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...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Grooves o' the day: Rumproller

Eaaasing back into blogging after an eventful couple of weeks, with some grooves by Billy Higgins, from Lee Morgan's album The Rumproller. First, the groove from the title track:

Often he'll accent the & of 4 on the tom tom with his left hand, or omit the note on 4, and just play the &— listen through and you'll catch a lot of variations he does around beat 4. There is basically always a single rim click on 2— no variations in that part of the measure.

The tune Eclipso, always my favorite from this album, is faster, and most of the activity is with the left hand; his right doesn't come off of the cymbal much, and he doesn't accent on the cymbal as much as on Rumproller. He plays this on the intro:

During the tune he plays a bossa rhythm, with variations, with his left hand— he'll move this around the drum quite a bit at times:

The feet aren't real important on any of these: The bass drum is played very softly, with occasional accents; there may be hihat present, but I wasn't hearing it. Do whatever feels right; you could go to a bossa rhythm in the bass drum if you want, and you can always add the hihat on 2 and 4 to anything.

If you don't already have it, you'll want to go buy this record. Here's the Rumproller:

And Eclipso:

Monday, September 07, 2015

Rock beats displaced

You're not going to be seeing much of me for a few days— I'm getting married tomorrow, I've got a pre-wedding party today, then a micro-honeymoon at the Oregon coast Wednesday through Friday (the real one has us in France in December, so don't pity us)... so, yeah... light posting this week...

Displacement is a popular drummerland topic, but as a concept it's not a thing I'm real into. I think mostly people are trying to sell drum lessons, with cool, advanced/insider-y sounding techniques. We're not doing this to be hip, throw people off and then make fun of them for getting lost; this is more of a basic way of opening up basic grooves a little bit, in music where that is appropriate. A lot of drummery-drummers have been messing with it for some years, but the main precedent that concerns us in how it was used by James Brown's drummers— see Stanton Moore's book Groove Alchemy for an explanation of that. Being used in real music for the masses is sort of the gold standard for legitimacy for these “advanced” techniques. I don't want to do things just because an amazing drummer did them in a display of his awesomeness.

The idea here is pretty simple: in a two-measure phrase, we play a basic rock beat for one measure, and then the same rock beat shifted an 8th note late. Basically we're adding an 8th note (played on the hihat) at the beginning of the displaced measure, and losing the last 8th note of the displaced beat, so we can land on 1 at the top of the repeat. In the second section, the last two beats of the first measure, and the first two beats of the second measure are displaced— there's an extra 8th note on the hihat on 3 of the first measure, and we lose an 8th note of the displaced groove going back into the non-displaced pattern on 3 of the second  measure. Don't worry if this verbiage doesn't make sense— just look at the page and try to figure out why things are the way they are. If you can't figure it out, don't worry about that, either— just learn the notes and everything will be cool.

As a warmup, play the first measure of exercises 1-8, repeating many times, then play the exercises as written. For exercises 9-13, repeat the plain form of the beat (in the left hand colum) many times, then go into the displaced version— hopefully you'll be see/hear/think how they logically relate to each other. But if not, it doesn't really matter; just playing the patterns and learning their individual little melodies will be enough to add something to your playing. Learning to “do displacement” is not important, the sound of the patterns is.

Get the pdf

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Milton Resnick

The painter Milton Resnick (1917-2004) was one of the first generation of New York Abstract-Expressionist painters— a contemporary of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and the rest— and the longest-lived of them. I was exposed to him through my large-scale painting professor at the University of Oregon, Frank Okada, who lived in New York in the 50s, and met some of those painters. In the late 40s Resnick had an almost Picasso/Braque like relationship with de Kooning— they were close personally, and produced work in a very similar vein. Late-cubist, largely black and white, abstract paintings with collage-like jumbles of biomorphic forms, using housepaint as well as artist's oils. Okada felt Resnick had better design sense, and I think he was right.

Untitled, 1948— Milton Resnick

Painting, 1948 — Willem de Kooning

These paintings launched de Kooning's career, while Resnick continued to struggle. Fame is still something you have to cultivate, and apparently he was not about that, or was not as successful at it as were some of his peers. Okada seemed to think he was personally difficult. He also did not settle on a personal, iconic image the way the others did— you could call it a formula with some of them— and his work continued to develop independent of trends in theory, criticism, and art consumption. Within a few years he was painting richly textured, Monet-like abstracts, and a few years later the scene had moved on to something else entirely. By the time these videos were made, Resnick's selling prices are such that he could raise $30,000 to buy a building by hustling up the sale of a painting. De Kooning paintings (he had died only a couple of years earlier, in 1997) were selling for millions of dollars, and for tens of millions a few years later.

With that, here are a couple of cool videos of Resnick working, and talking about working:

At the beginning of that second video is the painter Pat Passlof (1928-2011), who was married to Resnick, and was also great, and relatively little-known. She was a student of de Kooning's and did some very good, similar work herself. This picture is completely derivative of de Kooning's and Resnick's work of a couple of years earlier, but it's still great— there are a lot of bad paintings by second and third tier New York artists of this era, so this is a very exciting picture for how good it is:

Safe Arrival, 1950— Pat Passlof

One more video of a q&a with Resnick:

Take a look at some more of his work.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Drumming myths

A decent piece from the Modern Drummer site— 12 Drumming Myths Debunked. Here are the entries that interest me, with my comments on them:

2. Mistakes are always bad.
Honor thy mistakes with repetition—I think the legendary Brian Eno said that. If it’s the right mistake, and you react quickly enough to it and then either repeat it artfully or create some cool variation of it, you could end up being called a drumming genius. 
Plus, if you obsess over playing everything just right, you’ll likely have trouble relaxing enough to groove well. And you’ll have trouble opening yourself up to the unknown, which is something great artists continuously strive for. 
So you blew that fill—what are they gonna do, arrest you? Lighten up and have some fun.

As I always tell my students, mistakes are real music trying to happen. They're things you know how to play, but that you haven't accepted you know how to play yet. Obviously, there are mistakes and there are mistakes; you don't want to drop beats or rush terribly. But things that you didn't mean to play, but are basically in time with a good sound, are not mistakes. It's an especially valuable philosophy in the practice room: playing out of books, mistakes are actually natural variations on the written thing. When they happen, recognize what you did “wrong”, and learn to play that on purpose, as well as the “correct” pattern you were trying to learn. Learning the written idea, plus all of the things you did leading up to learning it, it becomes living vocabulary; a little related body of stuff to play, instead of just the one written-out book-thing.

3. More resonance is always good.
About fifteen, twenty years ago, the drum industry fell all over itself trying to create mechanisms that allow toms to resonate as freely as possible. The trend continues today, with some manufacturers shackling their otherwise gorgeous kits with hideous-looking suspension mounts in response to this “need.” 
It seems to me that a blind ambition toward more resonance represents a case of art following technology, rather than the other way around. Yes, a less choked drum can often mean a better-sounding drum, and the resultant longer sustain of a note can be a desired effect. The opposites are obviously sometimes true as well, given the existence of things like Moongel and electronic gates. 
In cases like this I find it helpful to think about all of the profound pieces of recorded music that were produced before the advent of suspension mounts. Would Bonzo’s drums on Zeppelin IV sound better if they’d been recorded with hung toms? How about Art Blakey’s on Orgy in Rhythm? Or Nick Mason’s on Dark Side of the Moon?
And check this out: Freely resonating toms can actually make it harder for you to be heard. Controlled drum sounds can be more easily mixed, manipulated, and amplified, allowing them to be better heard without obliterating the other instruments. 
While it’s cool that mechanical “improvements” like suspension mounts give us more options, be careful to separate the marketing from the motivation. In this day and age of overly programmed music, it’s always wise to question the importance of any piece of technology, no matter how seemingly benign.

Mind you, Bonham's drums and Blakey's drums were basically unmuffled on those recordings. The author seems to mainly be taking issue with mounting systems. Personally, I don't think RIMS-type mounts vs. standard mounts is the big issue— it's more about unmuffled, single ply heads vs. dampened heads. There is a time and place for each; for many years I had all my drums, bass drum included, wide open in all situations. As it turns out, there are times you want to use some muffling: when playing on the softer end of the spectrum, or with incompetent soundmen, or in the recording studio, based on consulting with your engineer.

Several more after the break:

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Rhythms in 7/4

Here's a page of basic rhythms in 7/4 to go with yesterday's practice loop. The vamp on the loop is phrased in 3+2+2/4, so I've given a Ted Reed-style guide part on the bass drum line in that phrasing. 

If you've worked with Ted Reed's book Syncopation at all, or followed this blog, you should know some ways of using these rhythms on the drum set, but here are some ideas anyway. Using this rhythm as an example:

I haven't given a key here, but you probably know that Xs = cymbal, middle line = snare, bottom line = bass drum— if  not, this isn't what you should be working on. Anyway: you could revoice the rhythm between the snare drum and bass drum, in a rock-type phrasing, and play 8th notes (or another rhythm) on the cymbal:

You could play the rhythm on the cymbal, along with a basic rock-type groove on the snare drum and bass drum:

You could play the rhythm with the right hand on the cymbal, along with the bass drum, and fill in the gaps in the rhythm with the left hand on the snare drum (or moving around the drums):

You could play the rhythm with both hands together, on a cymbal and on the snare drum (or on any two drums), and fill in the gaps with the bass drum:

On that last one, where more than two bass drum hits in a row are called for, I'll often break up the multi-note runs by putting a rest in the middle of them. Of course there are many other Reed-style interpretations you can apply to these rhythms.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Creative Apocalypse coda

No, it's this.
Since my last update, there have been many more responses to Steven Johnson's New York Times Magazine piece The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn't, but it was largely piling on, and the essential points had been covered in the articles I originally linked to. The tone was continued unanimous outrage and derision, except for this blog post by Cortney Harding, The Creative Nonpocalypse. About the response to Johnson's piece, she says this— mind you, just about all I have left on this subject is snark. I think we're being played for suckers in this “debate”, and scorn is actually an appropriate response. Anyway, Harding says this:

Predictably, the responses from the music industry rolled in...

Yes, predictably, like a knee-jerk thing. Thoughtless, and likely meritless. Industry, suggesting representatives of big business, not the actual working artists who the respondents largely were. A bad start, to quote Zack Galifianakis.

First, [the major responses to TCATW] operate off of a narrow definition of “creative work.” The New York Times piece focuses on a giant data set that includes professional athletes, and then a smaller data set of self-employed musicians; Levine’s refutation responds to these stats. What’s being left out here is the massive number of creative workers who have jumped from self-employment into other creative professions — careers that didn’t exist before the rise of the internet. 

While I have no doubt that large numbers of formerly-creative artists have gotten day jobs, we have nothing but Harding's assurance that “massive” numbers of people are moving into other creative professions. She provides no evidence of that, save one example:

Take Bruce Henderson, for example. In 1999, he was a self-employed musician and writer who was booked on Letterman — surely something that would boost his career into the stratosphere. He played the Late Show and sold a grand total of 80 copies of his latest album. Around the same time, he started working at a fledgling website called He was doing creative work, some of it musical, just in a different place. Henderson stayed in the advertising world, eventually become the chief creative officer for North America of Geometry Global. When I spoke to him last month, he was calling from his beach house, so you can guess how things worked out for him.

Oh my goodness, a beach house! How incredibly patronizing. I guess, because the journalist obviously did not ask, the fact that he owns a beach house of indeterminate size/niceness somewhere on Earth, suggests he's making a lower middle class income or better. If you were wondering if there were non-music jobs that pay that kind of money, there's your answer.

Continued after the break— the best part, a response from another writer, is at the end: