Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tocatta Sketch (UPDATE: Completed!)


UPDATE: 10/30, 10:30PM

Well, after posting this last night, I found a delicious idea for the middle section and finished the piece. I also re-wrote the first section after the second ending and came up with a very slick turn of phrase so that section now works to modulate to the relative and return to the tonic at the end. I'm not going to post on this piece again until I go through all four movements of Sonata One later, so if you want to see the PDF score (I cleaned that up a bit too) and listen to the MP3, it's now at the top of my .Mac Downloads page.

I've never written a piece of this magnitude so quickly before. It really has been like a bolt out of the blue.


I have - out of the blue, as is usually the case - come up with the beginnings of a Tocatta for solo guitar that very well may end up as the first movement in my Sonata One for solo guitar. It's in the very earliest stages of its evolution, but I thought it had some details worth sharing, despite the formative nature of the thing at this stage. Before you comment, yes, I know I misspelled "tocatta" on the score. I learn something from every piece I write, and which letter to double in "tocatta" is part of it for this one.

I've had the idea to write a tocatta using a lot of tap techniques for a while now. The root word for tocatta (I'm going to type it a million times in this post so I get it down. lol.) is from the Italian word for "touch," so it is, literally, a "touch piece": What better vehicle for a tap technique work? Back in the renaissance, tocattas were lute pieces, but organists appropriated the term, so what I'm doing here is actually returning the tocatta to it's righful place on the fingerboard.

The idea for the motif in the intro came to me as I was drifting off to sleep a week or so ago, and as it played out in my head, it was originally going to be a sonata process piece with some similarities to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: You can see the similarity in the material, I'm sure. However, as I started noodling with it on the guitar, I came up with the intro after just a few minutes of work. Pardon the crudities of the notation here, but I don't bother cleaning up spacings, ties and the like until I'm much further along.

As you can see, the motif works it's way up three octaves during the introduction, and it is echoed in the harmonic arpeggiation at first. The chord on the first line is an e(Add9) to get this echo effect. In te second line I introduce an F major chord in first inversion, which is the secondary subdominant chord traditionally labelled as a Neapolitan Sixth. The dominant sonority on the third line is the vii(d7) in a 4/2 arrangement. I used this voicing so I could get the dominant root in the bass at the end of measure ten there (Again, sorry for the clashing stems and stuff).

As the motif traverses the second octave, the action speeds up, but the first two harmonies are the same as before. In measure fifteen, however, I introduce a root position dominant seventh in place of the earlier vii(d4/2).

In the third octave, things are quicker still, and the line ends with a half cadence to the V(6/5), which then uses an intermediary vii(d7) to accent itself (I should note that this would be very troublesome, if not impossible, on a non-cutaway classical guitar, which I why I don't play them anymore). In the final statement of the motif I go down to the leading tone instead of the root, and I make an augmented sixth out of it with the F-natural in the bass.

This augmented sixth started out as a joke, because the F-natural is at the first fret on the low E string, and the D-sharp is at the eleventh fret on the high E string: To play it, you must fret the higher note using the right hand "i" finger, meaning you have to also simultaneously pluck the bass with "p" and the treble with "m." I actually do this sort of thing quite a bit in the music I write when the bass and melody get far apart, so I've gotten fairly decent at it.

Remember, I thought I was writing a sonata process piece up to this point, so this joke - I laughed out loud when I did it - turned into the, "Heeeeeeey! Wait a minute!" moment. Once your hands are in position to make this interval, it's very easy to launch into the Van Halen-esque tap technique figures that begin at measure twenty-two. I'm taking this tech further, though, because I'm playing a bass part as well. Believe it or not, it's not that hard to play.

Keep in mind that each sextuplet figure is played on a single string, and the lowest note in each figure is an open string: You only have to pluck the first interval of each measure using the "p/m" deal, and then tap the top notes in the figures from then on. After that, all the descending arpeggiations are pull-offs, and the ascending ones are hammer-ons (Again, on a standard classical guitar with a punishingly high action, you can't do this at all, which is why I play electric nylon string guitars: Even Flamenco players can't get away with as low an action as I can).

Having to work around the open strings means the harmonies can get quite colorful: Measure twenty-two is just a tonic minor chord, but measure twenty-three is the minor subdominant with an added major ninth, and measure twenty-four is an augmented seventh. This sounds really, really cool. At measure twenty five, we're back to the tonic minor, and then the section repeats.

At the second ending I use a deceptive motion in the bass to make a major seventh chord on the minor sixth degree, and this launches the modulation to the relative major.

Measure twenty-seven has an A minor seventh, and I'm really not sure what to call the harmony in measure twenty-eight: It's really a F-sharp diminished-minor seventh with the fourth degree substituting for the diminished fifth, but it's more a result of the voice leading than anything else. It sounds quite exotic. Measure twenty-nine sounds rich too, as it is a C augmented-major seventh over D in the bass: I love brilliant colors like this, and with high velocity arpeggiation, they really shine. Brahms famously used a minor-major seventh arpeggio in his Fourth Symphony in like fashion.

Measure thirty is a tonic minor seventh with an added eleventh (Well, a fourth in this voicing, actually), but it is in third inversion, which gives it a kind of ghost-domanant sound. At thirty one we get a tonic minor triad in first inversion, but it already feels like we're leaving the key of E minor behind. Thirty-two has the old F-natural secondary subdominant in it, but this time as a major seventh chord in root position, and with the root in the lead (above the seventh), which is quite tense with the resulting minor ninth. This leads to the new dominant of D, but it's not a dominant seventh chord, rather the open E sting makes it a V(add9) chord. This same open E makes the new tonic actually the old tonic: Rather than being a triad on G, it's actually an E minor seventh in first inversion, but it does not sound like that at all: It sounds certain that we have modulated to G major. Us jazz guys know this as a "G sixth chord," and that's how I thought of it as I was writing this out.

Any remaining doubt is removed with the cadential figure in measures thirty-three and thirty-four: I, V(6/5), I in the new key.

This is as far as I've gotten: An intro and the "A" section. I composed a brief conclusion based on the intro, but the actual ending could end up miles away from here. One thing that probably won't change is the final cadential figure, and that is why I like to envision an ending ASAP when I'm writing. When you know the ultimate destination, it's easier to plot a course.

You can, as usual, download and listen to an MP3 of this at my .Mac Downloads Page It's right at the top (The PDF is there too).

More of the falconress. Regulars sure like her, and I must admit that she has a very wholesome naturalness going on.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

CD Review: Peter Inglis, "Late Night Lovers"

I don't do a lot of this kind of thing, mainly because I despise most music critics - whether they are musicans or not - figuring anyone with a well enough developed sense of taste can decide for themselves what suits them. Seems to me music criticism is mostly vanity, and I often equate professional music critics with, "zits on the ass of art"... but that's just me.

With that in mind, let's just consider this a shout out to a friend and fellow guitarist.

I've never gotten mail from Australia before! It was such a unique event that I spent an inordinate amount of time opening the box with a very sharp knife so I could save it.

It's what's inside that counts, of course, and what I recieved was a free CD from my pal Peter Inglis of The Whole Guitarist fame (Take some time to absorb that bio: Peter is an amazingly accomplished musician).

The album, entitled Late Night Lovers, carries the subtitle "a jazz suite by the whole guitarist." Most of the time, subtitles don't mean much, but in this instance the subtitle is telling, as Peter has indeed constructed a suite of arrangements that work together to form a... well, a "whole."

I must admit that when I first looked at the suite's list of pieces, I let out a bit of a sigh, "Oh, these old standards again."

01] Blue Moon
02] Autumn Leaves
03] Misty
04] Night and Day
05] Black Orpheus
06] Body and Soul
07] Stella by Starlight
08] Have You Met Miss Jones?
09] Autumn in New York
10] Wave

See what I meant? One would be hard pressed to come up with a better top ten list of great pieces that have been "done to death" by legions of guitarists over the years.

Well, what greated my ears at first listen banished those concerns. I'll have to admit that if I don't find something positively riveting, I won't listen to the entire CD: Forty-plus minutes is a lot of time to suffer through music that doesn't take me somewhere I want to go. I listened to the entire CD on first listen.

What really impressed me was the fact that I absolutely, positively could not cite a list of Peter's influences. The arrangements are so eclectic and spontaneous sounding that such a thing would be impossible, even if my life depended on it. This is in direct opposition to most solo guitar jazz records I hear today, where I'll be listening along and thinking to myself, "Wes Montgomery... there's a bit of Joe Pass... ah, he's into Herb Ellis even," and so on. With Late Night Lovers I found myself just being transported to a place Peter devised out of his own imagination... which is how it ought to be.

Since I can't cite a list of Peter's influences, there is no way I could do a coherant track-by-track description of the arrangements either. I really wouldn't even know where to start, so I won't bother tying myself up in knots trying to describe the music. Just not possible. Or, at least, beyond my abilities.

So, if you like startlingly fresh renditions of timeless jazz standards - even if you have several other versions on hand - I'd suggest you acquire this CD. After listening to it once, it went into iTunes and my two iPods and iPhone en toto; and I even leave pieces out when I transfer Tommy Emmanuel and Kaki King to iTunes.

The ideal listening environment would include red wine, candlelight, and company like this.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Namesake Website Has Launched

Peg, my manager, has done a fantastic job setting up a website for me under my real name. Just click on the picture above to visit (Nice Jimi Hendrix shirt, huh?).

Feel free to leave any site reactions or suggestions in the comments here. I do moderate the comments, but I publish all but the most infantile stuff.

Now that this is out of the way, I should be back to music blogging more frequently.

Just remember...

I had a black cat who looked just like that. He lived for twenty-one years!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Interesting Critters in my Back Yard II: Mantids

We have several species of these in West Texas. This one isn't particularly large, and you ought to be able to get a feeling of scale from the brickwork. When I was a kid we lived in Panama, however, and some of the mantid species down there were truly of epic proportions: They were large enough to snatch hummingbirds out of the air and eat them! They have always been one of my favorite insects, and I've read that they are very highly evolved among insects in general, as well as being some of the "smartest" insects. Imagine one of these large enough to confront a human and possessing a decent sized brain, and you can envision something truly fearsome. In fact, I remember some "soldiers in space" movie where the insectoid adversaries were obviously based on mantids, so I'm certainly not the first to think of it.

Remember this young lady from the first post in this series?

I was wondering what on earth she was doing out and about at circa 2:00 PM in the afternoon, and now I know: She was looking for someplace to call home.

The concrete at the bottom of the photo is the edge of my patio, and she has set up shop under the large rock in the lower right hand corner of the snapshot. Notice the amount of excavation! It's amazing how strong arachnids are for their size and how much work they can do.

The background here is actually a naked, cloudless sky. I like how the color gradation progresses from the lower left up to the top right. Subject matter is pretty impressive as well. Wish this critter lived in my back yard.

Posting will continue to be light for a while, as I have too many irons in the fire at the moment, but I have a backlog of musical posts I want to get to, so check back periodically. Right now I'm in the process of setting up a real, actual, professionally hosted site under my own name as the domain, and it's quite a bit of work I'm looking at.