Art Rock Tendencies

I have been invited to contribute to the blog Art Rock Tendencies, run by Darin Tambascio of progressive sludge metal band National Sunday Law. I am currently writing a series of articles entitled ‘Rock Meets Classical’, which you can read below:

Part 1: Who Cares?
Part 2: Bang on a Can
Part 3: Prog-Rock Classical Covers.
Part 4: Classical Concepts in King Crimson’s ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic’
Appendix: Symmetrical Scales Explained
Part 5: Interior City
Part 6: Analyzing Discipline
Part 7: Pervasive Discipline
Appendix: Motivic Connections in James Bond Title Themes
Part 8: THRAK

And I’ve started a new series called ‘Structure in Prog’:

Part 1: Pop Structures in The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute

I have also posted a review of Meshuggah’s ‘Koloss’.

A Temporary Tooth Exchange

album_coverI contributed guest vocals to ‘Temporary Thought Exchange’, the bonus vocal version of the song ‘AKT’ from ‘Divided’, the new EP by ItsTeeth & Travis Orbin. ItsTeeth is the post rock project of Jacob Belcher, a guitarist who played with Travis in a live incarnation of Of Legends. Jacob gave Travis free reign to come up with whatever he wanted for this EP – he simply sent him the guitar parts and let him run with it. Jacob took the same approach with me, advising only that the lyrics should be ‘weird and abstract’.

Jacob was originally planning to feature a female guest vocalist on this particular track, but she was unavailable, so Travis recommended me for the job. Jacob quite liked what Travis showed him of The Gabriel Construct, so he ended up asking me to do it.

I sat on a dock listening to the instrumental version of the song, staring up at the sky, and I suddenly got this image of a head popping off of a body, floating into the sky like a helium balloon, and looking down at the earth. In the clouds, the head finds another disembodied head, and they attach at the neck, forming a silhouette of an infinity symbol. They have mind-meld sex, are blown apart by the wind, and fall back to earth. This became the lyrical subject matter for the song. I was careful to avoid personal pronouns in the lyrics, since The Gabriel Construct’s lyrics are overloaded with them and I wanted to try something different.

I recorded the vocals out of my then-new home studio – the very first song to receive such a treatment! Jacob said he wanted a vocoder on the track, but I didn’t have one, so I ended up faking one by painstakingly layering harmonies, autotuning them, and locking them into perfect rhythmic unison with elastic audio. I think it came out sounding just exactly like a vocoder, though, so it was worth the extra effort!

At the tail end of the session, Jacob also had me create mellotron pieces to cap the album – the intro on ‘TDB’ and the outro on ‘HLB’.

Check out Travis’s drum tracking video for ‘Temporary Thought Exchange (AKT)’ and ‘HLB’:

AKT Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 145 BPM

HLB Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 132 BPM

And his video for ‘TDB’ and ‘CKW’, along with some discussion of the project:

TDB Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 185 BPM

CKW Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 135 BPM (after improv)

Listen to an a capella version of ‘Temporary Thought Exchange’:

Buy ‘Divided’ on Bandcamp
ItsTeeth’s Back Catalog on Bandcamp

10. Curing Somatization

View Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Curing Somatization’:

Read the lyrics to ‘Curing Somatization’.

Gabriel’s Notes: Here we are – the final song from Interior City, and the most intense and relentless song I’ve ever written. I think it is best to let this song speak for itself, so I won’t say too much about it. This was a tough one that put strain on almost everyone involved, thanks to the difficulty of writing a satisfying closer, time constraints, the difficulty of playing the song, technical errors, and the sheer number of layers. Despite the huge amount of material that ended up in the song, quite a bit was cut along the way. Every song on the album is reprised here, though some are much more obvious than others.  I also lifted a rhythm from Messiaen.

I was probably a bit manic while writing this – there are 7 pages of lyrics, and there are almost always multiple texts being sung/spoken at once, often with their own 2-4 part harmonies. I’d write a complete vocal arrangement for a section and decide it wasn’t good enough – but instead of deleting it, I’d turn it down until it was a background detail and write new parts on top of it. I then re-recorded ALL of it in the studio, usually with doublings, resulting in around 60 vocal tracks (including some screams by Travis) and a total of 200+ tracks in the session. Here’s a glimpse of that insanity:

Travis’s Notes: The final and (appropriately) most intense video in the ‘Interior City’ series is “Curing Somatization”. This tune is probably within the top ten hardest I’ve ever tracked, mostly due to time constraints. Gabe didn’t finish the demo until about two weeks before we hit the studio, and between writing parts and rehearsing the rest of the album it was a pretty close shave!

The cymbal setup is the same as “Retreat Underground”, although with my ‘stack’ instead of a splash and a 20″ MDM ride on the right side.

I included a few seconds of “Languishing in Lower Chakras” to try to convey the absolutely devastating segue between both tunes. However, the full effect is best achieved by listening to the entire song, of course.

I also contributed some guest vocals (screaming/yelling), which was a blast. The opening scream is Gabe and myself together in the live room, holding one mic and screaming into it simultaneously. There’s some scattered stuff from 4:30 – 5:17 too.

I’m not gonna bother with notes or highlighting sections – just watch this monstrosity of a piece and enjoy. ‘Interior City’ is one of my favorite sessions ever and I urge you all to purchase the album if you enjoy these session vids. Thank you, Gabe!

Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 90 BPM
Tempo change (1:26) = 100 BPM
Tempo change (5:17 – 5:19) = ‘linear decrease’ to 90 BPM until the drums finish

Being an Arcane Academic

album_coverI have a guest spot on Being’s debut album, ‘Anthropocene’, 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the album’s seventh song, ‘Arcane Academic’. It’s a unique record that shares a strong affinity with my work – both Anthropocene and Interior City are 72 minute long concept albums about self realization, empowerment, and overcoming societal programming in order to evolve. Both records have multiple recurring themes (including finales in which all of the previous songs return, ending with the first song), a cyclical structure, and an individual sound, and both were mixed and mastered by Taylor Larson.

Being’s singer, Cas Haruna, was working as the studio manager at Taylor’s studio, Oceanic Recording, while we were mixing and mastering Interior City. Cas gave guest spots to all of his favorite musicians that recorded in the studio, until there were so many that he was able to claim that Anthropocene had ‘more guest spots than a Nicky Minaj album’. And it’s true – in just the song I guest on, Travis Orbin has a brief guest spot immediately following mine, and Justin Gosnell (Vestascension) contributes a guest solo later in the song.

I believe that my guest spot was the last one recorded for the album. At the tail end of the IC mastering sessions, I came down with the flu. I worked through it, but I ended up getting Taylor sick. As I came in on the first day that Taylor stayed in bed to continue working on my own, I ran into Cas, who greeted me with ‘Come do a guest spot on my album right now!’. I told him that I was too sick and could barely talk (I had completely lost my voice the previous night, but it had somewhat returned that day). He promptly dismissed my concerns and told me to stop making excuses, stating that the guest spot needed to sound totally insane so my hoarse voice would fit perfectly. He showed me the 30 seconds of music he wanted me to sing over, and I was instantly taken by it. After explaining what was happening in the story and what the lyrics should be about, he left me alone for a few minutes to come up with a part on the spot. With Cas engineering the session, we tracked it line by line, coming up with lyrics and layers on the spot (every voice you hear in that 30 seconds is me). I ended up doing quite a lot of screaming since it was difficult to sing, but I think the part came out quite well considering how sick I was (and considering that I was singing into a room mic dragged in from the hallway). I threw in a bit of everything – normal singing, sing-screaming, black metal shrieks, death metal growls, falsetto, harmonies, and doublings. Taylor liked it so much that he made it quite loud in the mix and made Cas rewind it every time they listened to it. Taylor went as far as to say that “It’s the best part you’ve ever come up with – you should sing like that all the time!”

You can stream or purchase the album at Bandcamp.
Official Website

9. Languishing in Lower Chakras

This track depicts the time the main character spends in the chamber of eternal sleep that he entered in Inner Sanctum. The keyboard parts for this ambient track were entirely improvised, and I liked my demo version so much that I ended up using it on the final record instead of trying to recreate it. This song features reprises of the “choruses” of Inner Sanctum and Arrival in a Distant Land. It includes field recordings from an inner city Philadelphia first grade classroom with a substitute teacher, a high school graduation, the river before a storm, and more, in addition to many processed public domain speeches.

Because it was a home recording, there is no footage of the sessions for this song. Instead, I’ve created a new dark ambient track based around piano improvisation. This off-the-cuff improvisation was performed on an out of tune practice room piano at the University of Pittsburgh into a laptop microphone, but I ended up liking how it came out (sound quality aside), so I turned it into a lo-fi ambient track. Check out the track below:

8. Inner Sanctum

View Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Inner Sanctum’:

And Gabriel’s piano tracking video:

Read the lyrics to ‘Inner Sanctum’.

Gabriel’s Notes: This song is somewhat of a tribute to the ’90s space rock band Failure. For the fast first half, I had a b-side called ‘Mange’ in mind, in which the bass and guitar play different sets of fifths which are dissonant against each other. For the slow second half, their song ‘Small Crimes’ was my main source. However, I looked to other sources for the vocals and solos and included some quite complex rhythms (the ‘chorus’ features a bar of 7/8 on every third bar, which means it falls on a different chord of the 4-chord progression on each repeat). The first part of the song features an 11-part vocal choir (with doublings), including glissandos similar to those included in Bang on a Can’s large collaborative work ‘Shelter’. For contrast, the second half includes a single, very intimate lead vocal for most of its duration, perhaps inspired by Chino Moreno of Deftones. The linear tempo decrease interlude features more Mingus-style simultaneous soloing, and the song ends in free jazz controlled chaos. I overdubbed a piano solo on this section, but evidently didn’t film it, so I’ve created new footage for the picture-in-picture sections of this video (including the solos in the first half, which weren’t piano on the album). The ending noise was also overdubbed – I wanted to bang on the piano with both hands to make the largest possible amount of noise instead of only using my right hand. There were also some subtle overdubs during the slow section, adding doublings at higher octaves and some improvisation.

The opening fast section of this song requires quite a bit of stamina to pull off, and as a result I started out tracking it in small chunks, so you’ll see quite a few edits towards the beginning. As I warmed up to it, I ended up doing most of it in a single take, which generated quite a bit of lactic acid in my arms. You can see my discomfort in my facial expressions in the second chorus!

Travis’s Notes: Next in the ‘Interior City’ series is “Inner Sanctum”, which miiight be my personal favorite. The gear is the same as in most of “Defense Highway”, except there’s a ‘stack’ instead of a splash. The change to two floor toms at 5:11 contributes a dynamic contrast.

The verses of this one feature a fun, energetic drum ‘n’ bass feel, as does the brief sax solo section at 1:19 – 1:31. During the choruses, the cymbal orchestration strictly follows/complements the chord progression, regardless of time signature. The first (full) one is more subdued, but I launch off some fireworks for the second, hehe.

During the ‘dirge’ section, I wanted to play as simple, direct and powerful as possible; there are a few little syncopations here and there to spice it up, however. The 8th-note pedal hats at 3:51 complement the guitar+sax, then the change to the edge of the ride as a time source provides a bit more urgency.

Skipping ahead, towards the end of the tune Gabe wanted a bit more improv on my end, so I jammed around and wrote some stuff just prior to tracking (much like the first drum solo in “Defense Highway”); this comprises 7:03 – 7:08. Afterwards, I move into my original idea of some syncopated double bass, increasing in note value to cap off the song with utmost intensity.

Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 170 BPM
Tempo change (2:20 – 2:47) = ‘linear decrease’ to 60 BPM, tempo remains at 60 until end

Salisbury Daily Times Article

Josh Davis has written an article on The Gabriel Construct, half of which was published in the Delmarva Daily Times. The full text can be found below:

It’s fitting that the liner notes to “Interior City,” the new album by The Gabriel Construct, feature the phrase “welcome home.” The new CD by vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Gabrial Lucas Riccio features players from Salisbury, Selbyville, Ocean Pines, Bethesda and Annapolis.

The album was also produced locally, at West Main Recording in Salisbury.

Riccio began playing piano in the 3rd grade, and started experimenting with electronic music in middle school. At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 2011, Riccio composed mostly chamber music.

“I developed quite a stockpile of material prior to properly recording a record,” he said. “I had many groups of songs which could be records of their own, all in distinct styles. After graduating, I started writing full time. ‘Interior City’ was simply the album which ended up being completed first – perhaps because it was the album I most needed to get out of my system.”

The final product, which took more than a year to record and master, is a sprawling full-length record reminiscent of artists from Bach to King Crimson.

“I attempt to listen to all of the music I possibly can in as many different styles as possible, and learn something about all of it in order to add more tools to my toolbox,” Riccio said. “The genres I have explored most are rock, jazz, classical, underground rap and electronic music, and world traditions such as Balinese Gamelan and Indian classical music – but I’m always open to exploring new styles.”

The album’s second track, “Ranting Prophet,” cycles through many of those genres.

“That song began with a leftover piece of my string quartet, and I ended up incorporating all sorts of things into that basic framework – a quotation of 20th Century French composer Olivier Messiaen, a double-drum part using a sampled ’80s Genesis beat which turns polymetric in the bridge, Arabic vocal ornaments, blast beats, a Nine Inch Nails-style yelled vocal approach, [Charles] Mingus-style simultaneous soloing in the intro, and a violin solo which quotes [Béla] Bartók’s string quartets,” he said. “I hadn’t intended to incorporate so many different influences into the song – it simply ended up coming out that way in a natural fashion.”

Much of the supporting cast for “Interior City” was cobbled together after a chance meeting.

“At a doctor’s appointment, a nurse started telling me how her son was an audio engineer with a local studio,” Riccio said. “Of course, I assumed this meant he was a teenager with a ‘studio’ in his basement, but then she told me that he had credits on Train and Shinedown records. I couldn’t believe that someone with credits like those could be in Salisbury, so I decided to look him up online, and it all turned out to be true.”

Riccio scheduled a meeting with engineer Garrett Davis, who then suggested drummer Travis Orbin play on the album.

“I had been a fan of Travis since high school, as he is somewhat of a local legend, most notorious for playing in the DC-based band Periphery,” Riccio said “I was floored; I couldn’t believe that there was a possibility that I could get someone that talented to play on my debut!”

Orbin recommended bassist Thomas Murphy and producer Taylor Larson, who mixed and mastered “Interior City.” The rest of the lineup consists of longtime collaborators.

“I knew that I wanted David Stivelman to play the guitar on the album, since we had been friends since first grade and he was an incredibly talented player,” said Riccio. “Sophia Uddin and Soren Larson were both college classmates who had previously performed my chamber music, and I’ve been dating Sophia for two-and-a-half years now.”

Joe Borzotta, Riccio’s mother’s cousin, painted the album’s cover.

Riccio said he has already begun recording the next two TGC records. First and foremost, however, he wants to put a touring band together.

“I am moving to Chicago in a month to assemble a live lineup to perform ‘Interior City,’” Riccio said. “I plan to record half of the second TGC album with session players here, and the other half with said live lineup. I am also working on a full-length record with local progressive rock band Ocuplanes from Ridgely, Maryland, out of my newly constructed home studio.

“Lastly, I am slowly writing and recording a collaborative pop record with Travis Orbin, the drummer on all of the TGC material. I would also like to release an album of classical chamber music at some point, as I have quite a bit written that I would like to release in a more formal fashion.”

“Interior City” is available on and iTunes, or through Riccio’s website”


I was recently hired to transcribe and create sheet music for six songs by City and Colour (two from each of their albums). My transcriptions of these songs are for sale at their official website and can also be found below:

On the subject of transcriptions, Trey Gunn of King Crimson discovered and praised my transcription of the band’s ‘The ConstruKction of Light’:

I created this transcription of ‘The ConstruKction of Light’ for my senior comprehensive music exam at Swarthmore college. It was performed in a quartet arrangement, with myself on drums and vocals, Tony Blekicki and Swarthmore physics professor Carl Grossman on guitar, and Ben Rachbach playing the Warr Guitar part on a keyboard. Unfortunately, the performance was not recorded.

Note that the guitars and the Warr Guitar sound an octave below where written.

I also recently created piano arrangements of two songs by Animals as Leaders.

On Impulse:

Download the sheet music
Download MIDI


Download the sheet music
Download MIDI

If you like what you see here, know that I am available for hire! I can offer a number of transcription/copying services (creating sheet music for your band from an audio file, creating digital scores from handwritten scores, transposing scores) in addition to session vocals and keyboards, production, arrangement, and composition. If you would like to hire me for any of this or can think of anything else you’d like to have me do, please email and I can send you my resume!

If you would like sheet music for Interior City, the full score and parts books for piano, drums, bass, guitar, saxophone, and violin are for sale on the stores page.

7. Defense Highway

View Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Defense Highway’:

And Gabriel’s piano tracking video:

Read the lyrics to ‘Defense Highway’.

Gabriel’s Notes: You can hear influences from Failure, drum-n-bass, barbershop quartets, Debussy, and more in this 10 minute song which alternates between full band sections and stripped down interludes (mostly solo piano). Thanks to the song’s frequent tempo changes and numerous sections in free rhythm (which are thus of indeterminate length), it had to be tracked in multiple chunks and somewhat out of order. This song contains the oldest music on the album – I actually wrote the piano part in my sophomore year of high school, nearly 10 years ago. It was only the second piece I ever wrote for live instruments, with Inner Sanctum being the third, written immediately afterwards. They were originally conceived together as part of a disastrous 30 minute long solo piano suite, which has also served as the source material for three songs that will appear on the next two TGC albums. While creating a full band arrangement of Defense Highway in the year leading up to recording, I revised its structure, removing some parts (which became another 11 minute long song) and adding a piano interlude based around the chord progression which ends Inner Sanctum.

Travis’s Notes: There’s much to say about this one, so I’ll begin with the gear. The tune starts with the same setup as “Subway Dwellers” (except w/ my flat ride on the right), switches to dual floor toms for the big mid-song climax, back to rack/floor for the first drum solo (more on that later, of course), a hybrid style kit consisting of 12″/14″ MDM hats, my 4″x14″ Pearl maple piccolo snare (same one I used on SD, but tensioned high) and Reference brass snare for the drum ‘n’ bass section, and finally back to the regular kit for the ‘noise’ solo and the rest of the tune.

Once the drums enter at 0:28, it stays upbeat and energetic until the first tempo change. There’s some dual ride stuff at 2:40 – 2:42 and a brief ‘chick – splash’ pedal hat ostinato at 2:57 – 3:04. For the big mid-song climax, I felt that the dual floor tom setup would generate a more powerful and dramatic feel. The cymbal mutes at the close of this part (4:32) complement the very next piano note that follows. (You can see me grabbing the china before as well so it doesn’t bleed into the mics – that one isn’t ‘timed’, heh).

For the first drum solo, I didn’t write anything ahead of time but I figured out what I wanted to do just before we recorded. There’s a bit of improv within the transitioning to each part, similarly to the bridge in Pete P’s “Death Country”. It was important to do it this way, as the accents are crucial to the piece (one on the downbeat of every bar but the fourth, then nothing on the downbeat at the end). When we tracked this I had Garrett loop the click, I went for it several times and we kept the best take. You can see me motioning to Gabe a ‘meh’ sort of hand signal regarding the take I had just completed before launching into the one that made the album, haha. I think those are 16th septuplets at the very end. Anyone wanna transcribe this for fun?

I had a bunch of fun writing parts for the drum ‘n’ bass section. Originally, Gabe wanted a simple part underneath and a crazy part overdubbed, but I made it my goal to write something so bitchen it nearly sounded as if two drummers were playing, hehe. Gabe really highlighted this and brought it out with his amazing use of panning. The transitional sections are played on my regular brass snare and larger hats for contrast.

Skipping ahead to the ‘noise’ solo, this one was also a ton of fun, which is obvious if you watch the unabridged version that I’ve tacked on at the end. I think Gabe originally programmed a bunch of gibberish (apologies if not! haha) and I thought it’d be cool to just throw a mess of sticks on my kit and have him run around the room like a madman, making as much noise as possible. I left my other floor tom set up with some cymbals scattered about on the ground for him, plus there was an old, out-of-tune piano in the live room which was perfect, haha. None of this was timed to the click or pre-conceived, of course. We tracked so much stuff that some of it had to be cut in addition to the whole thing being chopped in half and layered on top of the initial half. It was a bit difficult, but I edited my footage to sync up with the first half as best as I could.

Skipping ahead, the song becomes upbeat and energetic upon reverting to its initial tempo of 132 at 10:02. There’s some flashy stuff once I move to the china, including a floor/snare triplet flam – a Colaiuta trademark. The ride bell at the end is played with the tip of my stick for less abrasion, and I move to the bow when the melody drops. The mute at the end is timed to complement the piano.

And as always, there’s even more complementation present:
0:55 – extra snare on ‘and’ of 4, vocals
1:10 – 1:24 – hi-hat accents, vocal melody
1:38 – 1:45 – cymbal accents, bass/distorted piano stabs
3:03 – 3:26 – cymbal orchestration, chord progression
6:06 – 6:15 – cymbal orchestration, vocal melody
7:47 – pedal splash, piano mash
10:06 – 10:11 – low crash/splash, vocal melody

Full drum set transcription
Tempo (0:28, when drums enter) = 132 BPM
Tempo change (3:34) = 100 BPM
Tempo (5:10 – 5:35) = free, very slow
Tempo change (5:35) = 145 BPM
Tempo (6:17 – 7:31) = free, very slow
Tempo change (7:31) = 100 BPM
Tempo (7:48 – 8:26) = free, very slow
No tempo/’noise’ solo (8:26 – 8:50)
Tempo (8:50 – 9:30) = free, very slow
Tempo change (9:30) = 100 BPM
Tempo change (10:02) = 132 BPM
Tempo change (10:26 – 10:32) = 126/122/119 BPM (ritard)