Variations II, Featuring Joe Zobkiw

This is the second album of collaborations between Stefan and Joe Zobkiw, where Joe provides a seedling of an idea and Stefan takes it from there to create a finished piece. Created entirely during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Joe and Stefan worked in their respective studios, collaborating online to complete this new introspective, minimalist, meditative music.

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Liner Notes


This piece begins with a simple rhythmic seedling provided by Joe, with a melody, that becomes an ostinato upon which the chord changes for the tune are built. Here is the germ provided by Joe:

On top of this I built a rhythmic groove of 3+3+3+3+2+2, in the piano and bass. Then I built a chord progression that works over the initial ostinato, and finally added a new melody over it all. To me it flows like a river, which is how I decided to make the music video, using images of water flowing. Float away with this one…


Here’s the initial seedling for this one:

This one seems to flow to me so I started to orchestrate the pulsing sound, first with timpani, then with strings, then bells, building up a texture on which I added the classical guitar melody. Then the simple texture begins to soar for me, and I added a B section on the IV chord, then coming back to ground on the I chord with the suspensions resolving, mellowing out and disappearing gradually back to the original germ. Coasting and drifting through the air…

Last Fall

This germ is in 5:

I decided not to begin the piece with the seedling, but rather to introduce it after setting up a floating pulsing sound. Then the electric piano sound introduces the motif in 5/4, and the pulsing swirls around and I start introducing some digital delays to add extra rhythmic interest. Then I introduce the chord progression I – VI – IV – V, one of the oldest in the book, but pretty. Then I built a melody over it all. It reminds me of last Fall, but not my last fall. 😉


This germ had a rhythmic and chordal nature to it, so I decided to build textures all around it:

The textures begin with swirling sounds and pads that twinkle, bells, and slight percussive sounds, playing with delays to give rhythmic interest, gradually building up to using every sixteenth note letting you float around on the up and downbeats as your ear tunes into the various levels of pulsing.

Toward a Wider Path

This was the first piece that we started for this project, and began with this seedling:

To support this basic idea I brought in some high pads with swirling twinkles floating upward. Then I brought in a guitar arpeggio with a little kalimba ostinato to drive the piece forward. Then I wrote the melody that first occurs in the cello. This comes out of the original seedling, but allows me to build upwards, letting the violin and eventually synths take over the melody building higher and higher. The orchestration takes you higher still, leading to the climax and quick fade. The video came from the idea of starting in the countryside, driving through the hustle of the city, then the through the tunnel outward that leads back to the wider path.


Here’s the seedling for this piece:

I decided to let this one build slowly with layers building up over time and creating an ambient space for your mind to fill. Pulsing and swirling sounds create the matter of the universe.

Right Place

This piece came from 2 related seedlings:

We decided to slow these down and change the key a bit to make the piece more mellow. Once again, the seedling reminded me a flowing water, so I brought in the sound pf waves, then used my guitar to make the sounds of birds calling and fluttering that help make the relaxing sound of being oceanside. Then the textures, melody, and chords came naturally to me as I built the piece and created a structure and form.


This seedling suggested a longer, more sustained treatment, so the layers I built develop slowly with rich and exotic textures. Slowly evolving sounds and harmonies, take you on a floating tour of an imaginary far away place, lifting you upwards away from your everyday experiences.

Five Elements

This is the only track of this album that wasn’t a collaboration, but rather was written by David Mash to demonstrate the sounds of a new Kontakt instrument he helped build with the company Earthmoments, called “5Elements.” This is a really cool instrument that contains really beautiful samples of rare on-of-a-kind instruments built at the Swarm studio in Auraville, in Southern India. These instruments inspired me to create a soundscape from these fascinating tools. Every sound in this piece was created from the 5Elements instrument from Earthmoments.


This is the seedling that Joe provided:

I started with this very sparse piano motif and placed it in a huge space from an impulse response (IR) reverb created by my friend Yotam Agam. Then I began adding layer upon layer of rhythmic sounds, backwards snippets, building an interesting cacophony of synthetic and natural sounds. When joe heard the first draft he asked me to imagine Miles Davis on top of a mountain, soloing over this rhythmic groove. Hence the muted trumpet solo, which is also reversed and played backwards against the solo, so when you hear the 2nd trumpet enter, it is the first in reverse. The floating nature of this inspired the flying bird in the video. Float off and lose yourself in the wonder of it all…

False Cosm

This is the seedling from Joe:

I decided to let this one evolve from the seedling with floating layers of swirling synthesized sounds and twinkling ostinatos without a lot of harmonic movement except those that you perceive from the interaction of the various layers moving ever so slightly in time to help you end this album in relaxation and bliss. Lie down and listen in headphones. Forget about everything else and float off into the cosmos.