Monthly Archives: February 2010

Cutting music

These are two new pieces made with a very simple cutting and pasting technique. And some field-recordings of frogs.

Impossible Light – parts 1 & 2


more or less, less is more…

I have this guitar theme I like:

This morning I made an arrangement of it:

A Winter’s Tale

I was feeling a little dissatisfied with it. It seemed formless, aimless. Over stuffed. Keeping the dictum that LESS IS MORE in the back of my mind, I made a second version:

A Winter’s Tale – Version 2

It has more tracks than the first one, but the focus is better. I was also able to include  another guitar theme I had kicking around. Going back and listening to the first version, I found that I did like it. Now I have two versions of the same theme. By trying to make more with less, I ended up with more of more. Life is funny that way.

Snow Blind

A week ago I went to the Power Plant and saw new and recent works by Canadian Michael Snow. While I wasn’t particularly impressed by any of the show’s content, I enjoyed the directness and sincerity of his statements about the works. I was also excited about how interactive one of the works could be:

I’m standing by the stop-sign.

A week later at another Toronto art hotspot (The Drake Hotel) I had the privilege of hearing James Blackshaw perform. Blackshaw is an English guitarist who is very inspiring. He’s not yet thirty. His albums are beautiful, lush, well-recorded and full of a guitar sound and style that I love. That being said, I try not to listen to his music much. His music is so close in form and execution to the music I want to make that I fear being too influenced by this young Brit. What an arrogant and conceited thought! But honest.

Being in these two radically different spaces united by “art” (The Power Plant is large and auster, empty of people – the Drake was full of night-clubbers waiting for a Prince theme party to begin) I was struck by how divergent public creativity is. Michael Snow is associated with everything from Albert Ayler to the Eaton Center, Prince and Miles Davis planned on making records together, James Blackshaw curated a compilation that featured a lute-player. Ezra Pound’s great realization at the dawn of the twentieth century was that all ages are contemporary, but this week was strange.

So I listened to recordings I made when I was first hearing James Blackshaw and was pleased to find that his influence had not been pervasive – it was barely detectable outside the fact that a 12-string guitar was being finger-picked. Here is one from the vaults:


Some people suffer for their art – I’m one of them. I had just gotten my gong when I made this song and was so excited to use it. Usually you see gongs on stands, suspended gracefully in the air. Mine doesn’t have a stand. So I have to pick it up with one hand, holding it away from my body as to not dampen the sound, and bang it with my other hand. My back was in terrible pain for well over two weeks. I haven’t recorded the gong since.

And all that free jazz…

The hardest thing about making music by yourself is not playing with other people. I know this seems incredibly self-evident – but it’s worth stating. The music that has nurtured me the most has been communal music, often with a strong improvisational streak. Or to use a label that Duke Ellington would disapprove of, jazz. When you play by yourself, you don’t evolve.

While most of my working methods involve improvisation to a great degree, it is not the kind of playing that produces anything close to a jazz musician. This year I am going to try to make a concerted effort to play with more people, and to play freely. But finding like-minded people is not easy. Until then, I am content to improvise alone with multi-track recording.

Magnus, Magnus, Magnus

On this track I am playing against a rhythm that I made by slapping my body and stamping on the floor. I then edited the rhythm digitally and put seven clarinets (5 normal, 2 alto) and two trombone tracks over top of it. I was thinking of using an octet format for the clarinet group and had saved the last spot for some pure free improvisation. But in the end I thought there was something so incredibly rusty and wonky with the clarinets as they were (like an old organ grinder) that I should just leave them. So I just left them. I had the itch for some free jazz, and that is what follows. Playing over the same rhythms as the A section, but with a jazz drum kit, bass, trombone and alto clarinet on top. This is the format used by one of the greatest jazz groups I have ever heard – a mid 70s unit featuring Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. If you want to hear the real deal, you can find it here.

“Jazz” is kind of embarrassing. It’s like an uncle that was a great high-school quarter-back but now gets drunk too quickly on sherry wine at a family get-together and falls asleep in a lawn-chair with a lit cigarette. Everything about jazz seems dated now; the language, the pony-tails, the shiny jackets, the listener-supported radio stations. This is what I picture when somebody says “Jazz Musician”:

And yet I want more than anything to be a jazz musician. I think I might grow a pony-tail, buy a silvery suit, go to jazz college, form a Steely Dan cover band and repeat jokes that Frank Zappa made. Until then I’ll just learn to use the language (musical and otherwise) the best I can.

The title of this piece, Magnus, Magnus, Magnus, (latin for Great, Great, Great) is about Charles Mingus and his great relationship with Eric Dolphy. While Anthony Braxton insists that he wasn’t influenced by Dolphy, I can’t help but think that they were kindred spirits. In a way, Braxton is Shakleton to Dolphy’s Scott. You dig?