Last week it was the fractal spirals in the incredible cauliflower in Italy that held my fascination. This week it is spiral patterns in the sky and in the mountains that I behold in wonder. And it reminds me, on those few occasions when I ask myself what in the hell are you doing, why I am spending my days and nights brutalizing my legs and cutting through these mountains- it also has to do with spirals. Readers of this page will know well that in the last few years I have gone deeper into tunings and fibonacci forms in the overtone series- well in short, these universal laws which find expression in our perceivable sound world can, if you let them, whisk you away to very distant places making it very difficult to keep your feet on the ground. I intuited that I could easily pass the point of no return and I instinctively choose something which would keep me grounded in some way- something to balance these other forces, blindingly bright in their brilliance and luminosity.
And so here we are now, cutting through the mountains in barefoot running sandals. I would never have imagined myself doing that a few years ago. I think it all relates though and my training philosophy is also spiral-related. If you can run 1km then you can run 2. If you can run 2 then you can run 3, then 5, then 8, then 13 and so on. And now I’, running close to 89. I’m guessing the sky is the limit and I fully subscribe to the idea that over time we humans can outrun any creature on this planet. There are many moments these days when I feel I could run through day and night without a break. It is a liberating feeling but at the the same time an earthy/rootsy one- worlds apart from the information I was getting from the universal sound worlds I had begun to explore and were beckoning me away from this planet.
Next week on Thursday I dive into Finnegans Wake in a solo performance. The book is for me also fractal in its nature- take a small fragment or page and it fully mirrors the whole in structure and form. It invokes the world of dream, the places where our physical reality, the one I am trying to ground myself into, breaks down and morphs into other dimensions. It achieves this through sound and intoning.
I don’t care for those who pour ridicule on those who have experienced other worlds or the reality of dreamtime (call it any one of another hundred names, call it what you want, or riddle with it endlesslessly as Mr Joyce did). After Iboga initiation, Bwitis know that we share this plane with many others of non-physical form and that the points of intersection between the worlds are where the true work take place. We know that sound is one of the most powerful tools here. When others laugh and or poke fun at phenomena that are not measurable by modern science ( about as advanced as a piece of rock when it comes to measuring these other worlds in my view) we simply smile and continue. Apart from the odd phase of solid grounding by running through these grand old spirits in the form of mountains, there is still much work to do. I may be stretched out, aching between rock and cosmos, between physical space and dreamtime- but there is still a smile on my face because I know this is what we were destined to be- tiny organic breathing bridges between the temporal and the eternal. I can’t emphasise the breathing part enough, ’tis the key which fits the lock.
Training now on the island. Plenty of blisters to sport already. Loading up on avocados, jamon serrrano, coffee, wine, fish, chicken and paprika for the race. Found some beautiful smaller trail routes in the north I’ve been working on. These are the kind of gorgeous stone trails that cut through the mountain range. Around 1000 runners of which only 30 are Estranjeros like yours truly. I’ve just translated the last items that are required for the course- my feet and legs are aching as I write- gonna be a blast!
Palermo. Orange golden light cascades down and is reflected off the gorgeous facades and distant cliffs. A lone Goethe Institute harbors our jazz and the locals nod in approval- no need for spoken language. Walking around aimlessly I fall in love with a 300yr old tree spilling over its garden into the street and propped up with other trees acting as crouches. Her roots wind gloriously over the sand, twisting and pulsating with life. Something intangibly spellbinding in the air and it finds its way into the music- if I ever truly drop off the map, look for me here.
0600 I make it up for some running through the empty streets. One week away from the big race. I used to thick of the zone as a place from my favorite Tarkowski film- now it is something I get into after about 5kms into the run. Once I’m in it I can stay there for ages. Getting into it means sweating out some of the wine from the night before and yes, that is part of my training. As is a beer every 20kms and some meat and avocados every 25 or so. More of that later as I think I’ll make a little video diary of the race which cuts through some of the most beautiful mountains I know on northern Mallorca.
When I’m out there my mind is on the rocks below and the mountains around but the best thing is the sounds that flow into my head. I have to watch out to get them scribbled down- seems to do my aging brain good and the melodies that are sweated out during the ultra training have worked out fine thus far in the practice room. Calves are also in good knick as well which seems to strengthen my standing position. Starting to get a bit addicted to the aching legs each night, keeps my mind from wandering.
For the Leipzig-based readers out there I pay a house concert with Pina Bettina Ruecker this Wednesday, from 2000 we welcome listeners into her living room. Simply call 03413191166 and reserve your space…
Playing with Pina is always a delight and a challenge- blending with the crystal sound bowels tests me anew each time and I’m often surprised where the journey takes us. I havn’t been able to quite put my finger on the strange and otherworldly mix between these two instruments but I suspect it has something to do with bamboo, alloys, crystal, and wood. Come along and hear for yourself…
Once upon a time a red headed Kiwi with long hair, acne, squinting eyes, and a bright paisley shirt walked into a pub in the countryside in England and made the mistake of ordering a cup of tea. The Bartender politely told him to leave the pub, turn right, walk straight ahead for 2 miles, and then to kindly F¢¶? himself.
Now it could have been my dreadlocks and didjeridu, all duly dangling, that exacerbated the situation brought on by my innocent order however the point lies elsewhere. I returned later in the evening, ordered some pints, and was as least tolerated for the moment. Back in those days, I was not particularly fond of bar fights, and so I simply sat back and watched the Bosch-like villagers- a passive observer, nothing more. That was until the local dart competition was initiated. Bouyed by the warm local ale and not concerned by the absence of my contact lenses or my lack of dart skills, I joined the fray. Several pints and hurled darts later, I had won by utter fluke not only the dart competition and the 50 pound prize, but also the respect of the bartender and a valuable lesson from a highly improbably event. My winning dart had (after closer inspection for the dartboard itself and the entire pub was blurry at best without my contacts) had split my previous dart plum down the middle.
My lesson (to strike me epiphany-like many years later): When you throw a dart and hit the bulls eye, you’ve found the centre. But if you throw another dart right after and split the first dart in the middle, it’s as if you have pierced the center of the centre. This is the memory I now bear from that nondescript little pub in England and in the faerie tale world inside my head, it now relates directly to the tuning of my instrument.
Especially in musical situations where I have ample time to find the center of the tone – and here it is important for me to write that intonation and timbre are magically and inextricably intwined- more and more I am sensing that the true center of the tone is one which can be constantly pierced through the middle just as my dart once did its precursor. Like an ongoing refinement of the true center effected with minute adjustments in intonation, tone coloring, volume, and the marriage with the other sound source.
Musicologists may laugh and call me a hopeless esoteric, I in turn may smile back at them because it is for me a perfectly measurable sensation. They may cry out: subjective experience! I will smile and comment that subjectivity and objectivity start to blur when matter and consciousness are considered as one (and in my book they absolutely, empirically are). We might as well be at opposite ends of the universe with our respective views we hold onto (with the one difference that I hold onto my beliefs about as tightly as I hold on with my embouchure to my mouthpiece- just enough to get the job done). We barely share the same simple tools of human language to feebly attempt to understand the other- and yet I might as well order a pint of ale in a Kyoto temple and expect it on tap, up front, no questions asked, than have them understand me.
There is no perfectly in tune as there is no perfect bull’s eye; you can always cut deeper into the center of the tone you are merging with.
Finding appropriate practice spaces at airports is not always easy but my recommendation is to go for the handicapped toilets if available. They are usually large enough to perform the Taiji form and do a good round of stretches and push ups without attracting unwanted attention. Sometimes, if there is a children’s play area I try and track down a bar for some pull ups and drop some handstands- children sometimes smile and adults often seem a bit confused. Then I always hunt down the closest Mcdonalds for a nutritional Big Mac and the delicious taste of unbridled capitalism (not). In the flights themselves I go for left sided window seats ( when I want to sleep- about 50% of my flights), isle seats when I want to work or contemplate the state of this planet, and seats in the middle when I want to test my compassion for mankind. After a bit of practice I’m able to pull a reverse handstand in most plane lavatories and I’ve found the closed seat can be used for the yoga asana “frog”. Sometimes I like to take my neck and mouthpiece in and circular breath for a little- the buzzing feeling in my lower lip calm soothes my soul. Most of the time I prefer to listen to the overtones of the plane engines than any music. It’s rough out there on the road, you might as well make the best of it.
Training for my first Ultra Marathon has left me without much to say or write- my mind is simply in the middle, purring in neutral. It wasn’t so much the physical challenge that drew me but the mental one and the fact that it cuts through a beautiful mountain range in Spain. Running 70 km on asphalt would not only bore me, it would also hurt me a little, barefeoot sandles or not. Bringing the whole thing back to music, I wanted to say that I felt the only way I could push my saxophone playing further is by sharpening the mental side of my musical approach- long distance barefoot running has helped me here. The barefoot part turns the run into a much more total mind/body thing as you are accutely aware of each step and not simply pounding away on pavement. It’s the essence of being in the moment- as if you’re not, you’ll hurt yourself. I know now how to get my mind into the zone where I can push on through on kinds of obstacles. I also know that once the running form is right, breathing relaxed, body and mind moving in sync, I can do things I never dreamed possible. The kind of things blocking my progress on a jazz tour like the one I’m now can be easily overcome with some of these skills. Most of them are surprising simple but they need a couple of pain initations and physical challenges to attain. Once they’re there then you can employ them at will- for example on your 13th chorus over Cherokee.
With a low passenger count, departure from a virtually empty airport, old-school large leather seats, low-volume announcements and nonexistent boarding music, and 3 euro smoked trout and horse radish from the airport market, my mood was already buoyant on boarding another Air Serbia flight. One last on board phone call is made by a Grandmother, bidding farewell to “Dusa Moya” – my soul. There is something about that I love.
In the meantime, having observed what is happening around the world on a large scale, I know well that you cannot take such tiny islands of tranquility for granted and you should cherish them all while they last. I also feel increasingly lucky to have grown up in peace and to be able to make music my life.
I allow the large seat to ease back, watch some of the flickering stars and meditate on two things that make me happy- overtones from the jet engines and distant suns sharing their past with my present.
Today I will identify and characterize a generic sub-species of saxophonist- one which is (sadly) still present throughout the world and one which I have encountered in every single continent. It is helpful to identify these types and to know them well for what they are, especially for younger players, those studying the saxophone and setting out into a career of music. If one is not aware of the nature of these critters they can be irksome at least and out and out dangerous at worst. I can recall several unpleasant situations with them in my younger days. These guys can be soul-destroying when you are in a growth process-hence this post.
Tenorus Clamos ( Loud Tenor) . These creatures usually front up on Tenor ( though not only, I have spotted several examples on Alto as well) and can be recognized by their forthright demeanor, loud timbre, and lick- based playing. At least 95% percent of these species are males. In the mean time several of them hold teaching positions and most professional big bands can boast a few of them in their ranks. I’m guessing every town over say 150,000 folks will sport at least one of them, probably more. At an early stage they will often sound ” like Coltrane” or “just like Brecker”- that is for those who are listening on the surface. They have no particular determining physical features- they can come in all shapes, sizes and deformations- they are rather recognized as soon as the horn is in the mouth and this fingers start to move, and by their disposition after the playing- on and off the stage ( when I teach workshops I can spot them often by the way they sit, or rather slouch, and by their nonchalant facial expressions or permanent leering sneer). In my experience they tend to blossom ( that could well be the wrong word) in their teens and twenties and then fade into obscurity from their 30′s on- albeit still without losing their venom in certain situations. They often burst on to the scene with plenty of “technique” ( in the sense that they can move their fingers quickly and imitate well (even better then most parrots I have heard) and have plenty of “hot licks” coming out of their arse (a part of their anatomy I will come to later) which they have worked on in their ( and this I have to give them) many hours in the practice room.
These creatures will often openly mock more subtle (read: quieter) forms of music making and will go to all kinds of means to belittle them. This is where the first part of this description is important and I ask all students to take note and don’t let themselves be put off by these creatures. With a bit of knowledge concerning their make-up it is easier to see them for what they really are.
Perhaps the most telling feature about these creatures:their music-making, and actually beyond that pretty much everything they experience is about themselves and nothing else. They will usually play loudly and won’t really care for the balance in sound within the group- the main thing for them is that they are heard above all else. I’ve experienced a few telling moments on stage when the Tenorus Clamos has ben unable to respond to some changes in the music, simply because he is in the main so fully engrossed with his own universe. This belies a certain rigidity in his playing, in his mind set, in his entire being. Change some fundamentals and you literally turn his world upside down- sit back and watch all hell break loose.
20 or so years ago the Tenorus Clamos would have certainly spent some time in NYC to hone his chops before returning triumphantly to his home shores to literally blow everyone away( after all, that is what it is all about). Now, Europe is peppered with plenty of Tenorus Clamis who have studied and remained in their habitats. Tenorus Clamis in the last ten years or so have absolutely caught on to the importance of presentation and marketing and often come over in slick packaging with beautiful cd art , the kind of stuff you can happily give to your mum. If you didn’t know better you might not realize it is simply another Tenorus Clamos, that is until the first solo on the CD hits you.
I have encountered the species also in the “free” jazz scene ( yes, that one still deserves quotation marks in my book). I have found them to be slightly more aggressive in this genre but their brashness and general demeanor can at least score them some valuable points when one of the main parameters on stage is raw and sustained energy.
Through some dodgy cross-breeding or osmosis or the like I have experienced some players with a touch of Tenorus Clamos in them. Needless to say I do my best to root it out as early as possible. Sometimes shock therapy works, sometimes showing them a full blown example does the trick.
For all the excessive yang/testostorone/outward aggression, I can safely say that the Tenorus Clamos are -to use the modern parlance- pussys. And when the next post-big-band-concert bar fight or street brawl breaks out, I certainly would want these tough tenors on the other side- in fact I look forward to the day when the dust has settled I can finally put the neck of their saxophones in the one place it really belongs and I don’t mean the saxophone and nor do I mean their throats. In fact, as it seems to be politically in vouge in our delightful world- perhaps we should start to use pre-emptive strikes before their reed is even wet- simply spot the crime before it is even comitted and our dear ears have been insulted once again.
One habit of mine from childhood remains when I am lucky enough to be in a place where the setting sun can be seen and seen well- I mean when the glowing orb is swallowed up gradually by the horizon. Nothing that special about it, except for the slight buzz of excitement which has never abated due to thinking I was doing something not allowed ( In New Zealand the sun is regarded as something dangerous, especially in summer, and especially when it comes to exposing your retinas to it and I remember being told not to stare into it by any means). As the beautiful orb rides low in the sky I love(d) to stare at it without blinking. It feels like I’m filling up on some precious fibre or nutrient, drinking something with my eyes. On another level, it seems like I’m staring into another retina of a hugely expansive eye. Tiny moments like these are then tattooed into my corneas for some unknown reason and I treasure them all to this day o so dearly.
My dear drummer friend Jochen Rückert has done it again, delivering a beautiful release entitled “Gonaïve”. He got rhythm, he got melody, he got music, he got harmony. I don’t know how he comes up with all this romantic microtonal stuff- is it simply the buzz of living in the throbbing urban mecca of the East Village? The proximity to so many ethnic minorities and musical influences? The new wave of green juices overtaking carbohydrate-based deli-culture? The coffee at 9th St Espresso? The pills on each corner nearby? One day I must ask him.
Link to the release page.
As I have written before, the Stelzen Festispiele are difficult to put into words. In short, Henry Schneider has been gradually turning his local village barn into a huge resonant space in which each year instruments literally grow out of the wooden walls. Having played for years in the middle of the Gewandhaus Orchestra he wanted to recreate this feeling of being washed in glorious sound in his own turf so to speak. One of the first installations was a converted manure machine which was fitted with horns and an air compression unit. In this clip, Gareth controls the manure organ whilst I walk in from the back with me trusty pipes. I dedicate this piece to my Dad who was in the audience and heard me on pipes for the first time. Here it is….
Last December Matt Penman, John Taylor and myself played a few concerts and made a recording for release later this year. It was a joyous week and by the last gig in Munich things were coming together in a good way. Here is an impression from that concert:
In the tiny village of Quincerot (Côte d’Or départment- 47’36’39 N – 4’16’02 E) I will give my first longer masterclass in France this year from July 7 through 12. Even though the French site is not online yet, applicants can already email me. The whole thing is organized by French saxman extraordinaire Guillaume Orti. My masterclass in Greece will take place as usual in the last week of August. Following is masterclass description with some of the areas we shall be working on:
THE G-STRING OF PYTHAGORAS
Ancient Knowledge for the Modern Saxophonist
Overtone-based ear training, understanding number relationships within intervals, correlation between rhythms and intervals, tuning intervals in their natural form, alternate tuning systems, the importance of number in ancient music theory and it’s uses today, playing with equal temperament, understanding and utilizing difference tones
Microtonal work for saxophone
The quarter tone system for saxophone and it’s applications, split scales, microtonal ear training, microtonal etudes and more.
Extended Techniques for Saxophone
Multiphonics, advanced tonguing , circular breathing, large interval training , altissimo, extreme dynamics, non-tonal sounds libraries and more.
Developing a Personal Sound
Vocal techniques for sound development, visualisations, blending techniques, mental training, timbral and spectral listening.
Breath work, Taiji and Chi gong techniques for optimizing musicianship, stance and balance, achieving somatic relaxation whilst playing, mind-body relationships.
Group Saxophone Work
Study of the saxophone group compositions by Hayden, non-notated works for ensemble, alternate notations, study of the Fibonacci row in sound through the work Love in Numbers, space awareness techniques for ensemble playing, study and discussion of composition by course participants.
Techniques and tools for solo and group improvisation, memory games, instant composing with complex forms…
Partly because I like to do things for no particular reason, partly because I once remember hearing some beautiful japanese haikus with a shakuhachi in the background and it stuck, and partly because I will perform some of these texts soon, I decided to sight read some Finnegan’s Wake and play a wee bit of flute in the background. Sight-reading the text has the advantage that one is often taken by surprise- there are a plethora of words never before heard of, wondrous constructs of the mind of Joyce ready to trip up the innocent speaker. In a certain way, these texts are almost readymade for the improvising musician- they are a completely open format which can be mixed up and re-composed to make all manner of sound poems. In my mind in matters not if all the words are understood, there are other levels experienced when the written word is given life through the voice. Countless words have been written about Joyce, analysts have had a field day, and I’m sure it is exactly as he quietly wished for. And yet, all of these words fall short of a direct encounter with the text. Here are the ushering of someone who was out to push our language beyond the point of snapping – at the point of annihilation new forms can be seen and heard in the settling dust ( still long from settled). Finnegan wakes when read aloud, I say. Here you go, readers:
During a long and varied trip through the landscape of German folk music I met the Bandonion player Rudi Vogel from the heart of the Erzgebirge. After learning much about his instrument and his other love ( mushroom picking) we sat in the forest and played some of his tunes. This is one I have dear memories of. His accent was viscously difficult to catch, his songs were not.
A think soupy fog descends over the city of Belgrade. Figures with sharply cut faces emerge and disappear leaving trails of perfume and cigarette behind them, seasoning the intoxicating mix. Christmas lights, broken transistor radios, roasting meat, swear words and whispers of love- all softened by the fog. The cyrillic massages my brain in strange new ways. An utterly anonymous Kiwi slinks through their midst.
One step through an empty door frame on the main street and am undefined square is revealed. Is it a public place, a private one? Who knows? Some litter, graffiti, eternally lingering cigarette smoke. A Fallen empire. A hint of what once was. The street lamps are in a perpetual pisa-like tilt. I remember naming a photo I took here years ago The Moment I lost Control of my Life after which the wild spin never seemed to let up. The place hasn’t changed and Belgrade is still filled with these “grey areas”- physical ones and others of a more subtle nature, tucked in behind bustling public zones: in between spaces – undefined rules- nature creeping through the cracks in the concrete – children playing by their own rules – nothing polished to hide behind. Sitting down in the space a quietude descends, amplified a thousand fold by the balkan fog and the gentle rolling thunder of memory. In that space, music arises, some of it remembered, most of it forgotten.
Failure is a relative concept but I have had to work it into something positive as my life as a saxophonist as been decorated amply with it. Continuing until today, over and over, failure usually takes the form of something not having lived up to my own expectations. More often that not it is a painful process, one that carries with it bitter feelings and repercussions which persist over time. More often than not, failure surfaces on the stage- the place where no matter how much you prepare, there are two many variables which can upset the balance. When I look back at my diaries, the years are littered with these, but I have done my best to pick myself up, analyze where the tables turned, and worked so as not to have them repeat. I’ve not tried to accommodate by lowering my standards, rather I’ve simply looked at the most effective ways to prevent them happening again.
Nothing hits us harder than life itself. My advice to younger musicians is then to use these hits on and off the stage to refine your art. Get up the next day after humbling experience and practice earlier and harder. Use the mornings- things which seem impossible by night can be solved with the rising sun- stare into it and practice your paradiddles. Let those first rays pierce your retinas. Voices that were bugging you by night shall be no longer heard and the answers can arise in forms other than words.
The disappointment can be bitter as in our game the now is everything- and if we bugger it up there is no repeating it, no getting back that moment. But this also has a flip side. As improvisors we come to the table ready for anything- this is a very different game compared with arriving with a set game/piece/strategy which is the case with many other types musics. This is a kind of poise that goes far beyond the concert hall and into our lives. It is the point at which the two truly mix.
If we were able to fine tune in the moment, in the ceaseless chain of tiny nows, to compliment the other, in life as we do in sound, then this world might just get a tiny bit better.
I often have to have a little laugh at the little voice inside my head who likes to commentate on all things mundane. Luckily for my state of mind I have been going deeper into the study of brain waves and frequency recently as I am working still on a new piece for saxophone which uses difference tones to feel and understand our different states. And so I know dam well that when the little voice pipes up with some absurd along the lines of hayden if you don’t hit that high g on the soprano tonight in the grover washington song the whole of 2013 would have been in vein then I am feeling a 14-40 hz vibration with a rather shallow if not amusing communique. Well here, is a test sample from my new piece for saxophone quartet entitled alpha-theta. Still, I will be annoyed if I don’t hit that top g tonight- maybe beta waves are right sometimes- must think about that using alpha waves soon.
This position on this donkey in this town may look like a simple pose but actually it is the beginning of a journey. It would be out of place for me to describe the exact nature of the trip but I can say that involves a hell of a lot of music, other four legged beasts of burden, myself and Cosette, and the balkans. The owner of this Donkey was rewarded with a round of brandy for his friends at the bar and she served me well and didn’t mind the jazz on her back. To begin this journey in a humble way in the Albanian town of Berat just felt right. Having flown directly over the mountain landscape some days before I knew that this was it- a bit of perspective always helps.
Not long after my trip began I played with my sruti box in a wonderful church on the mountain overlooking Berat. The air, the light, the mountain silence, all took be back to Nepal. Only the Yak milk was missing and the smiling curious children. As this journey unfolds I shall of course report from the windy gravel roads.
On my last day in Albania I climbed to the mountain overlooking Berat. It was a small dream come true as I had flown over this landscape some days ago and secretly wished I could be in the tiny delta surrounded by snow capped peaks.
The town of Berat below and the river disappearing into the distant valley. Clear crisp air and a deep blue sky, profound silence combined with a wide open expanse, once in a while the sound of a horse or distant dog barking. If I had a cup of yak milk in my hand I could easily be in Nepal- it took me back there in an instant.
This is a magical place with more wonder than I could ever put into words. But I had little time to maneuver on my new flying carpet, the universe hurtled me back to Cologne and less than a day later I find myself playing the FC Köln Hymn in the football stadium for their Christmas party- thank goodness the inside of my eyes are still tattooed with gorgeous Albanian light- anything else right now pales to it.
Some concerts coming up these days and a new recording as well:
Although it’s hard to pick up from a photo, the autumn sun which shines so perfectly off the smooth cobblestones of Berat is truly blinding. Now here is a world of color I know only in the balkans. This orange-blue light which streams down so powerfully is offset by stone, wood, iron and darkened foliage. If you add a bit of cigarette smoke into the blend you are getting close. Now all we need to do is throw in some scents of freshly brewed coffee, unknown perfumes, and tiny bouquets forever foreign to our celtic/pacific noses and we are almost there.
Crossed the wild mountains separating Greece from Albania. Sky so clear I could pick out goat trails below. Burn with the desire to run them. Whisked away from Tirana airport in the clear Autumn sun to the town of Berat where poets and musicians are set to set each other on fire with the fuel of the local winemakers. My ears pick up a particular soft r sound rolling gently from the local voices. My tongue picks up the complex beauty of the local olives. Many times in a while, being a musician does have its perks.
In the no man’s land in which we players and writers and speakers and winemakers meet, no one can set down the parameters or measure the depth of our communion. Lovers of wine may have their adjectives galore and critics of music can clutch phrases from the void but the essence will remain out of reach and only to be tasted with more than the sum of our senses in a single moment when two indescribables meet and collude to usurp time. In moments like these I don’t need to understand words.
A cold wind whips through Dublin but the many swans on the small canal simply face the wind, tread water and rub necks. Close by, the sound of four alto saxophones playing overtones is amplified by an Irish stone chimney and cast heaven-wards, only to be whipped away and blown back to the source.
There are many new works we are working on which I will write more about. Alpha-Theta is a piece for quartet which uses low difference tones to sonically mirror our brain waves as we pass from waking to sleeping state and dive through those wonderful few seconds of “Theta” when the world seems to open up. In between these chords the saxophones play overtone lullabies- simple melodies using the harmonic ladder- naught but numbers dancing in the wind.
This time I’ve included some spiritual songs as well- so that once in a while our feet can still touch the earth before we’re lifted off again by the Fibonacci series. Songs like Steal Away bring us down in a wonderful way and of course, true to our form, the arrangements are for alto-only ensemble.
The houses are low, simple bricked, two storied constructions in this part of Dublin ( with beautiful colored doors) and so the sky is wide open. Out alto range is also a mere two and a bit octaves, yet the open harmonic space above and below our fingered notes is just as boundless ( once we tune in). By spending some days tuning into the overtones, the clouds begin to clear in this space and the sky opens up.
Here is another full concert in HD from which I still carry fond memories. In June of this year I played in the Sendesaal of Bremen with the Albanian singer Eda Zari. We had known each other since our studies in Cologne but this was our first longer duo concert together. The music is a mixture of traditional songs and compositions of Eda, who comes from a musical dynasty in her homeland. Enjoy!
I finally have the full concert ready of our interpretation of the music of Gurdjieff. All filmed and recorded in the insanely perfect acoustic haven of the Sendesaal Bremen during the Plushmusic Festival in June of this year. The pieces chosen from the collections of Gurdjieff are (in their performed order):
-Song of the Aisors
-When Gafar and Zeinab walk in a somnambulistic state
-Assyrian Woman Mourners
-Reading from a Sacred Book
-Hymn No. 4
-Hymn pour Jour de Noel
-Kurd Melody from Isfahan
(encore)- Kurd Shepard Dance
If you have a fast connection then please make the most of this HD video.
This is a summit of musical minds I have always held dearly- dearly because I feel they push each other on deeper into the songs in a most beautiful way. There are many great tracks on Coleman Hawkins encounters Ben Webster but the ballad It never entered my mind is one of my favorites.
On another frequency, I was a bit suspicious of these new “energy saving” light bulbs mainly because of the quality of the light they produced. It never entered my mind that the story behind them could be so revealing. At the very least this German film reveals many not so kosher aspects of European policy making but there is much more too it than that…
Redemption on this tour came in the form of two souls who represent what a jazz venue is all about in an ideal world: spirit and love for the music. How strange that this seems to be the exception to the rule.
Jörg, the tour bus driver extraordinaire, realized his life’s dream by refurnishing an old mill an building his own concert space within, only kilometers away form the enigmatic and highly charged Externstein- certainly one of Germany’s more powerful centers of energy. Everything feels good at Jörg’s place- the spirit is right and we musicians can fly high with no one close to clip our wings. Hats off to his “Red Horn District”
Second on the list- Tobius from Reutlingen, who on a regular basis, clears the showroom of his contrabass workshop to make place for chairs and a small stage. Some locals turn up for some wine and jazz, Tobius sits in the corner smiling away to the swing, good vibes abound.
What sets these guys apart from so many of the others? The equation is a simple one my friend. These guys are in it for the love and not the cash. It is as simple as that. Now although our scene is not quite as extreme as the art world I have tasted it is still a cold , hard , bitter fact- one that can give us sound carriers a hard time, fighting against desires and wishes that have nothing whatsoever to do with our purpose in music but rather with making a buck. I would love to clone Joerg and Tobius a thousand fold and send them out into the world, spreading good vibes and sounds where ever they set foot
Within the space of a few days :
Naples- Autumn in full glory
Glistening see leading to Capri
A perfect concert hall and divinely tuned Piano
Post- concert Death of the divine variety by espresso and mozzarella
400 delighted listeners
A World at peace
Paris- Grey and morbid
Rue St Denis: refuse piled high and retiree prostitutes stalking prey
Overpriced espresso cups filled to the brim and sickeningly sour
A small cellar Jazz Club scented with old carpet and spilt beer
An SM 58 rammed ingloriously down my Sax Bell
Wedges encircle me, a sound directly out of Hell
The rotten underbelly of Europe
This post is powered by some wickedly strong Naples espresso shortly before midnight. I arrived early from the Roma Termini station which is tittering delicately on the brink to being an apocalyptic theater- it’s seedy passages and neon lighting illuminate shredded channel adds, seedy coffee bars, and vast array of spicy characters. But the purpose of this post is not to state the obvious in another madly over-lit European city, it is to pay homage to a great album. Luckily and tellingly for me it was one of the first ever vinyls I have laid hands on and I will never forget listening to my first 7/8 bar- accidentally of course as the record was scratched on “Creeping up behind You” and the band was skipping. The Brecker Brother’s Debut album is in my books a timeless classic and I’m going to offer my favorite tracks from it right here, right now, baby. Sanborn is on fire and the whole band is tighter than a particularly tight thing. Now this choice may surprise some based on my tastes in saxophone sounds- well, it’s the lackluster copies I could never digest without feeling ill or aggressive- the original itself is a polished diamond deserving of praise and on this record the alto and tenor voices are just that.
Coming out of the blue yonder beyond Olympus, the challenge of creating a score for a film about Sysiphus has completely obsessed me in the last month. Before I took up this challenge, Sysiphus for me was an unlucky man who was punished for eternity to roll a boulder up a mountain. Now I see him differently. He is one of the few mortals to have actually held the gods in check and the film reveals this part of Sysiphus. He offers other mortals complete freedom but as it seems to be in the world, most of us could never live with the chains off for good- we would be crushed under the burden of true freedom. Once a man like he witnesses the bottom of the abyss, the limits of his fellow mortals, and their abiding slavery of the spirit, his fate is all but sealed. My score uses prepared piano and guitar for the most part- with Bruno Müller and Philip Zoubek laying down the textures. I will post in 2014 when the film comes out.
Although it’s been a whirlwind of a month, that would hardly qualify as an excuse for not writing. In brief I will simply part with some random thoughts.
During last month’s tour I was thrice informed by dear souls about the blogs of some other musicians. I shall not mention names, but without exception the tone and subject matter was each time something like:
Played last night to standing ovations in Schnitzelhausen, so blessed to see how deeply they dug our music. Then we stayed up till 3am in the local natural wine bar sampling some incredible unfiltered Bordeaux- Pierre from the shop was at the gig and so blown away that he wanted us to try all of his best wines! Then it was back to the hotel for an hour’s rest. After pressing out a fresh ginger juice with my new portable juicer I started my Kung fu and Vinyasa Flow Yoga routine at 400am to give me enough power for the long travel day to Wurstdorf where we have a huge gig in their new Philharmonic tonight in dolby surround ( my sax will really fill the room!). Luckily I sold so many CDs last night that my hand luggage is now below 10kgs! Just feel so blessed to be living this life…
I’d be interested to read a musician’s blog which mainly operates outside the realms of terse first person narrative- I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere. Or are we sound carriers so deeply self -centered that it is impossible for us to step outside ourselves and observe from another perspective? I’m probably just as guilty by degree.
Last week I played a larger concert in a jazz festival with two trios. One of the trios included electronics and prepared piano and I hereby respond to the few fans who bemoaned my band for being “lost in abstraction” and “putting clear melodies over electronics, doomed to fail”.
- Every single note I play I mean and every single set I put together I mean fully. I have the sound in my head yet I know well that by playing an improv set in certain jazz contexts I am risking affecting the buoyant vibe of the hall to some extent. I also know however that there are many listeners out there who feel and appreciate this risk. Carving out melodies or form out of thin air without a previously conceived harmonic base is like walking on a knife edge- you could perhaps slip and cut yourself and the listeners with something banal- or you could invoke something almost divine- or perhaps both at the same time- it is the game and the risk factor that really matters here. I strive for melody, new melody, and I get there by feeling every single note down to the core. I can also get up on stage and play stuff I know well, of course I do that often, sometimes too often for my taste- but this risk element is what defined the second set of that night. As far as being “lost in abstraction”- lost for me would mean losing control of the textures and form, this I certainly never let happen and in fact this never can happen if the poise I have involves having every note inside me before it’s released through the horn into the hall. And as far as the issue of playing melodies over electronics- this is absolutely subjective and not up to me to refute- I might as well say computers do not belong in dance music culture. The beautiful thing about the type of music I choose to play is that there are no rules. If you the listener can joyfully partake in our search, struggle, and gambles, then we can all give ourselves standing ovations deep into the night.
Why is it so dam difficult to write something meaningful about the music we play and improvise? I think it is is because:
- most writers are inevitably bound to use sweeping terms to describe unique phenomena
- we will never be able to leave the confines of subjectivity unless we move outside of the first person, a difficult feat in music journalism but I think if they began to describe their reactions in the third person they may start to understand a little more of themselves and their own conditioning. Could a dab of fiction bring us closer to the truth than it’s opposite? Sehr wohl sage ich.
- the music itself seems very much to operate on a more complex level than the ink on the paper. A two dimensional figure struggles to define 3 dimensional space I fear.
I do not simply take issue with music journalism which certainly isn’t the place to look for high calibre language deployment. Recently I observed the PhilCologne philosophy festival and marveled at the palpable limitations of the written and spoken language which everyone was struggling with to describe the various interpreations of the meaning of life. If anything can aptly describe indescribability, then it is another indescribability and nothing else. What do we then have in our measly armory? Poetry, music, dance – everything you can’t fully describe with the tools of mere language. And it seems you have to move outside of yourself with whatever means you have, even if it’s a mere pen.
Right now we are touring with the new program of Root70 with strings: Riomar. Here is the title track of the album and the liner notes written by New York journalist Ahmet Shabo.
In the fleeting moments of quietude I enjoyed in this past month of turmoil and upheaval, I mainly spent sketching new pieces. Some of them have a graphic form like this one, which I dare to post. Before I do, I should probably say don’t worry mum, I’m still alive. Well this one is a trio and each of the figures has three lines intersecting and interwinding. The downward motion is a descent of the given scale, the sideward motion is a change in amplitude or pressure- thus each figure is a frozen miniature of varying timing but of a single breath and made for three voices.
Returning from a small hiatus, I’ll be looking after a series of concerts this week together with Hans Martin from the Loft in Cologne. Here are the sets superimposed onto yours truly running through the north of Serbia:
144 minutes after touching the ground at the Nikola Tesla airport in Beo-grad – the white city- the rough plastic bottle bearing the homemade slivovic is nestled in my tight grip. Less than one minute later the first drops have passed the tonsil gate and are, with their precious essence coded within, surging towards their destination- my blood. The initial balkan punch of the distilled alchemy gives way quickly to the essence of the plum which explodes first on the palate and then slowly from within. Without moving from the spot I count the 3 minutes for my blood vessels to respond, sending telegraphs of delight back to my brain which in turns responds my evoking memories of the Balkans- from pain to ecstasy and back again- years within seconds. Outside smoke plumes twist and dance before blackened facades and cevab eateries. This one sip evokes my 19 years of memories in these lands and the crescendo of emotion doesn’t cease there, my blood and my brain continue to fire gentle shots back and forth whilst my soul casually observes. The plastic bottle is dangerously full and already speaking to me. The cyrillic letters of the street signs become engraved into my corneas as I slowly feel the millimeters between my sandals and the blackened concrete increase. Soon I am floating on the second floor and the lights shining of the meeting of the rivers are blinding. Will my sight be the first sense to fall victim to the first sip of the brew? Melodies are attacking me- will I ever harness them onto paper? Will I ever understand why I wanted to come here in the first place? Or am I but a little moth flying at top speed into the nearby bonfire?
For some strange reason I sometimes hesitate before I offer a drop of the essence- perhaps it is the feeling that beautiful things should be guarded in a world like this, lest the digital wasteland dries them up and turns them to dust. The spectacle is a greedy beast which seems to eat everything up without much discernment. Well, for a moment at least I will over come that feeling.
Here is a piece we will play in Greece this year at my workshop. It comes from Serbia and I choose it as it is a good example of an odd meter form that is stretched in a natural yet impossible-to-notate way. With all the rigid odd meters flying around in jazz it’s important to touch the essence as best we can. It’s called Puce Puska:
Last Saturday we performed the Charlie Parker with Strings scores in the difficult-to-put-into-words barn of Stelzen. The various instruments in the barn (the milk machine organ, the manure organ, the gongs and hammers) were used to replace some of the voices. The classical part of the ensemble was made up of Gewandhaus musicians from Leipzig. I mae sure I had some chicken and fell asleep in a Taxi in nearby Reuth shortly before the gig. In more ways than one I was in Kansas in my heart when I played. In short, it was a blast, and here is a teaser, ripped from two humble overhead mics in the otherwise acoustic barn. The only tricky bit for me was the first few bars of the “Just Friends” solo- kind of wanted to leave those bars empty, so ineffably beautiful and towering his line was. East of the Sun:
There is something soothing about this voice in this track- I don’t know where on earth this band happens to be but I would like to be there tonight. I can feel a couple of mosquito bites but the rest of the vibe in this lost club is sublime and makes me forget everything. I reach for my horn but my motions have slowed down so much I leave her be and simply settle for a cold drink under the lazy spinning fan and dim hanging light bulb. The lost club band is playing on a tiny stage in the corner and the smoke is whisked away quickly into the night by the sea breeze. I still don’t know where the hell I am and how I got here- better that way as right now I just need to lose myself completely.
This is a pic from the performance with Pina in Goseck on Saturday night. We started after midnight and finished at sunrise at 0430. It is always a joy to play with her even if the cold and incessant chatters posed some hurdles- sometimes the universe doesn’t let you have it easy. Most of the folk were tucked away in their sleeping bags and we managed to lull them to sleep quickly. The nearby sun observatory is a delight.
It was a whirlwind of a musical week-we just shared two days of sublime music making in the Bremen Sendesaal. It was all filmed and recorded and I will have the films up on Plushmusic in the coming months. I’ve written about this room before- it never ceases to amaze me. I know no other place in which I can play quieter and still fill the room. In between the concerts I made an interview with Peter Schulze who wove the wonderful story of the hall.
The week began with our annual Moontower Foundation event and a performance with Pina in the buddha room- and that is how the week will end. Tonight I play with Pina an all-night performance in Goseck, close to one of the oldest solstice circles on the planet.
Pina tunes to 448 herz- it’s a challenge. I either approach her from above or below. Taking the looser path, my mouthpiece position now looks like this:
I happened across an excellent piece which lays out the plight of the Elephants in Africa. Sober reading. It seems to sum up well so many situations on this planet right now: a few scattered heroes fighting a losing battle against massive hoards filled with greed and stupidity in order to salvage what little remaining beauty there is on this orb- only this particular battle seems particularly desperate and acute- worth the read….
Of late I’ve been finally putting together my notes from the last 8 years of workshops in Greece into a semi-legible form. This year I’ve given a few longer workshops already and the nature of overtone and tuning work is that the experience of it is deepened gradually- the question being what one does with all the new information. For the most part I haven’t been using much secondary literature but rather my own trial and error. I’ve tried to formalize most of the work we have covered in the last 8 years and am also including some composition notes of the saxophone pieces I recently released in the box set. I have to really force myself to sit down and carry out tasks like this, I hope the results are worth it . For those interested in this year’s course, the applications are still open here. I think I should be proud of the fact that I am no longer listed under “jazz” but rather “traditional and folk music”- next year I’ll hopefully be running the modern dance course.
Otherwise I am working on sacred ground, finding new ways to present the classic Charlie Parker with strings recordings. We have the original scores and the original instrumentation at our disposal- but we also have the huge mechanic instrumental armory of the barn at Stelzen- the various organs and machines have been tuned and are ready to go. The concert will take place end of June here.
Usually when Jochen Rückert comes into my legendary ( not always for the right reasons) recording sessions, he doesn’t know what I’ve planned. Seconds after telling him I was making new versions of Parker with strings in the large P4 room in Berlin I snapped this:
And the other little going-on I can mention is the small festival in Bremen in June. for this I am working on a new program of the music of Gurdjieff. Again, it’s been quite a challenge. Thomas de Hartmann did a stellar job of transcribing the memory of the man but I believe the transcriptions themselves are more like clues to/fragments of/hints at a deeper teaching. It is up to us interpreters to unlock them truly. Let’s see if Philip and I can manage without being blinded by the light behind the huge Armenian door, slightly ajar.
This is a beautiful alep by Gopal Shankar Mishra. Time is stretched here- he constructs the raga for the listener o so slowly. The sonic atmosphere of the playing space is also a delight and you can pick up a few quiet conversations at the start. Raga Darbari is on the menu- a night raga. Easy to lose one’s self in, to be swept away gently by the moonlit river of time in which the ripples of our dreams meet each other and merge together, mirroring the moon.
More deeply Cologne-esque than yesterday evening you could not find:
Ominously dark clouds roll over the city but the late sun just cuts through. I walk down Eigelstein and the demolition sites and broken houses are fully illuminated by the deep red. Pimps, drunks, and whores line the street. The scent of urine, filth, honey-like beer brewing fumes, cheap perfume, and doener meat: the true eau de Cologne. Honest? Yes. Filthy? You betcha.
Past the main station and the conglomeration of the above groups intensifies. Under the tracks through the seedy underpass and so too the scents. The sun and clouds are still casting the whole scene in divine light.
Minutes later I’m at the Philharmonic Hall and Stockhausen is on the menu. The playing is seamless yet the whole disappoints. The pieces desperately want to be taken seriously, even if the tidy musicians make frog sounds and honk into plastic vuvuzelas. The poise and gesture of the musicians, so desperately attuned to the complex scores, falls far short of the upper echelon of improvisors who can be in the moment and pull more sound from their instruments as they are not spending most of their energy reading and worrying. I gave Karlheinz a chance and took it all in, hoping that at least the gesamtform would be enough to offset the necessary flaccid diligence of the interpretation. But no- he doesn’t offer enough to warrant over 20 minutes of structures that have been fully explored and laid out after 3. Some humor tossed in in the mix could save it; but alas, any humor arising is unintentional. There are still many of his pieces and writings I deeply admire, but listening in 2013, many of his works no longer hold up and last night it was clear to see, just as the low sun illuminated the filth of the station area- not that Karlheinz’s musical world is filthy, but when strict order and compositional rigor are forced to their extreme and amplified by the massive taking-one’s-self-very-very-seriously factor, then the results also smell dubious. I would like to put Karlheinz on stage alone with a piano and a bottle of wine and take in his (as he often claimed) prestigious jazz chops- then I would probably change my mind.
Now thinking galactic is never far away with Stahlheinz. Walking back through Eigelstein I had the vision the two seediest little bars that street has to offer: Em Pötzje and Kajüte were suddenly blasted into space as a kind of brutally honest ambassador of earth, offsetting the voyager probes shot off some years ago to balance our books in space so to speak.
Once in a blue moon, the universe decides to break up the usual monotony of the musician’s backstage and after-show paraphernalia. Usually, aside from the salt sticks, south african wine, dips, carrots, and red bull, we are lucky to see some posters of the rock groups that played before us or some random graffiti on cheap concrete walls. Yesterday was one of the those nights that was very different. The back stage itself was placed in some kind of office building and the long walk to the stage meant passing by rows and rows of drawings which caught my eye. On closer inspection I saw they were original prints of a German artist I have admired since quite some time: Horst Jansen. The guy is a veritable demon with the pen. It was truly mind-blowing to suddenly be in the middle of scores of his original etchings stage-bound in a little town 60kms north of Berlin.
It reminded me later of sitting in a little bar after a concert in Kronberg some years ago. I felt a prickling in the back of my neck but couldn’t figure out why. After my second gin fizz I turned and saw I was beneath a William Turner landscape. Surely not an original simply hanging unprotected in a bar? Yes, my friend- stranger things have happened. I promptly changed my seating direction and shared another drink with an artist I deeply admire, still thinking that it must either be a dream or an ibogaine dropped into my gin fizz and delighting in the dislocation.
My annual workshop in Greece is now online and applications are open on their website here. This year my course is split into two parts: one being the “G-string of Pythagoras”, an ongoing exploration into overtones, tuning, and the building blocks of the known universe as experienced through a moist saxophone reed; and the other a Balkan ensemble which will meet in the afternoons. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but the village of Agios Lavrentios is one of the most beautiful I have ever laid eyes upon. It’s worth the travel there to experience the mountain water alone cascading through the village.
This will be the 8th year of the workshop. Each year I deepen my experience of the instrument and my fields of study and happily share my insights for players of all levels. Most of my material is open source in the sense it can be applied to various genres and by players and teachers alike.
I just uploaded a film of our “Love in Numbers” performance in Greece here. This isn’t as easy piece to nail live, especially in a dry space- all the lads really gave it their best though, no one was caught offside, and in the end we won 13 to 8 so we can be happy with that result. Now it’s just about staying focused on the rest of the tournament, taking it one solstice at a time, and trying to avoid the incoming meteors.
During the match preparations we visited some hot springs and waterfalls outside Thessaloniki. From left: Bastian Duncker, Moritz Koether, your Author,and James Wylie.
I’m going to drop some tracks from my current listening projects- what the purgatory.
From a New Zealand perspective, Bali is a surf paradise and not necessarily the home to tight and funky bands. I could harp on about the otherworldly tuning of this band but hey, we’re on the same planet, physically at least. This track is Kembang Kuning- played by some souls who probably know each other since their last birth. At minute it seems that someone in the band had ingested some magical bark or root and begun to invoke the distant island of Jamaica. Tight. Gorgeous.
It is said that a lion is easier to tame than a Veena. Pandit Gopal Krishan is a multi instrumentalist who soars high on the Veena on this Raga. I speak sometimes in my courses about timbal listening or overtone a type of listening we we focus more on the overtone space above the notes- well around the 3 minute mark in this track, Patdip, you can clearly hear them sing out, a phenomena increased even by the quality of this old cassette. It is a fulfilling type of listening, especially in musics like this in which the overtones line up between the instruments. It is the witnessing of the dance in the sky high above the tones played by us.
This a table duo of Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakwa and Ustad Amir Hussain Khan playing over a Teental with a nice major/minor Lehra gently flowing beneath them. Right of the bat the men lay out their intentions very clearly, starting the track like nascars on the high bend, already in top gears and revving high.
Devotional music sung by Aslam Khan- Raag Darbari. The dramatic curve in this 30 minute track is milked fully by Aslam and their are some moments close to the end of the track where someone has obviously bumped the on-switch on the flying carpet they were positioned upon tucked away in the mountains of Pakistan.
Sufi devotional music played by a quartet consisting of Sueleyman Erguner, Kusi Erguner, Hasan Esen, and Nezih Uzel. If you start spinning slowly with this wonder with your eyes closed it would be best to use cordless headphones.
I find it highly amusing that in this digital wonderland, you actually have to make an effort to keep a site like this looking and functioning the same. This culture of incessant updates needs to be regarded as that what it really is: a tiny flash in the pan- a tale told by idiot signifying nothing really- something to be smiled at politely and then passed by. It’s not that I raise my middle finger to apple or wordpress, but I do feel it twitch insistently sometimes.
Enjoying some sunny days in dear Hellas. The concert in in Athens felt like playing at home, like a miniature Mount Pilion with many familiar faces. Here, a piece of Graffiti I spotted the other day:
And a tankdrum I discovered at a friends place- a beautiful tool for listening to overtones in the 16-32 range and a highly addicitve instrument.