Perhaps the best words to describe David Arkenstone’s music are: “sound pictures.” Listening to the mostly instrumental tracks from his many albums, it’s easy to let the mind meander with the music, creating its own scenarios that morph tranquilly as the song progresses.
But although Arkenstone—a five-time Grammy Award nominee for 1992’s Wake of the Wind, 2000’s Citizen of the World, 2004’s Atlantis, 2020’s Fairy Dreams and 2022’s Pangaea—is known for mostly solo self-recording and producing, he’ll be bringing friends to perform with him at Freight & Salvage on Oct. 10. Kimberly Zaleski, flute; Laurann Angel, violin; Cecilia Caughman, cello; and Josh Gilgoff, percussion, will join the multi-instrumentalist for a “candlelit evening of neo-classical piano, new age, Celtic, progressive rock, orchestral, and world music.”
As reviewer John Shanahan, of Hypnagogue Reviews, wrote about an Arkenstone release: “[I]n listening to Beneath A Darkening Sky I find myself drawn into a storyteller’s tale, its soundtrack packed with sonic narrative and distinct scenery.”
Arkenstone’s own skills on bouzouki, mandolin, guitar, bass guitar, harp, cello, flute, electronic keyboards, piano, Turkish saz, pennywhistle, melodica and pan pipes will also be featured in the performance.
David Arkenstone spoke to the East Bay Express from his home in Southern California.
East Bay Express: What’s the first piece of music you remember listening to?
David Arkenstone: The Nutcracker Suite, when I was about four years old. I remember being moved to try and figure out how to make that sound. I especially liked “The Arabian Dance.” My parents would play it for me. I still play that song in my head.
EBX: When did you start playing music? Composing music?
DA: I started piano lessons at 7. I enjoyed it, and I kept up with it. When I heard the Beatles, I wanted to learn guitar. From junior high on, I took every music class I could find. In high school, I started making music. I was influenced both by classical composers, like Sibelius, and popular music, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The music I do now is sound painting. I [create] what I want to hear.
EBX: How do you translate what you see into sound?
DA: For example, in the song “Warm Lights Flicker Across the Lake” [from his new release Winterlüde], there are sounds that bring forth the magic of twinkling lights … flute … it’s different for every song. You have a sound palette that creates a mood. In that song, the harp parts are the glue for all the other things. While in “Whispers of the Winter Wind,” the cello solo moves through it.
EBX: How do you choose the musicians playing with you live?
DA: Many times I’ve used friends of mine, and in touring last year, I found some new people. I get recommendations, too, and I ask them to play together with me to see if it’s a good fit. They bring their many years of experience with them to my music, and the music just grows. I am very lucky that way. The music grows even further live on stage.
EBX: Will this be your first time playing Freight & Salvage?
DA: We played there last year and I loved it! My son went to school at Cal, so I have fond memories of Berkeley. It’s a great crowd at the Freight. Live music suffered a lot during the pandemic, and people are really genuinely there to hear the music.
People have told me that it looks like we’re having the best time of our lives during the concert. It spills over the stage into the audience. After the show, to be able to meet the people that have shared the music—I’m so grateful. During the pandemic, it was very hard not to be able to play in front of an audience.
EBX: What music do you listen to?
DA: Classical, world music, Peter Gabriel. I like U2 and the mood changes. I also like [groups such as] Shakti [the acoustic fusion music ensemble that combines Indian music with elements of jazz].
EBX: Describe the inspiration for your current release, Winterlüde.
DA: Although I now live in California, I spent my first few years in Chicago. I have great memories of winter there; it was magical. I toured Colorado last year and loved the snow … I’ve been in Yosemite when it’s snowing. How quiet it is. “Warm Lights Flicker Across the Lake” was inspired by a scene across a lake in Switzerland.
Winter is a peaceful time; more time for home. So I created 10 tracks, based on my different experiences and what I enjoy about winter.
Listening to Winterlüde produced the following thoughts on a few of the tracks:
“The Icy Brook Finds Its Way”: Rippling piano chords front the deeper voice of the cello, creating a melancholy, yet tranquil, picture of the water pursuing its inevitable course through an isolated landscape.
“Kisses From the Falling Snow”: The mind’s eye sees the snow falling. The scene is not frightening, but gentle. The cello helps form a portrait of a solitary individual, alone but not lonely, allowing the soft flakes to caress their face.
“The World Sleeps”: Likely the perfect track to listen to right before a much-desired bedtime on a wintery night with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. Soothing, serene.
“Little Mysteries in the Snowy Woods”: The visitor follows a trail through the forest. Slightly ominous chords reflect moments when they are unsure what they may be encountering. But on closer looks, sometimes up, sometimes down, they are simply parts of the winter world, which cloaks some things and reveals others.
“Surrounded by Silence”: Imagination sees the observer standing, being awed by the profound quiet never possible in an urban setting. The observer settles into a peace that allows them to be completely present with their surroundings. Nonverbal, non-intrusive background vocals add a feeling of celebration of the time and moment.
An Evening with David Arkenstone & Friends, 7pm Oct. 10. Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley. Post-show meet-and-greet. Livestream available. 510.644.2020. thefreight.org