Monday, July 24, 2006

Musical Philosophy

Yet another inane thread over at Sequenza 21, this one basically advocating content-free music (I don't think they have anything to discuss, because all of their music seems to be already content free: Mission accomplished boys, that ship has already sailed). I believe the title was "When Did We All Become Philosophers?" or something like that.

It really is hard to discuss this without spewing Coca-Cola all over my monitor and keyboard, because the premise is so patently absurd on its face as to be abjectly laughable. I mean, music is a communicative medium, and so content is mandatory, not optional. IOW, if your music isn't saying something, it is saying nothing. If you have nothing to say, then keep your pie-hole shut, m-kay?

I remember the first time I encountered this form of musical nihilism (And - unlike so many today - I iknow what nihilism is, and I'm using the word correctly). It was when I was in the composition DMA program at UNT back in the mid nineties. My "teacher" at the time was a n00b composition prof named Dr. Joe Klein (I chose him because he was a n00b, and so would allow me to follow my already-set agenda), and he said - and I quote - "I don't write goal-oriented music."

Read that line a few times. Again. Let it sink in. Deep...

Are you laughing uncontrollably yet? If not, you do not understand musical composition. At all.


Music is often compared to spoken language, and this is often a perfect analog; especially when the musical medium includes song. However, when you come to instrumental music - absolute music - the analogy begins to break down. Sure, there is still phraseology present, and other temporal aspects which music and language share, but spoken language has no God-given component at the heart of it: Language is limited only by the human body's ability to sound, and the human mind's ability to comprehend. Whispers, shouts, beeps, or clicks; any sound a human can make can be used to communicate, and as long as a community agrees upon the meaning, the communication will be effective.

Outside of the given communities, however, all spoken languages are no better than gibberish.

Music, on the other hand, is a universal language: Everybody from every culture will recognize the music of another culture as music, even if they are not steeped in its traditions (This is a fact, by the way, and is not a matter open to debate).

Why is that?

Because, unlike spoken language, music has at its heart a God-given key to the understanding of it, and that key is the harmonic overtone series.

The history of Western art music is the history of the unravelling of the implications of this harmonic series.


If you were to dispense with the style-related rule-sets of counterpoint - those things which make Palestrina sound like Palestrina and Bach like Bach - you would be left with basic contrapuntal laws which the series explains:

1) Intervals in the series which are consonances and are superparticular ratios in both inversions cannot move in parallel.

2) Intervals in the series which are consonances and which are superparticular ratios in only one position may move in parallel.

3) Dissonances cannot move in parallel.

And, that's really it: All else are simply rules based on taste which can be left to the discresson of the composer.


Same goes for harmony. The first seven partials of the harmonic series spell out a dominant seventh chord, so every tonic - after it has had its day - wishes to aquire a seventh and be absorbed into a new tonic a perfect fifth below. In order to be able to leave and approach a tonic by this motion (In a triadic environment), major triads are required on I, IV, and V. These three triads make the so-called Ionian mode, or rather, diatonic tonality. The minor is simply a derivative of this: A minor third below the major tonic is the mode which yeilds minor triads on the cardinal degrees.

Further, all root motion types are related to this primordial falling fifth progression. If a falling fifth is a progression, it follows that a rising fifth is a regression, and this is so: Regressive root motions sound like they are going backwards against the natural inclination or desire of the harmony.

Since it takes two falling thirds to make a fifth (And if you use the proper circular transformations, the voices will make the same journey through two thirds as they do with one fifth), it follows that a falling third is a half-progression, and a rising third is a half-regression. This is also demonstrably true, and is a realized implication of the overtone series.

Diatonic seconds are super-progressions when they ascend, and super-regressions when they decend, because they imply a missing root a third below the "theoretical root" (Or, we could call it the "philosophical root" LOL!) of the lead harmony.

And so, all of the effects that the various root motions have can be explained by how well they conform to the primordial falling fifth progression implied by the overtone series.

No overtone series, no universal language.

That's why it is a fact - and not my opinion - that wrongly so-called "atonal music" is noise and is not music at all: Music is the art of tone setting to display philosophical aspects of the implications of the overtone series!


Ironically, the greatest philosophers of antiquity were all interested in music, and used music to explain examples of their philosophical musings. So the answer to the question, "When Did We All Become Philosophers?" would be, "From the beginning, dumbass."

Friday, July 21, 2006

My Name in Lights!

Well, sorta/kinda.

Your humble blog author is now listed along with such guitar luminaries as Eric Clapton, Larry Coryell, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Brian Setzer (Stray Cats/Brian Setzer Orchestra), Brian Adams, Brian May (Queen), and several others in an add for the Carlos CP-1A acoustic guitar pickup.

One of the coolest things about this list is that I am listed right under Mike Brannon and Randy Cordero - both Texas guitarsts I know personally. In fact, Mike and I go back to the late 70's when we were studying together with Jackie King, Herb Ellis, and Pat Martino at the Guitar Institute SW. Later, he and I were at Berklee together, and we still get together fairly often. He's coming to Alpine this w/e, come to think of it.


In other news, I landed a choice monthly gig at a winery where I'll be compensated - get this - with a base pay fee, a percentage of the door, dinner, and... two bottles of wine! Now I play weekly at a brewery where the brewmaster is a real, genuine German who's been brewing since he was twelve, and monthly at a winery where the proprietors have developed their own strains of grapes for the locality, and I can't pay for a drink at either place!

I love my life.

Makes me want to beat a drum.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

New MySpace Page/An Absolutely Amazing Gig

I've set up a MySpace page. I seem to be kind of late into the game on this, but I really had not investigated it before, and I hadn't heard much about it. Well, it seems like everybody who's anybody has one - along with everybody else who's nobody - so I have spent the past week putting it up and recording some music for it.

Hucbald's MySpace page is here, and like I say, I have made some recordings with my new recording studio setup for it.

After getting the M Box/ProTools 7.0 LE settup for my Mac Mini, I found myself using the Bounce To Disk as MP3 feature all the time. Unfortunately, that feature is a third-party deal, and it comes as a 30 day demo. After the demo expired, it took FOR...EVER to figure out how to get it back. First, I bought the authorization, then I had to buy the disks (I had gotten LE 7 as a free promo download) - silly me bought the WRONG DISKS - then a couple of hours on the support site, followed by 45 minutes on hold with tech support... Let's just say it was an ordeal, and leave it at that. vX.0 of NO software should ever be bought.

But, I eventually got it, so "all's well that ends well," as they say.

I recorded nine pieces in just three takes - 3 Pieces in E Minor, 3 Pieces in G Major, and 3 Pieces in E major - so everything is a first take. I did this to get around the four song limit that MySpace has. Due to "The First Take Challenge" I issued myself, there are a few clams and dropped notes, but I was actually pleased I have gotten to the point where I can do this well on the spur of the moment. I'm telling you, performing live a lot gets your consistency way up. Even if you are a so-so player like I am.


Now, for the absolutely amazing and super fantastic gig I had yesterday.

It was at a ranch just south of the New Mexico border:

I mean, a real ranch, complete with cattle:

There was a problem: Either take my gear up these stairs one piece at a time...

(Perhaps they look more intimidating from this angle)

...or, drive my truck up this hill:

Did I mention that my truck's trip computer told me it was 104 degrees F when I arrived for this job?

I hate that photo: That's about a 40 degree grade with a lot of soft sand, and as with pictures of angry oceans, the camera just flattens it all out. Pshhh. Anyway...

This was the only gig I've ever played where having a full-sixed 4x4 truck with a 4" Rancho Lift Kit was actually required.

In Texas, it's not the clothes that make the man, it's the truck: This truck is me.

It turns out that only for or five vehicles made it up that hill. The poor DJ's small 4x4 pickup could not make it with his gear trailer in tow. I know that first hand, because he asked me to do the driving, as he was... ah... inexperienced with four wheel drive shennagans. The poor little Ford got bogged down in the sand with it's skinny street tires. At least I had done that sort of thing enough to not get it stuck, and the worst part of the deal was having to back the stupid trailer down that steep grade with the kinks in it.

This is why I'm a believer in small, compact gear, full sized 4x4 pickups with bed covers, and dollys with inflatable tires:

The only things not on the dolly are my guitar and folding chair.

There had been a viscious wind storm the previous day with 60 MPH winds - right after they got everything set up, of course - and the chairs and tables had just been, er... "recovered." The columns with the flowers were left down because the wind was still almost 40 MPH when I arrived.

And, this is where I set up:

Is that cool or what? It looks like I'm just out in the middle of the desert somewhere, and I AM!

By the time the ceremony started at 8:45 PM, the temp was in the low 90's (Not bad for as low as the humidity is out here), and the wind had completely died out and had given way to a gorgeous and serene calm.

There was a Mariachi singer/guitarist performing the music for the ceremony (And, he completely kicked ass), so I was able to enjoy the the ceremony, the music... and the scenery.

(I just snapped these sitting in my little folding chair)...

This was one of the best thought out weddings I've ever played, and I've played... a few.

What a day.

I love ranches.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Review: Carlos CP-1 High End Acoustic Guitar Pickup

Good... no, great things come in small packages:


Regular readers of MMM will recall that I reviewed the Carlos CP-1A Professional under-saddle acoustic guitar pickup previously here, and that I was totally blown away by it. It is no exaggeration to say that the CP-1A totally transformed the character of my experimental fretted Godin Glissentar (With the Ed Reynolds custom neck). Basically, it went from having a severely anemic sound to having a full and rich one.

That experience made me look again at the possibility of amplifying my two 1979 Anthony Gaillard Murray acoustic classical guitars. No other pickup could have possibly had me entertaining the idea of drilling an endpin jack hole and a transducer hole into those precious instruments. But, the reality of my performing life is that I need amplification, and I sorely want to have the option of playing my Murray's when the situation warrants it. So, I made a deal with Carlos, and got one of his custom made, one-at-a-time, top o' the line, CP-1 High End models.

I installed it today:

I'm going to relocate the control box inside the guitar when I get the settings worked out.


I would be lying if i said I wasn't filled with trepidation as I was drilling holes into the Murray. Tony passed away last year, so there aren't any more of them being made, you know. So, it was kind of a "My God, what am I doing?!" kind of an experience. I needn't have worried: This pickup is even more amazing than the CP-1A! The sound is so natural, that it sounds like a Murray guitar and not just a nice generic classical guitar sound. I'm betting that with this pickup a Ramirez will sound like a Ramirez, a Humphrey will sound like a Humphrey, and so on: It's detail and nuance are that good.

After twenty-seven years of owning a Murray, it's like getting an entirely new one all over again. Tony would approve.

The pickup seems to like to have the settings all wide open, which is a first: Treble, especially, usually gets harsh in a hurry, but not with the CP-1. The mids are full and rich without honking, and the bass is deep, but highly focused. I never had even a hint of impending feedback, and I am sitting right in front of a pair of Tannoy near feald monitors with the volume quite high.

As Darth Vader said of Luke Skywalker: "Impressive. Most, impressive." LOL!

Thank you again Carlos, for your awesome pickups!


Hucbald... ("hearts")

... Carlos Pickups.


And, I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chet Atkins' "Yankee Doodle Dixie"

Now that I've learned Xodo, it's time for another "crowd pleaser" piece I've been meaning to learn for a while: The late, great Chet Atkins' brilliant Yankee Doodle Dixie.


Chet recorded this piece way back in 1958, and it is a rare and fantastic example of counterpoint in popular music (Country and Western Jazz, actually). The "A" sections have the melody for Dixie in the lead, while the Yankee Doodle melody provides the bass line. Contrapuntally, it's actually quite a feat: Chet basically took two melodies, cantus prius factus, and made them work contrapuntally together. I wonder how he noticed that they would combine like they do? Very interesting.

Quite apart from the nifty contrapuntal parlor trick are the antagonistic tensions inherent in the two pieces vis-a-vis their history as the rallying songs for the Union and Confederate Armies during the American Civil War. So, there is an added social dimension of reconciliation - perhaps even forced - to the piece, which is quite profound, despite the humorous reactions that it elicits (If you are not a US citizen, this is probably lost on you, but the American Civil War continues to send reverberations through our society nearly a century and a half later).

I heard Chet perform this back in the late 80's with the San Antonio Symphony at a Pops concert, and he has the orchestra (or band) play accompaniment while he solos, but I cut all of that out. It was the intro and coda, which he plays unaccompanied, that I wanted. The resulting piece is so short (Less than a minute with a quarter note at 200 BPM, which is about where he played it) that I'll play through the entire form twice: It actually sounds quite righteous that way.

Here's the single page arrangement:

I put the PDF and an MP3 of the piece on my .Mac Downloads Page for those interested.


DeCelle was subconsciously thinking about being a confectioner: This would be the perfect decoration for a cake.


I love C&W.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day

My original American ancestor, William Pepper Sr., arrived in the British Colonies in 1726 as an indentured servant. Men named Pepper fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great War, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. My father took care of the last three aforementioned in his thirty year career as an Air Force pilot.

Here's to my valliant fathers, their brave fellow countrymen, as well as their honored allies: all who have fought and risked their lives to keep this land - as well as the world - free, so that I can compose and play music, and share it with friends in dozens of countries around the world.