Saturday, February 24, 2007

La Patrie CW Concert First Impressions

OK, second impressions sorta/kinda, as I borrowed a non-cutaway version from my pal Mark Pollock of Transpecos Guitars a couple of months back.


One of the things I find interesting in life are the various evolutions of thought that I go through. Years ago I wasn't happy playing anything other than handmade one-off acoustic classicals. I'm talking about guitars in the $2,500.00 to $7.500.00 range. That range would have extended higher if I had the means. Problem is, I'm a mega-klutz "bull in a china closet" kind of galoot: Bad things happen to good guitars if I own them. For example, the very first electric guitar I ever bought - a Les Paul Recording (Don't ask) - I put a MAJOR gash in the top of before I even took it out of the case for the first time. How? Well, you see, I set it on my bed, opened the case, and then unwrapped the brand new cable I got for it. While doing that, one of the cable ends swung around and augered into the soft mahogany top.... I cried bitter tears. I was eighteen, OK?

Over the years I've had one-of-a-kind gutars get damaged in ways you'd only believe if you saw videographic proof. The last straw came a couple of months ago when I mashed a $2,500.00 handmade classical to bits when I... tripped and fell into a tripple stand with three of my guitars on it. See, I have this anti-stat plastic sheet on the floor so I don't fry my computers and so I can slide my desk chair around on it, and the edge caught my slipper, and, well.... yes, it was late, I was watching a DVD, and... beer was involved.


Super fine guitars are just as seductive as super fine women are: Super fine guitars make you sound good, and super fine women make you appear like a god to competing males. However, if you are a real artist, you can make any decent guitar sound good, and if you are a real man you can find the unique charms within the girl next door as well. So, I effected a major change of attitude with respect to guitars (I'm working on the women part): They have to be duplicable and they have to be replaceable. In other words, I need to have two of everything: My guitar PA rigs (I actually have three now), my electric nylon strings, and my acoustic nylon strings. This means I'll have a backup for everything, and if anything is stolen (Or, broken... ahem) I'll be able to replace it at the drop of a hat.

This was facilitated by my old acquaintance John McLaughlin. Says John, "I am an electric guitarist who loves acoustic guitar." He is the wisest musician I have ever personally met! That's it exactly: If I was a Christopher Parkening or a Scott Tennant I might actually merit a gazillion dollar acoustic... but I'm not and I don't. So...


A few months back my wrist was aching from over-practicing, so I decided to visit my friend Mark to take a break and chew the fat, and I couldn't help but noodle around on a La Patrie Concert while he was busy with a customer. It felt almost exactly like my Multiac! More to the point, it had a low Flamenco-like action and marker dots on the side of the fingerboard.

"Too bad they don't make this in a cutaway." I said.

"Well, actually..." came the reply.

Sure enough, Lasido had just announced the cutaway version, so I ordered one on the spot. Now, you can get this axe with or without a built-in pickup system, but I chose the non-electric version because I'm going to put a Carlos CP-1a in it, natch.

It is not nearly as loud as my two (Surviving *arg*) concert classicals, but the tone is dark and solid, and as I say, it has a low enough action that pieces like Eddie Van Halen's "Spanish Fly and Joe Satriani's A Day at the Beach are very natural to play on it. Most concert classical guitarists - who are accustomed to dragging strings in from about an inch off the fingerboard - would find the action too low. That means it's just right for those of us who actually enjoy playing the guitar versus those who make a job out of it.

Best thing? It feels almost the same as my Multiac Grand Concert SA playing-wise. I really like that.


Now, there are compromises, but none you wouldn't expect with a guitar in this price range (Circa $700.00 list). The back and sides are mahogany and the fingerboard is rosewood. If I ever get famous enough that they'll make a "Hucbald" model for me, it will have Indian rosewood back and sides, and ebony for the fretboard (And it will cost more, of course). I'm not a fan of cedar tops, and this one is pretty rugged (Read thick and less-than-optimally responsive) but that's one of the things I LIKE about it: I live in a desert where the humidity gets as low as 4% from time to time, and thick tops resist cracking (Uh... one of my other "ruined" concert classicals has gaping cracks in it from low humidity exposure). The Hucbald model would also have Sitka spruce for the top (But not some paper thin "tuned" top: Rather, a robust one). The nut and bridge are not bone, of course, and that's the last bone I have to pick. OK, the level of finish on the saddle is sorta/kinda primitive, but as I say, for the money, this is the most playable acoustic classical I've ever encountered.

Bottom line: I like it, and it is what I think a guitar should be for me now: A tool for making music.

Likewise, I no longer hunt with fancy schmancy rifles with Monte Carlo thumbhole stocks and blued finishes: Give me stainless steel and synthetic stocks every time.


The LaSiDo Triumvirate:

The Ruger .270 Percent Solution:

I'm still a fan of the fancy schmancy girls though: Especially if they can shoot.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fighter Pilots (UPDATED)

Both my father and my step-father were US Air Force officers - fighter pilots - as well as best friends. My father and my step-father's wife died the same year a few months apart, so my mom and step-dad got married. They had known each other since before I was born, and I had known him all of my life, of course, so it was a natural: He just went from being "Uncle Joe" to being "dad" (I called my father "pop" and reserved that honor for him).

Those Greatest Generation guys rocked: My father was flying a P47-D Thunderbolt in WW II before his twentieth birthday, then he was recalled for the Korean Conflict and made the USAF a career. Later, he flew combat missions for the CIA in Viet Nam (It's all still classified: I have only the vaguest idea what he did there), and he finished up his career as the Station Traffic Officer at Yakota AFB, Tokyo, Japan (Which was the busiest Air Force base in the world at the time).

Joe remained in the service after WW II and was one of their top test pilots - he called General Yager "Charlie" - and he went on to be an Air Commando (Along with my father) and later had a brilliant stint at the Pentagon as one of their movers and shakers.


This is a different kind of piece than I usually post here, as it is something that I improvised and recorded in a single take: There is no sheet music for it. I'm basically exploring E Lydian, E Aeolean, and some secondary subdominant implications that they share. I'll probably explore it a bit more and flesh it out some, but I really like the feel I captured, though the timing is a bit rugged in places: I'll have to play it to a metronome some eventually.

The 5.1 MB MP3 is HERE


UPDATE: If you don't want to download the piece, you can listen to it on the web directly with your browser here.

I liked it so much I made it the bumper music on MySpace.


This will go on a CD I'm putting together entitled "Heavy Nylon" along with the title track and the "crowd pleaser" pieces I play in my set: Classical Gas, Desert Song, Spanish Fly, A Day at the Beach, Eu So Quero Um Xodo, Mood For a Day, Yankee Doodle Dixie, and Stairway to Heaven. I might put Sonata One on there as well.


This piece is dedicated to the memory of Lt. Col. Hobart G. Pepper Jr. and Col. Joe C. Vaden, both of the United States Air Force. I loved those guys.

Not my pop, but some Republic P47-D Thunderbolts snuggling up for a pose.



Saturday, February 17, 2007

This Never Ceases to Amaze Me

That some weird musician who is into arcane contrapuntal exotica can post from his livingroom in a teeny tiny town in the middle of BFE and get readers around the world... that's just... I don't know, but it's interesting.

The Iranian hit is not all that unusual, by the way. I'm not sure why they search Google for "lustful" or why MMM ranks so high in that search (ahem), but it's an ongoing theme with Sitemeter for this blog.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

I spoke with my manager the other night, and it appears I'll be hitting the road for Tucson, AZ next month to do at least three dates. I'll let you know as the hour approaches and things are more firmly settled.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Quadrant Rotation of Entire Musical Continuities

When I wrote the Fuga: Reductio ad Absurdum studies a while back - I've since changed the titles to Irreducible Fugues - I realized that one could use Schillinger's concept of quadrant rotation to get four versions of any musical continuity so long as the thematic material was set up rhythmically to allow for it. In the Invertible Canon for Wind Choir of a couple of posts back I demonstrated inverting an entire continuity, but the themes involved with that piece were not set up with the backwards versions in mind, so the other two possibilities - retrograde and inverted retrograde - do not work so well.

Like many musicians, I suppose, I had always considered retrogrades to be pretty much out of bounds except for parlor tricks - even Bach's crab canons sound forced to me - and themes played backwards usually sound goofy and are notoriously difficult to recognize. Well, those little irreducible fugue exercises made me realize why that is so: The rhythms are not properly set up to sound natural and be recognizable in the reverse direction.

I experimented with symmetrical rhythms - reversing them would obviously be no problem - but they lack a certain degree of interest. What I wanted was a head and tail fugue subject that made a canon and would work in all four positions. What I found the key to be (At least, one of the keys) is slowing down the rhythm at the end of the tail figure. Not as slow as the head, but at least slower than the fastest note values (Or, shortest note values).

The following example is just an experiment - I write stuff like this all the time (It's sort of like doing compositional workouts) - and I don't know if it will ever get beyond this stage, but I thought it interesting enough to share. As with all of the fugue subjects I write, this has a premise: The theme accelerates so that in the fourth measure there is simultaneous 2:1, 3:1, and 4:1 counterpoint happening. This rhythmic peculiarity also aids in recognizing the retrograde forms of the continuity.

Here is the canon in its original form:

As you can see, the subject starts out with a typical do, sol head figure in half notes which is then followed by an ascending chromatic tetrachord in quarters. The third measure then has quarter note triplets in an ascending diatonic tetrachord, followed by eighths descending chromatically to the final le, sol in quarters to end the subject.

Remember: I use the irreducible set of contrapuntal laws derived from implications of the overtone series:

1) Parallel Perfect Consonances are Not Allowed.

2) Parallel Imperfect Consonances are Allowed.

3) Parallel Dissonances are Not Allowed.

4) Unequal Parallels are Allowed.

5) Contrary Stepwise Motion Justifies Any Intervallic Succession (Simultaneous and non-simultaneous cross-relations are allowed).

This means the sound is quite dissonant and unusual, and the more I do this sort of thing, the more I like the language I'm developing here: I first used it in the Perpetual Canon for String Choir and it has continued to develop from there.

Here is the intervallically strict inversion of the canon:

Note that I have raised the third degree of the mode to maintain intervallic strictness. If I had not done that, there would have been parallel perfect fourths into the second half of the third measure of this version: The unequal parallel of the augmented fourth to the perfect fourth is perfectly acceptable though. This becomes unequal fifths in the fourth measure where the melodic fragments are inverted.

Now for the retrograde:

Notice how the quarter notes launch into the theme smoothly. Eighths right off the bat would not have worked so well, which is why most fugue subjects don't reverse well. The gradual slowing of the theme also leads nicely to the cadence at the end.

And, the inverted retrograde:

If you want to hear these, they are now on my Downloads Page in both PDF and MP3 formats.

I think I may link these together into a double crab canon for my next exercise.

It's in the 70's here today, so I think I'll go out and get some vitimin D in my system.

A Moment Of Silence for Anna Nicole Smith

Larger than life... er... literally.

A cultural icon in the world at... ah... large... ahem... but a true heroine for those of us in the Texas Trailer Trash Clique.

Never before has so large a set of boobs been combined with such a... paucity of talent.

Leveraging cleavage into a multi-billion dollar business bust... er... "must"... bespeak some sort of talent though.

I, however, have always been and will always remain a "butt man": Anna Nicole had it ALL!

I will miss that particular fantasy.

A lot.

RIP babe: You went farther and faster than any of your detractors.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wind Choir Invertible Canon (Or, "Clarinets Suck")

I wrote a piece for wind choir yesterday. Seriously: I wrote the whole thing in an afternoon and had no idea that was what I was going to do when I woke up. I had been tossing around this idea for a highly fractalized fugue subject for wind quartet, when I realized that it would dovetail into and out of the two fractal elements I used previously in the Five-Voice Perpetual Canon for string choir.

When I wrote the string choir piece I realized it could be inverted, but the conclusion just wasn't convincing with the two themes present in that canon, but this third dovetailing theme provided both a strong beginning and a powerful ending. Now, if I just move the first two fractal directional units down an octave (So the first theme does not move down an octave over its course) this too would be a five-voice perpetual canon, but I wanted that axial modulation so the Rectus of the canon would begin way up in the stratosphere, and the Inversus would begin at the bottom of the sea.

Here's why clarinets suck: I wanted this piece to be in F minor because that would fit into the overall scheme of Fuga da Camera, but nooooo; the clarinet in A only goes down to a C-sharp and not a C-natural. What's up with that, anyway? Even double basses go down to C-natural now with a fifth string or an extension, and the clarinet is stuck at C-sharp?! Arg! So, we're in F-sharp minor, which is like - I don't know - the weirdest possible key.

Check it out:

1) Three-Part Invention for String Trio in D Minor

2) Fugue on a Tone-Row for Wind Trio in D Minor

3) Fugue in F Minor for String Quartet

4) Crab Canon in A Minor for Wind Quartet

5) Five-Voice Perpetual Canon in A minor for String Choir

6) Five-Voice Invertible Canon in F-sharp Minor for Wind Choir

7) Fugato in D Minor for Chamber Orchestra

See what I mean? Jeez.


In order to maintain perfect intervallic reciprocity in an inversion from tonic minor to the fifth degree, the third degree of the key must be changed to the major gender in the inversion. For example, for sol, fa, me, re, do to maintain 1, 1, 1/2, 1 in the inversion, it must become do, re, mi, fa, sol (This is actually the rational melodic explaination for the minor mode by the way: You are just inverting the third within the fifth). Maintaining this perfect reciprocity is important if you make use of unequal parallels (Perfect fifths and fourths moving into and out of diminished or augmented versions of those intervals): If you don't maintain this perfection, parallel perfect intervals are bound to crop up.

This is one feature that gives the inverted form a "strange" sound: The minor key lower chromatic tetrachords combined with a major tonic triad. The other path to "embracing the strange" with these inverted forms is that harmony is only calculated in one direction: From the ground up. In other words, the overtone series does not invert: There are no "undertones" (Despite the claims of several musical quacks over the years: If they existed, they could be measured. They can't be measured... because they don't exist). So, what you get for harmonic structures in the inversion is often quite surprising: Weird, but wonderful. Since the contrapuntal logic is maintained, the progressions sound unorthodox, yet logically so.

Here is page one:

As can be seen, the first immitative structure is four measures in length, and it makes use of all three of the semitone directional units available in the minor mode. The seventh degree - fa - is saved for the tail figure. This first figure dovetails into an eight measure "subject" with a 2/2 base feel.

This eight measure theme is the second one from the previous perpetual canon, so this middle area is exactly like that canon in reverse (As far as the order of the themes: It is not a retrograde). At measure thirteen the third dovetailing "subject" comes in, which is the present one in diminution: In order to add the third theme to these two pre-existing ones, I had to basically compose it backwards.

Then, the original theme returns and dovetails out of the present one. The second slower theme begins again, but is interrupted by the final cadence of this section, which is upside-down from the way it "ought" to be because I want to save the more powerful conclusion for the end (The "real" end).

Here the Inversus begins. In measure thirty is that blasted C-sharp that limited the downward progression of the piece: Measure twenty-nine is so much more effective a semitone lower. It rattles the fillings out of your teeth there.

There really isn't that much to discuss now that the pattern is laid out.

And the conclusion...

An MP3 and a PDF of this piece are now at the top of my .Mac Downloads page for those interested.

What I'm doing with these fractal-theme based dovetailing canons is obvious:

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A New Encore Music Publishing Software Upgrade

This is good news: Encore 4.6 is just around the corner.

“Whatever we do, we always keep in mind that our customers are first and foremost musicians, and they shouldn’t need a degree in computer science to use any of our software.” - Richard Hotchkiss of GVOX

Amen, brother.

I may be among the last of the last generation who were taught music calligraphy when I was coming up, and my experience with music notation software goes back to my years as a Synclavier owner, and its Music Printing Option was the first music printing software system EVER. Of course, it was ponderous to use by today's standards - and a degree in "Manual Reading" was required - but it was SO COOL to be able to develop and save a score as a file in a computer.

But, the Synclavier also had a streamlined (and crude looking in classic green on black) notation entry feature for the Digital Memory Recorder. This revolutionized my compositional process: I could play back what I composed and audition it virtually immediately. Of course, it was a menu driven interface: There was no GUI with floating palettes &c. and WYSIWYG was a brand new term that applied to almost nothing at the time (Mid 1980's).

What I wanted was a program that would combine the beautiful score printouts of the Music Printing Option and the ease of use of the Notation Entry Option: Basically, the MPO interface was too slow - it was not possible to integrate it with my compositional workflow - and the NEO printouts didn't even beam notes on the beat.

Around 1990 I had my first encounter with Finale. OK if you are a publisher, but worse than useless if you are a fast working composer. The interface was actually user-hostile. Nope. Then I ran into Encore 3 in 1992 or 1993: FINALLY - a program that printed out nice looking scores, and that was easy enough to use so that I could integrate it into my compositional process. I got it and never used the Synclavier's systems again.

Changing from PC to Mac was a nightmare (I had to print out the scores and re-enter them manually), but once I got past that, it has been smooth sailing for almost fifteen years now. The current Mac version,, is quite nice, but I noticed that some of the new palettes come up in strange places and saving the template does not fix the problem: It has all the looks of an intermediate step toward a more complete release. It is a LOT more stable than 4.5.4 though: I have NOT been able to crash it, whereas 4.5.4 unexpectedly quits more often than any other Mac OS X program I use: Quite a relief.

4.6 sounds great: XML import will be fantastic, and Quartz rendering will move it closer to true WYSIWYG (We'll have to see how close): Planning for PDF renderings presently requires some... er... planning. I'd like a little more science than art in that particular area.

WYSIWYG... If_Only.

Now, if they ever come up with one of those Star Trek Holodeck dealies...