Moving Parts
(Chickadee Music)


Fifteen years ago, in the Spring of 2005 reviewed Poor Player, at the time the new album by Mortimer Nelson. Then in 2011, the web site reviewed Mort’s 2010 album Slow Times. Sure it’s taken a while but now in 2020, Mort is back with Moving Parts, another captivating album of solo acoustic guitar magic. The sound on Mort’s 2020 CD is consistently challenging, yet he totally succeeds in keeping the listener fixated on his wondrous sounding solo acoustic guitar compositions by playing intricate parts with arrangements that keep moving. Memorable melodies tastefully collide with Mort’s masterful acoustic guitar work and the results are both striking and totally sublime. Much like the fascinating album cover art, Mort’s new music moves with clockwork precision, yet, no matter how many times you listen, the steady pace will keep you in an endless state of meditative awareness. In Mortimer Nelson’s capable hands, the solo acoustic guitar serves like a modern day classical guitar instrument and the results make for a beguiling musical experience. Because Mort’s approach to recording his guitars are so free form, some may compare Mort to soundtrack maestro Ry Cooder, especially as there’s a very Americana sound and style to this music. With a dozen guitar instrumentals that clock in at 56 minutes, Mortimer Nelson gives the listener a very introspective listening experience on Moving Parts. presents an interview with

: Where are you from originally and where do live now and what do you like best about it? Is music still the international language in your opinion?

Mortimer Nelson: I’m from Detroit originally and grew up by the Detroit River. My first travels were virtual, to places where I imagined the freighters along the river were going to. I’ve been in Seattle most of my life so it’s home now, though it's changed considerably, and living the life of a retired transit worker. I do the tourist thing sometimes but mostly I head out to my cabin in the hills when I can. As far as the idea of music as the international language, I wouldn’t argue with that but I’d add that each culture has its unique contributions to enrich that language.

mwe3: The world has changed so much since reviewed your album Poor Player back in 2005 and then in 2011 we featured Slow Times. What have you been doing since those days? How do you look back on those two albums and how would you compare those two with your 2020 album Moving Parts, both musically in the writing and also in the recording aspects? I also saw your albums Well and Acoustic Syndrome. Are those more recent?

Mortimer Nelson: Poor Player (2004) came out of my time on the coffee house circuit. By the time Well came out in 2007 I’d pretty much abandoned public appearances and focused on writing and recording, setting up my own studio at home. I did a bit of double tracking on Well, adding guitars and bass. Acoustic Syndrome was the album I planned to do next but I got my thumb caught in a window I was trying to close on a bus I was driving. It takes a year to grow a new thumbnail so I wound up recording the slower and softer Slow Times (2010) instead. I did Acoustic Syndrome in 2015.

Moving Parts, the new CD, like Slow Times is a solo guitar album except for “Slipstream”, which has a synth track, but Moving Parts has a different sound than any of the others because I moved from steel to nylon strings and used a tremolo effect. The album is available on Bandcamp, at some point I'll move the other stuff there, at least what I have.

mwe3: Moving Parts captures your ears right away with the lead off track called “In Play”. Does that track capture the spirit and imagination of the new album? There seems to be a fascination on this album with things that move or things that act like cogs, which is another title on the Moving Parts album. Did you synchronize the music to play into that concept of music that moves like a clock and also is there a kind of theme or inspiration running through the Moving Parts album?

Mortimer Nelson: I never used a click track before, but I did a little experimenting and, yes, I used a metronome on “Cog”. The fact that it has a strict 5/4 beat, though the timing changes after the intro, gives it even more of a mechanical feel.

I don't think any one track captures the spirit of the whole album. “Optional Variations” also uses a 5/4 figure but has a very different feel to it. The title track is called “Moving Parts” partly because though it’s a unified piece with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s made up of modular chunks that segue into, loop back, and refer to each other with subtle variations. “In Play”, like “Rudimentary Rhapsody” runs through some twists and turns so I thought it was a good way to kick things off. You could say that “Reverie”, “Merging Shadows” and “Patulous Corridors” are also meant to be ‘moving’ in a different, more emotional sense. Shadows and light, play and reverie, human and machine, interact, and I think the music reflects that.

mwe3: How long did it take to write and record the new album and what can you tell us about your studio that you recorded the album in? How did you record your guitars on the Moving Parts album and do you use amps or do you record directly into the board?

Mortimer Nelson: I work sporadically, so once I had the music more or less nailed down it took several months to get it recorded. I set up a pair of cardioid condenser Neumann mics in front of the guitar, which, for Moving Parts, was hooked up to an old Lexicon 100 processor and a small Ashdown amp set up behind the mics. The mics are run through a Presonus tube pre amp and an interface into my laptop. I use an old 2-track version of Sound Forge to edit. That’s the whole kit.

mwe3: You have worked with other players and producers before. Did you specifically want Moving Parts to be totally you without any outside production or influences by other players? How did you self-produce the new album?

Mortimer Nelson: It's always pretty much been me. It's all about control. I usuallly have a good idea of what I want to do, and find that it's easier to just do it myself. I self-produce the CDs online. I send the files out, I get a CD back. Of course, it’s not that simple, but it’s all doable. It’s a little more complicated these days because I’ve lost some high frequency hearing and can’t really master my own tracks anymore.

mwe3: Is that your guitar in the Moving Parts album art and design? There are also images of gears or cogs in the art. Does the art and album title fit in perfectly with the music? What guitars are you playing on the Moving Parts album and how has your choice of guitars changed over the years? Are you still playing the same guitars on Moving Parts that you featured on your earlier albums and can you remember your first guitars?

Mortimer Nelson: That’s the main guitar I used for Moving Parts on the cover, a factory Taylor 812 ce-N. I took the photo of the headstock against the wall of my studio on my phone. This is the first album I did with a nylon string guitar, and now that I have an acoustic nylon that I can plug in that I like, I may never go back to steel. I also strung an old Taylor 412-ce with nylon strings and to my surprise got a nice sound out of it. I used that on a couple of tracks as well. I’ve gone through a lot of guitars, mostly factory built mid-range Taylor steel string acoustic-electrics that I’ve been using for recording up to now.

Actually my first instrument was piano. When I was a kid I’d spend a few minutes working on my piano lessons and then start improvising. I guess I made a racket in our small house and ended up getting banned from the piano. In retaliation I took my sister’s guitar, a cheap _ size Gibson with an adjustable saddle. I still have it. She’d play “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano while I worked out “House of the Rising Sun” and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” on the guitar. It wasn’t exactly the Partridge Family, but that’s how I got started on guitar.

mwe3: Is it easier in 2020 to put your music out there, more than it was in 2005 or 2011? What do you make of CD Baby stopping the sale of CDs and what made you switch to bandcamp?

Mortimer Nelson: If CD Baby, or anyone else, could still make money selling everyone’s CDs they’d still be doing it. They’re not even selling downloads now. If you’re an indie musician you’re on your own, and the online landscape is always changing so you have to adapt. Bandcamp and similar sites at least give you the option to use their website to sell your music. They take their cut, but it’s a far cry from the shameless exploitation of musicians by the big companies. It’s important for people to realize that if you’re not buying from the artist or from a site like Bandcamp, you’re not doing much to support the music or the artist.

mwe3: What do you make of this 2020 pandemic? It’s been so tough on musicians and those music venues where they perform. Do you have any forecast or prediction about this period in music history?

Mortimer Nelson: Seattle had a lively coffee house scene until it dried up almost overnight in the mid 1980’s over alleged copyright violations. Apparently the performing rights orgs hired a guy to go to the venues and wait for a performer to do a cover… one of the venue owners told me the guy identified himself as a UW music professor. He’d then go to the owner and demand a monthly payment to the PRO’s. All of a sudden I had no place in town to play.

It can be pretty devastating for musicians to be shut down like that and lose their audience. For me it was okay in the end. I was about to get married, had rent to pay, and the demand on solo acoustic guitarists was for the alt tuning fingerpicking, new agey stuff that was in vogue then. I wanted to develop as a composer and I could do that on my own. Just the same, it’s a challenge for a musician to develop without an audience.

Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, I would guess youtube will continue to profit from people staying home, but a lot of struggling musicians are not going to have an easy time finding an audience online, much less be able to make a living from it. Others will no doubt find ways to adapt to the new reality.

mwe3: Much has been said about your musical influences. In the earlier reviews I mentioned artists such as Stefan Grossman and even Leo Kottke. Even so, your style is very unique in its own right. Are those influences accurate in your estimation? What era of music did you grow up in and did you grow up in the Beatles era. They were one of the first bands to prominently feature the acoustic guitar in their music.

Mortimer Nelson: It’s hard to know where to start. It’s a cliché to say that so-and-so came on the scene and changed everything but in the case of the Beatles it was literally true, so I followed the Beatles like everyone else at the time. I also followed hard rockers like Jeff Beck, Hendrix, and Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5, but as a guitarist I gravitated to folk-rock of that era: records from Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, Donovan, Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention, etc. Blood, Sweat and Tears had an album in 1968 that featured “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie”. That was a revelation to me.

“Wormhole”, a track on the Poor Player CD is a nod to Kottke. Another favorite guitarist is Stefan Grossman, who I met in Seattle in the mid 1970’s. He invited me to do some solo recording on the label he had at the time, Kicking Mule. I resisted because I was putting my efforts into a group I was in. We recorded what we thought was a killer demo and sent it off to Italy where Stefan was staying but it got lost in the mail and we managed to lose the only other copy. Also around that time I saw a concert by an unknown guitarist, Pat Metheny, and that was an ear-opener. That’s just a few of my influences.

mwe3: Can you list ten albums that inspired you over the years and also what artists of today do you like and that can be any kind of music and also some guitarists your feel have broken ground over the past 15 years...?

Mortimer Nelson: There’s been an explosion of so much young talent that I really can’t keep up enough to comment on more recent developments on guitar. The techniques and technologies that guitarists use these days are amazing. Of course at the end of the day you still have to make music out of it.

So here’s a random sample of albums that inspire me, in no particular order:

1 The Essential Chet Atkins
2 Bill Evans, You Must Believe In Spring
3 Latin American Music for Two Guitars, Sergio and Odair Assad
4 Blue Bell Knoll, Cocteau Twins
5 Le Secret Des Muses by Nicolas Vallet, Eugene Ferre lute
6 The Guitarist John Williams
7 John Fahey, Return Of The Repressed
8 Sunken Condos, Donald Fagan
9 Duke Ellington, The Pianist
10 Jerry Byrd, Steel Guitar Favorites

mwe3: So with the 2020 release of Moving Parts, what other plans do you have for this year?

Mortimer Nelson: I’m working on material for another CD, but who knows what the future holds? It’s always a surprise...



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