Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Linear phrases in 7/4, mixed rhythm — 01

Something to combine with all of the other recent stuff in 7/4: linear patterns, in a mixed rhythm, written in 7. Our source for the basic idea is Gary Chaffee's book Patterns, vol. III, which has linear patterns 3-7 notes long, starting with the hands, and ending with one or two bass drum notes:

There are a lot of phrases to cover, so don't go to variation-crazy— try to cover the whole page before experimenting with other stickings. I suggest starting each constituent pattern with the right hand, and alternate— so each measure will start with a RH, and the first hand note after a bass drum note will be a RH. To start, play each measure 4-16 times, moving around the drums, and move on to the next one without stopping. Or you could put a time feel in there— 1-4 measures time / 1-4 measures linear phrase. Our recent loop in 7/4 should come in handy here.

Get the pdf

Monday, October 05, 2015

Practice loop: rock in 5/4

This is a practice loop in a moderate 5/4, sampled from Stereolab's Tomorrow Is Already Here, from the album Emperor Tomato Ketchup. An excellent companion for my earlier page of rock beats in 5, or any of the other myriad of stuff in 5 I've posted. It's a nice, easy tempo for those Chaffee linear patterns, for example. There are browser extensions that will allow you to rip an mp3 from YouTube videos— if you put this on your own player, it will loop cleanly, so you can play all day without a break.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Painting again

It looks like we'll be seeing a small shift in emphasis, here, as I've set up a studio, and am painting again after about a ten year hiatus— plus another few years when I was doing more with photography than painting. It happens that my sister, who is an interior designer, sold a couple of my better pictures remaining in inventory, and that has focused my mind on the facts that a) oh yeah, I can make money selling paintings, and b) I'm running out of stuff she can sell— I'd better do some new work.

Money and dwindling stock may seem like crass reasons to make art— it should be something you are driven to do!— which I am. I never stopped doing visual creative work. But at a certain point in your life you become a sort-of finished artist, and it doesn't really matter what the medium is. I can put my focus where it makes sense from a business perspective without really sacrificing my personal expression. In the context of my career, I can do that.

It helps that painting was never going to be about technical chops for me— I was going to do in a self-taught way, like a rock musician. Once they know their basic thing, those guys can sit around in St. Tropez, not doing or writing anything for a few years, and then go into the studio, and, hammering it out for a lot of months, produce some creditable work.

Right now I'm relearning the medium by doing some sketches in acrylic on paper. Acrylic is a versatile medium-heavy bodied paint, like oil paint, but it's water soluble. It dries more quickly and is easier to work with. After a day or two of fighting with my old habits, with disappointing results, I realized my old improvisational style isn't working that well. I would make a lot of marks I shouldn't have. Instead I need to step back, look, figure out the next thing that's going to make the picture better, and then try to get some clean paint onto the paper.

What I have going for me now is that I'm not as broke as I was when I was younger, and am not as miserly with paint as I used to be. And I have 15 more years experience in using my eyes looking at and designing photographs. A lot of bullshit concerns of my 20s have fallen away.

One thing that has really changed is the ease of photographing the work with a camera phone. The instant feedback is really helpful. Looking at your pictures on a screen gives a false impression of them, but it also gives you some distance, and ties the pictures together. It helps you see the picture the way it's going to look packaged, and in context. The last time I was seriously working, I didn't own a digital camera— cheap ones were horrible— and getting your work photographed meant paying somebody $500 to shoot some slides. It was kind of like playing music without ever recording.

Once you actually get into the studio and begin painting, it's remarkable how difficult it is to stop. It can take an hour to actually get out of the studio after you decide to be done for the day— it's really hard to stop looking.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Jazz glossary

Here's something useful, from A Passion For Jazz: an online glossary of jazz terms. It's not perfect. The entry for the word jive, for example:

Jive: the jargon of hipsters.

Jive is a widely used term among jazz musicians, and it has no positive connotation today. It's basically synonymous with bullshit, usually having to do with bullshit playing. Mostly used as a noun, not so much as a verb any more.

And there's this:

Hipster (or Hepster): One who is Hip (or Hep.)

Just no, on that one. Not just no: hipster is a dead term in the jazz world, except as it's used in the broader populace to describe young people living in Brooklyn or Portland. Hip is definitely used a lot, hep is strictly comedy, like if you're portraying a really clueless undercover cop or guidance councilor.

Disappointed that there is no entry for the adjective happening.

So the slang entries are kind of jive, but it's worth checking out for any actual musical terms you've heard, but don't know.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Flam accents in 7/8 — same-handed

Well, it's been a whirlwind of OTHER STUFF lately, hence the lack of posts— I won't bore you with that. This came up while working with our recent John Zorn loop in 7/8; it's a page of flammed and accented singles in 7/8, starting every measure with the left hand. I find the concept works well for soloing. For some reason, the double left leading into each downbeat helps the thing stay anchored— with a strictly alternating sticking, the lead changes hands every measure, and it's easier to lose it. We could've started every measure with the right hand, but it just plays hipper leading with the left. Since these patterns end with RLRL, it's easy to get out of it, too— you can just end with a RLRLR, and you're back into leading with your right.

A flam accent is of course a specific rudiment, and is mostly not in evidence here, but this thing has a similar feel to my old same-handed flam accent thing— also very useful in soloing— and I have had so little coffee yet that I'm not going to sweat the arguably misleading title. The exercises are not dramatically different from one another, so burn through this in page-at-once mode. Play these with brushes as well as with sticks.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Very occasional quote of the day: remember this

“The obstacle is the path.”

— Zen proverb, via the Zen proverbs Twitter feed

The “purpose” of Zen is not to be a performance-enhancer, but this is a good one to remember in the practice room. It can be like running into a stiff wind to stay in the zone of working on the new stuff you can't play yet, where you have to concentrate fully, while sounding bad— just now, writing this post I'm going over and looking at other stuff instead of putting the next word down. It's very easy to deflect into familiar, easy, fun, no-brainer stuff. So remember that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Your bio sucks. My bio sucks.

IMAGE AND CAPTION: Boilerplate should 
never be anything but a creepy, late-Victorian,
steampunkish, fictional robot in your life— it
has NO PLACE in your bio! 
Via Ted Gioia on Twitter, here's a good piece from NPR on artist bios, by classical writer Anastasia Tsioulcas. Basically, artist bios suck, and they tell the reader nothing about who the person is as an artist:

Paragraph 1: six quotes praising their brilliance from major American critics, crammed together then lightly glazed with enough subjects and verbs to form sentences. 
Paragraph 2: a list of their awards and international venues where they've played. 
Paragraph 3: a long list of composers who have written for them (most of whom very few people would be familiar with, unless the reader were also a composer or performer). 
Paragraph 4: a list of academic institutions they've worked with. 
Paragraph 5: a list of other performers they've played with. 

Jazz musicians are particularly egregious with this— who I played with is the bulk of a lot of bios. If somebody ever got near a stage holding an instrument while somebody famous was present— in a clinic, at a jam session, whatever— into the played with list it goes. Paraphrasing something my brother once said, Right, they played with Herbie Hancock for one concert when there was no budget for him to bring in his own players, Herbie didn't dig it, and that was the end of it.

This is an American thing, incidentally— everyone thinks the arts are a joke, including the artists, so they fall into this thing of proving they're serious by just listing all the serious things they've done.

Tsioulcas continues:

[T]his is an opportunity to shape one's personal brand. In my experience, classical artists often pride themselves on not having to debase themselves for the sake of commerce. Maybe that's part and parcel of existing so far outside the musical mainstream. But what such artists fail to recognize, in my opinion, is that this can be not just a marketing exercise but a chance for a bit of self-reflection. What makes what you do — and what you want to express — meaningful? 
To be more blunt: Why should we listen to you, whether you're an international soloist or still in school? Think of this as a chance to craft a compelling narrative in a truncated form. Who was your inspiration? Who was your teacher? What other music do you listen to, aside from your own repertoire? 

It's difficult for musicians to say why people should listen to us, not least because we're not confident that people should listen to us, having had feelings of unworthiness pounded into us in our early careers. And we just deal in an abstract medium, and we're generally unclear about its value, and of our value as individual players to our consumers— writers, radio people, venue bookers, and the public.

It's not actually a real productive way of thinking about it: Oh my God, why should they listen to me? I don't know!!! God, I suck!!!  Instead, maybe tell them what you are, and let them assume you're good. Figure out your high concept— the three or four general things that you're about. Thinking of Bill Frisell, you think: Americana, Hendrix, avant-garde noise, composer. Thinking of Don Pullen, you think deep blues, classical chops, tone clusters. Thinking of Paul Motian, you think primitivism, simple tunes, heavy swinging groove. If you can't come up with a compelling similar description of your own work, you might need to dig a little deeper in making something special out of yourself. “Just another pretty good modern jazz drummer who plays pretty good because college has figured out how to make people play pretty good” is not good enough.

I got away from listing influences some years ago, after seeing a comic strip in an alternative paper with an illustration showing a lot of 90s hipsters walking around thinking “My main influences are Sonic Youth and Pavement.” It rather indicates an amateur mindset— if you don't already have a reputation, or if you're not real good writer, I think it can sink you with a skeptical reader. If you've made an exceptionally serious study of someone in particular, or are his protégé, go ahead and say it. Same with inspiration— it's a sappy word, and you have to handle it carefully.

None of this is real easy. You can screw up in all sorts of horrible ways:

  • It can take years to figure out who you are, and to figure out that who you are is more interesting than who you think you should be— like, don't pretend you're a some kind of thrilling hard-core New Yorker with deep jazz roots, when you're really from a fracking town in North Dakota. A noise artist from a fracking town is actually a lot more interesting. From NY? Whoopdedoo, dog bites man, WGAS? From ND? What, wow, really? That is so WEIRD! I want to hear that!
  • You want to have a story, but you also don't want to tortuously act like there's a story where there is no story.
  • Emotional appeals and hyperbole have a tone of pleading, and are best avoided— let it be assumed that you are sincere, and are emotionally invested in your work.
  • Also avoid myth making: Then in 2007 Cory got his first copy of Stick Control and his universe exploded like God Himself rode a hydrogen bomb onto Cory's mom's house, and he realized that being a drummer was indeed his true calling— Cory, I mean, not God... yeah. No.

So there. We have a big mess of stuff to think about. Time to get out our copies of Strunk and White, and get cracking. And don't go looking at my bio for examples of not doing the things I'm telling you not to do. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Daily best music in the world: driving music

Long day yesterday driving to the Oregon coast for a recording session, and home again. I did bring along one of my favorite things ever, Before We Were Born, by Bill Frisell. We used to listen to this driving through the Cascades in the middle of the night, driving home after gigs, from Bend to Eugene. Frisell moved to Seattle around this time, and the music is a perfect backdrop to the landscapes out here:

Also had with me Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth / Interstellar Low Ways— two records on one CD, both of which are pretty straightforward swing, and a lot of fun:

And Peng! by Stereolab— self-explanatory...

One more from each album after the break:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Empty complaining about something we should never have expected to be any good anyway

CHICK WEBB, ladies and gentlemen. Apparently
a white, 19th century coke-slag magnate.
If you want to get your blood pressure up— not least because the site is so poorly coded it may crash your browser— go look at this list of the “greatest drummers ever” on a site called Ranker, which Rolling Stone linked to.

High points include:

  • The greatest drummers ever were overwhelmingly white Metal drummers, apparently.
  • With a few mediocre British rock drummers of the 70s thrown in for good measure.
  • Genres associated with the drummers: Keith Moon > “skiffle”, Dave Grohl > “doom metal”, Stewart Copeland > “New Wave”, Phil Collins > “blue-eyed soul”, Alex Van Halen  > “jazz fusion”, Vinnie Colaiuta > “Thrash Metal, Progressive Metal”, Charlie Watts > “Reggae”, Dennis Chambers > “Chicano rock” and on and on.
  • First appearance of a non-white drummer: #25, Billy Cobham
  • Elvin Jones and Tony Williams make #62 and 68, with approximately as many negative votes as positive ones. After them, everyone who legitimately belongs on a list like this gets more negatives than positives. Jack Dejohnette manages to hang in the top 100 with 496 positive votes and 582 negatives.
  • In the comments, people are extremely pissed off at the injustice of Joey Jordison— one of the drummers from 90s Metal band Slipknot— not only NOT GETTING NUMBAR 1, but not being included AT ALL, WHAT! Infamy!

So, yeah. Obviously, as we all expected going in, the list is useful to us not so much for its stated purpose, but for the much narrower purpose of comprehending the median of idiocy of people on the Internet who are interested enough to vote on it. It is rather interesting that even generally Internet-popular musicians like Benny Greb and Thomas Lang don't fare that well, either...