Two Updates

1. Two of my short rants have been published as letters to the Dispatch and Lantern. (There is a grammatical error in the Lantern piece, which I claim no responsibility for.) I very much suspect that the vast hordes of undergraduates at my school don’t really know what’s going on; they take student debt–and indeed the idea of paying for an education–as a given fact. My hope is that engaging the entire student body in a conversation will make it apparent that this isn’t a natural state of affairs; it’s a specific structure that benefits specific people: only those at the top, and never students or teachers.

2. I have added four (4!>!()!?) bonus tracks to my weird solo project.

Thank you for listening.

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New Music (Again!)

A few years ago, I was working on my M.A. and had almost no time to play music. In order to work on something musical when and where I could, I asked my friends to send me individual recordings that I planned to put together into tracks. I had hoped that this process would be somewhat akin to improvising, and would produce a rather coherent set of material. This isn’t really what happened, and the project sat on my computer for a long time.

A couple weeks ago, I remembered all of these tracks that I never did anything with, and I mixed them together all at once in a day or so. The result is not coherent, but has a character of its own, I think. The sounds are from places as diverse as Thailand, Korea, Scotland, Los Angeles, and Columbus, and were either sent by friends or recorded on my phone. They each bring me back to places and times that are now far gone, and I think each track has some moments that are really nice. (In particular, I am kind of blown away by the way track five came out, where this cymbal bowing that I did in five seconds made a melody that I could never have intentionally made–IN THE KEY that Aaron’s track is in.)

I’m happy to say that I am playing music again, but at the same time, my friends are as scattered as they have ever been. I think I might like to try something like this again, in order to keep exploring what Cage called “musicircus” (simultaneity of unrelated intentions) through pre-recorded material. It is a way to make music, perhaps, with far away people.

You can click on the individual tracks to read about what source material was used in each case.

New Music

In February, Aaron put on a show of music composed for the event. I wrote this piece, which is meant as a kind of long-distance duet (at first between myself and Aaron, but subsequently for anyone).

In the guitar part, the first movement has pitches but no rhythms; the second movement has rhythms but no pitches. The accompaniment part, on the other hand, is to be completely improvised and pre-recorded. In the end, the idea is for the guitarist to fill in what is missing in the score by improvising with the recording in the moment.

The point of keeping this interaction ‘secret’ until the show is meant not only to simulate what a duet might actually be like, but also to ensure that the choices made by the guitar player with regard to rhythm or pitch are in part reactions to the accompaniment part in real time–in other words, to the point is to make sure that they are improvised as they would be if the duet was playing together in a live situation.

Finally, the instructions dictate that each time this work is performed, the accompaniment recording must be commissioned anew. Repeat performers are fine, as long as the recording is different for each performance. Alternatively, a recording of a full performance of this piece (with both accompaniment and guitar parts) may be used as an accompaniment part in a subsequent performance.”

I am really happy with the way it came out. Aaron knows all the right notes.

HERE is the score.

HERE is the recording from the show:

Small Songs

Alex has posted some recordings of the most recent gig that we played. They are a little rough, but mostly will give a very good sense of the kinds of strange approaches that we are trying to navigate in that band. Namely:

1. A collapse of the roles of improvisation, melody, harmony, and rhythm

2. An equal emphasis on maintaining the spirit of the compositions and on making them our own

3. An effort to balance the source material with original material

So far these things have been worked out in rehearsal. Alex will bring in a small sketch that he has transcribed from a recording of one of his piano students, and we will play through it. Then there is usually this weird phase where we kind of ‘feel’ what ‘needs to be done’ with the material. It is an experience I have only had a handful of times, as typically the musicians I have worked with bring in music that is at least mostly conceptualized. It is a really challenging and fun change.

While we have come to some solutions on a tune by tune basis, I think that the idea of the band as a whole is still very much undecided. For example: all of our songs so far have been combinations of original material, student compositions, and impromptu ideas about how to arrange those ideas; we have not yet written any completely original material. Should we? Is it better to keep working from the students’ music? If so, how can we incorporate structures that ensure our “natural approach” to these tunes does not become monotonous?

These questions, for me, imply three levels of improvisation: first in the tunes themselves, each time they are performed; second as a slow process that collectively interprets source material and what should be done with it; and third, an even slower process that will result from continuing the first two over an extended period of time. In the end, we may come to some sort of an idea regarding what the band is “about”. On the other hand, it might be interesting if we don’t.

Blogs, Shows

Of course, I periodically fall in and out of blogging. This is not on account of the fact that blogging is apparently dead (you wouldn’t know it given Aaron’s recent tear), but directly corresponds with periods of flux. In other words, it is difficult to write about what you’re doing when what you’re doing is up in the air.

One thing that I have slowly pieced together for myself during this most recent period of change is not how I am transitioning from one discipline to the next, but how both of them are crucial to make the other work. I enjoy my academic work more after working on music, and vice-versa. This is all to say that as I figure out what I’m doing, I always also feel like returning here to write about it.

At any rate, I’m playing this show tonight, if you’re in Columbus. Alex Burgoyne‘s Small Songs band plays improvised music based on compositions by his young piano students. We’re talking like eight year-olds. More on this and other topics soon.