Yonder Mountain String Band releases Barnes' song Death Trip on Mountain Tracks Vol. 5. click here for CD info.
Yonder Mountain String Band releases Barnes' song Death Trip on Mountain Tracks Vol. 5. click here for CD info.
steve schwelling is a wonderful percussionist friend of mine living in austin. he went to a workshop with airto and was pretty pumped about the whole thing. here he discusses relevant points.
you can communicate with steve via: http://www.myspace.com/steveschwelling
what follows is an article from steve:
"Just love one another"
Music is a wisdom path. If you doubt this I encourage you to see Airto Moreira as soon as you can. Yesterday I was blessed to hear Airto in both workshop and concert setting. Both experiences were transforming for me. I have been listening to Airto for a good part of his career and long before I had one of my own. Back in the 70’s I listened to him on "Bitches Brew" and "Live Evil". I also devoured "Free" and "Fingers". When I was in college I traded an Eric Dolphy record for Light as a Feather. I went to see Airto and Flora at Paul's Mall-Jazz Workshop a number of times. I first met him then. I was eighteen and attending Berklee. As I often did in those days, I talked my way past the door for the sound check. Airto, the force of nature that he is, was characteristically kind, generous, and frightening all at once.
If I could describe Airto's drum set playing with one word I guess it would be "floating". Whenever I hear him I feel buoyant like I'm in a zero gravity environment. All of my adult life I have been trying to figure out how he achieves that feeling. I think I got a little closer to understanding it yesterday. First, Airto approaches all aspects of life, including music, as an expression of pure energy. His music emanates form a place of pure sound energy. I would add that one of the things he has contributed to the vocabulary and aesthetic of Jazz is the use of idiophone and mebranophone instruments (as well as his voice) as a means of expressing the ground state of pure sound (much as how John Coltrane used his horn in his later years). Second, Airto is also a master rhythmist and, deeply understands the power of African based rhythms as a source of universal power, truth, and beauty. So he also brought to North American Jazz an entirely new vocabulary of rhythms that had a deep history going back to the slave trade in Brazil. Airto introduced many musicians, including me, to Baio, Marcatu, Xaxado, and Samba. Moreover he introduced these rhythms in a purely Jazz context which encouraged experimentation resulting in numerous metric and harmonic innovations on these traditional forms. Third, Airto has a very personal approach to time and I think this is where the weightless feeling comes from. Last night I noticed how he manipulated the articulation of the quarter notes and eighth notes - often placing notes behind or in front of the bass and piano just enough to create the impression of floating time. The groove came in waves rather than as a straight linear progression. Last and most important, this is how Airto feels and experiences time. It is not conscious but rather an expression of his relationship with the wavelike quality of energy.
If you are a musician you will hopefully evolve to a point where your music informs as well as expresses the totality of your life. All of us will sooner or later have to face our mortality. If music is an expression of one's entire being and life experience than we should hope that the older wiser musicians among us can find a way to communicate and teach the important lessons of that life stage through their music. Yesterday’s workshop and performance by Airto was an object lesson on this point. Airto seemed more concerned with communing than with performing. Or maybe, more precisely, he doesn't distinguish between the two. Airto has been dealing with serious health problems. Despite what appeared to be some physical difficulty he gave of himself compassionately and generously. Rather than talk about the mechanics of percussion and rhythm he launched into a philosophical discussion of energy and sound. His performance more resembled a shamanic healing ceremony than a workshop or concert per se. But characteristically, he was concerned as much for the audience's healing as he was for his own. He understands that one can not be achieved without the other. He imparted his life wisdom to all of us who were ready to hear and accept his gifts. Thank you Airto.
.Danny Barnes was just picked up by Billions Agency. Danny is very proud to be in such great company. Mary Brabec is the RA.
The harmonica is ready to play. It requires no accessories or tuning to be at it's best right out of the box. (The box is important . Always put the harp back in the box after playing and it will be your friend.)
This is one of the harmonica's most pleasing features. Stuck in traffic; blow a little blues. Need some coin; throw down a hat and get to work. Standing around the old trash-can fire with your unemployed pals; 0-60 on "I'm Going Down That Road Feeling Bad" in 2 seconds flat. The harmonica is the instrument of "The People". The cruel irony is that the majority of "The People" can't stand the noise that comes out for more than a few seconds unless it's in the hands of a competent operator. This, combined with the common belief that anyone can play it right away (cue up" Oh Susanna") has created a nearly unbearable tension between the harmonica, its enthusiasts and the rest of humanity. I believe that this tension can be relieved and that the harmonica can take its rightful honored place in the post- apocalyptic world to come.
First the instrument itself. There are many types of harmonicas to be had from the tiny (the Little Lady, 4 holes, an inch long) to the Chromatic (2 harmonicas combined to get all the notes) enormous (the bass harmonica a foot and a half long, beloved by master blogger,E. Danny Barnes).I choose the Marine Band 10 hole diatonic that has been the mainstay of blues and country musicians since 1896. There are many makers and popular styles of the 10 hole diatonic. To get an earful about any aspect of the harmonica universe, subscribe to Harp-L on the web.
Buy your first harmonica in the key of A. The Key of A harmonica is pitched in a comfortable part of the harmonica spectrum that runs from (low) G to (high) F. It's nice for the player and the listener.
Once you have your harp put in your left hand with the words "Marine Band" facing up and pucker up and blow. You don't have to blow very hard. Breathe from your diaphragm. There is much information on technique to be found on the web and in books. More than you'll ever need.
Intelligent practice is the way to gain skill. A little practice each day is better than hours one day then days of neglect. The real question is "What am I trying to do?"
Unless you are a stone cold genius savant the answer will be found in listeningggggggggggg.
Much listening. Your own genius will be unleashed by hearing great music. The harmonica is an instrument of emotional expression. The world will love you for having at least a touch of melodic lyricism. All good music has it; even the most hard core psychodelic fantasy freakout, a favorite of harmonica devotees.
All music is fair game for a dedicated player, any instrument or style. Most would like to hear some good harp playing. Here are some of my faves:
Sonny Terry, Little Walter Jacobs, Big Walter Horton, Red Parham, De Ford Bailey, Jimmy Reed,
Toots Thielmanns, Howard Levy, Paul Butterfield, Grant Dermody, Dr. Humphrey Bate, Gwen Foster, Carlos Del Junco, Charley McCoy,Sonny Boy Williamson 1&2, Stevie Wonder, Gary Primich, William McCoy, Doc Watson, Woody Guthrie, Peg Leg Sam, Madcat Ruth, Tom Ball,Joe Filisko and on and on.
My list is weighted toward the country and non-amplified end of the harmonica landscape. Once you find these guys you'll find dozens more of all sorts.
One last bit. Here's a poem by Robert Service.
The Song of the Mouth Organ
(with apologies to the singer of the "Song of the Banjo")
I'm a homely little bit of tin and bone:
I'm beloved by the Legion of the Lost;
I haven't got a " vox humana" tone,
And a dime or two will satisfy my cost.
I don't attempt your high-falutin' flights:
I am more or less uncertain on the key:
But I tell you, boys, there's lots and lots of nights
When you've taken mighty comfort out of me.
I weigh an ounce or two and I'm so small
You can pack me in the pocket of your vest;
And when at night so wearily you crawl
Into your bunk and stretch your limbs to rest,
You take me out and play me soft and low,
The simple songs that trouble your heart strings:
The tunes you used to fancy long ago,
Before you made a rotten mess of things.
Then a dreamy look will come into your eyes,
And you break off in the middle of a note;
And then, with the dreariest of sighs,
You drop me in the pocket of your coat.
But somehow I've bucked you up a bit;
And, as you turn around and face the wall,
You don't feel so spineless and unfit--
You're not so bad a fellow after all.
Do you recollect the bitter Arctic night;
Your camp beside the canyon on the trail;
Your tent a tiny square of orange light;
The moon above consumptive- like and pale;
Your supper cooked, your little stove aglow;
You tired,but snug and happy as a child?
Then 'twas "Turkey in the Straw" till your lips were nearly raw,
And you hurled your bold defiance at the Wild.
Do you recollect the flashing, lashing pain;
The gulf of humid blackness overhead:
The lightning making rapiers in the rain;
The cattle-horns like candles of the dead
You sitting on your bronco there alone'
In your slicker,saddle-sore and sick with cold?
Do you think the silent herd did not hear "The Mocking Bird",
Or relish "Silver Threads among the Gold".
Do you recollect the wild Magellan coast;
The head-winds and the icy, roaring seas;
The nights you thought that everything was lost;
The days you toiled in water to your knees;
The frozen ratlines shrieking in the gale;
The hissing steeps and gulfs of livid foam:
When you cheered your messmates nine with "Ben Bolt" and "Clementine
And "Dixieland" and "Seeing Nelly Home"?
Let the jammy banjo voice the Younger Son,
Who waits for his remittance to arrive;
I represent the grimy, gritty one,
Who sweats his bones to keep himself alive;
Who's up against the real thing from his birth;
Whose heritage is hard and bitter toil;
I voice the weary, smeary ones of earth,
The helots of the sea and of the soil.
I'm the Steinway of strange mischief and mischance;
I'm the Stradivarius of blank defeat;
In the down-world when the devil leads the dance,
I am simply and symbolically meet;
I'm the irrepressive spirit of mankind;
I'm the small boy playing knuckle down with Death;
At the end of all things known where God's rubbish heap is thrown,
I shrill impudent triumph at a breath.
I'm a humble little bit of tin and horn;
I'm a byword, I'm a plaything, I'm a jest;
The virtuoso looks on me with scorn;
But there's time that I am better than the best;
Ask the stoker and the sailor of the sea;
Ask the mucker and the hewer of the pine;
Ask the herder of the plain, ask the gleaner of the grain---
There's a lowly, loving kingdom--- and it's mine.
i'll start off with the usual qualifiers:
a. i could be wrong about the whole thing.
b. if you don't agree, that's fine. these are just ideas.
that said, perhaps it would be good for folks to hear some ideas on how to help things run more smoothly when hired to be an opening act.
it seems as though the same mistakes keep getting made and perhaps this treatise will be of some benefit in correcting this. these are suggestions.
first off, i distrust the whole hierarchy thing. i have been the opening act thousands of times in every imaginable situation and have also played with quite a few headliners in the last few decades and my feeling is that it's really all the same. so when i say "opener," i'm speaking to someone on my own level. there is no judgement there. or evaluation. maybe it should be the "act that goes on first" or something. at some point or another, everyone more or less opens for everyone else, no need to make a big deal out of the hierarchy. the bigger band has bigger problems, there is no call to feel like they really have it made and your deal is no good. you may not want to do what they are doing. you may not be willing to do what they had to do to get the audience they have. this is all fine. in any case you have your situation and they have theirs. wishing you could change places with someone will lead to unhappiness.
here are some ideas on how to help things run smoother.
if you are the opener or in the opening band, don't put your stuff on the stage when you get there unless directed to do so. walking into the venue, even if you play there every week and you are roommates with the sound guy, and putting your bass drum case in the middle of the stage is a bad idea. there are all sorts of reasons.
it's not your space until the headliner is finished with their check.
the trade off is that they have to show up way earlier than you and stay way later and usually if the show succeeds or fails they have to take responsibility, so really the heat is on them, so give them some room.
the best idea is to show up on time and have a designate go in and talk to the stage manager and ask him or her what to do.
that way when you bring your gear in, you won't then have to move it again once you are loaded in.
the idea is to not inflict your trip on other people.
just wait and see what you told to do.
hang out and watch the other band check or whatever, but don't make a scene with your cell phone or horsing around or taking your instrument out and demonstrating how great you are, just let things develop and then make your move.
it's really bad form to go back and start putting stuff in a dressing room. even if you always had that room when you opened for so and so and "you know how great they are." sometimes the headliner has a big production and will need both rooms. it can be very awkward to go and tell the first band, "hey we need the room you have to leave." it's possible to avoid lots of chaos if you don't do anything as an opener unless you are invited to do so by someone of authority.
it's really not a good idea to put a bunch of things in the bigger dressing room, this happens over and over.
my suggestion would be to not put anything in either dressing room until you figure out the deal.
all the first act has to do is come down and do a soundcheck, if there's time, and usually you play very soon after that and then you can take off, so you technically don't need a dressing room. many times you just come straight from your house. if you get a dressing room that's cool, if it's a workable space, double cool. if not, don't sweat it, you can split pretty quick and your total time invested if you do it right is about three hours or less, from load in, soundcheck, play your set, and takeoff.
it's probably not a good idea to have more gear then the headliner band. and a longer soundcheck. and more demanding people. the second band hopes that you don't need to take up their channels on the console so they can just go out there and play. and it's really cool if they can leave their gear set up and not have to strike anything. it's really nice if the first band can just fit into the deal on every level and not cause problems.
no one in the second band wants your cd. unless they specifically ask. there is no need to pass them out. they should be able to go to your website and listen anyway. think of all the resources this saves.
try to be accommodating vis-a-vis the merch table. there can be fights over the space. if you always defer to the other act, things will go much better. if there are hassles with the space or argument over the seller being hired by the other band and being distracted by your fourteen titles and three shirt models, just pass on the whole thing. it's cool and actually probably better for you to just go stand by the merch table after your set and sell your stuff yourself. this can save you 20% also. once the headliner starts the probability of selling anything else drops substantially. go get paid and split or check out the other band. you are done. some headliners are really cool and say, "hey put your stuff out there we'll sell it for you and pay the percentage or charges out of our end." no need to be dismayed if this is not the case. if you keep the goal in mind of "getting your music to folks" instead of "oh my god i HAVE to make more money!!!!!" you will be happier and the end result will be better.
it's not a great idea to impose yourself on the other band socially. even if you are doing a run of dates with them, give them space. tread lightly in this regard. if someone wants to chat, they'll come find you. best to keep a low profile. do not go and hang out in their dressing room. do not go on the bus even if they invited you last night and you hung out and were oh so charming. leave them alone unless they ask. every time. just because you went to dinner with the bassist last night don't assume anything. leave everyone lots and lots of space. stay off the bus and out of the dressing room. if you do this, you will be remembered fondly.
never let a chance go by to not say anything.
there's a whole school of thought out there that if you draw attention to yourself and promote yourself and press the flesh, be aggressive and all that, that you will go far. this whole methodology creeps me out and it's really hard to be in the room with someone like this for more than a few seconds. (while out on a long tour run, this creep factor gets exponentially higher.) i seriously doubt the long term efficacy of the strategy. my guess is that it does more harm than good. being a jackass is just being a jackass, i fail to see how this advances one's cause. more of the common good would be served by writing some good music and playing really good and being a nice person. being kind won't really advance your career or lessen irritations or frustrations, but at least you aren't being a jackass. as i've grown older, my observation is that sometimes folks compensate for lack of effort on their music by being really self-centered or opinionated or rigid in their outlook.
my theory is to let the music do your talking for you rather than your own mouth. this won't really bring you fame or wealth or anything necessarily but we serve sentient beings better by making good music, not by talking about how great we are or tearing someone else down or inserting ourselves into the right situations and all that. things have to be win/win really. win/loose is ultimately loose/loose.
at the venue, i would not recommend working the room, so to speak and hammering folks for gigs. you are there to play the job you are playing. it's not the right time to be hitting the promoter up for his festival or whatever. or hitting the headliner up to play some other date. or asking if their agency would take you on. concentrate on the task at hand. try to play really good. and not bother others. also observe if your own sidemen violate this sensibility. if you hired a guitar player to back you up, and at the jobsite you find she's passing her own demo cd out and hitting everyone up for a gig, fire her. my experience is that you are going to be sorry working with a person that will do that. he/she is probably not the best sideperson you can get because otherwise they would be making sure the show goes well instead of focusing on some other event that probably won't even happen, at some other time than the time you are actually in. my guess is that a knuckleheadly type person is just that way, and there is no way to correct this other than to replace them.
do your part to make your own soundcheck go smoothly. if this is an elusive concept for you, work on that. typically you won't have much time, maybe zero time. you'll have to think on your feet. don't sweat if you are fine tuning things after doors open. don't be upset if the headliner goes over their SC time. don't even be upset if they are poking around and go over and totally make it where you don't get a SC at all. this is your time to learn that when you are the headliner, allow space for the opening band to soundcheck before doors open. it's not always possible to do this.
be very careful about your guest list. if you put a jackass on the list with all access passage, you will bear the responsibility. also keep the guest list very short. just because you have a gig and are opening for so and so, there is no need to go calling friends and trying to get folks into the show that may not be that interested in the first place. want to be highly thought of? try not having a guest list at all.
it's not the mark of a quality person to dive into the backstage beer and food. wait and see what the situation is. i'm not sure if that was ever cool to do. my outlook is that it's the mark of the Ultimate Cheeseball, to be fixated on what one can get for free. it doesn't make sense to go cobbing around on the deli tray when in all likelihood there are great restaurants in the neighborhood. go there instead, they'll be glad to see you.
do not bring your kids down to the gig to hang out backstage. even if they are, in your eyes, well behaved. i have never understood why a family would be sitting at home, with their own refrigerator and stove and cupboard, and mom has a gig opening up for a touring band, and the idea passes the committee that they should all load up and go eat the backstage food at the venue. hard to believe but it happens over and over. please stop doing this. no need to cheese out just because of a free sandwich. backstage food typically isn't very good anyway.
probably you are not going to be that well received by the audience. don't worry about it. if you really work on your music, and have something to say and play as well as you can, somebody is going to like it. the way folks spend their dough these days is to save money and go to fewer concerts. so they are trying to squeeze as much as they can out of it, which strangely does not compute to them getting there early to see some new music they might not have heard of. en masse they want to see the second act. don't worry if they talk during your set. just play like you are in your living room and have fun. in some ways, you have the best deal in the house. you get paid to be there, you have zero pressure in regard to the financial performance of the show, you get full run of the place. bask in this. my formula is if you play for 3000 people and 100 people like what you do that never heard you before, you are way ahead. even twenty or ten or one.
in terms of set times, shorter is better. if you are scheduled to play for thirty minutes and they trim off ten to hold the house, this is a blessing and not a problem. if you are asked, "how long do you want to play?" answer, "how long do you need me to play?" they will say, "well thirty or forty minutes." say, "how about twenty five?" they'll say "great!" the shorter the better the tighter the sweater in this regard.
show up on time, play the alloted time and leave folks lots of space to do their thing. be nice, adjustable and positive. allow space in your conversational dealings. eat your own food. detach from the result. let your music do your talking.
here's a good strategy. make friends with the house sound person. be very nice to him/her. he or she will be running sound for you as the headliner probably has their own person with them. this is an asset. the house sound person knows the rig best, and while the sound won't be as loud, they know the room intimately and the gear also, so they can give you a very good deal sound wise. if the sound person likes you, you win. they can be your best advocate in future deals. treat this person well and things will go well for you. so many times in my life i've walked offstage thinking "man that was a rough show, i don't think anyone was listening." and the befriended sound person said, "man that was really cool! you are very easy to work with and it's been great having you here/hear. hey next time you are in town, you should come and headline at my friend's club, here's his number, if you have a cd i'll give it to him, your music would be perfect there." or some version of that. the house sound person can be your best asset.
i had a bit of an epiphany a couple of nights ago, playing with a fairly large ensemble in a rock/country type format.
the way the banjo sounds, and the things you can do with it started to kind of explode in my mind and i felt like i could really play anything and it sounded good. the much maligned banjo can work in so many places. it fits in just about anywhere and adds to the overall sonic structure.
in the middle of the show, in front of about 600 or so people, i came to the conclusion that anything i could play sounded good. just one note, or laying out or playing inversions up the neck or blasts of notes or playing the melody, or fundamental pedal type ideas, harmonized scalar ideas, little horn lines, super-imposing altered chords, or just grabbing a part of the neck and playing whatever happened there or quoting bits of melodies from my childhood, everything sounded good. as long as my banjo didn't step on anyone or conflict with another's part, i'm free to do anything.
i left my body and felt like a big bird flying around in the venue.
(i'm not able to get to this level every time. far from it. it might be like hitting the big grand slam, but you have plenty o' strikeouts and little bloop singles first. hit by a few pitches. in any event, sometimes an extra magic thing happens in something done with intention and awareness.)
my conclusion is that the orchestral possibilities of the banjo haven't really been taped yet, at least by me anyway. the dang thing sounds so good to me and it can fit in anywhere. there is so much more music in there than i ever dreamt of. it truly is a universal versatile instrument with a wide range of expression.
i think i experienced banjo samadhi.
orville johnson is a friend of mine from seattle. he is a great guitarist singer and songwriter. he was asked to speak at career day at a local middle school. orville was pleasantly surprised by the experience and as he told me about it, we agreed it would be cool to write a little piece about it for folktronics.
Career Day at Meadowdale Middle School
My friend Bruce Laven invited me to come to speak at Career Day at Meadowdale Middle School in Edmonds Wa. Bruce is the band director and quite a good pianist. We've played many gigs together. He wanted me to address the life of a professional musician and speak to the kids about the ups and downs, ins and outs, pros and cons, and all that. It was pretty cool even though i did have to show up at 7AM.
Their questions were generally thoughtful though I did get the "have you played with famous people" and " have you been on TV" kind of stuff mixed in. i played them a couple of tunes as well as fielding questions. i was surprised at how many students were considering music as a career. I spoke to three sessions of about 25 kids each and they were not all band or music students. Any student was free to come. i'd say two thirds of those who came (by show of hands) were interested in pursuing music.
One young man told me he was a singer and asked what advice could I give him about working with a band. I told him he should learn a musical instrument and some music theory besides developing his voice. In working with a band, i said, you'll get much more respect from the other musicians if you can speak some of the language of music and not just be one of those singers that doesn't know when to come in or what a bridge or a middle eight is. He listened well and when that session finished he came up and shook my hand and introduced himself properly. i was impressed with his sincerity and thought this cat might actually get somewhere.
Another thing I told them in regard to music as a career is that, even though I do it as my career, I didn't come to it with that in mind. I consider it a calling, more like a priesthood than a job. I do it because I need to do it and only do it as my job because I couldn't stand the thought of spending many hours a day doing something else for money and, Lord knows, we all gots to make a little money somehow to keep our world spinning. I told them if your goal is money making then you'd probably be better off going to law school. In the music biz there's no promotion schedule or pension benefits and you have to make your own way but, for some people, that's the best way to live. It has been for me.
PS I got an envelope today in the mail with letters of appreciation from some of the students. One told me I was "fanomenal" (his spelling), one young lady said she enjoyed my performance even though she doesn't particularly care for the style of music I play (thanx a lot! :) and another said she likes doing things for herself and when people try to take over her life she gets angry. I understand that.
a method for learning about new things
a little experiment that i run from time to time involves asking five or ten friends, to make a list of three new things they are into. it's a very interesting thing to try.
i run this gambit about every couple of years or so, sometimes more often, or whenever, to find out what people are currently digging. to see what i'm missing. there so much going on, yikes! and word of mouth is really my favorite way of learning. especially if there's a group of folks around you that you look up to and respect in regard to what they have to say. in today's world we have to filter out an amazing amount of dross, and it's sometimes easy to just tune everything out and do our thing. when i catch myself in that groove, i might seek out some good minds and put the quiz on 'em.
i recently posited this question, "what are three new things you are into?" to several of my acquaintances, mentors, friends and the like. or folks i thought would give me a response worth looking into. the answers were notable in several respects:
one thing i noticed was that, in days past, most of the time folks would be all excited about a band, record, or artist, or a play, or a movie or a book or something like that. i found it interesting that more than half of the responses i received in my recent query were about products instead. in years past, where someone would be jazzed about a poet or a band or something, today they were on about software or a gadget. at least half of the responses. i found that remarkable.
the other thing i noticed was, no one asked me what i was digging myself. which is fine and not a point of the exercise so to speak, but still worth noting. they were off in their own worlds.
============ an interpretation of this experiment
this exchange got me thinking about some of the books i've been reading lately about the isolationist trends of techno-capitalism, and the post-modern condition, and structuralism, semiotics. subsequently bringing to mind a narrative i've seen bandied about recently, the whole "death of the mainstream" plot. (this has no bearing on me personally, and i watch it with about as much interest as a baseball trade, which is to say slight interest. slight, but interest nonetheless.) most of the folks around me have their own little unique weird world they live in. strange jobs, hobbies, diverse interests.
i must confess, that i like my own context that i have created for myself and don't mind saying so, and enjoy myself therewith. i make my own meanings out of headlines and advertising slogans. the older i get, the less inclined i am to subscribe to these other outside narratives. however, the particular story line about the disappearance of the mainstream intrigues me to some extent. mainstream sales are down, yet there is more great new music out there than a person could keep up with. i read somewhere that amazon sells more strange off the beaten path type books in the aggregate than they do the bestsellers. in other words they make more money off of selling fewer copies of more titles. if this is true, i think this is a good trend.
the direction that data is heading, and the new delivery mediums, are all fascinating to observe. i read with some interest the articles and books on the tail of the comet, so to speak, and the tipping points and so on. however i question anybody's ability or right to be able to explain any of this shit. it seems that things exist only in their particulars. (thank you george berkeley)
it actually is possible to find something to watch on cable teevee, if you can believe that. you have to know where to look, and time it just right, and be ready with the flipper so you never have to watch a commercial, which is hard because the whole things are commercials for other products and concepts and narratives, but it is possible to enjoy oneself for a time. lowering your standards also helps. i don't mess with a tivo because i don't find very much of the data involved worth keeping.
the story arc of whats going on in the business of newspapers, and music, politics, is very fun to watch.
jean-francois lyotard writes:
"eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary culture: you listen to reggae; you watch a western; you eat at mcdonald's at midday and local cuisine at night; you wear paris perfume in tokyo and dress retro in hong kong; knowledge is the stuff of tv game shows."
that was written in 1982. it is exponentially easier and more typical to behave in this way today, twenty six years later. now this concept/machine is all rapped out in overdrive and someone is dangling from a helicopter and is bolting a jet engine onto it, and another person is shooting at them with a laser beam trying to kill them so they can install a time warp mechanism.
another interesting event is that my acquaintances likely to complain loudly about post-modernism, and are apt to use the phrase as a derogative term for art they don't like or care to understand, are frequently the most shining examples of the term. often bringing together a whole pastiche of differing disjointed concepts to create an interesting life that is not like anyone else's and then being able to afford to buy property with very strange jobs based on niche marketing. sub-genres of sub-genres. i read somewhere that modernists are angst ridden because nothing is the way it used to be....cars, going to the bank, television, going to the grocery store, jobs, houses, life, nothing is materially like it used to be. i like the way it is now better myself because of access to ideas. in addition, what can you do other than take an assessment of what is, adapt and keep moving forward? complaining and negativity is a drag for everybody, the complainer and the giver of solace or deaf ear.
i gotta say, it's pretty hep to be able to listen to almost any recorded music so easily. to be able to have access to almost any movie and have it delivered to my door tomorrow. and be able to copy everything for later use and research. that part of the whole thing i enjoy. i really love making my own world of ideas and books and music. my father was that way, and my brothers also, so i come by that honest. with today's data delivery systems, we are totally loaded for bear vis-a-vis this behavior.
i digress. if anyone would have thought to ask, one of the new things i'm excited about is a software also.
by whatever mode of analysis applied, last year was my best year ever and the year before that was up until that point also. so whatever is happening is very good for my own art/business model. cheap plane tickets, the dis-intermediation of my industry, the staggering amount of music being reissued for my research applications, and the interest that people in general have in strange music, because strange music is so easy to obtain, interesting cheap gear, open source software, free distribution mediums, ipods that have re-invigorated folks' interest in music because it's so easy to turn off the knuckleheads and juke out on exactly what you want to hear......"what was that song by that band back in?............BAM got it............so and so was telling me about this new band?..........BAM got it.......hey pretty cool, i'll email my friend that i think would like this," all this works together to create a happy working and learning environment for cats like me. and they still make certain things on vinyl. which sounds so good.
i think music is the most badass thing ever, and no matter what happens in our lives it still sounds killer.
thanks for reading and listening.
and the potential applications of Its experimental ideas in american country musics
for some years this record has been in my mind. I became aware of it in the middle seventies, although it was released some years prior, in 1969. a very interesting albeit strange friend of my oldest brother adored this record and couldn't speak of it without laughing. it became one of my all time favorite musical works and my vote for one of the greatest recordings ever. there is something so far out in the music on this thing.
In the last few years, my thinking in regard to currently produced american country musics has come to rest on the idea that there could be more interest created by changing the order and composition of certain archetypical structures, and by utilizing different approaches in the recording methodology, as demonstrated to great effect by the experiments on trout mask replica. (see the term granular synthesis in wikipedia as an example of another technique that has yet to become a part of the set of recording ideas for these musics. american country music forms could be approached with ideas such as granular synthesis to a stunning result).
having grown up with american country, folk and similar forms of music, i didn't really notice the constant repetition of certain musical motifs, even more so in contemporary statements of these forms. some might argue that, like haiku, the beauty is in the constant rearranging of these basic units of sound, or limiting factors. i don't use the word limit as a negative phrase, only to describe the process. for example if we say, let's arrange a piece of music for resonator guitar and washboard and voice, we are limiting or dithering things down so they can be dealt with. compositionally and arrangement-wise this must be done, as the entire cosmos is hard to write music for. (john hartford once told me that style was based on limitation). so i guess i'm using this phrase in a quantitative way rather than a qualitative way.
there are certain thematic objects that are the basis of the language of traditional american country musics. for example (this is obviously tremendously simplified) in a bar of 2/4, in bluegrass music for example, the bass has a specified figure, the fiddle, banjo and mandolin typically play modal scale patterns in sixteenth notes, the strum of the guitar and the path of the vocal melody are architecturally similar from one piece of music to the next.
much of the variation consists of regional dialect. as in the different accented rhythms that ralph stanley and earl scruggs and don reno would use to play the same melody. it's almost like comparing differing accents of the speaking voice.
this is indeed a fascinating study, of course. differences in the way a person from georgia, virginia, louisiana, and missouri, and new york would say a certain phrase can be a very interesting thing to observe. the different ways they might play the same melody on a fiddle are likewise interesting, and to my way of thinking, can be related to speech patterns.
this is all well and good, and continues to hold our attention to a certain extent. however my feeling is that some new ideas would be healthy for everyone, because in the above example, the artists are, after all, saying the same thing. and i think that the type of experiments developed by the good captain can and should be brought to american country music forms. his is an unrestrained playfulness and open-mindedness in regard to structural components, in opposition to a stylistic dogmatism.
the experiments on trout mask replica have been banging around in the back of my mind for several decades. i recently went back to it and have been listening to it quite a bit. the way the music was apparently de-constructed and re-assembled, produces a most striking result. (i have no idea of his actual process, other than what i have read, but the music reminds me of working in a garage for some reason). some of the lo-fi technology, while i doubt the term existed then, has become the language of much of the interesting pop music of the more current timeframe ( not that these contemporary artists consciously copied captain beefheart, but i can still hear a certain thematic unity in the latin playboys first cd, samples of vinyl noise that run throughout certain hip hop tracks, wu tang, the fractured bass sample that busta rhymes if you really want to party with me is based on, dj spooky, the way turntablists reconstruct music architecturally, the list goes on for quite some time).
there are raw elements of traditional american blues and jazz in the music of trout mask replica, but a whole new type of language was created from the arrangement of the musical monads, or within the atomic structure, the micro view. the recording techniques themselves also become a part of the composition. example, in one of the spoken word pieces, the portable tape recorder used to gather sounds, produces some audible thumps as the switch is turned on and off, and becomes a component of the overall effect. captain beefheart didn't try to hide the brush strokes, as it were.
i think that alternative country, or whatever that is called, americana, current folk, bluegrass music, and american country musics in general could well benefit from more experimentation of the rhythmic, melodic, and sonic concepts, along these lines. the procedures of how these musics are recorded could use some new thought. my take on it is that we are faced with a copy of a copy of a copy, and the original aristotelian archetype, if you will, has perhaps been lost. the societal relevance perhaps comes into question, the essential context. the typical newer versions of the music sound okay but what is being said? and why? what is the relation between the poetry and the actor, or the singer and the song?
there are so many things that can be done with the basic tonal ideas of american country musics. the potential is limitless. but if the same basic homogenized building blocks get used over and over again, the overall point can become unclear. then what is the purpose of this music? most especially when so many of the back catalogs are available in boxed sets with copious notes, and contain perhaps better renditions and more interesting recording techniques.
at one point, even the music that is now being copied was new and different. my understanding was that bill monroe was quite the innovator. so was muddy waters. and johnny cash. this could be a very long list. to which i would add captain beefheart.
on trout mask replica, the innovations come dripping out of the speakers. every song is de-constructed and re-assembled in the most intriguing way. captain beefheart's music still sounds fresh and new to me. trout mask replica is such an interesting stew, it's hard to place it on a time line. it could totally come out today, yet it has some pastiche of 78 rpm delta blues, and contemporary cut and paste art techniques, found art, outsider art, beatnik poetry, and hard to classify sonic weirdness and gleeful experimentation, contemporary composed music and avant-garde.
a fellow living up here near me is buell neidlinger. i consider him to be one of the greatest musicians that i have ever witnessed. his resume has him playing with the greatest figures of western music. buell told me of sitting in with captain beefheart at their rehearsal studio, i believe, and declared the music to be the "greatest erector set ever constructed!" buell is a musician of the highest caliber and never spoke very highly of anyone's music to me except for igor stravinsky, cecil taylor and cats like that (buell played and recorded with them both, as well as hundreds of other of the heaviest musicians).
once, while buell played on a recording of some music i had written (which is an activity quite like trying to go a few rounds with joe louis), the engineer said, referring to buell's track, " i think he made a mistake in that middle section." upon listening to the playback, i realized buell had reconstructed the fundamental idea on the fly and turned the whole bass part around, it was awesome! (interesting to note that the engineer heard this as a mistake). these types of connections began to occupy my mind at that point. buell, to me, had re-invented the role of how an acoustic bass could be played in an american country type setting. we kept the track just like it was. it really lifted the whole piece up into the stratosphere. this is a one measure example of what can happen when a musician knows a form so well that he or she can innovate within and without the parameters. (this is what i am trying to do with my banjo playing in case you were wondering).
on trout mask replica this goes on in virtually every bar of music for the entire twenty six tracks. with parts stacked vertically on other parts. it's like finding the ruins of an ancient civilization and realizing that it is perhaps more advanced than yours.
on this, captain beefheart's masterpiece, there is hardly a section of music that you can really tell what is going to happen next. yet it sounds strangely familiar. it's kind of like listening to all music at once. the effect is interesting and invigorating. it's kind of beautiful and ugly at the same time. man, i love this record.
my music syllabus is not the only way a person could look at learning to play, but it is a possible overview. this outline could be adapted for mandolin, banjo and other fretted instruments.
the concepts given here lay out a good practice routine. sit down and warm up with scales, look at some chord stuff, work on some reading, and then all three of those go together to make the repertoire. some other things i would add on page two, so to speak would be an examination of the cycle of fifths, and arpeggio study. but this will get you going. obviously there's an infinity of things left out, what i've given here is a possible version. also this syllabus is western in concept, i have no experience with other musics and can't comment on that, though i am certain there are like methodologies and pedagogy for those realms.
if you are just starting out, this might seem like a lot of complicated topics. start with one thing at a time, and remember it's a good idea to learn what defines the basic unit. example, okay we are working on scales. what's a scale? if you dive in and start learning a ton of fingerings, you might get lost as to the purpose of the exercise. though i guess on one hand, anything you learn is good, it's application may elude you, but eventually, if you forge ahead, this will get clearer.
two things that won't lie to you are a tape recorder (or some recording device) and a metronome. they are handy to have around.
a little more info:
learn how to figure out the names of all the notes on the neck. they don't have to be memorized per se but just so long as you can deduce them, you're alright. then study what a half step and a whole step is. then you can learn the formula for a major scale. how would that lay out on one string? this will help us see why it's so cool that we have more than one string to play, we can carry on up the scale with another string which saves us from having to jump all around on one string. though that's kind of fun and musical also.
the next step would be to work out the fingerings, or learn them from a teacher or a book, the common first position scales for your instrument. roughly they would be named after some of your open strings. for example, on guitar the E, A, D, and G scales are common. different methods group them in different ways. the way i was taught on guitar was to remember the word CAGED. those five letters give you the five common fingerings for guitar in standard tuning.
then next idea is to turn these into moveable ideas, where you can play each fingering pattern chromatically up and down the neck in all the keys. again a teacher or book can help, and perhaps i'll expound on this on the site if folks were interested.
the end result is that the student can play a major scale in each key, in several different fingerings based on the geometry of the particular instrument they are playing. for instance, on the guitar, there are roughly five, C,A,G,E, and D forms. those five fingerings can be played in first position and then moved all over the neck up and down. for banjo, there are roughly three,
A,F, and D forms.
you can pick a scale name, like Bb, we can play that scale in five fingerings for the guitar. using c form, a form, g form, e form, and d form, scooted to the right fret, with the starting note on a Bb. for banjo we can play a Bb scale in three places a form, f form, and d form. there are others but this gets you going on the logic of how the neck is laid out shape-wise.
the next conclusion that the student can work on is playing all the fingerings in this system, in a certain key and studying how they relate. the cycle of fifths is a good list of keys that keeps us working on all twelve keys.
then you can work on connecting them together.
then you can work out other types of scales, which can still be based on these fingerings.
one of my teachers long ago, demonstrated to me how he could play all the E minor information on the guitar from the lowest note all the way up to the highest note. this system was how he visualized the neck. as a series of interconnecting patterns. i was dying to learn how he did that.
learn how chords are built, and the formulas for major minor diminished and augmented, and how these fingerings lay out on your instrument. these are three note chords. the next step would be to study the four note chords and memorize the formulas for them. this information is all over the internet and various places so i'll leave it up to you to turn that particular rock over.
if you then look up and learn the harmonized major scale, and develop that in every key, you will be a long way down the road of studying how chords work and how they relate together and how they relate to scales. this is a lifelong process so enjoy it.
a teacher can be of enormous help here, but a book i like for guitar is a modern method for guitar by william leavitt volume 1. for banjo a good one is mel bay's banjo method c tuning concert style by frank bradbury. for mandolin (i don't play this instrument so here i'm guessing) the student could learn from beginning violin books since the music is the same.
i don't know of a good reading method book for mandolin plectrum style, though i'd guess mr. bay has some. plectrum means with a pick.
here is where you put all the stuff to use playing actual music. the scales, chords and reading will be combined to work out the list of your tunes that you play, your repertoire. the idea is to get five or ten pieces that you really like and learn them inside and out. play them over and over and figure out as much as you can about them. typically this would be a list songs or pieces that the student really likes and therefore would be motivated to really practice. however i would add a codicil to this and recommend that we study pieces that other people might know. standards in other words. the reason is that eventually you are going to want to play with others, and learning music that other people are likely to know will save you a step. if you learn obscure pieces, it's harder to do this. a teacher can really help or you can do some research and ask some folks. it's cool to learn the obscure pieces also, it's just harder to jam with others if that's all you know. also the standards are standards many times because they contain elements that other music is based on. we get a lot of bang for the buck learning standard pieces.
some things to remember:
don't worry about sounding bad. have fun.
don't listen too much to what one person says, unless they are some really badass guy, and even then....you know sometimes the language we have to use to describe music is incomplete. usually what a good teacher says in context is probably pretty close to being right. there are different opinions about all this stuff, and that's okay.
listen to what you are doing. i know that sounds kind of dumb but if you have been playing for a while you will understand what i mean.
learn to think in phrases.
don't put yourself down. it's going to take you ten years of hard work to get anywhere, really. so if you've only been playing for a year, guess what?
it's really fun to take lessons. i take them, and i recommend that you do too. most folks have their own way of learning. figure out what yours is and capitalize on it. but work on the other ways of learning as a way of stretching your brain.
if you are new, a good thing to work on is leaving your left hand fingers down long enough to make a nice round sound. most of the students i have had in the past, would lift their left hand fingers up too soon. let the instrument do the work for you. if this is unclear, ask your teacher to explain the term legato.
if you can get the tuning and time really together, even very simple things sound great. we don't have to extract the music from the instrument as though we were digging a hole in the ground or building a house, the music is already in your instrument, you just have to let it go at the right time.
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