Monday, October 31, 2005

New Site and Blog Links

I have added new links to some fresh and interesting blogs I've found in the sidebar. Be sure to check them out: I enjoy the bloggers the most who have opposing philosophies to mine. I understand better where I'm comng from when I try to understand where others are coming from, and remember: Despite my strongly-worded defenses of my own position, I accept and respect the positions of others who happen to ascribe to other musico-philosophical viewpoints. Cool thing about music is, it's more than big enough to encompass us all. And, it will certainly survive us all as well ;o).

I also went on a fugue-related surfing session this morning. If you haven't checked it out, Smith's Canons and Fugues of Bach is an incredible site, and that lead me to several others that I added in the Links category. There are actually quite a few composers out there who are writing fugues. As I get more time, I will add others that I found. One German winner of a fugue writing contest back in 2000 is spectacularly good: I'm going to see if he has a homepage at some point, but I have chores to do today (Fresh out of clean undies, and the truck is a mess, so it's "laundry and carwash day" (I just know you're glad I shared that)).

Finally, I added a link to an article that I'm not sure how I feel about. The guy sort of disses Bach in some ways, but the perspective is unique (At least, I've never heard a take like that on Bach before). I have always felt that Bach's episodes were kind of overwrought and overly virtuosic in some ways, but that's also one of the fabulous qualities of his music: He was a virtuoso improviser, after all. It's entitled "Bach: His Predecessors". Read it and see what you think.

Beethoven's Ninth: Allegro, VII

Bet you thought I'd never get back to this. I will finish at least this movement, but these posts will probably be a once-a-month deal from here on out (If you are new to this thread, you'll have to go to the archives for the previous posts, but when I'm done I will post PDF and MIDI files of this entire analysis and transcription on my .Mac FileShare page).

Problem is, this analysis got my compositional juices flowing. The whole Sonata Zero guitar sonata "thing" has been pent up inside of me for the past few years: Beethoven just ignited the required spark, so "off I went". After analyzing the three movements of that guitar sonata, I realize I need a fourth movement in C to balance it out, but I'm now in no mood to write it. So, it's back to free fugues and Beethoven's Ninth.



We are now at measure 275, and theme four appears here in the dominant region. However, this theme is elongated from it's origanal form, and modulates from v to bIII. The bIII region continues into an episode comprised of the head and tail of the main theme, t2, in both rectus and inversus forms, over a variant of the tail figure of that theme. This episode continues through the end of the page, building in intensity as it progresses.



This episode modulates to the parallel major at the top of page seventeen (Can you really fathom how much effort went into just entering this music into Encore?!), and at 297 the t2 theme's head is utilized to get back to... the beginning of the movement... again. Only this time, the intensity is increased, and we are in the tonic level major mode. Basically, the entire "introduction" is replayed here, but now in D major.



At measure 313 we get to a huge hammered-home B-flat dominant seventh chord. Where the Samuel B. Heck did this come from?! The only way I could figure to analyze this was as a subV(7)/V, or in traditional parlance, as an enharmonically notated so-called German Augmented Sixth chord. But... It does not progress to the dominant, it goes directly to the tonic! Ironically, not only is this not jarring or unusual in this context, but it seems natural and inevitable. Sort of.

I seriously can't understand how anyone can possibly think the "well has run dry" with tonality when confronted by music like this. This is just the tip of an iceburg Beethoven only glimpsed opaquely in my view, but... excuse me... frack-all, what an iceburg!!

t1a appears at measure 315, and it's harmonization is fairly mild, but look at the main theme! Double-U, Tee, Eff? Uh... I would never have though of this... until now. WHAT A PASSAGE!!! There are no words to describe this level of perfection. Or intensity. I'm simply aghast here as a listener and as a theorist.

I analyzed 323-326 as being in G minor, but I may change that back to the tonic, as my bVI could easily be rationalized as a Neapolitan chord in root position, but isn't this just fantastic?! Sorry to get so over-the-top, but this is an all-conquering supreme masterpiece, and no words can do it justice.

The page break is unfortunate, as Beethoven here begans a sublime sequence that, incredibly, "sheds" all of the intensity he's built up to here. But, just look at the harmonies!

This may be the single best project I've ever undertaken. So many things I'm learning here just can't be set into words by a crappy writer like me. Sorry about that.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Serial Fugue Subject: Raiding the "Enemy" Camp

All I have to say is "Ha!", and "this is going to rock!": A twelve-tone row fugue subject that still establishes pitch axes, so it can be broadly interpreted tonally. It is positively screaming "wind trio", no? Can't you just feel the love? (And hear the augmented sixths?). It even has stretto possibilities. I kill me.



I actually thought of this a while back, but didn't have the technique to tackle it. I might even try to cram it onto the guitar (Though, we do actually have a competent wind trio in Alpine, Texas, believe it or not).

Organizing Classical Guitar Set Lists

One of the things that distracts me about some classical guitarist's set lists (Well, a LOT of solo guitarist's in other idioms as well) is that there is no "rhyme or reason" to them. Much of the time, the pieces selected are seemingly arbitrary in both selection, and in the order that they are performed. Just having a slow, fast, slow scheme isn't good enough, in my opinion, and selecting nothing but highly technical "show off" pieces really chaps my butt: You should - again, in my opinion - take the audience on some sort of a musical journey.

There are many ways to do this. You could start off with Renaissance pieces, work your way through the Baroque era, and wind up in the twentieth century, or you could start with Baroque pieces, play some high-classical stuff, and end up with some Spanish music: The organizational scheme is only limited by your imagination and repertoire.

I'm in an unusual position in that I compose most of my own pieces, I have a pop/jazz background (So I play some contemporary stuff, and I like musical eclecticism). But, anyone can come up with a scheme similar to the one I use if they put some thought into it. Surprising left turns and contrasts are certainly allowed, if they are effective.

Since I wrote a series of Figuration Preludes that progress around the circle of thirds starting in A minor, I organized my set list around those. Since they naturally alternate between minor and major modes, so does my set list (With one exception, which you'll see). Here is the first hour or so of my program, which I perform continuously, only taking brief breaks to sip some iced tea or something between "suites":


01] Figuration Prelude in A Minor - Hucbald
02] E-Axis Study in A Minor - Hucbald
03] Sarabande in A Minor - J.S. Bach
04] Sonatina in A Minor - Hucbald
05] Six Variations in A Minor - Hucbald
06] Classical Gas (In A Dorian, basically) - Mason Williams


As you can see, all of the pieces are in an A minor mode, the tempi progress slow, fast, slow, moderate, fast, fast, and the final piece is a "crowd pleaser" type of deal. I replicate the basic pattern of this suite in all of the following keys. This little suite of pieces runs about fifteen minutes.


07] Figuration Prelude in C Major - Hucbald
08] E-Axis Study in C Major - Hucbald
09] Bourree in C Major - J.S. Bach (It's a tiny little piece from one of the cello suites which I think is better on the guitar)
10] Sonatina in C Major - Hucbald
11] G-Axis Study in C Major - Hucbald
12] Guardame Las Vacas - Luys de Navarez (The variations start in C and end in A minor, which prepares for the next piece)
13] Desert Song - Eric Johnson (Also in an A minor modality)


There are soooo many nice guitar pieces in A minor that I used the Navarez piece (Which I love) to transition back to A minor for the Eric Johnson "crowd pleaser": Going from a Renaissance piece to a twentieth-century jazz/fusion improvisation with some Flamenco overtones actually works quite well. At least, I think so. This suite is about twenty minutes in duration.


14] Figuration Prelude in E Minor - Hucbald
15] E-Axis Study in E Minor - Hucbald
16] Sarabande in E Minor - J.S. Bach
17] B-Axis Study in E Minor - Hucbald
18] Bourree in E Minor - J.S. Bach
19] G-Axis Study in E Minor - Hucbald
20] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen (People love this piece!)


All three of my axial study sets converge in E minor because the axes function as the root, fifth, and minor third respectively, and I have no Sonatina for this key (yet); as a result, I had to use a couple of Bach pieces here (Which is no problem, because they are both superb, and the Bourree is a crowd pleaser all on it's own). This suite is also about twenty minutes long.


21] Figuration Prelude in G Major - Hucbald (This piece is required to recover from the Van Halen tap stuff)
22] B-Axis Study in G Major - Hucbald
23] G-Axis Study in G Minor - Hucbald
24] Minuet in G Major - J.S. Bach (The little piece from the Anna Magdelena Notebook)
25] G-Axis Study in G Major - Hucbald
26] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani (Originally in A, I transposed it down to G so it fits on a classical fretboard)


The preludes get progressively longer and more difficult, and the G Major G-Axis Study and the Satriani piece are two of the three toughest pieces in the first half of my program.


27] Figuration Prelude in B Minor - Hucbald
28] Menuetto in B minor - Hucbald
29] B-Axis Study in B minor - Hucbald
30] Scherzo in B minor - Hucbald (The movement from Sonata Zero)


"All Hucbald, All The Time" here, but I am planning to add another Minuet from Anna Magdelena after the B-Axis Study: The bizarre little piece I analyzed here a while back (And, interestingly, I recently heard that new scholarship has shown that this isn't by J.S. Bach, but one of his contemporaries, and (Sorry, can't remember the name) that this person also wrote the earlier Minuet in my set from Anna Magdelena - which comes as no surprise to me because these are weird little pieces that would be out of character for Bach (The earlier Minuet even has a parallel ninth in it!)). But, I don't care if Bach authored them or not: I like them, and that's all that matters. The Scherzo is the most difficult thing I perform... period, and I'm pretty wiped out by this point. One of the nice things about having a prelude after the crowd pleaser type pieces is that it gives needed recovery time, which is something to consider. Especially if you perform 2.5-3 hours or more in a night!

I play through D major, F-sharp minor, and A major before my dinner break, but those suites are still a "work in progress": I'm working on - get this - Leo Kottke's arrangement of Bach's Jesu for the D area, since it and all of my pieces in that key use a drop-D tuning, and - ta, da! - Steve Howe's "Mood for a Day" for F-sharp. The A major suite currently ends with "Stairway to Heaven", but I'm planning to replace that (Or follow it, more likely) with Chet Atkins' "Yankee Doodle Dixie", which absolutely, positively cracks people up in the extreme (Including myself).

Some other cool pieces I'm doing for later in the set are Joe Satriani's "Tears in the Rain" (C-sharp minor) and Steve Morse's "Point Counterpoint" (E major). You get the picture. I'm not really a "classical" guitarist, I just compose that way (And I did stay at a Holiday In Express once or twice). LOL!

In my opinion, more nylon string players should take this kind of an approach versus being so stuck-up about playing only "standard rep" stuff: I get a lot of gigs because people like the eclectic variety of pieces in my set. I intentionally stayed away from jazz over the past ten years or so, but I'm now even thinking about adding some Joe Pass and Pat Metheny stuff to my set. Why the hell not?

And another thing! ;^) ...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Concert Pitch vs. Philosophical Pitch: Questioning the Foundation

I began to become interested in well-tempered tunings and early pitch standards back when I discovered Davitt Moroney's recording of J.S. Bach's Art of Fugue. His pitch standards and tunings are those of Bach - as closely as can be reconstructed - and the sound is so sublimely wonderful that listening to any other pitch standard and tuning has become something that grates on my nerves.

As a guitarist, there is nothing I can do to slide the frets around and get J.S. Bach's variant of the Kirnberger III tuning system, which is certainly designed around the Golden Mean, but tuning the guitar to the Philosophical Pitch of C= 256 Hz (A= 430.5 Hz), is a piece of cake. I had thought about doing that, but there were no A= 430.5 Hz tuning forks around, and my Lexicon's built-in tuner was set at A= 440 Hz, and there is no calibration adjustment for it. Besides, I had no rational compelling reason to lower my pitch standard. That all changed today.

As far as the tuning system is concerned, I am stuck with the guitar's admittedly compromised version of equal temperament (Guitar intonation is NEVER perfect - even by equal temperament standards - due to the fact that the different strings start out at their own set pitch and progress base-E, base-A, etc. individually through their own version of the temperament), but I had already solved that cosmic conundrum: Since I play electric nylon string the vast majority of the time, I simply apply 36% of pitch-shift chorus to every virtual acoustic environment that I program. Combined with the Hall Reverb and various phase, flange, and comb filter effects that I use, the inherant nastiness of equal temperament is nicely ameliorated (Not to mention that my sound is "awesome" according to many of my audience members).

But there is that A= 440 Hz "thing". I thought that the foundation of our tuning system was a convienience that simply didn't matter, but then I read this article and all that changed. I'm going to need to re-read it several times to internalize it all, but I got goosebumps reading it because I knew I'd discovered something profoundly fundamental to add to my musico-philosophical outlook. I suggest you read it and question everything: The only truth about "conventional wisdom" is that it's conventional, because it certainly isn't wisdom, or even the truth!

Turns out there is a cool little chromatic digital tuner that can callibrate the pitch A anywhere from 420 Hz to 460 Hz, and it's small enough and cheap enough that I can buy five of them and put one in each of my guitar cases and gig bags. Bingo. The guitar is inaccurate enough that 430 Hz versus 430.5 Hz isn't of any practical or practicable difference anyway. I love the results. It's impossible to explain, but the effect it has on me is that the instrument and the music "breathes" easier and just has an... indescribable "niceness" to it.

Good luck to all you pianists out there ;o).

UPDATE: "Heh", as Glen Reynolds would say.


My blog is worth $6,774.48.
How much is your blog worth?



Via Scott Spiegelberg, whose blog is woth much more than my little backwater.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Guitar Gear Philosophy

I have always been a big believer in two things where guitars and guitar gear are concerned: 1] There is no substitute for the finest possible quality, and 2] Small is beautiful.

My first electric guitar was a Les Paul, and my first guitar amplifier was a MESA/Boogie MK I. The guitar was a top of the line model and, of course, MESA/Boogie amps are legendary. The cool thing about that original rig was that it was small (But, admittedly heavy): The guitar was just a guitar in a rectangular hardshell case, and the amp was a 100 watt combo model with a single 12" Altec speaker. The whole enchilada fit inside my old 1969 VW Beetle, and the sound quality (And - ahem - volume) was second to nothing else out there at the time. I could even cram it all into the back seat if I had to make room for a girlfriend.

Even when I was a professional rock guitarist, I kept the original philosophy I started out with. By those days I had discovered stereo rack-mountable effects devices, so my rig had grown, and of course, I was a Synclavier guitarist in those days, so I had that monster to schlep around (It was at this time that I realized that pickup trucks with shells or bed covers are the last word in musician's vehicles (Unless you are a fan of vans, which I'm not)). But, discounting the Synclavier, the electric guitar part of the rig was still quite small: I had a Steinberger GL2T-GR guitar - which was positively miniscule - a pair of 1-12 combo MESA/Boogie MK III's, and a ten-space Calzone effects rack on wheels. It was still smaller that an 8-12 Marshall stack, and it sounded far superior to any Marshall-based monophonic rig ever could. And yes, it was ridiculously loud when it needed to be. I have never owned a full stack: The closest I ever came to that was having a pair of matching 1-12 cabs for my combos that made 2-12 mini-stacks. And, frankly, that was never necessary: It just looked cool (Hey...).

Fast forward to today, and the only thing that has changed is the equipment, not the philosophy: I play an electric nylon string Godin Multiac Grand Concert Synth Access guitar now, the Boogies have been replaced with a Bryston 2B-LP solid state stereo power amplifier, their EVM-12L's I used to love so much have been replaced by Yamaha AS108-II 8"/1" mini-PA speakers, and that ten space effects rack has now shrunk down into a Lexicon MPX-G2 Guitar Effects Processor, which I use in stand-alone mode as the rig's preamp also. The only other piece of gear in the rig is a Furman AR-1215 A.C. Line Voltage Regulator (Not a cheap "Power Conditioner": A real honest-to-God voltage regulator with isolation transformers and everything. Using super-expensive gear without a voltage regulator in various places where you don't know what the electricity is like is exactly for your gear like having unprotected sex with a series of strange chicks would be for you: Could prove fatal).

Since each piece of gear is a single rack space, I only need a four space ultra-lightweight SBK molded rack to house it all (If you don't allow for an empty vent space between your power amp an everything else, you are an idjit, pure and simple).

The only remaining things are the speaker stands, an Ultimate X-Stand for the rack, and a guitar stand. I got one of those nifty Gruven collapsable guitar stands that actually fits in my gig bag, and am getting a custom made ballistic nylon bag that will hold all three of the other stands.

Even at "cozy" gigs I have concert-quality stereo sound and I don't get in the way:



Those bags in the background are hops and barley! Playing at a brewery rocks: I drink for free (After the gig, of course: That's Diet Cola in that mug on my rack).

And, the whole PA fits on a single handtruck:



I believe in small guitar gear, but not in small pickup trucks!



The locking bed cover gives me the worlds second-largest trunk (It's only a 6.5" bed), and means my small venue PA and hand truck never leave the vehicle. I love that! I practice on my large venue rig in my studio, and both systems will fit into the truck if I have a larger gig. It's... perfect.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Guitar Fugue, "Authorized Version": Recognizing Perfection

Because of my musico-philosophical connection with the overtone series, I believe that it is a fact - and not my opinion - that so-called "common practice" techniques are an inevitable product of man's intuitive, intellectual, and philosophical interactions with the implications of the nature of sound. And, within the comon practice technical universe, sonata technique has been the ultimate attainment so far. But, for sheer erudition and purity, nothing can touch fugue writing: It is the ultimate musical challenge.

My main line of attack against post-common practice music is to point out the laws of musical motion derived from analyzing the implications of the overtone series: These are the opposite of rules foisted onto music; they are simply natural and inevitable deductions pertaining to the nature of musical motion, whether they be the circular transformations of harmony, the axial combinations of melodic trajectory, or the laws governing contrapuntal combinations. These things, properly defined and applied, are the quantum mechanics of music.

Ironically, it is the champions of post-common practice music who are often the ones guilty of burdening music with a bunch of man-made, artificial, and unnatural rules. Just trying to keep track of the plethora of rule-sets the various schools of atonality, stochasticism, aleatoric music have come up with makes one's head spin. It is no secret to readers of this blog that I think it's all just so much poppycock.

I liken these approaches to cheating at solitare or solo chess: There's no real-world penalty for doing such a thing, but neither is there any spiritual or emotional paycheck. To me, there can be no satisfaction in creating your own rule-sets, because there is no challenge there. Results of equal musical validity can be obtained by scattering the floor of one's study with staff paper and shaking a fountain pen over them: Just let the ink droplets be the notes, apply some overly-complex rhythmic formula, and you have something just as valid as the music of Schoenberg, Webern, Cage, Babbitt, or whomever the twentieth-century "dope of the moment" is. Where the laws of nature are absent, or the rules are the whim of the composer, there can be no perfection. Sorry, but I believe that to also be a fact, and not an opinion.

As far as absolute music is concerned, there is nothing more absolutely pure than a fugue. That is why there is nothing I like better than J.S. Bach's Art of Fugue, and nothing I enjoy more than fugue writing. As I've mentioned before, the first step in learning to write a fugue is learning to compose a fugue subject. There is no greater aid in that endeavor than to study Joseph Schillinger's Theory of Melody and Theory of Counterpoint books out of The Schillenger System of Musical Composition: That's how I "autodidactically" managed it. Of course, before this is even attempted, one needs to learn to proficiently write countrapuntal pieces that are not immitative in nature, which is a serious challenge all it's own. There are three keys to this: Miniatures, miniatures, and... miniatures.

When the laws of musical motion are learned and ascribed to, perfection is not an impossible goal: In fact, it is the inevitable end result. Through intellect and intuition, a good fugue subject in an appropriate idiom will compose itself. The end result will be that there will not be a note that could be changed without damaging the piece. Of course, different fugues can be composed on the same subject (And, believe it or not, the subject I'm working with here would work on the guitar in four vioces, but I'm nowhere near the virtuoso who would be required to play it, so that will have to wait for another day), but each decision throughout the process that is varied will lead to a series of further variations leading to a different form of perfection in the end. It is a difficult thing to explain, but one need only listen to and study Musical Offering and/or Art of Fugue to get what I'm straining for words to describe here.

My little Guitar Fugue in A minor has now nearly reached such a state of perfection (Versus the state of perfection, and I say "nearly" because I usually don't issue final pronouncements until I've actually performed a piece for a couple of years). The final key was figuring out the one-and-only solution to the arpeggiation of the harmonized version of the subject in the third episode that returns the fugue to the tonic. I probably put more work into those seven measures than the entire rest of the fugue (Well, that's an exageration, but it was very difficult to devine the proper formations).

Since there are no changes to the first three pages, here's the last page in it's final form:



Starting in measure 48, the third episode is a harmonized version of the answer in E minor, which is the subject in the home key of A minor. That's how I achieved the modulation: By treating it as the answer at the beginning, and the subject at the end. It is also on the same pitch level as the first statement of the subject back at the beginning of the fugue, and the last statements in the concluding stretto. Se est cool, non? (Pardon my French ;^)) The first and last notes of every measure of the episode are the subject: That part was easy to figure out, but the arpeggiation pattern wasn't.

The crux of the problem in this modulation is how to get rid of the F-sharp and introduce the F-natural. I solved that in measures 52 and 53, but before getting there, let me describe the "inevitabiltiy" of the arpeggiation pattern. First of all, the progression, starting in measure 48, is:

|| E minor, B major | E minor, A minor | D major, G major | C major, F#(d7) | B minor, E(7) | A minor, B(d) | A minor, E(7) ||

Because of the subject's head in measure 48, there are two patterns in this arpeggiation that are out of sync with each other. Looking at the first chord of each measure you can see that the arpeggiation alternates between 6/4 and 5/3 forms: This continues throughout all seven measures, and is only varied in the final one. The second pattern starts on the second chord of measure 49: The first two chords starting there are triads sharing the same 6/3 orientation, and then in measures 51 and 52, the patern is altered by the introduction of the fully-diminished chord on F-sharp to become seventh chords in 6/5 orientations, with a diminished fifth in the middle of the figure. The second pattern's evolution is out of sync with the first pattern because of the unique and inevitable figure in the second half of measure 48, but it is also in a 6/3 arrangement. This creates an effect that I find somehow trancendental or something.

The pattern conspires to take care of the F-sharp "problem" in measure 52, where the lowest voice of the pattern progresses from f-sharp, to G-sharp, and then to A across the bar line. Then, and only then can the F-natural be introduced in the second half of measure 53. The final two measures create an inevitable cadential modulation to the A minor chord at the beginning of measure 55, which is in a necessarily imperfect form (No tonic octave on the top and bottom), and is also at the only pitch level that is possible to prepare for the final stretto entries of the subject starting on E.

It is also worth looking at the inevitability of the top line in the arpeggiation. Measure 48 has the B at the top, which is just below the pitch climax of the piece - which was the C back in measure 47 - and this pitch is reiterated three times before decending to A in the second half of measure 49: The second half of 50 gets us down to G, the second half of 51 to F-sharp (The E-flat is an augmented second, and so does not function linearly, but only harmonically), the second half of 52 to E, which is reiterated in measure 53 to prepare for the F-natural! See how this has to be "just so", and couldn't be any other way? After the introduction of the F-natural, that pitch has to be brought down to the C at the resolution point, and that explains the inevitability of the varied 6/4 chord at the beginning of measure 54. The little do, ti, do figure within the V(7) chord is, of course, the head of the subject (Well, answer, actually, on that pitch level).

When I think I have a piece like this perfected, one of the ways I test that is by destroying the idiom I composed it in. One of the nice things about being a twenty-first century composer is the technology: All I had to do to erase any traces that this was a guitar fugue was to transpose it up an octave and apply a variety of different sounds to it via QuickTime. Most standard QuickTime sounds suck (Although there are nice HQ alternate Soundfont sets out there, and porting them into the Sounds folder in OS X is now simple, if you have a Mac), but the goofy little sound they call "Ocarina" actually sounds like the pure flute ranks of a pipe organ with even a hint of chiff. I love the way this fugue sounds with that sound in the higher octave! It really does make a nice little organ piece, which is kind of interesting.

As usual, updated PDF and MIDI files are on my .Mac FileShare page as O_STA_3.pdf/.mid, and if you want to hear the idiomatically destroyed version in the higher octave with the Ocarina sound, I put that there as well as P_GUITAR_FUGUE_Organ.mid.

Yes, yes: I said I needed to practice. My obsessive/compulsive nature simply would not let me go until I finished this fugue. I'm OK now... No, really! (My ex-wife never bought that either)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Guitar Fugue: v0.01 Alpha Test Version

I have been composing and blogging too much lately. Guess how I know that? I had a less-than-stellar performance at tonight's gig. I love to write, but when I do too much of it, my practice schedule shatters into jagged shards all throughout my subconscious, and they tear at the soft underbelly of my confidence when I hit the stage. That's nearly fatal for me: I simply must be secure in the knowledge that I'm well prepared, or I can't get on top of it. Nobody noticed except me, and I got the usual number of compliments, but still... I'm a frickin' perfectionist!... The first set was pretty rugged, but the second was pretty well tuned up. I need to give this writing stuff a rest for a while, and go back to my routine of having a guitar in my hands for at least four hours per day. And I mean for the forseeable future. I have some major gigs coming up in the next two months. Major... Gigs...

So, I decided to shortcut the guitar fugue so that I could post the first PDF and MIDI files on my .Mac FileShare Page for those who want to take a listen. The files are O_STA_0_3.pdf and O_STA_0_3.mid.

Here's a quick recap of the entire piece as it stands now:



Page one, the exposition and first episode, has not changed one whit since before I started blogging this piece. And, by the way, I strongly recommend blogging your way through compositions: Writing out your thoughts about a piece is an enormous organizational advantage, and it brings into sharp relief any flaws in your rationale. It doesn't matter if anyone understands what you post, or even reads it.



Page two has not changed since the last post, and it now has that ahhhh! feel to me, meaning it's in the bag.



The only change to page three since the previous post is that the measure of resolution has been moved to the next page. It's also bagged.



Here's the conclusion. I decided to get out of G major with a second deceptive resolution to E minor, and this is the climactic episode. As you can see, it is over a dominant pedal (The E is the lowest open string on the guitar, so this is quite easy to play), but what isn't so readily obvious is that the chord progression is a harmonized version of the subject in augmentation. The subject starts on the top space E, and the D-sharp at the end of that measure is the second note of the subject. Then, the top space E in the entire following measure begins the decending line: E in measure 49, D in measure 50, C in measure 51, and B in measure 52. The tail of the subject is played out with the A and B in measure 53, and the A and G-sharp in measure 54. This G-sharp makes the subject modulate back to A minor at measure 55, where the stretto recapitulation starts over a tonic pedal (Which is also an open string on the guitar, so no wucking furries here either). There are two harmonies per measure, as you can see, but what you can't see is that the first four chords are the same chord progression in the development and recapitualtion of the Sonata! I just love doing stuff like that.

In order to make this work, a judicious approach to accelerando and decelerando must be taken, but it is passable in it's current form (I programmed a crude approximation of the tempo changes into the MIDI file). Believe it or not, this fugue times out at only 1:55! The Scherzo is 3:45 and the Sonata is 5:30, so the Scherzo and Fugue combined are almost the same length as the Sonata, which was my goal for the shortest possible duration the Fugue could be. Enjoy.

I have 2.5 of three pages of another Beethoven's Ninth post ready, so that will probably be the next thing that will appear here.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 10/26/05, 3:40AM. Of course, I modified the climactic episode and the tonic chord at the return to A minor after a few listens and a few... ah... some beers. Instead of creating a new post, I just updated the files at my FileShare page. The voice leading of the arpeggiated figures now makes much more sense.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sweating the Details

Short list of updates today, but significant ones. No changes to page one (Exposition/first episode), so I'm not going to re-post the page. You can scroll down to see it if you're new to this thread.



At measure 24, where the inverted form of the answer enters, I have changed the counterpoint. I wanted to introduce it over a dissonance (Under one, rather) like all of the rectus form entries, but I just couldn't figure out how to do it. It finally occured to me that I could put la in the interior voice and fa in the lead: That makes the do the fifth of an A major triad in 6/4 inversion. This is much more elegant of a solution. I actually figured this out while working on the corresponding entry on page three. That's the only change to page two, and it's now "in the pocket": that little change has made all the difference.



The first change to page three is at the top: I got rid of the eighth note G within the G major chord and made it a naked quarter note. This is weird, because fugues are not "supposed" to come to rest at cadence points, the cadences are best elided, or glossed over as I had it before. There are a couple of reasons why this works: First of all, the deceptive resolution is a surprise, and second, the pattern was established after the first episode previously. But, there's more. The elision in measure 36 is a rising third, which is answered in measure 40 by a falling fifth: This is exactly like the previous middle entries in E minor, and this effected was ruined by the elision over the G major chord. I like it much better this way.

The second change is at measure 39: In the previous middle entries, I had the bass voice disappearing into a third, so I duplicated that by employing a unison G, which is easy to play on the guitar since G is an open string. This, coupled with introducing the inversus under a dissonance (Here, the G is the fifth of a C major triad in second inversion), makes the entry perfect.

Then, at measure 42 I changed the counterpoint of the lead voice to make parallel sixths with the middle voice versus the previous parallel thirds: This makes the phrase much better. At the end of that phrase, I changed the tail of the inversus to get a cadence to G versus the previous half-cadence to D; also a far superior solution. The sixteenth not at the end of measure 43 is also gone, so the first place with constant sixteenths is now at measure 47, entering the next episode.

I toyed with the idea of a deceptive resolution to E minor here, but found that a thematic entry on D in the bass in augmentation could be made to deceptively resolve during the episode, so that is what I plan to do: Have a series of augmented entries that will continuously modulate to wind me up in C, or back in A minor for the recap. Not sure which yet.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"Onward, through the Fog": Blundering Toward Perfection

Back in my highschool days, there was a famous "head shop" called Oat Willies in Austin that all of us long-haired, hippie-types bought our paraphernalia at. They had these equally famous bumper stickers (Or infamous bumper stickers, depending on your personal perspective on psychoactive substances) which read, "Onward, through the Fog". The reference was to a "stoned" fog, of course, but I got a chuckle today when I remembered that in the context of this guitar fugue.

Previously, when I was not working within the hyper-restrictive idiom of solo guitar music, I composed fugues in a very rational way by sketching out all of the possibilities, organizing them in the sequence I wanted to present them, and then "constructing" the fugue. I wrote enough fugues in that way that I developed a tried-and-true methodology that I could count on. I've had to throw most of that out the window with this piece, and rather than composing it, I believe that what I am doing is closer to extemporizing it.

Also back in highschool, I was on the Speech and Debate Team, and I was a Texas State Finalist one year in... Extemporaneous Speaking. For extemp, you were given a subject and you had thirty minutes to prepare (Or, was it twenty minutes?), while in Improvisational Speaking you had to speak immediately. I hated improv, but I was quite good at extemp. Oratory was the category analogous to composition: You had your subject chosen, and your speech written coming into the competition, and you could hone it throughout the season. Strangely, I found Oratory boring.

Well, the process I'm going through with this piece is somewhere betwixt and between composition and improvisation: I'm making it up as I go, but working it out as well. It's like slo-mo improv, or seat-o'-the-pants comp. Take your pick. In any event, I am enjoying the process emensely and am quite happy with the results so far.

One thing you must be to wite successful fugues is a ruthless perfectionist: Saying "that'll work" and leaving it at that just won't do. I must admit to being kind of over-the-top in the perfectionism department in some regards (For the unabridged story, please see my ex-wife). Ahem... Anyway: Every single note must function in a way that contributes to the perfect cohesiveness of the whole in a fugue. One of the countless stupifying aspects of Bach's fugues is that they fulfill this requirement while simultaneously maintaining an easy, relaxed, quasi-improvisatory feel: Especially in the episodes. I've barely scratched the surface of that effect only once or twice before, but this piece is getting there (In my opinion). Cool thing about being a perfectionist composer is, it's your personal ideal of perfection that is the only thing that matters. The relative merits of your particular esthetic are for time and history to judge, but your contemporaries are excluded because it's impossible for them to have the perspective that time alone can offer: If they like what you do, fine. If not, equally fine. My attitude is, "don't matter/don't care": I'm my own harshest critic anyway (But not to a crippling degree, which many folks suffer from). But, I digress...



No changes to page one: Exposition and episode one are at 100%.

One of the nice things about the subject/answer combination I'm working with is that the subject begins with a cadence to the dominant and ends with a cadence to the tonic, and the answer begins with a cadence to the tonic and ends with a half-cadence to the domnant. That's one of the features that makes the dovetail effect in the entries. The first episode begins after a statement of the subject, so it begins on a tonic chord.



No changes to page two: First middle entries and episode two are now at 100% also.

With this cadence/half-cadence difference between the subject and answer in mind, you can see here that the inverted form of the answer (Which starts on the tonic degree) also ends on a half-cadence. That's why the second episode is four measures, versus the previous three: I has to traverse a measure of dominant harmony before arriving at the new tonic to get to the point where the first episode began. Thing is, both of the inverted froms end in half-cadences because of the asymmetrical division of the diatonic octave: To get a cadence to the tonic with an inverted from of the subject (Or answer), it would have to start on the subdominant degree. I toyed with doing this, but didn't like the effect, so...



First change is that I simplified the CP to the first entry in G major by going back to the version of the free voice in measure 20 and writing a variation of that. Not only does this add to the cohesiveness of the piece, but hearing the 2-3 suspension/resolution chain more clearly is a big bonus. The overly humorous effect of the deceptive resolution is also greatly attenuated now. It's more of a fresh surprise that brings a smile rather than a slapstic event that causes belly-laughs now. I also dropped the sixteenth notes in the bass at measure 35, deciding that building up to the constant sixteenth surface rhythm all at once was overly abrupt. I am now 99.9% sure of this first entry in G.

The entry of the answer at measure 36 is unchanged, and it's now built up to, which makes it far more effective.

So far, with the entries of the subject and answer, we have antecedent phrase (tonic cadence)/consequent phrase (half-cadence), but where I start the entries of the inverted forms, I had some problems related to the fact that they both end in consquent phrases to a half-cadence. The reason for having two entries here versus one in the previous middle entries is that I wanted both the 7-6 and 2-3 chains against the inversus forms. Had I inverted the previous 4-3 chain, a 5-6 chain would have resulted. In a post long ago I explained how this was actually OK, regardless of the objections of some counterpoint teachers, because it is an adorned series of parallel sixths, and not a chain of fifths, but I don't particulatly care for the effect in this piece.

As is stands now, the phraseology is antecedant/consequent, consequent/antecedant. I achieved this not by starting the inverted form on the subdominant degree, but by modifying it's tail at measure 47. I'll have to sleep on these last two entries, but my initial feeling is favorable. One of the things I like is that the parallel tenths over the subject in the lead voice that start in measure 41 (Which I was able to get away with because the resulting parallel fifths are perfect, diminished, perfect) have their line continued in measure 45 with the statement of the inverted form of the subject.

The C in measure 47 will be the pitch climax of the piece, and the third episode will be in constant sixteenth notes. Not sure what form it will take yet, but I'm thinking at this point I'll want to work a harmonized version of the subject into it. We'll see.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Left Turns and Musical Humor

Sometimes I crack myself up. The guitar fugue was coming along nicely, and I had arrived in B minor (The supertonic minor) after the second episode I wrote (Which was just a variation on the first one). But, there was a problem: None of the material worked in B minor. Not on the guitar, anyway. As I mentioned before, immitative counterpoint is not even really idiomatic to the guitar, so a writing strict fugue on the fretboard is frought with problems and perils.

I had developed the subject-related materials in A minor, so you would think that a silly whole step higher would be no problem. Not so. The open strings I relied upon in A minor were suddenly absent, and the way I wanted to exposit the subject and countersubject ran me into intractable range and fingering problems. I tried a lot of things: The rectus and inversus forms of the subject/answer combo, a variation of the subject and answer with chromatic tetrachords replacing the diatonic ones - also in both rectus and inversus orientations. Several other variations as well. Bzzzzzzzzt! "But, thanks for playing the game, Hucbald!" Nothing happening. The key of B minor was out of the question.

Well, I had by this time modified the second episode to a point of perfection, and I fell in love with the darned thing. So, I began to work with the materials and found that not only was the key of C major available (As I had known from the beginning), but the key of G major was as well. Not only that, but when I was piddling around in G major it suddenly hit me: I could do 2-3 and 7-6 suspension chains against the subject and answer in that key. It was a moment all composers are familiar with: "So, that's what this piece is about: Suspension chains!" My favorite way to write fugues is as canonic combinations, so that they'll come out to be stretto fugues, but this subject and answer didn't have much to offer in that area, so it was nice to finally have the crux of the piece revealed to me.

Back to that episode: OK, I'm at a big, fat F-sharp dominant seventh chord. I can get to G major by... going there directly! Of course! A simple deceptive resolution! Well, ah... it has a humorous effect. With all of those uber-serious minor key prerorations preceeding it, it's just... funny. So - what the heck - I just compounded that by the way I wrote the counterpoint to the suspension chains and adorned the final cadential measures. I laughed myself silly. Really. Not sure if it will stay in this form or not, but here's what I did.



The exposition and first episode are unchanged (This is, in fact, a re-link to yesterday's photo). I'm 99.9% solid on this.



The only change to the second page (First middle entries/second episode) is the quarter notes in the top voice in the episode. The E and D originally took up the entire second and third measures of the episode, but I was not happy with the repeated D into the final measure of it. That small change really added more than the sum of it's parts to it, and that's one of the resons I am desparate to keep it. And then, I used the fourth (and the fifth inversion) in the counterpoint for the following entries, as you'll see. I would say I'm 97.2% sure I'll keep this page as-is.



Here we are: Instead of starting the subject off against the quasi-dissonance of a fourth below as previously, I start it out this time against the real dissonance of a major second. This is colorful, but not at all jarring. All you have is a 4-3 suspension resolution inside of it's fifth. No biggie. You can see the quarter note fourths in the bass between A and D, which integrates with the previous episode, and those notes are open strings, so this is the only key that this passage will work in. And, the second and seventh suspension chains don't work out well in the minor mode either.

As mentioned previously, I want the third episode to be constant sixteenth notes, so I'm working up to that by embellishing the cadential final measures of the subject and answer. It's funny, but these passages remind me of Fernando Sor for some reason. That's funny to me, because I really don't care for his music much.

The statement of the answer is as far as I've gotten so far. The G is not an open string, but the seventh suspension chain is much easier to play than the second suspension chain is, so the passage isn't too overly taxing.

The bottom two staves are the stretto conclusion, which I've developed with a constant sixteenth texture after the dotted eighth in the final measure. I take this close from 72 BPM to about 27-36 BPM, and it now has an inevitable finality to it that was juuuuust missing previously: This is a true perfect cadence now with ti-do in the lead and sol-do in the bass. While I'm not too sure about the G major entries yet, the ending is at that 99.9% point now.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Compositional Choices and Cans of Worms

Choices determine style, and to me, style is everything. I chose to follow the examples that God has given me in the reflections of His character that I percieve in nature. The nature of sound - the overtone series - defines modality as the normative state of music, and the cumulative dominant seventh chord that the series makes defines the falling fifth/rising fourth as the normative harmonic progression. For me, the overtone series defines what music is and is not as well as what can and cannot be considered to be music. So, the pan-modal conception that I bring to music - which is the cumulative result of my thirty years of performing, writing, and studies in the rock, blues, pop, jazz, and traditional generas - is a choice that I made based on my rational analysis of the nature of the musical world around me.

To put a finer point on it, God at work in nature is the master pattern-maker: Everything in nature is a pattern. Every living thing is simply a variation on the thematic material of DNA, and the entire cosmos is made up of planetary, stellar, galactic and even inter-galactic patterns that are the result of gravitational interactions (On a mind-bogglingly vast scale!). So, as a man's expression of intuited and/or rationalized reflections of nature, art is also pattern-making. Therefore, random constructions do not constitute art by what I believe to be the only logical definition that it is possible to ascribe to. Others may disagree: I would only say that they have every right to be wrong.

What brought this to mind today was not some discussion or other, but some choices I was faced with in the guitar fugue I'm writing. This may seem like an awkward segue, but it's not.

While the decision to write in an idiomatically modal way (or not) constitutes the most fundamental of stylistic meta-choices, there are an infinite host of smaller decisions one has to make in the development of both an overall individual style, and the style within any given piece. One of those lesser choices that I made - albeit a profound one nonetheless - is that very small pieces of music can express beauty, perfection, and mastery. They don't even have to modulate (I tend to tire of Baroque miniatures because of the predictability of them: "Oh, we're in a major mode, so this phrase is going to end on the dominant.", or "OK, we're in a minor mode, so this phrase is going to end in the relative." Zzzzzz... Years of writing pop songs taught me short pieces don't have to modulate at all, and I write a lot of pieces like that). As a result, concision is an overriding goal of mine. If you look at the very late or final styles of most composers who are considered great, the music is taught, precice, and concise. Mozart died tragically young, but the finale of the Jupiter Symphony - with it's five-voice invertible counterpoint fireworks - times out at about six minutes. Beethoven's late string quartets have some monumental pieces in them, but also a bunch of tiny little pieces, many of which are around three minutes in duration. Most of the fugues in Bach's Art of Fugue are three to four minutes in duration, and even Moroney's completion of the final fugue - which has four subjects - is "only" 10:45. I'm trying to think of a string quartet movement by Haydn that is even close to ten minutes long, but the closest I can get is the cantabile of Op. 76 no. 3 in C (Emperor), which is about eight and a half minutes (And is quite exceptionally long for a Haydn movement). You get the point. I looked at all of this evidence and decided prolixity was for the most part abandoned by the overwhelming majority of great composers after their years of experience, so who am I to disagree?

When I recorded a CD to archive twenty-seven of my solo guitar pieces a few years ago, the longest piece came out to 4:57, and that was a Prelude that I played too slowly (I think it comes in at just over four minutes the way I play it now), and the shortest piece was 1:49. Out of those 27 pieces, 19 of them are less than three minutes long! The way I play them today - with five years to work out the interpretations - I'm thinking twenty-two of them are now under three minutes, and five or six are under two. So...

I have a collection of fugue themes that I've written over the years, and I was thinking about appropriating one of them that had a little bit of the character of the first one I'm using here. It was actually really cool because it's a slow, majestic subject that has some highly dissonant and expressive counterpoint written to it, and it has the feel of a lamentation. Since the sonata doesn't have a slow movement, I was thinking about writing a double fugue (and I still may), but I'm tending against at the moment.

Problem is, doing that will open up a whole new can of worms: The fugue is at 1/4=72 BPM, and the first subject is 3.5 measures long (If it can't be an odd number of measures in length, a fractional number is the next best thing). The other subject I'm thinking about is 7.5 measures long in 2/4, and would add a good three minutes to the piece in and of itself, as it goes naturally from tonic minor, to relative major and then to dominant minor before all of it's combinations are revealed. It is actually from an organ piece that I wrote years ago, but I was amazed to find that I could adjust the key and the ranges of the countersubjects and it fit great on the guitar in A minor, C major, and E minor (Both my compositional and playing techniques have improved markedly since those days).

If I decide I can live with the Scherzo's pitch climax being at around the 50% point of the overall sonata, I may do it, but the resulting fugue will be a monster by my standards if I make that choice. Just not sure if the stylistic integrity of the piece will be enhanced by that or not yet. Anyway...

Made a few enhancements.



As you can see, I added a point of resistance to the subject and answer in the final measure of each with the dotted-eighth/sixteenth rhythmic figure. Besides adding that moment of tension, the figure also yeilds four rhythmic values in ten attacks through seven pitches across the range of a minor sixth, which is quite an improvement. The rest of the exposition is unchanged, but I also applied the new rhythmic figure to the first episode.



The first middle entries are now much improved. On of the things I wanted to do was to take my time building up to a constant surface rhythm of eighth notes, but I was taking too much time with it, so things were dragging. By introducing a 4-3 suspension/resolution chain in the countersubject/counter-answer here (Which are both essentially the same now, as subject and answer are), I got the ball rolling far more effectively. The result is far superior to the original version: The new tonic E minor chord at the beginning of measure sixteen is now the last naked quarter note, which is perfect. Speaking of opening cans of worms...

Where I was thinking of putting an extreme episode previously, I decided that the bass voice needed a thematic statement instead. Playing the rectus of the subject starting on the current dominant level at the note B would run me off the fretboard, as it would require a D-sharp below the open E string. So, I used the inversus of the answer starting on the lowest E. This is frickin' amazing. I had to dispense with introducing it over (under) a perfect fourth, because the subject is actually "expected" here, and not the answer, but the resulting changes to the inverted counteranswers just add a sudden surge to the energy level.

And, while this post is about stylistic choices, I should mention that I flushed the idea of extreme episodes entirely: This is to be a strict fugue, versus a showy quasi-fugue.

At this point I have the second episode as just a variation of the forst episode, and it ends on the V/V region. This is further afield than most Baroque fugues go, but it is B minor, which is the key of the Scherzo, and I want to delay the appearance of the relative major until just before the end. One reason is that the minor inversus forms offer a lot of possibilities: They can start on the tonic, dominant, or subdominant levels, and with the raised ascending tones many cool dissonant sonorities are available. The major mode should come after all that jazz.



The little stretto/recap also now benefits from the new tail figure rhythm for the subject, as well as the suspension chain at what is currently measure 39 in this sketch. Combined with a deceleration, this phrase now closes out convincingly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Composing Idiomatic Fugues

So many things astonish me about J.S. Bach's Art of Fugue, but one of them is that it is an idiomatic work for solo harpsichord. In addition to the infinite universe of material Bach was juggling around, he was also working within the range of the Baroque harpsichord, the span of the hands, and the intracies of fingering possibilities (And impossibilities). For me, Davitt Moroney has recorded the definitive version of Art of Fugue (Available on Amazon, last I checked) using exact reproductions of Baroque harpsichords, and - more importantly - Baroque-era well-tempered tunings. It is simply awesome.

Since Art of Fugue is my favorite of all musical monuments, I had it as a goal of mine to write something in that style for many years before I finally nailed it, and even then I didn't write a solo keyboard piece, I wrote a string quartet. Not being a keyboard player, it wasn't a priority, and the quartet gave me added freedom of range and I didn't have to consider fingering possibilities for a polyphonic/homophonic instrument I don't even play: Many less things to worry about.

Now, from the moment I fell in love with Art of Fugue until I finished the quartet was about fourteen years. During that time I wrote a whole bunch of very bad, bad, not so bad, fair, decent, pretty good, good, and very good fugues for a variety of instruments. Since my girlfriend during much of this time was a Lutheran Music Minister and virtuoso organist, some of these early efforts were for the organ. She would let me know when I wrote something she couldn't reach or finger, so I kind of had a guide there. Later, I wrote for string trio and woodwind trio (Yes, I almost asphixiated a wind player or two).

The point is, if you want to get good at something like this, you have to practice it. A lot. Even Mozart had to work hard to master counterpoint and fugue: I saw some facsimilies of his notebooks from when he was studying with Padre Martini, and he was horrible at first. Many of his early exercises he had to abandon because he wrote himself into corners (Martini's corrections are masterful). It was only some fifteen years or more later that he was writing the finale of the Jupiter symphony.

My particular problem is compounded considerably: Immitative counterpoint is not idiomatic to the guitar at all. In fact, almost any time a bass line is moving faster than the upper voices, it's problematic. Tossing a fugue subject that has a wide range and a lot of leaps around on the fretboard is positively nightmareish. As a result, composing fugue subjects that will work on the guitar has been one of the greatest compositional challenges I've ever faced, and it was only after writing all of those other fugues I mentioned that I finally pulled it off.

When Bach wrote fugues for solo stringed instruments (Thank God I had those models to examine), he wrote subjects with small ranges, few leaps, and even repeated note features for the most part, but especially when he was writing for the lute, which is far less easily athletic than bowed string iinstruments. The resulting fugues are very, very difficult to perform, but they work amazingly well. Thing is, these are mostly zippity-do-dah pieces that bounce along at an entertainingly fast tempo, and the subjects usually don't offer a lot in terms of contrapuntal combinations to work with: Large parts of these fugues are occupied with virtuosic passage work. I call them extreme episodes.

What I wanted was a more stately type of theme along the lines of Bach's art of fugue (Remember, he wrote those partitas and suites many years before Musical Offering and Art of Fugue, and his style evolved significantly during those years: It's Bach's very late style that I love the most). With that in mind, let's take a look at the fugue that will be the finale of Sonata Zero.



First of all, yes this is solo guitar music notated on two staves. Trying to cram stuff this dense onto a single stave is a pain I refuse to deal with. Now that we have that out of the way...

As you can see, the subject has absolutely no skips at all: It begins with a head figure that tonicises the dominant degree briefly, and then decends stepwise to a tail figure that targets the tonic. There are seven different notes in it's range of a minor sixth, and only two different note values, which is OK for a subject this short. It's a model of utmost simplicity, which is exactly what I was after.

The answer is real - meaning is has exactly the same sequence of tones and semitones, until the final note. To me, that means I have to call it a tonal answer, but if a student called it real, I'd just point out that it's not precisely real, but almost.

Note that the counter-answer has three parallel third movements in a row, but it does introduce two leaps: A perfect fifth at the beginning, and a diminished fifth in the penultimate measure. There is only one new note value with the dotted quarter in measure eight, but the eighth notes immediately preceeding do add a bit more drive to the close of the phrase. Now, parallel thirds and sixths are very idiomatic to the guitar, so I'm making the maximum possible use of them here.

The top countersubject at measure nine also introduces two new leaps and one new note value: A diminished fourth and a perfect fourth to answer the fifths in the counter-answer, and a half-note to prepare for the first episode. The penultimate measure now has constant eighth notes, so this phrase has even more energy to close with, which is fitting. Countersubject two is the interior voice, and it is quite closely related to the previous counter-answer, which it shares it's rhythm with exactly.

This twelve bar exposition is very natural to play on the guitar, and despite it's simplicity it is quite interesting (My anecdotal evidence is that one of my students walked in today as I was playing it and said, "That sounds cool! What is it?!").

The constant eighth note surface rhythm is maintained throughout the first episode, which begins at measure 13. Since all of the axial motions in the piece so far have an overall decending trajectory, the rising sequential figure in the bass makes a nice contrast. The decending thirds above are just the consistent application of that thematic/stylistic feature of the piece, and the final measure of the episode brings us to yet another level of energy with it's simultaneous eighth notes in contrary motion. It's not exactly the most easy or natural thing to play, but it fits on the guitar just fine. Keeping the A ringing throughout is kind of a pain though, but it's one of the effects I wanted.

My episode has brought me to the dominant region, and the first middle entries follow. The main point of the subject and answer statements here is to draw attention to the fact that the countersubject and counter-answer are now essentially the same, just as subject and answer are. The free voice in the bass is slow to allow this to be noticed, and also to introduce the new note value of the half-note tied to the quarter (A dotted half-note). We now have five different note values so far.

The chromatic lick in the bass at this point is quite tasty, and the entire piece now converges on a minor third that implies a V/V. I'm going to write the first extreme episode at this point.

I don't have all of the internal archetecture worked out yet, but I do know how I'm going to end the piece.



After some extreme episode or other, we will wind up at the brief recapitulation I have here. The only stretto of the rectus version of the subject that I've discovered so far is this one. It only works if I allow for parallel perfect fourths - which I don't usually do - and only with the subject therefore in the upper voice.

I really love this passage. Notice that I have expunged all leaps except for the one in the bass at measure 31. It's just really cool, and the final cadence is quite effective. We'll see how it develops, but I'd like the Scherzo and the Fugue combined to total at about the same length as the Sonata, so it probably won't be overly brief. We shall see what we shall see.

UPDATE: After posting this I added a point of resistance to the tail figure of the subject: The first note of the final measure of the subject is now a dotted eighth-note, followed by a sixteenth-note. This figure is also applied to the figures in the episode (And the recap). So, the subject and answer now have four note values, and there are seven note values in total. Much nicer, and the implications for further development are profound. One of which is that I want to work toward a constant sixteenth note texture for one of the episodes, and this will help facilitate that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Had an interesting morning so far. Woke up at about 4:00AM remembering that as I was dozing off last night, I was playing a version of the guitar sonata movement's recap in my head using the chord progression from the development section versus the original from the expo and counter-expo. Well, one thing lead to another, and this morning I rewrote the recap in a much better form that integrates with the development. I always had a nagging feeling that the six bar progression of the development was overly isolated, and putting it into the recapitulation not only solved that, but it also gave two phrases before the second theme area shows up, which also works better.

Then, there's the fact that the ||i(add9)| iv(add9)| bVII(add9)| bIII(add9)| bVI(M7/addA11), Fr.+6| V(m9)|| progression in the tonic minor region passes through the relative major at bIII, and that's much, much more logical and effective for the recap. Since I liked the change of the V(7)/bVI from the exposition to Fr.+6/bVI in the old recap (And the resulting tighter voice leading), I moved that figure back to the exposition, and voila; the exposition became much more interesting and effective as well.

As I have been playing through the piece, I had also begun to realize that the material was suffering from over-exposure, so I dropped both the repeat of the exposition, and the bridging cadential figure that leads to the counter-expo: That bridge was dragging things down too much anyway. Not only that, but the appearance of the tonic major mode is now more of a surprise, which I like. Having that bridge-type figure only appearing in the intro and just before the recap makes it like a pair of columns that the piece sits on, which is, from an archetectural standpoint, a nice feature.

One thing I try to aviod is prolixity: Not many composers can pull it off anyway (I'm thinking speciffically of Bruckner, who bores me to a suicidal degree with his "whole lot of nothing" symphonies), and I'm certainly not one of them. In terms of duration, this is by far the longest solo guitar piece I've ever written anyway, so pairing it down to the minimum length possible is probably best. I'm not going after giant strides here, just logical progressive steps.

One mistake I believe a lot of young would-be composers make is that they try to write too big: I write just tons of miniatures and - every so often - something slightly more ambitious. If you can learn to create simple but effective miniatures consistently, then you will naturally grow into writing longer works and they will be more likely to achieve the same high degree of effectiveness. At least, that's been my experience.

As a result of this flurry of activity today, the piece is just a whole lot better than it was yesterday. One of the nicest things is that the overall piece is now a total of 162 measures long, and the pitch climax now falls at measure 107: 107 รท 162= 0.66049382716, which is close enough to 0.66666666667 for "government work." ;o)

Those of you who write a lot of music know "the feeling" you get when something is nearing completion and all the different versions are finally distilling out to the definitive one. Today is really the first time I've had that with this piece, so I'm thinking I'm at about the 95% point with it now.

Since I'm getting ready to add the fingerings and the rest of the guitar's idiomatic performance indicators, I just posted the updated PDF and MIDI files on my Fileshare page for those interested.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Compound Ternary Form: The Scherzo

In my last post on the sonata process, I mentioned a Scherzo that went with it. Today I want to take a tour of that piece with you.

At this point, I'm not sure if the entire multi-movement sonata will end up as three movements or four. I have the sonata-process first movement pretty far along (I'd say it's at about the 80% point), the scherzo is etched in stone now, and I have the subject, exposition, and counterexposition done for the fugal finale: I'm just not sure if I want to write a cantabile piece or not yet. To be honest, I'm not good at that sort of thing. In fact, I've never been convincing trying to write pretty, expressive melodic pieces (Jazz pieces excepted: I've written a lot of nice Bossas, Sambas, and jazz Ballads over the years). Part of it is motivation: I don't care for that kind of stuff from a compositional challenge perspective. Part of it is inclination: I'd rather write some "serious" counterpoint or harmony because I'm naturally better at it. Coming up with something beautiful in a sentimental sense without being sappy has always eluded me. And then, part of it is fear: The Adagio of Beethoven's Ninth is my ideal for that sort of thing, and who can possibly top that? It's... ah... well, hell... it's my favorite love-making music of all time. When I come up with an autumnal romanza in that league, you'll hear about it.

In any event, if it winds up as a triptych, this will be the second piece; if is't a standard quad, it will be number III. The reason for the placement as third of four has to do with the melodic pitch climax: It's the highest B at the very top of the classical guitar fretboard in this Scherzo. I want that to be at around the 66% point of the overall sonata, but definately not at circa the 33% point: The climax needs to be somewhere after the 50% point.

The earliest versions of the menuetto of this piece date back to the late 80's. In fact, it was within the first ten pieces for guitar in the traditional contrapuntal style I ever wrote. I returned to it several times over the years, and it has been a kind of journeyman piece for me. It's quite dangerous to perform, and it's only been within the last few months that I've added it to my set for public consumption. I'm giving this background because I want you to understand that, to me, this piece is absolutely perfect: Perfectly finished, perfectly balanced, and polished to perfection. It's a diamond. Perhaps only a 1/8 carat diamond, but it's a diamond. There is nothing I would change: Not a note out of place, all the fingerings are worked out. It's "stick a fork in it" done, unlike everything else of mine I've presented on this blog thus far.



Scherzo implies a joke. A musical joke. There is supposed to be some sort of witicism present. In this case, it's the "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" figure that is presented in the brief introduction, the fact that the said figure is the only thing that is rhythmacised (Otherwise, it's a completely motoric "perpetual-motion" kind of composition), and the fact that the piece never modulates. Ever. It just naievely and humorously ends all it's phrases on the tonic of B minor.

I believe that I've mentioned before that the Scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth is my single most favorite piece in the entire symphonic literature, and this piece is directly inspired by it, but it's not fugal and it's notated in 6/8 versus 3/4. I'm sorry, but I'm a guitarist. I read about as well as you would expect a guitarst to: deplorably. I use music notation for only two purposes: To write music down, and to memorize it. Give me a score, and the transposing instruments make my head spin. I have about 50 pieces memorized for my set, and I wouldn't have a music stand on stage with me if you paid extra. I cannot sight-read at all (Except for chord charts). So, as a result, B's notation of his super-fast scherzo in 3/4 makes my brain cramp. 6/8 just makes more sense to me (And, I suspect, to many others as well).

After the presentation of the jocular figure in the intro, the menuetto proceeds in a way that I relate to Baroque Gigues and Gavottes that I like. In fact, the whole Scherzo compound form traces back to these Baroque pieces with their doubles: It is a "song within a song" kind of construction that most normatively reduces to an ||A, A'|B||A"||C|D|C'||A'|B|A'''|| form, or a closely related variant. This piece follows that archetecture (Beethoven's Scherzo in the Ninth is really more of a sonata-process piece with a fugal exposition for the first theme group).

As you can see, I worked the "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" figure into the A section at measure ten, but left it out of the A' section to better prepare for B. The first development of the little inside joke is at measure 26, where it is an octave above the statement of the intro, but harmonized with counterpoint. The note G at the beginning of measure 28 is the melodic pitch climax of the menuetto, and it falls at... circa the 66% point of that subsection.



The top of the second page is just the final A section, after which the Trio begins (Technically a "Duo", I guess, since it's just two voices). The "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" joke is in the second measure of the C section, but it get's it's second real development starting in measure 47 in the D section, which sounds absolutely Beethovian, as he was fond of intervallic expansion to develop a theme, as I do here. This passage positively rocks.



The passage beginning at measure 58 is a variant of the passage back at measure 43, but the figure of measure 46 is interjected after each duplet of phrases to create triplet groups. I've never done this before or since, but it is really a fantastic technique. Probably dumb luck that I came up with it so long ago. Never discount the power of intuition.

The ultimate revelation of the joke begins in measure 65: After the duplet of "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" statements launching the trajectory to the pitch climax, the figure is intervallically compressed to become "le-sol-le-la-te-ti" to the final "do" at the beginning of measure 68, which is the highest note on the guitar - as I mentioned previously - and it falls at... circa the 66% point of the entire piece when you figure in the repeats. The restatement of the menuetto follows, and yes, those super-high harmonics at the end are no problem when you've worked on the piece for... oh... about fifteen years.

The final versions are, as per usual, available on my fileshare page as both PDF and MIDI files.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Paradigm Shifts

I have this saying that I tell people from time to time: "From wherever I am in life, I can look back ten years and say, "I was an idiot ten years ago'". By that I mean, it's healthy to be self-critical enough to re-evaluate old, ingrained positions from time to time. Not only that, but it's important - for me anyway - to change positions I have evaluated as no longer tenable. Or, at least to modify them enough to soften the coarsness that is a natural part of my peculiar personality (Much more in print than in person, to be sure).

I must admit to hating a lot of music. With a passionate kind of loathing. There are certain composers who I find completely worthless: Cage, Stockhausen, Schoenberg (Post "Transfigured Night"), Webern... You get the idea. As I personally define music - tone poetry that explores the implications of the Natural Harmonic Overtone Series - what they created does not qualify: It is simply not music to me, it's noise. Words mean things. Speciffic things: Music is music, and noise is noise, and "ne'r the twain shall meet", as the saying goes.

Remember: I owned a Synclavier for twenty years, and was a pioneer of the art of sound sculpture back in the 80's; I have no problem with the "noise as art" concept. Far from it. But, when I was creating sound sculptures, I didn't think of them as music. Not even for a second. So, the problem I have is with what I consider to be noise masquerading as music. If it's noise, at least be honest enough to admit it. No shame in that.

I am 104% convinced that if you took a dozen human beings who had no knowledge of music - six male/six female - and dropped them onto a terraformed Mars, within a few generations, you'd have... what we call "tonal music", or at the very least, some variant of modal music. For me, it is an inevitability present in the very nature of sound: The overtone series. Not only that, but I believe you'd have stringed instruments and keyboard instruments for a related reason: The nature of human physiology. The anecdotal evidence is the 100% modal/tonal nature of music of every single culture humanity has ever produced, and the ubiquitousness of the stringed instruments across cultural divides (Keyboards being more peculiarly Western, but a result of the solicitude the West maintained for so long, which could certainly be duplicated on an isolated Mars).

Here's the rub: I have finally come to realize that there actually are people who - perish the thought - really and truely, and honestly like the stuff the members of my aforementioned hate list created. I - to my discredit - offended one of them the other day with my big fat mouth. Now, I had always considered people who claimed to like Cage to be fools or worse: Liars who were posing as intellectuals. But something this guy said cut through that, and I suddenly realized that he defined music in a completely different way than I did. He, somehow, was able to listen without expecting the fulfillment I require resulting from my study of the overtone series. Frankly, I don't understand how such a thing is possible, but it evidently is.

For those of you who are tonal music fans, fear not: I've known where my path was for almost twenty years now, and I'm not leaving it. I am a classicist, and will remain so. But, I have come to understand that other points of view may, perchance, have some legitimacy. Hey; it's progress.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thoughts on the Sonata "Process" (And Guitar): IV

First, a couple of things: I turned on word verification for comments due to "spam, spam, spam, spam, and spam", as they said in the old Monty Python skit, but I made it so non-Bloggers can comment (Anyone who fills out the word verification box). We'll see how that works.

I have also finally gotten a high speed internet connection in my remote part of the woods (Props to SBC: The settup was painless with the auto install/settup CD-ROM, even for this Macintosh addict, and only took a few minutes) and I absolutely love it. The upload to my smugmug account for today's ten pages of music (In JPG format @ circa 275K per) took only about two minutes. It used to be much longer than that for one pic! I don't know how I suffered with dialup for so long. Right now, I have the DSL modem directly attatched to my Mini, but I'm going to try to set up my AirPort for it just as soon as I work up the nerve.

Then, I have increased both my student load and my gigging schedule, so posting may be a once-a-week kind of deal for a while, and the Beethoven posts will probably be quite rare. Sorry about that, but it's a time thing. I'm also helping out a luthier/guitar tech pal of mine in return for some mentoring, so that is also a factor.

OK. On with the show.

Ever since I came up with the exposition for the guitar sonata movement, I have known that it required an introduction. I must have tried at least a dozen times to come up with one, but each attempt fell flat. It wasn't that I couldn't come up with something nice, pretty, or even compelling, it was just that the intros didn't imply - or foreshadow - what was going to unfold. Well, I finally solved the issue with a simple sixteen measure intro that has all the implications of what follows contained in it.



As you can see, I started out with the texture/figuration/thematic element - whatever you want to call it - that has a constant sixteenth note surface rhythm, in the predominant time signature of 3/4, and on a suspended dominant level sonority. By simply applying an ascending chromatic line in the bass (It's amazing how often the ultimate solution is so often the simplest, and seemingly the most obvious in retrospect), I was able to pass through the bVI(M7/addA11), vi(m7/add11), and arrive at the bVII(7), which is of course, the dominant of the secondary key of C major.

The F major-seven, add augmented-eleven and the F-sharp minor-seven, add-eleven are both inflections of the sixth degree that are played out later in the contrast between the A minor and A major modes respectively, so this foreshadows everything I wanted in a very simple and direct way. As a note about the term "add", and when to use it: Any time a degree of an upper structure triad is skipped, the term "add" is appropriately applied to note the missing degree; in these cases the ninth is missing, so the elevenths are added.

After getting to the dominant of the relative, I introduce the "real" leading tone with a deceptive motion, and following this is the rest of the "bridge" cadential episode that has been in, then out, then back in again as I've tossed this piece to and fro. Integrating it into the intro has cemented it's place in the movement. The only nagging doubt that remains at this point is the part of the cadential episode that implys the minor subdominant region of D minor: I never use this key in the development, so I may be forced to capriciously analyze the whole thing in A minor, but that would certainly be stretching it. The situation is that I extemporized this passage intuitively and analyzed it retrospectively, but it would be nice to fulfill those expectations for D minor. We'll see.





The rugged and resilient exposition has survived all revisions intact. I felt from the time I came up with it that it was a little piece of musical perfection within it's own tiny universe, and time has proven me right. At measure 44, you can see where the bridging cadential figure is again present, only this time slightly modified with a major gender 6/4 chord to lead to the tonic level major mode. Combined with the first appearance of it in the intro, and the later one to come before the recapitulation, this bridge has now become a powerful and indispensible structural element within the archetecture of the piece. That little area of D minor is still there though, as if it's taunting me to delve deeper into the piece.







When last we looked at this first section of the development, it was nothing more than a sort of counter-exposition with the modes reversed, and a couple of variations related to that process. I was never satisfied with that, and when I wrote the recapitulation with the second theme/texture/key area on the tonic, I got the key for this. Now, we get the second thematic section in the tonic major starting at measures 60/61. These three pages still comprise a kind of re-exposition (And in that sense, I do think of this as deriving from a compound form like the Scherzo, which is perfectly acceptable for the development of a sonata-process piece), but with that new element added, a kind of structural balance with the recap is created that was absent before. At measure 73 I wrote a fresh kind of cadential passage that leads back to the second half of the first theme/texture. It's like the second theme interrupts the first one, and I like the effect a lot.

Starting in measure 82, the mode reversal process continues with the introduction of the second theme area on the minor submediant level. With the third appearance of the V(m9) at measure 94 (Two counting the repeat of the exposition), it is finally allowed to resolve to where it "wants" to go. Thus, the repeat of the exposition is no longer an option either: It is required to get the "third time's a charm" effect of this particular resolution.





The second area of the development has not changed from the last time we looked at it, except for - I believe - the metric modulation from 3/4 to 4/4 at measure 105. This is no small change, however: It is not only smooth in an inevitable sort of way, but the following variation entirely in 4/4 is now much more effective as a result of the prolonged sounding second feature between the thirds and added ninths. It is timely to note that every theme/texture in this piece appears on both the tonic and relative levels, and in the major and minor modes, except for this one - and by that I mean the chord progression I vary here - because this chord progression does not have to, since it implies both the minor and major modes simply by virtue of what it is: two minor chords followed by two major chords all connected by strong progressive root motions. As I mentioned previously, this chord progression encapsulates the tonic to subdominant progression that starts out both the exposition and the "counter-exposition". It's sort of sly in that regard, if I do say so myself.

At measure 112 there is a note to guitarists playing on traditional non-cutaway classic guitars: That figure is impossible to play because it requires a barre formation to get the G-sharp. I can barely manage it on my acoustic non-cutaway, but it is possible with a little patience and practice.

The melodic climax of the piece is now at measure 113 (Measure 140 with the repeat of the exposition), and this now falls at the 75% point versus the previous (And, more desirable) 66% point. This may be yet another hint from the Almighty that I need an area of D minor and a small secondary development in the coda or something. That would actually be the perfect place for it (He says to himself, thinking out loud), because the final appearance of the bridge cadential figure happens at measure 125 (In the original form of the introduction, leading back to the tonic minor), and the unfullfilled D minor implication is still present there. "Hmmmm. Veeeeery eeeenteresting."





Here's the new and improved recapitulation. I wanted it to return, after the development... well... developed, and that's what I've done. The tonic and subdominant chords now both have the added ninth. The tonic aquired it back in the counter-exposition, and the subdominant aquired it in the second part of the development. With the second appearance of the tonic chord, we get a harkening back to the major mode: This is preceeded and followed by the V(9) chords borrowed from the parallel major through the process of modal interchange (Which this entire movement is all about). Immediately after that, however, the minor versions of the chords of the submediant and subtonic degrees appear, so the major mode is just a memory at this point. Making the subtonic dominant sonority into an augmented seventh chord at the last moment enables the former V(7)/bVI to become a so-called French Augmented Sixth, and the formerly lax idiomatic guitar-type voice leading is tightened up to become quite traditionally strict. I like that effect/concept.

The second theme area now in the tonic minor has not changed, but afterwards it is different. Currently, I'm using the cadential figure from the counter-exposition section of the development to return to the intro, but going through the process to create this post has made me think what I need to do is write a Cadenza at this point (Yes! That's it! I can do a D minor episode there and get the climax back to the 66% point!). As it stands now, the Codetta is the introduction, but the leading tone is allowed to resolve to it's target. This creates an ending that is both a bit unsettlingly abrupt, but absolutely perfect for the opening movement of a multi-movement composition. I mean, the end here is not the end, after all. I am quite pleased with how this is coming along, and I'm currently obsessed with it, so you'll probably hear about it again.

As usual, if you would like to download current PDF and MIDI files of this piece, they are posted on my .Mac Fileshare page as O_STA_0_1.pdf and O_STA_0_1.mid.

The Scherzo is also there as O_STA_0_2.pdf/mid. I've been performing that for a while now, so I'll probably polish that up with a couple of very minor details when I get this sonata finished. Then, the four voice guitar fugue, which I already have the subject for. ;o)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Guitar Blogging

When I started this blog, I was in a phase of studying through some of my theory text library, and so I didn't think of doing any guitar blogging. More than that, though, I'm one of those guitarists who defies any convienient classification. Sure, I play exclusively nylon string guitar (Though, I'm thinking of getting one of those new-fangled Steinberger baritone electric steel strings with the built in sliding capo dealie-bob so that I can play some Pat Metheny transcriptions from the One Quiet Night CD), but almost all of my performances are on an electric nylon string through one of two small stereo PA's I've put together. The only time I play acoustic "classical guitar" is when I'm either playing in Church, or playing a really tiny, quiet gig like an art opening.

Then, there is my repetoire: Yes, I play a few of the standard pieces for classical guitar, but very few, and most of those are Bach miniatures. Over 75% of my two-hour performance set consists of music I've written myself. A lot of what I play that I didn't compose is contemporary stuff that would be beneath the dignity of a "real" classical guitarist: Mason William's Classical Gas, Eddie Van Halen's Spanish Fly, Joe Satriani's A Day at the Beach, Steve Howe's Mood for a Day, and yes, even Stairway to Heaven (Though I do play a chord-melody section that incorporates a lot of Jimmy Page's solo licks into it, if that might redeem me in some eyes). Because of that, I don't think I'm relatable to very many guitarists, in either the classical, or in the contemporary jazz generas.

Besides, my friend Jeff (Solitudex) over at Solitude in Music has the bases covered so far as classical guitar blogging is concerned: I just couldn't lend a legit perspective there because of my inherant "weirdness".

Despite all of this, I think interspersing some guitar blogging from my warped perspective might be fun, and it would also increase the frequency of my posts (Beethoven is coming along, but it is... uh... far more difficult than I had... hoped). So, without further ado.


A Brief History of Guitar: Roots


I started my musical career playing the violin for a couple of years. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I switched to trombone. During this time, I also had a Magnus Organ I messed around with. Then, Mason Williams had the unlikely crossover hit of Classical Gas, so I switched to guitar. I didn't know steel from nylon, so my first guitar was an inexpensive steel string my dad brought back from Japan with him (He was a USAF pilot). That was it. I was a guitarist.

During junior high somewhere, I discovered chicks were kinda cool, so I was an indifferent "student" of the guitar during those years. I just knew chicks liked guys who could strum a pretty tune, so that's sort of all I was interested in doing. No doubt but that Stairway to Heaven was the most "technical" thing I played back in those days. Then, my freshman year of college at Moody College in Galveston, I met a guy who was quite a good player, and he inspired me to get an electric and learn how to play "lead". He also noodled around on classical, so I got my first nylon string at that time, and figured out how to play Bourree in E minor as well. A Les Paul, and Ovation, and a MESA/Boogie MK I later, I quit college and went to what was then called The Guitar Institute of the Southwest run by an unbelievable bebop guitarist named Jackie King. There, I was exposed to guys like Herb Ellis and Pat Martino, who visited and gave lessons on a fairly regular basis. So, I became a fusion dude.

Next stop was Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was an insatiable collector of guitars and amps in those days. I had a 1974 Martin D-28, a 1979 Anthony Murray classical, a pair of late 50's Gibson jazz boxes - L5 and Birdland, a dot neck 335, a couple of Les Pauls, and no less than three MESA/Boogie amps at any given time. I loved them all, but none more than the Gibson RD Artist that was stolen from me during those years (sigh).

Electronics also fascinated me. I had always had a Morley Power Wah and a Morley echo pedal, but when rack mounted delays began to appear, I was the first kid on the block with a Lexicon PCM-41: I still love delay and chorus effects (Though these days more because they attenuate my disgust with the sound of equal temperament than anything else).

Immediately after Berklee, I took a gig as a roadie for a rock band that did a European tour in 1983. Uh... I liked the rock scene: Oodles and gobs of girls. The bass player from that band and I formed a band in Sweden (Simply the most consistently beautiful women on earth are of the Nordic races, so it was a "logical" decision ;o)). So, I became a rock and roll dude.

Upon my return to the US, I discovered the Synclavier via Pat Metheny, and had to have one. Never mind that the entry fee for a Digital Guitar system was about $15,000.00, I got one. I played it with a Steinberger GL2T-GR (A GL 2 with Trans-Trem and Roland GR electronics). Then I moved to New York from Boston and got into a series of rock bands, one of which landed me on MTV's The Week In Rock in 1988: That was my fifteen minutes.

During my band days, I found Joseph Patelson's Music across from "Carnage" Hall (I love that joke!), and began to buy some theory texts just out of a latent curiosity that a teacher at Berklee had planted in me. His name was Chris Frigon, and he now administers the fantastic MSN group called Contemporary Classical Music, which I sub to (I just love life's little circular connections too).


Major Aside:

Through Chris, I get this factoid:

1) J.S. Bach Taught his son, Wilhelm Friedman Bach.

2) Wilhelm Friedman Bach taught Franz Joseph Haydn.

3) Haydn taught Ludwig van Beethoven.

4) Beethoven taught Carl Czerny.

5) Czerny taught Theodore Leschetizky.

6) Leschetizsky taught Edwine Behre.

7) Behre taught Chris Frigon.

8) Frigon taught... Hucbald!

I love that pedagogical history: No matter how tenuous the link I have to Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven is, it's there.


Anyway, I still had my old Murray, so I started to write some counterpoint pieces on it. I was hooked. Quit the band and came back to Texas for a Master of Music at what is now called Texas State University. After that, I went to The University of North Texas for a DMA, but abandoned that degree after taking all but one of the classes for it, due to my disgust with the state of the "composition" department there. But, I was by this time a classical dude.


Then and Now:


All of this intro is just a long way to - perhaps - give you some insight into exactly what has shaped my opinions about the state of contemporary guitar and contemporary composition, and why my resulting opinions are so out-of-the-mainstream: My musical background is eclectic in the extreme.

When I decided to convert to nylon string guitar exclusively, there were a LOT of things I missed: Volume control, tone control, range. At first, I was a purist because I thought I had to be. I mean, everyone else was (Everyone who was respected to a high degree, anyway). But after a while, I couldn't stand it anymore. I figured God lead me through the experiences I had for a reason, and one of those things I learned to do was to program virtual acoustic environments using digital effects devices. I sided as a recording studio musician and engineer, so I had that stuff down.

In 1988 I began a quest to get an electric nylon string sound I liked. At the time, the Gibson Chet Atkins CE was the only game in town. It had a 1 and 7/8" nut width though, so it was unplayable for me. Then the CEC came out with the standard 2" nut width, so I got that. Hated it. It weighed a ton, and it didn't sound like a classical at all, much less did it let me approach the sound I heard in my head (Which is really not like an acoustic classical either). But, I suffered with it and tackled the amplification system.

I had a pair of MESA/Boogie MK III's and a ten space effects rack when I quit the rock biz, so I started there. After realizing that 1) guitar cabs that worked great for steel string stunk for nylon string, and 2) BIG GEAR sucks for a solo act, I began pairing it down, and tuning it up.

Here's what the last seventeen years has lead to:



The guitar is a Godin Multiac Grand Concert Synth Access. I tried a Duet, but it had wimpy bass response and would feed back at the volumes I like to play at. The SA will absolutely not feed back even at stupid SPL's, and the string balance of the RMC Poydrive is superb (And it's a hexaphonic Roland-compatable synth driver too). It's not perfect (No guitar ever is, unless it's a Murray), but it's the first electric nylon string that has allowed me to get my tone in the ballpark of where I want it to be.

The preamp is a Lexicon MPX-G2 Guitar Effects Processor with a Lexicon MPX-R1 remote pedal to control it: I have a different virtual acoustic environment programmed for each suite of pieces I have grouped together (Twelve programs in all so far for the twelve suites in my set).

For Power, I have a Bryston 3B-NPB stereo power amp, which is an audiophile/recording studio quality piece of gear, and the only solid state power amp I've ever heard that I actually like the sound of. It rates at 125 watts per side, and weighs twenty pounds less than the MESA Stereo Simul-Class Two: Ninety I had previously (Which sounded better than any other amp on the planet, but which cost over $200.00 per annum to keep in tubes, as well as being ridiculously heavy).

The speakers are Turbosound TXD-081's, which have an 8" low frequency driver, and a 1" high frequency compression driver. I used to work for a Turbosound dealer, and they are the best of the best: Like having road-worthy studio monitors. I absolutely love them, and their frequency response goes way below where a guitar can sound, so anything larger would be a waste. They can handle 400 watts each, so I'm under-driving them, but trust me: I'm by far the loudest classical guitarist on earth when I want to be.

This is my Large Venue rig. I use it only for stage performances. My Small Venue settup is exactly the same, but with a Bryston 2B-LP for power, and a pair of Yamaha AS108 II's for sound (Which are 8"/1" two-ways of the same size as the Turbos). It fits in a four space rack and never leaves my truck to reduce schlepping.

All cables in both rigs are Monstercable: I use them exclusively, and have for over twenty years.

As you can see, I have no compressors (I don't use ANY compression ever), EQ's (The Lex and the Godin give me all I need), or anything else. It's as simple as simple can be: Guitar, Preamp/FX, power amp, speakers. Also very small: Small gear rocks when you are 47 and your own roadie.


It all started here, with the single most beautiful classical guitar I've ever seen: A 1979 Anthony Gaillard Murray with the most intensely figured German spruce top I've ever seen. I like them so much, I bought two, and will play no other acoustic nylon string.



Tragically, Tony died last January. He didn't make many guitars the past few years, which is a shame. He was repulsed by the contemporary "concert" classical guitar - as I am - and had a totally different philosophy about the acoustic classical guitar, which he taught me years ago, and which I share to this day.

To us, the acoustic nylon string guitar is a chamber music instrument, made for salons where the few attentive listeners are quiet. Playing an acoustic classical guitar in a concert hall is an exercise in futility, and making a guitar with that in mind results in something virtually unplayable due to abjectly obscene high actions, which also ruin the sweetness of tone due to the altered direction that the strings oscillate in with high actions. Not to mention that "concert" classical guitars suck ass because they are no fun to play with those idiotically high actions. Try playing some tap technique on those things. How is it that having a guitar that closes off a bunch of technical approaches is cool? It isn't.

My guitar has an action as low as a Flamenco, more than enough volume to fill up a quiet Church or art gallery, and a tone that has made hundreds of people say "Wow!" over the years. I paid $1,500.00 for it in 1979, and wouldn't trade it for any BS "concert" guitar that markets at over $10K.

Years ago Tony went to a luthier's convention of some sort. When he came back he visited San Antonio on his way home, and I got to talk with him. I asked him if he'd seen anything interesting at the convention. He shook his head in the negative. "Just a lot of loud guitars." He was a man of few words, and I loved the guy.


I have a custom eleven string electric nylon string coming this month (It's like a twelve string steel string acoustic, but with a single low E). It started life as a Godin Glissentar eleven string fretless, but I had my friend Ed Reynolds (Eric Johnson's guitar guy) make a custom 2" nut width fretted neck for it, and move the bridge to get the intonation better. Can't hardly wait: Having a twelve string nylon string has been a dream of mine for many years, and having the neck profile I've always wanted, but have never had, will make it twice as sweet. And, of course, it's a bolt-on so I can go back to fretless any time I want.

Next time: Hucbald's Top Ten Reasons Guitars are Better than Girls... Maybe not.