Thursday, April 24, 2014

51.) Centered April 22, 2014

The penultimate composition.  This week I heard about five seconds of a Morton Feldman piece.  I don't even remember which one it was.  But I immediately felt attracted to the sound of it.  It was a very dense, dissonant chord played by an orchestra at a very soft volume.  I immediately went to the piano and came up with the opening chord of this piece, and then looked for a Messiaen mode that this chord could be derived out of.  At first I decided to use mode seven, but later realized that it also fit into mode two and that every note I wanted to hear next was also in mode two.  Mode two is the good old octatonic scale.  

I take it as a good sign that I'm hearing some of these modes naturally.  My ear is preferring specific modes.   Anyway, after coming up with the melody of the first four measures, I had the idea that this could be constructed into a blues type form, and that's exactly what I did.  I experimented with changing the transposition of mode two for certain measures, but decided that the original transposition was sufficient.  

I'm beginning to feel all sorts of "end of the project" emotions.  Gratitude, relief, sadness.  I'll share more next week after finishing the last piece... that is if I actually can manage to get it done.

Oh, and I hope you enjoy the sound of the dryer in the background of the recording.  I do.  A little ambience never hurts anybody.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

50.) Damp Sponge April 19, 2014

This week was a particularly fulfilling week for me.  It started with a concert on Monday night with John Yao's 17 Piece Instrument, which is what he calls his big band.  Tuesday night I led a quartet with some of my favorite musicians in the world, Tony Malaby, Sean Conly, and Tom Rainey.   We played to a packed house at Korzo in Brooklyn, then went into my favorite studio to record the following day.   We played tunes from my weekly composition project.  The session was a blast - super easy, fun, and inspiring.  The guys played amazingly.  Thursday and Friday I was back at the same studio recording with John Yao's band.  It was a blast.  What a privilege it was to spend a week creating and documenting music.  I'm very thankful.

This great week made it a bit of a challenge to compose for this project.  I had an idea I was working with all week, chipping away at it when I could.  However, this morning, the idea was still not satisfying me.  I had this concept of two ascending lines of two non-retrogradable rhythms that would  kind of go in and out of phase together.  Originally I wrote freely within two transpositions of Messiaen's fourth mode.  However I wasn't really feeling it and I realized it was because the lines were changing too much.  So I changed each line to repeat the same ascending sequence of pitches, and I changed the bottom staff to be in the same transposition as the top staff.  The sequences don't align with the rhythm patterns, which results in nice variations.  The pitches of the lines start farther apart, then come closer together, then go apart, then closer together again at the end.

The title comes from a metaphor introduced to me by Denny Waxman.  It deals with communication versus attraction.  A dry sponge cannot properly absorb the liquid of a spill.  First you must get it wet.  The dry sponge is very attracted to the spill.  It wants to clean it up.  But because it's dry it cannot communicate with the liquid, that is until one gets it wet.  Opposites attract, but extreme polar opposites cannot communicate.  Likewise, things or people that are near identical can communicate, but lack attraction.  This metaphor can be used to understand relationships between people, between groups of people, between a person and their environment, and much more.  For example, a quiet mannered pianist, composer, macrobiotic, gardener like me might be attracted to rowdy, steak-eating,  football fan, just because we are opposites.  His different way of life could arouse my curiosity.  But he and I could have difficulty communicating because we have so little in common.  It might take a mutual friend to facilitate communication between us.  That mutual friend is the one who dampens the sponge, so to speak.  What is needed is a balance of attraction and communication for people or things to get along and understand each other.

Anyway, this idea has been resonating with me the last few weeks in many ways.  And in a way this piece exhibits these ideas also.  If you'll go with me here, you could see that the lines communicate better with one another as they come together in the middle and near the end.  Or is it the opposite?  I'll let you decide.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

49.) Patient Trees April 10, 2014

Patient Trees explores some similar ideas to that of Soil.  This time everything is constructed entirely out of Messiaen's second mode, also known as the octatonic scale.  It features a low minor ninth throughout.  The minor ninth is very dissonant, but in the extreme low register, as it appears here, the harshness is not so pronounced.  Instead it brings forth a weird overtone combination, which I wanted to play with.  The notes of the upper staff are mainly intended to highlight and shade the ringing of the minor ninth. It was not my intention to create such a dark sounding piece, but it is undoubtedly dark.  I guess when you're playing with minor ninths, you're playing with fire.  Sorry if the piece leaves you feeling totally hopeless.  

A couple years ago I read Neil Young's autobiography.  He talks a great deal about Pono, which is his project of creating a digital music format that does justice to the sound.  It appears to be close to public release, and I recently watched a promo video for it.  Neil gives quite a convincing argument.  He basically says that recorded music is not nourishing us like it used to because of it's poor quality.  Good quality has been missing in any consumer format after the LP, especially digital formats.  After some thought, I tend to agree with him.  I've never been picky about audio quality, mostly because many of the recordings I studied and listened to most were very old and not of good quality to begin with.   But I'm questioning our instant information society a lot these days, and this argument fits right in there.  We are obsessed with quantity today, perhaps because most of the stuff is low quality.  We have to eat way more just to feel an inkling of satisfaction.  Perhaps if I had less quantity and better quality I would feel more nourished by it, whatever it may be.  I've recently upgraded some of my digital music formats, choosing the highest quality download settings.  Although it's early to make the call, I could be getting more out of it.  In other areas of my life I've been making similar changes.  

Along those lines, I also experimented a bit with my Zoom recorder this week.  I recorded Patient Trees in the highest quality setting the machine offers.  The reason why I haven't done this in the past is because the files take up a lot of space, and they take a lot of time to move around on the computer and upload.  But maybe it's worth it.  Maybe you will get more out of this recording.  Maybe the unintended hopeless sound of this particular piece will start some kind of awful chain reaction of sadness.  Gee I hope not.  

This talk of quality versus quantity brings up another relevant idea here - that of an artist giving content away for free.  Many internet marketing gurus encourage us to give away a lot of content free of charge.  Many older musicians and music business people I know have a real problem with the idea of it.  Many younger musicians are giving things away left and right - some are not even passing a tip jar around at their DIY performances.  Since I've been making art (never before the digital age), I've always had the notion that my stuff needs to be everywhere - formerly every store, now every corner of the internet.  The more the better... quantity.  And these internet projects are no exception.  They started out lower profile.  But as they became more important to me, and more noticed, I've been more public with them.  The transparent nature of the projects means that some of the content is not going to be my best work.  Although I work hard to create something I feel proud of every week, I can't create fifty-two favorite pieces in a year.  I'm placing a great deal of value on the quantity of the work.  I think it's a legitimate criticism of what I'm doing.  But I'm just doing it.  These projects are mainly for my own growth and exploration.  I've just decided to include you in it, and use you for motivation and accountability.   

Some friends of mine, who I have tremendous respect for, are questioning the digital distribution of recordings, and so far have not put any content of their band online.  No digital downloads and not even youtube clips of performances.  The only promo videos are of them goofing around and contain little or no music.  They pressed only fifty copies of an LP that was only given only to the first fifty people to pay the cover at one of their live shows.  It's impossible to get your hands on unless you were at that show, or one of your friends was.  This kind of stuff runs quite contrary to the kind of marketing we're supposed to be doing these days, and it really baffled me at first.  But I've come around to thinking that it might be the answer.  Rise above the digital noise by avoiding it all together.  They've gotten a good local following based on word of mouth.  And of course the bottom line is that they totally deliver.  They put on a great show.  It's got me thinking.  Quality over quantity.

P.S., after I wrote this whole post, I realized while uploading my higher quality wav file to Soundcloud, that they probably obliterate it with some kind of untamed compression.  It might actually be lower it quality than it would be if I had uploaded an already compressed mp3.  I'll check it out.  Perhaps I'll swap it out the Soundcloud widget for a plain audio link.   

Saturday, April 5, 2014

48.) Soil April 2, 2014

This piece is special to me.  It is an accomplishment for me to write something this simple.  It feels like it's something I've been working up to.  It is very simple in concept, but complex in bringing to fruition.  Not in the writing of it - that was pretty easy actually.  Once the concept was formed, it was just a matter of fleshing it out.   It is complex for me in courage and self-trust.  Those of you who've followed these projects of mine have read a great deal about me learning to trust my inner voice and take the influences of others, positive and negative, in stride.  This is embodied in Soil, and I am pleased.   

The piece uses one transposition of Messiaen's third mode, the rest is pretty self-explanatory.  Enjoy.