sound, both as a recording artist and as a composer, especially in the age of the computer and the internet?

Jon Durant: The secret to any technology, digital or otherwise, is to find a way to manipulate it in such a way that you make your own sound come through. If you’re just pulling up a preset and not tweaking it significantly, you’re not going to find anything new and unique. Now, a lot of people are only interested in sounding like something that they’ve already heard, but that’s what makes me a bit unique... and not commercial!

mwe3: Tell us about your upcoming European journey and your planned recording with Inna Kovtun. When and how did you meet Inna and what can you tell us about the album? Is it progressive rock influenced by Ukrainian folk music? Maybe a first! So you and Colin Edwin are producing the album and any ideas when it will be out on CD?

Jon Durant: The album with Inna and Colin will be out later in 2019. It’s all finished, just mastered it and it’s going to duplication very soon. I’m really excited about the album, it has some of my most experimental guitar alongside some of my most conventional guitar, including strummed chords on acoustic guitar! It’s definitely a unique blend of progressive rock and ambient textures and most of the material began with Inna singing a traditional Ukrainian folk song which we then wrote music around. And then, Inna would redo her vocals, frequently changing melodies and adding gorgeous harmonies. And, we also have several tracks with the fantastic Italian drummer Roberto Gualdi. The closest parallel I can think of musically might be the Cocteau Twins.

The project first got started a few years back when Colin had gone to Ukraine to play with his Ex-Wise Heads project. The promoter connected him with the group Astarta, Inna was one of the singers, and asked if he’d be interested in collaborating with them. When he began building the tracks, he sent one to me seeking my thoughts. I offered to add some guitar, which turned into me playing on pretty much the whole Astarta / Edwin CD. In 2013 we played a festival in Kiev, and then another in London. But shortly after the London gig, everything blew up politically in Ukraine and we thought that would be the end of things.

But in 2017 Colin contacted me, telling me that Inna had sent some new material. This time I was much more involved in the writing of the pieces, and had a much greater role in the whole production. By this time, Inna had started to learn English, so it became much easier to communicate. We mixed the album in November 2018 in London at Grand Cru studio.

mwe3: Tell us about going to Estonia to record and perform with Robert Jürjendal. What type of music will that recording entail? How did you meet Robert and what’s your opinion on Estonia and also Ukraine and have you been there before?

Jon Durant: I’m really excited about heading to Estonia—it’s supposed to be very beautiful. As for the music, it’s experimental ambient guitar music. With the phenomenal trumpet of Alexi Saks as well. Robert and Alexi have a group called Uma, who have done some wonderful records over the years. They were also part of Slow Electric with Tim Bowness and Pete Chilvers.

Robert and I have known about each other for a long time, but we began to get to know each other when he did a record with Colin a couple years ago and I was asked to do the cover layout. He suggested that we should try working together, and we started sending files back and forth. And while we like what we’ve got, we realized that we really want to do this together, live, so that we can fully interact as improvisers. Also, Inna Kovtun is joining us, so we’ll get some very interesting vocal timbres as well. She’ll mostly be improvising, which she did to great effect with the English band Darkroom when we were in London.

mwe3: How about working with Stephan Thelen of the Swiss band Sonar on his solo album Fractal Guitar and how did that develop? You recorded your part in Oregon? I know Stephan had a whole range of great guitarists on the album including David Torn, Barry Cleveland and more.

Jon Durant: Stephan and I have been talking for a while now, trying to find a way for Sonar and Burnt Belief to maybe get a small European tour together. Alas, that never materialized, but when they played a gig in Kingston N.Y. with David Torn, I went and finally got to meet him in person. Shortly after that, he mentioned that he was working on this solo album and asked if I’d be interested in contributing. I was thrilled that after all these years, this was the first time Torn and I had played on the same record—and we’re on the same track! I did my part in Portland, and when I did it, the piece was much shorter. After I sent my parts, Stephan and Marcus Reuter expanded the structure to make room for Torn and Marcus to do their thing. So my clouds got looped, moved, manipulated as they needed. It’s a really cool piece in the end.

mwe3: How easy is it in your world to record an album with 5 musicians recording in 5 different studios? 25 years later I'm still amazed that technology is the future of man's evolution. Also, can you fill us in on your next musical moves.

Jon Durant: It is a remarkable thing that we can do this remote recording process and have it work well. Still, nothing beats being together in the studio, working together as a cohesive whole. I’m just finishing the production of my brother Kingsley’s new record, and we tracked the whole thing live in the studio as a band. Steve Hunt (Allan Holdsworth) on keys, Baron Browne (Jean Luc Ponty, Vital Information) on bass and Vinny Sabatino (Burnt Belief) on drums. There is an amazing vibe on the record that could never have happened if we’d done it remotely.

The Edwin-Durant-Kovtun record was tracked remotely, but the process of mixing it together made a huge difference. It’s also why Robert and I decided we really wanted to work together in a live context. In some ways, technology is a great enabler but music requires more than just the tech. The human element is required. It’s funny... for a musician known for using technology extensively within his music, I have very little interest in the technology itself. It’s only a vehicle for me to put forth the sounds I’m hearing in my head.


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