Category Archives: baritone

I want to be rich…

Have I told you yet that I hate it when people hear my music and say: “That would make great movie music”?

It’s not meant as an insult. And probably shouldn’t be taken as one. But the underlying logic I hear is: “Your music is not good enough to listen to on its own.”

That being said, I recently saw a movie that had some wonderful movie-music in it. It was called “I am Love” and featured the music of American post-minimalist John Adams. The music was all composed before the movie was made. It works wonderfully. The music, in fact, is one of the most important characters in the film. And, I hate to say it, it makes really good movie music.

Another “character” in the film is the upper-upper class. There is something very satisfying for me in watching rich people do the things that they want to do as they are want to do them. (I know, I know. The whole point of the movie is picking simple pleasures over the cold and heartless traps that come with being rich.) Regardless, I want to be rich.

One practical way for me to do this would be to have my music used in a major motion picture.

A fanciful way would be to name a piece of music for Karl Lagerfeld and have him become my friend. I don’t want money. I just want to be flown on private jets to Paris for fashion week and get drunk with royalty. Is that so much to ask?

For Karl Lagerfeld

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Heroes

I’m reading a book about Glenn Gould right now. There is a quote in there about the right time to have idols – Gould puts it in the early teens, but something tells me he had a few in his adulthood – that made me feel a little ashamed of myself. I jump from one hero to the next, sucking as much inspiration as I can from them and then moving on.

John Fahey was a hero. I haven’t listened to his music in a year. Anthony Braxton was a hero – it’s been three months since I’ve heard one note he played. Two weeks ago it was Mozart – tomorrow Beethoven.

There are non-musical heroes as well – Shackleton being, of course, the most exemplary:

And there are people who break your heart:

And somehow you try to make music out of it.

And sometimes you succeed.

Render Unto Caesar

Evolution of a Wind Band

The last post I published was written nearly a month ago. Since then I turned 27, saw Steve Reich perform and spent very little time working on music.

The wind band that I talked about has also changed – percussion will be permitted (and encouraged) thanks to the profound impact of Mr. Reich and percussionists.

And two flutes have been added thanks to a generous and wonderful birthday gift I received:

I also have plans to rent a baritone sax to fill out the bottom end. So much for staying focussed.

Wind – part 2

Problems of Organization

I’ve been feeling distracted lately. Distracted by the mess of instruments, records, cds and books that I somehow manage to pile around me. It’s as if I’m building fortifications.

About a month ago I decided that it was time to clean, purge and organize. Easily said, agonizingly done. Deciding which records to keep and which to discard is not so easy. It sound stupid, but it feels as if I’m making important life-altering decisions.

I was also ashamed to find many of my consumptive enterprises left to rot, collect dust or forgotten. Of the 104 Haydn symphonies (I bought them all, on an impulse, on sale in a box) I’ve heard ten. Of Mahler’s nine (again: an impulse, a sale, a box) I’ve actually sat through two without wandering away. Chaos without, chaos within.

So I’ve made some rules – all of them broken before the cleaning-gutting-purging was even half-finished – to try to keep myself on track.

1)Don’t put on music unless you want to hear something specific

2) Don’t buy more music – you have enough

3) Don’t wander (mentally or physically) while you listen

It’s helped. The first real fruit of this labour has been Mozart. I know, I know – discovering Mozart is no big shakes. He’s only been top of the pops for 200 years. But actually hearing Mozart, discovering the joy in a perfectly voiced, phrased and placed melody line, has been a revelation. Five years ago I thought he was fluff. (Why then did I impulse-buy the complete piano concertos? On sale, in a box, not heard for years!)

This has led me to some other rules about my own music making:

1) Use a predetermined ensemble of instruments, understand how it works together and write music for the way it sounds.

The ensemble that I have decided on (inspired by Mozart’s wind-band music) consists of:

2 Baritone Euphonium

2 Alto Clarinets

2 Clarinets

2 Alto Saxophones

I would love to have 2 flutes and 2 trumpets to brighten the sound. My non-western flutes are a little too idiosyncratic and my trumpet playing doesn’t even blow – it sucks.

I’m about to turn 27 and I want everything to be as neat and clean as possible.

Wind – part 1

A New-Age Tribute to Albert Ayler

Ok. Let’s be honest. The last piece of music I posted owed very little to David Darling & Ketil Bjornstad. It owed a lot to Harold Budd. I admit it.

But did you know that Harold Budd and Albert Ayler were in a military band together? Ambient piano or other, that is a serious piece of credibility. A big hunk of it.

I’ve wanted to do a series of recordings of Albert Ayler songs in a Fahey-esque guitar style. Ayler’s lovely, folksy melodies perfectly match the pastoral Americana of Fahey’s finger-picking. But I thought this week I’d try to do it first in a new-age style, because I’m on a new-age kick.

Here is ambient piano, double-reverbs, harmonic stasis and a guitar theme inspired by Alyler’s lovelier moments:

A New Age Tribute To Albert Ayler

It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks Ayler and new-age are not incompatible. A simple google image search revealed this:

Wow.

This morning I had to prove that I could snap out of this reverb-drenched funk. I recorded the Theme for Albert Ayler without allowing myself a single digital effect:

For Albert Ayler

Pat Metheny made a record with Ornette Coleman. Harold Budd served in the US Army with Albert Ayler. Sometimes the distance between avant-garde and easy-listening is only a reverb button.

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:

Ilium

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.

Winter Pastoral

People like to complain about the winter weather. I like it. Winter is a great time to bunker down and get some work done.

Winter is also wonderful at magnifying distance.

Distances, Measurable and Otherwise

The cold weather has given me plenty of time to work through more music from the blog Allegory-of-Allergies. One of the very special treats there was this album by Loren Mazzacane Connors. The opening track put me in a pastoral mood. I got my guitar out.

I hope the opening theme of this puts you somewhere between John Fahey and Pat Metheny. That’s where I was. At the end I snuck in some of my second-rate Sibelius-esque brass playing. You can’t blame a guy for trying.