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Showing posts from 2015

Improvisation, Part 7 - Bettine/Brophy/Kern Trio

Here we are, Part 7 of looking at Improvisation, or more specifically, how I improvise. This might be a good place to take a look at the actual definition of improvise, from Merriam-Webster:


Definition of improviseim·pro·vised   im·pro·vis·ingtransitive verb
to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneouslyto make, invent, or arrange offhand
to make or fabricate out of what is conveniently on hand <improvise a meal>
The idea here, as a musician, is to make things up as you go along, with whatever instruments you have. Now with a percussionist, this is such an open ended thing: just about anything can become a percussion instrument of some sort. I know this in my own work, often using scrap metal, kitchen pans/bowla and utensils, or found objects. One of my favorite places to find new “instruments ” is thrift stores. 

So for this session, besides my regular Gong/Drum set up, I went through bags and boxes I have that are filled with percussion. I looked for instruments that had inter…

Improvisation, Part 6 - Matthies/Bettine Duo & Bettine/Brophy/Kern Trio

Bettine/Matthies Duo #3
Before we move on, I wanted to do one more video with Wilhelm Matthies playing his Mosesa, because it’s a very different atmosphere from the others. I started out using a toy whirly tube to get a swirly atmosphere of longer tones over Wilhelm’s bowing. I was listening to what he did and changed the pitch I was playing by changing the speed of the tube. 
From there, I moved to my bass drum, which had 7 Paiste Cup Chimes, bell side down, sitting on the head. I started with a finger roll on the head and some of the Cup Chimes rattled against each other. In a moment of inspiration/madness, I grabbed the rim of the drum and started rocking it back and forth. This caused the Cup Chimes to gather on one edge, striking it in rhythm with my rocking motion, while the Chimes also struck against each other in a more random fashion.
Then I started swirling them around the top of the drum with my hands, for a more sustained, chaotic sound. Next I gathered them up in a stack and…

Improvisation, Part 5 - Matthies/Bettine Duo

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Today we have 2 short videos of myself improvising with Wilhelm Matthies. Wilhelm plays his own invented string instruments that he calls Mosesa. Basically it's a set of strings stretched over 2 bridges, sitting atop empty plastic bottles that act as resonators. The bridge/bottles are movable, to change the string length/tuning. Wilhelm plays it with a bow, or plucks the strings with his fingers. The sound is sort of reminiscent of a string bass or cello.


The Mosesa
These 2 videos are part of a longer improv that I cut into 3 different pieces, as the moods varied in each one. The 1st video is a bit of a chaotic noise piece. Wilhelm starts with low bowed sound. I chose a small Paiste Gong to get a long, dark tone to sort of match what he was doing. Then I switched to my Floor Gamelan, which is a set of small Gongs (usually 8-16 Gongs of 4"-12" in diameter) that I place on the floor/carpet to get a muted sound. Unfortunately, I had changed the camera angle here and you can&#…

Improvisation, Part 4 - Bettine, McCoy, Heuer

Let me start out by saying that improvising is a very personal thing. So what we have here, is my take on what I do. I'm sure you have different ideas floating around in your head. You might like what I played, you might not—I didn't like everything I did over the course of the day. But that's a big part of improvising, you have to accept the great with the not so great ideas played.

The idea here is to take a peek inside my brain, inside my creative process and hopefully understand how I approach music, especially improvisation. And maybe you can glean some ideas and inspiration to propel your own musical explorations.


Video Analysis

Alright, here we are, the video of the 1st improv session recorded, and my analysis of what I was doing. The video is only of myself, but the audio features both John McCoy and Sarah Heuer on electronics and samples.
It was a little after 9am on a Saturday morning. I had just hauled in and set up 13 cases/bags of percussion. I had no idea what to…

Improvisation, Part 3 - Tools Of The Trade

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Sparks Shooting Off In My Brain
Before we get into the actual dissection of the music and what I played, I think it's important to take a look at the gear I brought with me. The Gong rack and bass drum are my main set up. I chose my usual set of Gongs, but also brought 4 others to swap out as needed. I also looked through my bags and boxes of small percussion, looking for interesting sounds that I felt would fit with the various instruments I was going to record with.

For me, this is never a haphazard process. I look at things, maybe play them, and then imagine how they might sound in the context of what I'll be doing. This is much like how a painter might choose their color palette. And that's a big part of my thought process—I'm thinking colors, shapes, texture, shading—so much more than just rhythm

I love rhythm, but I usually look beyond just playing rhythms. When I'm in the midst of improvising with someone, I'm always carefully listening to the sounds and …

Improvisation, Part 2 - Developing A Rhythmic Language

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Much as we speak, each of us has our own musical language. In this second part on Improvisation, I'm going to look at what makes up my musical language. These are the ideas that I use to create what is a very personal view of music. You may use some of the same, or you may use completely different ideas. But this is what works for me.


The 3 Point Method
In art, color can be broken down into 3s: Additive Color uses red, yellow, and blue (the primary colors) to create all other colors. Subtractive Color (like your home printer) uses yellow, magenta, and cyan to create all other colors. Then there are the 3 attributes of lightness, saturation, and hue that further affect color. 

In Euclidean Geometry we have the point, line, and plane. In real life, we have the point where we are, and then also up & down, left & right, in & out, etc. So too in music, many ideas can be broken down into 3s. While this is all a simplistic explanation, it serves the purpose of denoting that we o…

An Inside Look At Improvisation - Part 1

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This is the first of a series of blog posts on creativity and improvisation. Improvisation is one of those sort of intangible things: you can't teach it as much as you just demonstrate it and show people examples. Musicians can only learn it through trial & error & experience.

What I will be writing about here is my own personal experience and adventure in the world of improvised music. While I've played in all types of bands, and all different styles of music, what excites me the most is improvising. I especially love improvising with people I've never played with before, or never even met before. It's a challenge to find some sort of common ground, common language, and hopefully produce some compelling music. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's amazing.

Rarely have I ever been in a situation where the music fails to appear and things fall completely apart. In almost all cases, magic happens, even if only for a few minutes out of the larger wh…

There is No Such Thing as Perfection

I'm a reformed perfectionist. 
There. 
I've said it. 

And being a perfectionist almost destroyed any sort of creativity I had. My neurological make up is predisposed to looking for the little things that aren't quite right and then magnifying them out of proportion. That's not an easy thing to get over.

I know that in the past, it has kept me from moving forward, kept me from playing or releasing certain music, writing or publishing certain things, and in general, held me in a state of suspension. In the back of my mind was always the idea that, “If I do this, it will be better.” Even after I finished something, I just couldn't leave it alone. I had to keep tinkering with it under the misguided assumption that it could always be better

I remember when getting ready to send off my final draft of a magazine article, that I would edit it one more time, just in case I could improve it. Trust me, this tendency is no fun. I have a lot of what is most likely great work just …