Monday, September 29, 2008

Scale of the Day: C Sharp Pythagorean Octotonic-2 - Ionian Mode

CSharpPythagoreanOctotonic-2IonianMode

The C Sharp Pythagorean Octotonic-2 - Ionian Mode - Scale. The 4/3 just perfect fourth is the only utonal interval in this scale. Which is why this scale is said to be in "Ionian Mode." The otonal spelling of the other intervals necessitates the double sharps (and frequency ratios featuring some relatively large integers).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Symphony in Orbit

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Sunday, September 21, 2008 & Sunday, September 28, 2008 @ Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
Baltimore, MD

-The Planets-
Marin Alsop: conductor
Evelyn Glennie: percussion
Women of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society
Tom Hall: Music Director
Leo Wanechak: Assistant Conductor

Brunnhilde's Immolation Scene from Gotterdammerung by Richard Wagner
UFO by Michael Daugherty
The Planets by Gustav Holst

-Mahler's Titan-
Marin Alsop: Conductor
Kelly O'Connor: Mezzo-soprano

Symphony No. 1 "Jeremiah" by Leonard Bernstein
Symphony No. 1 "Titan" by Gustav Mahler

The opening two concerts of the 2008-9 season of the Baltimore Symphony proved to be generous to composers named "Gustav." Launching with a subject of celestial bodies; an excerpt from Wagner's Ring Cycle and Daugherty's Project Blue Book inspired UFO as a warm up to The Planets transformed the Meyerhoff into the symphonic equivalent of Area 51. The exquisite orchestration throughout Gustav Holst's famous orchestral work had these ears craving to perform an autopsy on the score. The journey through the Zodiac of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune took on a warm radiance under the baton of Marin Alsop that allowed surprising detail to emerge from this warhorse.

Compared to the incredible orchestration of The Planets, the contemporary percussion concerto - written specifically for Evelyn Glennie - felt transparent. It is a fantastic percussion piece that miraculously avoids the novelty of its "other worldly" sounds of amplified waterphone, mechanical siren and invented instruments. The orchestration felt like an afterthought when juxtaposed against the inventiveness of the solo part. The large assemblage of instruments went largely underused for much of this composition as it was mostly limited to coloration and accompaniment. I had hoped for an "abduction" movement where the symphonic players might overwhelm the soloist for a spell.

The following week presented a program of First Symphonies by composers focused upon the spiritual realm. Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 tells the story of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah through orchestral and voice. The weighty subject felt surprisingly light given the wealth of lyrical themes and the brevity of the work as a whole. A pleasant, well orchestrated and well performed work that effervescently dissolved into the early afternoon.

As an undergraduate student I once spent a Sunday determined to develop an understanding of the music of Gustav Mahler. Armed with a score for the Symphony No. 1 I followed along with a recording completely unprepared for the magnitude of this sprawling masterpiece. The spiritual struggle that drives this - and much of Mahler's other works - was lost on me at the time as a young student struggling to digest the language of late-Romanticism. But what did impress me was the arrangement and the way Mahler weaves his thematic layers throughout this music.

Hearing this piece in the concert hall makes the gravity and staying power of the "Titan" much clearer. With ears more open to the nineteenth century the thematic layers were even more impressive - and hauntingly familiar - this time through. There were some intonation problems in the brass section toward the end of an otherwise brilliant reading. This was a performance to melt ears once hostile to the sound wold of Gustav Mahler.

Scale of the Day: C Sharp Chromatic 1% wide

CSharpChromatic1PercentWide

The C Sharp Chromatic 1% wide Scale. The formula for stretching these intervals is clear in this representation: the 100-cent semitone is now 101-cents, the 200-cent major second is now 202-cents, and so on to the 1212-cent stretched "octave."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Interval of the Day: Minor Seventh mapped to the Square-root-of-2

MinorSeventhMappedToTheSquareRootOf2

The minor seventh mapped to the Square-root-of-2. An interval that happens to bear more than a passing resemblance to an equal tempered perfect fourth. However, the remapping refers to a context where the square-root-of-2 "tritone" of 600-cents is the interval of harmonic equivalence (a distinction reserved for the octave in the overwhelming majority of the world's music). In this manner, the 500-cent perfect fourth is harmonically equivalent to the 1100-cent major seventh.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Scale of the Day: C Sharp Pythagorean Chromatic - Lydian Mode

CSharpPythagoreanChromaticLydianMode

The C Sharp Pythagorean Chromatic - Lydian Mode - Scale. The all otonal spelling of Pythagorean intervals necessitates the use of double-sharps. A reminder that within just intonation systems the D-double-sharp (the 19683/16384 augmented second relative to c-sharp) is not an enharmonic equivalent to E-natural (which would be the 32/27 minor third - a utonal interval).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Scale of the Day: G Flat Lydian no 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2

GFlatLydianNo5MappedToTheSquareRootOf2

The G Flat Lydian no 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. A "chromatic tritone" with a pair of quarter-tones substituting for the equal tempered perfect fourth.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Lydian no 5

FLydianNo5-interval-analysis

The intervallic content of the F Lydian no 5 Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Cube-root-of-2-axis, Construct #1 - Lydian Mode - in Square-root-of-2-space - reflected into the first pool

ECubeRootOf2AxisConstructNo1LydianModeInSquareRootOf2SpaceReflectedIntoTheFirstPool

The E Cube-root-of-2-axis, Construct #1 - Lydian Mode - in Square-root-of-2-space - reflected into the first pool - Scale. This is a long name for a simple scale. Take the 600-cent "tritone" (the square-root-of-2), divide that with the 400-cent "major third" (the cube-root-of-2) and add in the interval that is a proportionally equivalent division within the 400-cent interval (the eighteenth-root-of-2).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mob Mentality

Mobtown Modern: Too Cool for School @ The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

pastlife laptops and attic instruments (2004) - Erik Spangler
Brian Sacawa: alto saxophone
DJ Dubble8: turntables

The Anvil Chorus (1990) - David Lang
Steve Owen: percussion

Lick (1994) (remix by Hybrid Groove Project) - Julia Wolfe
Brian Sacawa: soprano saxophone
Matthew Everhart: electric guitar
Nathan Bontrager: cello
Joel Ciaccio: bass
DJ Dubble8: turntables, laptop

paint box (2006) - Anna Clyne
Jody Redhage: cello

Grab It! (1999) (remix by Hybrid Groove Project) - Jacob ter Veldhuis
Brian Sacawa: tenor saxophone
DJ Dubble8: turntables, laptop

Spinnin’ wax, playin’ sax and makin’ music with poise,
we’re the best, oh so fresh, and all the rest is noise!
- from the chorus of the HGP Anthem

Mobtown Modern brings chamber music to the street, and with it comes a mix of poise and credibility that leaves both the music and one's perception of it altered in its remixed wake. The ears are challenged and left a little more open after a good dose of schooling from a selection of works by composers just outside comfortably scholastic confines. The willingness to re-arrange - partially out of necessity and partially through a creative impulse to include turntablism as a viable part of the chamber ensemble - recasts this body of this music while remaining true to the sonic intent of these works.

pastlife laptops and attic instruments is a piece I've had the fortune of hearing evolve over a span of recordings and live performances. The collaborative duo of Brian Sacawa and Erik Spangler has continued to mold this framework into a vehicle for stretching out with improvised details. The addition of a digital delay to the saxophone pulls the live acoustic instrument even deeper into the pool of samples, beats and electronic textures. It also highlights the healthy expansion of materials as Hybrid Groove Project has grown into this piece. The inclusion of the chorus from the HGP Anthem as one of the samples added a tag of identity into the sound that clearly states the ambition and personality behind Mobtown Modern.

With Lick the remix transforms the funk-driven can banging into a canvas for the Dubble8 treatment of the percussion and piano parts. Samples snake through as the multiple pulse lines of live and electronic parts propel toward Nancarrow-esque precision. It's a different Lick as the cut-up video images completes a transformation that takes the Downtown sound a little further downtown.

Grab It! applies the remix aesthetic to a work already steeped in sampled accompaniment. The rhythmic voice part taken from the video that accompanies the live tenor saxophone falls into a bed of bass and drum lines molded along the mixed meters of this composition. A melding so tight, and so natural that the original version feels stripped down in comparison.

Programmed between the Hybrid Groove treatments was a pair of solo pieces. The Anvil Chorus offering a feast of metallic percussion and human-driven groove while paint box presented the theater of Jody Redhage cradling her cello on stage using the body of the instrument to augment the sound of a music box as accompaniment to an electronic track thick with cello.

In an evening marked by ear-driven textures the presentation added a cohesive layer of audience friendly atmosphere. The informal nod toward back-to-school nostalgia included video footage of '80s era Saturday morning cartoons and a table of complimentary snacks of fruit roll-ups and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on cut triangles of white bread. New music worth staying up late for on a school night.

Guelph Jazz Festival 2008: Wither New Orleans

In 1979, the NBA franchise known as the New Orleans Jazz was relocated to Salt Lake City, dubbing itself the Utah Jazz in the process. In trading Congo Square for Temple Square the metaphor of New Orleans giving to the world a deep Afrological heritage of music and culture to a nation and a world that has given indifference in return took on an unusually literal form as the dynamic, cross-roads pollinated music and dance of a people was exported into the rugged isolation of the American West in name only.

The tale of two cities is filled with contrast. While the story of Salt Lake is one of abandoning the practice of legal polygamy to attain statehood and adjusting cultural practice and perceptions to achieve acceptance, New Orleans has continued to confront questions about who and what we are as a people from its position as a crossroads filled with dangers and vitality often at odds with middle-class sensibilities. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's devastation the organized abandonment of the black working class community of New Orleans has been accelerated toward the grim goals of "gentrification." The same "gentrification" that has transformed the once vital Manhattan island into the nauseating "safety" of yet another shopping mall environment in North America.

The morning keynote address of professor George Lipsitz (UC, Santa Barbara) at the Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium - titled Improvisation and Diaspora: Why New Orleans Matters - conveyed a powerful cry for help and trans cultural understanding from a community in crisis. A message that is often not welcomed both within and outside of the United States as professor Lipsitz detailed the friction and harassment he has personally experienced from the state department of his own government.

The theme of willful neglect and arrogant ignorance was woven into several papers at the colloquium as the work of applying academic standards of research to the subject of improvisation confronted the culture of malfeasance that permeates the ruling party that exacerbated the humanitarian disaster of Katrina. Sally Booth, a PhD student in the English department at the University of Guelph, began her paper Cityscape: David Wojnarowicz, Camouflage and Recognition with a quote from former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani that underscores the anti-Democratic impulse that allows - even rewards - a policy of ignoring its own citizens. With a statement that regards laws as a tool for protecting citizens from those who would "annoy" or "harass" them, Giuliani willfully imposes his view of a two-tribe nation of citizens and "non-citizens." Conveniently downplaying the proud tradition of dissent and civil disobedience (practices that righteously "annoy" in the larger cause of justice and human rights). It is under this mindset that the rights of society's most vulnerable are ignored. The AIDS crisis was effectively ignored under Giuliani's stewardship and the gentrifying efforts of making the city "safer" came at the expense of displacing anyone too far afield of "real citizens." A coward's way of "cleaning up" spaces without confronting or even acknowledging the real problems of poverty and disparity of economic and education opportunities.

It is this often blatant policy of dividing society into tribes that continues to rot at the core of the GOP platform. It is the mindset that allows Dennis Hastert (R - IL) to openly consider not rebuilding New Orleans from the floor of the House of Representatives. A city with 65% of its populace living below the poverty line, a city that is 67% African-American is a city full of the "non-citizens" this party chooses not to represent. An evacuation effort that included separating family members to distant parts of the country in an eerie echo of the slavery practices that forcefully relocated so many to this same city is the moral equivalent of the Trail of Tears. One can only speculate about the difference in attention and competence had a Katrina-level disaster hit the city of Salt Lake. It is this mindset behind the sneer of dismissal when "activist" and "angry left" were lobbed as derogatory words at the recent Republican convention in the Twin Cities. Is the slow fight toward social justice through activism ignoble? Or is this part of the culture wars vocabulary of identifying and vilifying that "other tribe?" The Katrina disaster was more than incompetence from "heck of a job" Brownie. It was an extension of a policy of exclusion accelerated under the disguise of catastrophe.

The panel discussion "Rebuilding Community: New Orleans Perspectives" that included poet Sunni Patterson of the 9th ward and legendary saxophonist Kidd Jordan offered wisdom and thoughtful reflection along with the righteous "anger" fueled more by truth than left-right divisions. A perspective that drives home the value of New Orleans as a spiritual center and an origin of the music traditions passionately celebrated at festivals all around the world. In the celebration of a music that feeds the soul - a music that rises above the confines of mere entertainment - comes the responsibility to do right by the people of this city. The cry for help and understanding from these voices is easy to understand when these voices are heard.

HurdAudio Rotation: From Feldman to Ayler and Iyer

Morton Feldman: Complete Works for Two Pianos. 2002. Alice Musik Produktion: ALCD 024.

Kristine Scholz: piano
Mats Persson: piano

Vertical Thoughts 1 for Two Pianos (1963)
Intermission 6 for One or Two Pianos (1953)
Projection 3 for Two Pianos (1951)
Two Pieces for Two Pianos (1954)
Piano (Three Hands) (1957)
Intermission 6 for One or Two Pianos (1953)
Piano Four Hands (1958)
Work for Two Pianists (1958)
Ixion - For Two Pianos (1958)
Intermission 6 for One or Two Pianos (1953)
Two Pianos (1957)

It was a fortunate happenstance that brought this CD into my collection. A casual glance that somehow registered "Morton Feldman" in a place I didn't expect to find him. Fitting for a music that stretches the conscious mind into a listening state best described as "Feldman-esque" and filled with unexpected sensory extremes.

Quiet, serene sonic landscapes drawing heavily upon Feldman's affinity for abstract painting. Each gesture reaches the attentive ear with a graceful sense of space, a sense of using slight brush strokes along a canvas marked by silence. Beautifully realized by Scholz and Persson as the effort of playing within a meditation leaves no trace of strain or rushed intention and every indication of understanding these pieces and textures. The tranquility feels natural - this is the challenge posed by extended periods of time within such a narrow dynamic range constructed of such deliberate formal stasis.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [box set] - disc 8. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Interviews with Albert Ayler:
with Birger Jorgensen for "Afterbeat" radio program - December 1964 and November 1966 in Copenhagen, Denmark
with Daniel Caux fo "France Culture" - July 1970 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France

The music of Albert Ayler was the journey of an artist seeking out that which is honest and that which is creative. That such journeys are routinely viewed with suspicion and hostility is a traditional component of artistic development. In these interviews one can hear the mix of bewilderment and conviction present in the complicated development of one of the great free jazz players of the twentieth century. The conviction that there is no good reason for the misunderstandings that dogged him is particularly touching. The supportive refuge found in Europe balanced against the desire to bring this music "home" to America. The characterization of Cecil Taylor as both "brilliant" and "hard" against his own conception of "smooth" is particularly interesting. There is the desire to reach backward through the decades to this pure creative soul and reassure him that history will be kind to his work. That it will inspire so many. The hostility of its own time belonging to smaller minds incapable of transcendence or forward thinking. The desire to reach back and blunt the frustrations that contributed in no small way to cutting down this voice prematurely. If anything, these recordings manage to reach forward toward understanding for those walking similar paths in our own time.

Vijay Iyer: Reimagining. 2005. Savoy Jazz: SVY 17475.

Vijay Iyer: piano
Rudresh Mahanthappa: also saxophone
Stephan Crump: bass
Marcus Gilmore: drums

It is easy to imagine being absorbed into the same ideas that occupy the mind of Vijay Iyer. The disjointed phrasing of his improvisations in "Revolutions" follows much of my own sense of contour. The re-imagined treatment of John Lennon's "Imagine" applies a different gravity than the original that presents the twin faces of recognizing both the original song and the new sensibility applied toward turning it into a contemporary expression of longing for peace in our time. The shock of realizing that Vijay Iyer was sitting beside me - absorbed in the same colloquium experience as myself at Guelph last week - carries into the many turns toward recognition lurking in the creative expression of Reimagining. An uncommon sound from an instrument Iyer and I share in common. A rewarding music to apply ears toward.

Scale of the Day: E Square-root-of-2-axis Construct #1 - Lydian Mode - reflected into the first pool - Inversion

ESquareRootOf2AxisConstructNo1LydianModeReflectedIntoTheFirstPoolInversion

The E Square-root-of-2-axis, Construct #1, Lydian Mode - reflected into the first pool - Inversion Scale. The inversion essentially shifts the reflection into the second pool in this particular example.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guelph Jazz Festival 2008: Spanning Between the Street and the Ivory Towers



With a touching and familiar sense of enthusiasm for participating in the art of improvised music the young, and instinctively artful member of Guelph's KidsAbility sitting just to the left of Matana Roberts sprang to his feet at nearly the moment the call for volunteer conductors was announced. It was in this first set under the tent on Upper Wyndham Street on a day of free street performances stretching past midnight that the principle of giving back to the community through music and improvisation was at its clearest and most positive manifestation. Rich Marsella dutifully handed over the baton and conducting signs and placed himself before this child's feet as a performer realizing a new vision. With an ensemble of percussion instruments - many homemade - designed to allow an ensemble of youth with varying developmental challenges along with additional support and direction from Matana Roberts on alto saxophone produced the sound of sheer joy in creating and participating before a warm audience. The breadth of a festival and colloquium that approaches creative improvisation with uncompromising passion that includes both the heady, ponderous academic work along side moments of real, street-level realizations of astonishing inclusiveness serves to challenge and expand one's sense of what this music is and what it can be. Improvised music can be many things; sublime, agitated, transcendent, an expansion of tradition, a prayer for the soul or a display of impressive virtuosity. Matana Roberts, Rich Marsella and the KidsAbility Ensemble presented a side of this music that is deeply generous, playful and affecting.

Earlier in the week, Matana Roberts performed the prologue from her Coin Coin project. The prologue is a solo set for voice and alto saxophone designed as a "bloodsound narrative," a deeply personal work that weaves the stories of Roberts' ancestors into a performance that connects to her extended family through sound. With candles lit and photographs projected along the white wall behind Roberts this prologue began with song that moves slowly from words to linear material on the alto. The ache to connect to deep roots ever present in sound and manner. As the performance shifted slowly back to words sung along the melodic contours that make up this creative expression one could almost feel the presence of an approving lineage of souls so lovingly acknowledged and celebrated by this performance. Matana Roberts has set upon a path of self-discovery and artistic sensibility that speaks toward a larger humanity. I am curious to hear the other movements of Coin Coin.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Mixolydian no 4 1% narrow

EFlatMixolydianNo4-1PercentNarrow

The E Flat Mixolydian no 4 1% narrow Scale.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Gathering of Friendly Experiencers


I'm currently submerged in the Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium.  And submerged isn't just a reference to the rain that came through yesterday (hardly noticeable in my perpetual indoor state).  This event is total immersion into creative music from all angles.  The colloquium side wrapped up yesterday with an abundance of academic research on the subject of improvisation - much of it deserving of more processing as I prepare to say more about the intellectual work being done in this area.  For once, my brain feels full.

The ears are hardly neglected, even as the brain remains sated.  Francois Houle has been a real treat to hear thus far in his appearances at one of the workshops, his group Safa yesterday morning and he's due to take the stage with Aeriels in less than an hour from now.  His instinct for bending his intonation and the contrast between his breathy quiet against his soaring fortissimo on the clarinet compliments his incredible, improvising adaptibility.  

The Guelph Jazz Festival is unique.  Not just because they host a colloquium.  This total immersion in the world of this music, its sounds, its ideas and its passions is complete.  These folks "get it."  One may be left scrambling to sleep, eat or blog in the spare minutes between compelling events.  The abundance of ideas leaves the brains in knots that will need to be worked out and reflected upon over the months ahead.  

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

El is a Sound of Nilssen-Love

Frode Gjerstad: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone
Marshall Allen: flute, alto saxophone, EVI
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums

Thursday, August 28, 2008 @ Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia basks in the aftermath of a super nova. On a pleasantly warm night in late August the once Earthly presence of Sun Ra - and those who were in his orbit - still sends ripples of sound that burn the curious ear. A modest table of CDs and vinyl offerings finds Danny Thompson selling the sound of joy from a time when Ra burned bright. Several records on the table feature personnel lists of mind-blowing dimensions.  Hiroshima in particular begs to be listened to with an unreal lineup of Ra, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Philly Joe Jones, Richard Davis, Don Moye and Clifford Jarvis. Clearly an artifact of nearly incomprehensible value in the history of creative improvised music. These ears nearly weep that so many from that set have already ascended to the next dimension - still craving one more celestial encounter with one's forebears. Marshall Allen is one such presence still burning strong in a Sun Ra orbit.  A powerful aftershock of that super nova that still lingers in the City of Brotherly Love.

Standing in close proximity to that fire, and the still red-tinged beard of Marshall Allen, was the Norwegian born Frode Gjerstad.  A free improvising reedsman with deep roots and an innate ability to tap into the joy of building a ferocious sound.  The periods of time when the soundscape turned around the dueling collaborations of clarinet and EVI suggested that this pair could easily hold their own as a duo.  

But then Paal Nilssen-Love was hardly an unwelcome intrusion into this mix.  Tastefully selecting his entrances (and well timed moments of restraint) he built a layer that was both subtle and aggressive when it needed to be.  It was easy to understand why Nilssen-Love is favored collaborator with so many creative improvisers.  The drum kit - often enhanced with small gongs upon the membrane drum heads or a chain collapsed upon the tom-tom in a heap - rolled and tumbled in creative support with the spaced-out jams of Allen and Gjerstad.  

A fortuitous meeting of three improvisers willing to put a bite into their sound.  Over the course of one blistering set the Philadelphia Art Alliance was the place.  An otherworldly tradition manifested itself in jagged sonic shades as a reminder of the timeless glow of both past future and present future sounds.