Over the last six months Swallow Hill Instructor Joshua Fenner composed and recorded the instrumental album Spectre. The album is about the ghosts of Denver’s 19th Century Prospect Hill Cemetery, which covered parts of modern-day Cheesman Park, Denver Botanic Gardens, and Congress Park.
Spectre is a genre bending concept album using the elements of modern classical compositional technique. Joshua as a 21st century composer incorporates sound design elements in fretted and bowed instruments. These are filtered through the use of electronic equipment to create new instruments, creating a wall of an “electric” symphony.
Spectre comes out on Saturday, October 31 – Halloween! Learn how to listen to it on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon Music here.
To celebrate the album’s release, Joshua gave us a song-by-song breakdown of the album, from what inspired him to the instrumentation he used to capture the right mood. Read on for his commentary, and don’t forget to check out Spectre on October 31!
The heavy use of mandolin as lead instrument is present throughout the album harkening back to mandolin craze of the early 20th century. Pulse like tremolo and double-stops heavily influenced from Chris Thile and Sierra Hull.
Tracks vary from borrowing elements of soundtrack soundscapes, post-rock, dance music or folk like rolls the on modulated Banjo timbres with the title track “Spectre”.
“Larimer Lights” is the opening track that draws influence from folk music. It is a written about the early days of Denver, Auraria and the Highlands all intersecting at 15th and Larimer Violin, Mandolin and Guitar play counter point lines in the introduction. The become increasingly more homophonic (together) with a synthesizer filter creating huge texture similar to trance music.
“The Hanging Tree” is about the dark past of the first hanging at City Cemetery (Prospect Hill) it is highly rhythmic with drums and a bass guitar creating a sinister story line. A Martin guitar abruptly cuts the scene with a man contemplating his lost thoughts before being hung.
“Spectre” is about the early ghosts of cemetery. Joshua sings through the head of a banjo to create a texture of murmuring spirits in their coffins. A bass synthesizer, Mandolin and Banjo are the only instruments recorded alongside a “Blooper” to create reverse textures that degrade over time.
“Deterioration” is about the cemetery falling into disrepair. Kids used the graveyard as a playing arena by dismantling graves to create a tree house in the center of the Denver Botanic Gardens’ oak lane. The treehouse collapses, killing the children as their father asked them to come down. The furious father takes an axe to the old oak tree and cuts it down to not repeat the same for any other children in the neighborhood.
“By the Gates” is about walking at midnight near the gates of Congress Park where the old cemetery used to be. The heavy use of ring modulation on electric guitar is to create the sound of forgotten spirits that continue to haunt the area.
“Moonrise” is about the beauty of Cheesman Park during the rise of a pink moon in the draws of a July summer night. Witnessing the old spirits playing amongst the pine trees and Cheesman Pavilion water fountain. Marimba is heavily featured to envision a lighter, playful spirit of the park.
“Purple City” is about the modern growth of Denver becoming the city it is today. Forgetting about it’s dark history and moving forward into the 21st century. Electronic drums are being used to convey a soundscape of now. The emotional content is attending a peaceful, relaxed and carefree.
“Botanical Symbosis” is the closer to album to bring the album into the modern day use of synthesizers. The track heavily uses an “Enzo” on the electric guitar that shapes the guitar into a Blade-Runner type sound that is grand and unapologetic. It is a sway of emotions that range in joyful jubilation to nostalgic aromas of roses. It is really meant to be a peaceful close to an abrasive and dissonant album.