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 improvise im·pro·vised   im·pro·vis·ing transitive verb to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously    to 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 l

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 th

Improvisation, Part 5 - Matthies/Bettine Duo

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 an

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 h

Improvisation, Part 3 - Tools Of The Trade

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 s

Improvisation, Part 2 - Developing A Rhythmic Language

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 den

An Inside Look At Improvisation - Part 1

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 larg

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 gr

The Art of Being Yourself

In any sort of art form, it's important to find your own voice. If you look at your heroes, chances are you admire them for the unique qualities they have, not for their ability to copy others.  When I was first starting out on this journey, I often tried to be whatever was needed, molding myself to each project, changing like a musical chameleon. This was fine when I was younger, but it ultimately left me feeling like something was missing. I had no real identity. Over the subsequent years, I worked hard to find and establish my own voice. It didn't just happen by itself, but was the result of various conscious choices I made. And even at this point of my career, I haven't stopped. I'm not standing still. I keep refining what I do, working to expand my own vision of what I imagine my music as. As a result of this, people know who I am. They know what I do. And when they hire me, they know what they will get.  I am hired to bring my own unique voice to the pr

The Continuum of Your Musical Career

Some of the best advice I've heard for young musicians is,  “ Always play with people who are better than you . ”  This makes a lot of sense, because as young musicians/artists, we need mentoring, we need guidance, and we need to work with people who's experience and talent will help pull us up, help challenge us. When I was younger, around 17-20, I regularly played with older, more experienced musicians. I often subbed for a big band that was comprised of mostly high school band directors from the area. It was a challenge, because they knew the charts inside and out. They played all the old big band arrangements authentically, so there was no room for me to slack. I had to be on my game. I had to go back and listen to the original recordings so I could play the correct style/feel. But it was a great experience because the band was so on all the time.  Another group I regularly played with was a Dixieland Quartet, led by a pianist who was in his late 60s. It was piano

The Myth of "I could do that"

Most artists have heard it at least once in their lifetime, either about their own work, or someone else's, the non-artist declaring, “I could do that!” I've heard that from so many people about various artistic disciplines. If only it were that simple! First, let's start off with a video: ↵ Use original player I Could Do That | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios By The Art Assignment YouTube 720p 360p ← Replay X i I personally feel this video gives a good rebuttal to the afore mentioned statement of, “I could do that.” In fact, this does a good job of covering all art forms. But things actually go much deeper than the video talks about. I'm a big lover of modern art, say from the last 100 or so years. And whenever I travel, I try to go to the local art museums. I was in New York City last month and went to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). It was exciting for me, because I was able to see some of my favorite works in pers