7-24-13: The More You Try To Sound Like Yourself​.​.​.

7-24-13: The More You Try To Sound Like Yourself​.​.​.

The more you try to sound like yourself, the more you sound like your father. All boys, once they pass through puberty, inevitably end up sounding like their dads, specially on the phone, specially when telling other people what to do. But the same can be said of our musical father’s, e.g. the artists who influence us the most. I know that I have a distinct musical voice of my own by now (and so don’t generally worry about it), but the fact remains that when I sit down to improvise like this, my musical fathers (and mothers) come rushing back to me in a sort of instantaneous time machine, slapping me around, judging me, getting in the way, me pushing them out of the way, and in general being both an inspiration and a nuisance.  You can’t avoid it—your heroes are a part of you, having passed on their musical genes to you, whether they know it or not.

So as I started playing this, I was immediately confronted with the image of Randy Weston, one of my biggest influences as a teenager. Then a few bars in, I’m confronted with Bach, who is always hanging around like a persistent cough. Bach and Weston  duke it out, and I’m left with this…

2-23-09: Three Part Invention (sort of)

2-23-09: Three Part Invention (sort of)

In recent years (if 30 years can be called recent) I’ve been trying to develop a contrapuntal improvisational style. J.S.Bach, who is inarguably the all-time master of counterpoint, is my teacher but I’m not his apprentice: I look to his examples for general technical and aesthetic guidance, but, in the interest of developing my own contrapuntal voice, I go for extended periods without listening to him at all—and I rarely play his music anymore. My challenge has been to figure out how to develop a style of polyphony that:

  • Does use a contemporary musical language;
  • Doesn’t sound too “classical”;
  • Doesn’t sound too symmetrical;
  • Doesn’t sound like I’m trying to sound like Bach;
  • Does sound cool.

That’s three negatives and two positives—a lot to keep track of.

Perhaps I’m getting close (as I write this in late 2012 I’m considerably closer) to achieving my contrapuntal ideal, but it doesn’t really matter because, for some reason, the fact that this flawed little piece came into the world at all makes me very happy. I can, and have, and will do a lot better, but this has a certain magic that can’t be improved upon with mere “betterness”.

 

7/22/13: Prelude & Feud #1 in C

7/22/13: Prelude & Feud #1 in C

Technically this comes from the same session on June 11 at Tone Zone as the tracks below, but I’m just getting to editing, cleaning up, and otherwise making them ready for public consumption (if you consider listening to music a form of consumption), so since the actual mix of the track is today, that’s the date I’m giving this entry. Anyway, why would anyone care?

So, for those of you who are scoring at home, this is a complete written composition ( but the improvised tracks still vastly out number the written), and it is a particular set I began writing about 6 years ago and am only just now beginning to record/perform: they’re very hard because they are purely contrapuntal, in the style of Bach, yes, but not in the style of Bach—if you know what I mean. What I mean is that I treat each voice as an individual entity (like Bach) but the actual style and language is contemporary (not like Bach.)

11-06-09: Chromatic Catastrophe & Dude

11-06-09: Chromatic Catastrophe & Dude

The title is a play on Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, a sublime piece that you should go listen to right now rather than listening to this nonsense… Although, now that I’ve listened to this again, it does kind of have it’s charms, even if it starts rather tentatively.

In fact, many of these start tentatively, and for a very good reason: I don’t know where the hell they’re going, or even if I’m going to complete them, when I start. That feeling of insecurity, I’ve come to accept, is an unavoidable part of the struggle to create compelling and lasting improvisations. The only way you can know exactly where you are going with a piece of music is to have written it already—and then of course it wouldn’t be an improvisation.

But that insecurity can also be the basis for the unique creative power of free improvisation: it practically forces you into making quick and sometimes difficult decisions that have the effect of leading you down paths you would normally not venture if you had time to consider the decision, as would be the case with composition.

Once you push through the initial feeling of insecurity, assuming you are still in the game,  a kind of momentum takes over and it becomes a real piece of music instead of mere wishful thinking. But then, once it becomes a real piece of music another problem rears it’s ugly head: what if you screw up a really nice piece of real music? Well, the fact is, you often do screw it up—this is improvising after all—but those mistakes, if you are patient, force you into making even more creative decisions. And so the process continues…Insecurity can be a powerful artistic tool.

***

By the way, I’m not all that fond of the chromatic scale—I don’t like the cramped feeling it produces in my hands (it feels somewhat like typing on a small laptop…on an airplane), and find music that relies on it excessively  to suffer from a kind symmetrical dullness, or, as in the case of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee,  a rather hackneyed  representation of nature in all of it’s glorious redundancy.  (It, along with the diminished 7th chord—yet another example of symmetrical artifice—is also useful for portraying thunderstorms: see 4th movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony.)

On the other hand, I do have a weakness for deeply unsettling chromatic harmony of almost any kind—classical, jazz, pop. You name it, I love it. It always gets the longing romantic in me. As long as nobody is singing, I even love the rich chromaticism of Wagner’s operas (love the overtures—everything else about the man and his music give me a headache.) But this particular piece relies more on the chromatic scale than chromatic harmony, which makes me wonder—what was I thinking? Perhaps it’s the masochist in me, but I’m occasionally inclined to experiment with things I don’t like, just to see if I really don’t like them—maybe I just had a bad experience with the chromatic scale as a kid and I need to get over it by embracing it anew.