The “Stand Your Ground” Process

I’ve spent the last year working on what has become two albums of compositions. The first of these albums is entitled “Stand Your Ground“. Needless to say, its inspiration was politically motivated by the notorious Treyvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. The second album is entitled “Koheleth” and deals with the subjects of my favourite book of the Tanakh. Both albums were mixed at  Gyroscope Studios in Stockholm.

This post isn’t going to be about politics.

Nearly all of the material on “Stand Your Ground” is based on a very simple methodology. An adaptation – some would say a simplification – of Schönberg’s technique of composing with twelve tones. I utilized three main tools: a tone row matrix that i created with a wonderful online resource from a row that i constructed, Steven Yi‘s wonderful environment Blue and my bass. As I am an improvising musician with a formal background in composition and orchestration, I used the first two of these tools to create coordinates within which to build my improvisations. Long ago, I learned from Anthony Braxton that “total freedom” can very quickly result in its polar opposite. Anyone who’s done a solo improvised set without a road map knows how fast one can exhaust their vocabulary if care isn’t taken to make some sort of outline or plan for the course of the improvisation. Having such a plan doesn’t compromise the integrity of an improvisation. It refines and focuses it. The essence of improvisation is exploration and discovery. If a person follows a map for a path they have never before travelled, they will still see new things. In fact, since the basic path is outlined, there will be more freedom and occasion to take inventory of details that would be otherwise missed.

Once the matrix was created, i devoted time to “internalizing” the row and its various permutations. I worked out fingerings and bowings for the various permutations of the row and these in turn became foundations for the pieces. I experimented with playing these against structures that i created in Blue.

Blue doing it for me ;-)

Blue doing it for me 😉

I recorded the bass into Ardour and Mixbus and flew in instruments that i built in Blue. This spawned an iterative process of:


  • Sequence Blue instruments
  • Play bass
  • Revise Blue instruments
  • Play bass
  • repeat.

It has been said that composition is slow improvisation, and improvising is composing in real time with no editing. In my experience, the lines haven’t been that clearly defined – and i don’t think they should be. I believe that a rewarding challenge to pursue is the discovery of unique and interesting categorical propositions to build improvisations on. This procedure, in itself implies composition or an antecedent compositional phase. For me, there is always an ‘instruction set”. Whether it is an Ayler form or some other original structure – however abstract – there is always a chart, an algorithm. The Music is in the details and the algorithm allows me more freedom to explore those details.

Stand Your Ground” and “Koheleth” will be available from MussoMusic. Watch this blog for updates and release information.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s