Category Archives: clarinet

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


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:


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.

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

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?

A Balafon and a Partridge in a Pear Tree


Just before Christmas I started working on a song. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved really rugged blues. Early John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams and the like. Droning blues. But I’m not a very strong guitar player. And I feel like a phony playing blues licks. When I play the guitar I am always looking for an honest way to play the droning blues – that is how this song started.

I had reached an impasse and was ready to give up on the song. And then…

One of my patrons gave me a marimba as a Christmas gift.

Technically it’s a balafon, but whatever it is it helped me finish the song I’d been messing with since before the holiday started.

Here it is:

It’s called “We Were Here When the Fire Started”.