Synthesizer master and multi-instrumentalist Holland Phillips has released his fifth album, Circles of 8, based on the resonances from the circles of life and the vibrations that are the building blocks of creation.
By The Creative Service Company * thecreativeservicecompany.com
“Life is full of circles,” explains Phillips. “There’s also a theory by some scientists that 8 hertz is one of the fundamental frequencies, an inherent rhythm of life itself, that is a part of everything and makes us who we are. We all know about meeting a person and immediately feeling either good or bad vibrations, meshing with a group or not, feelings that possibly affect whether we form friendships or find love. So with this music I decided to explore those resonances that we all feel in life, and let the vibrations lead me creatively.”
On Circles of 8 Phillips starts with piano and synthesizer, and then blends in the sounds of a wide variety of other instruments including oboe, cello, violin, clarinet, trumpet, electric piano, electric bass, fretless bass, harpsichord, percussion and more. In addition, Phillips plays acoustic and electric guitar on two cuts. He also continues to explore collaborations with his longtime friend Paul Christensen (Todd Rundgren, Glass Harp, Michael Stanley Band) who plays saxophones on two numbers.
Phillips not only can bring forth the sounds of an orchestra from his synthesizers, he also enjoys at times having synthesizers sound like a synthesizer. “I collect synthesizers and keyboards, both old and new, including the original Mini-Moogs. I think that keyboards from the Seventies and Eighties give a completely different sound than more modern ones, and I pick whichever one is right for a particular song. I love the versatility of the synths and it is great that they can sound like any other instrument in the world. But they have an added dimension because they also have a very distinctive sound all their own that sounds like nothing else ever created. I love incorporating strong synth parts.”
The instrumental music that Phillips creates, which appeals to new age music lovers, also shows subtle pop, neo-classical and prog-rock influences because he spent many years studying classical music and playing in classic and progressive rock bands. “All of those experiences taught me the importance of working hard to try to write good melodies because I think it’s the melodies that move people.”
Circles of 8 on Ageless Records, and his four previous releases (Flight of the Windmill, Castles, Redemption and Daydream Alley), are available as either CDs or digital downloads (or sometimes both options) at a wide variety of online sales sites including CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Google Play and dozens more. For more information about Holland Phillips, visit his website at musicbyholland dot com.
Circles of 8 begins with the aptly-titled “Starting Over,” the first piece Phillips wrote for the album. “This was not only the start of a new album, but a new beginning,” explains Phillips. “The feel for the whole album flowed from that first creation.” The inspiration for the next tune, “Night Tracks,” came from “the excitement and anticipation a child feels sneaking around, running and playing games in a darkened backyard. It gave me the opportunity to explore the sound of a cello which perfectly conveyed the emotions.”
“Stephanie’s Song” is about the wife of a friend who was facing difficult times. “The oboe takes a solo and then the saxophone, and then they play together which, for me, represents hope, possibilities of the future and an appreciation of life.” Phillips looks into the future again with “The Journey” because “we all have journeys we have not taken yet, but there is always the call of the wild with new places and new adventures out there.” The composition “Strains of an Ancient Path” is a nod to the past and was especially inspired by the 1600s.
Phillips says, “There is something magical about dancers swirling around on a dance floor, and that imagery permeated the music of ‘Save the Dance’.” He explains that the album’s title tune, “Circles of 8,” is meant to give the listener an opportunity to reflect on the circles of their own life and move into a mood of contemplation. “The Moment,” a violin-synth duet, captures “the realization of those moments in life when you know you are in a special place or time. It’s about recognizing those special moments and the need to make sure you enjoy it because they are so fleeting.”
Phillips explains we are all “Marking Time” as we go through life whether it is with clocks, calendars or events, “but the important thing is to be comfortable with the decisions you have made and the direction you have decided to go.” On Phillips’ first album he wrote the tune “Classic By Nature,” and on Circles of 8 he decided to do a variation on that theme and calls it “Classic By Design.” “I rebuilt it from the ground up with the Yamaha grand piano, all different instruments, plus Paul on sax.” The album ends with “Lullabye For Us.” “It’s a lullabye for the rest of us, adults who still believe in magic.”
Phillips grew up in Connecticut and started on piano when he was just a few years old, and picked up guitar when he was eight. He soon began playing whatever instruments his mother, a music teacher, brought home — trombone, tuba, flute, percussion. He also thought it was fun to simply pick up an instrument, play a few notes and then start writing a song using it. “I started learning lots of instruments as a child because we always had them laying around,” Phillips explains. “As a music composition major, I had a professor who requested I play all the instruments in a symphony orchestra before writing scores for them. So I worked my way through dozens of instruments. I think it helps me compose better because when I use a synthesizer to recreate a specific instrument, I have already studied it, how it phrases, how much breath or bowing is needed, just what possibilities it offers.”
He remembers being influenced by Top 40 and Big band music when he was young, but moved on to rock bands such as Pink Floyd, Styx, Rush, Kansas and many more when he was in high school. Phillips spent four years earning his BA Degree in Music Composition while continuing to take piano and classical guitar lessons. “I immersed myself in classical music, especially Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky,” he remembers. “I had to analyze everything from the classics to pop music, and then write symphonies, etudes and sonatas. For a couple of my finals I had a full orchestra play one of my pieces and a choir sing one of my compositions. It’s something I hope to do again on a future album.”
After graduation Phillips spent some time in a folk duo in New York City where he attended guitar workshops taught by Paul Simon and a variety of guests including Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Frank Zappa, David Bowie). Phillips went on to join a Southern Rock band, then a classic rock group, then an ensemble that specialized in show tunes. “I always tried to immerse myself in whatever situation I was in, learn that style thoroughly and become proficient playing that type of music.” After many long tours of the United States and Canada, he decided to settle down in Ohio and concentrate on studio work and became an active and in-demand session player. “I always liked a variety of music whether it was Yes, Journey or Beck. I was especially influenced by Rick Wakeman and his series of solo albums, and by Alan Parsons as a producer and arranger. I found Wakeman, Vangelis and Wendy Carlos interesting because they were doing electronic instrumental music before almost anyone else. They led me to start recording instrumental albums,” states Phillips.
“In the end I think the three most important things in music are the melody, the harmonics and the spaces between the notes. That’s where the emotion is.”
Visit the artist’s homepage for music samples.