Thursday, December 13, 2007

the three ages of jazz pt. 1a: the nursery

the early bird

Running on pure adrenaline from the gig (I don't realize this until it start wearing our a few days later), we march off to to hear one of MH’s pal’s performances.
We arrive at the venue. The contrast with Free Jazz Central is stark: the age of the Early Bird’s audience is, on balance, approximately half that of Free Jazz Central. They are younger, but otherwise more visibly diverse (in terms of race, gender, but possibly not in terms of class and education ). There’s also a lot more of them: it’s a noisy club where conversation competes with the band.

The band.

Well, it’s not often you can hear the Aebersolds quite so clearly. I haven’t encountered such copybook ’bop licks in a long, loooong time. Kinda refreshing, kinda stale; kinda cool, kinda sad… also oddly mind-numbing. BC and MH tell me that the Early Bird is the platform for the local music school students. Ah, I think, that explains it.
The conversation later turns to the fact that, when we were students (in formal education), we were never particularly good with changes.

I’ll confess it now: I was terrible in my attempts at ’bop.

Another confession: I get a real kick from hearing guitar players who can play those long ’bop lines. Really, I love ’em. Maybe it’s ’cause I sacrificed/neglected that facet of guitar playing for others. (I hear a little of those long lines in some non-’bop players such as Berne, of course, but that’s a pretty difficult trick… and a story for some other time.)

To be continued…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

the three ages of jazz pt. 0: middle age

free jazz central

This gig was, well, not exactly hard work, but it definitely wasn’t effortless. Fun and educational, but it kept me on my toes.
Just before we start, I confessed to JS (the other guitarist) that it’s been about ten years since I shared the stage with another guitarist. Before the gig, I’d expected that impressing (or at least not pissing-off) the elders (one of whom a friend referred to, half-tongue-in-cheek, as a ‘giant’) in the ensemble would be my main concern, but by the end of the first set, I’m surprised as anyone that just about all I was worried about was staying out of the other guitarist’s way.
Actually, that’s pretty much sums up my tactic for the evening (and, I believe, JS’ as well).
Electric guitars are mid-range heavy. That’s fine in that ’bop setting in which the ride fills up the top end, fine in ’metal where the mid’s scooped out, but in this drummer-less improv setting, JS and I are in danger of creating an oppressive sound (especially as neither the horns nor the bass are going to add much above a few kHz).
After the gig, MH (who was there listening) tells me that all guitarists seem to have a love-hate relationship with their instrument. I respond that I love the physical/physiological relationship with the guitar—not every instrument rests against (hugs) your body while allowing for more-or-less full mobility of your arms—but the ‘sound’ (the raw audio content), well, that’s the problem; it just doesn’t always sit very well in an ensemble.
By the beginning of the second set, both JS and I feel like we’re running out of ideas. Between, Arto, Berne, Bill, Derek and Fred, say… or Annette and Keith… or Jimi, David and Sonny… isn’t that pretty much the scope of improvising guitar(ists)? What I mean by that is, as far as breeds of latter-day improvisers go, electric guitarist have a relatively small pool of models. At one point JS plays something, and I think, wait, I could do that too. I stop myself; it’s tempting, but I don’t think I would have been adding anything to the mix by aping JS doing a pseudo-Derek.

By the way, how’s this for the economics of free jazz: I sold a few CDs, but gave away just as many. Conclusion: it’s a good thing I’m not an accountant.

After the gig, a few of us journey on to witness jazz’s adolescent stage…

Saturday, December 08, 2007

this is not an obituary

Regarding the recently deceased Dead, White, German Dude, I’m not about to say

  1. he was a swell guy
  2. his music rocked
  3. he will be missed
  1. you gotta be joking me
  2. okay, maybe exactly two of his pieces really did (and, granted, a lot of the rest were fascinating failures), and
  3. hey, if there’s a post-War Avant-Garde Composer underrepresented and underdocumented, he ain’t it.

…anyone who could compel the Arditti to make fools of themselves has more than a little going for them. Every time this Nut From The Dog Star managed to squeeze more funds from institutions ’round the world for his crazy plans, my respect for the man would skyrocket, but my view of those institutions would go down the drain.

Friday, December 07, 2007

the three ages of jazz: preamble

the jet-set improviser

As the plane approach the destination, I’m looking over The City at night. All those lights, I think. Beautiful as it is (the interconnection of metropolitan and suburban street patterns, for example), I wonder how much fuel we’re burning to get that effect. Then I wonder again what my carbon footprint from this journey is going to be.
I’ll be reminded of this sometime later when I hear CH’s description (and critique) of the latter day “jet-set improviser”; I am, after all, flying in to sit-in with a band.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

artful and artless

In fact, just to double the article count this month, here’s something cool, strange, painful, funny, silly, as-serious-as-cancer, artful and artless:

tig’s november: blog 1, music 11

Apologies for the lack of blogitivity of late (no articles since October, tsk tsk). Ever had one of those months where you’re seemingly up to your eyeballs in work (almost all of musical genera thankfully)? Alas, don’t worry, work is fickle and I’m unlikely to become rich doing this anytime soon, so tig will be back with more unplanned collections of thoughts and stories.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

spammers: word verification on comments

Why spammers should target, in particular, ‘the worst gigs of my life’ is beyond me, but since they are, I am (temporarily) putting word verification back on.

My sincerest apologies,


Monday, October 29, 2007

lessons learned and have yet to learn

Playing half a dozen gigs ain’t gonna kill me, but curating and co-organizing two-thirds of an event is really taking a lot of time and effort. The cautionary tales from AF and MP are echoing in my head (you don’t have to remind me). This blog has suffered from this administrative load, but, to remind myself that I still do musical things, here’s a short list of things I’m learning at the moment.

lessons learned

it’s okay to start in the same place (a lesson learned from listening, watching and following George E. Lewis)
The start point for an improvisation can be as significant or as arbitrary as you want. It is, after all, the journey (what you make of the situation) that we’re really interested in.

it’s okay to repeat yourself (from Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts)
Let’s face it: even if you did exactly the same thing the context is going to be different. (That’s the reason trying to get the same effect as last night is going to end in disappointment.)

what i’m just discovering

sometimes the simplest interactive strategies are the most effective (from Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley)
They are some of the hardest things to understand and the easiest to hear.

what i’d like to learn

take your time (from John Butcher)
It should be a privilege to experience the performance; why rush it?

something i’ve been trying to learn for over ten years

you don’t fill the spaces (from Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith… and Pauline Oliveros… and Morton Feldman… and Luciano Berio… and Miles Davis… and Noh… and Alfred Hitchcock)
I feel no closer to this than ten years ago: I have this terrible habit of filling up spaces.

Monday, October 15, 2007



Bob Ostertag’s new record is out. From the page:

In March of 2006, I put all my recordings to which I owned the rights… up for free download…. w00t is my first release to skip the CD-for-sale stage and go directly to free Internet download…. Please download, copy, send to your friends, remix, mutilate, and mash-up. And please support this attempt to build free culture by sending a link for w00t to your friends. w00t consists of a 50-minute sound collage…. w00t is a free, internet-only release. w00t was composed entirely from fragments of music from… computer games….

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

clouds of garbage cans

I’ve heard that another teacher of improvisation finds that new students in their class play ‘chaotically,’ and that their lessons initially proceed by pulling back from that cacophony. It may be that this teacher (who, I think it’s fair to say, comes from a more composerly background) has different tastes / sensibilities / politics than I, but I have the opposite problem with new students: I seem to be spending a great deal of time pushing towards noise, encouraging the class to produce (to use that Braxtonian term again) “clouds of garbage cans”.
Maybe a better way to put it would be that I try and stop them from stopping themselves; I try to get them to exercise less a priori ‘tastefulness’. Many students come with a tendency to preempt the musical play (if that makes any sense). If a musician comes from a certain tradition (jazz, rock, country & western, circus music, whatever), I want to be able to hear that—I don’t want, nor feel the need for, their histories to be suppressed. And if the result is apparently cacophony, chaos or turbulence, well, I figure that’s at least an interesting place to be, and an interesting condition to interact with.
Citing Robert L. Douglas, George E. Lewis writes that

…Eurocentric music training… does not equip its students to hear music with multidominant rhythmic and melodic elements as anything but “noise,” “frenzy” or perhaps “chaos”.
George E. Lewis (2000), ‘Too Many Notes: Computers,
Complexity and Culture in Voyager’, Leonardo Music Journal (vol. 10), p. 34.
Recently, MLM commented on the similarity of approach—a heterogeneous sound world—in both the free jazz of The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), and the Art Ensemble’s rendering (or appropriation) of Monteverdi’s ‘The Lament of Arianna’ on Les Stances A Sophie (1970). Listening to these, I can imagine a critic, intoxicated on the ideals of unity, coherence and integration, complain that the tuning of the voices are not aligned, the rhythms are not locked together; both Coleman’s group and the AEC are just not together.
Well, maybe, but beyond those losses—loss of unity, coherence and integration—what do we gain that may be of value? Both those (pre- and after-) harmolodics sound worlds are deliberately heterogeneous ones, or, maybe more accurately, practices in which difference, dissent and contradiction are not silenced (deliberately). Perhaps the (West European Concert Music) composerly approach leads to a kind of composition-as-censorship. In contrast, the AACM’s composer-performer approach, say, is one of of composition-as-facilitator, or the N.Y. Downtown’s composition-as-play.

Anyway, as a belated celebration of improvising guitar’s first anniversary, I’ll throw up that first quote:
What happens is what happens; is what you have created; is what you have to work with. What matters is to listen, to watch, to add to what is happening rather that subtract from it—and avoid the reflex of trying to make it into somthing you think it ought to be, rather than letting it become what it can be.
Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow (1990), Improvisation in Drama (London: MacMillan), pp. 2-3

an (unanswered) question

Is this analogous to the old debate in algorighmic composition which, to caricature it, revolves around two approaches to generative processes: start with some arbitrary noise, rich with possibilities, and systematically filter out the undesirable elements, vs. start with processes that ‘intelligently’ generate complexity?
The results, sound or reception wise, may be surprisingly similar, but the discourses embedded in these—the rhetoric that supports them—are maybe analogous to the debate I’m talking about.

And incidentally…

Isn’t The Shape of Jazz to Come a fantastic record title? What formidable ego could stand under that moniker? Is it tongue in cheek? Simultaneously humbling in front of the artform (yes, jazz is something worthy of a future), egomaniac (and this is its future) and pompous (Jazz-as-Art), it borders on the apocalyptic (who knows, maybe Darius Brubeck is right; maybe that was the moment jazz died ;-)

Monday, October 01, 2007

charging for free music?

Just a quick question: would you still pay for a CD if the music was free to give away (e.g. covered by a Creative Commons Sampling License)?Sampling Plus iconWould the opportunity to show (financial) appreciation for the musicians’ labor, and to own a beautifully packaged (limited-edition) artifact, be enough to offset the fact that the audio content might be available at no charge (and you can copy and distribute it yourself)? Either way, I’m about to start a little experiment.

Normal blogging will resume shortly… and this time I mean it ;-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

improvising coherence

Just read a review: I’m apparently less “coherent” than the next musician. Should I be insulted? After all, I’m not the biggest fan of coherence.
…Or at least the pursuit there of, for, in a sense, there might be no such thing as coherence. And that’s the thing—there’re discourses, and there’re discourses—if the terms ‘coherence’ and ‘incoherence’ don’t describe reality (whatever, and wherever, that might be), but construct a dichotomy (present / not-present; have / have-not; coherence / lack-of-coherence) through which we make value judgments, then, back to my first question: should I be insulted?

And is coherence something that you can hear?

Friday, September 14, 2007

the worst gigs of my life

Having put a downer on that event, maybe it’s only fair if I recount (confess) my least enjoyable and endearing moments. A set of snap-shots into the life of a musician / performer / improviser, I humbly present to you, in chronological order, the worst gigs of my life.

attack of youthful, humorless megalomania

AMC and I have been roped into a segment of a larger event by B.
Let me describe B as ambitious and far-sighted… but B is also overreaching and a perfectionist; a problematic combination that means hardly anything gets finished. In fact, I never heard any of B’s finished projects / pieces / compositions, only the proposals and pitches.
On this occasion, B had proposed a grand, bells’n’wistles composition / piece, but (surprise) it didn’t get finished in time. So B decides to rope in some improvisers so we can, like, jam, man.
AMC and I manage to persuade B out of the B’s original plan—one 30 minute improvisation—and propose several shorter improvisations.
No rehearsal.
Soundcheck takes far too long. I feel we’re pissing-off the sound engineers; not good, I think, not good at all.
The performance is a disaster. Humorless, shapeless, disaster.
AMC—even AMC—cannot inject any humor or lightness into the proceedings.

I fear that even our friends in the audience are ready to pretend they don’t know us.

I’m ready to pretend I don’t know us.

Recorded for posterity, I play this recording to myself (although I can very rarely sit through all of it) whenever I feel like reminding myself of my own mortality. (Maybe I’ll play this to my students.)

the stink

We’ve been invited by K to this ‘guitar and computer’ showcase (high-concept: let’s, like, get some guitarists paired up with laptopiteers, and, like, they can all jam, man).
I arrive at the venue with MK, the laptopiteer I’d been working with, and two friends. The venue is a dive. I speak as someone who loves dusty venues with an interesting vibe, colorful clientele, and a good PA system, but this place—let’s call it The Stink—has no vibe, no clientele, shit PA (and, I swear, a crack-head sound-engineer). It’s the end of summer, and The Stink has no ventilation—it’s hot and dusty in there—no windows, very little lighting, no bar. I just hope that the wiring in this place is good (I subsequently acquire a habit of carrying a power outlet tester, and wiring my gear with RCDs).
Nightmare. This is not why I became a musician.
There’s a guitarist plus computer-operator pair (I recognize them as K’s friends) who have decided to start their warm-up by doing a whole performance there on the floor. Noodling away. It ain’t pretty: it all looks (and sounds) very amateurish.

I go up to K. “Where do you want us to setup?”
K doesn’t make eye contact. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Are you in charge?”
“I think we should wait for [the Big Stars] to show up….”
“Well, if you know where they’re going to setup, we’ll just stay outta the way—setup elsewhere.”
“Yeah?” K looks distracted, looks away. (Looking back on it now, I wonder if K was stoned.) “But we should check.”
Check with who? I think we’re running late here.
I propose a tiered setup—last act near the back of the stage, first act at the front—that way as the evening proceeds, we can just hop out of the way of the next act. K thinks that’s reasonable, but, in a moment of anxiety, adds, “but we should check with [the Big Stars].”
The big Big Stars are nowhere to be seen!
We’re scheduled to start within an hour. I try to make eye contact: “Are you in charge?”
“We should wait.”
“Okay,” I turn away, “you’re not in charge.”

MK and I setup on what appears to be the stage. If we need to move later, we can move later.
Because K’s prevarications, we start a whole hour late. The Big Stars, being Big Stars, of course do not turn up until their start time and K has delayed the setup and soundcheck until then.
I didn’t sign up for this: this is not why I became a musician.
The two noodlers who were warming-up for an hour, dutifully open the ceremonies by doing exactly what they’d been doing for the last hour for an audience that had been (unbelievably) patiently waiting, having heard it the first time around (thankfully, they only play for twenty minutes).

I cannot believe how patient and forgiving the audience was on that night.

At the end, as we exit The Stink, we get paid cash—pocket money—pennies. Deduct transport, deduct the meal before hand….
On the journey back home, I loose it, and scream that we’d been fucked, and that the audience had been screwed and taken for a ride. This is not why I became a musician.

Thankfully, there is no record of this event. (Although, prior to the actual event, it got listed as, if I remember correctly, the Jazz Event of the Week in the local free tabloid. Hahaha.)

free labor

New place, new people. Not getting paid, but the new place might offer future possibilities. (I’m being the optimist; you’d think I’d learned by now.)
I turn up. Nice venue (an art gallery), and the curator’s very friendly (although the initial phone call had rubbed me the wrong way: “Yes, I must have your music”).
Set-up is smooth—I get carte blanche on how and where. Meet the artists (I’m playing for an opening). Interesting people; we banter without doing too much of the odious networking stuff.

Then the moment It Turns.

The curator calls to me. “You know about computers, don’t you?”
“Er…um, well….”
“Well, let me show you….” The curator invites me to the office. “I need to lay this out in a nice way.” There’s some page layout that needs to fixed for the evening's festivities. “You know how to do this…?”
“Well, uh… maybe… um,” I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing. “Are you going to pay me for this?” I remind the curator that I’m not being paid for the performance, that the performance is already a Big Favor.
The curator is pissed.
“I’ll show you,” I add, “talk you through what to do, but… but I’m not going to do this; I won’t do this unless you pay me.” I still can’t quite believe what’s happening.
Bad feelings all ’round for the rest of the evening, but I still don’t understand why the curator was pissed.

On the other hand, I think my anger was justified.

No more freebies (I wish I could say that with a little more conviction).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

thoughts from another concert

This one is a bit of a contrast to last time.


Er… where is everyone?

Uh-oh. I hope this isn’t going to be one of those gigs that starts an hour late because the ‘star’ is not here yet.

Great. It is going to be one of those gigs that starts an hour late.

Correction: it’s going to be one of those gigs that starts an hour and a half late.

Audience demographics: about 50/50 male-to-female, fairly broad age range (again, not many below their twenties, however), predominantly white.


What the hell? Is that the best you can do?
Maybe it’ll get better.

Points out of ten:
enthusiasm: 9
skill: 3
awareness of improvising traditions: 1…

…That last one might have to be downgraded to 0.5.

…Maybe zero.

That was lame.

This is lame.

I’m reminded of my college days when, punch drunk on (re)discovering ’6os/70s Miles, a bunch of us tried to recreate the vibe of In a Silent Way. That was, in retrospect, lame, lame, lame (not to mention silly, silly, silly). I had though, until now, that the only reasons you’d do this was because you’re young and stupid and/or high on psychotropics. This night’s lesson: apparently I was wrong on both counts.
…And, anyway, that vamp-on-one-chord really doesn’t work without the formidable ego—a Miles—at the center.

Don’t show-off. Please, don’t try and show-off. You’re not fooling anyone except yourself (at best).
I can be a big a fan of muscular, machismo virtuosity as the next person, but if you’re going to do a mindless physical workout, why do you have to handicap yourself with changes (and we’re not talking Coltrane changes here)?
…And, if you had Miles—the ego—there, there would be no point in showing-off (in fact, you’d probably get fired for showing-off).

And why is everything in four?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

upside down zawinul

No, I’m not going to do an obituary here, but (via Night After Night)…

Here’s footage of ‘Black Market’ in which you can clearly see Zawinul’s keyboard with the reverse pitch-mapping. I’d heard that the piece, and that twisty, meandering, unusual melody, had been devised/written on an upside down keyboard, but I hadn’t realized that it was also performed that way (although, a little disappointingly, Zawinul reverts to the right-way-around for his solo). A pretty interesting example of a deliberate physical de-familiarization, and maybe an unusual instance of a body-conscious, technologically mediated gesture decoupling.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

warmup: comments and responses

Now that all that paperwork is done (at least for the moment), I can get back to this much neglected blog. (I haven’t posted anything here in about three weeks!) Thanks to those still reading this despite the sporadic posts.

…And thanks for all the comments (which I’ve also successfully, and with admirable consistency, failed to respond to).

In answer to my question about warming-up, David Ryshpan responds by listing some musical (“a major scale… that you go through different subdivisions of the beat”), borderline-musical (“first few exercises of Hanon”), and some extra-musical (“stretches I learned when I used to play tennis”) activities.
Another pianist Alex Hawkins picks up on the mention of Hanon, but finds that “the patterns [are] too ‘conventional’… they beguile… into complacency…”.

Incidentally, way back, when I did play the piano, my choice of warmup came from Brahms’ 51 Studies for Piano. Some combination of the position shifting exercise:

Brahms exercise no. 5.

and changing hand shape:

Brahms exercise no. 8.

There’s also the thumb pivot exercise, but this would be a riskier warmup since it could lead to injury if you over did it (it’s number 46, if you’re curious).
The position shifting exercise maps onto the guitar reasonably well. It corresponds to the one string melodies I’ve posted here—Jim Hall makes a similar suggestion in Exploring Jazz Guitar—or some upright bass intonation exercises that can be adapted to the guitar. There’s no real equivalent to the second exercise though (unless you subscribe to a Holdsworth-esque extended position). What’s interesting comparing the Hanon and the Brahms is that the Hanon is a little more mechanical—there’s an assumption that just physically following the tasks will lead to virtuosity—while the Brahms exercises won’t work unless you know what is being exercised.

…My teacher CL, however, swore by the Hanon. Go figure.

David’s reason for warming-up is

…not for any technical or musical reasons—it’s purely physical, to get the muscles primed, to avoid injury, and to get used to the instrument.
Seems reasonable, but does anyone disagree? A question might be, do the technical, musical and physical fall into neat discrete chunks? Let’s just say for the moment that they do not. If that’s the case, and warming-up is a combination of all three, what’s the difference between a warmup and a (public) performance? I mean, I’m assuming that none of us would warmup in front of an audience.
Well, as it happens, Alex finds that, “as a working musician”, he gets “from gigs all [he] would otherwise get from Hanon (i.e. a bit of a muscle workout).” This isn’t as strange as it maybe sounds, and I have on occasion integrated the warmup into the opening of my performances. (On the other hand, Peter Breslin, yet another pianist, notes the possible consequences of this no warmup approach.)

Pat, being a horn player, has a totally different take on the warmup process. There’s a part of me that envies wind players (and vocalists) in their approach to warming-up, but it’s an approach that doesn’t translate to a guitar or piano—we just don’t breathe in the same way.
That raises questions about the ‘character’ of instruments and the effect on the instrumentalist. Jeff (I assume this was Jeff Albert) remarks that
…extravagant and extrovert come out of a trombone much more naturally than subtle and introspective. That's does however open the issue of do we chose it because we are the way we are, or does it makes us the way we are….
Yes, it does raise that question, but maybe the answer lies in Jeff’s first sentence. What if I reworded it a little: the trombone rewards extravagant and extrovert playing. What I mean by that is that the electric guitar, for example, generally rewards (despite rock machismo theatrics) the delicate touch, maybe even “subtle and introspective”. There’s a kind of rule of diminishing rewards with electric guitars: playing with, say, broader gestures (e.g. picking harder) doesn’t necessarily translate sound-wise—something that guitar pedagogy sometimes neglects. As I’ve said before it’s often better to, turn up the amp, and pick lighter.
Which is not to say that instruments don’t come with culturally encoded expectations. Take, for example, the various possible identities encapsulated in the pianoforte. The instrument associated with Keithy-poo Jarrett’s tantrums, and consequently the debates about whether to read it cultural-semiotically as an enactment of class differences, or as a consequence of the ideology of genius.

It’s good to be back.

Friday, August 17, 2007

warmup: the rudiments

File this away with Airto’s tambourine solo, Bennink’s shoe solo, and maybe Prévost’s snare ‘piece’.

I’m not in the habit of writing obituaries here—many bloggers have done better elsewhere—so I won’t other than to add that one of the things I found fascinating about Roach was his complex relationship with pedagogy and technique.

What I do want to do is a little more modest: I want to talk about warming up. I don’t buy the idea that playing, say, scales across the guitar’s fingerboard counts for much of a warmup (those who disagree, please let me know). I’ve used various warmup routines over the years (some of which I plan to write about at some point), but none seem particularly well suited for the task for the improviser- guitarist. However, watching drummers warmup, going though simple rudiments (single strokes, double strokes, flams, etc.), I’ve begun thinking about possible transpositions of these techniques onto the guitar…. I’ll report back with more when I’ve explored this further.

In the meantime, a question: how do you warm up? and why?

Monday, August 13, 2007

recovering from keithy-poo jarrett

Apologies: this is a scatterbrained post that I managed to fit in my break from the paperwork.

Hopefully the above youtubified clip will help all of us (perhaps including DJA who feels he “inadvertently opened a can of worms”) relax after The Keith Jarrett Incident. (…But, no, I don’t know why Williams’ hands are never shown.)
Talking about pianists, thanks to the ‘HurdAudio Rotations’, I got introduced to the music of Paul Plimley who has a track entitled ‘We Got Noh Rhythm’.
This reminded me of when I was a (young and stupid college student) Composer (capital ‘C’), and I had this silly idea that, if I could fuse the ventilated rhythms of Feldman with the dramatic tone-deafness (and I mean that in the nicest way) of Xenakis, I’d have found my niche. ’Course I failed (anyone who’s ever tried even a cursory analysis of the above score-makers’ works will know why). I did eventually manage something a little like this, but in improvisation, not in composition. The sound world I arrived at was on parallel docks with Noh (what Zappa called Science Fiction Music)….

Apropos of nothing, Jeff Albert offers some fine audio recordings for download.
(Incidentally, in light of Paul Rutherford’s passing, a question: what is it about trombonists improvisers? why do they seem (grossly generalizing for a moment) more extravagant and extrovert? and why are half my—a guitar player’s—favorite improvisers trombonists?)
Finally, Andrew Durkin (under the perhaps unfair label ‘navel-gazing’) has a personal/political/idiosyncratic take on bodies and music (something that interests me also, but under a much more straightforward label—‘body’).

That’s my break from my administrative duties over: back to work….

Sunday, August 12, 2007

the carbon footprint of musicking

After all that angst, my schedule for the next few months is, despite losing a couple of dates, turning out better than I had expected. Some exciting performances coming up—new people, new places; old friends, new contexts. The only real bummer is that they aren’t in any kind of logical configuration, geographically or temporally: a gig here, a gig there, back to fulfill teaching duties, over for another gig, etc. Still trying to patch up some more dates to make this a little less wasteful, but I shudder at the thought of how many carbon points I will be burning up doing this.

Anyway, ho-hum, back to the paperwork… :-(

Thursday, August 09, 2007

brought to you thru the miracle of electronovision

From the mouth of the director of The Blues Brothers: “This is probably the greatest film performance of James [Brown].”

More commentary from John Landis: “Leslie Gore… was the biggest star there. She got the biggest ovation; she was the hottest act.”

“The guy who blew me away… was James Brown and the Fabulous [Famous?] Flames. I’d never seen anything like that before. This was one of the first U.S. performances of the Rollings Stones who were kind of boring after James Brown.
“…Mick Jagger looking 12 years old. …Who is this English twerp?”

Watch the trailer with or without commentary.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the audience vs. keithy-poo jarrett

Apparently there’s a little hoopla about Keith Jarrett’s crowd control skills. In response Daniel Biro writes an open letter to chastise Keith Jarrett (via DJA). Like another seemingly trivial story flagged up by On An Overgrown Path, there’s something fascinating going on here.

I’m not questioning whether people were bruised by the incident, but who exactly is upset? It seems that those taking ‘the audience’s side’ are put into a difficult position of simultaneously having to say that each audience member is individually responsible for their actions (“it is a gathering of individuals who are put together by chance…”) while speaking on behalf of ‘the audience’ as a corporate entity.
And why exactly are they upset? Is it, as some are phrasing this incident, a matter of offense, or is Jarrett’s behavior disturbing?
I have (a) complex relationship(s) with ‘my’ audience(s). Not difficult, necessarily, and certainly not unrewarding, but complex. I think we all do, and maybe those that don’t see complexity (or want to wish it away) are hiding behind unwritten rules that may prove fragile at best.

As an artist Jarrett is sublime, but as a person he leaves much to be desired. It was unfortunate that we had to witness the schizophrenia of these two aspects.
There’re discourses and there’re discourses: I’m not so much interested in whether The Keith Jarrett Incident was troubling because it was insulting (the truth of which will no doubt be debated elsewhere), but because it represents a kind of transgression—a boundary violation.
I reserve the right… and I think the privilege is yours to hear us, but I reserve the right….
Jarrett didn’t know his place as far as the audience (or those vocally audience-identified) was concerned. The flip side: the audience didn’t know its place as far as Jarrett was concerned.
MLM points out that the modern concert going culture in the West, emerging from the context of aristocracy, gets inherited by the bourgeoisie—the cultural elite and the economic focus. In this model, the audience embodies the ruling class; the performers, their servants. Is Jarrett’s behavior being perceived by those offended as a revolt by the servant class? As MLM asks: do the aristocrats fear their performing monkey becoming uppity?
When Biro states that “antagonism breeds antagonism” is there an underlying fear of a kind of class warfare mapped onto musical practice? That the ‘ideal’ state of things is that we should all be friends? That (materially expressed) love (“people pay lots of money… to see you play because they love you!”) should be reciprocated?
I see that red light there, and that means you, you, you….
Alarm bells go off when we hear this story: the many is found guilty of, and ‘punished’ for, the actions of a few. We know this injustice all too well in our post-9/11 political paranoia. We smell an abuse of power. We can map this easily: many = the well behaved majority in the audience; the few = the small number of pesky photo junkies.
But who or what does Jarrett stand for in this case? The “sadistic schoolmaster”? The colonial taskmaster? The White House? What exactly is resonating here?
…Tell all these assholes with cameras to turn them fucking off right now.
Once, MET, one of my teachers, was obliged to attend a meeting with wealthy patrons. I suggested that getting drunk, turning up with a half-finished bottle of whisky, and trying to start a fight would make the proceedings less painful, but MET pointed out that they would probably respond, “how wonderful: a real artist!”
We would never have expected ‘gentility’ from Miles Davis, of course. The Davis I witnessed, even mellowed in old age, performed someone from ‘the street’ (conveniently erasing his privileged upbringing), pumped full of a dangerous male, African-American sexuality. If Jarrett’s ethnicity and sexuality were, from a reception standpoint, less veiled and confused we would surely have an easier time.
The ‘unacceptable’ language in question: why should that be a shock? Is it because we all thought we were in the presence of a ‘classical’ musician—a musician with ‘class’—who’s suddenly revealed to be 50 Cent? This is, after all, a performer who famously recorded the Goldberg Variations, whose catalog is sprinkled with classy sounding titles such as The Köln Concert, and who appears on that classy label that boasts “quality… at all levels… [and] has been widely recognized and… has collected many awards”. A label which, nonetheless, is transparent (read: identity-free) and user-friendly (“All that can really be said about ‘ECM sound’… is that the sound that you hear is the sound that we like”).
Who do we expect our performers/artists/musicians to be? And why? And what happens when they don’t perform as expected?


The phrase in the title of this post (“Keithy-poo Jarrett”) is taken from Cecil Taylor (“…I don’t listen to Keithy-poo Jarrett, I’m not particularly interested in that”) quoted in Brian Priestley (1991), ‘florescent stripper’, Wire (issue 82/3, December/January), p. 24.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

playing irresponsibly: addendum

One more borderline irresponsible thing I did that I forgot to mention in the last post: at one point in the performance, I set up a steady little pulse (a simple additive ditty). We went with that a little while, but when the drummer joined in, I switched to a much more elastic time feel.
By this time I had a feeling that the drummer tended to follow the ‘leader’—autonomy was not the strong point of the evening—and had a taste for the regular pulse (nothing wrong with that, I do too). I suspected they wouldn’t, but I hoped that the drummer would pick-up on that pulse, keep it going, even as I and the rest of the ensemble (who also tended to play sheep) dropped it.

Didn’t happen.

In the end, the drummer just sheepishly dropped out altogether.

Was I being a stinker?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

playing irresponsibly: a moderately weird situation

Just did a gig. The group / collective / band in question, for whatever reason, couldn’t get their numbers up. So I get a call: I get to be the outsourced labor.
In the end I only play for, I don’t know, five, ten minutes—one ‘piece’.

Weird feeling.

My playing of late has been divided between the solo context; ad-hoc, getting-to-know-one-another musical meetings; and reunions with old musical comrades. If you’re playing any significant duration of time (a performance that lasts, say, twenty minutes or longer), you really need to pace yourself. Especially in solo playing, it helps to be judicious with the deployment of atoms / gestures / lexical elements (a lesson learned from For Alto). And there’s a certain tactical advantage in holding your cards close to your chest in novel musical encounters.
On the other hand, the gig I just did (those five, ten minutes) was weird. Knowing that I had only a few minutes, knowing that I was unlikely to be invited back up on stage, I let rip—threw everything (well, not quite everything) out there. With all the chips on the table, I could afford to play a little recklessly. I mean, what did I have to loose?
Bizarre. Was that a responsible thing to do? Probably not, but it felt oddly liberating.

Friday, July 20, 2007

post-modern jazz guitar pt. 0b: 10 seconds of post-modernity

…But before I go I’ll let you in on the exact track I was talking about: ‘Snagglepuss’, track 7 of Naked City’s self-titled debut. What was my introduction to post-modern jazz guitar occurs at around 1' 40" of the track and lasts barely 10 seconds.Naked City at iTunes with explicit content warningIncidentally, the partial album (22 out of 26 tracks) is available on iTunes (with the complete album promised). Comically, this comes with an “explicit content warning” label which, I presume, is for the album artwork rather than for Yamatsuka Eye’s vocalese (but, hey, what do I know; I have no window into the workings of the RIAA). At ¢99, and clocking in at 2' 20", ‘Snagglepuss’ works out at just over ¢1.4 a second. That’s not much byte-for-your-buck, but much better than paying ¢9 a second for one of the 11 second tracks.

we all scream for, er, paperwork

“What’s not a priority… is those matters which are of less of a… not that they’re not important, but… if you’re going to have a front burner—which is where you want your priorities—it’s like cooking: there needs to be something sitting on the back one.”
from John Sayles dir. (2004), Silver City.
Call it applying for grants, fishing for funding, or begging to perform, paperwork by any other name would still be odious. Most people have death and taxes, musicians get additional administration (and don’t talk to me about college loans).
Anyway… the paperwork I talked about previously is in need of my attention so blogging will unfortunately be taking a back seat again.

tig will be back (with some luck) shortly.

But before I go…

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

post-modern jazz guitar pt. 0a: comments and responses

A little while ago, PB commented that

…one could argue that all ‘jazz’ is post-modern, using found materials, drawing from the street as much as the academy, appropriating influence wildly… perhaps even improvisation itself is a thoroughly post-modern conception.
But, if anything can be thrown under that label, is it at all useful?
Mwanji Ezana asks if Jason Moran a post-modernist? I’m tempted to paraphrase Mwanji’s question as, is anyone a post-modernist? Or, in a form that might be easier to answer, is labeling anyone a ‘post-modernist’ useful / illuminating / fun / playful? My answer is a tentative no, it isn’t. On the other hand, if we’re interested in the condition rather than a post-modern aesthetic (whatever that might be), maybe we would usefully look for the post-modern in our listening / witnessing.
So, another question: does, or do the performances of, Agossi, Frisell or Moran elicit a post-modern reception?

Pat Donaher at visionsong expresses reservations and skepticism on the grounds that the post-modern tends towards valuelessness:
…Post-modernism… rests on the idea that no art has true intrinsic value…. And if you're ironic… you don't have to be honest….
…It's the guest at the party that oozes coolness, impresses the herd, says witty but empty things, and ultimately contributes nothing to the event. If that is where art is, or is headed, it's something I want no part of, and want to show up as a clothesless emporer.
And to paraphrase visionsong’s question (which relates to PB’s observation, and is similar to Mwanji’s question), is Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn post-modern? Well, maybe not, but, with a little work, we could hear it as such.
I am sympathetic to Pat’s desire for value in art, but I don’t agree that a post-modern reading necessarily lends itself to a valuelessness, its just you have to work much harder for it—you certainly cannot take it for granted, nor can you ever assume that its shared by others. I agree that post-modernism (like its cousin post-structuralism) offers a potential for a lazy libertarian relativism, but with a little care, I think it can also be culturally, politically liberating.

More to come…

Monday, July 16, 2007

post-modern jazz guitar pt. 0: electric authenticity

Continued as promised

When asked, in an article in The Guardian, if she gets frustrated by other singers’ approach to standards, Mina Agossi answers:

…Some people sing standards in the way that the greats did, with such conviction, love and authenticity that, really, it touches me. But if you ask me whether I learn something from that, or if it is something that opens a door, I would say no. It's beautiful, it's nice, but it doesn't touch me.
What happens when Agossi evokes, say, Billie Holiday (or any number of others) in her performance? What happens when I hear something of Holiday in Agossi—a singer/vocalist with much greater range than Holiday ever had? Not directly quoting Holiday, not mimicking Holiday (well, not exactly), and certainly not pretending to be Holiday. Nevertheless, what’s happening, and why is it electric?

visionsong impossibly (and fantastically) managed to get ‘postmodern’ and ‘authenticity’ to sit next to each other:
If there is such a thing as postmodern authenticity, then he's [Bill Frisell’s] it. He was embracing an eclectic mish-mash of Hendrix, folk Americana, thrash and bleep and blurp long before most of them were in vogue, and the times seem to have caught up with him, in a good way.
I recall the first time I became aware of ‘post-modern jazz guitar’ (or maybe that should be ‘‘post-modern’ ‘‘jazz’ guitar’’ or something) even though I wouldn’t have been able to call it as such at the time.
Bill Frisell’s sound I knew from some sporadic, and sometimes eccentric, appearances as sideman, most notably (to my ears at the time), as the quirky, independent-minded ‘other’ guitarist in Bass Desires (hey, anyone remember ‘Twister’?), but it’s his appearance on the self-titled Naked City debut recording (1989, Nonesuch) that marks my introduction to post-modern jazz guitar.

On some mundane, obvious level, Naked City was scatter-brained. Certainly critics at the time of its release, possibly because of a concern for material rather than practice, had difficulty hearing anything other than post-modern collage. On the other hand, in retrospect, it’s perhaps surprising that so little of the band had an overtly post-modern agenda: Fred Frith would return to that hybrid rock experimentalism; Joey Baron had no difficulty retaining his all-purpose bounce; Wayne Horvitz continued to walk the tight-rope act of downtown traditionalist; maybe even John Zorn’s taste for bricolage and sampling had more to do with the collision of Experimentalisms, African-American ‘noise’, and hardcore.

And then there’s Frisell.

Frisell’s interest in Americana, and, latterly, in cross-cultural (mis)understandings, displayed a concern for history that went beyond the temporal agnosticism of post-modernism.

Or did it?

Frisell’s deployment of those ’bop licks acknowledges history—of precedence—but it is not about authenticity, nor does it purport to be authentic. It ain’t authentic in either the sense colloquially used in the domain of historically informed performance (of which jazz neo-classicism might be a special branch), nor in the sense of an embodied authenticity as Simon Frith-ites might discuss in the context of popular music. This enrollment of jazz guitar history and practice is a strage and fascinating, perfectly crafted piece of… of what?
I’m not sure what I’m hearing when I spin that track (I’ll let you in on the exact track in the next part of this thread). Am I hearing a condensation of history (a collapsing of time), or a meaningless token (albeit free from the pretentions that dogs neo-classicism)? Is it a form of due-paying, or is it mocking the jazz traditions’ emphasis on cultural lineage? Or something else? or something in between? or a rapid-fire oscillation between states? I don’t know what I’m hearing, but the effects are dramatic (in that microcosmic moment) and electric.

To be continued…

an (unanswered) question

Does Frisell cultivate that shy, gawky, slightly goofy mid-western persona?
MLM and I used to joke that Frisell would meticulously practice his awkward delivery in preparation for introducing his band/pieces. Are questions of authenticity relevant to Frisell’s persona? Is it an act? Is persona (or identity) performance?

…and two questions from last time

What is, or what is constructed by the label, post-modern jazz?
Is, or do you find, post-modern jazz to be a positive development?

Monday, July 09, 2007

thoughts from a concert


Does TA know everyone in this town?

Audience demographics: about 3-to-1 male-to-female, fairly broad age range (possibly not many below their twenties, however), predominantly white (although I’ve seen worse).

support act

That’s a strange choice for a support band.
Do large (very much formal) venues have separate committees for the A and B acts? Do these committees program their acts largely independently, and then try and match the acts as best as possible?
I enjoyed performances by this band in the past, but I’ve brought the wrong set of ears tonight.

MLM’s comment: “I’d hate to be in their shoes.”

Oh god. I hope those balloons weren’t meant as a homage.

main performance

I am so glad I could witness this. [Warning: upcoming tasteless comment] I am in the presence of giants.
Interesting tactics: elements that ‘sound’ serendipitous are actually prepared, each musician picking-up on, and capitalizing on, cues from the other, (retroactively) making it sound like their individual gestures are internally consistent while ‘magically’ matching each other’s.
I know a lot of their moves. Not enough for it to be useful if I were (heaven forbid) on stage with them, and certainly not in the way they can (ir)rationally respond and anticipate each other, but, nonetheless, I know a lot of their moves.
I wish my students were here.

Wow! That was cool!

They’re using a tape…?
Is that a tape part…?
…that’s the clarinet?!?
Oh. My. God. If you can do that with a clarinet, why would anyone want to (or be compelled to) use a laptop?
I am in the presence of giants. [Apologies for that second tasteless outburst.]
I am lost in the moment.
Questions: does being in the position of having played with the two nominal ‘leaders’ (with formidable egos) put you in the position of negotiator / mediator? Does that position endow you with privileges / powers / controls / responsibilities—look one way, one possible ensemble; look the other, another?
Power flows though the negotiator. MLM: “But he’s hardly playing anything.”
This is dense: compelling, complex, and flying dangerously and dramatically close to the moosh.
I see logic in the choice of reeds. During this dense moment, a sopranino will hover far, far above the rest of the ensemble’s sound space, out of everyone’s way.
How the hell do you break out of this noise? What could possibly put the breaks on this system without creating an anti-climax?
That’s how.
A ‘false’ ending, and / but a little tactical flourish to put the breaks down. (And—feels almost magical—the audience conspires on this ending.)

Man, it doesn’t get much better than this.

final comments

MLM: “So many people walked out.”

I recall AF (a fine sound engineer for this and related genera of musics) critiquing engineers who mix with the expectation of a foreground (solo) and a background (accompaniment). Same problem dogged some of the earlier moments of this performance. Flatten the levels and let the audience do the mixing.

Friday, July 06, 2007

post-modern jazz guitar (preamble)

I’m out of town (always a little strange to be traveling without being weighed down by a guitar and amp) so I’ll be offblog for a few days. When I return, I plan to write on the subject of ‘post-modern jazz (guitar)’, so…

a couple of questions for y’all

What is, or what is constructed by the label, post-modern jazz?
It’s not at all a straightforward thing to use the ‘post-modern’ moniker in place of other labels (‘classicism’, ‘expressionism’, ‘orientalism’, etc.). The (informal? tenuous? hostile?) relationship between (cultural) modernism and (social) modernity finds no correlating expression between post-modernism and post-modernity. How can the post-modern stand for an aesthetic or sensibility? it is, after all, a condition, not a era or a milieu.
Of course, none of that stops us from trying.

Is, or do you find, post-modern jazz to be a positive development?
I’m curious about your reaction to post-modern jazz (whatever that is, and if such a thing exists): positive, negative, indifferent?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

i declare this myspace

What better way to mark the 4th of July but by announcing improvising guitar’s pledge to be part of Rupert Murdoch’s Empire (albeit a small, confused peninsula somewhat removed from the centers of colonial influence)—the Empire responsible for possibly the silliest expression of patriotism. (I almost can’t believe that I’m doing this; am I not getting a little old for this stuff? social networking? pah!)
Nevertheless, it is with almost patriotic pride (of the “patriotism swells in the heart of the American Bear” variety) that improvising guitar announces a MySpace presence:

Sunday, July 01, 2007

my little downbeat readers poll

Hey kids! It’s that time of year to try and think of obscure stuff to clog up the pipes at DownBeat Central. I list my weirder and more odd-ball [ed. can things be more/less odd-ball?] choices. Now ‘weird’ and ‘odd-ball’ in this situation means that these will never get past the first stage (not that that’s exactly difficult in regards to DownBeat Central).

1. Hall of Fame: Pauline Oliveros
2. Jazz Artist: Mina Agossi
3. Jazz Album: Anthony Braxton & Fred Frith, Duo (Victoriaville) 2005 [pdf] (Victo)

5. Jazz Group: Green Room [pdf]

17. Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Bob Ostertag

21. Percussion: Thomas Strønen

23. Miscellaneous Instrument: Laetitia Sonami (everyday and not-so-everyday technologies)

25. Female Vocalist: Petra Haden

I’m sure you kids can do much better that I did, but remember, you have to follow the letter of the law (to hell with the spirit, eh).

Saturday, June 30, 2007

index 06–30–2007

A partial and selective index of articles, posts and other detritus. Only covers posts up to and including June 30th 2007.

playing in position
training (the) quartet

the closed laptop
technological dramas
what’s in a name?

informal threads
canons and canonizing
cyborgs and cyborgism
society in miniature
tactics and structurings
why improvise?

most commented



harmonics pt. 0, the physics of
harmonics pt. 1: where are they?
harmonics pt. 2, the picking hand and
harmonics pt. 3: cataloging and improvisation
harmonics pt. 4…

playing in position
playing in position pt. 0, reasons for
playing in position pt. 1: don’t get lost
playing in position pt. 2: physiological compromises
playing in position pt. 3: learning the geography
playing in position pt. 4: what about finger independence?
playing in position pt. 5: one string melodies (again)
playing in position pt. 6: more physiological compromises
playing in position pt. 7a: learning the geography (again)
playing in position pt. 7b: learning the geography (again)
playing in position pt. 8a: one string melodies (yet again)
playing in position pt. 8b: one string melodies (yet again)
playing in position pt. 9: fingerboard geometry
playing in position pt. 10a: spanning a third
harmonics pt. 10b… (forthcoming)

training (the) quartet
training (the) quartet pt. 0: why four?
training (the) quartet pt. 1: protocol of mirroring
training (the) quartet pt. 1.1: protocol of affinity
training (the) quartet pt. 2: network topologies
training (the) quartet pt. 3… (forthcoming)


the closed laptop
the closed laptop pt. 0: a cautionary tale of performance practice
the closed laptop pt. 1: i/o? what i/o?
the closed laptop pt. 2a: deliver us from our bodies
the closed laptop pt. 2b… (forthcoming)

practicing: the journey (and the destination)
practicing: systems, routines and shake-ups

solo: alone together
solo: writing about music is like…
solo: niche in the ecology
solo: my humble lexicon
solo: primary territories

technological dramas
technological dramas pt. 0: piano mobility
technological dramas pt. 1: performing ‘normal’
technological dramas pt. 2… (forthcoming)

what’s in a name?
what’s in a name: free improvisation
what’s in a name: non-idiomatic vs. pan-idiomatic
what’s in a name: non-idiomatic improvisation
what’s in a name: the j-word

informal threads

canons and canonizing
an application of the principles of canon formation
an application of the principles of canon formation II
race: how many of us are just visiting?
the best of jazz of the 2010s
ten reasons lists might be trouble
See also ‘what’s in a name?’.

cyborgs and cyborgism
the (finite?) instrument
the instrument: of cyborgs and performance
keith rowe: an appreciation
See also ‘solo’ and ‘technological dramas’.

society in miniature
group improvisation: a question of leader(ship)
structur(e|ing): towards a music(ology) of verbs
society-in-miniature: diplomacy
‘society-in-miniature’? but where does the stage end?
mob behavior and the hegemonic impulse
See also ‘why improvise?’, ‘cyborgs and cyborgism’, ‘tactics and structurings’ and ‘training (the) quartet’.

tactics and structurings
limits and boundaries, purpose of
limits and boundaries: wikiality
structur(e|ing): towards a music(ology) of verbs
from the road: novel social structur(e|ing)s
endings: or engineering serendipity
learn a few moves, and make up the rest
engineering ritual: a curious case of the body in concert
structure|ings: engineering serendipity
contrasts and juxtapositions
mob behavior and the hegemonic impulse
the art of persuasion
‘responsible’ listening
See also ‘cyborgs and cyborgism’, ‘solo’ and ‘training (the) quartet’.

why improvise?
why improvise?
why improvise? redux
why improvise? the leap off the edge

most commented

society-in-miniature: diplomacy
structure|ings: engineering serendipity
what’s in a name: non-idiomatic improvisation
daily recommended traditional intake
an application of the principles of canon formation II
some observations i brought home


audience, body, composition, group, guitar, identity, instrument, interaction, listening, pedagogy, score, social, solo, strategy, technique, terminology, tradition, tutorial

Friday, June 29, 2007

sidebar links, overhaul of

Here’s the long overdue overhaul of the sidebar links.
Blogroll: Since I don’t like to remove items from it, I’m maybe a little overcautious about adding stuff to the blogroll. Talking of which, it’s farewell to Bagatellen since I discovered that, while it dutifully arrives in my feed reader, I only ever read an article once in a blue moon. For the moment, the sidebar blog links starts at AvantUrb and ends with Settled In Shipping, but there’s some other music related stuff in my sand box, so more will be added….
I’ve deleted the links to the AACM, the LMC, European Free Improvisation, etc. I figure that most of the readers of this blog knows about them anyway, and there are much better hubs for these kinds of links anyway. (I’ve, however, kept the links to various guitarists for the time being.)
Anyway, enjoy, but remember, links are not to be taken internally.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

thumb as fulcrum

Well, I have to admit this is a pretty good introduction to string bending from (and I can’t quite believe I’m citing this) Berkleemusic.

Only (very minor) point I would make is that it isn’t really your wrist that’s doing the bending, but your arm while using the thumb over the neck as a fulcrum.
(Via A Guitar Teacher’s Lesson Notebook.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

doppelgänger from a parallel plane

By the way, earlier this year something very much like this happened…

“You were at Barcelona!”
“Uh, Barcelona? Er… no.”
“Yes, ICMC 2005.”
“Heh. Uh, no, you’ve got the wrong person.”
“Uh, no….”
“Then where did we meet?”
“Did we meet?”
And a couple of months later…
“Hi. How’re you doing?”
“We met in Barcelona—ICMC…?”
“Okay, Okay. You’re confusing me with someone else….”
“No… really?”
“I know this for a fact ’cause I’ve never been to Barcelona nor have I been to an ICMC.”
That’s happened twice so, although it’s not quite like the other incident, now I know I have an evil twin sibling.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

technological dramas pt. 1: performing ‘normal’

Continued (after delays ’caused by various reasons) from part 0

There’s a remarkable scene that closes David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence in which, without giving too much away, a group of people go about the business of being a (white, heterosexual, middle-class, middle-American, nuclear) family. A classic elephant in the living room moment, the family performs normality despite pressures and stresses that have conspired to prevent it. In the most accomplished Cronenbergian fashion, the normal Hollywood trope of a ‘family overcoming despite insurmountable odds’ is given a simultaneously beautiful, almost unbearably sweet, tragic, elegiac, vaguely sinister, vaguely comic portrayal.
The thing that makes, in my mind, the scene stand out (in comparison to the multitude of similar moments in cinema) is that the characters know—are fully consciously engaged in the conspiracy—that this is performance. This pantomime act is no less real than the middle-Americana presented earlier in the movie—the earlier performances of heterosexuality, of middle-classness, of whiteness, were always already performances—but the stresses and strains have blown open the invisible markers of ‘normality’ making a return to it a deliberate and methodical process.

As I explored in part 0, Steinway & Sons’ (‘For over 150 years, Steinway has made the world’s finest pianos—and inspired the artists who make them sing’) myth is relatively straightforward, if, perhaps, at first glance bizarre in its own way. In contrast, Yamaha Pianos’ (‘Over 100 Years of Tradition and Innovation’) story, though seemingly straightforward, turns out to be a little more oblique and interesting.
Load up the ‘Piano & Digital Pianos’ page of the Yamaha Corporation of America, and you will be greeted by one of three images:three picturesWho are these characters? Why, and how, are they being enrolled into Yamaha’s narrative(s)?
Who’s that in the tux? Is that a concert pianist? A cocktail pianist? A lounge entertainer? I can’t imagine that that image is supposed to attract musicians, but perhaps it resonates with hotel owners. Who else might this image be decipherable to?
The image on the right: a woman admiring the keys while her companions chitchat and sip white wine (champagne?). This may be one possible expression of (imagined) white, middle-class normativity.
What’s depicted in that left-most image? A family, sure. A nuclear family: yes, a representation of a heterosexual ideal. A white, nuclear family. And judging from the architecture, an (upper?) middle class, white, nuclear family. In impressive shorthand, this image seems to encapsulate an idealized, hoped-for, form of identity.
Idealized in the sense that it doesn’t really matter if this image corresponds in any way to what we might find ’round here, or out there. (It doesn’t matter in the same way that the ‘real-world’ status of the ‘silent majority’ doesn’t matter; or whether Good Christian Families really hold the key to Salvation™; or whether ‘freedom’ corresponds in any way to the American Enterprise.) It’s a story, a myth, an emblem, an archetype; something that comes into existence precisely because we’re waiting for it (and, in the wings, Yamaha Pianos are waiting to help you get closer).
Idealized, also, to the point that the girl at the piano could well be Debbie—Frank Zappa’s name for the progeny of self-identified “Average, God-Fearing American White Folk” (Zappa and Occhiogrosso, 1989, p. 191).
Idealized and, to freely riff-off of Foucault, via the family unit, regulating (hetero)sexuality, and perhaps by extension, whiteness and middle-classness.

All, however, is not quite straight in Yamaha’s world for what queer things are on display here?

Not only, next door to the displays of middle-class, heterosexual normativity, is there (a respectable and unthreatening) gay representative in the form of the Elton John Limited Edition Signature Series Red Piano (‘Yamaha's First-ever Artist Signature Series Piano’), but there’s something lurking in those three images themselves: things here are playful and contradictory. Like Lynch’s suberbia, or, better yet, RoboCop’s existential schism, something lurks under the surface.
Or at least under the piano lid—have a closer look at the dashboard of the pianos: what do you see?Debbie’s parents have gifted her not with an upright, but a simulation; the dashboard on Tux’s piano reveals it to be a cybernetic hybrid; and the route to middle-class, bohemian sophistication is assisted by latter-day player pianos.

Cyborg dreams or cyborg nightmares?

To be continued…

on the other hand…

…the piano is also the instrument of Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor. In African-American performances the piano can be called upon to be the emblem of self-fashioned nobility (Duke Ellington), a tool for the revolutionary (Taylor), the sexually subversive (Little Richard), the playful (Monk), the joyous (Stevie Wonder). Is it, furthermore, any coincidence that women pianists would transform the instrument so closely associated with the domestic, the private—the spheres sanctioned as feminine—into something loud and unruly? The sounds of, say, Marilyn Crispell, Myra Melford, Irène Schweitzer: un-domestic, un-private, un-bound.
…It’s no wonder that Annea Lockwood was inspired (tempted?) to drown or burn these things….


Pfaffenberger, Bryan (1992), ‘Technological Dramas’, Science, Technology, & Human Values (vol. 17, no. 3, Summer).
Zappa, Frank and Peter Occhiogrosso (1989), The Real Frank Zappa Book (New York: Poseidon Press).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

in front of a live studio audience

I hate recording.

…Well, no, that’s a little simplistic.

I have a hard time performing for recordings.
Hmm… that’s not quite right either.

I have difficulty playing for the purpose of recording.
I wouldn’t have this problem if I were actually performing.

I have no comparable or corresponding problem when performing for an audience (which is probably why so many of my more successful recordings were done ‘live’).
Some musicians are skilled with studio recordings (and by studio, I mean without an audience—the studio in question could be a loft, basement, garage, or bedroom). They love the process and/or they have (I’m not sure how to describe this) ‘recording chops’.

I don’t.

I can’t seem to discipline myself into making every take count. At the back of my mind is the voice that says, “don’t worry, there’s always take two”, except that ‘take two’ tends towards take seven, take eight, nine, ten or take forty. Each take comes with ever diminishing returns; further and further removed from that compact, concise, information-rich play that I was aiming for. The problem, for me, comes from not having an audience, not having the pressure of performance, and this process is exacerbated if I’m recording solo. (The only recording, which was, incidentally, in a trio setting, in which I managed to avoid falling back on the psychological safety net of the next take was when I was suffering from the flu, and I was far to sick to be doing more than one take: that take, the one we just did, was going to have to do.)
This got me thinking, what if I just set up a faux-public-performance (like sitcoms ‘recorded in front of a live studio audience’), and recorded the results of that? All the technical resources would be geared up for recording, but the performance vacuum would be re-pressurized with a minimal audience. In the end, only three people constituted this audience, but (I haven’t heard the tape yet) the play felt more focussed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

improvising economics

Marc Ribot contributes a fine (not sure what to call this) analytic-polemic on economics and music (via be.jazz). DJA and PB come up with some contrasting follow-ups. (And all the while, there’s uncertain stirrings in the funding world….) I don’t have much to add to the discussions above, except to argue that the ‘objectification’—a specific form of commodification—of musicking adds to the problems.
One of the ways in which performance and, as a consequence, improvisation is marginalized is in the treatment of music as an object by funding bodies. To put a neo-Marxist spin on it, funding organizations increasingly treat arts and musics (‘serious’, ‘entertaining’ or otherwise) as objects (product) rather than as processes (labor); emphasizing, and placing value on, the unchanging, durable, repeatable thing as opposed to the transitory, contingent, performative practice/identity.
Unless you happened to be an employee of a largely fixed institution (e.g. a symphony orchestra (although, even in those cases, the musical ‘laborers’ may be the first in line for a cutback)) which is in itself a ‘product’—a focal point of national/regional worth—funding can be hard to come by. For those of us interested in informal, ad-hoc, freeform meetings of performers, for those interested in creating spaces for practice, we’re at the mercy of occasional, specialized festivals or value/clubs, neither of which can, in this post-Reaganomic world, guarantee successful funding.
The fact that the AACM, BAG or LMC (and the love of acronyms surely dates the origins of these organizations to a certain socio-political milieu) operated in economically unfriendly environments is a testament to the tenacity and ingenuity (and perhaps a measure of good luck) of the practitioners, but I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience those same difficulties. I’ve argued in a past post (somewhat in response to the discussions surrounding the Lincoln Center) that I “want cultural participation by all (or the many)” and “economic factors stand in the way of this cultural participation”. ‘Full-time’ (following the example of Eddie Prévost, I refrain from using the word ‘professional’) participation in music, and real-time performance-based practices in particular, should not become a luxury of the independently-wealthy, nor should ticket prices be inflated to the point where only the economically privileged can be in the audience: if you don’t need state funding, I suggest you may have a neighbor who does.

an (unanswered) question

Are we willing to package our musics into a recognizable ‘brand’?
It seems to me that the successful (by measure of their financial ‘sustainability’ and relative popular and institutional recognition) improvisative traditions ‘made it’ by, to some extent, freeze-drying the process, and creating a product. For those of us in / from / around traditions that have avoided / resisted / subverted this impulse, are we now, for economic expediency in this current climate, also willing to do this? And, if we did, what would we loose? (But, hey, what do I know: we’ve already had our lists and our canons.)