Monday, January 19, 2009

snow flakes

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tone of voice

Listening to the first few tracks of Joel Palmer's latest release True Dreams (samples of which can be found here) brought back into focus a question that i have carried with me for a long time: what provides a good foundation for the timbral architecture of a piece? What guidance is there for choosing timbres? How are we to bear witness to the experience of the timbres we choose? What is the language of timbre?

Our place in evolution has made us organisms who hear in timbre a size and shape and material make-up of the primary vibrating body (string, reed, drum head, ...) as well as the size and shape of the space in which the body is vibrating (concert hall, coffee shop, village circle, ...). i think we must acknowledge and work with this natural and organismal contribution to our perception of timbre. In a word, what Timbre says to us about matter matters.

At the same time -- if we are honest -- i think we must acknowledge a celestial and heavenly perception of timbre. There are too many reports of the music of the spheres. Too much common in our experience to deny that some timbres come from above -- asking us to be more than what we currently are -- and others lift us upward from below -- helping us to realize the difference between what we are and what we pretend to be.

These considerations are emphasized by our particular point in time when for the last 70 years or more we have enjoyed unprecedented timbral freedom. We can design timbral experiences of enormous range and complexity. Before this period timbre and physical device were so closely wedded that the only indication of timbre in a score was to note the instrument(s) in which the voice was to be spoken. There have been intrepid explorers from Theremin to Moog to the Moody Blues, from Frith to Fripp, from Guthrie to Reich. In some sense, every performing musician sets out on an exploration of timbre. And, for all i know, they have all developed an internal framework, an internal language for working with timbre. But, also, for all i know, they have only chosen to share that language in the music, itself.

The music, however, is not the score, and i think we must acknowledge that the score has a definite value for those who wish to work with music, much like the written word has a value for those who wish to work with language. What is a score that lets us talk, think and feel about timbre? How do we lift our game so that we can bring more intention in the choice of timbre?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Scraping bottom

A friend of mine graciously offered some feedback regarding the tone i produce when playing guitar with a plectrum. He heard a lot of scraping and slapping of the pick against the string when i played. We sat together for more than 30 mins trying to identify the source of the scraping and slapping -- so that i could bring more intention to bear on the tone i produced. At the time i was only able to say that i also heard the scraping and slapping, myself; but, i was unable to really identify the source.

In a subsequent personal practice i slowed the picking action way down to be able to notice where the scraping was originating. i observed that the way i was playing created an angle of the pick relative to the string. Since this is happening in (at least) 3 space, i have drawn a couple of pictures to indicate which angle i mean.

After noticing this, i began to ask what i would need to do to create a picking motion that had the pick parallel to the string at the point of impact. At first i was only focusing on the right hand. Without adjusting anything else it seemed that the angle at which i needed to hold the pick was extreme. The degree to which i had to cock my thumb inward along the first joint was so dramatic that i could only hold the position for a limited period of time. At first this seemed like a wall until i noticed that i could also adjust the angle of the string relative to the pick by shifting the neck of the guitar.

Actually, the observation was that i noticed that to be flat on impact the angle of the guitar neck relative to horizontal (a.k.a. ground) needed to be congruent to the angle of the guitar pick relative to horizontal (ground). From this observation i realized i could adjust the guitar neck -- lower it -- to lessen the degree to which i had to cock my thumb. At this point i realized that i had been adjusting the neck of the guitar to a certain angle to minimize a certain amount of stress on the left shoulder.

With all this information at my disposal i have a whole playground in which to scamper to find ways to produce tone -- while being comfortable at play(ing the guitar). i should stress, i wasn't trying to get rid of the scraping and slapping -- in fact the scraping and slapping can be really useful and effective in certain musical situations. Instead i was trying to make it more mine by making the act more intentional. i found that my relationship to ground helped make more available. And, it wasn't just the physical horizontal. The scraping itself was more pronounced on the wound strings; in effect it was scraping bottom that allowed me to see a new horizon.

(As a brief coda... i looked at one of my old picks to verify that what i thought was happening was indeed. For, if the angle of the pick to the string was as i observed then i should see a certain wear pattern on the pick which wore down along the edge. Here is a picture of the old pick. Notice the wear pattern.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My right hand

i have begun an effort toward improving the accuracy of my right hand. Specifically, i note that i often overshoot towards the bass strings and don't follow through far enough towards the treble strings. i'm documenting the effort on youtube.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Games with games

Once we get used to describing data structures like sets or Conway games with this kind of notation, we can start ringing changes with them. Here's Conway's games:
  • G ::= { G* | G* }
And, here are two new generalizations of games.
  • GG ::= { GG* [| GG*]* }
  • GH(i) ::= {i GH(j <> i)* | GH(j<>i)* i}
And, of course, they compose
  • GGH(i) ::= {i GGH(j<>i)* [| GGH(j<>i)*]* i}
The first variant, GG, has a geometric interpretation. In the Conway form, G, we are looking at points of the real line. The variant GG may be interpreted as a simplex, the different components giving limits of barycentric components.

You know, it really hit me, today, how large the question of where people come from. It takes people to make people!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the legominism

So... i can't claim to understand what a legominism is. However, i received an impression of it, from someone who likely does, that it is a vehicle for the communication of certain information. When i received this impression one of the things that flashed through my mind and linked itself indelibly with the notion was the story of Herakles (aka Hercules) wrestling with Death on behalf of the wife of a friend. Other stories have begun to feel connected to this story. The story of the Christ's resurrection. The story of the Aslan's deeper magic from before the dawn of time.

And, now, we have Harry Potter's relationship to the Deathly Hallows. The story -- from the first book to the last -- is about what it takes to enter into right relationship with death. This is what Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and what he recapitulates in the Deathly Hallows. And, it is what is echoed in all of these other stories: to enter into right relationship with death one must be willing -- have the will -- to face Death on behalf of another. Again, Herakles takes his position on Mount Olympus not because of his completion of his labors but because he was able to face Death on behalf of another. The Christ, shining out through the man, Jesus, is in right relation to the Father because he is willing to be in right relation with death: he faces it on behalf of another. Aslan's deeper magic from before the dawn of time is that he who willing faces death on behalf of another conquers Death.

This story echoes through history. There are other variations that i could mention, but i won't. Apart from the message itself which is cause for deep joy -- we actually can come into right relation with death -- is that we can know when we are in the presence of the actual information. You see, when we are in the presence of a genuine vehicle for this information, something coherent enough in itself that it can hold the actual message, the actual meaning of coming into right relation with death, when the goods are really there, in other words, it causes ripples and waves in the very fabric of reality through which the information is traveling. A woman goes from living on the dole to billionairess, around the world people young and old feel strangely compelled by the information -- either to condemn it or to celebrate it. The world-wide hullabaloo over a few children's stories hardly seems to match, much in the same vein as the two thousand year old hullabaloo over the death of a carpenter's son hardly seems to match, or the energy of three thousand years of telling and retelling of a strong man's struggles hardly seem to match.

Of course, the further out from the actual information these responses get the more they degrade and lose coherence. Those of us who are very fortunate to live near the epicenter of one of these moments when the information appears again have a rare opportunity. We are living near the center of the reminder and we can use the energy of this information to wake up, to remember just what it means to come into right relation with death.

And, as i realized just this morning, while struggling with certain choices i am facing, we are given this opportunity in every choice we make. Every single opportunity to make a decision is an opportunity to face death on behalf of another. It doesn't have to have the trappings of a momentous struggle against the dark lord. We don't have to see ourselves as young wizards with a piece of the dark lord's soul lodged in our very bodies -- the effects of which, like the effects of the organ Kundabuffer, give us terrifying views of a world of fear and approach to Death that goes without the help of Charity. We can ask of each decision from the "smallest" to the "largest" what has more Life? What must i do to face on behalf of another the little death; for, with each real decision, with each genuine moment of choice, a certain set of possibilities must die and we must endure or enjoy the consequences. My experience is that i enjoy those choices -- that is, embue them with Joy -- when the possibilities i let go, i let go on behalf of another.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bach for more

So... last night i began learning what is titled "Suite 1" in Schirmer's 6 Suites for ViolinCello by J.S. Bach (transcribed by F. Gaillard). i noticed two things immediately. First, largely due to the limitations on my ability to read music, i have to work on about 8 bar chunks. Thus i would play through the first 8 bars then go back to the beginning. i was astounded by how far we had come in 8 bars. The changes are so smoothe and so fluid and so completely and utterly acceptable, and yet by bar 8 we are in a totally different place than we were in bar 1. i was aware of being in the presence of a "Mind" that was able to enscribe a path of fluid, melifluous notions that was something on the order of the transformation of the pollywog to the frog (in one life) or the dinosaur to the bird (across many lives) while making it all seem effortless and natural.

The other thing i noticed was that the piece was a love song. But, as i tried to explore this feeling i was unable to orient myself to who was the lover and who the beloved until i realized that this was a love song to god. Of all the earthly falling in loves the one it reminds me of most is the falling in love with your newborn. There's this magical moment when you hold your child in your hand that you become utterly aware that you are falling in love; and yet, it's not like falling in love with a sexual partner or an intellectual partner or an emotional partner; it's free-er and yet more deeply binding. Maybe it's my four turns around that corner that helped me recognize this other kind of love song... Either way, as i played through those first 8 bars, i found myself remembering the importance of first steps. You only get one shot at the first kiss, you know. There's never another first kiss with this lover. So it's important to be as present as possible for that moment.

But, having stumbled through those first 8 bars, i know i'll be Bach for more ;-)