It’s the twenty-first century. We have the technology and the intellectual capability to not only conceptualize alternatives to the technologies of the last two hundred years (knobs and buttons) we can also implement those alternatives. Why are you working in a digital audio workstation that forces you into interfacing with it via photo-realistic psudo-representations of ancient technology?

In order to record and mix audio, it is not necessary to see how far to the left, right, up or down a virtual representation of a fader is. It’s audio. You’re supposed to be working with sound – not images. Likewise, if something is too loud (or not loud enough) you will only, properly, make corrections using your ears.

In the time that it takes the average DAW to open, i can record and mix a track in Ecasound. Not only that, the result sounds an awful lot better than what i’ve heard from many of the “industry standard”聽DAWs – all without the cost, clutter and distraction.

A three track mix with effects playing back in Ecasound.

A three track mix with effects playing back in Ecasound.

“June Blue”

As promised in response to the comment by jazztraveler, here’s a recording of my tune “June Blue” from the cruise ship last month. This piece is characterized by a long, near-ambient improvisation followed by a brief improvisation on the chord changes of the theme, an open one chord improv section and ending with the “A” section of the actual theme. The order of these sections changed every night. Sometimes the theme would be sandwiched between two long improvisations. Sometimes the theme would only be stated once at the end of a long improvisation and so on. The combinations of theme/improvisation are endless.

Terra firma…

Wow, it’s done. I’m back on land and preparing for the next phase. I spent the last two months on a cruise ship playing improvised music and popular songs from the mid-twentieth century with pianist Doru Apreotesei and vocalist Deborah Herbert. It was a fantastic time of growth and exploration. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there will be sound clips from those gigs posted here from time to time in relation to various topics.

Now the work turns to preparing for a concert series that i’ll produce that focuses mostly on my presentation of solo works for bass. Some of the pieces i’ll perform have been composed for me. Some will be by composers i admire and have been greatly influenced by (e.g., Cage, Braxton, Sun Ra, Ayler). Stay tuned here for the where and when.

List of Sun Ra charts

Partial list of Sun Ra charts


As with all Music, dynamics play a very important role in improvised music. Dynamics can (and should) be used very effectively as a structural/organizational device. We’re not just talking about volume here.聽 Getting back to an earlier post on this blog, eleven aspects of improvisation are delineated. Each of these parameters can be dynamically modulated. In other words, one can vary the amount of any of the defined parameters one utilizes in a phrase, note or statement. This is to apply Braxton‘s eleventh (of the twelve types) “Gradient Formings” – the serialization of dynamics.

One very, very good illustration of this is the “Pulse Track” of Braxton’s Composition #108B. This graphic score may be freely applied to volume and/or pitch.

Braxton describes #108B as 鈥渁 series of possible curve line sounds or curve line dynamic changes鈥 (311), implying that the lines can indicate pitch and/or volume… – Graham Lock


Composition 108B Pulse Track

I have these ideas…

Improvised Music is what i do. I’ve been doing it a long time. During the
course of my journey, i’ve encountered many different methods of approaching the art of improvisation. Different architectonics. The results of these revelations are often labeled by the media as “Free Jazz“. Jazz rarely – if ever – has anything to do with the resulting Music. I’d like to share some of these manners of blueprinting and executing improvisations here in this blog. So, over the course of the next few posts, i hope to share some meaningful information about some of the methods i have used to solve the enigmatic questions that confront the improviser.

Anthony Braxton taught me a lot about strategy. His “Creative Orchestra
Music” (1976) was an important turning-point in my understanding of how group improvisations could be structured and directed. Prior to this, i had heard his “In The Tradition” recordings and “Five Pieces” (1975) as well as Albert Ayler’s work. Still, it was Braxton’s structuring and use of the orchestra on “Creative Orchestra Music” that opened my ears to the idea that there are more ways to realize group improvisations than just leaving a group of performers to forge ahead on their own. When i heard his “For Trio” (1978), the sky opened. This led me to have a closer look at his process. I discovered that Anthony had started the development of his approach by defining his “Twelve Language Types“. If you aren’t familiar with the “Twelve Language Types”, it’s a handy way that Anthony came up with to codify the twelve main language types that make up music. Once reduced to its constituent elements in this way, music could be plotted and executed. The point and advantage in this method is to obviate the contingency of running out of ideas or breaking the flow of an improvisation. While Braxton developed this technique for his solo performances, i found it very suited to group improvisations as well.

There are many different ways this method can be applied. As with most
everything, the best way to get a handle on it is to just experiment. Try
interpreting the symbols in different ways (backwards, inverted, etc). Assign different symbols to different registers, instruments, tempi, dynamics, etc. Believe me, these twelve – seemingly simple – symbols can go an incredibly long way.

If you’ve had any experience with Braxton’s Twelve Language Types or would like to discuss them, i’d love to hear from you here.


Braxton's Twelve Language Types

Braxton’s Twelve Language Types

Getting it on…

Yes, yes, yes. Linux is my operating system of choice – with emphasis on operating.

Everything, simply works exactly as i want it to and if it doesn’t i can fix it.

Every possible tool that i could ever need for composition, arrangement, production, entertainment or anything else is available and if it isn’t on my system, my system provides me with the tools to build anything i might need.

Welcome to the twenty-first century 馃檪

This is where i work - daily.

This is where i work – daily.

Playing for keeps…

The great Anthony Braxton said

Play or die!”

Ken Simon said:

You’re either distinct or you’re extinct

Beethoven said:

鈥淭o play a wrong note is INSIGNIFICANT; To play without PASSION is INEXCUSABLE!鈥

Commitment and dedication are the keys to making Music. What makes improvised music work is courage – the confidence that makes the necessary great leaps of faith possible. Yes, technical facility is also very important. We cannot have any impediments between out imagination and our execution. Still, a timid musician with all of the technique in the universe will never be mistaken for a great improviser.

The book “The Courage To Create” by Rollo May is a great source of inspiration for the improviser.


Playing it.jpg



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聽Tanakh. Both albums were mixed at聽 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 Sch枚nberg’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聽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 馃槈

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.