25: Hard Hat Area, Just For the Curious (1993)

This album cover features a baritone guitar in the middle of a surreal construction site collage
(although not much baritone guitar was actually used on the album). 
Jump to Music Analysis:

Hard Hat Area
     After finishing a string of tour dates, Holdsworth and his live band at this time (drummer Gary Husband, keyboardist Steve Hunt and bassist Skúli Sverrisson) went into a recording studio to put down tracks for Hard Hat Area, which was released in 1993. This was the first album with Skúli Sverrisson on bass.
     "When Jimmy Johnson wasn’t available because he was touring with James Taylor, Steve recommended Skúli... He was pretty amazing. After a few gigs he managed to play the material without reading - he had it in his head. He’s a wonderful musician and really unusual player.” (83)
     Skúli talked about Allan in a recent tribute:
     "I first met Allan Holdsworth when I flew out to Los Angeles for an audition to join his band. To my surprise he was there to pick me up at the airport. The day after, I found myself in a rehearsal room with Allan, Chad Wackerman and Steve Hunt, and without saying a word Allan counted off the first piece and there I was playing the music I had admired for years. After hours of playing, Allan looked at me and said, 'You got the gig'. 'What does that mean?' I asked, and he answered, 'Well, we´re going on the road next week'. This was in the early nineties and marked the beginning of almost a decade of life-changing music-making that took us around the world." (FaceBook post 17.04.18)
     Like the early albums I.O.U. and Road Games (and to a lesser extent Metal Fatigue), the new songs this time around had been "road-tested", which gave the album a more organic feel .
     "We had a lot more material before we started that one, more available than any other one...that's why I think 'Hard Hat Area' for me was a nicer album - you know, 'cause you had the same kind of thing as the first one (I.O.U.). The band toured a lot the last year and a half, so we played most of the music live before we recorded. Because of that, it has more of a live feel to it than the previous albums. I like that, and I must ensure that that's the way we do things from now on. You can hear people stretching, working the groove. It just sounds more organic, less sterile somehow than some of the other records. ...It was more of a 'band' record than my previous two, which were almost more like 'solo' records. When recording 'Hard Hat Area', we played almost everything together in the studio, whereas on those other albums, I recorded a lot of the tracks on my own, and then we added the bass and drums and other instruments afterwards" (41, 42, 83)
     From a gear perspective, Allan at this time relied primarily on his regular scale, Bill DeLap semi-hollow-body guitar, as DeLap had borrowed Allan's long-scale baritone guitars for some additional modifications. One track also apparently used a new kind of MIDI-controller designed by Starr Labs.
     “There was a little holdover from 'Wardenclyffe Tower' in that I played some SynthAxe and baritone guitar, but I tried to get rid of that and just play more regular guitar. At that time I was mostly playing guitars built by Steinberger and DeLap, and I was still using refrigerator-sized racks of gear to get my effects sounds. I also used an unusual synthesizer controller called a Ztar, built by Harvey Starr at Starr Labs. It’s like a little keyboard, but it’s laid out like a guitar neck, so instead of having the keys arranged like they are on a keyboard, they resemble frets. You lay it flat and play it like a piano or a pedal-steel guitar, but because you can play multiple notes on the same ‘string’, you can do some really impossible stuff, sort of like playing a three-dimensional keyboard. I used it on the improvisation that closes the album.” (83)

     Aside from the SynthAxe track "Hard Hat Area", all of the songs on the album had at one time or another been part of the recent tour's set list ("Tullio" was rehearsed, but never actually performed in front of an audience). Live concerts sometimes ended with a "Prelude"-like "synthscape"/guitar duet, followed by a quartet "Zone" improvisation (represented on this album by the "Zone" following "Postlude"). Earlier "Zone" performances can also be heard on the live compilation album Then!.

     The duo sequences with Steve Hunt and Skúli Sverrisson ("Prelude", "Hard Hat Area" and "Postlude") partially come across as impressionistic "imaginary film scores" (although "Hard Hat Area" does get pretty grooving in the second half), and this soundscape tendency would ultimately lead to 2001's Flat Tire. However, Hard Hat Area on a whole has a more "heavy" vibe going for it than the more pastoral Wardenclyffe Tower, and at the same time a greater sense of fun.

     The songs were still based on labyrinthine modulating chord harmonies, but, in contrast to the last couple albums, Allan's solos seem (to me, at least) to go less "out", giving them a somewhat more "emotive" quality - major key cadences tend to sound more joyous, and minor key ruminations more solemn. Maybe Allan didn't feel the need to apply so many "exotic colors" (alternate scales), since the canvas itself (the chord progression) was already pretty exciting. On the other hand, it just may be that the compositions themselves have smoother, more naturally-flowing major key cadences. In any case, this album seems to have a fresh combination of "material real" melodies over "material unreal" chord modulations.

     This album also closes out what I consider to be the "third period" of Allan's solo career. The first period (musically, at least) included I.O.U., Road Games and Metal Fatigue, and was kind of a "rock" period. The second period (notable for the SynthAxe elements) included Atavachron and Sand. The third period -  Secrets, Wardenclyffe Tower and Hard Hat Area - used a quartet band formation including Steve Hunt's keys, which enabled Allan to further develop long-form platforms for improvisation using harmonic modulation.


Hard Hat Area

AH: Guitar, SynthAxe, Starr Ztar
Steve Hunt: Keys
Skúli Sverrisson: Bass
Gary Husband: Drums

Produced by Allan Holdsworth
Recorded 1993.
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Prelude 1:35 AH: Guitar
Steve Hunt: Keys
     Steve Hunt: "'Prelude' was just me and Allan in the studio. I just made up something on the spot and he played to it as we did many times live.  Then what was on the record was what he re-did back at his studio." (101) 
     Steve's impromptu keyboard modulations create a heartfelt and dynamic landscape for Allan to solo over. Several moods are traversed in a very short period of time.

0:00: Rising keyboard harmonies, joined by guitar solo.
0:37: Harmony begins descending.
1:00: Coda based on suspense harmony.
2 Ruhkukah 5:32 Solos:
SH: Keys
AH: Guitar

     This is a breathtaking rocker, and features all the great elements of a Holdsworth classic: heavy rhythmic hook, "out" pedal sections, melodic cadences and enigmatic seesaw chord accents. Allan's soaring solo here is one of my personal favorites.

0:00: Syncopated rising motif with harmonized guitars, bubbling pedal bass with seesaw synth accents.
0:13: Keyboard synth solo over 2 pedal sections and 2 cadence sequences (the opening 1st pedal sequence retains the seesaw chordal accents in the background).
0:55: 2nd keys solo chorus.
1:46: 3rd keys solo chorus.
2:39: Rising harmonized head motif into guitar solo (with opening 1st pedal sequence, etc).
3:35: 2nd guitar solo chorus.
4:26: 3rd guitar solo chorus.
5:17: Coda (variation of head motif).
3 Low Levels, High Stakes 9:03 Solos:
SH: Piano
SS: Bass
AH: Guitar
     Steve Hunt: "I played my solo on 'House of Mirrors' and 'Low Level' there in the studio after we put down basic tracks.  My other solos I did back at my house and sent them back to Allan." (101) 
     Long modulating solo sequences are bracketed by somewhat "solemn" head melody sections. Steve Hunt's piano solo here highlights a lot of dynamic subtleties in his touch, and Gary's dynamic drum grooves skillfully carve out the mood for each soloist's chorus. 

0:00: Sustained bass and synth choir harmony with an upwards-winding melody on synth clarinet (guitar in live renditions).
0:36: Piano solo over modulating cadences and subdued drums.
1:26: Piano 2nd chorus solo with clean guitar comping becoming more substantial, ending in a pedal cadence harmony (based on underlying head sequence).
2:41: Bass solo supported by swelled harmony textures ("celestial strings") and cymbals.
3:31: Bass 2nd chorus, pedal cadence.
4:45: Guitar solo (drums more upfront, rim shots begin developing).
5:33: Guitar 2nd chorus, pedal cadence (drum fills).
6:47: Guitar 3rd chorus (full drums).
7:34: Guitar 4th chorus (final pedal cadence replaced by head).
8:30: Synth clarinet head melody/choir textures returns over a pedal harmony and brief drum cadenza.
4 Hard Hat Area 6:03 AH: Guitar & SynthAxe
Skúli Sverrisson: Bass
     "I wouldn't have been able to do the same thing, color-wise and texture-wise, with just guitar (as opposed to the SynthAxe). 'Cause what I was visualizing was pictures - it was like music for an imaginary movie...about guys building a building. What I wanted to do was write a cartoon tune: I saw like a high-rise building being built - in Tokyo city, for example - but I could see a Super Mario version of the process. Quite often, I'll do that with my music. I’ll have a scene, as if I'm watching a movie. And I could see this structure going up, with clouds of dust and all. Skúli came up after a good night and said, 'I think we should have handed out crash helmets to the audience.' I started thinking, 'Oh, 'hard hat area', that's not too bad a name.'" (41, 85)
     This composition is kind of like a sequel to "The Un-Merry-Go-Round" (Metal Fatigue). Like that tune, it has several distinct "scenes", and also hinges on a staccato riff motif. 

0:00: A staccato bass/marimba-ish synth riff is developed over a soundscape of field recorded noises, modulating, brassy chord accents, trills, glissandi, and synthetic percussion noises (hammering, clock ticking, drills, etc).
1:55: Soft organ motif, becoming glassy choir synth and pizzicato string figures (variation of the earlier staccato riff, developed).
2:48: Guitar solo over sustained chord, then sequenced drums and bubbling bass fade in (implied pedal harmony). This guitar solo segment probably has the lengthiest "poly-tonal" runs on the album.
4:10: Guitar solo continues (more melodically) over modulating major key cadences with added piano chord accents (based on the previous organ motif).
5:24: Percussive noises (and "steam blasts"), staccato synth motif reprise and soft string patch chords, final celestial cadence.
5 Tullio 5:59 Solos:
AH: Guitar
SH: Keys
     "It's an extremely long chord sequence, you know. I think it’s the longest chord sequence I’ve done. It kind of goes where you don't think (it will) - it trips you up. I also like to modulate things, so even though it sounds like I’m playing the same thing twice, it’s being played in a different key. The whole solo section for keyboards and guitar is the same. It sounds as if it’s two or three different sections for the solos but it’s really only one time thru! It’s an example of how I let something complete itself in that I keep playing until I feel the piece makes a whole circle... I've never played a tune that was any harder than that for me to play through. It was so long I couldn’t remember all of it (the chord sequence to play over). I couldn't get through half a chorus without screwing up! We actually rehearsed that tune before we played in Japan, but the tune was so long that we never played it live. The band was like 'can we not do that tune tonight?' (laughter) And so we never did it live." (41, 65) 
     "Tullio is the 'Mr. Campagnolo', the inventor of pretty much everything that hangs on every bicycle today. It’s like race cars having certain innovations on them that show up 20 years later on regular cars. That’s what he’s done for bicycles. One story is that he designed a (?) bike and really felt good about them, but woke up one night and decided he could make them better - so he went to his shop and destroyed them all and threw them all away and started over. That’s incredible, really. Most people would sell the prototypes, and continue on after making a lot of money selling those first creations, but he didn’t do that. Everything I ever read about the guy I loved, plus I loved all his bike parts." (63)
     As Allan indicates, the solo section is a long sequence of non-repeating key changes, but this long structure is still broken up into natural sections by the accented drum breaks and rhythmic cadences. The "head" doesn't show up until the end of the guitar solo, which is a device Allan also employed on earlier songs like "The Things You See" and "Joshua". 

0:00: Head chords with accented drums.
0:08: Guitar solo begins over continuously-modulating triplet-groove cadences, sometimes separated in the beginning by brief pauses (pedals), supported by clean guitar arpeggio comping.
1:02: Accented cadence, triplet groove modulations, brief pedal.
1:29: Accented "mystery" cadence, extended with added power chord.
1:53: Main cadence groove resumes, retransition cadence towards head melody.
2:39: Head melody on guitar (harmonized) over accented drum rolls.
2:56: Keyboard synth solo begins.
3:54: Accented cadence.
4:20: Accented "mystery" cadence ending with added guitar power chord ornament.
4:44: Main groove resumes, accented retransition.
5:30: Head melody on guitar (with overdubbed guitar ornaments).
6 House of Mirrors 7:44 Solos:
SH: Keys
AH: Guitar
     "This tune kind of reminds me of being in a house of mirrors, because it modulates alot, and I like that. That’s why that system of numbering chords - like for example 'ii-V-I' or whatever - doesn’t really work too well for me with my music, cause they move around too much to ever have a 'I' stay as a 'I'. But I guess because this tune does modulate a lot, that’s where I came up with the title." (39)
     Like the previous album's "Sphere of Innocence", this tune has a somewhat languorous groove, but actually explores lots of subtle, complex modulations.

0:00: Pastoral chord-melody theme as swelled guitar textures.
1:04: Chord-melody theme with accented groove and clean guitar.
2:19: Bridge, theme variation with drum accents (metric modulation?).
3:00: Synth solo (calliope texture).
5:03: Guitar solo with glassy synth comping.
5:57: Solo continues over a sequence of rhythmic cadences (bridge sequence), outro solo.
7:27: Final swelled cadence.
7 Postlude
(and Zone)
5:28 Part 1: Duo Improvisation

     Another duo between Hunt and Holdsworth, this "Postlude" and the opening "Prelude" nicely bracket the album, with the final unlisted "Zone" acting as a coda.

AH: SynthAxe melody (Starr Ztar?)
Steve Hunt: Keyboard chords

0:00: Snare roll, reedy lead melody over soft sustained synths (melancholic).
1:05: Final cadence pedal harmony (falling).

Part 2: Group improvisation

     This final section is a good example of the Zone improvisations the band were doing during their recently-finished tours (as described in last chapter's coverage of "Then!"). Allan's SynthAxe solo here is simply off the hook.

Solos:
SH: Keys
AH: SynthAxe (Starr Ztar?)
SS: Bass

1:37: Keys solo over restless drums and bass (textural guitar accents and pedal harmony).
3:03: SynthAxe solo (breathy brass/bassoon patch).
4:18: Bass solo.
5:00: Synth accents lead to final cadence chord.

An Unfinished Track
     Around this time Allan and Gary Husband worked on a song named "Grey Day", but it was never completed. Gary Husband recently unearthed and posted this track online for posterity...
     "For some years I've maintained a strong affection for the bare bones of a piece my dear brother Allan Holdsworth formed and prepared, and one I attempted a drums take on, way back, oh... 1992 or 1993 timeframe. Allan had recorded a chord pass of this piece using his beloved DX sounds via the SynthAxe, and we had a day or two spare to do a bit of work on it together in his home studio. Unfortunately, I could not produce a drum pass that I was in any way, shape or form happy with, despite several attempts." (FaceBook post)
Just For the Curious
     The other major release around this period was Allan's first (and only) instructional video. In this 1993 video (with supplemental book and CD), Allan talks about his favorite scales and some of his ideas about chord-melody composition. Several song selections are played live in the studio with Allan joined by drummer Chad Wackerman, bassist Skúli Sverrisson and keyboardist Steve Hunt. Unfortunately, the recording process for these sessions had some engineering issues. Nonetheless, the package was released (and is still in print), although Allan was sorely disappointed in the outcome (sonically, at least).

Live Studio Selections
     The CD contains most of the audio selections from the video footage, but the video contains two additional songs not found on the CD for some reason ("Funnels" and "Tell Me"). Allan plays the standard scale neck DeLap guitar in the video throughout.

Just For the Curious

Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Steve Hunt: Keyboards
Skúli Sverrisson: Bass
Chad Wackerman: Drums
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
21 Proto-Cosmos 4:51 (Alan Pasqua)

0:00: Allan's spoken intro.

0:35: 3-accent descending fanfare motif bracketed by solo drum licks, leading to rhythmic ensemble figure.
0:59: Allan's guitar solo over an uptempo, loping groove, accented by reappearances of the fanfare motif.
2:28: Fanfare with drum licks, followed by electric piano (keys) solo (guitar plays textural swells, gentle comping).
4:13: Opening fanfare sequence reprise, ending in a ritardando coda variation with outro guitar solo.
22 Looking Glass 8:50 0:00: Allan's spoken intro.

1:17: Drum fill, accented head chords driven by lively drum fills.
1:42: Accented head (reprise variation), ending cadence.
2:08: Chorus with broader groove.
2:29: Accented head, now transposed to a lower key.
2:52: Guitar solo over modulating chorus/head variations.
5:29: Keyboard solo.
7:31: Chorus with keys in top line, accented head (twice, as in the opening).
23 The Things You See 8:46 0:00: Allan's spoken intro.

0:23: Rising fanfare (without lead guitar), syncopated cadence.
0:42: 1st verse melody in keys over descending harmony, rising cadence, repeat with variation, fanfare.
1:16: 2nd verse in higher register lead melody.
1:43: Bridge, accented cadences based on verse harmony.
2:11: Pedal bass with skittering hi-hat and verse harmony variation in guitar swells.
2:45: Keys solo over propulsive groove (harmony for "main" head melody).
4:25: Guitar solo.
6:30: Chord melody verse cadence, bridge reprise, accented cadences.
7:14: 3rd verse led by keys using main head melody (from "Wish"), reprise higher register, ending in final outro keys lead over fanfare reprise/rave-up.
25 Zone 7:38 (Group improvisation)

0:00: Textural guitar swells.
1:42: Cymbals enter, followed by rim shots, keys, busy walking bass.
2:17: Guitar solo over walking bass and lively drums with swelled keyboard accents.
3:30: Textural harmonies lead to keyboard solo over drum accents and changing groove dynamics.
4:59: Bass solo over accented textures.
5:45: Groove relaxes into group dialogue.
6:13: "Material Real" intro chords, joined by drums and building, etc.

Funnels 5:47 0:00: Head-chorus: Syncopated chord-melody phrase, broader variation, modulating cadence, chord melody reprise, accented cadence.
0:46: Guitar solo over head chorus.
1:39: 2nd guitar solo chorus (added choir synth textures).
2:23: 3rd guitar solo chorus.
3:01: Keyboard solo.
4:32: Head-chorus.
5:16: Coda, final swelled textures.
Tell Me 5:24 (Chad Wackerman)

0:00: Drum fill into galloping "rock vamp" motif, accented with two Debussy-like chords (synth wails), rising synth motif, developed with accents.
1:07: Vamp motif/accent chords reprise (subtle synth ornaments), rising motif, extended accents.
1:46: Bridge variation of main chordal motif.
2:19: Keys solo over main groove, rising motif.
3:25: Guitar solo with polytonal scalar runs.
4:36: Bridge reprise (drum fills), drum cadenza.

Scalar Concepts
     In the instructional portion of the video, Allan describes his 10 "most usable" scales. In his mind, he transposes his scale shapes to the nearest Dorian mode shape (which is always - and confusingly - referred to as "the minor scale" in the lessons). The related modes don't matter, since he files every mode for a scale under one umbrella name. The 10 sequences below give varying "flavors" to play with, and you can fit these scales over various kinds of chords to get different effects. The first 4 scales have 7 notes each (like most diatonic scales). Scales 6-9 have 8 notes. Scales 5 and 11 are symmetrical scales, and so are extra "atonal". All of these scales are meant to be transposed to whatever tonic key is appropriate for the underlying chord harmony.

     Personally, and I think most guitarists probably do this, I started learning scales with the classic pentatonic blues scale, and then added in the extra notes to get to a minor scale (Aeolian mode). In that spirit, I also looked at Allan's 10 scales as alterations and additions to an arbitrarily-rooted minor scale. For me, it was easier to learn the scales in this way as a short-cut to get used to the fingering patterns - your mileage may vary. But if you are really into the Dorian mode, then ignore my personal "views".

1. Allan calls this "Dx", which translates as D Dorian (a capital letter with no "x" means major scale, or Ionian). For me, I can see this pattern as a minor scale. For example, A minor, or A Aeolian (D Dorian is the same notes as A minor/Aeolian, but starting on D).


2. D, circled x: D Dorian but sharpen the 7th. This is also called a D melodic minor scale. I think of this as A minor with the 3rd note sharpened into a major 3rd (for example, C becomes C#).


3. A, circled x, -6: A Dorian but sharpen the 7th and flatten the 6th (harmonic minor). I think of this simply as an A minor scale with the 7th note sharpened (in A minor, G becomes G#).


4. A, circled x, +4: A Dorian, but sharpen the 7th and sharpen the 4th (harmonic major). I think of this as an A minor scale with the 4th and 6th notes sharpened (in A minor, D becomes D#, F becomes F#).


5. G and “spectacles” - Allan's notation for the G diminished scale (alternating half steps and whole steps), a pretty good scale for playing "out" runs...


6. B flat followed by a "sloppy loop" (an 8 with the top 4th shaved off): Bb Ionian (major scale) with an added sharp 5 ("jazz major"). In general, the sloppy loop is a clue that "some note was added". I see this as a G minor scale with added sharp 7th note (same as #2, but add instead of shift. This gets 3 semitones leading to the root).


7. C7, sloppy loop: C Ionian with an added flat 7. He also has a G with a circled x under it in parentheses, which I guess means he can use it in minor chords as a G Dorian with added flattened 4th (major 3rd). I see this as an A minor scale with added flat 2nd note (this gets 4 semitones starting from the A root above).


8. B, x, sloppy loop: B Dorian with added sharp 7 ("jazz minor"). I see this as an Ab minor scale with added flat 2nd note (as above), flatten the 5th.


9. A, circled x, sloppy loop: A Dorian with a sharpened 7th (no natural 7), add a sharp 5 (another "jazz minor"). For me, A minor scale with the 7th note sharpened, also add sharpened 6th.


10. Symmetrical: C with a 3-loop spectacles symbol. C is followed by a whole step, then two chromatically-ascending notes (alternating 3 semi-tones in a row with a whole tone). This is one of those "out" scales which Allan uses when ascending or descending from one key to another. ("This particular scale I’ve used quite a lot as a scale to modulate from one chord to another.").


     This above transcription of Allan's original notes shows the scales he would use for the solo section of "Tokyo Dream" (from Road Games). For this tune, he mostly uses the Dorian mode (minor scale), modulating to a new key for each chord. A D diminished scale pops up in the turnaround cadence (it's listed 4 times on top of each other with different notes to indicate their interchangeable roots). The "x II" represents a repeat. The "F#x/E" and the "A/Bx" indicate two places where different modes of the same scale can be used. The symbols at the bottom row are probably alternate scales, since they don't seem to be part of the primary solo harmony (I think). The original "Just For the Curious" book/CD (edited by Aaron Stang) has 5 additional scales, including the whole tone scale and a few additional 8 and 9-note scales.

Chord Concepts
     In the section relating to chordal concepts and chord-melody composition, Allan explains how he can create a chord family by selecting 3 or 4 notes from a particular scale and then move all of the notes in the chord up (or down) simultaneously along the "permitted notes" in the scale pattern. This results in other chords found in that scale (each beginning with a different scale tone and using that voicing). Naturally, the original scale could be used for any song composed using these 8 (or whatever) chords, with the chord tones emphasized for each chord.

     Allan explains that he thinks of each chord as representative notes from a particular "family" of notes (a scale). So, when chords go by (during a solo improvisation), he decides which family (scale) would be appropriate for a given chord, and adjusts his note choices accordingly. He also suggests (probably in relation to comping) that a chord can be "enriched" by substituting it with different inversions of itself, or with related chords found in the same key (ie - from a scale which contains the same notes). This is typically demonstrated whenever Allan is playing "rhythm guitar" underneath a bass or keyboard solo.

     The video/CD/DVD/book package is nicely assembled, and the book which comes with the package includes many examples, exercises and song transcriptions to illustrate Allan's thoughts. Sadly, Allan never made a second volume, which probably would have gone into his ideas about poly-tonal soloing and harmonic modulation in song composition (not to mention his rhythmic ideas).

Next: The Sixteen Men Of Tain
Previous Chapter: Wardenclyffe Tower (1992) and Then! (1990/2003)

Go to the Table of Contents... 

The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography

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