Alex Skolnick Tours Some of Planetary Coalition's Musical Wonders

March 17, 2015

“The opening bit to ‘Island in the Sky’ was something that I had for a while and was finally able to incorporate into a composition,” explains Alex Skolnick. “I hold down a seventh position Bm9 chord [Ex.1a] and arpeggiate it with a series of harp harmonics—something associated with the late, great Lenny Breau, but that I first heard on a Tuck Andress record. The key to the fluidity of the lick is the C# to B pull-off on the high E string. [Ex.1b]

“I’ve always enjoyed working with altered tunings but never had the opportunity to fully explore them in a recorded setting until now. For ‘Passage to Pranayama’ I tuned the G string down a half-step to an F# which acted as a perfect-fifth tamboura-like drone when played with the open B string. Playing these chords against the open strings creates mystic- sounding chordal harmonies [Ex. 2]. The song’s 7/4 improvisational vamp is based around a B5 line with a Spanish Phrygian feel [Ex.3]. It’s something I used to put in my looper and just improvise over. Many of the song’s melodies were written this way—just based on improvisation [Ex. 4].

“The opening chord progression in ‘Salto’ has a slow, rolling triplet feel. On the recording, I drop my guitar down one whole-step then drop the low string another whole-step to make it a dropped-C tuning [C, G, C, F, A, D low to high] although it’s demonstrated here in dropped-D. The chord changes in the first three bars are suggested by the descending chromatic line on the fourth string, while the last bar is built around a first-inversion Dm chord arpeggio with an open G string interspersed [Ex. 5].

“The final example [Ex. 6] is part of the theme to ‘Negev Desert Sunset’ In order to play it, you need to tune the B-string down a whole step to A. The benefit of this approach is the unique timbre created by the doubled A note voiced first as an open-string pull-off to the second string, then as a fretted note on the third string.”

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