Goodparley aka Oli Richards, follows up Meditations Vol. 1 with a 2nd instalment.
‘Meditations Vol. 2’ is a second volume of guitar improvisations from Goodparley, the alias of Cardiff-based sound artist Oli Richards, and follows an earlier collection released by Wormhole World this year. With the six pieces compiled on ‘Meditations Vol. 2’, we once again find ourselves listening to the delicate sounds of Richards’ contemplative guitar playing, each piece recorded in the very first moments after waking up in his apartment overlooking the gently flowing waters of the River Taff.
The origins of the ‘Meditations’ project can be traced back to 2020 with the release of ‘Green Into Blue’ (Recordiau Prin). The album consisted of three long guitar improvisations selected from around seventy recordings that Richards made in the wake of a relationship breakdown, but which he never intended to release. They were personal moments in Richards’ life, designed more as a practice or discipline than a recording session. Using loop pedals and effects, the recordings that eventually appeared on ‘Green Into Blue’ were live, unedited and freighted with a deeply ruminative awareness.
‘Green Into Blue’ would become a template, of sorts, for the ‘Mediations’ series, recordings that became part of a coping strategy that would help Richards manage his mental health struggles during lockdown. “Playing guitar is one of the most meditative things that I have in my life,” he says. “I do meditate as well, and I also started doing yoga in the pandemic, which came about from struggling with my mental health. However, I enter a flow state the most when I’m messing around with pedals and playing the guitar.” The need to release new albums wasn’t something Richards felt he needed to do during the pandemic, so after a period of reflection in late 2021, he decided to find time in his day to start experimenting with his guitar again.
Like many people, the pandemic forced Richards to manage his day job from home. “I’ve never been a morning person,” he admits, “but when working remotely, I soon found out that I needed some time before switching the laptop on and starting work.” To deal with that, Richards constructed a morning routine of meditation, yoga and journaling before starting work. Even then, he realised that he was dozing for ten or twenty minutes after his alarm went off, and contemplated using that time – when most people are still fast asleep – to play.
“I set up my guitar and amp in front of the window that I tend to look out of when I’m meditating, and I just left it there,” he explains. “It means I’m good to play within 30 seconds of getting out of bed, even though I’m still half-asleep. I switch on the amp, plug in the pedals, plug in the guitar and play. Instead of either dozing or looking at The Guardian website and depressing myself, I’m already in a better mind state. It’s become my favourite part of the morning routine.” The results are imbued with a sort of inquisitive serenity, developing with a natural, unhurried tone; minor imperfections become important components of the way that the pieces unfold; melodies emerge, evolve then dissipate beneath new clusters of notes.
Richards began uploading these private recordings of his early morning practice to Bandcamp in November 2021, eleven of which are collected across the first two ‘Meditations’ CDs released by Wormhole World. When it came to deciding on an image to upload with each piece, he turned to a batch of second-hand postcards picked up from outside a house in Cardiff, which seemed the perfect accompaniment for Richards’ delicate, overlapping guitar loops. “Doing the improvisation and then taking the picture of the postcard just became an important part of the process,” he says. “I’ve been looking at these postcards for two years since I found them. I intuitively know what they feel like; I know what they look like. In a way, I think they’ve subtly influenced the way I approach the pieces.”
There is a subtle difference between the pieces selected for the second CD volume and the first collection. The pieces on ‘Meditations Vol. 1’ were often textural, existing in a suspended state of brilliant ephemerality, stretched out over expansive durations. The pieces on the second volume are often shorter and more outwardly melodic, infused with occasional acoustic passages reminiscent of Latin and Japanese traditional music. “I don’t think I’m a very accomplished kind of player,” admits Richards, who is primarily a bassist. “I only picked up a guitar a couple of years ago. It’s a very different instrument to the bass, obviously. I’d never done anything solo, so it was a bit of a jump. There are different ways of playing that are less familiar to me, and that means they can be a little frightening. That’s me applying pressure to myself, in a sense. The more acoustic ones tend to be a lot shorter, because I’m not as confident just drawing something out intuitively.”
Not for nothing is meditation regarded as a perpetual act of practice, and even the most experienced teachers will still refer to it as such. So it is for Richards with these pieces. Like anyone who has tried to meditate, there are times when you get distracted or just can’t get into that elusive flow state. “The pieces usually flow easily, but they don’t always,” admits Richards. “I’m usually in a meditative state, but it’s not always the case.”
You can hear that honesty and transparency in the pieces compiled on ‘Meditations Vol. 2’, as if Richards is quietly exploring and searching for a place of unhurried equanimity. Whether he found it or not while making these pieces is something that Richards alone may be able to detect. For the rest of us, what Goodparley offers with ‘Meditations Vol. 2’ is a beautiful, becalming second document of time, place and tranquility.
Words from Mat Smith – (Electronic Sound, Clash Magazine, Documentary Evidence, Mortality Tables)