Monday, March 29, 2010

Dawn of Midi: First

The band is the DAWN OF MIDI, the album FIRST

This is my first CD review for this Blog. I have talked about artists I like, music styles/forms I like, even albums I like but never strictly an in depth review of one record. I was contacted by the bass player, and he sent me a record, and I must say, I really dig it! So onwards, I have listened to the album several times, and as far as I know, all completely free improvisations for piano trio, and now will talk about the album. I caught a quote from Mark Dresser talking about how gifted these musicians were, and thought to myself, "Well if he recommends it, then I can't wait to give it a listen!" Here goes:

TRACK ONE: "Phases in Blue"

I side note about this, I'm going to listen to it now again straight through and type up my thoughts. I will probably compare some things to musicians that I already know, just because I can only talk about what I know from previous experiences. So far a nice open intro with bass and drums, and a pause, and here enters muted piano with the open-ness of extended Keith Jarrett Trio records. I noticed that upon my first listen that there were moments throughout the record that reminded me of the free wheeling excursions piano of Keith, with a more contemporary bass/drums background. Completely in its own way and take on it, the drums at this point remind me a little of what Dave King does with the bad plus, but if you were take the more genre hints out of Dave King. As with any free recordings, I am curious if the music or the titles came first, just trying to listen to the recording and think about the title in mind. I hear more of a whirlwind with this one. And a lot of wonderful WOOD of the bass, I love hearing the wood come out! Sort of an abrupt but natural ending, Dig!

TRACK TWO: "Laura Lee"

Nice, there was some real quiet ambient sound that started the track off for a second before the piano came in. The percussion going on almost sounds like there is some junk metal involved, like some small pots/pans, or tiny cymbals or something, I like! Nice huge bass sound on this, really great interaction between the trio, everyone listening and leaving space for another, can really hear them using their ears. It almost sounds, in the piano, like there really is a written tune in there, which is an element to free improvisations that I personally really like. The rhythmic counterpoint with all the metal sounds of the drummer adds a good touch to the piano melody. We Have A Rallying Pitch! There is some great repetition of a single pitch in the piano, taking up by the bass, that is building into something really wonderful! Disjunct variation on a one note theme! And a pause for a short and fitting coda!

TRACK THREE: Civilization of Mud and Ember

The piano started with the same harmonies of the ending notes of the last track. This makes me wonder if these improvisations were totally back to back to back, or how they were recorded, if they were recorded in the order that was then on the record. Interesting synchronicity either way! Now that we are on to the third track, I'm hearing some patterns in the vibe of the group (which may break off as we go farther). Definitely some more coloristic drumming so far, as opposed to any strict time feel or meter, but I don't know if I would even call it broken time. Either way I am trying to analyze it in a stream of consciousness way, and am just writing what I am hearing as it comes to me. Seems like this tune has more waves of things happening, a rise and fall of musical ideas. Nice piano closer to this...I think I am drawn to the endings of the tunes a lot, because they all (so far) seem like these very nice well placed new ideas, or short recaps of what was just heard. Also it's great to hear variation, just the piano playing, verses the trio playing all the time.


For some reason, before listening to it, I'm picturing the phrase "four on the floor." Back to inside the piano...some of the most mystical sounds of new music in my opinion. Like George Crumb meets Anthony Braxton's rhythm section! I've been specifically tuned into the drummer a lot on this listen through of the album, and I like how everything to me sounds coloristic, but orchestrated in completed different ways each time...that takes creativity! Cool hammering on sounds on the bass, with this lush piano music...I would love to see a new painting representing the sound of this current duo! The balance between the seemingly opposed musical ideas is incredible well placed, with the drums fading into and back out of what the bass player is doing. Some of the music reminds me of well thought out solo piano music, with incredible rhythm sections counterpoint that plays with or against the piano ideas.

TRACK FIVE: Tale of Two Worlds

Quiet tremolo bass, muted piano, sparse percussion...a recipe for wonder! Starting a slow crescendo and build with all the instruments, well paced, and all together, each one of the trio filtering out of the mix little by little. I like the repetition of simple ideas, which I have been hearing off and on throughout the record, gives something for the listener to attach their ears to, instead of constantly moving in completely new directions at the drop of a hat. I also really dig the dynamics, all these quiet things building and mutating quite naturally into themselves. Gorgeous chords, some snare work that is starting to hint at being in time, but nope, just a hint! There it is again, some toms and drums hinting at time for just a second, just as the piece closes, but never a groove (in the traditional sense) achieved. Dig!


I really am enjoying how the pianist is playing the whole piano, low range, high range, inside the piano, or not inside it, muted strings, the whole lot...just using the entire freakin' thing! Some really great synchroncity so far on this track between the bass and the piano figures...first time that the bass has really jumped out to me in the mix with some fuller counterpoint with the piano. Now bending the string over the neck ( I always consider this a Charles Mingus sound, first person I heard use it). Again, the drummer never ceased to amaze me in his ability to get so many sounds out of his instrument, while continuing to play fresh "out of time" what a treat! AHH, I can't harp on it enough, but you guys really know when your improvisations are over...they are always perfect endings!

TRACK SEVEN: Hindu Pedagogy

Interesting title, I am expecting some Indian scales/Raga sounds now from the beginning before having heard anything. This sounds familiar now, I don't know if this really just stuck in my ear from already listening to it several times, or if it is hinting at an earlier track on the record. This is so far the most "in time" thing I have heard upon this listen, which is refreshing! There is a nice underlying groove to this, that seems to be blissfully played against in the bass, but the drums/piano are covering it nicely. Like an earlier comment, it would be great to see an artists' rendering of the sound on a canvas! After more of the ethereal sounding music, this adds a nice variety to the CD with its repetition and groove. Great de-structuring of the piece right at the end!


This is the most I think I have heard yet of just the bass and drums, without piano. Also refreshing! And the piano sneaks in like an underwater shark fin coming up out of the ocean! The music is already slightly sinister, and the threat of the muted low piano bass note brings a mystique to the track. Short and darkly sweet!


Backtracking to all the tracks already heard on this listen...I am enjoying more than most things the sense of composition to all the music, knowing (from reading the given notes) that everything is made up of free improvisations. It still sounds like free improvisations, but you could make an argument to someone that they are composed out themes. There are transcribable tunes and ideas within all of these pieces. Space and balanced trio playing on this recording, like everyone knows where their instrument fits into the mix in perfect spacial harmony. I found a video clip online of a black and white film to this specific tune, and it was very fitting, this tune seems very cinematic, while I myself can imagine a storm a brewing, and shots of flowing water, and a mix of open land scenes. Another groove happening right at the end of the tune, it starts to settle into something, but only a hint of it before breaking out and ending.

TRACK TEN: In Between

The last tune on the record and the longest. Strap in, and here we go! Slapped bass harmonics, repeated low piano bass hits, broken up percussion, and mix of what will come! Repeated piano pitches, now in a higher octave, and being slightly split into other things, and then repeated single pitch again up another octave...helping shape the improvisations higher and higher into new territories. Gorgeous and minimal chord progressions swoop in from time to time reminding us that there is more out there, but sparse enough for me to forget what key center we may be in. A single pitch can take us anywhere, can be harmonized in any direction, is so open that who knows what freedom may be achieved! Six minutes in, and the pianist is stayin' on it! And now the drums and bass have subsided, and we're still in the bliss of the single note piano, and now the bass has re-entered with a new thought and new way to add to the landscape at hand. The drone is putting me in a trance, and the drums are adding their quiet ritual background of sound. The pure dedication of the continutation of the note is awe inspiring, as if Charlemagne Palestine was seated at the piano, but with added improvised percussion and bass. Now nine and half minutes, and the drone keeps on, the drone of time, the drone of wisdom, the drone of maturity, the drone of the ever present moment. The title is in between, maybe the drone is the in between feeling of being in between breaths while in deep meditation. Or the drone of living, being in between being born and dying. A powerful drone, and a powerful piece to end a beautifully played and recorded album.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to listen and talk about such great music!


*Not that this group has to, but I would love to hear what the compositions would sound like, if these that are on the CD are totally free.

**As one last, by the way, I still am curious how they came up with their name, the Dawn of Midi, considering, as far as I know it's an all acoustic group, sans electronics.

Open Space Music Festival 2010 with Christian Wolff

Out here in lovely Colorado we just ended our second annual Open Space Music Festival, featuring Stephen Drury, Michael Hicks, the Callithumpian Consort and composer Christian Wolff. As a graduate student for the jazz program and the composition program here at the University of Northern Colorado I have been kept busy helping get everything organized for the COBRA ENSEMBLE's performance of EDGES with the composer Christian Wolff, as well as providing rides for the guest artists for the past several days. We luckily got a lot of publicity for the festival and I think all and all everything went rather well. Here's some links with the local papers here, here, and here.

The festival started with Thursday Masterclasses with both Stephen Drury and Christian Wolff. They were at the same time, and I was busy driving folks around, so I caught the majority of Christian Wolff's masterclass. He started off by playing an early piece of his for only three instruments in which he described not using any melodies/counterpoint/accompaniment, just simply sounds with structure. It had a nice and static sound to it, while being in constant motion, and I hope I can find a recording and/or score to the work. Wolff was friends with John Cage, and he talked about how Cage would give him exercises to work on, like for instance a Webern piece for orchestra (also blanking on which piece) in which it was written in a double canon, and serialized, but you kept hearing the sound of the same 13 note chord, even though there was this inherent structure to the work that kept moving around. So it was an elaborate system that made up the sound of a very repetitive static harmony. Wolff's own music was influenced by this static pitch sound. He mentioned Morton Feldman's early graph scores as being the first of its kind in opening up the possibilities for the performers. Christian Wolff talked about then how some of his early vocal music went up and down in pitch, but in an unspecified/open way.

In Christian Wolff's masterclass he went on to talk about the influence of pianist David Tudor on the scene, who loved playing new music, and anything that was incredibly difficult to pull off, which was a boon to the scene of composers. Wolff was also friends with Frederic Rzewski, another pianist and the two of them worked out a duo piece for two pianos using "Varied time relationships." He described this as things between a sixteenth of a second and 30 seconds in which the pianist had to play specific things, but given specific time in order to do it. This concept sounds VERY similar to some things I have heard in Zorn's work. This concept led to one person's sound relying on another person's sound, like a hocket, but with freer durations. Wolff was then talking about the rhythmic sound this gets, that he can't figure out how to acheive without this kind of technique. The unmeasured quality of it brings an "off-ness" to the sound. He said he then further complicated this with "cues," when a note goes on until another note is played by someone else.

Christian Wolff went on to go back to the "open-ness" of certain compositions, and how as the composer you have to ask yourself, "What is the worst that can happen" and then revise or scrap the piece if the worst thing is something you couldn't deal with. There is always a gap in the score and the actual music, and the process of transfer is built in, which is something always to keep in mind. The inherent improvisation of reading a music score and performing it is what gives the music its life!

Wolff then went on to talk about three composers that were important to him. Namely Webern, who would write with sound aspect and the mental aspect both moving in opposite directions, like the sound being static, but the process being elaborate. Erik Satie is another composer mentioned, that Wolff said John Cage loved. Satie's music was very matter of fact, and yet ambiguous as to what exactly it was doing. Satie's music also had an element of popular music, and was willing to reference the vernacular much like Charles Ives, the third composer that he was very influenced by. Ives, Wolff said, used hymns and pop tunes, in a big mess of complexity, which is specifically interesting because Wolff's early pieces were more about reduction and simplicity.

The last part of Christian Wolff's lecture went on to talk about larger ensemble works. He said that his more open scores worked for up to a max of about 10 people (our performance of Edges was 12-13 people), but then was faced with the question of what to about a full orchestra. So his first orchestral piece was a concerto for a percussionist, since he knew that at least the percussionist would practice their part. Petr Kotik was an early help in trying to make sure that Wolff's music was heard among other new music composers. After this, Kotik was working with a Czech orchestra, and somehow got them to put on Stockhausen's Gruppen, for mulitple orchestras. Kotik approached Wolff about writing a piece for three orchestras for the same concert, and so Wolff's second attempt at orchestral writing involved three of them at once. He said it was mostly traditionally notated with some open sections here and there, but was performed well.

After the masterclass on thursday there was a concert with the Callithumpian Consort performing Jonathan Harvey's Flight Elegy, Wolff's Berliner Exercises, as well as Wolff's musical setting of Bertolt Brecht's "Exception and the Rule." All of the concert featured the Callithumpian Consort conducted by Stephen Drury. The Flight Elegy was a duo for piano and violin remniscent of George Crumb with it's microtonal melodic material on the violin, and the lush inside of the piano sounds. The Berliner Exercises was fun and pointillistic...this being a simplistic view of the piece, but I am just to remember by initial reaction to hearing it. I wish I would've been around to hear the translation of some of the German text used in the exercies. I happened upon the score, and will spend some time later hopefully studying it. The last piece was with the Callithumpian's and the UNC Theatre department, which I thought was great, and if anything, my only comment would be that I would have loved to hear even more music. Great play, great writing, and was well recieved. On a personal note I thought that it was a pretty serious play, and yet there was a lot of seemingly contrived laughter from audience members that were obviously friends with the theatre kids, that I found a bit detracting, but what can you expect? Overall it was a really great concert, and real pleasure to hear an ensemble like the Callithumpian Consort.

Friday was my day! That morning was a rehearsal with the COBRA ENSEMBLE and Christian Wolff in which he rehearsed us on EDGES. Immediately he liked what we were doing and made a point of talking about the kind of opposite ideas, in which we were supposed to listen, but not necessarily react to one another. It was helpful to hear him say that the score was more of what not to play, than what to play, as if we had the negative of a picture, and were trying to realize the picture. So take the symbols given, play their total opposites, and then play the varying degrees of the opposite of the symbol at hand, and the degrees going towards or away from that. I recorded the masterclass and performance, and were even joined by our professor Paul Elwood on banjo. Christian Wolff was offered a keyboard, but he thought two keyboards would be too much, so he sang some, played some minimal percussion and harmonica. Personally I think the rehearsal went better than the performance itself, but it was still a great experience and I think everyone learned a lot. The hardest part was having a few people miss the morning rehearsal, and then play the piece for 45 minutes or longer (at the performance), without hearing how to do it straight from Christian Wolff's mouth. Still, all in all a good performance!

Michael Hicks gave a lecture and a concert of folk music on friday, in which I missed the concert but caught the lecture. He was basically talking about how different record companies, Columbia in particular, marketed avant garde music to rock audiences, which was funny and enlightening. It also cost me some money, as I then had to search out some of the LPs for my own sake! Here's some of my notes typed up from the lecture (he gave out a great handout as well). There was a record "Susan" by a pop group called the Buckinghams that had a tune where it was interupted by Ives and Stockhausen music layered on top of one another, completely out of nowhere. The composer David Behrman was a big help to new music for columbia records, as we was added as an engineer, but then helped his boss, John McClure get out to various lofts and agree to record people like La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Look up records with "Music of our time" monikers as well as the album "A Guide to the Electronic Music Revolution." Also I have that Earl Brown used to run the Mainstream label, which makes sense because that's one of the best early new music labels. That's primarily it for my Michael Hicks lecture notes.

And that concludes my post on the Open Space Festival at UNC this year. I had a great time, it was good hanging out with Drury, all the members of the Callithumpian Consort and Christian Wolff. I may update this with one more post going into specifics about the masterclass with Christian Wolff and transcribing what he said from my recording, but other than that that wraps it up. Also, for the first time ever, I am dedicated an entire blog post soon to a CD that a group sent me in the mail, and will take some more time listening to it and getting it in my ear, and then typing up a lengthy review of it, and why you should all check it out!

Thanks, and I hope you have enjoyed!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Marc Ribot and the Book of Heads

I have been on a recent kick of listening to Marc Ribot. I feel that he is one of the most unique guitarist out there today, having a great blend of melodicism, incredible time, attention to sonic detail, originality, and an ability to play any music while retaining his sound. Recently I have been checking out his CDs "Don't Blame me," "Saints," and his duo record with Bill Ware "Sir Duke," where the two of them play all Ellington tunes. Yesterday, I received John Zorn's score through interlibrary loan (if you don't know about this, find out immediately, I know all I know today because of this system) to his set of late 70s guitar etudes written for Eugene Chadbourne titled "The book of heads." I actually have never heard of recordings of Chadbourne playing any of these etudes, but Marc Ribot has recorded all 35 of them on the Tzadik label. I spent all of yesterday subsequently listening to the etudes while following along with the score.

The first thing I kept in mind, was some information I had heard in an interview about how John Zorn, especially in the earlier days of the 70s and early 80s would write music that was very tiny. Something about him liking the idea of people having to lean over and squint in order to read the music. The scores to this work consist of a single page to each individual etude. These etudes are in the middle of the page, leaving 80% or more of the page open unused white space. But still given that, I am having a tough time reading the text instructions of the piece! Also each page has an estimated length of time for the etue, for instance the first one being 30 seconds long. This is similar to John Zorn's earlier works being very short musical ideas, influenced by film and cartoon.

From part of the score:
"List of Accessories Needed:
Balloons (20 or more)
Violin bow
Alligator clips
Metal slide (ring not bottleneck)
Resonant spring for scraping
Pipe cleaners for scrapes (wrap around string)
Pencils for extra bridges
Up to 3 different guitars may be required (acoustic, electric, and dobro, etc.)
30 grains of rice inside a balloon
At least 2 mbira tongs (metal nail files will do)
Finger cymbal
Creaky tuning peg (wooden clothes pin will do)
Ratchet sound
Extra strings to be broken or changed
Scordatura may be used at your discretion where necessary to play written chords

General Note:
These "heads" are meant to be played as written and serve as the basis for improvisation. The improv may occur before, after, both before and after, in between two different heads or the same head twice, or not at all during your performance."

There is also a Glossary of Symbols page which involves body knocks, spoits, whoops, popping balloons, playing or bending strings behind the nut and behind the bridge, and many others! The recording of Ribot playing these pieces are genius, and it is a pleasure to hear how he manipulates the compositions in improvisatory ways, always structuring the etudes in different ways.

My other reason for putting together this blog post, is because I just located a Marc Ribot documentary online called "The Lost String." It is a relatively new release, and below are the links to it, which I am will be watching very soon!

As always, Enjoy!