Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heavy Nylon Demo 2

Welp, I finished the second of the three demos working up to the Heavy Nylon CD, and you can download all seventeen MP3's here. Here's the song list again:

01] Classical Gas - Mason Williams (A Minor)
02] Desert Song - Eric Johnson (A Minor)
03] G-Axis Study No. 4 - George Pepper (C minor)
04] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven (C Major)
05] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen (E Minor)
06] Fighter Pilots - George Pepper (E Major)
07] G-Axis Study No. 1 - George Pepper (G Major)
08] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani (G Major)
09] Scherzo - George Pepper (B Minor)
10] Prelude No. 23 - George Pepper (D Minor)
11] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos (D Major)
12] Prelude No. 7 - George Pepper (F# Minor)
13] Heavy Nylon - George Pepper (A Major)
14] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins (A Major)
15] Prelude No. 11 - George Pepper (G# Minor)
16] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani (A Minor)
17] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page (A Minor)

Most of the best takes ended up being with the RMC Parker Nylon Fly, which was just the opposite of what I expected. I was experimenting with the EQ a lot, so it's all over the place, but I got some good takes of the pieces I've been playing for over a year. The newer ones, not so much. Peculiarly, Stairway to Heven has been way out of focus lately, so I never did get a decent take of that. I ought to be able to play that in my sleep!

Since I've developed a systematic approach to the recording process now, I always have a .txt file in front of me, so next time I'll keep track of the EQ settings and output levels so I can develop individual ones for each piece. In fact, I'll probably save all seventeen programs in a unique address on the MPX-G2 to make that easier. I'll also be adding this to the instrument roster next time:

Once the fretted Reynolds Glissentar has an RMC system in it, I'll have all three of my instrument projects done!

Now, I'm going back to my usual practice routine, and I'm going to begin memorizing some more new pieces. I only have my Jethro Tull-ized version of the Bach Bourree in E minor and Steve Howe's Mood for a Day left for Heavy Nylon, but I have just a bunch of standard repertoire pieces to get down for the followup, which will be called Electric Chestnuts. I want to get two of those and the Jethro Tull Bourree done before I start my winter metronome work so... off to the woodshed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Recording Update: Heavy Nylon Demo 2

Now we're getting somewhere.

My new recording routine has done for me what the performance routine I developed did a few years back: Got rid of my anxiety. Before, I would work on a single piece until I got three acceptable takes, and this lead to getting bogged down on single pieces, sometimes for an inordinate amount of time. Now, my job is only to make three attempts to capture a take, and then move onto the next piece. I've also found it useful to perform the piece all the way through, even after a mistake that would render it unsuitable for a recording. This way, I'm combining practicing with recording. Neato.

I have found that I actually make more mistakes when I'm relaxed, but the feel of the performances is much better, so it's a tradeoff, but one I'm more than happy to make. As I continue with my metronome work over the next winter, the playing will get more accurate anyway, so this is a temporary situation that isn't unexpected. The third demo with the Reynolds fretted Glissentar next summer ought to be quite good, and then I'll be ready to record the final CD version. As I did with the first Heavy Nylon demo last year, I'll post downloadable MP3's when I'm done.

I'm two-thirds of the way through at this point. I've captured two takes of each piece with the Godin Grand Concert SA and the RMC Parker Nylon Fly, and I'm quite happy with how it's coming along. I have changed my EQ profiles radically with the Digi 002, and am getting a more natural nylon string sound now, which is great.

Today I'm practicing through my repertoire, and tomorrow I'll start the final passes, so I'll be choosing the best of six takes for the final version. These last two passes will be with new strings on each guitar, and new batteries as well.

As for the EQ, I started with the highs in the Lexicon MPX-G2 being set at +4 (Out of a +/- 25 range), and now the highs are at -8 (!) which gives a warm, round, classical guitar sound. This evolution, I did not expect, but the Digi 002's preamp is forgiving of a wide range of variation in tone.

I've also decided to, while I'm recording, go ahead and throw a bunch of my own pieces into the mix - some of my personal favorites that I've written - where they will fit. This will give many more options for the demo CD my manager wants to put together, which ought to make her happy. Not sure all will make the final CD, but the song list is like this now:

01] Classical Gas - Mason Williams (A Minor) Pgm01 08
02] Desert Song - Eric Johnson (A Minor) Pgm02 11
03] G-Axis Study No. 4 - George Pepper (C minor) Pgm04 06
04] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven (C Major) Pgm12 07
05] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen (E Minor) Pgm03 16
06] Fighter Pilots - George Pepper (E Major) Pgm10 02
07] G-Axis Study No. 1 - George Pepper (G Major) Pgm03 10
08] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani (G Major) Pgm04 17
09] Scherzo - George Pepper (B Minor) Pgm05 15
10] Prelude No. 23 - George Pepper (D Minor) Pgm06 12
11] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos (D Major) Pgm04 14
12] Prelude No. 7 - George Pepper (F# Minor) Pgm07 03
13] Heavy Nylon - George Pepper (A Major) Pgm09 13
14] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins (A Major) Pgm08 09
15] Prelude No. 11 - George Pepper (G# Minor) Pgm11 04
16] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani (A Minor) Pgm10 01
17] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page (A Minor) Pgm08 05

The PgmXX numbers are the 12 MPX-G2 programs that go with each piece, and the numbers to the right are the recording order I've worked out. I'm finally actually psyched about recording instead of dreading it. Definite progress.

That's a rockin' image, right there.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On Pan-Stylistic Legitimacy in Contemporary Composition

In my Musical Implications of the Harmonic Overtone Series posts - under Musical Relativity Theory in the sidebar - I demonstrated how the musical force present in the harmonic series generates everything purely musical: Being a dominant seventh chord and containing, as it does, a dissonant tritone, the resolutional impetus of this sonority generates the secondary dominant system, the secondary subdominant system, and by extension all of the secondary diminished sevenths, and altered secondary dominants such as the traditionally so-called German and French augmented sixth chords.

That series of posts was actually the second set, the first being The Harmonic Implications of the Harmonic Overtone Series, which was where I first haltingly elucidated these breakthroughs (I did not deem that particular series worthy of a sidebar section). Several months ago I had the final conceptual breakthrough I was searching for, and so I will be posting the third and final series of posts on this topic as soon as I am finished with my present recording project. This one will make it into book form, but I'm glad I have published this series online, as there is a record of when and by whom these ideas were developed. Probably about 20% of the hits on this blog are from people the world over who are studying various chapters of this series, so I know the concepts are getting out there; I just want to be certain credit is given where credit is due.

Context is the final piece of the puzzle. For a long time I have wondered why purely "atonal" pieces were miserable failures as absolute music in concert halls, while the very same pieces could be wildly successful for film score scenes. The answer is context: Pieces in which "one tone relates only to another" - Schoenberg's words - totally reject all musical contextual references, and so they are unsuccessful as absolute music: At least, to those who have a high degree of innate musical intuition. What a film scene (Or an opera scene &c.) does for these pieces is it provides an extra-musical context in which these pieces can function effectively.

This was brought home to me just a few weeks ago as I was watching There Will be Blood, which has a brilliant film score put together by Jonny Greenwood, and which contains a piece by Arvo Part, a composer who I usually detest listening to, because he has no sense of musical context (Or at least, he provides too few musical contextual references, or cues). Well, in this film, his piece Fratres for Cello and Piano functioned very effectively - brilliantly, in fact - because it was provided by the film scenes with an extra-musical context, while listening to it alone turns it into nonsensical crap.

Without doubt, the biggest misunderstanding of my work is by people who - I'm assuming - read it only superficially and who do not study it in depth. The usual manifestation of this is often stated in some form of, "he thinks there is only one way to resolve harmonies, and that the only legitimate music is traditionally tonal." Seriously, I'm baffled by how anyone can think this, because nothing could be further from the truth. What the overtone series generates are the contextual reference points to which all music relates, and how closely or distantly a composer gets to and from these reference points is what allows for musical effect and affect. The Alpha Prime musical context is the traditional major key or Ionian mode because it is the most natural context that the overtone chord generates, but all of the derived modes of Ionian are available as sub-contexts with the exception of Locrian, which has no perfect fifth, and therefore no substitute dominant, to support it: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian are all valid sub-contexts within the Alpha system.

I will get into the Beta and Gamma contextual systems (And many others) when I start the next series, but I wanted to publish this now to lead into the main thrust of todays post, as well as to have a published record of it.


As I was pursuing my graduate studies in music, I time and time again encountered the criticism that my work wasn't legitimate because it was, 1) tonal and, 2) based on styles of the past. Of course, from my perspective, these criticisms were not valid because, 1) I found my work to be intrinsically superior to that of said critics and, 2) my work contains a lot of sub-contextual modal elements anyway (Which exposed to me that these critics had tin ears). I knew there was more in support of my position, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it... until now.

In the fantastic era we live in today, we have available to us recordings representing every stage of western musical evolution, as well as recordings of non-western music, and with a click we can download them to our computers and listen to them. People all over the world are, at this very moment, listening to Gregorian Chant, Fauxbordon, the early polyphony of Leoninus and Perotinus Magnus, Ockeghem, Obrecht, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Heinrich Schutz, J.S. Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Penderecki and legions of other composers: We literally have the totality of western musical evolution at our fingertips and in our ears.

Not only that, but due to modern scholarship there are groups of musicians who specialize in the accurate performance of music from all eras today. What this means is that the totality of western musical evolution is current because people everywhere can and do relate to it in the right here and right now. So, for example, if a composer writes a modal melody and has it performed within the context of a larger work by a group who specialize in the accurate performance of Gregorian Chant, even a well-listened amateur will relate to it and find it evocative of the era in question: The musical effect will produce the desired affect. Within the context of the very same piece, some "atonal" Arvo Part anti-harmonic string portamento effects might also appear, and if they are employed deftly, affectations of the uncanny (or whatever) can be produced.

In a nutshell then, there are no longer any ancient styles that are out of date, because modern technology and scholarship have brought them all out of the past and made them up to date.

I can never get past the nagging suspicion that contemporary composers who criticize we who employ more traditionally based techniques are using their criticisms as a fig leaf to cover their shame at being unable to do the same.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

One Thing Leads to Another: Fretted Glissentar Update

Long time readers will remember that I got the hair-brained idea to have frets added to a Godin Glissentar neck about two years back. Well, my friend Mark introduced me to Ed Reynolds when I mentioned that, and the project grew into a complete new custom designed fretted neck that cost more than the Glissentar did originally. The results are fantastic, both in terms of workmanship and in terms of playing feel.

This neck is actually better than the one on the Parker Nylon Fly, because no concessions were made to classical guitar necks at all: It is basically a widened and deepened Stratocaster cross-section, so it feels 100% like an electric guitar.

Unfortunately, the stock Baggs transducer system in the thing sounded very small and tinny, and the single low E string was particularly weak. So then I added a Carlos CP-1a to it, and the quality of the sound was great, but the overall output was still low, and the problem with the low E string persisted. I could perform with it live only if I had a second sound system, and now way on that, because I'm my own roadie. Yes, I tried super-high tension low E's, and it only helped marginally.

Well, as I was emailing back and forth with Richard McClish and Jim Kozel about the new Parker and how well it's turned out with the RMC Polydrive, I mentioned the long-neglected fretted Glissentar, and guess what? Richard makes Mandolin saddles for the RMC Systems! I had no idea. He emailed me a photo of one of them.

Note the dual captures for a string course - a pair of unison strings - into the transducer: With five of these for the top courses and a single string version for the low E, I'd be in bee's wax. I love it when a plan comes together!

Unfortunately, I've done quite a bit of deficit spending recently between the Parker and the new Digi 002, so this will have to wait for next winter. Still, a super-exciting development.

The picture just said, "Tuscan Beauty." I'll say! What a captivatingly beautiful woman. I've always wanted to visit Italy...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Recording Woes

I'm currently recording the second demo CD of Heavy Nylon, and the song list goes like this:

01] Classical Gas - Mason Williams (A minor)
02] Desert Song - Eric Johnson (A minor)
03] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven (C major)
04] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen (E minor)
05] Fighter Pilots - George Pepper (E modal)
06] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani (G major)
07] Scherzo - George Pepper (B minor)
08] Prelude No. 23 - George Pepper (D minor)
09] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos (D major)
10] Prelude No. 7 - George Pepper (F-sharp minor)
11] Heavy Nylon - George Pepper (A major)
12] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins (A major)
13] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani (A minor)
14] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page (A minor)

As you can see, the keys are arranged so that they progress around the circle of thirds from A minor to A major, though I do switch mode genders a few times, and of course, I return to A minor for the final two pieces. There are two pieces I have yet to learn for the final version: My Jethro Tull-ized version of the Bach Bourree, which I put into the key of D minor (With a Drop-D tuning), and Mood for a Day by Steve Howe, which is an F-sharp flamenco deal. So, it's looking like the final version will be like this:

01] Classical Gas - Mason Williams (A minor)
02] Desert Song - Eric Johnson (A minor)
03] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven (C major)
04] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen (E minor)
05] Fighter Pilots - George Pepper (E modal)
06] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani (G major)
07] Scherzo - George Pepper (B minor)
08] Prelude No. 23 - George Pepper (D minor)
09] Bourree - Jethro Tull (D minor)
10] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos (D major)
11] Prelude No. 7 - George Pepper (F-sharp minor)
12] Mood for a Day - Steve Howe (F-sharp flamenco)
13] Heavy Nylon - George Pepper (A major)
14] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins (A major)
15] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani (A minor)
16] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page (A minor)

I'm liking how this is coming along, so I thought I'd share some of my recording travails.

I hate recording. Absolutely detest it. Mostly, because I'm no good at it. When I'm recording a piece, I can never relax and get into it. The feeling is similar to stage fright, only different. I'm so wrapped up in capturing a perfect performance that I invariably play worse than I do live. Just about every student I've ever had has remarked, at some time or another, about how much better I am live than recorded. I hate when that happens.

Well, I used to have the same problem playing live and I got over it, so why not with recording? I finally figured out that it's because I haven't done it enough to have developed a systematic routine, so I've now developed one. For the first demo of Heavy Nylon I recorded each piece three times, and took the best take. That's the way I've always done it. Problem was, I'd get bogged down on a single piece, sometimes for days. Not good.

So, what I do now is I record each piece three times, or rather I make three attempts to capture a take, and if at the end of three attempts I haven't captured one, I move onto the next piece. This works much better for me, as I just don't fall into frustration and despair so much anymore.

Having two different guitars helps too. The first thing I did was I captured a take of every piece on my Godin Grand Concert SA - the guitar I'm most familiar with - and that took two days. Not bad. Once I did that, I spent a day practicing my entire repertoire. Then, I started the process with my new RMC-equipped Parker Nylon Fly, which is where I'm at now.

By the time I will have made it through the process three times with each guitar, I'll have six takes to choose from, so getting a descent one shouldn't be a problem. Not only that, but I'm hopeful that I will have become totally desensitized to the recording process by then, so perhaps there will even be a magical take or two. I've never ever captured a magical take of anything in all of the years I've been doing this, though on a good night of performing I'll play several. I positively cannot stand to listen to my recordings because of this, but some people actually love them, so perhaps my perspective is warped (Ya think?).

For the third and final demo of Heavy Nylon I'll have a third guitar, as I'll have an RMC system put in my Godin/Reynolds fretted Glissentar eleven-string before that time. I finally figured out that the string courses will work with the RMC if I put the pairs on either side of the saddles that hold the single strings normally. Not ideal - custom dual-saddle transducers would be best - but it will finally make the thing usable for me. The problem with the Carlos is that the output is so low and the sound so different that I'd have to perform with a completely separate sound system for it. Not gonna happen, because I'm my own roadie. LOL!

So, for the final demo and the final CD I'll be choosing the best of nine takes, and perhaps I'll be as comfortable recording by then as I am performing now. I was considering choosing which instrument would be the best for each piece, but why? I'm just going to let the chips fall where they may.

Anyway, I'm making some progress here, so I feel good about that, but don't expect something like Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night out of me just yet.

I don't usually go for the glam-babe types, but she's particularly interesting.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

RMC Nylon Fly Test Tracks II

The Digi 002 Rack I got off of eBay arrived this morning, and it was a total Christmas experience. Since I was already running ProTools LE 7 on my Mac, I just plugged everything in, and it worked perfectly from the get-go. This unit sounds just a ton better than the original M-Box I was using: Gone are the harsh sounding artifacts in the high end that were bothering me so much with the M-Box preamp.

So, I recorded another three test tracks this afternoon. Again, these are all single takes with no editing at all, and all of the effects are coming from the Lexicon MPX-G2 in my recording rack. I'm running the MPX-G2 into a Lexicon Signature 284 Class "A" tube recording amp, using the power section only by running the MPX into the effects returns (Bypassing the Sig's preamp, IOW). The recording outs on the Sig then go directly into the Digi 002.

The way I use ProTools, it might as well be a digital tape recorder, but I do scrub the heads and tails and set the timing between tracks when I'm doing a CD, but these are totally raw.

I bounced the .wav files to my Mac's Desktop, dropped them into iTunes, and then used the "Convert Selection to MP3" feature to get the downloadable files. I love iTunes for this reasoon and the fact that it will also make MP3's out of MIDI files using whichever internal soundfont you select. Tres cool.

I recorded another prelude and study of mine this time, and then Classical Gas. I got pretty outre with the program for Classical Gas, so I may have just invented a new genera: Acid Classical. LOL!

Here's the Downloads Page.

The old tracks with the M-Box are 01, 03, and 03, while today's with the Digi 002 are 04, 05, and 06 (Classical Gas).

That's kind of a mischievous look the photog captured there.