Wednesday, May 30, 2007

This is WAY Cool: Surface Computing

I've known something like this was coming since the Star Trek The Next Generation show first came on back in the late 80's. You know how they have all of those "control surfaces" for interacting with the systems aboard The Enterprise?

Well, check this out:

Imagine an environment in which you can walk up to any table or wall and interact with it.

UPDATE: Imagine the implications of this technology for music! One of the problems with GUI/mouse interfaces between a musician and a computer is that they are rather user hostile. I use a trackball, which is much better than a mouse, but still, the interface is rather anti-musical. The best interface ever between a musician and a computer I've ever experienced was on my old Synclavier: There were 128 labeled buttons, and you would just select the one you wanted, and turn the master control knob if it was an adjustable parameter. This would be lightyears better than even that system. The surface could be configured to be whatever you wanted - including a musical keyboard (!) - and then you would have a truely musical and tactile connection with your computer.

I want one.

Far out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fun With Ancestry Part II: Emperor Huckleberry the Bald

The last post was just a warm-up for this one, as we are going back over forty-five generations this time. In order to make the final historical personage a multiple of five generations back, I have started this tree with my grandfather, Hobart Garrett Pepper Sr.

Exhibit A:

So, from my grandfather we are still going through my great-great-grandmother, Lucinda Jett Pepper, only this time the branch of interest on the right runs through Sarah Smith.

Exhibit B:

From Sarah Smith we go to Joshua Holcomb on the lower right. If you ever get to a Holcomb in your family tree, follow that branch: Holcomb is an ancient and prominent family and in a few generations you'll meet some very interesting people.

Exhibit C:

Here, we're just following the Holcomb's back from Joshua to Thomas the elder. Note that it is Thomas the younger who came to the colonies around the 1630's.

Exhibit D:

We're still following the well-documented Holcomb's back here, and note that John on the right lived before the discovery of the new world!

Exhibit E:

Here, we break off from the noble Holcombes to go through the maternal line to an even more royal name. In the middle of the maternal line on the right is... William Plantagenet! You connect to a Plantagenet and you can trace your line all the way back to ancient Rome if you want to. Notice also that Matilda The Empress is on the bottom of the maternal line. Nice.

Exhibit F:

William's line is perfectly documented: Not a blank box in it. This line has almost nothing but great people in it: Matilda the Empress Leads to Henry I "Beauclerc" to William the Conqueror, arguably the most influential invader in English history (1066 Battle of Hastings).

Through Matilda of Scotland we get back to Duncan I of Scotland, who Shakespeare had murdered in his sleep by Macbeth (Though, the historical Duncan died fairly young and was never the elderly man Shakespeare portrayed).

Note "Fulk the Rude": I love that.

The connection of interest on this page, however, is William's father Robert I Duke of Normandy.

Exhibit G:

This page is remarkably complete for the time as well, though Herbastus of Crepon seems to have married a commoner. Though Robert the first's bloodline has some interesting persons in it, this page is solely for the connection to Matilda, Countess of Ringleheim, who was the wife of Heinrich I. Note that we are now in the first millennium. Too cool.

Exhibit H:

Note that Matilda lived for ninety years. Quite a feat for that time period. She is also, already at this early time period, of quite pure royal blood. We're going to follow her mother Ludmilla's line back to Lothair I Emperor of the Occident.

Exhibit I:

This is too cool: Lothaire's father was Louis I "The Pious" Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and his grandfather is Charles the Great, more commonly known as Charlemagne. Then, through Pepin of the Franks we get to... Charles Martel, aka Charles the Hammer who saved Christendom from the invading Moslems. Charles and Pepin's relationship was sent up in the ribald play "Pipin" which I've seen several times and love.

Charlemagne was into family trees too:

That's Charles on the lower left: "Carolus magnus imperator." Unfortunately, the photo is archived with no annotations and I can't make out the rest of the names clearly.

Here's Charles "The Hammer" Martel at the Battle of Tours as painted by Steuben:

As I said, I traced one of my lines all the way back to ancient Rome through these royals, to a Senator and then a Consul. If you look at history as coming in chunks - the ancient roman period totally disconnected from the Frankish kings &c. you're not getting it. Governments rise and fall but some prominent families continue on for millennia through various connections. Those high born ancient Romans lead to the royal families which still survive today!

I find this stuff absolutely enthralling.


Sorry about the light to nil music blogging, but I'm reprogramming one of my performance rigs, and explaining how cool a new flange-through-phase effect I came up with probably wouldn't be any fun to blog about.


I'm sure these trees have thousands of "spicy stories" in them.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fun With Ancestry Part I: Hucbald de Medici

Probably the greatest timewaster ever - as well as the most fun - is in my humble opinion

I've always known I had royal blood in me, because my mom has always said that I am a royal pain in the ass. Now I have proof.

Exhibit A:

On the left hand side is my father, Hobart Garrett Pepper Jr. The key connection is to Lucinda Jett Pepper, my great-great-great-grandmother on the right hand side.

Exhibit B:

Here, we are connecting Lucinda Jett Pepper to William Allen on the lower right hand tree. Follow?

Exhibit C:

Here, we connect William Allen to... Veronica Medici. Veronica lived and died in Italy (She died during childbirth, judging from her death date and her son's birth date), but her widower husband and son came to New Amsterdam, i.e. New York, in the 1600's.

Exhibit D:

Here, we have Veronica Medici to Piero de Medici, the son of Lorenzo "Il Magnifico" de Medici. Now, one of the cool things about is that a lot of scholarly research is already there in the form of a OneWorld Tree. Whenever you get into a part of that, you just graft it on. So, the three unnamed generations are not my guess, but what scholars have decided is the case.

Exhibit E:

Here we have Piero through Lorenzo and all the way back to Giovanni "Di Bici" Medici, who is the founder of the Medici golden age.

Here's Lorenzo The Magnificent:

Definite family resemblance.

Now, where's my inheritance?

There used to be a magazine that chronicled the life of my family, obviously.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

High in "The List of Things One Does NOT Want to See in The Shower"

I guess number one might be a psycopath weilding a meat cleaver, but a close second would have to be what greeted me getting out of the shower yesterday: A tarantula about four inches across. Now, don't get me wrong, I love to see tarantulas and even snakes outside, but being wet - and naked - makes encountering a tarantula on the floor of one's bathroom a bit... disconcerting. My exact exclamation was, "Holy s#!*!!!" I darned near stepped on the thing.

We have lot's of nasty, bitey things out here in the high desert chaparral: Black Widdow and Brown Recluse spiders (A neighbor lady was killed by a brown recluse a few years back), several species of Scorpions (I've found those in my home as well), and, of course, the notorious Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Which is why, for example, I always shake my boots before I put them on. Weird stuff has come out of those boots over the years... but there's just something about huge, furry spiders on the bathroom floor three inches from my toesies that... I. don't. like. A size 11 Nike took care of the unwelcome intruder.

You would not believe what comes out of a spider that big when you mash it with a shoe. Gag, retch. *shudder*


Another thing apropos of nothing even vaguely musical...

I've been hitting the old Bowflex really hard recently. You know the adverts: "Twenty minutes a day, three times a week." Well, try 140 minutes a day, four times a week. I've added over four inches to my chest! I lacked one attachment for the old Power Pro: The Squat Attachment, so I picked one up on eBay. One of my friends is a pretty serious body builder, and he always says, "There's nothing like squats: The best single exercise you can do." Boy, howdy. Even though I have been doing 400 pound leg presses, the squats are kicking my ass. Literally: My glutes are killing me, and so are my hams. The Squat Attachment also allows for real bench presses, and my pecks are sore as hell too.

What's that Marine saying? "Pain is the sensation of weakness leaving the body." No kidding.

Actually, I guess this is apropos of something musical, as I view strength training as an integral part of my playing and performing. I do a lot of forward and reverse wrist curls to strengthen my forearms, and that has helped my playing significantly: The forearms get a massive workout during a two hour set, and strengthining them makes playing less of an effort, and improves endurance as well. Then there is the on-stage confidence factor. Being in shape really helps with the stage presence "thing."


And, well, there are other reasons to stay in shape.

Monday, May 21, 2007

This is Pluperfect: I'm Franz Joseph Haydn

You scored as Haydn. You will go far by staying close by, instead of using your energy to climb the ladder of success. You are content to live in a small but dignified world, and you thrive in it.









Hector Berlioz








J.S. Bach










Which classical composer are you?
created with

I love Haydn, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the subtlety of his work. He has - due in no small part to his extraordinarily long career - more depth, breadth, and even humor than Mozart. Of course, Mozart was the most complete genius of all composers, but he died too soon: Haydn was killer in his mid-forties and fifties. Mozart - tragically for him and for us - never saw those years.


Found a new American Popular Art archive. Never heard of Baz before, but I like his work.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On the Desktop II

Tonight's desktop:

This is a backlit shot of Saturn with the planet between the Cassini spacecraft and the sun. Yes, yes: That's Vince Vaughn and I'm watching The Break-Up. You got a problem with that?

Here's a slightly cropped version of the JPG sized to fit the blog template. The disc is not the planet, obviously, but rather a filter that the camera can shoot through or around. Here, it is set to be the size of the planet in the photo field so that the rings are brought into sharper relief. Just outside of the main ring disk, and before the first of the two fainter rings, on the upper left, is a small white dot (Which is blue in the 2000x1000+ pixel original): That is the earth!

I live stuff like that.

Hat tip to my friend and fellow Texas blogger John L from Texas' Best Grok for turning me onto this awesome image.

I distinctly remember, as a young boy of about four or five, finding this image to be especially... ah... interesting. I wasn't sure why, exactly, but every time I saw this on a billboard or in a magazine I paid 100% attention to it. While most little boys my age then thought girls had cooties, I was beginning to think differently about the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Modal Mastery: Progress Report I

For reference, here are the previous posts in their entirety:



Back in my rock and roll days I went through a phase during which I spent several hours per day playing scales. In fact, I spent so much time on mindless scale exercises that it became a hindrance to other aspects of my musical development. This poisoned my outlook so much that when I switched to traditional guitar, I vowed never to waste so much time on scales again. Well, never say never: I've recently been running into some technical limitations with respect to single line playing, and there is no way around the problem other than to put in a lot of time playing scales with a metronome. It's not so much velocity I'm after (I have a ridiculously slow natural maximum, so that would be fruitless anyway), but strength and solidity. Scales can give you that like nothing else.


One of the nice things about being a mature musician is that you know how to practice smart, versus just practicing hard: Having been through the scale work before with plectrum technique, I know exactly what I need to do with alternating finger technique to get the desired results in the least amount of time. What you have to do is break the elements down and go through the permutations in the most efficient manner possible.

For the modes, there are the seven basic two-octave forms - those things are constant between plectrum and finger-style techniques. The right hand is exactly twice as complicated with finger-style technique though: Instead of having just upstroke and downstroke beginnings to deal with, there is rest stroke, free stroke, starting with i, and starting with m. With twenty-eight basic variants to deal with, you can easily see that getting bogged down is a real danger.

In order to avoid getting hopelessly mired in endless variations, it is necessary to combine the permutations into a single routine. The first step - the preliminary phase - is to make sure you have the seven two-octave in-position mode forms securely under your fingers.


These are the forms I'll be using. You should get to the point where you can comfortably and effortlessly play through these seven mode forms at 120 BPM (As though this page was a piece of music) before proceeding.


Once you have the forms under your fingers, then it is seven short 90 minute sessions to basic competence. Doing one of the forms per day ought to be no problem for even time-starved players. Here is the schedule:

DAY 1:

Form I: Ionian

01) Play from position IX to position I and back using rest stroke starting with i at 120 BPM.

02) Play from position IX to position I and back using rest stroke starting with m at 110 BPM.

03) Play from position IX to position I and back using free stroke starting with i at 100 BPM.

04) Play from position IX to position I and back using free stroke starting with m at 90 BPM.

Here, you can see that I have combined metronome work on a single mode form with all four right hand permutations. This is the basic pattern, which we will now repeat.


05) Play 01 at 80 BPM.

06) Play 02 at 70 BPM.

07) Play 03 at 60 BPM.

08) Play 04 at 50 BPM


Now, we will start to accelerate back to 120 BPM and beyond. Remember to allow only one finger on the fretboard at a time. The reason for this will becaome apparent when we start playing patterns in step two.

09) Play 01 at 40 BPM

10) Play 02 at 50 BPM.

11) Play 03 at 60 BPM.

12) Play 04 at 70 BPM.


13) Play 01 at 80 BPM.

14) Play 02 at 90 BPM.

15) Play 03 at 100 BPM.

16) Play 04 at 110 BPM.


Now we are right back exactly where we started from.

17) Play 01 at 120 BPM.

18) Play 02 at 130 BPM.

19) Play 03 at 140 BPM.

20) Play 04 at 150 BPM.


I knew going in that my maximum comfortable velocity was circa 180 BPM, so at this point I start proceeding by increments of 5 BPM.

21) Play 01 at 160 BPM.

22) Play 02 at 165 BPM.

23) Play 03 at 170 BPM.

24) Play 04 at 175 BPM.


And at this point I start increments of 2 BPM.

25) Play 01 at 180 BPM.

26) Play 02 at 182 BPM.

27) Play 03 at 184 BPM.

28) Play 04 at 186 BPM.


My goal for this series was to be able to comfortably play eighth notes at 190 BPM (By day seven), so from here I proceed in increments of a single BPM. Depending on your natural maximum velocity - I have the slowest maximum of any guitarist I've ever heard of - you'll start slowing at whatever is 30 BPM below your natural max.

29) Play 01 at 187 BPM.

30) Play 02 at 188 BPM

31) Play 03 at 189 BPM.

32) Play 04 at 190 BPM.


I started this project about ten days ago, so I'm well into the second phase now. During this first phase I kept a diary, and my failure point when I started was 184-186 BPM. By the time I finished I had increased that to 192-194 BPM, which is positively screaming for me.

One thing to keep in mind is that natural maximum velocities are genetic: If you are slow, there really isn't much you can do about it. These maximums vary not only by individual, but - as a percentage - by race as well. I'm a Caucasian of northern and western European ancestry, and we - as a group - tend to possess the lowest natural maximum velocities. Southern and eastern Europeans are by and large faster, and the negroid races posess the quickest velocities of all. There are always exceptions of course, but Paganini and Liszt were both southern/eastern Europeans, and I can think of no transcendental virtuosos who were northern/western Europeans. Al Dimeola, Paco DeLucia et al would tend to confirm this, but Ingwie Malmsteen seems to be an exception. Then there are people like Andre Watts and Stanley Clarke, who effortlessly reel off impossibly fast and smooth linear passages that also require incredible strength. It isn't fair, I tell you, but it is reality.

I learned about this years ago when I was a runner, by the way: There are two general types of muscle fibre - fast twitch and slow twitch - and they can function in two possible ways - aerobically or anerobically. Fast twitch anarobic guys become world class sprinters, while slow twitch aerobic guys become marathon runners. The perfectly balanced kick ass at about 10K.

I have all slow twitch aerobic muscle fibre, so I can run forever, but at a snail's pace. That translates perfectly to the guitar for me: I can jam for ten hours, but I can play no fast licks. I was much faster with a plectrum, but the slowness of my baseline - and everybody's baseline "speed limit" -is manifested in rapid alternating movements like fingers, arms, and legs going back and forth.

The idea here is simply to minimize my weakness in the area of single line playing as much as I can, not to join Paco DeLucia, Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin (Another exception) to form a quartet of Guitar Monsters.

BTW: If you have a lower natural max than I do, I'd really like you to contact me. I'm convinced that I'm the slowest guitarist in history. There ought to be an award for that!


A reward like that would do nicely.



This regimen is divided up into six week chunks (Though, I hardly ever manage to do a form every day), so the basic competence stage is really just the first seven days of this six week series addressing second and third intervallic patterns through the mode forms. It just so happens that playing the mode forms linearly is the first "pattern."

I really have no idea what classical guitar teachers do with scales in terms of pedagogy - I had a classical guitar teacher give me the position-shifting "Segovia Scales" once and I realized they were illogical, so I blew them off - but what I developed through this method was the ability to improvise modally like Al Di Meola and Paco DeLucia do: That is the goal here. In other words, the idea isn't to have as a goal only the technical ability to play linear passages in composed pieces solidly, but to master the mode forms by applying patterns to them so that one can improvide lines in any modal form. A higher musical goal, IMO.

Also, if you go through this series you will have developed an integral view of the entire fretboard in your head, which as a composer of music for the guitar, I find to be indespensible. Those goofy Segovia Scales won't do that for you.

Here are the first two weeks' patterns:

And the next three weeks worth:

As you can see, there is a logical and systematic pattern developing here. I actually copped these patterns from real Al Di Meola licks and just organized them into a systematic modal exercise series, so these patterns are really the basic building blocks of that kind of an improvisational style (I'm sure Al - I call him "Al" because I've met him before - practiced patterns just like this). Remember, I came up with this when I was a twenty year old student at Berklee playing with plectrum technique. I got plenty fast doing this too.

Now, these patterns are a lot longer than just playing straight through the mode forms, so the system will have to be foreshortened to keep to the ninety minute per day goal. This is quite easy to do. To cut the system in half, all you have to do is play up the pattern in one position, and down the pattern in the next higher or lower position (Depending on whether you are working up or down the neck). To cut it in half yet again (Which will end up being just 25% of the original system) we will be playing down the fingerboard at one metronome setting/using one right hand fingering variation and then up using the next lower or higher metronome setting and the next right hand fingering permutation. So, in actual point of fact, these patterns will take less time to play through (I did two mode forms of pattern one today).

At some point here you will reach critical mass, and you will break through and get close to your natural trained maximum velocity - when I did this with plectrum technique I reached that point going through pattern two here - and that is a great feeling. Already during this project I've gotten from 184 BPM to 196 BPM, so it's coming, but I'm not there... not quite yet.


In honor of St. Patrick's day I give you the most gorgeous example of Irish colleen in recorded history:

The Quiet Man is, like, my favorite John Wayne movie of all... for some reason.



Though it took more than six weeks - life has a tendency to intrude on every plan of man - I have now finished up the second and third patterns starting with the lineal scalar pattern and ending with the modal thirteenth arpeggios. Though the effects of this practice routine are cumulative, the results are not linear. In addition, some of these patterns I have more experience with than others since I developed this system over the course of some years.


WEEK 1: Pattern= Seconds 1 (Linear)

Day 1: Ionian Mode Form/Failure @ 190 BPM

Day 2: Dorian Mode Form/Failure @ 184 BPM

Day 3: Phrygian Mode Form/Failure @ 190 BPM

Day 4: Lydian Mode Form/Failure @ 194 BPM

Day 5: Mixolydian Mode Form/Failure @ 192 BPM

Day 6: Aeolean Mode Form/Failure @ 196 BPM

Day 7: Locrian Mode Form/Failure @ 194 BPM


WEEK 2: Pattern= Seconds 2

Day 1: Ionian Mode Form/Failure @ 184 BPM

Day 2: Dorian Mode Form/Failure @ 191 BPM

Day 3: Phrygian Mode Form/Failure @ 196 BPM

Day 4: Lydian Mode Form/Failure @ 191 BPM

Day 5: Mixolydian Mode Form/Failure @ 195 BPM

Day 6: Aeolean Mode Form/Failure @ 198 BPM

Day 7: Locrian Mode Form/Failure @ 187 BPM


WEEK 3: Pattern= Thirds 1

Day 1: Ionian Mode Form/Failure @ 198 BPM

Day 2: Dorian Mode Form/Failure @ 202 BPM

Day 3: Phrygian Mode Form/Failure @ 206 BPM

Day 4: Lydian Mode Form/Failure @ 210 BPM

Day 5: Mixolydian Mode Form/Failure @ 210 BPM

Day 6: Aeolean Mode Form/Failure @ 204 BPM

Day 7: Locrian Mode Form/Failure @ 206 BPM


WEEK 4: Pattern= Thirds 2

Day 1: Ionian Mode Form/Failure @ 186 BPM

Day 2: Dorian Mode Form/Failure @ 191 BPM

Day 3: Phrygian Mode Form/Failure @ 195 BPM

Day 4: Lydian Mode Form/Failure @ 201 BPM

Day 5: Mixolydian Mode Form/Failure @ 207 BPM

Day 6: Aeolean Mode Form/Failure @ 206 BPM

Day 7: Locrian Mode Form/Failure @ 199 BPM


This next pattern is one that I have not really done before, so I had to start from scratch with it. These are the kinds of numbers you can expect if you are doing these for the first time. Note that once I had internalized the pattern's paradigm, I was back in my natural maximum velocity range within the week.

WEEK 5: Pattern= Thirds 3

Day 1: Ionian Mode Form/Failure @ 130 BPM

Day 2: Dorian Mode Form/Failure @ 155 BPM

Day 3: Phrygian Mode Form/Failure @ 170 BPM

Day 4: Lydian Mode Form/Failure @ 180 BPM

Day 5: Mixolydian Mode Form/Failure @ 190 BPM

Day 6: Aeolean Mode Form/Failure @ 185 BPM

Day 7: Locrian Mode Form/Failure @ 190 BPM


Though marginally more difficult than the initial lineal scalar pattern, these modal thirteenth arpeggios give some indication of where I have progressed to: I can now play the modes as scales at circa 220 BPM, which is a nice tick up from the original 196 BPM wall I was running up against. What these numbers don't show is the increased solidity of my playing and the added confidence I have now during performances. This has been a very worthwhile project.

WEEK 6: Pattern= Thirds 4 (Thirteenth Arpeggios)

Day 1: Ionian Mode Form/Failure @ 180 BPM

Day 2: Dorian Mode Form/Failure @ 200 BPM

Day 3: Phrygian Mode Form/Failure @ 200 BPM

Day 4: Lydian Mode Form/Failure @ 180 BPM

Day 5: Mixolydian Mode Form/Failure @ 210 BPM

Day 6: Aeolean Mode Form/Failure @ 220 BPM

Day 7: Locrian Mode Form/Failure @ 220 BPM


I'm going to take a few weeks off from this to learn some new compositions I've written, and then I'll tackle the fourth and fifth patterns. Those are quite difficult.

This is something you only have to go through once if you do it right, and then there are maintenance patterns which are much more integral. I'll present those after I've done sixths and sevenths, which is as far as I plan to go with this.

Spring cleaning time at The Monastery of Huckleberry The Bald.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fan Pix II

The gig at El Ojito Springs went well. I didn't play "brilliantly" but the performance had some high points, including the best rendition of Joe Satriani's A Day at the Beach that I've ever managed. There were lots of events around town so the audience was sparce, but... we had twice as many people as last time! (Inside joke)...

It was 101 degrees Friday afternoon in Tucson, so I eschewed the suit for casual and comfy clothes.


Didn't meet and cute female artists, but my manager did take me to her office to meet her partners and staff... all female partners and staff. The estrogen level in there was positively intoxicating.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Eventide Eclipse 3.0 Harmonizer/Multi-Effects Unit


I have been a fan of Eventide's harmonizers and other effects since the 1980's, but their units have always been either too expensive or too large to put into one of my performance racks. As a result, I considered them to be a luxury that I could only use in a recording studio. Well, with the advent of their new Eclipse 3.0 that has now changed.

Not only is the unit in a 1U rack configuration - Eventide's first harmonizer in such a small package - but it is also set up with live performance in mind. And, not only does it have their famous harmonizer effects, but reverbs, delays, phasers, flangers, &c. as well (All of which I use, by the way), and, most importantly, it has MIDI and footswitch control inputs so that programs can be recalled quickly during live performance. This is really good news.

The Lexicon MPX-G2's that I've used for over five years now have been long discontinued, and though they are still supported, that will end in time, and the current MPX-1 is simply not a suitable replacement. Not only does the MPX-1 not have as much memory, but it also does not allow for effects side chains, which are crucial for the virtual acoustic environments I program. With two DSP's and up to eight voices of pitch shift effects, the Eclipse ought to be just the ticket for the new performance rigs I'm putting together.

Though the retail price is a gulp-inducing $2,995.00, it seems that the "street price" is about $1K less. This I can manage with some time and planning.

I have been looking for a "third way" for several months now, and I found the Eclipse in a Guitar Player product review. It sounds like an amazing piece of gear - and I love learning to program new effects units - so this ought to be something to look forward to.

Stay tuned.


I'm leaving town for a few days to play a gig in Tucson, so I'll be back to posting next week. The venue, El Ojito Springs, is not only a performance space, but an art gallery as well...

So, you never know.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ricercare for Wind Quartet II: v1.0

One of the most useful work patterns I developed during my years as a student is what I call the hand-in mission priority paradigm. That's just an over-the-top way of saying, when you have an assignment to compose a piece, get a version that you can hand in finished first, and then worry about making a work of art out of the thing. If you are a composition student at a conservatory or in a college music program, there is no better advice available to you than that. To put a finer point on it, blunderbuss your way through the thing like a bull in a china closet first, and worry about being artsy-fartsy later.

Most of the seven fugal pieces in my Fuga da Camera suite started out as student works. A few of them found their final forms during the assignment period, but some of them took over a decade to reach their final, definitive, pluperfect forms. The single greatest cause of failure for aspiring composers (Assuming the presence of natural, intuitive musical talent) is lack of patience - and you simply can't be satisfied until you know a piece is perfect - but the second must common failure is not getting an initial working version "happening." Just going through the process of getting a beginning-to-end version workable makes one familiar enough with the material to the point where you can begin to sense what form the final piece "wants" to take on.

This is true with ALL composers, by the way: Mozart's notebooks from the time he took counterpoint lessons with Padre Giambattista Martini are full of abamdoned fugues that maestro Martini was able to complete quite masterfully. Of course, Beethoven's sketchbooks are repleat with examples of musical childbirth pangs spanning decades. The slow movement of the Fifth Symphony being a prime example of a sketch that transmogrified from a pedestrian idea to a sublime musical utterance over the course of some several years of work.

So, what we have here today is the initial hand-in version - or v1.0 in today's parlance - that I wrote during a thirty-some-odd hour marathon (I really hate it when I do that, but even thinking about trying to sleep is a joke when I'm "possessed by the muse.") that I went through over the past couple of days. It is basically improvised, as I just let one thing organically lead to another, but I guess you'd have to say it's actually extemporized, since I didn't create it in real time.

The MP3 and PDF files, as per usual, are on my .Mac Downloads Page if you want to take a look/listen.


Here's the updated exposition:

This is the same as before, except that I added rests in place of the earlier articulation marks.


In the first episode I use the primary countersubject's pattern in the bass, and the tail of the subject in the lead. There is only one free voice with the Clarinet. The modulation is rather startling as it goes to the relative major of the dominant region, but this sets up the increasingly closer strettos I want to present.

Starting at measure twenty-five, we are in B-flat major, and the answer comes in three measures after the subject. The major mode allows for simpler modal versions of the answers, so I am actually thinking about having the entire piece in the major mode, with the minor mode offered as contrast. Note that I modified the tail of the subject and answer to eliminate the descending chromatic tetrachord in the major mode versions of the subject and answer.

These major mode passages are strikingly beautiful to me - which is one of the reasons that this may end up a major key piece - and as Mahler said, "Interesting is easy: Beautiful is difficult." The entrance of the answer on a unison is so subtle and yet sweet. Hard to describe; you'll have to listen to the mp3.

In measure thirty I introduce a straight quarter-note free voice. These are very effective in textures in which the thematic material is highly syncopated. I'll continue with this.

In measure thirty-four I set up the first in a series of "deceptive motions" that allow for, 1) The modulations to proceed by descending thirds, and 2) Me to avoid the necessity of composing a bunch of pesky episodes, which is where I spend most of my time in fugal works: Episodes make or break the piece usually, and they had better kick holy ass. Like I say, I'll get all artsy with this thing later.


I decided right here that I was going to alternate between major and minor mode thematic statements, and also that the minor mode statements were going to be episodic in nature: No strettos, just a setup for the next major mode middle entries. I also discovered here that. 1) A chromatic descending tetrachord works against the head of the subject, and 2) So does the head of Bach's Die Kunst Der Fuge subject (In diminution), which you can see in the free voice in measure thirty-seven. Hey, I try to give a hat-tip when I can.

The deceptive motion from measure thirty-nine leads the piece to E-flat major, and here I present the closer subject-against-subject stretto that is two measures distant. Another very pretty passage with the flute's descending quarter-note line over the bass' countersubject fractal working gorgeously.

As this phrase ends. I introduce a leading tone at the end of the second subject's tail to arrive back at C-minor in measure forty-seven. This sets up the final major mode stretto in A-flat major.


Here is the subject-against-answer stretto at one measure of distance. Quite lovely, and the main countersubject's fractal element still works - and has for every middle entry stretto - which never ceases to amaze me. I think a lot of fugal writing consists of happy accidents that composers simply notice will work. Bach and Mozart become more and more human when you start to figure that out. The whole game is to become familiar enough with the material that you can present the coolest possibilities in the best possible light. This is the completion of but the first step. Next, I'm going to write out a major mode exposition and double canonic stretto, and then I'll tackle inversions of them. After that, it will be time to look at augmentions, diminutions, and combinations of all the aforementioned. Like I say: This will be my passtime for the rest of the year.

Finally, notice that from measure fifty-seven to measure fifty-eight I use a true "deceptive resolution": I treat the dominant as a subV, or a German Auegmnted Sixth, in the trad lingo. Here I'm able to present the subject - versus the answer - in a four voice texture for the very first time. This leads to a repeat of the original episode a whole step higher, which lands us back at the tonic for the concluding double harmonic stretto.


Here is the original double canonic stretto, only now it's dovetailed with the rest of the voices. I don't like this. It is just a temporary solution. I need to write an episode that ends on a dramatic half-cadence - like I did in the String Quartet Fugue in F Minor - to introduce this with the appropriate fanfare. However, "I ain't gonna worry 'bout no episodes fer just a spell yet."

We're at seventy-five measures and 4:24 here already, and I'm expecting the final piece to be at least twice as long.


Ever notice that French and American colors are the same? Americans say "red (blood), white (purity), and blue (honor)" while the French say "blue, white and red." I was going to write that in French - along with the equality and fraternity credo - but I'm rusty enough that I'd most likely embarrass myself. I haven't been to France since 1983 and the last French language course I took was in *gulp* 1993.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ricercare for Wind Quartet I

Well, the double canon between the subject and tonal answer that I wrote out a couple of posts back - the conclusion of this Ricercare - now has an exposition for the beginning. This is going to be a freer ricercare versus a more staid fugue for reasons which will become obvious shortly.

Just to review, here's the double canonic stretto that will conclude the piece (There may yet be a coda after this, but this is the recapitulation):

The double canon between the subject and tonal answer is easily seen.


And now, here is the exposition:

First of all, sorry about the clefs and concert pitch score for all of you traditionalists out there, but I'm a guitarist, which means I can read three more clefs than most guitarists can (LOL!), but transposing is just a bit beyond the pale. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is not transposing in MIDI (With the exception of octaves, of course).

Then note that I'm using a piccolo and an english horn: The pungent low register of the oboe was just killing the piccolo (I have an amazingly good Symphony Hall soundfont set), so I used the clearer EH there. I may also use an alto clarinet in E-flat later in the piece. In fact, I may have the players all use auxilliary instruments at various points during the piece, including a contrabassoon. Fugal works for four or more voices have a lot of three-part writing, so there will be plenty of long rest periods during which the players can switch instruments. The material is developing out so transcendentally well that this may be the first fugal work I write that comes in at over ten minutes in duration: It just has magnum opus written all over it.


The subject is a desireable odd number of measures in length at five, and the answer is tonal for only the first measure - the rest of it is real. Without a doubt the most amazing thing about this exposition is that the main counter-answer that the clarinet has and the main counter-subject that the piccolo gets afterward are exactly the same except for the accidentals! In the counter-answer, the middle three measures have the necessary accidentals to put the phrase in the dominant region, while in the following counter-subject those accidentals are absent, puting the entire phrase in the tonic (Speaking of tonic, I want a Bombay and tonic - Be right back... ... Ahhhhh! OK. Where were we? Ah, yes: Concerning Hobbits). But the first and last measures of the counter-answer and counter-subject are exactly the same.

Not only that, but the line rises an octave, and I am able to hand it off from the clarinet to the piccolo by having the second thematic statement end on a unison (The piccolo stave is 8va, remember). Then, the piccolo takes over and presents both versions of the line, and rises two octaves into the stratosphere while doing so. This puts the piccolo and the EH three octaves apart at the cadence which will lead to the first episode. Having the three other winds at the bottom of their registers makes for an awesome effect, and this will set up a positively magnificent first episode. I don't know exactly how it is that I "notice" that stuff like this will work, but I do know it has a lot to do with pattern recognition and extrapolation abilities. Like I tell my students: There some things in music that just can't be taught... or bought.


A couple of things: I'm currently allowing for breathing with articulation marks, but I'll probably change that to rests in order to get the durations between the various parts more perfectly in sync, as well as to make it more obvious that it is a stately, open texture that will be very relaxing to play. If I'm going to work these guys and/or gals out for ten-plus minutes, I ought not lead them to believe that I plan to suffocate them during the exposition. Then, the key is not really set in stone at this point: The preceeding string quartet fugue is in F minor, so C minor would work well here, but the following five-voice perpetual canon for string choir is in A minor, so another key might yet be chosen. Well see how the range extremes work themselves out.


There are obviously a lot of different overlaps in the double canonic stretto that could provide material for the upcoming middle entries, but there is also an entire second set available with the inverted form of the double canon. Not only that, but I have noticed that various combinations of the two will also work, so as I say, this could end up being a "ginormous" piece before it's all said and done. I haven't even looked into what combinations of augmented and normal durations will do.

I'll probably be working on this for the rest of the year.


We had our first day over 90 degrees today. I love hot weather.

As well as various and sundry other "hot" things.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Three Sure Signs that You Have a Good Manager


You only got one Valentine's Day card this year, and it was from... your manager.



The only person on earth who appreciates your taste in estate sale items is... your manager.



Everyone thinks you e-mail each other too much, including... your manager's cat.


I've always had a fondness for women with... ah... "skills."