Saturday, September 27, 2014

Transcription: Todd Bishop — Black Monk

This week I was working on something really narcissistic: a transcription of one of my own performances. I was just listening to some of my old rehearsal/gig recordings and thought, hey, I'd like to figure out what the hell I'm playing. When I had the thing finished, it seemed like it was a good opportunity to talk about some organic, seemingly-semi-metered Elvin- or Dejohnette-like playing. It's a thing that basically never gets discussed in any detail, and this is one instance in which I can definitely speak with authority about what was going on in the player's mind with it. Also, I was curious hear my own playing with the same frame around it as these other people. It's an interesting exercise, and, if you do any transcribing, I recommend it.

The recording was made from the stage during a 2009 gig with the Dan Duval Sextet, and isn't some special piece of genius playing on any of the performers' part; it was just a routine, rather sloppy, original-music gig at the Tugboat Brewery in Portland— a little dump which for a long time hosted live creative music. The tune is an easy, triplety, medium waltz, and a local favorite: The Black Monk, by Duval. I've transcribed the drums from Dan's guitar solo. The piece is really in 3/4, but the stuff I was playing is easier for me to notate in Finale in 9/8. It's the same thing; a predominantly-triplet feel in 3.

Here's the audio— the transcription begins at 0:27:

If you'd care to download and print the pdf, there's an extended analysis after the break:

So, there's a lot of stuff in there. Despite all the apparent rhythmic craziness, there were only a few things I could barely resolve in transcription, like in measures 47 and 50, but most everything is a reasonably accurate representation of what I'm playing. At least the notes are in correct sequence, within the confines of the given beat, more or less. I do push the timing of the notes around pretty hard at times, and put a lot of dynamic shape on them, so what you'll hear may not sound as rational as what's on the page. But I don't play stuff that is physically weird, often something that looks screwy on the page will have some straightforward body logic behind it. The technically-difficult things, like the multiple LH and RF things in measures 8 and 20 are not crisply articulated; they're just thrown in.

A few salient points:

1) If I had to think in anything like the terms of the way the notes look on paper, I would not be able to play it. I wasn't thinking about what I was playing at all. I was just listening to Dan and the bass, and following the pull of the chord changes.

2) The execution by all the players is loose, but there's nothing major that I would count as mistakes on my part. Sometimes when playing this way, some things will happen that are just indigestible; they disrupt the flow of the groove, and sound wrong, and it will take a moment to recover and let things settle down again. Ideally, if I'm listening passively enough, I can hear the notes coming out of my hands somewhat objectively, hearing where they sit in relation to the rhythmic grid without me having deliberately placed them there.

Here, some measures stretch or compress a bit. I do like to get to the downbeats early; at one point with my playing that was just plain rushing, but now I hear it as a deliberate effect; I expect the downbeat to fall after I have completed my little run with an accent on the bass drum and cymbal. After measure 68 I do this very deliberately, without a fill leading up to it— I'm playing a very close anticipation of the downbeat, but the bassist seems to think that I'm just rushing to the downbeat, and tries to “rush” a little bit with me. Any uncertainty about is resolved when I put the beat back unambiguously where I hear it with a little fill in measure 74.

5) None of the actual patterns behind the dense stuff I play are worked out in the practice room— I couldn't point you to a book to use to develop any of that. They generally break down simply into 3-5 note chunks, often with one or more doubles. There is an four note embellishment I play a lot here, one variation of which is covered in this Page o' coordination.

6) In my mind, I'm basically playing an Elvin Jones-like triplet feel, with a strong pull toward the duple subdivision at times— that's also a major element of Elvin's playing, and I think is the source of much of the “organic” quality attributed to him. I'm glad to observe it's a part of my playing, too.

As you can see, the rhythms get a little hairy, but applying a little bit of algebra, almost everything breaks down to regular 8th notes (which have a “triplet” subdivision in 9/8) and 16th notes in 9/8, or that duple counter-rhythm. The things I'm doing probably require a dedicated post of their own, but here are the basics:

I'm playing off of two primary pulses, 8th notes:

And dotted 8ths notes for the duple feel:

And when you see the 16th notes, in analyzing a phrase, be aware that they may be conceived as a regular 9/8 “triplet” doubled up:

Or as a duple-meter sixtuplet, with two 16th note triplets:

They are exactly the same rhythm, but a lick that seems very strange when you look at it one way, might make much more sense when you look at it the other.

The way this duple meter rhythm most frequently occurs is as a 4:3 tuplet, which is equivalent to a dotted 16th note rhythm. I'll use either of those things interchangeably, depending on what's easiest to write with the stuf around it. Just remember:

When you see a dotted 16th note, there could well be a duple-oriented lick happening.

I don't expect anyone will try to play this transcription— I don't suppose more than one or two will have made it this far in this post. But for anyone who is interested in “organic” drumming, and is unclear on their own way of approaching it, I think it's worth it to give this some fairly close study.


William said...

This is bonkers!

Jim said...

Really nice discussion! This kind of post is exactly why I keep coming back to this blog.