Friday, September 28, 2012

Properties of Free Music

A friend of mine in Colorado, David Thomas Bailey, sent me a questionnaire a few days ago based off this new book by Joe Morris.  I haven't read this, but it's on my list of books to get, seemingly similar lines of Derek Bailey's book on improvisation, and the John Zorn Arcana series (which there is a new edition coming out soon!)  I did my best to answer it, so below is the questionnaire and then my responses.

1. A.) Cite some influential materials that you have synthesized, and/or interpreted in whole or in parts in your work. B.) Describe how when combined with your imagination those processes resulted in invented parts of your work.
2. A.) Describe your consideration of spirituality, intuition, concept, logic, aesthetic philosophy,history, politics, technique, any other similar thing, or a combination of these things in your work. B.) How does this inform your methodology?
3. A.) In what ways are the individuals in your community of collaborators important to your work? B.) How do you adapt your methodology in consideration of what they bring?
4. What are the particular musical material or materials (i.e. melody, rhythm, sound, timbre, etc.) that you choose to rely on to inform the improvised content of your work?
5. Please describe the way or ways you consider pulse in your music.
6. How have you addressed the notion of interaction in your work?
7. A.) What are the ways you display the form in your individual pieces and in a complete performance? B.) Do you compose a form, let a form emerge, or both?

Operational Methodology
A way approaching improvised music that deals explains, in whole or in part, your approach, platform, melodic structure, pulse, interaction, and form. This explains your process of synthesis, interpretation and invention. Example operational methodologies are Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures, Ornette Coleman’s Harmolodics, and Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Axum Theory.

My Response:

1.      I spent time working on a show of Dave Holland’s “Conference of the Birds” and after transcribing the music, playing along with the album I started to figure out these cells, motives, and fragments of the melodies and incorporate them into the free form tunes (soloing/accompanying).  This method, along with transcribing group free improvisations (that I’ve been involved in) out into new compositions, has helped me find new materials, new structures for playing and for composition.  Along with this I have spent a lot of time forming project based bands to dig deeper into the music of john zorn and ornette coleman (separately) and time with 20th century composition involving graphic, text, and improvisational based scores. 

2.     I used to think more in spiritual terms but don’t anymore (or as much) as I’ve become more jaded with religion.  Intuition is a big part of it, and I find the intuition is partially there based on past experiences, not only in playing situations, but in listening situations (live or on my stereo).  I am a big picture thinker, so I rely heavily on in the moment intuition with playing freely.  Concept is used from time to time, more compositionally than anything.  I’ll have an idea for a specific sound, and will write it out as a text piece, or a graphic piece and have people play it.  I think compositionally with concept related material.  I don’t use logic as much as I should, more free/experimental openness, and even with a well defined concept, sometimes it isn’t carried out logically (like writing something out in a non-traditional way, verses a through composed chart with the standard form/chord changes).  I don’t think I have any aesthetics per se, other than playing stylistically correct, as in not playing jazz language while playing free, or rock riffs, but leaving that open if free music turns into a certain genre of sound (like free to free jazz).  I think a lot about history and tradition, and have spent a lot of time studying contemporary compositional approaches, the history of free jazz/free music, and most of my free playing are based on historical projects, like John Coltrane’s Ascension coming up in Denver, one of the first free jazz large ensemble records.  My trio MTM is an open improv and contemporary music trio, loosely in my mind based off of AMM with Rowe, Prevost, Cardew, etc….  I also have to find recordings of this music, and of specific pieces and hear them for comparison of how I will approach a piece (even if it’s a very free piece, like Christian Wolff’s “Edges” or Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”)   I have studied politics and it’s influence on Charlie Haden’s music, but politics doesn’t affect my own music.  My consideration for technique is in sounds more than anything.  With studying history, I have tried to study extended techniques in contemporary classical music via Bertram Turetsky, Mark Dresser, Joelle Leandre, etc….  I have a word document somewhere than lists close to 200 different sounds or combinations of sounds for playing the bass (in example, stomping my feet while playing a harmonic drone and throat singing, or prepared strings with aluminum pizz)  I think writing out all your sound options is a good way to build technique, and one could practice that and try to work it all out within those parameters new parameters.  From answering the first part of the question I already answered the second half partially, like showing how history affects technique, which affects your concept and approach.  It’s all inter-related, unless it’s not a consideration (like religion and politics aren’t, or are at a very small level).  Everything is connected, and usually more through history, experience, and research of these materials.

3.     The individuals I play with are very important to my work.  There are a lot of them, who now live all over the country, and have them categorized in certain ways of people who would be good for free jazz playing, versus totally free playing, verses more inside jazz, or more inside contemporary classical music.  I recently put a group together for contemporary classical music (to play Cage, Cardew, Wolff, Rzweski, Feldman pieces) and have already learned a lot dealing with the various personalties, their own backgrounds, their own preferences, and it’s a unique group, with a unique sound and repertoire.  I learned a lot from putting together John Zorn’s Cobra 4 years ago, about how to lead a large ensemble, and how to deal with the diverse personalities of a 10-20 person group (playing open improv).  Whenever I have free projects I spend more time getting the ensemble together than I do for a straight ahead jazz gig, more time weighing the people, the instruments, how they play their instruments and what different people will bring to the table together.   I’ve learned technique oriented material from various players, especially in guitar extended technique and in electronics.  Because the projects are mine I feel like I spend more time having the other player adapt to whatever situation I’m putting them in.  Most musicians I use, at some point when I started playing with them, free playing was completely new to them, so I had to coach, teach, or prod in a certain way, usually more suggestions than forceful.  I adapt mostly by just laying out and not playing and listening, or maybe by mimicking an idea, or realizing if it’s free jazz vs. free improv, or the sound of that moment with those musicians playing.

4.     I think I like to rely on non musical materials to relate to my work.  I still am working out research with abstract expressionist painting and music, and various poety and literature and involving that somehow into the music.  I spent a lot of time with Cardew’s graphic score Treatise, so really just looking at abstract symbols on a page, and trying to come up with a logical interpretation.  I think when I get thrown out of the musical realm, and have to relate nonmusical ideas musically is when a certain creative element comes out.  Other than that, I do think about timbre, and the world of sounds maybe more than other elements like melody or harmony.

5.     Pulse depends again on what is being played.  Most of my trio MTM’s music was not pulse based, and if it was was a loose pulse.  Most free jazz music, to me, is pulse based, like having a fast broken swing beat, or free bop, with walking bass and swing drums, just no set changes (and a swing feel).  When pulse arises in totally free playing it can be a fun anchor to play with, not play with, or play against.  I have a text piece where I come upon certain parts of it, and imitate the ticking of a clock by knocking my bow against the tail piece.  I think I prefer no pulse, so sounds can be sounds, and not something I can imagine a person putting a beat behind, or drum groove behind…maybe comes out of more my Cage/Cardew sensibilities, the sound of modern contemporary classical music, more so than free jazz.

6.     Interaction depends on the group or the music played.  There is Wolff’s “Edges” which performers can choose to stay in their own world and just play while others are playing, or the opposite and be totally focused on all the other players informing when they do or don’t come in.  John Zorn’s “Cobra” has addressed it with an improv game based on personalities, people taking charge, or people sitting back and playing when they are called on to play.  With free jazz settings I think I use more eye contact and visual cues in the experience, but other free playing is more meditative to me, and sitting there in a dark room (sometimes) playing off of the sounds, and focusing more on each individual sound and it’s source, and sometimes getting lost as to what is sounding what.

7.     I like form based pieces, or concept based pieces, even if it’s an open idea.  Sometimes I can tell people I’m playing with are frustrated because they’d rather play totally free and open, but I will have some musical cells, or short melodies, or chords, or some kind of material that eventually gets played.  I like the idea of a form that doesn’t sound like there is a form, which is something I’ve studied in Tony Malaby, Tim Berne and John Hollenbeck’s music.  Like the idea that you play this very composed thing, and then play very free right after, and make them sound as similar as possible….or everything is free, but there is a specific long tone bass line, or the melody instruments are playing a composed thing, and everything is free underneath that.  Even if it’s a simple/bare bones form, I do like having formal ideas, to study how they can differ, or how much form/how little form you can get away with to achieve certain sounds, situations, or effects.  I do a lot of composing forms (more than pieces, just forms), and then when I can and am getting together with people, it’s fun to just play free, to find each other.  

Monday, September 10, 2012


I recently released that I am developing a professional discography!  I have some releases on Bandcamp via my MTM site and my Matt Smiley site, but most of these are amateur recordings (not to say they aren’t worth checking out).  All of the ones listed below are recorded in a professional studio.  There is a diversity of jazz records and a rock album.  Unfortunately most of these aren’t released yet, but give it 6-8 months and I think most of these will be commercially available.  More information on the big band record to come I hope, I’ll be recorded it this weekend.

Matt Smiley’s Discography:

Matt Smiley – Quartet Art

David Pope – tenor sax
Ryan Fourt – guitar
Matt Coyle – drums/percussion
Josh D Reed – trumpet
Matt Smiley – bass

Compositions by Matt Smiley and Charlie Haden
Genre: Avant/Modern/Free Jazz
Status:  Available for purchase, CD and iTunes

Alex Nauman Organ Trio + 3 – Too Damn Tight!

Alex Nauman – guitar
Erik Olson – organ/piano
Brad Edwards – drums
Ben Johns – saxophones
Gy Moody – percussion
Matt Smiley – bass

Compositions by Alex Nauman and Erik Olson
Genre: Bluesy/Groovy/Soul Jazz
Status:  Will be available for purchase in the fall of 2012, Vinyl and iTunes

GoodRattle – (no title yet)

Wil Swindler – alto and bari saxophone
Gabe Mervine – trumpet
Chris Smith – drums
Ben Markley – piano
Matt Smiley – bass

Compositions by Wil Swindler, Ben Markley, Matt Smiley, and Tommy Flanagan
Genre:  Hardbop/Modern Jazz
Status:  Hope to be available within the next 6 months, CD and iTunes

Ryan Fourt – Stone Cricket

Ryan Fourt – guitars
Ben Waters – drums
Kelsey Shiba – voice and keys
Marty Kenney – bass
Kate Skinner - keyboards
Matt Smiley – bass

Compositions by Ryan Fourt
Genre:  Rock
Status:  Hope to be available within the next 6 months, CD and iTunes

Shilo Stroman – Square Peg

Shilo Stroman – drums
Gabe Mervine – trumpet
Ryan Fourt – guitar
Matt Smiley – bass

Compositions by Shilo Stroman, Brian Wilson, and Anthony Kiedis
Genre: Adventure Jazz
Status:  Hope to be available within the next 6 months, CD and iTunes

Adam Bartczak Big Band – (no title yet)

Not sure of all the players yet, but I will be playing bass on it.

Compositions by Adam Bartczak
Genre:  Modern Big Band Jazz
Status:  Will be recorded this week (September 2012)