‘Meditations Vol. 1’ is the new album from Goodparley, the alias of Cardiff-based sound artist Oli Richards. Bathed in a calm but powerful quietude, ‘Meditations Vol. 1’ collects together five single-take improvised guitar pieces, each one recorded in the very first waking moments of Richards’ day. These are pieces of great lightness and subtlety, each one unfolding with a gentle, euphoric awareness.
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 deep contemplation.
Last year saw four releases from Goodparley – ‘Canvas’ (Submarine Broadcasting) and ‘Mist, Rain, Dust: Dissected Frequencies’ (TQN-aut), followed by two collaborations, ‘Enjoying Nature’ with Poppy Jennings (Strategic Tape Reserve) and ‘Surroundings’ with Ioan Morris (Subexotic). The upshot of that release schedule, as well as beginning the recording of a second album with his band Silent Forum, was that he barely touched his guitar for most of 2021, something that started to trouble Richards as the year progressed.
“Playing guitar is one of the most meditative things that I have in my life,” he says. “It's literally a practice of meditation. 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, so after a period of reflection late last year, 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, five of which are collected on the ‘Meditations Vol, 1’ CD. When it came to deciding on an image to upload with each piece, he turned to a batch of secondhand postcards picked up from outside a house in Cardiff. Richards had originally intended to use these as part of an elaborate project involving manipulating recordings of old pipe organs through a Moog Grandmother synthesiser. Instead, the postcards – faded, decades-old images of churches and bucolic landscapes – 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.”
Postcards act as a useful analogue for what Richards is doing with the ongoing ‘Meditations’ series. A postcard is a private method of communication between two people, yet anyone can turn a postcard over and read whatever has been written there. Similarly, the ‘Meditations’ pieces began as private moments in Oli Richards’ life which are now available to anyone. Nevertheless, the pieces collected on this CD and those Richards continues to release remain uniquely personal documents of his own meditation, which is why the series is simply titled ‘Meditations’ rather than a more directive ‘Music For Meditation’.
“I would be terrified of setting myself that grand intention of making these tracks so that other people can find solace in them,” he says. “A lot of ego can get into there and that's not what I was going for. For want of a better phrase, I'm just jamming with myself on these pieces. If someone else wants to use them in some sort of meditative practice, that’s really great.”
released March 25, 2022
Played and recorded by Goodparley between November 2021 and January 2022.