Where stylistic acoustic guitar pioneer Michael Hedges had his tavern regular “Barbara”, and Willie Nelson has his tattered and road worn “Trigger”, ambient acoustic guitarist David W Donner has his Eterna. Granted, Eterna is more properly the manufacturer's model name, and less a pet name—but the individuality the artist gives it is no less storied and remarkable. “In and of itself, it's nothing special; it's an inexpensive Yamaha model,” Donner explains in the album liner notes, “[it] was a Christmas present from my grandmother. Though it will never sound like a high end Taylor, after the wood has aged over two decades, it has developed a much deeper and richer tone.”
Donner's earliest forays into music were in an indie rock band with his cousins (who played guitar before he even considered it) and later with pop group 20:2:12 on their Wake Up! album. It was after receiving the Yamaha Eterna that Donner took up guitar lessons and learned to play. “My earliest musical memory was taking piano lessons,” the artist admits, “My mom made me... and I disliked it at first, but became kind of obsessed with doing well at it—as I am with many things I do.” “I started out listening to country music in its golden age,” he recalls, “then later became interested in rock acts like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, along with jazz and acoustic artists like Al DiMeola, Mark Knopfler, etc. The main idea was to glean from as many different artists and styles as I could.”
It was David Donner's mastery of the guitar that lead him from his birth place in Tucson, AZ to Los Angeles, CA, where he lent his style to a number of independent films, a television series and several commercials. But the artist sought something that was authentically his own. He states: “It became apparent that no matter what else I did, an original solo guitar album needed to become a priority.”
Using the Eterna on the majority of the recordings that appear on its album namesake, Donner's intricate finger-styling moves through twelve tracks of aerial beauty and abstract resonance, with no shortage of deeply textured variations in harmony. The guitar proves reliable in providing a dynamic range that speaks in perfect voice for Donner's deft and explorative compositions—wholly illustrating what a “nothing special” guitar, in his capable hands, can be made to accomplish. The resulting album is a captivating journey through material wrought from as much surrealist perception and vision, as acerbic personality and design. By description alone, such a varied breadth and scope might imply inconsistency, but Eterna's arrangement maintains an ebb and flow that perfectly marries content and form.
Throughout Eterna, David demonstrates a clear penchant for blending worldly atmospherics with all manner of varying temperaments, from the beautiful and delicate Rite of Passage to the folk sounds of “Lonely Road”, and the smile inducing “What's The Deal (With Women)”. The opening track Avesah, enters subtle and furtive at first, but then moves from an evasive sway, to a rhythmic strum, and then back again with stunning grace. It's a song—a concept really—that ultimately hints at the album's underlying theme. “Avesah comes from Yoga, and has to do with one's highest self,” the artist explains. “I'm very interested in the concept of higher consciousness and transcendence.”
For all intents and purposes, the track establishes the perfect representation for the album's overall charisma when the Avesah ideology returns in the closing Prelude to Avesah—curiously arriving as the last track instead of the first, perhaps as encouragement for the listener to seek origin for their own transcendence.
The resulting work, one might venture, is David Donner's pursuit of not only his own, but maybe even the Eterna guitar's highest self—their combined Avesah. “I would hope people hear it as unique,” he says, “...but not too out there.”
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