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.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

practicing: systems, routines and shake-ups

Taylor Ho Bynum can practice while watching television. HTP, a bass player, used to practice by playing along to every spot during a commercial break (which has a kind of scatter-brained, post-modern logic to it). I’m impressed (and a little dizzy with the idea), but, really, I couldn’t do that. I need both sets of ears and eyes: I’m afraid that I’ll miss something and screw-up if I let my attention drift.

Okay, as I’ve said before, I’m a systems junkie.

My routine (which goes through the occasional, irregular shake-up) right now consists of ‘natural’ harmonics; scalar patters that alternate open and stopped strings; clusters and ‘pseudo-clusters’; and ‘touch’ playing. (Did you noticed that this resembles humble lexicon?) Thrown into that mix are articulations via the volume pedal. (I also live by the metronome, but that’s another story….)
’Cause there’s not enough hours in the day, and you can only do so much practicing without hitting a physical / physiological / mental / spiritual wall, my practicing ‘regime’ (maybe ‘ritual’ is a better word) has, at the moment, a four day cycle. This also means I don’t practice the same thing more than once every four days. I do, however, try and cover all the bases each day, so I’ll have four sets of harmonics exercises, four sets of cluster based patterns, etc. to cycle through.
Now that all looks frozen and durable, but of course it ain’t. These elements are “exercises to followup on technically curious… gestures and structurings. …These exercises evolve not through some grand plan, but by adding kinks and extra complications.” In his own post about practicing, Dominic Lash makes a similar point:

A given practice regimen for me tends to last a few months before I rearrange things but the broad categories remain the same…. But the regime has to feel fresh for me to feel excited enough actually to pick the bass up, and the best way to do this is change things about periodically.
And recently (and whenever it happens, it comes as a surprise) I’ve found myself at the early stages of going through one of those shake-ups. I’m equal measures excited and anxious about this….

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

the closed laptop pt 2a: deliver us from our bodies

After much delay (caused by various not-very-musical reasons), continued from part 1….

a (techno)science fictional invocation

Once upon a time,
there was The Dream:

The Dream to emancipate us from corporeality.

In this heroic quest,
machines will be engineered to enable,
and technologies developed to aid,
the exodus from embodiment
—the slavery of bodily confinement.
Towards The Future
where labor will become a thing of barbarism
—music will be made effortless.
Towards The Future
where minds will be minds
without the shackles of clumsy, disabling wet-ware
—the sea that we carry with us
from the bio-chemical oceans of origin
(our unfortunate, ad-hoc chemical laboratory).

We deny that Bodies R Us.
We deny the spectacle of performance.

Technology will deliver us from our bodies,
    from context,
    from inequality,
    from difference,
    from culture
—deep down, we are the same—
for we are the mind, the heart and the soul
—the disembodied entity.
We seek freedom
—unimpeded, unrestricted, unbound—
and choice
—unfettered, limitless and infinite.

Our mission is to access The Timeless.
Our program is to touch The Universal.

The Dream became Desire,
and The Desire will be made (Arti)Fact.

To be continued…

Saturday, June 02, 2007

organ jamming

Well, this has got to be one of most spectacular pieces of culture jamming done within/by a mainstream media outlet/producer. As reported by Reuters:

The announcement that it was a hoax was met with stunned silence by the audience but this later turned to laughter as clips of condemnation were shown.
The show had set off a storm of criticism, both at home and abroad….
Topical, sensational, exploitative, sick and in bad taste—what more could you ask for?