Sunday
May082011

Why Don't Jazzpersons Use These Chords? Score and sound recording of a new piece.

When I started teaching jazz harmony at Box Hill Institute, I became intrigued with those chords that were considered the “building blocks” of jazz, some of which I had been using in a non-jazz harmony context for many years – I'd used the “building blocks,” but not the “harmonic glue” - and wondered what some of them would sound like in just-intonation. For example, the dominant 7th with an added 9th, C E G Bb D, could be expressed with harmonics 4 5 6 7 and 9. After much fooling around, I came to a 12-note scale, based on C, of the odd numbered harmonics through 25, except harmonic 23. Harmonic 23 was eliminated because it would put too many pitches between C & G, resulting in my 3/2 being on Ab instead of G, and for this piece I wanted to use the normal 12-note keyboard with approximate normal harmonic relations (and fingering) for the key of C. The end scale was this:

But, of course, since this is just-intonation, if you play the same chord on different keys, it's going to sound different. Sometimes the differences will be subtle, and other times the differences will be great – a consonant chord transposed a minor second can become a grinding dissonance. To my ears, that's a good thing, but to the traditional world, that's probably not desired. CLICK HERE to hear that same C E G Bb D chord played on all 12 fundamentals.

 The use of a piano timbre makes the differences between each transposition level very prominent. Here's another example. The same scale, but a slightly different chord – the minor 9th – C Eb G Bb D, transposed to all 12 fundamentals.  CLICK HERE TO HEAR THAT.

  I found a chart of the 12 most common jazz 7th chords in a music theory book. To this list, I added a 13th chord (which was not a harmonic 13th chord), and added a major 9th to all the chords. I used these chords as "fingering templates" and applied them to the scale of odd numbered harmonics. I played the set of 13 chords 12 times, each time at a different transposition. Because of the unequal nature of the just-intonation scale, each transposition sounds different from the others – sometimes subtly different, sometimes radically different, revealing that in just-intonation there is the potential for much greater dissonance AND much greater consonance than 12-tone equal temperament provides. Or as Harry Partch said, dissonance in just-intonation is a “whole other serving of tapioca.”   

Once I'd done that, I realized I could turn the whole thing upside down and play it on the scale of subharmonics.  If you turn the scale upside down, you get a scale of subharmonics 1-25, without subharmonic 23. This scale, although inverted, has a lot of the same “sounds” as the harmonic scale. This inversion produces things that still sound like jazz chords, but which have a different colour than the harmonic-based chords. Here's the subharmonic scale:

I used an electric piano timbre for the piece. Finding the “right” electric piano sound was quite a task – I didn't realise the vast range of sounds that fit under the name “electric piano.” Finally, I made the sound I wanted, using Big Tick's “Rhino” synthesizer, and processing it through the Melda Production Multiband Reverb. The piece lasts 45 minutes. It's an exploration of a harmonic world that “might-have-been” or one that “might come to be.” Over the course of the piece, to my ears at least, the chords, even the most dissonant, cease having a quality of “strangeness” or “out-of-tuneness,” and simply become sounds in their own right. Which is what I hope would happen in this pretty yet unrelenting piece – the unusual sounds would become “normalised,” and a new set of harmonic resources would reveal themselves for those interested in hearing and playing them.

The SCORE can be found HERE.

CLICK HERE to hear a recording of an electronic realization of PART 1.

CLICK HERE to hear a recording of an electronic realization of PART 2.

In Google Chrome, at least (I don't know about other browsers), a player will appear, and if you right-click on the player, you can download either file.

The title is a good natured teasing of my many jazz playing friends, but also an invitation to them. Here's a new harmonic world for you to explore! Enjoy!

Monday
Apr252011

Easter Colour Mix - the companion piece

Sometimes, things go pear-shaped, and sometimes, things happen in pairs.  (Ask Erik Satie about pear-shaped.  After all, he wrote "Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear.")  I had just finished "City Night Rain," the previous video on this site, when, on Easter morning, I was sitting at Cliffy's Cafe in Daylesford, Vic, watching people passing on the sidewalk.  I noticed that my cellphone could take pictures tinted red, green or blue, so I filmed 30 seconds of passing people on the sidewalk in each colour.  At home, I loaded the videos to my computer, and stretched both the videos and the soundtracks, and made a music track as well, then mixed them all together in such a way that the balance of red, green and blue was constantly changing.  Although my original idea was inspired by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill's "Three Colour Separation" film series, I realized that my mix was more about changing colour balances than about reassembling a sense of realistic colour. The result is a sort of daytime companion to the nightscape of City Night Rain.  The piece sort of "wrote itself."  That is, it just fell together, but I'm really happy with the results.  I think these two video works turn out to be sections of a larger work, yet to be conceived.  To me at least, they seem to suggest that.  For the moment though, I'm happy with them as a pair of mood pieces.  And for those of you into such things, the electric piano track is a jazz chord progression retuned into a just-intonation scale based on a Fibonacci-like additive series.  There are two tracks of electric piano, in the rhythmic ratio of 84:87, with the two tracks approximately a minor third (6:5) apart.  Again, like in City Night Rain, I think this will look best in a dark space in full screen with the sound pleasantly present, but not overly loud.

 

Sunday
Apr242011

City Night Rain - a new video work

Wednesday 20 April, was a rainy night in Melbourne.  The downpour turned the streets into a mud river.  I felt like a character in a detective novel, or even a noir film like Blade Runner. All my thoughts were turning into quotes from old detective radio shows!  Only one thing to do, Quick! Whip out the cell phone and take a 30 second video of the night.  On Good Friday, I uploaded the video to my computer, and began playing with it.  Various electronic modifications of the video (all slowly changing, of course), and stretchings of the soundtrack, and a couple of tracks of microtonal electric piano chords were mixed in.  I found the results quite moody and lovely.  A portrait of the city on a very rainy night.  And my first video work in quite a while.  Here's hoping more follow soon.  This one will look best, I think, in full screen with the lights off, and the sound at a pleasant, but not too loud, volume.

 

Sunday
Apr242011

Healing Mix - texture produced by harmonic changes

In January, while Catherine was in the hospital (she's ok now, thanks for asking), I was passing time by playing with Henry Lowengard's iPhone app, Droneo.  Droneo is a microtonalists dream.  Even if you don't want to make a "drone," it's a wonderful way to be carrying around a microtonal harmonic sketchpad in your pocket.  Any up to 8 note chord in any tuning you want can be heard almost instantly.  I began experimenting with various 13th chords in various tunings, and playing the results for Catherine, who was at this point recovering from surgery, and was pretty fragile.  It was fascinating to hear what sounds (when heard over her cell-phone speaker) she felt were relaxing, or healing, and which sounds were annoying.  At first, almost everything was annoying - only the most filtered of sounds, played softly, were acceptable.  As healing progressed, higher harmonics and more harmonic motion was found relaxing.    And so it went.

I was house-sitting for composer and vocalist friend Carolyn Connors at the time, so after a day at the hospital, and running errands, I would return to her place, and experiment with the iPhone, recording its output into my netbook and mixing the results.  All listening took place over headphones.  In the end, I made a 56 minute piece which has just one chord for all that time, although the chord is heard in 12-tone equal tempered, just-intonation, and Pythagorean versions.  Sometimes there's just one tuning happening, at others 2 or more tunings are heard together.  Each tuning produces a different internal life in the chord - the sound throbs in different ways, different pitches emerge from the mix, depending on the tuning.  Each mix of tunings also has a different texture (or beating or throbbing) than any of the tunings heard on its own.  The tunings and tuning mixes progress very slowly, and the changes in tuning produce the overall life of the piece, which is changes in internal sound texture, rather than changes of harmony, or notes or melody.  I found the results very healing (for myself) at the time, when listened to over headphones. 

Then things began to happen fast, Catherine was getting better, we had to arrange social security benefits for her, I began to have job interviews, and oh yes, we had to move all our stuff from Wollongong to Daylesford.  The piece, in mp3 and wav forms just languished, forgotten, on a USB stick.  About a week ago, as things began to calm down a little bit, I decided to play the piece on the speakers in my studio in our new home.  I found it very beautiful.  And to my delight, Catherine, now well on the road to a complete recovery, found it very beautiful as well.  


So I would like to share the piece with net-friends everywhere.  Here it is, all 56 minutes of it:

 And if you want to download it, just go to www.zebraandmoose.com/sounds/Droneo-Healing-Mix.mp3.  In Google Chrome, at least (I don't know about other browsers), a player will appear, and if you right-click on the player, you can download the 108mb file.

Sunday
Apr172011

Carmen Chan's "for Warren"

'for warren' from Carmen Chan on Vimeo.

Here's a video of a performance of a collective piece by Carmen Chan and myself that happened in March 2010 in the Shepparton, Vic. Regional Art Gallery.  As Carmen writes on her blog:

"A performance of the score 'for warren' at the Shepparton Art Gallery in March 2010. 

I made the score while I was in Piteå and sent them to Warren Burt who was in Woollongong at the time. He then realised the pages with the Swedish graphic synthesis software Coagula, and requested it to be improvised with a snare drum and a single pair of crotales. Well we couldn't find crotales conveniently for the performance so we decided to use salad bowls instead.

Warren Burt (electronics)
Carmen Chan (snare drum, bowls)"

It's a lovely performance - very subtle and delicate.  You'll want to turn the sound UP on your speakers, not to be blasted out by the sound, but to hear all the delicious little delicate things that Carmen is doing.  Enjoy.  And if you want to see it bigger - here's the link to Carmen's vimeo site: http://www.vimeo.com/21291032