Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Taking a Breather

OK. I managed to survive last week: Gigs on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, plus a second Thursday afternoon gig. Performing solo classical guitar for over 4 hours in a single day is exhausting. My fingertips were literally burning by the end of the night, and I had "nothing left" for Friday. It was tortuous. This week will return to some semblance of normalcy, but then Christmas season will begin, and that will be capped off with a wedding on New Year's Eve. Ugh. I guess I shouldn't complain, but it is interfering with some blogging I'd like to do.

Then, of course, I've been obsessed with my new axe. It may not seem like a big deal, but the pressure required to fret a course of two strings versus a single string leads to a much increased output of effort. No doubt but that this will lead to much more solid technique for me down the road, but playing the eleven-string is quite tiring at the moment. The courses being wider means buzzing against the flesh of neighboring fingers is more of a problem too, so my fretting accuracy should also improve with time as well. It's interesting, that's for sure.

In other news, I have had over seven-hundred people visit my FileShare Page to take a look/listen to my music! I'm fully expecting that the next time I go to a GFA event I'll hear someone playing some of my guitar pieces. LOL! To make it easier for visitors, I have re-named the files to make it easier to know what you are looking at and/or downloading, and I have also made the files more Windows-friendly by making sure the proper file extensions are apendeded to each one. This ought to eliminate any problems for the non-Mac crowd (Philistines!).

For the guitar pieces, there are:

1) Axial Studies (18 of them)

These are open string studies in a two voiced countrapuntal texture, with the open strings being the zero axes of the melodies, in Schillinger-speak. Since the zero axis can be the root, third, or fifth of a tonic major or minor triad, that makes six studies each for the E-Axis Studies, B-Axis Studies, and G-Axis studies, for the total of eighteen. They were inspired by the fugue from Bach's (?) (There seems to be some question of authorship here) Tocatta and Fugue in D minor, but they are not immitative.

2) Figuration Preludes (12 of them)

These are five-voice harmonic studies that progress around the circle of thirds starting in A minor and ending in B major. They employ the "c" finger, as I've always used my "c", and have some nice contemporary harmonies a la Pat Metheny and Leo Brouwer. I am currently writing the second set backwards around the circle from F major to E-flat minor, but have not posted them yet.

3) Irreducible Sonatina (Four movements)

This is a catch-all for some nice small pieces I have written over the years. There is a Sonatina in A minor, a Menuetto in B minor, a Sonatina in C major, and Six Variations in A minor.

4) Sonata Zero (Three movements, soon to be four)

This is the set I blogged on earlier and includes a Sonata in A minor, a Scherzo in B minor, and the Fugue in A minor. It requires a slow piece in C, and I'm tossing ideas around for that right now.

5) Lineal Studies (Three so far)

These are Schillinger patterned root progression studies which cannot be played on the guitar any other way than linearly due to range considerations. They're kind of weird, but cool. No fingerings in them yet though, so you're on your own there if you want to play them.

Then, there are some miscelaneous non-guitar pieces:

1) A fugue for Wind Trio. This is the fugue with the serial subject I blogged about.

2) A fugue for String Quartet. This is the homage to Bach's Art of Fugue and Musical Offering style.

3) A five-voice perpetual canon for String Choir. I blogged about this earlier as well.

4) A fugato for orchestra, which exists as a sketch for string choir currently.

5) An orchestrated version of the string quartet fugue.

As I've said before, feel free to use these as you wish, but if you are going to perform them for money or publish them in any form, please contact me and we'll work something out. It's an "honor system" thing (Someone - I can't remember who - published one of my Axial Studies in a method book once, and all I asked for was a credit).

When this season is behind me I'm going fly fishing next spring. Sorry if I insense anyone, but I'm not a "catch-and-realease" fisherman, I'm a "catch-and-EAT" fisherman!

Bet you can't guess what my favorite fly is called (Yes, I tie my own).

Yup. It's called "A Redhead", natch.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Godin Glissentar w/Custom Ed Reynolds Fretted Neck

WOW! After many years of wishing I had some sort of twelve-string nylon string guitar, all of my wishes and dreams have been wildly exceeded.

When I first learned of the Godin Glissentar, I pretty much freaked out. Since I play Godin's exclusively in my performing career, I wanted one in the worst POSSIBLE way. The problem, of course, is that the Glissentar only comes as as... a fretless instrument (What were they thinking?!). Godin would not custom make one with frets for me, but I bought it anyway. The thing about Godin's lineup of electric nylon string guitars that made this possible is that they have bolt-on necks (The only time in my life I've ever been thankful for that feature).

My original idea was to have someone add frets to the stock neck. I told my friend Mark Pollock of Transpecos Guitars what I wanted to do, and he graciously hooked me up with Eric Johnson's luthier Ed Reynolds (No website) in Austin.

Now, Ed is an old school perfectionist (And quite a character, as well as an all around hilarious human being), so we spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone working all of this out. The Glissentar's stock neck has a 1 7/8" nut width, and a standard classical guitar has a 2" nut, so we quickly went from fretting the stock neck to making a whole new one. Then, as a bonus, I got the neck cross section and profile I've always wanted, but have never had (This evolved over the course of several months).

The results are stunning.

Above is the Glissentar to the right of my Godin Multiac Grand Concert Synth Access guitar for comparison, with the stock fretless neck in between. The glissentar has a slightly smaller body, and the neck joins the body at the fifteenth fret versus the SA's twelveth fret (Which is standard for acoustic classical's as well). Since I have decades of playing electric steel string guitars under my belt, this is easy enough to adapt to. The Glissentar also has twenty-two frets as opposed to the SA's ninteen (Also standard for acoustic classicals), which is a little weirder to come to grips with, but it obviously offers some new possibilities.

Above is a rear view of the two guitars, and now you can see a little of Ed's amazing work: The new neck is a five-piece laminate, and the gold anodized tuning machines are by Sperzel, and are custom ordered lower profile versions of those used on the Parker Nylon Fly guitar. Ed is so forward-thinking that he ordered two extras in case one ever gets broken.

Here's a pic of just the Glissentar.

And here's a closer look at the neck. Unfortunately, my ancient PowerShot A10 won't get the details of Ed's amazing craftsmanship, or even the beautiful grain of the rosewood overlay on the headstock. Let it suffice to say that there are no worthy superlatives.

I had agonized over how much time it might take me to adapt my technique to it, but - stupifyingly - I picked it up and started playing it right away! I'll probably work it into my set gradually - and I do want to do some experimentation with strings (The Glissentar uses ball-end strings and has wound G's, which are great for fretless, but have very thin windings and will wear through quickly with frets under them) - but I was amazed that it was not more difficult to adapt to.

It sounds like an electric lute through my large venue rig, which is exactly what I wanted.

It feels awesome, it looks awesome, and it sounds awesome: It's AWESOME!!!

And yes, the new neck cost much more than the Glissentar did originally. So what. It was worth it. It's the sexiest thing in the world... er... well... almost.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Fugue on a Serial Subject for Wind Trio

I abandoned the idea of writing this fugue for solo guitar, as the subject's stretto possibilities could not be realized in that restrictive of an idiom (Among other things). In one of those many "I was right the first time" episodes we all have, I returned it to the wind trio, which is the idiom in which I originally concieved this subject.

In case you have not crossed this thread before: This fugue subject is a twelve tone row (All twelve tones of the equally tempered chromatic system in a speciffic order with no repetitions) - Classic Serial Technique - but it establishes definite pitch axes and can easily be interpreted tonally.

The tessitura of the subject landed the fugue in D minor, and please note that this is a Concert Pitch Score: The clarinet part is not transposed (I have a hard enough time reading scores without that added complexity, which MIDI thankfully makes unnecessary).

Because of the inherantly chromatic nature of the subject - which is much more avant garde than any other subject I've ever come up with - the resulting fugue is in a very colorful style that is quite unlike anything else I've ever written. It is still quite conservative by atonalist standards, but I would be lying if I indicated anything other than that this piece is reactionary in nature: I am an anti-atonalist, and I don't mind "stealing" serial tech to give a "pie in the face" nod to that style. If you are an atonalist, please don't take that personally, as it is meant as a bit of good natured and humorous ribbing.

The clarinet is given the first statement of the tone row, and the flute get's the answer, which must necessarily be real to acurately reproduce the tone row on the dominant level. The bassoon comes in with the final thematic statement of the subject, and note it is at the same pitch level as the lowesd D that the clarinet had in measure eight (After which it leaps up an octave): This provides a nice effect of the chalmeau register of the clarinet versus the midrange tone of the bassoon and "spins off" the final thematic statement of the exposition.

I composed the countersubjects and counter-answers using my usual approach, which is more seventeenth century modal tech than eighteenth century tonal tech: The voice leading produces the harmonic effects while I think in a primarily contrapuntal fashion.

It is difficult to explain the balancing act I do with this approach, as it would be a mistake to assume that I am not totally atuned to, and aware of, each and every vertical sonority, but I get to them through multi-linear thinking. If you did a statistical comparison between my counterpoint and Bach's, I believe that you would find about 50% more stepwise motion in my fugues, which would probably be a lot closer to the music of Palestrina in that regard. One of the few criticisms I have about Bach's style is that he leaps around too much to get harmonic colors and effects, and through that sacrifices the purity of line that Palestrina exhibits in his work. And, the further down this path I get, the more I think that Palestrina was the epitome of contrapuntal purity of stylistic integrity (Easily on par with Mozart's style, which I addressed previously).

One of the things I did was to work up to a surface continuity of eighth notes, which is occasionally interrupted by the dotted-eighth/sixteenth figure that ends the subject, and which is also occasionally adorned with a few consecutive sixteenths (In the cumulative rhythm). Another is that I pull the piece back and forth from a primarily simple tripple meter feel and a compound duple meter feel: You can see this in the flute part from measures nine to twelve. It's a neat effect that fits in perfectly with the chromatic nature of the piece.

The first episode is non-modulatory, and introduces a feature of augmented sixths/diminished tenths that I will return to several times over the course of the fugue.

The first middle entry introduces an elaborated version of countersubject one, and tcountersubject two, which the flute had in the lead previously, is now in the bass with the bassoon: This is the primary arrangement of these elements, and the rest of the middle entries will simply display their invertible nature.

The second episode modulates to the dominant region, where another arrangement of the elements may be displayed. Though the elements are varied from the first episode, the augmented sixth element is still present. I love the slightly "wacky" feel of these passages.

The second middle entry at measure twenty-three displays a different inversion of the first countersubject set, now on the dominant level. Since this is a tone row, it cannot be translated to the major mode, so the middle entries simply cycle back and forth between the dominant and tonic levels.

Episode three is unique, and it just "happened" intuitively, but it sounds quite idiomatic for the wind trio and does not violate the style of the piece at all. In fact, it is a welcome variation being that the first two episodes are so similar.

The third middle entry displays the second countersubject set in a new inversion.

Episode four returns to the feel of the first two episodes, and modulates back to the dominant level.

The fourth middle entry exposes the second countersubject set in the original arrangement, but now on the dominant level, and with the lower voice moved up versus down in range, so it's tightened up overall range wise.

Episode five is of the same feel as one, two, and four, and returns us to the tonic level.

The fifth "middle entry" is unique in that the subject is varied: It is intervallically expanded, and the tail is modified. The "countersubjects" are also unique, and this passage almost feels like an extension of the previous episode in some ways. It's quite a nice lick.

Since we are already on the tonic level, episode six does not need to modulate, as we are approaching the recap. The overal decending nature of the episode tips the listener off to the fact that this is going to come to the final thematic statements of the piece.

The recapitulation itself was difficult to arrive at: The subject and answer work in stretto at one measure of distance with the answer below the subject, but the answer and subject only work at three measures delay with the subject above, which might seem anti-climactic. But, by giving the flute a soaring arch of a counterpoint to the initial stretto, I was able to set up a really cool bass counterpoint for the final combination that more than mitigates against that possibility.

As you can see, I was able to use the answer's tail figure - first in sequence, then in inversion - to extrapolate a bass counterpoint to the final statement of the subject. Combined with the clarinet's accellerating decending chromatic line in the middle, this gives rise to a quite exciting effect. The subject's tail then takes over this self-similar fractal process in measure fifty-eight, and into the tiny codetta that begins in measure fifty-nine.

Note that the outside voices arrive at their final resolution into measure sixty via an augmented sixth in the outer voices in keeping with the style of the rest of the piece. Finally, the clarinet gets in on the action with it's final flourish in measure sixty, and humorously feigns an end on the minor third just before introducing the final measure's tierce de Picardie in the final measure.

And yes, I noticed that the piece being sixty-one measures long and in tripple time means that at 61 beats-per-minute it would be "The Three Minute Fugue": I'll probably use that in keeping with my overall convivial approach to the piece as a whole.

I really like this little thing, and I get the distinct impression that it may foreshadow a more chromatic development in my integrated-modal style of counterpoint.

God forbid that I may be approaching the haut coture of contemporary mucic though!

"Huc, you make serialism sound as good as I make this goofy dress look!"

Thank you, Clinta.

This is now on my FileShare page as S_TRIO_3VOX_SERIAL_FUGUE.pdf/.mid if you want to take a listen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Discovery and Application: Guitar Fugue Redux

No Tim, not "applicability", LOL!

BTW: I have added a link to Tim Rutherford-Johnson's excelent blog "Johnson's Rambler" to my sidebar blog list, so check him out (But frankly, if you frequent music blogs and you haven't found his place already, I'd be surprised). "Listen" is also there now, and it's great as well.

This topic has been rattling around in my cranium for a while, but I needed an example to "mature" before I could address it. Well, now I have one, so here we go.

What got this started for me was the recollection of a comment I heard someone make years ago (Can't recall who, exactly) that basically was critical of Mozart for recycling material: "It all sounds too much the same." At the time, I believe I nodded in agreement, believe it or not.

Well, the more I get into analyzing aspects of stylistic development, and developing approaches of my own to style, the more I come to realize that statement was ignorant, as was my dunderheaded agreement with it.

In a lot of the guitar music I write, I "discover" things: Harmonic structures, chord progressions, contrapuntal sequences and combinations, etc. In fact, I pretty sure that every piece I've ever written has had a discovery of one sort or another in it. However, as I look at pieces I've written more recently, I find that I am now applying elaborated versions of those previous discoveries alongside of new ones I'm making: This is an aspect of stylistic development I don't recall ever hearing anyone address before (Though, no doubt, UMI probably has, like, a gazillion dissertations on this or related topics).

My view of Mozart is complex: I admire the unity and integrity of his style more and more, but the actual music is a bit on the light side for my taste. That is not to say I don't recognize the trancendent genius of it, just that it moves me less than say Bach, Beethoven, or... Haydn. I don't want to digress too far on this path because it is only tangentally related to what I want to address today, so suffice it to say that the music of the other three simply speaks to me on a deeper, "heavier" level, but I believe Mozart achieved an unprecidented unity and clarity of stylistic integrity.

I believe Mozart achieved this stylistic unity through the process of discovery and application, as do all successful composers, but to a previously and subsequently unmatched degree (Though, I wouldn't disagree if you think Bach was as good or even better).

In the old days, I never analyzed my work retrospectively: The piece was finished, I liked it, so "Next!" As time went on, however, I found myself increasingly saying to myself things like, "What was it I did back in that B minor prelude?", and so I started taking a closer look at my stuff. I think this is useful for developing style, and not just because you get to solidify processes, but because in analyzing your own work, you will make further discoveries of things you did intuitively, and you'll be able to internalize those things as well.

This little guitar fugue is a good example of this. I've come to the conclusion that it is by far the best piece I've ever written for the guitar as pure music, but a lot of the features that make it special I did intuitively and discovered retrospectively.

I'm not a big fan of Schenker - Though I own Free Composition and the Five Graphic Music Analyses and have "Schenked" my share of pieces. The reason has always been that I considered it a great analysis technique, but I thought the results were achieved through intuition and the natural tendency of voices to decend in strong root progressions: I didn't see how you could start with a "Schenker Line" and get a piece out of it... until now.

One of the first things I noticed was that my fugue subject is merely a very slightly decorated and primordial "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" in Schenker-speak! And, of course, the entire piece is also a 5 to 1. Talk about a seminal discovery!

Another thing that I wondered about was why did the fugue "want" me to come to a brief repose at cadential points versus having elisions at those points? Well, if you take a look at the progression of the piece toward a surface continuity of eighth notes - which was where I thought this was headed initially, you'll notice that it never "gets there": The tail figure of the subject has a dotted-eight followed by a sixteenth, and so the progress toward constant eighth notes is thwarted.

During the second thematic statement of the answer and counter-answer starting at measure five, the eighth notes are brought back from the tail figure by one beat in measure seven, and then in the third thematic statement of the subject and it's countersubjects, the eighths are brought back two beats from the tail in measure eleven. This process is then interrupted by the first episode beginning in measure thirteen, and that entire episode has the rhythm of the tail figure, so the process does not come to completion there either.

That is why it is not only OK to come to a brief repose at the cadence into measure sixteen, but it is actually more effective to do that than to try to cram some sort of elision figure in there: The subsequent entry of the subject over a perfect fourth is more effective this way.

You may notice that I've eliminated the ties in the 4-3 suspension/resolution chains, and that is because it's much easier to finger - and more idiomatic to the guitar - if I do it that way. As someone who performs his own stuff, I'm very aware of the "cost/benefit" factor: Is keeping the ties in there worth the extra effort? Is the "payoff" worth it? I decided not.

As you can see, the constant eighth note surface rhythm is only missing in the measure with the tail figure now, and the second episode, being a variation of the first, is again of no "help" in the effort: All subsequent cadential points during this counterexposition are properly elided, but still a constant eighth note presence is not achieved.

As a result, the lack of an elision into measure 32 is not only not percieved as a fault, it is actually an inevitability that continues the established overall rhythmic scheme, and it again makes the entrance of the subject under the major second far more effective. The fact that the resolutiuon from the V/V to the I of the relative is a deceptive one further facilitates this effect.

Throughout this series of middle entries, I have added a further sixteenth note to the ultimate measures with the tail figure, but the second eighth note of those measures still never appears. Even in measure forty-seven, where I launch into the constant sixteenths that will make up the third and climactic episode, that second eighth note is still absent.

If you've seen the previous entries about this fugue, you already know that the third episode is a harmonized version of the theme in augmentation: It starts out as the answer in the dominant region, and throughout it's modulation ends up the subject on the tonic level. Though the texture is constant sixteenth notes, the tail figure's rhythm is nowhere to be found (Except in augmentation, and even then it is disguized by the arpeggiation pattern), so when the cadence to the tonic is not elided, it's perfectly natural and inevitable.

It is also worth noting that the third episode, because it presents the augmented subject starting in the dominant region, is another big "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" line, complete with a harmonically achieved modulation.

You probably notice that I don't put harmonic analyses in my counterpoint pieces. I do this for a reason: I prefer the purity of the modal style, so I use that approach in a tonal context and let the harmonies happen "intuitively" except for at cadence points, or in modulatory episodes such as the climactic one here.

Anyway, the return to the tonic sets up a unique stretto where every voice gets the subject starting on the same pitch level. This has a fabulous closing effect for the fugue. I mean, it absolutely, positively puts the piece to bed. During this recapitulation, the tail figure still has no second eighth note until the penultimate measure where I'm reprising the 4-3 suspension/resolution chain, and that leads to a final constant sixteenth note flourish at the final cadence. Of course, a ritardando is definitely required here. And, it's three consecutive and interlocking "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" Schenker lines.

Another thing is the four voice chord that ends the piece. A perfect triad has four tones: Root, third, fifth, and a root doubling at the octave. This is also prefigured and built up to. At measure fourty-eight - over the dominant pedal, I first introduce a four voiced triad, but it is not in close position, and the octave doubling is not on the outside. Note that it is a brief sixteenth note's duration. The fugue goes into a kind of "free-voiced-ness" during the third episode, as the arpeggiation pattern hints alternately at four voices and then three voices, with the four voiced texture having the edge (It could even be considered incipient five/four voiced texture with the pedal point included).

So, the second four voiced triad at measure fifty-five, over the tonic pedal, is natural and inevitable. Note that it also is not in close position, and does not have the octave doubling at the outer extremes, so it is far from being a "perfect" triad. Then, it is a quarter note's duration, which matches up with the earlier reposes, and it is four times longer than the previous four note triad in sixteenth notes.

As a result, the third and final four note triad that is in close position and is perfect with it's exterior octave doubling also has a final inevitability to it, and is not just "there" to more convincingly end the piece. And, though it is notated in half notes, with the ritardando it is virtually in whole notes: Four times the previous four note triad's duration.

Other proportional things I noticed: The first episode is three measures long, the second is four measures long, and the third is seven measures long. 3 + 4= 7. In the MIDI version, where I programmed in the riatrdandos and accelerandos in, the pitch climax in measure forty-seven falls at... the 67% point. There are fourteen thematic statements including the harmonized version in the third episode. Number thirteen (Betrayal) enters early and starts the stretto. The first episode is 25% as long as it's preceeding entries, the second episode is 33% as long as it's preceeding entries, and the third episode is 44% as long as it's previous entries: This, as 8 + 11, is very close to the Fibonacci series' 8 +13, and in the temporal climate of the music is just as effective.

As you can see, analyzing your intuition can be a fruitful venture. Now that I've discovered that I do these things in my best pieces, I can more consistantly apply them in the future.

I need sleep. As usual, the piece is on my FileShare page


Monday, November 21, 2005

Reducing Music to Numbers

Music is vulnerable to math. As a system which can objectively be viewed simply as a set of twelve pitches - and, therefore numbers - music can have a virtually limitless variety of mathematical algorithms applied to it: The musical elements themselves do not prevent it. Or, even protest.

So much twentieth-century music is praised for it's arithmetical, mathematical, and geometrical exactitude. Why then, don't I like it? You can find unabridged aspects of math literally permiating the music of every great composer throughout all of music history; so why then does only the twentieth-century "atonal" stuff sound so abjectly lame to me?

Simple, really. In the music of the great composers whom I love, math was in the service of music: In the twentieth century, math started to rule over music. Math ruling over music is fundamentally... wrong.

Music has math in it - it's a kind of pure math in sound, in fact - but it's a math that is peculiar to music and other music-related natural phenomena. (Wait for it... here it comes!) The math that is directly related to the harmonic overtone series is the math of music and the music of math. We are dealing with a pre-existing mathematical system based on natural harmonic ratios: 1:1, 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, etc.

There are countless non-musical arithmetical and mathematical systems out there, and foisting them brutishly onto music can have almost no other possible result than to produce bad music. Non-music, even, in my view. No mater how robust the defense of whatever system is imposed on the musical elements, the end result must be... musical. The intellectual test for this is simple: If the system involved is within the sphere of the math that is directly related to the nature of sound, then there is a chance that the result will be musical, if not, no chance. But the acid test is even simpler: How does it sound? Eddie Van Halen said, "If it sounds right, it is right." I think this is overly simplistic on the one hand, but exactly correct on the other. I personally am willing to give composers the benefit of the doubt if they are incorporating the math of music, even if the piece does not speak to me individually. Hey, there are plenty of wildly popular and significant works from the common practice eras which do not speak to me, so who am I - pimple on the posterior of music that I am - to dismiss works that may be plenty communicative to some, and are based on musical mathematics, and yet don't say anything that I particularly want to hear? This goes back to my arguement that the now cannot ever hope to objectively predict it's place in history: Only history can do that after years of retrospect.

It seems to me that, for the most part, the objections of listeners to the majority of twentieth-century serialism has been shown to be sufficiently justified, and yet I think we are still far too close to the events time-wise to make any ultimate judgement on it. And, to be fair, asside from writing a serial fugue subject (Albeit one with obvious tonal implications), I also find that some aspects of atonality can be used as an effective resource within an overal tonal/modal context to suspend tonality, and to good effect. In fact, to far better effect than uncompromising and persistent atonality gives. The roots of this approach, by the way, go back to extended episodes of symmetrical structures like diminished seventh chords and augmented triads. That would be to at least the early Baroque, if not even further back.

Music has it's own will, and it's own agenda. In order to come to an understanding of it, you have to meet up with it on it's home turf and on it's own terms. The composer is the disciple, and music is the master. If you don't get that, you can't even get to square one, in this monk's humble opinion.

That certainly sounds hopelessly old fashioned and - perish the thought - Romantic, I'm sure, but this is what I have come to the conclusion is the actual, unvarnished truth of the matter.

When I hear contemporary critical reviews of music that describe the work under scrutiny as "uncompromising", I infer from that statement that the music is sadly saddled with some non-musical mathematical system or construct. I may not always be right, but experience has taught me that I more often than not... am. When I perilously assume that I won't like said "uncompromising" piece, my rate of accuracy approaches 100%.

Worse still, to me, is the old canard that says something to the effect of, "In the twentieth century, composers left the audience behind." Please. From my point of view, twentieth-century composers abandoned an audience that was still plenty hungry for new and different styles of music. The acceptance of increasingly "uncompromising" styles of jazz during the same time period would seem to me to qualify as solid anecdotal evidence of this.

Shillinger said that music with a "neutral pitch distribution" (Music that does not establish a pitch heirarchy and/or pitch axes) was objected to because it was fundamentally unnatural: "Audiences usually object to such music, and they are right to do so" (Quoting from memory, but I'm sure I have this essentially right). Now, Schillinger was lightyears ahead of me as a musical futurist, of that their can be no doubt, but the vast majority of his concepts - even if I wouldn't consider them for my own music - seem quite logical from a musical mathematics standpoint. I think this is key. At least a key, if not the key.

Yes, yes. Hoplessly old-fashioned. But, being a little old fashioned isn't always such a bad thing, is it Julianne?

"Not at all: I like old fashioned guys."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fugue Subject and Answer: This is just... weird!

After I wrote the four voice fugue for string quartet years ago, I decided the next step would be - naturally - to write a five voice fugue. I was still in the phase where my subjects had elements in common with the Art of Fugue/Musical Offering subjects, and I wanted a five voice canonic stretto, so I composed the subject below. It makes a five voice canon at one measure of delay, which you will see later. Looking at the subject, you can see that it has the leap of a diminished seventh and the decending chromatic figure in common with the Musical Offering's "Royal Theme". In the fifth measure, I used triplets to get further chromatic motion. It makes an effective, if heavy, canon.

I had a simply horrific time coming up with the answer, but a few months after writing the canon, I finally had it: by replacing the chromatic motion with diatonic motion, the answer smoothly modulates back to the tonic. The answer has a stupid wide range, but in an orchestral piece, that is of no consequence (Well, it is of some consequence, but it's easily workable). I can't think of any subject/answer combination from the historic literature where this particular device is used, so if it's not unique, it certainly is rare. I like it a lot.

What interested me more about this answer, though, is that all of it except the last measure works as a canon at one-half measure of delay (Once you teach yourself canon technique, you will forever after be looking for canonic possibilities in everything).

So, it sat. For about three or four years. Then I wrote an exposition out. Big, heavy, ponderous, but "OK". While I was working on the exposition, I noticed that the head of the answer transposed to the tonic level, and in augmentation, worked in canon with the subject at one measure of distance (Like I said, it's an addiction). But, I didn't realize the full magnitude of the possibilities.

So, it sat again. For about two years... then. Bingo! The result is flabberghasting (Well, to a canon wonk like me it is): A five voice perpetual canon at the octave!

First, here it is:

As you can see, the subject is written out in simple canon technique, and since it is five measures long, the fifth measure is all five of the subject's measures in simultanaity. Then, in measure six, the answer's head figure (Well, all but the fifth measure of it, actually) transposed to the tonic level comes in in augmentation and dovetails perfectly with the previously written canon!

Now, if you look at this in terms of modal counterpoint, you'll be forced to say "no way!", but because I also think harmonically when I write, the dissonant sonorities are perfectly rational. On the downbeat of measure nine, the harmony is simply a bVI(M7) in first inversion: Not particularly exciting... Until you consider the voicing, that is.

Note that there is a minor ninth as the top interval: This is very hotly dissonant, and when combined with the doubled third and the rest of the voicing, and absolutely gorgeous series of harmonies is set up. The second half of that measure "resolves" the dissonant tonic-function harmony to a less dissonant diminished seventh, which becomes a V(m9) momentarily, and then the next measure has a major seventh on top, a minor ninth as the second interval, and the target chord is again more dissonant than the dominant is! This is a really cool effect, and it was a happy accident, but "Luck favors the prepared", as they say.

I wonder how many of Palestrina and Bach's more riotous contrapuntal combinations were "discoveries" versus intentionally forethought? We'll never know, but the more of this I do, the more I think "one thing leads to another" in unexpected ways a lot of the time.

On the second page, I show how the canon can dovetail back - which is the last necessary expositional requirement - and the last measure of page two is all five measures of the subject again: The perpetual nature of the canon is proven, and so it can come to an end.

On the last page, I let the augmented answer come in again - because those harmonies are certainly worth hearing one more time - and fade it out over an ostinato of the subject's final measure in the bass. When the answer statements reach the tonic, they then sustain to the end. In the final measure, I resolve to a major tonic by using a tierce de Picardie momentarily, and then use the triplet figure to get that voice too, down to the tonic. There is more than the touch of humor in this figure: The B-flat is the only tone not used in the canon, so it completes the set of twelve (Which is also humorous, of course, so it's "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, surrounded by an enigma" in a funny kind of way).

On five voice harmony and counterpoint: Have you ever read something like "and composers relaxed certain rules when writing for more than four voices" in a counterpoint or harmony text? Doesn't that chap your cheeks? I mean, which rules did they relax? How did they relax them, and what rationale did they apply? I can only assume that the theorists couldn't answer these questions, because they never do (That I know of).

Well, here's one rationale that should help. In four voices, the largest complete sonority that can be expressed is a seventh chord, while in five voices, it is a ninth chord. In four voices, the next smaller chord is considered the perfect expression of the tonic degrees: The triads. The outer limits of the triads are the fifths, and unequal fifths can move in parallel in four voices (I use them in three voices, but I'm a Philistine).

In five voices, the most perfect expression of the tonic degrees are considered to be the seventh chords (Though this approach was not taken in common practice music - for the tonic especially - it is nonetheless undeniably true according to the implications of the overtone series, and I think "jazz major", "jazz minor", and da blues prove that well enough), so unequal sevenths can also move in parallel in five voices.

I use that in the fadeout of the canon where the bass has F, there is an E in the chord, and they move together to E and D respectively: The D is the seventh of the E dominant chord, and so is completely consonant in five voices. Sevenths must however be treated as are perfect consonances: Only parallel unequals are acceptable (In counterpoint: Pure Harmony using voice transformations is another matter entirely).

I'm not sure if I'll actually ever do anything with this, but I sure learned a lot from the experience. As usual, there will be PDF and MIDI files of this on my .Mac FileShare page as WIP_PC.pdf/.mid for those interested.

"What are you looking at?!"

UPDATE: Concerning the four versus five voice counterpoint/harmony "thing": I failed to make clear that the reason triads are the perfect expression of completeness in four voices and that seventh chords are the perfect expression of completeness in five voices is because of the harmonic principle of root doubling. As you were.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I'm a Numenorean: "Graceful, Dignified, Tragic"

This is not the result I expected. And yes, I answered the questions forthrightly. I thought I would end up with the Rohirrim. Perhaps there is a lesson here...


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla

Find out which Middle Earth race you belong to here.

I do know that I may have taken a different path than Aragorn vis-a-vis the Arwen versus Eowyn decision.

Before I got sidetracked with the LOTR quiz, I had a reason for this post: Blogging will be light to non-existant until after Thanksgiving, as this is one of my gigging "silly seasons." I have three gigs outside of my regular four per week during this time, and so I will be communing deeply with my guitars for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

"Once, I finished a piece and didn't even know it..."

Not exactly, but absolutely as close as you can get virtually.

A while back, I blogged about writing fugues and fugattos, and I wrote a fugatto for that thread. Well, while the initial idea was for that mini-fugue to be part of a larger piece, it then occured to me that it might make a good first theme area for a larger sonata-process movement that the fugatto itself would generate. OK. So, that lead me to change the altered dominant sonority that ended the fugatto - and which implied that the region of the relative major was coming, but in the minor mode - to a tonic resolution. I did that to get ideas for a second theme area which I could "resolve" during the course of a larger work.

The very first time I listened to it, I said to myself, "You know, nothing else really needs to be said about this subject and answer combination." That's right! I looked at it and realized it was 101 beats long, so at 101 BPM it would be "The Minute Fugue": I busted up laughing. I appologize, but this is sooooo frickin'-me.

Page one:

Page two:

Of course, as a sixty second long orchestral piece, a "unique" approach will be required. I've always thought that the most logical place for fractal, self-similar schemata to be most purely and directly applied to music is in orchestration: The distribution of parts in a score. When I apply fractal principles to pitch without tonal/modal filtering parameters, I get garbage. However, if I take these patterns and apply them to the distribution of parts in a score, I get a kind of orchestral pointalism that is mathematically driven, and the repeating sonic color patterns very much agree with me in the same way that viewing fractal images does.

This is even going to be easy enough that a conductor with a - you know - human personality and sense of humor, might actually program it. Nah... most of them are on the "dark side"... I'm just a lone Jedi in the desert... WTF could I possibly know?

It's on my FileShare page as WIP_SSF.pdf/.mid, if you want a giggle.

"Is there a problem here?!"

Friday, November 11, 2005

Mechanical Efficiency II: Updating Traditional Practice

One of the reasons that I brought up the concept of mechanical efficiency as it applies to music, is that it's obvious to me that traditional practices can be directly updated to reflect current technological achievement. But first, a little background.

If we compare sixteenth-century modal counterpoint to seventeenth-century tonal counterpoint, a few things are obvious: 1) As pure counterpoint, the sixteenth-century style has the edge; 2) As a summation of then-current harmonic and contrapuntal practices, seventeenth-century style has the edge; and 3) From a purely technological viewpoint, seventeenth-century polyphony is far more mechanically efficient.

The problem with seventeenth-century polyphony, then, is that it sacrificed modal purity for the drive that only well-ordered harmonic root progressions can provide: Some of the tasty "modalisms" were left behind. From our standpoint in the twenty-first century, however, the seventeenth-century style is hopelessly antiquated: All of the Baroque ornamentation and grandiose flourishes represent the powdered wig era perfectly, but they really don't fit into my "Age of the Shaved Pate" at all.

Fortunately, great composers have addressed this issue, so we have examples to draw from. As I have mentioned before, Mozart's style was opened up and set free through his counterpoint lessons with Padre Giambattista Martini. But when Mozart composed the Finale of the Jupiter Symphony, he was not writing in the style of J.S. Bach, he was writing in the style of W.A. Mozart, which was a more mechanically efficient style that was perfectly in sync with the classical era's striving for simplicity and grace.

Later, Beethoven took up the challenge, and his many craggy fugattos are ledgendary, as is the Grosse Fugue Op. 133. But again, Beethoven was not composing in the style of J.S. Bach or W.A. Mozart, he was composing in the style of Ludwig van-freaking Beethoven, and that style reflected the late classical era transitioning into the Romantic era perfectly.

Later still, Sergi Ivanovich Taneiev - a pupil of Tchaikovsky - took counterpoint to it's ultimate level thus far, and in so doing he not only put an exclamation point at the end of the Romantic era, but he did it with a Russian accent, and through a countrapuntal style which has never before or since been equalled in terms of mechanical effeciency (Taneiev died in 1915, and I use that date to mark the end of the tradition of Western Art Music).

As a side note, Taneiev wrote the two greatest counterpoint treatises in all of music history: Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict style, and The Technique of Canon, the latter which has only recently been translated into english in a Doctoral Dissertation by Dr. Paul Grove. One of my goals is to blog through those two books, and after successfully composing the idiomatic fugue for the guitar, I think I'm about ready.

Anyway, composers have continuously updated counterpoint in the past, so there is nothing to prevent a composer from doing it now. My little guitar fugue is a simple example: There is no burdensome ornamentation weighing it down, it uses the simplest and most mechanically efficient fugue subject, it's filled with "modalisms", it uses the utmost economy of expression, and it is completely integrated through the use of fractal self-similarity. In short, it is a simple, streamlined fugue that sounds like Bach only if you give it the most cursory listen, and then only if you relate all fugue writing back to him (Which a majority of people seem to do, even with counterpoint generally. It's a problem: One newspaper writer described a performance of Bach that I did, only the piece was one of mine, not one of Bach's!).

Now that I have gotten basic tonal counterpoint, basic fugue writing, and basic canon technique under my belt, it probably is time to hit the Taneiev books again: I need to get the more exotic convertible combinations and non-octave canons down. This will open up the next level of technological achievement I want to get to. And remember, I'll be going at this with a twenty-first century mindset: All of the simple, streamlined, efficient, self-similar and natural ideals I have will be at work.

And, as Angie reminds us, simple, streamlined, efficient, and natural things are beautiful.

Though, it is possible that they might end up being "high maintenance" I'm guessing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Mechanical Efficiency" in Music

One of my favorite discussion threads by Schillinger in The System is the series of instances in which he speaks of "mechanical efficiency": The mechanical efficiency of a melodic trajectory, for example.

A basic dichotomy of levels of mechanical effeciency can be illustrated by taking ancient modes of transportation and comparing them to modern examples: Say, and ox drawn cart and a Ford F-150 pickup truck. It's positively laughable to compare these two modes of transportation because the truck is an entire universe of mechanical efficiency beyond the oxcart. That is not to say that seeing an oxcart wouldn't fill us with some sense of nostalgic melancholy, or that we wouldn't find it charming in some way, but the chances of you deciding to trade in your automobile or motorcycle to drive an oxcart to work in the morning are less than absolute zero.

This same phenomenon can be demonstrated with traditional music: I personally enjoy listening to plainchant sung in the traditional way and recorded in historic cathedrals. However, comparing a Gregorian melody to, say, an Aria by Verdi is a cruel joke if you are looking at it in terms of the respective mechanical efficiencies of the melodic trajectories. The plodding pace and limited range of the chant melody cannot hope to compare to Verdi's soaring arches and spinning lines. It truely is an absurd comparison.

Basically, during the evolution of western traditional music, the mechanical efficiency of all of it's aspects advanced as a reflection of the technological advances throughout society (And in some cases, music drove those advances).

I don't see the amazing technology of today reflected in post common practice music when I look at it in terms of the mechanical efficiency of the actual music. Sure, we get some modern electronic instruments and stuff like that, but the technological approaches to the actual music, while they may be filled with intracacies and mathmatical exactitude, don't exactly compare well - for me - to, say...

A Lamborghini Gallardo.

If our automobiles are becoming more elegant and mechanically efficient (In an absolute sense, not necessarily in a "miles per gallon" sense), why is the music as ugly as an oxcart?


"A Shieldmaiden of Rohan finds nothing ugly about an oxcart!"

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Brief History of Music

The irreducible essence of Western Art Music, through the eyes of Hucbald:

In the beginning, there was The Chant, and this chant was a song of devotion to God. It was good. Monophonic chant singing lead to diaphonic organum, but The Chant was still there. It was better. Diaphonic organum lead to modal polyphony, and The Chant was not left behind. This was the best. Modal polyphony lead to tonal counterpoint, and The Chant could still be found, but it wasn't everywhere. It was the best, and yet, it was not the best. Tonal polyphony lead to homophonic chordal music, and the The Chant faded into the background. However, it could still be found in some works by a few composers. It was good, but it was not so good.

Then, something horrifying happened: It was declared that all tones were created equal, and that all tones could be simultaneous co-equals within music, and The Chant was banished. And so, the monophony disappeared, the diaphony disappeared, the polyphony disappeared, and the homophony disappeared: Everything that The Chant helped to create... vanished.

What do you think, Julianne?

"That sucks!"

Monday, November 07, 2005

Musical Diversity: Inclusion vs. Exclusion

Let me approach my gripes from a different angle Tim, et al.

WARNING: Free-associative, circuitous musings follow.

On the face of it, as a cultural phenomenon, music is stupifyingly diverse. I've given up trying to hear everything in the vast "world music" category, because there's just too much there to get more than a rough overview of all the ways music manifests itself throughout the culturally diverse races of humankind. People are always bringing me things I've never heard before that I find compelling in one way or another. There is, in fact, a lot of non-western music that I like: The Indian classical traditions I find mind-bendingly cool, and I saw Ravi Shankar and his ensemble for the first time back in the 70's (As did countless other western musicians back then). I am a HUGE fan of John McLaughlin's old acoustic Indian/Western fusion group "Shakti" (And The Mahavishnu Orchestra, of course, was a huge influence on me), and both Paul Simon and Sting have put together world music-influenced ensembles that I have enjoyed. Micky Hart of The Dead had a simply awesome African percussion ensemble a few years back who were, incredibly, rehersing right next door to me for a while. They were beyond any superlatives. Australian indiginous music, particularly, I find haunting. The dige... di... That aboriginal pipe dealie-bob makes the hairs at the nape of my neck electrify when I hear a virtuoso playing one: No western music has had that effect on me for ages, but a good shaku... saku... A good player of that Japanese wooden flute thingy also has the same effect on me. Tibetan monk chants where they use vocal harmonics and formants (I compare it to shining a flashlight up and down the overtone series, and you know how much I like the overtone series!) are quite simply sublime: Western singers have never come up with techniques like that (That I am aware of). So, I've been exposed to a lot of diverse stuff over the years. Stuff I like. A lot.

If I look at my personal listening habits, I don't actually listen to a lot of world music that is non-western, but I do listen to a lot of western music outside of the traditional vein. In fact, I listen to more jazz, rock, pop, and fusion music than I do classical, and I'll take a great Flamenco improviser over most classical guitarists any day of the week (I'm sorry, but I've really heard the 100 or so pieces of the guitar's standard repetoire quite enough: Another Chaconne transcription or the Lute Suites in the original keys is simply going to give me the uncontrollable yawns. Now, another Kazuhito Yamashita transcription along the lines of "Firebird", or "Pictures at an Exhibition", that will get my full and complete attention).

I'm influenced by jazz harmonic thinking, just because that's who I am and where I come from (And, most importantly, those are the sounds that express what I want to express), so my little Figuration Preludes - through which I invented my personal harmonic language - are a quite modern take on trad harmony's voice leading combined with a traditional jazz and contemporary jazz sonic palette. Number one starts out quite simple, but by number five or six, I'm writing in a unique sonic style that I like a lot: It's "me." The bigest influences on me harmonically as a writer of guitar music are Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, and John Fahey; not Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. In case you didn't notice, two of the first three guys are still alive.

But, my favorite western music that is non-traditional is da Blues, baby. The blues is the fount from which all American popular music originated: Blues begat, jazz; blues begat soul; blues begat R&B; blues begat rock (I personally love "Rockabilly", like Brian Setzer did it with the Stray Cats some years back, because it's so pure as blues and as rock); and blues, combined with Scots-Irish "mountain music", begat country and western. You can trace all of it back to the blues. The only American musical tradition that is really seperate from the blues is another "mountain music" offspring: Bluegrass, which I also love.

Which brings me to the cultural comparison I wish to make. Not a race-based cultural comparison, but a musical cultural comparison. My personal experience has been that those of us with a blues/rock/jazz/pop background tend to be inclusive when we experience music along those various lines, as well as truely exotic fare. Sure, there are snobs in every genera, but a white guy from suburbia who falls in love with the old-time Delta Blues, and who goes out and learns to play it, and play it at the highest, most authentic level, will be complimented by the majority of us for taking the time to keep a cool tradition alive. Not only that, but we will actually, you know, enjoy his music on a visceral and emotional level as well. Same thing for a red-haired, freckle-faced girl from suburbia: She can grow up to be Bonnie Rait, and most pop, rock, jazz, and blues artists will enjoy what she does, and praise her for it. Like it, even. See where I'm going with this? Most of us from this side of the tracks are inclusively "cool"; a far larger percentage of people from the traditional side of the tracks are decidedly exclusively "uncool" by comparison (Sorta like "progressives" who "talk the talk" of diversity, but "walk the walk" of demonizing all who disagree with them). Sorry, but I prefer cool people. Just a "thing" I have.

The same white guy from the 'burbs (Yes, this is me I'm talking about) who falls in love with the modal/tonal contrapuntal tradition, autodidactically teaches himself to write it, and then who naievely and innocently goes to a university to learn more about it is?... "Disappointed", is the word I'll use: I'm trying my best to keep my head from exploding.

What I did - with malace aforethought - was to look at the contempory traditional music scene, analyze it by learning some of it's techniques (Yes, I've written serial compositions, various mathmatically-based non-tonal fractal pieces, and just a ton of electronic music), listen to a lot of it (The horror... the horror), and then I decided for myself: This is bull$#!*. And, of course, I mean for me it is BS: Ives, Cage, Stockhausen, Babbitt, Schoenberg, Webern et al simply say nothing that I find the very least bit interesting: What they do is simply not music by my definition at all (But, all of the aforementioned world and popular music definately is). So, I've virtually rejected twentieth century "traditional" music en toto: There were a few licks I copped from Copland, and stole from Stravinski, but just incidental effects that I found interesting, and there are some interesting pieces, but they are exceptions that prove the rule. In what way is my rejection of post-classic "traditional" music invalid as an artistic statement? As a decision, it's based on logic, and the requisite amount of study and philosophical contemplation went into it; so in what way is it invalid as my personal artistic stance? It's not. In fact, it's perfectly valid. You may not agree with it, and you may not like it, but that's tough: It's still perfectly valid as an artistic statement.

The stodgy, old, dry-as-dust, twentieth-century musical mindset is nothing other than musical elitism, and it's made of the same stuff that falls out of a cow's ass. Kyle Gann was referring to some music or other as "important" the other day: What a concept "important music" is. Must_stop_laughing. So important that "the composer has left the audience behind" (puh-leeze), or so important that it will sell a million CD's?

Laura asks:

"You mean, Pink Floyd-important, Led Zeppelin-important, or Jimi Hendrix-important?"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Musical Evolution

I'm not referring to historical trends here, but individual ones: Every musician is on an evolutionary path. For those musicians who create music, the musical evolution of what they write is tied to their personal evolution as "Spirits in the Material World", as Sting put it. For the performer/interpreter, the same could be said: The best of them reflect their increasing maturity via increased depth of expression. Young musicians are all technique: In mature musicians technique is totally subjugated to expressive nuance and autumnal depth.

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I consider my personal musical evolutionary path to be an intentionally slow one, and that is because I want to absorb as much of historical musical practice (Those practices that I find desirable) as I can. When I made this decision I was twenty-nine years old, living in New York, and playing in a rock band. When I say historical practices, that comes right up to the present day, though it excludes the overwhelming majority of Post Classic "serious" music (Sorry, Kyle ;^)). I just got a book of transcriptions of the music from Pat Metheny's 2003 solo baritone guitar album, "One Quiet Night", that I'm studying at the moment. I'm fond of saying the only good twentieth century music is jazz, and while that's an overly broad generalization, jazz is certainly my favorite twentieth-century music. By far.

Back to the band "thing": The inter-personal relationships that come with being in a band, I can do without (In fact, I have learned I'm better off with no really close relationships at all: I simply prefer solitude over any company that I can think of. That's why I relate to Hucbald, the "Musical Monk"). But, I do miss the musical communication that is part of ensemble playing, but not enough to, you know, actually work with any other musicians: I still much prefer being a solo act... in all aspects of my life. And yes, I sometimes crave female companionship, but not nearly enough to go through all the rigamarole involved in a... relationship (shudder). It's funny, but most guys my age have the wife, kids, pets, and all the good and bad trappings that attend that kind of life. Many of them are preparing to send kids off to college, and some of them already have kids who have graduated college. There is a small part of me that is envious of them, but a very small "grass is greener" part that I understand perfectly well. Funny thing is, when I run into some of my old buds, I'm usually on one of my motorcycles riding across the country for no reason other than that I want to, and they tell me how envious they are of me and the freedom I have (If you ever catch me in a minivan, I beg you to do some sort of an intervention). Isn't that funny?

What brought this to mind were a couple of posts on another music blog that - frankly - irritated the snot out of me (There is a reason why Sequenza 21 and a couple of other blogs are not linked to here: I visit them and read them, but that doesn't mean I have to link to them). These posts rehashed - for the gazillionth time - the same tired, old, musical memes that I rejected long ago: Terms like "applicability", or "currency", or "newness"; there is nothing older in music than the term "new" (Does the term Ars Nova ring any bells?). Personally, I view the desire to be "fresh", "new", or "provocative" as a sign of an artistic paucity of idea as well as a certain spiritual vacuousness. Not to mention immaturity (OK, I mentioned it). That does not mean, of course, that everything that is fresh, new, or different is created by dolts, but that is more often than not the case. It is having as a primary motivational force the DESIRE to be new, different, or provocative that I find morally... questionable (Boy, did I go through a long editorial selection process for that word).

Virtually every one of the "composers" (Hey, even with the scare quotes I'm being generous) I've ever met who have aspired to a self-consciously "unique" style I have lumped into the gargantuan pile of musical ignoramuses that I've encountered over the years. Every one of them had one thing in common: They were ignorant of compositional history in that they had no familiarity with traditonal techniques. By that I mean that these guys couldn't do the things that I consider to be prerequisites: Organize harmonic progressions with proper voice leading, write decent modal and tonal counterpoint, write a fugue; The list goes on... How can these "composers" consider themselves to be part of any "tradition" if they have no real, actual, functional, working knowledge of that tradition? In my estimation, they can't. The composers who I consider to be the greatest - Perotinus, Palestrina, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Taneiev - were walking, talking, and composing musical summations of everything that came before them. By those standards, the overwhelmingly vast majority of contemporary composers who are lionized and spoken of in hushed and reverent tones... don't know dick.

One of the things that is usually attendant in musicians who strive to be new or provocative is a laziness that manifests itself through dissmissiveness. They use phrases like "that's all been done before", or "those techniques have no applicability to modern *spit* music" - things along those lines. These are abjectly lame attempts at masking outright indolence: These slugs simply want to have all the glory without the patience to do the hard work that is required to do it properly. History will more than likely flush them down the appropriate memory hole, but if all they want is their personal Worholian "fifteen minutes", more power to 'em.

While I hate the term "litmus test" as it's commonly bandied about in political circles, I do actually have one of my own. As far as composers are concerned: If they can't compose a fugue at least as well as I can (And have), nothing they say is worth noting. I'll keep my own counsel where music is concerned, but thanks anyway. You'd be surprised how many musical debates this ends (Or, perhaps not).

As I continue to grow in the adventure that is my life (And I absolutely, positively, enjoy the living daylights out of my life), I come to appreciate more and more that decision I made back when I was twenty-nine. There were many years and countless hours involved in aquiring and studying historic theory texts, perusing scores of my favorite music and analyzing them, and a whole lot of writing music. But I got to a place where I enjoy very much being, these nearly thirty years later.

I think Lauren said it best:

"Like, no shortcuts, m-kay?"

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Concert Pitch vs. Philosophical Pitch II: Guitar Considerations

I've been testing out the Philosophical Pitch of A= 430-432 Hz for about a week now, and like any adjustment of such a profound nature, "issues" crop up (Not at all unexpected issues, given my years of relentless experimentation in the area of string selection). I have settled on A=432 because a) It's "Verdi's A" (And "Beethoven's A", and... etc.), b) I can actually obtain tuning forks at that callibration, and c) 432 is a multiple of nine (You'll have to figure that out for yourselves!).

The string tension ranges for the nylon string guitar are always problematic: Matching the low E, A, and D strings to the high E is not a problem: A regular high tension set will land all four of those strings at about sixteen pounds. It's the B and G strings that are the problem; especially the flabby-assed G. In a high tension set, those weigh in at about twelve pounds. While this leads to projection problems on an acoustic nylon string guitar, the problem is exacerbated (There's a word I don't get to use often enough!) in the oposite direction on electric nylon strings - such as my Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA, Grand Concert Duet, and fretted Glissentar - in exactly the opposite direction: Those loose strings are more prone to... feedback at even moderately high sound pressure levels if the G, especially, is overly slack. If you reason it out, it's obvious: The lower tension strings are more prone to sympathetically vibrate with the output of the speakers, and so your infinite loop of feedback has more of a chance to develop.

The most obvious way to counteract this tendency is to use super-high - damage-your-precious-old classical-guitar - tension strings: Electric nylon string guitars are mostly over-engineered, and even light guage steel strings wouldn't distress them, so let's "Take it to the Limit". That's just what I did. I ordered a box of my favorite strings currently manufactured: D'Addario EXP44 Extended Play Silver-Plated Copper Strings that are Extra-Hard Tension. These are the best strings now that the non-silver-plated copper basses have been discontinued (I'm betting the reason they are no longer made is that they kick ass for electric nylon string, but not acoustic, and D'Addario probably didn't think of marketing them to us in this admittedly tiny minority: A shame because they are the brightest and deepest bass strings ever made. Too bright for many acoustic nylon strings).

This was very helpful, in exactly the way I had predicted for the B string, but the G is still a bit tubby at 12.9 lbs. (And remember, these tension weights are measured at Concert Pitch not at Philosophical Pitch) In order to get a tighter G, I had to go to the D'Addario composite G, which has to be something designed by God especially for electric nylon string guitar players: An SHT version of one of those tips the scales comfortably over thirteen pounds (At concert pitch).

All of this means that I can get reasonably high string tensions at Philosophical Pitch, and avoid feedback when doing big outdoor concerts. For me, this not an option: It's required.

I'm sure many of you guitarists are, like, "But... but... What about carbon fiber trebles?" I use those on my acoustics, but they are WAY too bright for my electrics: Electric nylon string guitars tend to be overly bright anyway, and non-nylon synthetics just... wait for it... here it comes... exacerbate that problem (Ahhhh... That felt good).

Expect another progress report on this at some point, but my first couple of gigs trying it out went swimmingly: Especially the acoustic Church gig, where the carbon fiber trebles had no problem at all speaking plainly at the lower tension on my Anthony Murray classical.

Now, the tuner I bought that allows me to do this is a Korg CA-30, which can calibrate to A= 420 to 460, and the tuning forks I got are the A= 432 "Sun Tone" models. Since when I do some thing I... do something, I got four of the tuners and four of the tuning forks: Lifetime supply.

Unfortunately, Korg's excellent line of rack-mount tuners only go down to 438. But, they go UP to 460! WTF?! Wouldn't 430 to 450 have made more sense? (sigh)


For what it's worth, Nicole agrees with me: Dontcha hon?

"Yes, Huc; it certainly is a drag that Korg rack-mount tuners don't calibrate down to A= 430 Hz!"

Now she is well-proportioned and symmetrical!

Friday, November 04, 2005

TOTALLY Off-Topic and Unrelated Sci-Fi/Action Movie Post

One of the best - perhaps worst - things I ever did was to buy an Apple G4 Cube back in Y2K. Oh, I loved the computer, but... I got it with a DVD-ROM drive. Well, that lead me to buy my first DVD, and one of my all-time favorite films: "The Searchers" starring John Wayne. That was the beginning of "The End": I was hooked. That old 15" 1024x768 Apple Studio Display had to be replaced! Can you say "1920x1200 Apple 23" Cinema HD Display"?: I knew that you could.

Now, I spend an inordinate amount of time collecting DVD's and watching them. Amazon even sends me e-mails apprising me of the latest releases (As well as several other vendors). Last week I got the advance-order notice for Star Wars Episode III. I have all five of the others, so of course I ordered it. I didn't see it in theatrical release: The ONLY ONE I EVER MISSED in the theatre. I even saw "Return of the Jedi" in Sweden when I was touring there as "Jedins Atercomst", and I nicked a subway-train picture-add for it that I still proudly display (Bet that's worth some cash now!) before I left Stockholm in 1983.

So, when I was finishing my order, there was the usual "People Who Ordered This Also Bought.." dealie-bob. Listed in there was "Batman Begins", and it was discounted, so WTF: I ordered it.

I must admit that I'm not a big fan of the Batman franchise: Val Kilmer was the only Bruce Wayne with enough charismatic "swag" to pull off the role, IMO, and that story line sucked (Except for the inclusion of one of my all-time favorite redheads, Nicole Kidman, that is).

Well, I watched SW EP III before my gig this afternoon, and then "Batman Begins" this evening: Can a movie franchise be given a "do-over"? This one should!

I was grossly underwhelmed by the Star Wars epic: That all happened a long, long time ago in an American culture far, far away. We've had the Alien franchise, the Terminator franchise, the Preadator franchise and so many others since then. And, worst of all for Lucas, "The Ring" trilogy, in which the entire proceedure for filming multi-part epics was redefined by doing it all at once (I know Matrix got there first, but they sucked ass) "happened", and it's my favorite sci-fi/action/fantasy series of all at the moment (Amanda Otto makes an OK blond, but she's actually a redhead and should have been filmed as a redhead!!!). If I was God, red hair 1) Would never be "wasted" on anything less than a perfectly gorgeous woman, and 2) would never ever be given to a... a mere... man! But... I digress.

Batman Begins is superb. I want the franchise to start over from there... Forget all the preceeding films. They were just warm-ups.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Thousand Words III: "Charm"

I am definitely one to harp on perfection in music, because that is my ultimate quest. One of the reasons I write so many miniatures is because I can assure their perfection: Pieces longer than about 100 measures just get "out of hand" for me, because keeping every note of them in my head simultaneously is just "out of bounds" for my level of acuity. One ought to work within their limitations while working to minimize them, in my opinion. But, there is another equally interesting characteristic of music that can actually be expressed via imperfection, or "quirkiness", that I call "charm."

My little Mac dictionary/thesaurus that comes with OS X.iv has as the definition I'm referring to for "charm" as, "an attractive or alluring characteristic." The most appropriate word in the thesaurus for my purposes here is "charisma."

It may come as a surprise to many who read this blog, but I am a big fan of the music of Niccolo Paganini and Franz Liszt. Not merely because of the dazzling virtuosic brilliance of it, but because of the charisma of their personalities that is reflected in this music. As a technician, I could take countless tacks to berate that music. But you see, I don't care about the imperfections because I simply love the music. As a side note, If you have never heard the late organ works of Liszt, you are simply ignorant: He was a profoundly deep and introspective musical emotor by his late years, and virtually every color the French Impressionsts ever came up with is there, only Liszt had more compositional talent than any dozen of them.

Beethoven's music straddles the fence: It is perfect and charismatically charming at the same time. No mean feat. Bach's miniatures are charming, but also perfect. I like the characteristic many of them have that intimates that they have existed forever: Bach just "discovered" them. My best half-dozen pieces give me that feeling, and I wouldn't trade any one of them for all of Bruckner's symphonies (Which are neither perfect nor charming: They are musical lead-weights of sixteen tons apiece).

If we relate that to one of my favorite subjects, feminine beauty, I would compare the (admittedly photo-manipulated and idealized) photo of the readhead I posted earlier to Kirsten Dunst: Kirsten's proportions are all wrong, she is not very symmetrical, and her teeth aren't even straight. But... There's something about her! That's charismatic charm.

Over the years, several critics of my music have ventured the opinion that I'm too "up tight" and ought to let my weird, wacky personality shine through in my music more. Those who know me best usually say things along the lines of "You are such a hilarious guy, but your pieces (And/or writings) are so deathly serious." I actually consider that the most valid criticism of what I do, but I intentionally put myself on an agonizingly slow evolutionary path for a reason: I want to absorb the old contrapuntal and homophonic techniques deep down into my bone marrow before I "strike out on my own": I'll have to be healthy and composing into my eighties to get there. I'm betting it will be worth the wait.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Thousand Words: II

When I got up this morning and re-read last night's post (Well, the post of earlier this morning), I thought I was onto something, but I didn't go into it deeply enough. So, I found an article that is excellent for introducing non-mathmaticians to the concepts of fractal geometry: It is called Fractals: Useful Beauty, and I have put a link to it in the Articles section of my sidebar.

Many musicians object to the over-rationalization of music through math, and I can understand this, because I know exactly where that sentiment usually comes from. Intelligence as an inate aspect of an individual is not one overriding talent, but an amalgam of various talents that one possesses to a greater or lesser degree (I'm betting President Bush got lousy verbal scores). Many musicians are like me: Abjectly hopeless at thinking in terms of numbers. I'm a "shapes guy." Back in highschool I took some sort of standardized test, and it was quite enlightening: I scored in the top 1% in the categories of abstract reasoning, mechanical reasoning, and spatial-relationship perception; but I only got to the sixty-seventh percentile in verbal, and received a dismal forty-second percentile score in numerical ability. This means the average "Joe Sixpack" guy can add, subtract, multiply, and divide with more facility than I can, and most reasonably intelligent college grads can write better than I can (And, I'm sure you've noticed that I can't spell my way out of a wet paper sack).

Because of this, when the fractal geometry article speaks in terms of irrational numbers and mathmatical formulas, my eyes glaze over and I retain nothing of value. On the other hand, when the article explains things in terms of self-similarity, I understand immediately.

Here are some examples of self-similarity from that article.

A Triangle with self-similar triangles within it:

A snowflake made up of "Stars of David"(Actually, the Star of Christ, but you really don't want to get me started on theology):

Finally, here is a fern leaf that combines self-similarity with a growth series:

When we percieve beauty in a human female (Or handsomeness in a male), such as the redhead in the photo I posted below, we are having a positive aesthetic reaction to the nearness-to-perfection expressed by their proportions and self-similarity. Since human beings have a bi-fold symmetry, that is one of the things we look for as a positive attribute: Symmetry.

Music is as close to a living organism as you can get in art: It takes a person to create it, and execute it: Not just once - as in a painting or a sculpture - but every time it is heard (Recordings are, of course, simply sonic records of these living performers "doing their thing").

Back to the fugal process, it is obvious that we are talking in terms of self-similarity with at least the subject and answer, but also many times with the countersubjects and counter-answers. Back when I wrote the Art of Fugue style string quartet fugue, I was totally absorbed with fractal geometry and self-similarity. As a result, even though their are no countersubjects and counter-answers technically defined in that piece, the "free" voices are actually either made up of diminuted and inverted fragments of the fugue subject itself, or they share self-similar elements among themselves. I believe that is an overriding unifying factor that makes that fugue a success (If you want to see the score and/or hear that fugue, it is on my .Mac FileShare Page with the filenames of QUART_4Vox_Fugue.pdf/.mid in both PDF and MIDI formats. There's even an orchestrated version of it in there now).

I didn't plan that fugue out using mathematical formulas (Except for the placement of the pitch climax and overall archetecture), but I rather worked with the shapes within the subject and answer intuitively and applied their variants within the laws of musical motion. If you look at the music of Bach, it is positively filled-to-overflow with self-similar elements. And I don't mean just the fugues: Many of his preludes and chorale harmonizations make use of the technique of harmonic canon, which I've addressed before. Of course, the sonata process is also made up of returning themes, so that too is a musical process that is deeply involved with self-similarity. Even simple melodic sequencing is a self-similar fractal process!

On a sorta/kinda related note: I think Ferrari could design a sexy toilet seat if commissioned to do so. Those designers are definately aware of self-similarity.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, But Not a Thousand Notes

Back when I was a doctoral candidate (I lost that particular election campaign (Actually, I withdrew due to the skeletons in my closet) ;^D), I was into fractal geometry. The first time I saw a Mandelbrot Set Image, I exclaimed, "That's a fugue!" I was exactly and precisely correct in that exuberant assertion.

The concept of fractal geometry is that small units that are identical can conjoin to create a larger image made up of those fractions when they are in geometrically precise angular and scalar relationships with each other: The whole will always reflect the properties of it's constituent component. The resulting images are more compelling as abstractly true representations of beauty outside of anything musical (Or living) that I've ever encountered.

When you reduce everything down to the irreducible essence, nature is inherantly fractal in it's realization: From crystaline formations of minerals, to the fractal variations on the DNA sequence that we call life in all of it's resplendent diversity: It's all fractal. Even the organizational scheme of the universe, with it's billions of galaxies organizing gazillions of stars and lesser stellar bodies, is fractally generated by gravitational and nuclear forces.

The concept of fugue began with the rondellus - or round - which was a simple canon like Frere Jacques. This primordially originated with the natural phenomenon of echo: Reflected sound. Since a fugue is inherantly generated by it's subject, it is inherantly fractal in nature. The more you can relate every note to the subject, the closer to natural perfection you will come.

I did some Google Image Searches tonight, and found some nice fractal images for you to ponder: These represent the ideal of beauty that I ultimately wish to represent in my music.

Back in those years when I was in the doctoral program at UNT, I wrote some BASIC programs that generated fractal fugue subjects. I came up with nothing but rubbish at first, but once I got my initial parameters sorted, I ended up with some compelling, if slightly strange, subjects. One of those lead to a massive four voice fugue for Synclavier, which caused a bit of a sensation. Especially with the head of the CEMI department, who loved it. After Schillinger, that project taught me more about fugue subject composition than anything else.

What I strive for is the most pure, simple, and unadorned representation of the fractal principle in music. There is no more direct path to that than through fugue writing. The only thing in the universe more beautiful than a perfect fugue - to me - is a beautiful redhead (sigh).

But then, there are my motorcycles!

"Serial Killer" Fugue: Somebody Stop Me...

... before I kill again! LOL!

Just for grins, I tested out this subject on the guitar, and... it works amazingly well. It is also nominally in A minor, so it might even replace the current finale of Sonata Zero, but that's just wild speculation at this point. One thing is certain, and that is that this is going to be a very modern, non-traditional sounding fugue: The chromaticism of the subject - and the fact that it is a twelve-tone row - made the most obviously perfect counterpoint to it quite radical by my admittedly antedeluvian standards.

The answer also absolutely, positively had to be perfectly real to replicate the tone row on the dominant level. You put all that together, and you get something weird and wonderous like this:

Here are the first twenty measures: The exposition, a non-modulatory episode, and a middle entry statement. It's tonally based, but quite dissonant, and it's in a unique style I've never written in - or even heard - before. I put it in my .Mac FileShare page as a Work in Progress The filenames are WIP_FTTS.pdf/.mid for those who might like to take a listen. It will certainly turn out to be the most teeth-grindingly "severe" fugue I've ever come up with, but God only knows where this mind-bendingly bizarre path will lead me. I really, really, really, look forward to this particular journey!