Thursday, March 27, 2014

No. 47.) Adequate Charger March 26, 2014

When I began to work on the project this week, I was completely blank.  I had no idea what to do.  I sat down at the piano and let me fingers decide what to play.  The played the opening chord of this piece - a stack of perfect fourths going down from F.  This is a common jazz voicing that could represent an F6, Bb major 7, D minor 11, and even a few more chords.  It's something I play all the time in a jazz setting.  But as I played it this time, for some reason I listened to it more carefully.  I listened to the interaction of the notes with each other, and the overtones of the piano, which I've loved listening to and enjoyed considering in composition ever since I discovered the music of Morton Feldman.  

Now as I sat and enjoyed this sound this week, I had to figure out a way to create it within the Messiaen Project.  Similar to last week's piece, I discovered that I could construct this chord out of two transpositions of mode three, one transposition written in the upper staff, the other in the lower staff.  I discovered that three perfect fourth structures of three notes each could be constructed in each mode and I decided to play around with these.  They have a very hard sound to my ears.  I soon began adding other notes of the modes to shade the color of the chords.  This developed into a melody which I decided to play softly, in the background of these very loud, hard chords built of fourths and fifths.  The idea is that the melody shades the sound of the chords, and highlights different overtones. It is my hope that the listener finds themselves listening to the piano in a different way than usual - cluing into the overtones.  Ideally that would happen without reading this first.  There is a big difference in the sound of the recording verses sitting on the piano bench.  I hope that difference doesn't completely obliterate the idea.  

You're probably thinking that the title of this piece has something to do with an iPhone charger or something.  Well, not exactly.  In macrobiotics we are taught that the home should be a recharging station.  You come home an get refreshed.  This is done by creating a nice, natural environment, free of stress, with green plants and natural materials.  This proves to be trickier than one would think, especially for freelancers who work out of their homes.  The work is always there waiting to be done, even when it's relaxation and rejuvenation time.  Emails can be sent at any hour, which could be seen as another side effect of the amazing convenient internet.

Anyway, this week I found myself in need of an adequate recharging station.  I developed a sore throat, which for me will typically turn into a head cold.  This usually happens once a twice a winter for me.  So this week I knew I needed to lay low and not get stressed out, that the cold didn't get the best of me.  And I found that I was happily able to do this in our apartment.  Even while my wife went about her work, I was able to relax in the other room, and it's been lovely.  My health is improving and I haven't felt stressed.  This is an important realization for me, and I'm convinced that this sore throat happened so that I could learn that this apartment can be a relaxing place.  And I must say that I feel gratitude for both this minor illness and our apartment.  

In the aftermath of last week's post, which was read by many, I've had several conversations with friends and family, and I've reflected a great deal on how I was feeling.  It's sometimes easy to forget about what I've been given in this life.  I am thankful for all of you friends, family, and colleagues.  I'm thankful for music and the ability to express myself via the piano.  I'm thankful for the ups and downs that life brings.  I'm thankful for having an adequate recharging station when I need it.      

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No. 46.) Over Rise March 18, 2014

Okay.  I am a glass half full kind of guy.  I like to think that I'm pretty good at maintaining a positive outlook on things.  But I seem to be coming across a lot of darkness lately and I feel the need to write about it a bit.  I need to let it out.  

As artists and musicians, we are met with many challenges.  They're good for us.  They're necessary.  But they can often really feel oppressing sometimes, no doubt.  Let me tell you a couple things I've experienced lately.  This week I listened to a podcast conversation with the great drummer Jim Black who moved to New York City in 1991.  He was talking about how after about the year 2000, it seemed that young musicians needed to go straight for teaching jobs right out of college.  Whereas more guys and gals of his generation were able to work together, develop bands, and have the opportunity to tour these bands.  I think he was talking mainly about finances.  New York City has just become a damn near impossible place to live for an artist.   It's just too expensive.  I was just reading the same thing in Brooklyn Magazine today.  This city is full of creative people, especially musicians, but we're all too busy trying to make rent by working day jobs or teaching.  The creative potential of the people here is insanely high, but we don't have time to work together because of our financial needs.  Artists are leaving the city fast.  My art has essentially become a habit.  I have to look at the books to see how much I can afford to play gigs and make records.  I don't even consider the possibility of taking a band on the road at this point.  I have some collective projects in the works that could develop that potential, but as for hiring musicians I love to play my compositions on a tour - it just doesn't seem possible to afford.  It's barely affordable to play a gig in town. 

Also I came across a post on Facebook of a video of the great composer Maria Schneider pleading to the US House or Representatives Judiciary Committee to fix the internet copyright laws.  She seemed to be on the verge of tears as she explained how most of her time now is spent trying to control what people illegally share on the internet instead of writing new material.  It's sad.  It seems to me that musicians of her generation, the same generation of Jim Black, had a taste of pre-internet, pre-financial crisis, pre 9/11(?) success.  They were able to afford to try stuff, and take bands on tour, and make money on those tours and from record sales.  It was never easy no doubt, but I get the feeling that it was justifiable.  Fans payed for art back then, and now although these artists have established themselves and they have big followings, people don't want to pay for their work anymore.  But the even sadder part is that most musicians of my generation have never had a taste of that kind of success, and we don't even consider it a possibility, unless we're putting our our first record and don't know any better.  We make records for the joy of it, and that is valuable and important.  We may sell some at gigs.  But you have to admit that the making a recording of any kind these days does not make much financial sense.  There is not financial justice in it.  I did not get into music for the money, but it would be nice to know that touring and record sales could eventually mean at least breaking even.  At this point it seems that I would need to throw an impossible amount of money into those activities for years before they could begin to become financially responsible.   And I'm beginning to think about the future - where I want to live for the rest of my life, starting a family, etc.  

Now it could be that I am just a pussy.  It could be that my output is not top of the line, that I'm not making music that people want to hear, or that I'm not succeeding in what I'm attempting artistically.  It could be that the universe is saying no.  You tried.  You failed.  To tell you the truth, I can dig that.  It's not easy to take, but I've come full circle with the notion that I play for myself.  I make music for myself.  I do it because it makes me feel good to put what I feel is beautiful out into the world.  And I'm not going to let these dark things get in the way of that.  Around the time I released Bagatelles for Trio, I think I let the business side of things take over a little too strongly.  It was getting in the way of the process of creation and expression.  What I've discovered is that I need to maintain a sense of wonder and awe in my musical world.  I need to keep the perspective of a learner and lover of music, so that when I go out to hear concerts by my colleagues who have had more widespread recognition I don't feel resentment toward them and I simply am able to love their work fully.  It's a privilege, honor, and inspiration to know these great musicians.  

The title of this week's piece refers to rising above all the darkness when I sit down at the piano.  Whether it's in performance or at home, especially at home actually.  Playing the piano and writing music is a gift.  It releases tension.  It's negative ionization.  It's an expression of gratitude, an expression of love.  It's amazing.  It's the best.  I will not let the darkness interfere with the sacred time I spend at the piano any longer.  

Over Rise is a special achievement in another way, because I succeeded in extracting major scale harmony out of Messiaen's modes in a way that wasn't compromising.  The piece uses three transpositions of Messiaen's third mode, a different one in each of the three voices.  Basically I was able to fill in the notes that were missing from the major scale with the other transpositions, if that makes any sense.  It doesn't really matter if you understand that.  What matters is that this piece makes me feel good.  If it makes me feel good, it's got a better chance at making you feel good.  If it makes you feel good, that is really awesome, although I have no expectations that it will do so.  

Interestingly, while working on the previous weekly composition project, I was often quite self-conscious of my major diatonic pieces, feeling like they weren't "hip" enough.  But here I am super happy that I managed to get it out of the Messiaen techniques, and I have no reservations about presenting it to you.  It feels good.  I'm thankful for this.         

Saturday, March 15, 2014

No. 45.) Fire March 13, 2014

Fire utilizes Messiaen's sixth mode of limited transposition in a free form structure.  As I worked, the idea of angularity developed.  This is contrasted with some chords that are derived out of the mode, mostly variations of dominant seventh chords.  There is also a contrasting slower section of just a few measures.  This one, like some of the other recent pieces, is closer to a transcription of an improvisation.  I didn't set up any form parameters or anything besides the choosing of the mode.   

Fire was fun to practice actually.  The angular phrases needed a lot of repetition, and even with the practice, they didn't come out perfectly every time.  I chose this take because I think the improvisation is good.    

The titles of the last three pieces are taken from the Five Transformations.  They are Tree, Fire, Soil, Metal, and Water.  Each transformation has it's own characteristics.  Tree energy moves upward, Fire is expansive, Soil moves downward, Metal is contractive, and Water is horizontal.   Each transformation helps one other transformation and is helped by another, and each is antagonistic with a couple other transformations too.  I've applied these terms as titles after the pieces have been finished, going with whichever one I feel is best represented by the vibe of the piece.  Fire is definitely the cheesiest one to use as a title at this point in history, so I chose the cheesiest picture I could find as well for my soundcloud file.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

44.) Water March 5, 2014

This week I was inspired by a piece by Arvo Pärt titled My Heart's in the Highlands.  It's a beautiful repetitive minor thing.  So I set out to write something minorish and repetitive that fits the parameters of this project.  I used mode two, and first constructed the bassline which is a sixteen beat loop.  Over that I created a pattern that was fifteen beats.  The piece is sixty measures long, which allows for every combination to happen between these two voices.  Measure sixty-one would be the same as measure one, as far as the top and bottom voice are concerned.  After laying this out, I created a middle voice that enters in the seventeenth bar and superimposes an even rhythm of one and 3/4 beats.  This cycle is not completed by the end of the piece.  It would have taken an insane amount of time for them to realign again, so I just left it incomplete.

Most often after I post these pieces, I'll let it go for a few days, then I'll return and have a listen, after the piece has cleared out of me for a while.  It's a good way to have an objective perspective on what I'm doing here.  I'm really looking forward to doing that with this piece because I think I'll like it at that moment.  However, recording it was really not very fun to be honest.  I didn't want to practice this piece.  It's something that's difficult to focus on, but at the same time really requires intense focus.  I'm hoping I'll be happy with it.  It's a boring piece.  But as John Cage said (I can't remember if he was quoting DT Suzuki here or not...), "If something is boring for ten minutes, try it for twenty.  If something is boring for twenty minutes, try it for forty."