The stage where solo artist Randy J is playing is at the apex of the hard-walled surfaces in Stardust Video and Coffee's listening room. The difficult acoustics created by concrete walls and animated listeners endow the guitarist's floating, ambient sound with a ragged edge. It seems to work well as a backdrop, as Randy J's music conjures visions of breathing in wide-open spaces, the notes rolling over empty coulees and plains cornered by the rise of echoing granite canyons. The juxtaposition of the room with the atmosphere he's creating becomes surreal.
"It gives the music a different feel ... a different flavor," he laughs later, pleased at the challenge of the room and yet another twist in the mystery of sound and imagination that drives his singular music style.
Randy J's technique is one that has been categorized as anywhere from "ambient" to "atmospheric." But he sees those terms as more of a description of the feeling his music elicits. "I think of places I've been to, like out West. ... I create an atmosphere that puts the listener in that place. Everybody can interpret it the way they want."
There is no label that fits. But there is a taste of all the flavors he has taken in, such as world folk -- especially South American -- new age, classical and jazz (from an intensive year of formal study). He adds a good measure of his own eccentric passion for spaghetti Westerns and a hint of his California experience, where he worked on film trailers.
Indeed, Randy J's music is all about interpretation. His prearranged and improvised compositions are pure instrumentals with occasional vocal effects. Some songs ring with cheesy surf guitar (honed by his role as a guitarist for locals The Tarantulas), dropping in and out of classical Spanish licks, then melting into Middle Eastern modal drones. Others, with the help of delay and reverb effects and loops, conjure dissonant versions of familiar soundtracks and tunes like Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Yet other pieces benefit from classical violins, Irish folk ballads, blues, trance and elevator-style Muzak.
Amazingly, his one-man-band style requires simple instrumentation: two electric guitars and an electric classical guitar. He often plays two guitars simultaneously, one balanced on its back straddling a keyboard stand that he plays like a piano, and the other slung high over his shoulder, classical style. Between the two, and with the help of a loop effect, he is able to cover rhythm, basslines and melody. Other songs are punctuated skillfully with his "two-handed style" on one guitar, where layers created by fleet-fingered tapping on the strings from both hands roves and skitters from mantric to melodic.
Randy J still plays with The Tarantulas, though that band isn't playing out as much as it works on a new album. Randy J's own 1997 solo release, "Songs of the Open Land," inspired by six years spent in Los Angeles, where he often went camping in the desert, still represents some of his current musical stylings but on a more simplistic level. His new solo project, to be released in the next few months, represents his now more-diverse work. It will feature mostly solo guitar and live classical instruments like cello, oboe and violin.
Though he's been a local resident for almost six years, future plans may take Randy J away from Orlando and his day job at Threshold Inc., working with developmentally delayed adults. His heart is still set on making his life all about music, but he says he may have to move on to find his dream. "When I have the guitar in my hand. That feels right."