Friday, December 31, 2004

In The White Silence

The understated cover art for In The White Silence by John Luther Adams. Posted by Hello

I first read about John Luther Adams in 1987 in John Shaefer's book New Sounds: A Listener's Guide to New Music. It wasn't until I heard some of his music on Postclassic Radio that I realized I needed to actively seek this great body of music and put an active ear toward it. Since then I've learned that Adams is a fellow former student of James Tenney. His music is rooted in a strong identity with his home environment of Alaska. His sonic textures are amazing.

In The White Silence is an expansive, deceptively delicate textured work that luxurously unfolds for over an hour. It succeeds at portraying the other-worldly expanse of a vast snow-covered climate as "painted" by someone who knows and loves the details of this place.

I've long been a skeptic of the idea that music can be rooted in a place or even function as being "about" a place without the assistance of prose. But Adams has made a believer out of me. The "subject" of this music never overwhelms the "ideas." It's beautiful.

Scale of the Day: E Lydian augmented 5 mapped to the Square-root of 2

The E Lydian augmented 5 mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Secret Chiefs 3: First Grand Constitution and Bylaws

The noise-riddled ugly/beautiful sonic landscape of First Grand Constitution and Bylaws by Secret Chiefs 3. Posted by Hello

Continuing through my recent stash of new discs I turn my ears toward a recent discovery via my internet radio listening habit: Secret Chiefs 3.

The material on First Grand Constitution and Bylaws is aggressive and restless. To my ears I detect echoes of John Zorn's arrangements of Ennio Morricone and Naked City's aggressive poly-style mashing mixed in with moments of Beck, Yamataka Eye screams, angst and humor. They retain their "rock" credibility by keeping every track extremely short (arty pretentiousness grows with duration as the cliche has been discussed in recent new music blogs). The high contrast in texture from moment to moment is a welcome distraction and it's a good kick for when you've grown weary of more refined musics.

This is Secret Chiefs 3's first release and I suspect their output has grown stronger with each iteration. There were several sonic textures that I wished were extended beyond their momentary appearance. But I didn't mind hearing them vanish into a pool of swirling exploration. It's far more frustrating to hear a good idea cut short by a rigid mold of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus-verse than having it drain into a consistent pool of poly-textures that follows its own internal logic.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian augmented 5

The intervallic content of the E Flat Lydian augmented 5 Scale. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Scale of the Day: G Ionian mapped to the Square-root of 2

The G Ionian mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Listening to Holy Ghost

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost box set. Posted by Hello

"Trane was the father, Pharoah was the son. I was the holy ghost." - quote attributed to Ayler.

Revenant Records' impressive box set is an astonishing display of creativity and passion for one of the major figures of Free Jazz. From the impressive box itself to the wealth of music and words found within along with a pressed flowers and reproductions of playbills and posters from the era do much to advance further understanding of why Ayler's influence remains so strong.

Today I spent some time on only the first disc (there are nine, plus a bonus disc) and it already tells an impressive story of the creative ability, personality and astounding range of Ayler.

The opening three tracks are fairly tame. Ayler sitting in with the Herbert Katz Quintet in 1962 in Helsinki, Finland playing standards. His improvisations are short and stay pretty comfortably inside the harmonic framework. But his tone is already growling, just perceptibly threatening to break free. It makes for a pleasant warmup for the high intensity of the material that follows.

We flash forward five months in that same year and find Ayler confidently displaying his improvisational range along side Cecil Taylor in Copenhagen, Denmark. It's immediately apparent that Tayler and Ayler are temperamentally suited to play together as they blend their distinct voices into a sympathetic, other-worldly sound.

The first disc then completes it audible and historic journey with three tracks from New York in 1964 with Ayler's very own trio (including the unmistakable Sunny Murray on drums). This is Ayler's own music, his own voice and two fellow improvisers up to the task of realizing his uncompromising creative drive.

Nine discs to go and the first one has already proven to be worth the price of admission. Ayler takes the Free Jazz harmolodics of Coleman and drives such creative freedom several steps forward through the sheer force of his personality an expressive range that encompasses quiet reflection and near manic insanity. This is music that challenges one's sense of what improvisation can be. It achieves that Taylor-esque level of transcendence that is tinged with remorse for the martyrdom of this incredible player.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Radio Hyper-Yahoo

Currently listening to Radio Hyper-Yahoo. Posted by Hello

It's that short valley between major holidays marking another turn on the odometer in the year column. A good time to put an ear to the new music found under this year's tree.

Elliott Sharp's recent Radio Hyper-Yahoo is currently filling my ears. I've been a fan of Sharp's music and ideas for a long time now and I still aspire toward having a complete collection of his prolific output. This recent disc sounds like an update on the ideas from In the Land of the Yahoos, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Yahoos, Revenge of the Stuttering Child, Do the Don't and even stays true to the spirit of the old Mofungo spirit found on Bugged and Work. It's rich with social commentary and some fruitful collaborations. Sharp's politics and ideas are deeply resonant for me and it's a pleasure to hear them both articulated at once. I approach each new Sharp disc with high expectations and still manage to enjoy them more than I expect to. "Got it? Get it!" in particular (a collaboration with vocalist Tracie Morris) in particular jumps out at me as a polished track with excellent text. This one is thick with the sound that keeps me looking for more.

Scale of the Day: F Ionian

The intervallic content of the F Ionian Scale. Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Scale of the Day: G Ionian diminished 5

The G Ionian diminished 5 Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Friday, December 24, 2004

Scale of the Day: C Mixolydian

The C Mixolydian Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Friday, December 17, 2004

Scale of the Day: G Sharp Aeolian diminished 4

The G Sharp Aeolian diminished 4 Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Scale of the Day: E Phrygian

The E Phrygian Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

String Quartet No. 3

Last year I completed writing String Quartet No. 3: The Long Thoughts (part 1). It's been haunting me ever since. It's one composition where many disparate aspects of my personal aesthetic and sensibilities have come together toward a cohesive expression. I'm proud of it.

The opening measures of my third String Quartet. Posted by Hello

Program Notes:
String Quartet No. 3: The Long Thoughts (part 1) is built upon the juxtaposition of sustained tones in free harmony and a set of deconstructed hymn tunes. The coexistence of these contrasting textures was motivated by the tension between personal and social expressions of faith.

Just to add a little more detail to what I've formally placed in the above program notes: this work is an introspective reflection on the nature of belief versus "fitting in" that works within my personal harmonic vocabulary. One technique I employed along these lines is freely modulating fragments of hymn melodies while keeping the intonation grounded in E Flat so that the melodies come out in the "wrong" key or draw attention to some "awkward" sounding intervals. It is a sonic depiction of the sensation of being at odds in a room full of "believers."

I envision "The Long Thoughts" as being a series of compositions dwelling upon self-reflection. Part two will likely be an epic solo re-tuned piano composition.

I've begun to take some preliminary steps toward getting this work performed and/or recorded. Such an endeavor will probably boil down to finding funding sources. It seems that the best way to go about this is to reach out to other composers with string quartet scores waiting to be performed as well so that we might pool together our resources and have enough material to mount a formal presentation. I'll have more to say about that in a later post. For now, I'd just like to get some information about this piece out and do what I can to attract like-minded individuals to help bring this labor of love to life.

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Locrian mapped to the Square-root of 2

The D Sharp Locrian mapped to the Square-root of 2 Scale. Posted by Hello

Monday, December 13, 2004

Scale of the Day: D Sharp Locrian diminished 4

The D Sharp Locrian diminished 4 Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello

Arcana: Musicians on Music

Arcana: Musicians on Music, edited by John Zorn. Posted by Hello

Yesterday I finished reading Arcana: Musicians on Music, a collection of essays assembled by the leading Downtown Radical Jewish Culture figure John Zorn.

This book is a rare opportunity to read directly from many of my personal heroes and it fills out my understanding of the creative thinking processes that happen within this group of aggressively individualistic composers and improvisers. As Zorn points out in his preface, much of this material is rough and unpolished as this is an unfiltered exposure to the writings of non-writers. As such, they span quite a range from thick academic manifesto to personal biography to performane set lists. Nearly all of it is deeply thoughtful and rooted in a lifetime of plumbing one's creative muse.

I particularly enjoyed the severely dense "Propositional Music: On Emergent Properties in Morphogenesis and the Evolution of Music" by David Rosenboom. Each paragraph seemed so thick with ideas that it read like a series of abstracts tackling a range of breathlessly uncompromising composition issues. "Teaching Improvised Music: An Ethnographic Memoir" by George E. Lewis struck a near-perfect balance between personal biography and academic rigor. (George Lewis is a fantastic composer and hearing the NOW Orchestra performing his Shadowgraph series is one of the greatest live music experiences of my life). "Aural Architecture: The Confluence of Freedom" by Myra Melford was an excellent chance to learn about the influence of architecture and spirituality in the music of my all time favorite pianist. Also satisfying as a thoughtful read was "Playing with Fire: Drinking-- And Burning-- in the Dreamtime" by Peter Garland. It manages to convey a great deal of thought about music and the nature of creative composing by offering an account of his travels in Australia.

There were also a number of essays by composers whose music affects me deeply, but their prose left me hungry for more complete accounts of their life and ideas. This was particularly true in "Elements of Improvisation" by Marilyn Crispell. Her music also has the effect of leaving me hungry for more. She has tapped into the spiritual energy from the tradition of John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. It's music that is tough to write about (though Graham Lock does incredible justice to the subject). Likewise, "An Approach to Guitar Fingering" by Bill Frisell and "A Personal Pedagogy" by Mark Dresser are fascinating glimpses of some of the detailed thinking of these respective musicians. They loom so large that one is again hungry for a complete biography of such accomplished improvisers. But even such fleeting glimpses of the inner workings of current great artists is more than this culture typically delivers.

This collection of essays is a valuable contribution toward documenting a vibrant era and scene in creative music. It really should be only the tip of the iceberg. There should be monthly installments of such writings covering a wide range of composers and improvisers. Anthony Braxton is a prolific writer whose excellent Tri-axiom volumes remain unpublished (or at least not widely distributed, a real crime, the draft I read needed a little polish, but the ideas were so vibrant and valuable) and whose influence was easily detectable in Arcana even if the absence of his writings was conspicuous. I would also love to read something from the fertile minds of Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, Matthew Shipp and several others from the downtown scene. Interviews are nice, but there's something to be said for artists presenting themselves in their own prose. High praise for John Zorn for seeing this project through and more than just a little remorse that it is so soon out of print.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Scale of the Day: B Whole-tone

The B Whole-tone Scale as you would find it on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument. Posted by Hello