The Rabbits Of Cortona

The Rabbits Of Cortona

In the summer of 1982, some students from the University of Georgia Cortona Studies Abroad Program "rescued" live rabbits from a local food market in Tuscany, Italy. These rabbits were released in the Cortona Monastery, which was our home for the duration of this study program.

Q: What do rabbits do best?
A: They multiply…

Which is precisely what happened. When it was time for the 1982 UGA students to leave, the monastery was crawling with rabbits. This is their song.

Rabbits of Cortona Video

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Reflecting on Cortona

I composed this finger-style acoustic guitar piece and recorded it shortly after returning from our Cortona Studies Abroad program 40 year reunion event in Georgia, at Lake Hartwell, where Robyn and I rented a house for a week. Seeing some old friends and people who we had not connected with in all these years was wonderful, and brought back many memories for me.

University of Georgia Studies Abroad Members

The opportunity to participate in a studies abroad program, like the one the university of Georgia offers, is a life-changing and formative experience. It continues to influence my life in many ways.

Thinking back on it, I am struck with how little I appreciated it at the time.

The phrase “the best years of your life” comes to mind, and even just that saying suggests a realization that only comes later.

Art and the Circle Of Life

The reunion was poignant for me in several ways: I got to admire the people who followed their path as artists and stayed true to the life vision many of us formulated and aspired to at the time. 40 years later, it is inspiring to see how deeply people have incorporated their art into careers, lives, and families. One of our dear friends is now the director of the entire Arts program in the University of Georgia. Others have had often surprising art careers and applications for their fine arts degrees, and so many have “stayed the course”.

As for myself, I feel like I did not do exactly that. I moved to New York City shortly after graduation, and when my parents had re-located back to Germany. While I had a 5-year-long career as a commercial photographer, the work dried up, and I found myself a “starving artist” in a big city. Through my interest in recording music, I had been exposed to early personal computers in the 80s. This eventually led to jobs and a career as a corporate technologist and launching my own business in the form of a Digital Strategy services company, Polymash. In short, a complete departure from the arts.

Of course, there have been plenty of creative applications for everything I learned in the art world along the way. Through the years I kept playing music and doing photography. For me, however, this was in my spare time;  it doesn't compare to all the folks who in my eyes are “proper” artists.

Am I an “Outsider Artist”?

Which brings me to outsider art. Outsider art (as defined in Wikipedia) is art made by self-taught or supposedly naïve artists with typically little or no contact with the conventions of the art worlds. Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy worlds.

During our recent UGA Cortona reunion trip, we visited the University for a trip down memory lane.  We stopped by the fantastic permanent collection at the Georgia Museum Of Art on campus... I remember once meeting one of the featured “outsider artist” Howard Finster back in the 80s, who created a folk art sculpture garden with over 46,000 pieces of art. Howard was discovered and gained popularity through REM and B52 album covers. So, he was eventually recognized by the established art world.

One of Howard Finster's Outsider Art Pieces
One of Howard Finster's Outsider Art Pieces

But the fact that he produced 1,000s of artworks in complete isolation shows us something:

Artists are driven to produce artworks by an entirely internal creative urge

I am driven by an internal creative urge, and at the same time,  I consider myself as an outsider artist/musician, since I have never had any formal training in music. I'm largely self-taught, and have rarely performed my music. I do it mostly because of that internal urge to create, write, and play music... kinda pursuing my passion.

And, just like I admire my visual art friends who have stayed true to their calling, I admire the bands and musicians I went to school with in Athens and Atlanta during that time.

Fingerstyle Guitar Influences

For several years, I produced other musicians, singers and songwriters work in my music studio in New York City. So, I am fortunate to have some understanding of the recording and engineering process. If you like the sort of instrumental acoustic guitar music I aspire to, then you might enjoy these outstanding acoustic guitar artists, which have influenced my work:

Production Notes

The guitar I am playing and being recorded is a Larrivee LV-10, a superb fingerstyle instrument. The Fingerstyle guitar design approach is different from most other guitars, and the instruments are often smaller or “Parlor Size”. Furthermore, the neck of the guitar is slightly wider, almost like a Spanish nylon string guitar.

The recording software used is Ableton Live. This also allowed me to design some effects wizardry in making an acoustic guitar sound "huge", while maintaining a warm tone. The trick to this starts with the recording technique of using 2 mics in an XY configuration, as can be seen in the video. The purpose of this XY microphone arrangement is to capture and combine the brighter sounds from the fingerboard side of the guitar with the warmer and darker sounds emerging from near the guitar bridge and sound hole.

The left channel sound is panned hard left in the final mix, but the left channel reverb is isolated and instead panned hard right. And the opposite approach is taken for the right channel microphone and cross-panned reverb.

The final effect is the type of warm, lush and spacious acoustic guitar sound I really like. If you have a pair of headphones handy, give a listen and let me know what you think in the comments.