Total Guitar Issue 243 includes an article by me and the eminent microbiologist Dr. Simon Park (with whom I collaborated on the Microcosmos project and does many other beautiful things). Here we took a rather nasty set of strings from the Future Publishing offices and endeavoured to discover what constituted the invisible audience to our noodlings. Get it at all good newsagents. Wash your hands before and after.
I have a little place in Greece, on a lesser known corner of the Peloponnese, on a little beach with a derelict and rarely visited acropolis from which the islands of Î¨Î¹Î»Î¹, Î Î»Î±Ï„ÎµÎ¹Î± and (just about) Î£Ï€ÎµÏ„ÏƒÎµÏƒ are visible.
It’s a magical (and for me painfully nostalgic) place where even when we eventually installed a phone (1996), Â modem (2006) and wi-fi (2013) seems eerily frozen (well baked) in time. This part of the world is home to some odd creatures: deafening cicada, scorpions, flying fish, swordfish and a plant with fruit that explode on the lightest touch.
One such unusual animal I have yet to (knowingly) see but I’ve been fasciated by its sound for years. It’s some kind of bird that emits a short tweet at intervals so regular thatÂ we use it as a metronome. (It sounds particularly good on beat 4 & in a bossa).
Here’s an unedited audio sample recorded onÂ Tuesday, 7 July 2009 19:32
[audio http://www.miltonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Metrobird.mp3] (non-flash) Metrobird
Notice how (separated by an unmeasured pause) there is a decent metronomic tempo established. Logic Pro X’s transient detector and beat mapping tools reveal that once a pulse is established it tends to stay within a couple of bpm. I’ve played with far worse time-keepers of the human species. Here are the numbers:
To get a feel for it, listen to the same unedited clip with a click track.
[audio http://www.miltonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Metrobird-with-Click.mp3] (non-flash) Metrobird with Click Not bad at all. Here’s how it sounds (again completely unedited) in the context of a percussion groove.
[audio http://www.miltonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Metrobird-Groove.mp3] (non-flash) Metrobird Groove
Does anyone know what type of bird it is, an what evolutionary pressures gave it such tight timing?
Presenting at the Neuroscience of Imagination event at the British Library alongside Blind Summit Theatre, Pulitzer-nominated author Arthur I. Miller, Professor of neuroscience Vincent Walsh and Chiara Ambrosio was a real joy. You can hear my talk on the Myth of the Muse (essentially how composers and improvisers come up with stuff) in the video below.
A collaboration with Mike HallÂ and Tom Hardwidge of Considered CreativeÂ brought about this super fun animation for the opening of the 2013 QED conference. Musically, I wanted to capture the relentless spirit of scientific exploration through the ages, so felt a perpetual motion chord sequence with the instruments changing in line with the ages. 50 points for identifying the sound when Cox throws the LHC switch.
An exhaustive questionnaire would be non-trivial but this reflects my interest in the conformity and diversity of lyrics, and how the gamut of human expression is reflected in song.
For Part 2 of the Beatless series lets look at a Beatles rework by one Joe Connor.Â
Here the motivic and harmonic elements of the piece are extracted and examined through repetition with gentle timbral variation – techniques borrowed from minimalist and process music.
This, together with non-quantisation rhythmic elements creates a compelling atmosphere. Electronic music has been refreshed of late with such artists as Mount Kimbie rejecting the dominance that strict grid-based (‘quantized’) time has had on the genre. ‘Loose’ (but not sloppy) timing has a huge effect on musical expression, and this latest trend in IDM is heartening.
Â I thought I’d use this platform to share with you some of the great work my students are doing together with some commentary addressing compositional technique. Here’s the first of many to come.Â
As part of one of my coursework portfolios, I offered my talented and creative students at Surrey the option to rework a Beatles track. Beyond a cover or remix, the brief was to reinterpret and/or electronically deconstruct/reconstruct musical materials from any Beatles track. There was some great work such as Em Bollon’s modal reinterpretation of ‘Here Comes The Sun’
Remodalisation (invented term) is the technique of translating melodic and/or harmonic material into a parallel mode (set of notes or scale). The original track’s major tonality (with some modal interchange and secondary dominants) is really effectively (and intuitively) reinterpreted into mixolydian and dorian ideas, blended with electronic japery. Quite lovely. Â
Just how many modes are there?
A certificate at Grade 8 would suggest that there are 7 modes all derived from the major scale and maybe one or two from harmonic minor. In reality, there is an entire universe of modes, so many in fact that they can be imagined as existing on a vast continuum of characteristics, a palette from which the composer or improviser may draw.
Here’s a diagram demonstrating a small section of the huge modal universe. You may see how mirroring modes (turning them upside down) can organize them into levels of brightness. It can also identify those modes that are identical in mirror form (the middle rectangle). These include Dorian (used in a thousand tunes from Scarborough Fair, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Brick House to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Aeolian Dominant (Kate Bush’s Babooshka) and Double Harmonic (Miserlou from Pulp Fiction).
These are just 3 of the heptatonic (7-note) even-tempered mode systems with mirror symmetry parents. There are many others, scales with 2-12 notes, as well as scales with ‘twin’ mode systems. Regardless this technique can be applied widely and is a rich resource for composers and improvisers alike.
Over the next few posts, I’ll look at particular modes and how their beautiful characteristics have been exploited over a wide range of repertoire.
Tommy Ashbyâ€™s EPs were played, written and engineered by a team of Surrey students*.
I think it is music of exceptionally high quality. This is no-gimmicks stuff: great lyrics, great performances, and great sounds. It’s not for your Nathan Barley types.
What strikes me most about it is the way in which the urge to decorate the songs with quirky, synthetic bleeps or novel plug-ins is resisted, and much to its credit.
A generalisation for you: In so much music of this kind, the authors resort to such techno-laden strategies, and I’m not one to say that there isnâ€™t anything wrong with that – it often makes for a thrilling listen – but it’s sometimes applied without sufficient justification and can mask or interfere with otherwise beautiful music…
…just because one can doesn’t mean one should.
It is for the reasons outlined above that I feel compelled to make a case for it. To put it bluntly: nothing sets this music apart, save for the level of craft.
The songs are unpretentious and penned with virtuoso restraint, and their conventional instrumental context speaks volumes for the songsâ€™ lack of want for flattery. Thatâ€™s not to say that the surface of the music isn’t pristine; in fact, the production style embodies a Nashville-esq dedication to fidelity- though admittedly, it’s a tad more ‘twee’.
Overall, this is excellent, dignified and uncompromised music. Moreover, its occasionally chirpy feel and its light hearted ‘packaging’ modestly masks the sheer sophistication at its heart.
*To my knowledge, the only non-Surrey-students who worked on the EPs are vocalist, Cynthia Quek and Jenny Double.
As my PhD is in composition, I thought I’d post some research!
This piece is for Trumpet and String Quartet (occasionally, a problematic ensemble: see picture). I hope you find the opportunity to have a listen.