Sunday, April 29, 2007

Writing Fugue Subjects as Canons II

The last time I posted on this topic I took the readers through the process I used to write the fugue subject for my string quartet. I posted all of the stages there, so I won't go through it all again, as it is actually quite a mechanically simple process.

That subject and its canonic stretto are at the octave, of course, but it has occured to me that a subject and an answer - either tonal or real - could be composed as a double canon. So, that is what I did here, choosing to use a tonal version of the answer.

Since my Fuga da Camera series progresses through all of the traditional chamber ensembles - string trio, wind trio, string quartet, wind quartet, string choir, wind choir, and chamber orchestra - I decided to replace the Irreducible Fugue that has been the wind quartet piece with a full-blown fugue to better balance with the magnum opus-sized string quartet fugue. The two subjects even share some of the same flavor now, and I'm tickled pink with this one.

As you can see, I used do to sol to open up the subject, so that was naturally answered tonally by sol to do. Under the sol-do progression ti to le was a natural, which yeilded fi to me in the second bar of the answer. Here's where it gets weird, as the second statement of the subject is entering at this point in the bass voice: The resulting interval is a tritone, which implies a V(4/2)/V. I really, really like this effect though, so I not only allowed for it, I actually accented it with a doubled "seventh" in the interior voice, which then progresses to the root of the sonority.

At this point, the resolution of the V/V is interrupted by an implied I(6/4) in the second half of the measure, which then finally resolves to the primary dominant acrtoss the bar line. This is a really neat effect.

The root of the dominant in measure four is trippled, which is kind of uncomon in harmony, but is no big deal in counterpoint. But it's what happens in the second half of that measure that is so interesting to me: There is a severe dissonance on the downbeat - which is not mitigated one iota by the rest in the tenor voice - that has the tonic, the leading tone, the dominant, and the natural submediant degree all competing with each other. It does not resolve to the deceptive motion at the submediant sonority until the final eighth note in the alto voice, and then only very briefly in a highly syncopated rhythmic environment. I like this kind of slippery harmony in countrapuntal textures because it adds so much color and interest.

Across the bar line into measure five we get the V(4/2)/V again, and I was thrilled to discover I could continue the dotted-eighth/sixteenth rhythm into a descending chromatic tetrachord at that point. Of course, this produced another chromatic descending tetrachord in the answer at sol, fi, fa, mi, me, re and this is where I had to make just one adjustment that broke the canon a single quarter note early: Me has to progress up to fa at the end of measure six to avoid a forbidden parallel, but it sets up the final cadences perfectly.

Baroque and probably even classical-era composers probably would not have allowed for so much unprepared ("Under Prepared"?) harmonic dissonance, but I have not broken any countrapuntal laws here, only some stylistic rules.

Remember, Counterpoint can be reduced to a single law: "Only imperfect consonances can proceed in stepwise parallel motion." All else are just rules that describe style, and therefore taste. I like how the dissonance accumulates during the first half of this phrase, and then abates gradually to a beautiful cadence at the end. And remember, this is the conclusion of the fugue, so the listener will be very familiar with the materials by this point, so it ought not be too jarring.

Another image from the golden era of commercial aviation.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

On the Desktop I

I've decided to start a new series, because one of my hobbies is collecting desktop images. Having - as I do - a spec-freaking-tacular Apple 23" Cinema HD Display, I enjoy filling it up with several megabytes worth of coolness.

Here's a photo of my monitor tonight:

This is the image resized to fit on this blog template:

The original is 6.9MB and comes from my extensive collection of downloaded Hubble images. NASA has the entire collection, if you are interested.

What kills me about this image is not so much that it is the perfect spiral galaxy with a central bar and billions of stars, but that the entire background has dozens of additional galaxies, some of which are at extreme red shifts.

In 2001, A Space Odyssey, Dave says of the obelisk, "My God: It's full of stars!"

Nice try Dave. The real expression ought to be - for every needle-point's worth of sky - is, "My GOD! It's full of galaxies!!!"

Science proves God for me. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Speaking of "Heavenly Bodies."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Fan Pix

I guess you could consider a manager a fan.



I was awaiting some other fan pix, but the chick flaked out and never e-mailed them to me.

Happens all the time.

Another thing that happens all the time is that fan pix are invariably taken when I'm playing something up-tempo and challenging, like Classical Gas, Eu So Quero Um Xodo, Spanish Fly, or A Day At The Beach. If I may make a suggestion: If you want something other than a profile, photograph during an easy piece when I have that far away, sensitive artist look happening.

Sensitive, far away looks are good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Well, Of Course: I Am A Monk, After All.

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

I believe I have read every English translation of the Bible except for the Tynedale New Testament, and most of that is in the King James, as I understand it.


I have been from San Antonio, Texas to Tucson, Arizona over the past week or so, but regular posting should resume tomorrow.

Barring any unforseen accidents...

Friday, April 13, 2007

My Presidential Endorsement Goes To...

OK, this is not a political blog. In fact, I try to scrupulously avoid politics here when I can. I've only slipped up a couple of times, but I have come to the conclusion that the only answer for The United States in 2008 is... Wes Studi.

Draft Wes!

Forget your Anglacized-Mexican-American presidential candidates like Bill Richardson; forget your Islamicized-African-American presidential candidates like Barak Obama - and, let's be honest; anybody but Hillary - You know what I want? I want a NATIVE-AMERICAN President of The United States!

Let's visit the issues, shall we?

Homeland Security.

Well, Wes is 110% Cherokee. Didn't even learn English until he entered gradeschool. Obviously, the Cherokee were all about "Homeland Security" long before Colombus... hell, before even Leif Erikson. You elect Wes, and... well, I wonder how jihadis will react to the toughest warriors The Great Spirit ever gave pairs of balls to... in full war paint... with all the modern tech they gave up their hunting grounds to produce. Dig?

The Global War on Terror.

I like Wes' odds versus the House of Sad Saud.

"I was born in Oklahoma, Sheik. My ancestors killed all of those fossils that made your oil. We want it back now."

Global Warming Climate Change.

"My ancestors repeatedly burned the middle of continental north America to clear it for buffalo and maize fields. Any more dumbass hypotheses?"

The Economy.

"The Great Spirit endowed man with the ability to trade. So, let's strike a bargain like the good capitalists that God wants us to be, OK?"

Anyway, that's my endorsement: Let's have a real American in the Whitehouse, shall we? Though, Wes might very well end up the first president in full body armor in a combat zone with a streetsweeper. I'm kinda doubting John "Ambulance Chaser" Edwards would do the same.

That's what I love about America: We piss and moan in each other's faces all the day long, but at the end of the day - and behind all of the hyphens - we're Americans. And, we ought to be able to laugh about it.

At least, I like to think so.

This message was brought to you by the Hucbald for Studi campaign.

"Hi, I'm Wes Studi and I didn't have a damned thing to do with this message!"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sometimes You Really Have to Work For It

Programming appropriate digital effects for the guitar is an art as well as a science. I've spent literally decades learning the parameters for digital reverbs, phase shifters, flangers, choruses, notch filters, &c. and I'm constantly learning new things and figuring more stuff out.

As I've mentioned before, my set is organized into suites of three to eight pieces which progress around the cycle of thirds starting on A: A minor, C major, E minor, G major, &c. all the way to B major, which is the most remote key I have organized a suite for so far. Each one of these twelve suites has a unique program in my Lexicon MPX-G2's, and the programs - I call them "virtual acoustic environments" - roughly increase in complexity and/or percieved richness of stereo depth. For example, the initial program has a mild stereo hall reverb and just a touch of pitch shift doubling, but by the time the eighth suite - A major - is reached, there are no less than five simultaneous effects at work: Dual Stereo Pitch Shift Doubling, Stereo Tremolo, Stereo Flanger, Dual Stereo Delay, and the original Stereo Hall Reverb, but at a higher mix level than way back in the first virtual acoustic environment. The mix ratios of the various effects run from 27% for the doubler and the delay to 45% for the tremolo: I have found that by using small amounts of several effects I can create vast stereo vistas that have deep psyco-acoustic effects on the listeners - myself included (And, these VAE's inspire my performance enormously) - without allowing any one effect to dominate. In fact, hardly anybody - including seasoned recording engineers - is able to tell exactly what effects I'm using, except for the general "chorus and reverb" verdicts.

Since I got my first MPX-G2 back in 1999 and have had as many as three of them at some points, I have spent hundreds of man-hours programming these VAE's: I'm constantly fiddling with them, and a couple of times a year I'll go through them all and edit them if I feel the need. As a result, these highly evolved programs are a treasure, and I can usually adapt them quickly for a new guitar. For example, there are twelve programs for my Godin Grand Concert SA guitar, and another set of twelve - just variations on Godin versions - for my La Patrie Concert Cutaway with the Carlos CP-1 High End pickup. Each one of those guitars requires different input levels, tone settings, and the acoustic La Patrie "wants" lower effects levels throughout than the electric Godin does. The problem has been the wretched, blasted fretted Glissentar with the Carlos CP-1A Professional: I could never get the blasted solid state preamp in the MPX-G2 to pull enough out of it. Note that this is not a fault with the Carlos pickup, but is a result of the semi-solid nature of the Glissentar's body: It doesn't resonate enough to produce a high output. I've struggled with this for months totalling nearly a year. Tone was great/Output was anemic.

*Fanfare* Enter the awesome Lexicon Signature 284 "All Tube Class "A" Stereo Recording Amplifier and Direct Source"... BAM! as Emeril would say. I originally got the Sig 284 for the output section: I wanted a warmer, more dynamic sound than the Bryston's were giving me. So, I was still using the G2's in stand-alone mode, and just running past the Sig's preamp... Then it hit me: "Haaaaaaay! I wonder what would happen if I switched to an MPX-1 and used the Sig's tube preamp?"


Not only is there enough gain to run the Glissentar now, but I can pull it through to the most heinous heavy metal overdrive sound on the planet!... ahem... not that I would ever do such a thing in performance (He types, laughing quietly to himself).

So, here it is, The Rig of Doom:

As an aside, you may notice that I moved this setup to a larger six space rack. That was so I could add the vent plate and regain the freer convection I had before the Baringers were added to the setup: The racks were just getting too hot without them.

Since the MPX-1 has so much less memory than the MPX=G2's do - I can"t even combine a pitch shift doubler with a chorus or flanger here *humpf* - this rack will be for the Glissentar, and my other project (Muaaaahahahahaaaa!) of an MPX-G2 running into a MESA/Boogie 20/20 "Dyna Watt All Tube Stereo EL84" power amp will be for the Godin and the La Patrie... Say, I can now have a fourth guitar, can't I? *rubbing hands together*


Some things you just know are going to be worth all the trouble they entail.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

SEIKO DM-70 Digital Metronome

Well, I got the SEIKO DM-70 I ordered, and just as I suspected, it is just a slightly enhanced version of the two DM-20's that I bought back around 1988.

As you can see, the DM-70 is marginally larger, it has a fold-out stand versus the earlier pencil hole, and it has real raised buttons now to replace the earlier plastic film version. Operation is slightly different, as you now "power" up, "select" the feature you want to adjust - tempo, beat, volume, or A 440 Hz tuning tone - and then "up & down" whichever you select. The earlier DM-20 only had "tempo" up and down, and a "beat" select that only went up (And circled back to the beginning), and that included the A 440 Hz tone in the beat list. DM-20's had no volume feature.

The LCD screen is also larger now, and there is a flashing red LED light too. I'm betting batteries won't last me seven years in this one. The list of beats is more complete now as well: There are sixteenths available with dropped elements, which might help out learning funky rhythms.

I've been using the DM-70 in my daily Modal Mastery practice, and I like it quite a lot, as I did the earlier DM-20's. Now, I have a DM unit for each guitar case/gig bag I use. One nice feature is that if you hold the up or down buttons in tempo mode, it starts to scroll in intervals of ten. It takes a bit of practice, but it soon becomes easy to just hold for a second and increase or decrease by ten. This makes mode practice a tad quicker.


Speaking of the Modal Mastery project, here is a mini progress report.

For pattern one (Playing the modes as scales straight up and down) I had the following failure points for eighth notes:

01) Ionian: Failure @ 189 BPM

02) Dorian: Failure @ 183 BPM

03) Phrygian: Failure @ 189 BPM

04) Lydian: Failure @ 193 BPM

05) Mixolydian: Failure @ 191 BPM

06) Aeolean: Failure @ 195 BPM

07) Locrian: Failure @ 193 BPM

Like I said, I'm the slowest scale player on the planet, despite having worked on them for decades. Results were similar for pattern two, which is actually an improvement because it is marginally more difficult.

PATTERN II: (Seconds 2)

01) FAILURE @ 184 BPM

02) FAILURE @ 191 BPM

03) FAILURE @ 196 BPM

04) FAILURE @ 191 BPM

05) FAILURE @ 195 BPM

06) FAILURE @ 198 BPM

07) FAILURE @ 187 BPM

Pattern three, the first of the thirds patterns, was where I experienced my first breakthrough.

PATTERN III: (Thirds 1)

01) FAILURE @ 198 BPM

02) FAILURE @ 202 BPM

03) FAILURE @ 206 BPM

04) FAILURE @ 210 BPM

05) FAILURE @ 210 BPM

06) FAILURE @ 204 BPM

07) FAILURE @ 206 BPM

Eighth notes at 210 is quite slow in the grand scheme of things, but it is better than I have ever gotten before using alternating finger tech with the right hand. I could play sixteenth notes at 160 BPM with a pick, but that is much easier.

I'm just finishing up pattern four now, and it is coming along nicely.

01) FAILURE @ 186 BPM

02) FAILURE @ 191 BPM

03) FAILURE @ 195 BPM

04) FAILURE @ 201 BPM

05) FAILURE @ 207 BPM

06) FAILURE @ 206 BPM

My goal is to get to where I can comfortably play sixteenth notes at 130 BPM, but I may simply not have the genetics to do it. Though frustrating, it proves me right, and many "teachers" wrong. I had one guy tell me he could teach a monkey to play scales fast. That may be true if the monkey has the right balance of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibre, but there is no way you can teach a man to play fast if he does not have the proper muscle fiber balance.

Sometimes I really hate being right about everything all the time.


For example...

I saw that coming.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Proper Rack Setup

One of the nice things about being in the music business for thirty years is that you have experienced and worked through almost everything: I've been a roadie, I've worked as a Synclavier programmer, and I've worked as an asistant engineer in some of the most famous recording studios in the world... plus, I've owned just a ton of guitar rack gear.

Setting up a gig rack is all about heat management, and this is especially important for a guitarist, bassist, or keyboard player who may play outdoor gigs where the ambient temperature can go above 100 degrees F (Working in the Desert Southwest as I do, I encounter this all the time). Problem is, most newbies copy what they see in recording studios via Mix magazine, or whatever. Recording studios are climate controlled environments! Therefore, the ambient temperatures therein are going to be set with keeping the amps, effects units, and computer equipment happy in mind.

So, in a climate controlled recording studio, putting the power amplifier on the bottom of the rack makes perfect sense: It won't overheat, you never need to fiddle with it, and putting preamps and other gear above the amp makes accessing them for adjustments easier. Putting the power amp on the bottom of a gigging rack is, however, idiotic.

What does heat do? It rises. If you put a big, badass, MESA/Boogie Stereo Simul-Class 2: Ninety on the bottom of your guitar rig, those eight 6L6 output tubes, three 12AX7 input tubes, and two gargantuan output transformers will bake everything above them! However, if you put the power amp on the top, the rising heat from it will actually aid the cooling of the lower units through convection: The rising hot air on the top will pull in cooler air from down below.


Here are two of my racks to demonstrate the principle:


One of the reasons that power conditioners with light modules make exactly zero sense for gig racks is because the wretched, blasted power conditioner belongs on the bottom of the balsted rack! Power conditioners - even ones like the Furman AR-1215, which has isolation transformers - generate very little heat: Putting them on the bottom gives a relatively open area for air circulation. Just above the Furman units I have my Lexicon MPX-G2's, which I use in stand-alone mode as the preamps and effects units. These generate a significant amount of heat, they are very deep units, and they have a vent on the top - about six inches back - which should never be blocked by a unit above them. I usually recommend an open space above Lexicon MPX units, but the Beheringer Racktuner generates almost no heat (I let one run twenty-four hours with the lights on, and there was a barely noticable warm spot above the internal power supply), and it is only four inches deep, so the Lexicon's vent is not blocked. Basically, the Behringer is almost as good as an empty space.

Then, the amps are on the top. The top rack is my day-to-day dinner club/backround music rig. The Bryston 2B-LP there is a single space, sixty watt per channel unit, and the heat sinks are on the front, outside of the rack. Nonetheless, it has some upper vents that need to breathe on the top a few inches back, and it can get so hot the sinks will burn your fingers if you try to hold onto them. Nice thing about the SBK racks I use is that they are light as a feather, rugged beyond belief, and they have about an inch of space all around the gear: The rack "breathes" perfectly.

The lower rack is my high end gig rack with the incredible Lexicon Signature 284 All Tube Class "A" Stereo Recording Amplifier and Direct Source: Its +4 db direct outs allow me to plug its pristine class A EL84 output right into the house PA. Yeah, it rocks.

Not pictured here is my large venue outdoor rig, which is the same except it is six spaces to accomodate a Bryston 3B-NPB in the top slot. That amp has massive heat sinks on the inside of the rack, so it really needs to breathe. Setting the rack up with convection cooling in mind makes it relatively compact, and allows me to play folk festivals and whatnot out in the heat with noooooo problemo.

So, don't ever set up a gig rack like a studio rack, OK?


BTW: You can easily see how the Behringers will light up a dark stage.

Cool, huh?


Think she's really afraid of the dark? Me neither.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Behringer BTR2000 Racktuner: Swiss Army Device

It's a tuner, it's a rack light, it's a metronome, it's an A/B box... and it's only $59.00!


I don't do a lot of gear reviews here, but this unit deserves a little of my time. For quite a while I've wanted a rack mount tuner, but none of the devices I was aware of could calibrate A to 432 Hz, which is the philosophical pitch I tune to. The Korg units only go qown to 438 Hz, and the lowest any of the others got to was a frustratingly close 435 Hz. Well, the Behringer calibrates down to 428 Hz, so, Bingo! "But, there's more!" as the old Ronco ads went.

Not only does the tuner calibrate A anywhere from 428 to 448 Hz, but it also will transpose any of those calibrations within a seven semitone range. You can also set it up to be a chromatic tuner, a guitar tuner, or you can set it to any one of several open tunings. There is also a Fine/Coarse sensitivity selector, and the unit has a built in microphone for acoustic instruments.

Beyond the tuner, however, the unit is also an LED rack light which has four elements, and so is quite effective at illuminating lower gear as well as the stage floor (Which is what I like rack lights for: Bad things can happen on dark stages). Then, it also has a built-in metronome which ranges from 30 to 240 BPM, which is right in the range I need to do my slow-play work with pieces, as well as the Modal Mastery series. Sweet.

The best of the fringe benefits is, however, without a doubt, the input selector feature. The rear panel has two inputs, and a simple button on the front toggles between them. I have been wanting an A/B device so that I can have both the Godin and the La Patrie plugged in at the same time - just picking up the other axe and pressing a button will make for much smoother transitions than unplugging/plugging in the other guitar would - and use whichever guitar is most effective for each suite. Now, I can do that.

Best of all though? It's only $59.00! Three Jacksons, threescore buckaroos!!! I got the one and loved it, so I ordered two more for my other rack systems.

As far as performance goes, it is slower than the Korg rack unit I used to use, but it also does not cost a couple of hundred dollars. It seems to work better on the coarse setting, and the calibration to 432 Hz matches up with my Korg hand helds perfectly well. Since the buttons have both quick punch/slow hold functions, the unit is complex enough that you neet to "RTFM" (Read The F'in Manual), but once you suss out the logic, it is consistant, and so the unit is very easy to use.


Instead of calling it the BTR2000, I think it ought to be the HAL9000.

"I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that."


I used to love flying. Now, I hate it.