Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What's REALLY Missing From Contemporary Music

“Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.” - J.S. Bach

“It is a great consolation for me to remember that the Lord, to whom I had drawn near in humble and child-like faith, has suffered and died for me, and that He will look on me in love and compassion.” - W.A. Mozart

"Beseech the eternal God that He keep us on the path of virtue, honor and justice, ennoble and purify my heart and soul." - G. Meyerbeer

“No friend have I. I must live by myself alone; but I know well that God is nearer to me than others in my art, so I will walk fearlessly with Him.” - L. van Beethoven

"Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God." - Felix Mendelssohn

"I am convinced that there are universal currents of Divine Thought vibrating the ether everywhere and that any who can feel these vibrations is inspired." - Richard Wagner

“Straight-away the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind's eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies, and orchestration.” - Johannes Brahms


Compare those men with Schoenberg, Stockhausen, and Foss.

Composers today concern themselves with insignificant musical developments, and worry about what was lost with the move to equal temperament, or whatever - yadda, yadda, yadda; blah, blah, blah - but a much larger problem with music today is that it has absolutely no spiritual content whatsoever. The audience senses this.

I'm sure she's playing music with spirit.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Levels of Rhythm in Music

As I prepare to make the final revisions to the first edition of The Musical Implications of the Harmonic Overtone Series (The editor did a great job cleaning up my linguistic crudities) I want to develop my thoughts about the rhythmic and formal implications of the series a bit more. Since these areas are the newest ones to come under my scrutiny, I am still evolving in this area. In fact, the musical ramifications of employing what the series does not imply as most perfect or natural is also something I'm beginning to make some progress on as well. Part of my low rate of posts over the past months has had to do with my working this stuff out in my head.

Pitch to rhythm form a natural continuum: It is only the human senses that divide them up, as there is an auditory deaf spot below the lowest sound percieved as pitch and the fastest beat percieved as rhythm. Within this auditory void, however, the frequency can still be percived through the sense of touch as vibration. The phenomenon we call rhythm is also manifested on at least three levels in music: The local level, which is the surface rhythm we usually think of as rhythm proper; the regional level, which is what is taught as harmonic rhythm but which can also be though of as functional rhythm; and finally, the global level, which are the various thematic periodicities that make up what we call form in music.

The first two phenomena are generally well understood by educated musicians, but the formal implications of the series are something new (So far as I have been able to determine). Nature defines what musical proportions are by the ratios in the series, so using these ratios as formal proportions is something so natural that musicians have been doing this intuitively for over a milennium. Taking the octave's 2:1 ratio, for example, we discover the basis for the A, A, B and A, B, A song forms that have been ubiquitous, probably since antediluvian times (I am speaking particularly of instances in which the sections are of equal length, of course). Higher order ratios from the series can be employed as well, and the perfect fifth's 3:2 ratio is found in many A, A, B, A forms in which the B is twice the length of the A. Recognizing that these simple forms are intuited out implications of the harmonic series allows us to inform our intuitions and thereby gain more control of the compositional processes by applying these implications intentionally. We can continue to progress up the series' ratios, of course, but note that as you do you are following a parabolic curve that inches ever closer to a 1:1 proportion. The ratios within the first seven partials can achieve most of the formal effects that a composer could desire, and remember: There is absolutely nothing wrong with using that unison proportion either, since it is perfectly musical as defined by the series.

Of course, the distribution of climaxes - pitch climaxes, dynamic climaxes, &c. - is also a rhythmic and a proportional phenomenon as well. Traditionally - due to extra-musical aesthetic considerations - many of history's great composers have used the golden mean, which can be traced back to the early sixteenth century. While this irrational proportion has a compelling logical arguement - a + b is to a as a is to b - and is found in many natural phenomena - and obviously manifests itself in several living creatures- it is not a musical proportion because it is not found in the harmonic series (I'm sure it's circa 1.618 proportion could be approximated with non-adjacent positions using harmonics beyond the seventh partial, but that is a stretch, which is the point here). What the series most directly implies is the logical point for the main climax of a piece is at the 2/3 point: The proportion of the perfect fifth. Coincidentally (or not), this yields 1.5 versus the golden mean's 1.6: Not enough of a difference to be perceptable (!). Again, higher order ratios can also be employed and to good effect: As the climax gets closer to the end, the abruptness of the end can be used as a disturbing or even a shocking effect. The reverse is also true: You could place the main climax before the half-way point according to any series ratio's inverse, and have everything after be one long denouement. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

As an aside at this point, I'd like to mention an online music discussion I dropped in on a while back. The topic was the question of why pitch was notated so precisely while duration wasn't. Obviously, this is because the human perception of pitch is very precise, while the perception of time is profoundly vague (in comparison). Aside from the local level, where rhythmic patterns can be percieved with great precision, the regional harmonic or functional rhythms are less well percieved, and the overall global proportions - in large works especially - may only be sensed intuitively, if at all (For most listeners). This explains why a main climax at the golden ratio or the perfect fifth's ratio is probably not a perceptable difference for all but a few highly acute listeners... which begs the question, then what difference does it make if we apply musical or extra-musical ratios to broader rhythmic and formal elements? I suppose I'd have to admit that this gets into the realm of musical philosophy at this point, but it's important to me, and here's why:

If we imagine a race of beings who can percieve rhythm on all levels and formal proportions with the same accuracy as we humans can percieve pitch, how do you think a main climax at the golden mean point would sound to them versus one at the 2/3's point? It would sound dissonant, or at least "out of tune" is how it would sound: They would "prefer" the perfect fifth's ratio. To prove the un-musical nature of the golden ratio, all you have to do is turn it into an interval: It falls nerly exactly between a major and minor sixth, and sounds horribly out of tune. Our imaginary race of super-time-percievers would notice this.

As I mentioned previously, I am also beginning to intellectually pursue the implications of using in music elements that the series implies are non-musical or at least less than perfectly musical. Though I'm just beginning to apply this thinking to the five purely musical elements - harmony, counterpoint, melody, rhythm, and form - it is obvious that series-implied voice leading paradigms can be dispensed with for expressive purposes - and indeed must be dispensed with to achieve certain effects (See Chopin or any jazz composer) - and harmonically vilifiable structures can also have their place.

To be continued...

I'm getting really tired of this cold weather.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Teaching Militancy in Music

One of the connections I've noticed over the years is between militancy in students, and certain teachers who display the same militant dispositions. Unfortunately, I believe this is an easy trap for students to fall into. A lot of music students tend to worship their teachers as heroes, and their egos are often flattered at being accepted by such a teacher. Being privy to certain so-called "privelaged information" often adds to this. If the teacher has a dismissive attitude about one or more of his peers, this is often aped by the students.

A case to point out this phenomenon is something I noticed among the students of a certain classical guitar teacher several years ago. This particular teacher was highly opinionated (And, many of his views were obviously fallacious), and I must say that I disliked him immediately when I met him. In any case, at a recital by another well known guitarist - a fabulously good recital, mind you - I overheard a couple of the aforementioned teacher's students criticising the performer. Every little technical detail they could find to criticise, they criticised: "Oh look, he repeated a right hand finger!" There was much more ridiculousness such as that. While there is nothing wrong with striving for technical mastery of an instrument, I find these kinds of attitudes counterproductive, and I think they should be discouraged. This particular teacher and his students are even critical of iconic virtuosos like Christopher Parkening! Idiocy on that level just doubles me up.

Concerning technique: First of all, the human hand comes in a wide range of dimensions and proportions, so what works for one may not work for another. Secondly, innovative performers come along from time to time who completely redefine what is possible on an instrument: Nicolo Paganini, for example. Finally, some very unorthodox performers have styles which are completely the result of their asymmetrical approach to the instrument (I'm thinking of folks like Stanley Jordan and Kaki King here). I have in my repertoire pieces by non-classical guitarists like Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, and Joe Satriani, for example, because not only are they crowd pleasers, but they are also fun to play and have extended my technique beyond the traditional classical guitarist's palette. This, in turn, has influenced my technical approach to my own compositions, which was the entire point.

Classical guitar teachers have tended to take a highly dynamic system - the human hand - and box it into a narrow range of prescribed motions while proscribing a wider range of other possibilities. Trying to over-simplify such a complex system often leads to tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome: The hand neads to be allowed to move naturally in a wide range of motions, or repetitive stress injuries can occur. You would not believe how militantly freaked out some classical guitarists get when I tell them this. It's fun to watch.


I feel fortunate to have come up through the jazz tradition first, because the teachers I was exposed to - guys like Jackie King, Herb Ellis, and Pat Martino - were much more open minded than most classical guitar teachers are (And, Jackie was a good enough classical player that he played the Bach Chaconne, so...). That is not to say there aren't plenty of open minded classical teachers and closed minded jazz teachers, but proportionally my experience has lead me to conclude that the ratio is something like 70/30 in contrary directions between the two fields.

Herb was a particularly humble and open minded guy, and I remember him saying during a class once, "I've never met a guitarist I didn't learn something from." That really struck a chord with me, and I remember the moment like it just happened, though it's been about twenty-five years now. Music in general and the guitar world in particular could use a lot more of that kind of an attitude.

My experience at Berklee was also highly rewarding because of all of the stylistic cross-pollination going on then (1980-1983). There were students from all over the world there, so it was like the United Nations of Music or something (Perhaps not a great example anymore, given the sad state of affairs at the UN today), and the teachers were likewise by and large quite open and diverse in their interests. Sure, there were some crotchety old school straight ahead jazz purists, but they were in a distinct minority.

My experiences in graduate school couldn't have been more different: It was like night and day. O rather, it was like day and night. The guitarists in the classical world tended toward anything but open mindedness, and the same was true of the composers. The real strange thing to me was the fact that the performers didn't compose and the composers didn't perform! That is still a head-shaker for me, but it does answer a lot of questions, doesn't it?

In the so-called traditional composition camp, the closed mindeness was quite militant. Tonal writing was not only frowned upon, but it was often visciously attacked. Why? Who the hell is some university composer who makes his living off of students to disuade them from writing whatever they want? Nobody, that's who. Of course, the students who are willing to buy into this militancy (and put on the kneepads) spread it virally. I use that word intentionally, because anti-tonal militancy is a sickness.

But, things are not exactly perfectly rosy in the tonal camp either. Having been intentionally shut out of the academy (for the most part), tonal composers of a traditional bent are still displaying similar closed mindedness with respect to the acceptance of jazz and popular influences (Again, not all of them, but enough that I think it is problematic) or anything resembling innovation. While the dopey denizens of dissonance in the academy have basically flushed all aspects of true music down the toilet, the tonal guys are stuck in 1850, or 1825, or 1800, or 1775, or 1725, or whatever era they wish to bury their heads in the sands of. Does the musical world really need more Baroque dances that modulate from I to V and back just like Bach's did over a quarter of a milennium ago?! Ought not there be at least some stylistic freshness to distinguish a twenty-first century composition from an eighteenth-century one? I think so, but you would be amazed by how many in the contemporary tonal camp recoil from anything more modern than the sonata process and go off shouting militantly about ars nova and other similar nonsense.

Now, I consider myself to be very conservative as a composer in some ways, and innovative in others, and I've written in styles very similar to old Baroque, but those efforts were always planned as points of departure and means to an end. There is something unique and unprecidented in most of the peices I write, or what is the point, exactly? I mean, if your goal is to write Beethoven's Tenth or Brahms' Fifth symphony, you had better be open to innovation, because Beethoven and Brahms most certainly were!


If I recall correctly, the first time I was exposed to non-equal temperaments was circa 1977 in an old issue of Guitar Player magazine. Some guy had come up with a rather ingenious magnetic system to allow for interchangable fingerboards, and with this system you could get TTET, 5-limit just, 7-limit just, &c. on a single instrument. Guitarists are still experimenting with this today, thirty years later. While I initially only found this curious (And, impractical to play), it lead me to investigate the history of tunings and temperaments.

In a nutshell, I agree with the sentiment that some expressiveness was lost with the move to TTET from the well-tempered systems such as Kirnberger III. There is no doubt but that having every key posess a slightly different character because of temperament differences can be used as an expressive resource within a composition, and composers certainly made much use of this in ages past. However, this very unequal nature is prejudicial to complete modulatory freedom: I do not want any "color considerations" involved with my modulatory plannings, because those plans are the result of purely musical considerations and I don't want my choices influenced by how in or out of tune a particular key-region is.

For modern performances and recordings of Bach or Couperin keyboard music (Et al, of course), it is obviously interesting to hear them with period temperaments... or not. I have a CD set of Bach's Die Kunst Die Fuge performed by Davitt Moroney, for example, and I find the music quite compelling in his period temperaments and on replicas of Baroque harpsichords. However, I've heard The Art of Fugue performed by everything from a piano to a string quartet, and those performances are equally valid, regardless of the presence or absense of a Baroque temperament scheme. Say that at a period instrument cocktail party sometime if you want to see musical militancy in action.

Music on the printed page is, of course, just a recipe: It can be seasoned to taste.

The person who cured me, personally, of the period instrument and period temperament phase I went through was Christopher Hogwood. He recorded a series of CD's several years ago of Beethoven's symphonies with period instruments: I listened through them once and got rid of them. How dull and small they sounded compared with the Georg Solti/Chicago DG recordings from the '80's I liked so much. Give me a modern orchestra any day.

Of course, being a guitarist I didn't experiment with alternate temperaments except as a listener, but even my listening experiences with non-equal temperaments didn't strike me as so profoundly compelling that I wished I could switch to them.

It was through my continuous hands-on work with the harmonic overtone series - first as a guitarist fiddling with harmonics and then as a Synclavier programmer working with additive and FM digital synthesis - that I finally came up with the answer to... well, just about everything musical, actually, but the "correctness" of TTET was one of those things.

The well-known Pythagorean comma is the difference between seven octaves of perfect 2:1 octaves and seven octaves (twelve intervals) of perfect 3:2 fifths. The stack o' fifths is, like, 23 cents sharp at the top. Well, since the entire idea of pitch identity revolves around octave equivalence, you can't stretch the octaves, but you can shrink the fifths. If you shrink them by 1/12 of the comma, you get... TTET. As with all solutions that involve apparent compromise, one can argue that the system is not perfect, but by what measure? If you are saying that all of the intervals are not represented by just ratios, well then fine: That's a truism. But by one measure TTET is absolutely perfect: It is absolutely perfectly equitable.

There is no favoritism - no bias - with TTET. TTET is a non-prejudiced equal-oportunity system, and it only takes the first two intervals of the harmonic overtone series to come up with the solution it represents. Like all most-perfect-solutions, it is also the simplest. I, personally, do not want the key regions within my compositions to have any extra-musical character differences imposed upon them: Since the series implies twenty-four possible major and minor tonics, and twenty-four potential regions within a single composition, I want them to all be equal in relation to each other. Only TTET can do that on fixed pitch instruments, and since fixed pitch instruments dominate most ensembles, well...

Now, you can say you prefer to use this temperament or the other, and that's fine. You can even say that one or the other of the non-equal temperaments sounds better to you and I have no problem with that either. But what you cannot say (And be anything but wrong in the abject) is that the harmonic overtone series implies that any non-equal temperament is "better" than TTET, because it simply isn't true, as I've just proven (For the umpteenth time) for all who have a mind to understand and who haven't painted themselves into a musical corner that they can only defend through militancy, and not logic.

So, the next time someone writes a book with a title like, "How ET Murdered Music" can we all agree to just b!*@#-slap him silly? If someone submits a masters or doctoral thesis like, "Resolved: ET is the Spawn of Satan", can we all just agree to laugh the retard out of the room school?

I suppose not. That would be millitant, wouldn't it?

From now on I promise that I'll just continue to be right about things musical, and I'll alow others to be wrong to their heart's content.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Militant Mediocracy in Music

With a title like that, you probably think I'm going on a (OK, "another") bash-fest targeting my usual favorite punching bags: University music departments and the Sequenza 21 commune: Well, yes and no. To be honest, this phenomenon is something I have noticed in every area of life where I have experience - not just music - but the term crystalized for me through an experience with someone on my side of the fence: A neo-Baroque composer, to be precise. Origins for the feelings that lead to this revelation (If only in my musical world) can be traced back much further, however; at least to my earliest experiences with the classical guitar community.

I suppose it's time I bloodied some noses over here anyway, so here goes.

First, let's be specific about what I mean by "mediocracy": It's kind of like "bureaucracy" - and bureaucracies are mediocracies by definition, I suppose (And vice versa) - so what I mean is this:

"... a dominant class consisting of mediocre people, or a system in which mediocrity is rewarded."

That from the dictionary native to Mac OS X. So, in other words, the patron philosopher of this class of people isn't Socrates, it's Mediocrates: They positively revel in their ordinaryness and are convinced of the unassailable superiority of it (An oxymoron if ever there was one). The militant qualifier comes into play when one of superior ability or understanding appears (Or, even only perceived superior ability and understanding): A sub-group within the mediocre majority cannot tolerate the presence of a truly talented individual, so they become militant.

"... combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause..."

This from the same Mac OS X dictionary. So then, this sub-set of people within the larger mediocre mass becomes so upset at having their fragile egos threatened (If only in a paranoid delusion) and their auto-constructed pseudo-realities challenged (Which are untenable positions in the face of simple logic) that they lash out in an illogical emotional response. This response is a reaction to the truth, mind you: A reaction to factual material that is easily verified, easily explained, and easily understood.


Seriously: I don't get it.

OK: I don't get it any longer.


My entire musical evolution has been driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. During the past thirty-odd years I've wandered down several theoretical and practical blind alleys and dead ends. I don't view these errant excursions as wastes of time or mistakes, but as inevitable explorations and learning experiences. Case in point:

I got into scales. I mean, I really got into scales. Taking the natural modal system as a point of departure, I figuread out all of the possible seven note modes that had the semitones seperated by a single whole step (The natural modal system has them seperated by two whole steps), and then all seven of the modes with the semitones adjacent to each other. Not satisfied with this, I figured out all of the modes of the so-called harmonic minor scale, and then all possibilities with two semitones and one augmented second. It gets weirder: I then took the so-called double-harmonic minor mode (Arabian mode/"Snake Charmer Scale") and got all of those modes. Then I calculated all of the other possibilities with two augmented seconds... and I harmonized them to figure out the chordal possibilities... and I wrote progressions to "jam" with using them. You get the idea: I had, like, 240 some-odd modes at the end of this project (I disqualified any that did not have a perfect fifth, which eventually lead to the collapse of the entire system, of course). This was my first year at Berklee: 1980.

For over a decade after this, I was a proponent of the school that goes, "the modes generate the harmony" and I couold argue most opponents into the dust with sheer bravado (I'm not a shy guy and I was a Texas State Finalist in Extemporaneous Speaking and on the cross-x debate team in high school). Imagine my surprise, then, when I got to the level of understanding with the harmonic overtone series that I realized just the opposite is true: The harmony generates the modes. Major learning experience. From that point on (1991), I decided to listen and evaluate to the best of my ability versus putting on the armor, grabbing the sword, and protecting myself with the shield.


Listening and evaluating is exactly what members of the militant mediocracy are unwilling and/or unable to do. The individual dolt who's militancy inspired this post - we'll call him JS because he fancies himself a spiritual descendant of Bach - is one of these guys who is of the (untenable) opinion that twelve tone equal temperament is the work of anti-musical forces and that TTET (Which I shall refer to it as henceforth) has been responsible for the decline and fall of the tonal empire. Not only that, but he is one of those hoplessly deluded individuals who believes that non-equal temperaments are superior to TTET (For fixed pitch instruments: Non-fixed pitch instruments are beyond the scope of this discussion). This is obviously false to anyone who understands the implications of the harmonic overtone series. My mistake? I tried to tell him that. And show him that. And explain it to him in terms a musically educated fifth grader could understand.

The good part? I've decided not to be involved with any online communities anymore: There's one (Or, more commonly, several) of these mediocre militants in every crowd. It is simply beneath me to deal with these willfully ignorant people anymore.


I'd rather hang out with babes who appreciate the finer things in life.

Or, drive a big ol' 4x4 pickup truck.

Or, ride a state of the art motorcycle.

Or, perhaps two state of the art motorcycles.

I have better things to do.

Much better things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Endorsements

As attentive readers can see from the sidebar, GVOX' Encore music publishing software, Godin guitars, and La Patrie guitars have been added to my endorsement role. I used all of these products long before I got the endorsement understandings worked out with the manufacturers/providers. That is the only way I would do it. I'm putting the Carlos CP-1 in the La Patrie cutaway I got, and the new version of Encore,, will be getting a review here soon (Initial impressions are good. No, great. I can now change soundfont sets from within Encore versus having to go back to QuickTime and performing a reboot, and many other new and wonderful things).

The tour is getting off the ground in March.

My new La Patrie Concert Cutaway:

My new girlfriend:

OK. That last part was an... exageration.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Interesting things are afoot, but I am in the middle of an archiving project that is decades overdue: I'm giving my manager all of my compositions so somebody will be entrusted with them. I only have thirty years of work to get to her in Encore, MIDI, and PDF format, so it shoulld only take...

Er... A "little" while.