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.
Finally my box set is officially available and can be safely ordered here on my page as well as the individual CDs. Full downloads are available here as well as with the regular download sites. Here is the original post with information on all the CDs.
This week we present the work “Love in Numbers” in Thessaloniki and Athens.
For German readers who may have missed the radio play and my acting debut, the download of “On Air” which was broadcast on WDR last Monday is here.
At the moment I am working on new arrangements of the music of Gurdjieff. I was delighted to stumble across an ensemble in Armenia which plays some his melodies on traditional instruments- restoring the original sound of that Gurdjieff surely had in his memory when they set them to paper and for the piano.
In other exciting news I will be performing the original Charlie Parker with strings scores with a full ensemble in June. Now how thrilling is that?
Travelling back from Mallorca to Germany I make sure I use every bit of space in my sax case- this means inserting tomatoes and lemons in the bell. Now why would I do that? Sadly, for all Germany’s technological and economic might (or maybe because of it), their tomatoes and lemons
suck massive donkey schlong are far below my personal nutritional and taste standards. In the future and on my Mallorcan trips I’m seriously considering switching to baritone. My Most Luscious Tomato prize winner is currently Serbia with these little gorgeously mutated spanish red babies close behind:
Tune in tonight to WDR radio or catch the stream of “on Air” here at 2300. It is my acting debut in a new radio play by the one and only Robert Nacken.
Of all the productions I have been involved with over the last years, this one was one of the most demanding. I produced the first 3 Bach Suites played by Claudio Bohorquez, filmed in a chapel on Mallorca. I have been practicing again in these chapel, hence this post. No matter where you are today, it is never easy to find a place which doesn’t suffer from noise pollution of some kind. This chapel is tucked away in a valley and our only problem was a donkey on heat, something the New Zealanders and South Africans in my team could easily deal with. I have fond memories of the time, no matter how high the obstacles were. The full production is here and below I share a movement. I play these suites a lot myself and am extremely picky in the meantime as to the interpretation of cellists. Claudio’s can certainly hold its own.
Filling up the spaces:
In the course of time I’ve noticed that Western music and most of the music that surrounds us in this part of the world is concerned mainly with filling up the empty spaces. The notes of our scales are separated by small steps, we fill up the octaves and leave nothing out. This approach to sound and music carries with it much larger ramifications and insights into our natures. In other parts of the world, musicians have elected to allow for more spaces, leaving out certain notes- there are thus fewer notes in each octave for each scale. This approach to space in sound also tells us a lot about the culture surrounding it. Neither one is necessarily closer to the truth but they are certainly enlightening. On Tuesdays I prefer the former, on weekends the emptiness.
Traveling a lot I am very aware of the spacial awareness of fellow travelers. Well, actually the lack of spacial awareness. Peoples vision is narrow and the ear-range limited. Protection perhaps? Shutting themselves off from too much information? Sensory overload? Either way my saxophone case on my back stops them from bumping into to me from behind and my suitcase wheeled in front takes care of the north. All I need is a doberman on each side and I’ll be safe. Care to fray my nerves? Simply book the isle seat opposite me and thrust your oversized culete into my shoulder as you bend down to pick up your newspaper. Ah, the joys of modern travel.
In a lovely little wooden bar in NeuKoeln (Alter Loewe Rein Richardstr 31) we will perform some Fibonacci fragments and more tonight in the alto quartet set-up. The little flyer is attached below.
Each day I stroll over the Warschauerstr bridge and maven at an old saxist who plays non stop no matter the weather, the same 6 or 7 notes of a c major scale on a very soft reed. I have mixed reactions to the man but I admire his sticking power. When Berlin was gifted with 3 days of spring last week before the Winter returned, he transformed himself by donning a suit. He was a new man but the reed was the same one.
The saxophone being one of the most flexible stylistic vehicles, I sometimes play outside of my usual form. Last week I enjoyed another concert with my African friends and for this I employ the tenor, slap on any reed that happens to be there, don’t shy away from long periods of pentatonic, use a more agressive articulation- my embouchure and entire approach morphs to meet the music, but most importantly, I actually mean it. I put myself fully in the mindset of this music and no matter how naive or uncultured I may sound to someone who knows me in other forms, I am fully integrated in the flow of this music.
A fair parallel would be the mixed martial art forms of which I am a keen student of. Wrestling, kick boxing, grappling, Jujitsu, boxing, and other forms are mixed into one contest. Brutal to behold for some but nevertheless highly technical. The fighters have to not only be extremely flexible with their forms they have to often make huge adjustments according to the skills of their opponents. One of my personal favorites as far as styles go is Anderson Silva who takes his time to feel out is opponent before moving in for the kill. On stage I have no opponents other than my wild mind but I need a similar mindset of ever readiness and flexibility. On top of that, when I play afrobeat sax I have to mean it otherwise I might as well pack up and go. As I see it, it is no longer enough to possess a mastery of only one form.
When the form reaches a certain level it can break through it’s own previously imposed limitations and mix actively with other forms. It need not lose it’s essence in the process. In the field of sound work the essence is the intention- this need not be put into words but rather felt out for one’s self after a long period of self analysis and experimentation.
My dearest pair of shoes I call my James’s Souls named after Mr Joyce. Many years ago after a concert in Trieste I went on a small pilgrimage to the site of one of his houses. Below where the artist as a young man once lived I found a shoe shop-the very one that I found James’s Souls at. Many winter have taken their toll on the soles. They have been repaired on many an occasion and have enjoyed over the passing seasons one of my favorite long time rituals: rubbing whiskey or cognac into them whenever they and a drink are within the same periphery as I float down my own stream of consciousness.
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below.
Subjectively speaking, depending from which perspective you happen to be perceiving from, certain musics will be unbearable, strange, or thoroughly foreign. However, the power of music lies in the ability to transfer the information contained in proportional relationships by vibrating the air and the ear and bypassing our waking mind, reminded us of our true nature- no matter how our surface conditioning responds in the moment. It is for this reason that it doesn’t matter if it’s a folk guitarist, a heavy metal band, or a string quartet and it doesn’t matter how we immediately respond to the sounds- their respective 5ths and 3rds will always invoke the 2/3 and the 4/5 ratios in the way we intrinsically know so well, especially if they are “in tune”. With age I increasingly hear the tuning of the music rather than the outer forms. The tuning contains the vital information.
I don’t ask much of my listener other than they simply take in the sounds without overly analyzing (unless they really want to). This is the way I listen to music I love. I have purposely avoided studying in detail Gagaku music of Japan. Why? Because I prefer to listen to it and love it without knowing exactly what is going on. Their are some mountains I prefer to admire from afar and not to climb or conquer.
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below.
Should you happen to be in Dublin today we play this evening in the beautiful St Audoen’s Church. Joining me are three wonderful Irish saxophonists: Sam Comerford, Carolyn Goodwin & Seán Mac Erlaine. Fibonacci sixths and srutis are on the menu tonight to warm the Irish winter.
You may have noticed I began a new category entitled recipes. Well, the other one I am beginning I call unsung heroes. I would like to begin this with a sax player who is perhaps not so well known outside of Australia. Graeme Lyall is a beautiful alto player and has been mainly active as a teacher and arranger over the last years. I did a bit of a Tristano on this live recording, splicing together all of the alto solos- no disrespect to the rhythm section intended. What else can I say? Sit back and enjoy Graeme cut loose on some of his favorite tunes, it’s out there, up there, he’s on fire on this session:
Hayden’s Fibonacci Spilt Pea Soup
2 cups split peas rinsed
5 cups cold water
5 cups chicken broth
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk with leaves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to groove a little
sprinle dinkle winkle of parsley, thyme, thymelessness, marjoram and cayenne pepper
In a large pot add peas with 5 cups of cold water whilst humming your favorite melody. Bring the water to a boil whilst singing an overtone, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours as you play all the melodies you can remember on your respective instrument, until the split peas are tender and you have possibly run out of tunes.
Add chicken broth, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, bay leaf and all spices while you continue to hum tunes from your childhood. Bring to a boil listening only to the sound of the water, reduce heat and simmer for another 1/2 hour as you strum away on the closest guitar or simply breathe and inhale the wonderful fumes from your alchemy.
Remove the bay leaf. Cool slightly. Puree in a blender paying special attention to the overtones created by your blender.
Serves 5, 8 or 13, or 21 depending on the size and genus of your guests.
Regarding the release of the Box Set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo, the official release has been shifted to March 1. This is because the first edition is sold out and we are reprinting and also because the digital release on all those beautiful iwhatever sites will take place then. In the coming weeks will link to some of the German radio features on the box.
I write “official” but it is all very modest and handmade and the boys are only available via mail-order. The activities of the Moontower Foundation which helped produce this set and in which I am personally involved will still be a mystery to many. The foundation has no ambitions as yet to have an internet presence but there will be a hardcover book produced this year which covers its history and the activities to date. Naturally the figure of Rebecca Horn is central in the picture but we are striving to have a strong musical component as well for which I am responsible.
I’ve been asked a lot about my teaching base this year. I will give my yearly masterclass in Greece in August but otherwise I am mainly stationed in Berlin and am giving private lessons here. I also endeavor to begin a weekly sax class here working on the group structures developed in Greece. Also, in Feb. I will be giving a talk on the Fibonacci work behind Love in Numbers which will be open to all, I’ll post the date and place here. When I miss the dark brooding cathedral of Cologne I simply hop in a train so my Dutch saxists can still catch me there.
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below
There are many facets of Jochen Rückert’s latest electronic album that I cherish but one stands out and that is is transformation of a piece of music used in my favorite New Zealand short film The Lounge Bar. For those who don’t know it and would appreciate a small dose of kiwi humour it is a classic and here it is. Apologies if I have posted this earlier. After 600 posts I lose track somewhat.
Mr Rückert transforms the melody in wondrous ways in his track Tranny Surprise:
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below
Everything is in flux, in a state of constant upheaval, even that which appears to be immune to change. In my books, we cannot even step once into the “same” river, let alone twice.
And still, I have been surprised recently to observe the ripples of transformation in my local “Call Shop” in Cologne. These delightful institutions are usually foreign-run dens which offer internet, cheap phone calls, random mobile devices, and dubious money transfers. They are digital/virtual silk road trading points where Turkish, African, Afghani, and Gypsy patrons yell and whisper their respective business over Skype and fibre optic cable. The nearby refugee asylum certainly serves to spice up this particular sanctum.
The wood of the calling cabins is Japanese paper thin and conversations can be easily picked up 2 cabins down the row. The blend of tongues is a veritable tower of Babel made all the more beautiful by the spiraling plumes of smoke as in this wee haven, smoking is encouraged.
Usually I prance in here with my usb stick and print out music notes on maimed trees at 10 cents a page.
Like any point of international trade, the senses are treated to a unique blend of the exotic- the preferred perfumes of Congo and Pakistan being universes apart. My local Call shop has been run for the last years by Kurdish males ostensibly specializing in used mobile phones. This was until recently when their wives and daughters seemed to have taken over business leaving the boys to deal cards in the Turkish joint round the corner. A smiling woman sporting a head scarf now greets my entry.
Now, the entire front of the room has had it’s mobile devices removed, replaced by rows of exotic perfumes. It is now half perfumery, half call-shop, with the former expanding daily. The mixture of smoke and perfume is now almost overwhelming. Customers are invariably treated to a free sample on their wrists or necks.
In this blurred shot we see the beginning of the change, the point of time at which the first row of perfumes were presented on the glass counter. Much to my fascination, they have since then expanded like a colony of fibonacci rabbits.
I’ll dub this a tiny unintentionally-poetic-interference-ripple in the great river of time, when two expanding circles meet and produce the most beautiful and unique patterns imaginable. Such be our lot, bridging the temporal with the eternal, actively subject and object, right on the cusp of the ripple in places you might least expect it.
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below.
Sitting in my kitchen in Cologne, assembling my box sets. Takes me about 3 hours to make ten of them. Outside piles of snow. Old Weather Report records spinning, crackling, hissing, spitting. Mysterious traveller- I like the B side- chilled out. About to break in a new pack of virginal reeds and make Penman’s split pea soup for the first time. Now how exciting is that?
I’ll allow myself once in a blue moon to write something like this, caving into to Facebook-like requests to “say what’s on your mind”- assuming someone wants to know. I like it best when my mind is as blank and white as the snow piles outside my window. I like to imagine these lines blanco. Thinking ceases. That’s what I love about sititng down for hours sticking stickers and making tiny calligraphies- it empties my mind.
I’ve always thought that the true mavericks to be the ones that stretch the forms from the inside- instead of blasting them away altogether with a bazooka these types would rather work from within to forge new territory, just when you thought it wasn’t possible any longer. As I was down with a flu last week I had a bit of time to sift through some older tracks and something I always head back to is the collected recordings of Lester Young and Nat King Cole. In this number there is plenty going on to write about, a beautiful playful track- jazz cubs frolicking in the industrial desert.
I’ve found a new Baby:
Well, it seems that the world is still around so on we go….
From the coming January I move back to the German capital which could of course slightly influence the tone of some of these posts;a colder prose perhaps, hardened and iced over? Who knows… This year I had the pleasure to teach there at the jazz school “JIB”, a school gifted with many a fine sax student. At the end of our days together we shared a concert together which combined many of my non-notated structures and a solo set with my sruti box, here are the results.
Berlin Solo Set:
Berlin Sax Ensemble:
And this is closest Sclavis and Gabarek ever got to my saxophone. Jan and Loius, see you in the next life!
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below.
Many say that the world is supposed to somehow end today, 21 Dec. 2012. Well just in case it does I decided to quickly notate the most important things I have learned through music in my life. Before I do, I’ll just quickly reminisce back to the end of 1999: there I remember many speaking of the same sudden end, only I was in a VW Van driving into the dunes of Namibia. The van got stuck a few hours before midnight and under the wild stars I had the same feeling: this thing ain’t finished yet.
- swim with the current of sound, use the pure intervals
- put your life into your sound, put everything into your sound
- breathe, empty yourself, and channel forces greater than you
This is the part of my saxophone I’ve touched the most in my life- my left thumb touches her to octavise my notes. When I first saw her I thought she look like a falling tear and 27 years later, she still looks like a tear to me. A tear that is party salty like the sea but without sadness- just a tear in all it’s purity and aliveness.
For information on the 13CD box set 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo click here. Posts continue below.
In today’s post I reveal one of my other faces and do my humble best to rip the sad guts out of a rather unfortunate genre without wasting too much time- a genre particularly popular in Germany. I’ve noticed that you, Readers, like it when I swap the pen for the sword and go into the offense. I don’t do it much but seeing as it is the festive season, why don’t we pull out our shotguns and take aim at the sad yet popular conglomeration of sonic refuse termed “meditation music”.
Let me say off the bat that I find most genre classification in music odious and base, reduced to the lowest common denominator, idiot-proofed- like so much of our modern world. Well for me, great music is all-inclusive as far as genres go. It is jazzworldclssicalfolksingersongwriterethnicpop you name it. It leaves nothing out. Well except maybe speed folk. But the specific genre of “meditation music” – well this one is particularly unfortunate in pretty much all respects.
Right of the bat we quickly encounter didgeree-don’ts , gongs, overtone chanting, crystal bowls und und und. Now, all of these instruments can be played beautifully but usually in this genre they are soaked in excessive reverb, packaged in rainbow colours, played amateurishly by enlightened Germans with bright scarves around their necks, glazed over eyes, and wheat flakes stuck between their teeth.
I already fired at a previous post at the current use of didgeree-don’ts in Germany. Like with these other instruments, they are used as an effect. They are taken out of their original context and used as decoration for spoilt europeans who have the cash to blow. They are supposed to induce states of contemplation- instead they make me want to go out and throw hand grenades in public. Why? Gary Larson depicted Charlie Parker in hell with “meditation music” playing in the background. What is it in this music that is so wrong, so odious? Could it be the blend of well-meaning morons fiddling around with sacred instruments and making money out of it?
Well, they certainly 1 ) take themselves very seriously 2)subvert native instruments from around the globe, play them in the most amateurish way and pretend then to be masters on them 3) actually make money out of this 4) pretend to be able to induce “higher states”….
Now, some would argue: well but so many people like this music and actually benefit from it. Well, it’s also hard to argue with someone who says: if you don’t like it here in the United States, then leave.
Well, I for one had had enough so I , in the words of the immortal Burnt Friedman, had to fuck back.
Taking up arms, I took on the name Master Fu. Master Fu is a regular Tai Chi teacher who also plays Chinese instruments. On his debut CD “Master Fu’s Relaxation Excercies” he guides the student through the beginnings of the form but he soon starts to lose his control. By the end of the disc he has recoiled into a sea of profanities and the Tai Chi form has become a distant memory. He speaks backwards and in riddles. He swears without restraint. He gets downright dirty. The dude loses it. But he keeps playing all the while
This is my sonic grenade lobbed at the mediation scene and general Esoterica (including 99%) of Tai Chi schools in Germany who take themselves seriously. Again, it is all self made. I did the cover, played the chinese things and created Master Fu’s wonderful personality. For you audio freaks, the only vocal filter is my hand cusped over the Sure 58 which by track9 is soaked in Pils beer.
Everytime I happened to be close to CDs included in the meditation genre or at a pristine Tai Chi school I would make sure to accidentally leave some Master Fus in their midst. Ops.
Finding Correct Practice Space:
Barefoot running and overtone singing have one thing in common- they are highly addictive. Barefoot running and my saxophone method also have one thing in common- they factor in the whole body. It was over 15 years ago when I wrote my paper on “Playing the saxophone with the Foot”, still hidden away on the saxo page above- now, switching the tables I am running my feet with my saxophone mind, running with the wind so it feels.
Yesterday I did some trail testing. I ran the 35km Tamontana Trail in Mallorca’s north starting behind the Lluc Monastery heading down to the sea to test out 2 different “barefoot” soles. It’s a beautiful wild trail that cuts through forest, winds up to some good altitudes, and is completely deserted in winter. All I encountered were some goats and sheep- a bit distracting but nowhere near as pretty as our sheep in New Zealand so I could stay on track if you know what I mean.
For the first half I used the Vibrams- funny orange things that make your feet look and feel a bit like those of frog’s. They are good when the going gets tougher, good for river crossings and steep downhills. They give you some grip but you still feel every sharp rock acutely. This means you tend to prance rather than stomp- a good thing in my books- a better way to make contact with the ground. This style of running quickly builds calf and thigh muscles and reduces stress on the knees. It feels fine and it is fully addictive. 2 years ago I would never have dreamed of running long distances and actually loving it.
At km 20 when the terrain evened out somewhat I switched to the Luna traditional sandals, based on the Mexcian indigenous designs. These are probably the most minimal sandal and the closest you can get to running barefoot. The lacing takes some practice but once they’re on they feel great. In general I would go for them- makes me feel like a Mexican shaman running for his life across the dry plains.
The late afternoon’s orange light reflecting of the massive tramontana cliff faces takes your breath away. Eagles soar above in the deepest blue. Again for a fleeting moment, the world is at peace.
Catch me if you can:
13 VIEWS OF THE HEART’S CARGO
This 13 CD box set is the summation of everything important I have recorded as an leader/initiator so far in my life. It documents important musical occurrences and collaborations dating back to 2002. Here in this post, I give a short introduction to each CD and offer a sample track. Below, there is also a portrait film shot by Plushmusic inside the old Berlin Radio buildings where much of the material was recorded. Inside the box set, there is a 76 page booklet detailing the works.
The official release date is January 27, 2013 but the first boxes can already ordered now by sending a mail to email@example.com. Total price is €150/- with free shipping worldwide, payable with paypal.
From the release date in Jan. 2013, individual CDs will be available with the exception of the Lula Pena and John Taylor disc.
All of the boxes are made by hand in a strictly limited edition and I’ve created the calligraphy myself meaning each box is different.
Finishing this was one of the biggest marathons I’ve ever undertaken. Above all I am indebted to all 23 wonderful musicians who appear in this box set.
MT1- Love in Numbers
The main work on this disc is Love in Numbers which explores the sound of the Fibonacci row in the overtone series. This has been one of my main obsessions over the last few years and it has proved to be a new and unexplored area of study. On other pieces I am joined by the fantastic Carnatic vocalist, Mahesh Vinayakram. The piece Lucas River uses the Lucas series and the “Verdi” tuning of C128hz- the beginning of another sound voyage for me.
Soorya (feat. Mahesh Vinayakram):
MT2- The Rabbit’s Dream of the Inner Mongolia
This is a duo recording with the Chinese instrumentalist and singer, Fengxia Xu. Fengxia plays mainly Guzeng on this recording and the variety of sounds she draws from the instrument is truly amazing. We recorded the session in Bremen at the Sendesaal and in Berlin at P4 studios; sound engineer Pedja Avramovic has gifted our improvisations with a beautifully clear sound. I wrote a poem to accompany the music and describe the journey of the rabbit.
My Companion is the Wind:
MT3- Nearness Live
This trio recording was made at Loft in Cologne with additional tracks recorded at Systems Two in Brooklyn. The trio format has been one of my favorites in jazz, the one that gives us all the most freedom. The forms we improvise over on this session belong to my favorites in the jazz canon. Jochen and Matt are in top form on this record and it still remains Matt’s favorite and referential bass sound.
How the Ghost of You Clings:
MT4- Lula Pena and Hayden Chisholm Live in Berlin
I had waited for a long time to finally play with the Portuguese Fado singer, Lula Pena. It took years of searching and waiting for our first musical meeting to take place. This was our second concert and the one in which everything came together as we envisaged. Recorded in Berlin in the midst of the bitter winter of 2010/11, it is a beautiful document of our evolving musical dialogue.
Live in Berlin 4:
MT5- Hayden plays Haydn
This recording was made after I was commissioned by the Brühl Festival in 2012 to present a program of Haydn’s music, newly arranged. The challenge was a huge one. I selected pieces from Haydn’s massive Oevre and, together with pianist Simon Nabatov, used them as springboards for improvisation. Each work uses a very different technique of transformation from the original to something completely new. In the liner notes I composed a long letter to Haydn, explaining my aspirations with his music. Knowing how many months of hard work went into this project, I am particularly happy with this recording.
MT6- Mute Density- Luzern Jazz Orchestra featuring Hayden Chisholm
In 2011 I was commissioned to write a Big Band work for the Luzern Jazz Orchestra. This was a fantastic opportunity to transplant my microtonal work I had explored with Saxophone ensembles into a Big Band format. The Luzern Big Band members are young, talented, and open for experimental techniques and notations. The work was recorded live at the premiere in Luzern and was broadcast by the SWR Radio. This CD is the official release of the work.
MT7- Fragmented Teaching
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita…
In 2010 I went into the studio with Jochen Rückert and Simon Nabatov to record an album of new songs featuring Simon on Rhodes stage piano. The songs had been evolving over the previous years and I felt ready to cut some sides with them. All the tracks are very personal documents, like miniature sound diaries from the last few years of my life – some call it Saturn return – a period in which everything was in upheaval.
Barely a Moon:
MT8- Dharma Cowboy
To be filed under Psychedelic Spoken-Word Country. From the Liner notes: ” The Dharma cowboy is a lonely guy sitting on a dry plain somewhere with a guitar and a half empty bottle of rum. He’s not from around here, in fact he’s not from anywhere. He dreams and speaks quietly. He doesn’t rhyme. He speaks in riddles. One day, he was no longer to be found – just his old broken guitar, a single rusty spur, and an empty rum bottle remained.”
Down we Fall:
MT9- The Life of Hands in Love
This CD contains material from three different small group sessions dating back to 2002. The multi-instrumentalist John Schröder is featured on guitar and drums, as well as the unmistakable trumpet sound world of Franz Hautzinger.
The Fool’s Lament:
MT10- BREVE- Live at Plush
In 2007 and 2008 we performed with the trio BREVE at the Music at Plush Festival in Dorset. Since meeting John several years ago whilst studying in Cologne I had always planned for us to play together and finally this was our chance. The CD combines the best of both concerts, which we originally released as a concert film on Plushmusic.
So it goes:
MT11- The Well-Tempered Sruti Box
Over the last few years I developed a solo program using the sruti box and my saxophone. In a sense, this program blends the Indian music’s idea of Raga centered in one root with the flexibility in transposition championed in the West. The piece gradually migrates through all the keys, giving the listener plenty of time to feel the qualities of each tonality. On this recording, there is also a live version recorded at the Sendesaal in Bremen, one of my favorite acoustic spaces worldwide.
The Well-Tempered Sruti Box Live in Bremen excerpt:
MT12- Auto-Poetica- Works for Saxophone
Since 1996 I have given a yearly saxophone master class on the mountain of Pilion in Greece. From the workshops a series of structures emerged for saxophone ensemble, which I finally recorded in 2011. This disc is the first recording of the works “Inside C”, a study in the first 50 overtones for saxophone, and “Density Movements”, which incorporates many of the ensemble structures I had developed in the six years of master classes.
Density Movements Excerpt:
MT13- My Blood flows from Scotland to Armenia
This is the first time I have approached the music closest to my blood, that of Scotland. The first half of the CD features my arrangements of traditional Scottish melodies. The second half features a duo with Pina Betina Rücker whose incredible musicality brings the crystal sound bowls to life.
The Barns o’ Beneuches:
What on earth could possibly bring me to don my war kilt and play one of my favorite all time love songs? Something must have happened in the aether. Up to now I’ve only ever played it behind closed doors. Now. this now extends forever more.
Jochen just put his pearler of a new book online here. To whet appetites of any potential downloaders, I post the forward I wrote for him as a teaser…
Foreword by Hayden Chisholm
Since Jochen Rueckert published his first volume of travel notes and photos in 2006, the general situation facing the traveling musician has by no means become rosier. Security checks have become more rigorous and groin-bound, mileage benefits have been trimmed, and backstage culinary options slashed. On top of all these, Rueckert has been ticking off dozens more cities on his world touring map, amassing ammunition aplenty for a new volume of notes from the road. And what about the man himself? Enduring such hardships surely leaves a mark on anyone. It is now up to us, the readers, to ascertain just how this has influenced Rueckert the man and Rueckert the astute observer. Has he mellowed over time? Has his heart warmed somewhat to the armies of ineptitude he faces on his travels? Or has his language been soaked in sarcasm and irony in order to retreat from facing the monster of jazz touring head on? Is he still standing tall and hitting just as hard with his pen as with his sugar maple drum stick? The front cover gives us the first clue.
Rueckert’s hand is over his mouth as he looks out at the unseen atrocities through another sealed hotel window. We will never know exactly what kind of trepidations it is he is perceiving, or if he is but recalling all he had witnessed on the tour thus far, but the scene evokes the voice of Conrad’s Marlow hearing the dying Kutz whisper “The horror! The horror!”. Our protagonist has journeyed to the end of river Styx and glimpsed the black depths of the soul. The rosy wallpaper only serves to amplify the inner prison of Rueckert, now claustrophobically surrounded by Scylla and Charybdis in the form of cheap single hotel beds. By simply observing the photo of these beds, one can feel one’s back begin to ache. Rueckert may be better off staying where he is. In short, the scene is set for yet another nightmare.
The work begins with a series of Rueckert’s hotel shots. His own description reads “pictures taken first shot self-timer only, one per room, 2011-2012”. This gives us not only an insight as to the techniques used but also as to the creator himself. Here is a man who lays down for himself and, as the book makes amply clear, others around him, clear limits of expression. In the cell-like confines of the mainly 3-star hotel rooms Rueckert has photographed, this limiting has forced him to search for new perspectives. In Bocholt, he shoots from the ground up, in Lausanne he shoots through a ventilation fan and creates a beautiful unique print. Over the course of these touring years and with his own almost neurotic routines of documentation, he has been able to squeeze every last drop of juice out of the hotel room’s photographic single-shooter potential.
The murky view from the window in Vaasa could honestly be anywhere on the planet now. Some four-storied buildings, three-lanes roads, traffic, light drizzle. Some may call it a tranquil city scene. Others might tend to regard it as the perfect representation of the modern enslavement of man. There is no one on the streets. The public man has fallen and been banished to his air-conditioned private nightmare. It could just as well be an apocalyptic wasteland and it is through this dismal backdrop that Rueckert will soon have to carry his cymbal bag and his exhausted body to his next jazz gig in front of a meagre grey crowd. By this stage we are feeling real empathy with our protagonist.
We could evoke the deeper symbolism of the round angelic light in Pezanes, or the empty white wine bottle in Guimares, but Rueckert’s facial expression in the “2012 Montreal” work gives us the deepest insight into the inner workings of the touring drummer. Like in the title photo, he is looking beyond the frame at some object in the room, but he could just as well be staring into the empty void. It is the gaze of one who has been to the depths of the abyss and only just returned. He may still swing and speak and write- but he has seen something which has marked his soul. What could that possibly be?
As a writer, Rueckert addresses himself in the third person. This allows him a certain distance in describing his own reactions to events and sets up a dialogue with himself. But in a strange inversion it also opens the door to his inner workings for anonymous readers to pass through. Though he still uses punctuation (just!), we feel we are privy to a stream of consciousness frozen on the page in the third person form. Getting to know the protagonist intimately through this thought stream means we are almost able to predict his reactions to coming events and we are bound with deep empathy to his actions and reactions.
The accompanying photos only emphasises anonymous communion and when he writes, “having slept about 10 hours total, 8 of them in a bed, over the last 4 days, your girlfriend gets really deep into a discussion over you being in a bad mood often” it almost feels like our own girlfriend is reacting this way to our inescapable drowsiness.
At the end of the volume, In Hoboken, Dumbo, our drummer wakes after what could be a bad dream.“Only then do you realise your suit jacket, pants, shirt and tie have dollar bills, post-it notes, candy bars and 50 cent bags of snacks made from corn and potatoes stapled to it, as well as your very resemblance to a walking human Christmas tree if all decoration would have had to be bought at the local bodega.”
He had numbed the previous tour nightmare by smoking residuals of the marijuana plant- somewhat out of character. Still, we are left unsure as to he really did wake from the dream or if this ongoing tribulation will continue ad infinitum, if the swinging Sisyphus will keep lugging his cymbal case up and down hotel floors for ever and a day. The reader in us wants him to.
One of the inner marathons in my life, perhaps the biggest thus far, is coming to an end. Though my legs and heart are aching I can see the finish line now. Tomorrow in Cologne we celebrate the pre-release of my 13CD Box set. It is titled 13 Views of the Heart’s Cargo (The official press/digital/physical release will be mid-January). I can say that I had to sacrifice a lot to get it out and I’m happy to stand on that stage with some good friends tomorrow and empty my lungs real good, sister. If you happen to be in Cologne, come along, do. Us fools will strut and fret our hours upon the stage until the cows come home.
Another tour is drawing to a close and I would like to wrap it up with a tiny tuning post. As I wrote before, I have been testing out a lower tuning on this tuning and Root70 has been revving around A432- sometimes known as Verdi tuning as the composer thought it to be the most resonant for his operas. It certainly has a different feel to it and in this post I will offer two songs from the Berlin Jazzfest last week in this lower tuning:
Rusty Bagpipe Bogie:
Listen to your Woman:
All I am searching for here is a sound that is warmer, rounder, and more in tune with itself and the room. Having now had the experience with vastly different sized performance spaces, I would say that certain spaces require different tunings to sound well.
In short, we have to factor in reed, instrument, room, intention, receiver (listener), and the unknown. We have to be flexible to the maximum and with our wonderful instrument we have the means. The basic tuning the correct fundamental is the foundation- then comes the fine tuning to the music (just intonation, equal temperament, all things in between) and it doesn’t just stop there. We need to remain supple and flexible- never rigid. In this state there is no room for dogmatic clinging to any particular tuning ideal- rather, through the flexibility and ease to adjust we can truly be in any musical moment with subtlety and grace. Tellingly, this renders fixed-pitch instruments like the good ol’ ivories as rigid and thus severely handicapped for deeper sound work which uses the acoustic space as an equal partner, not just a vehicle.
Yesterday I was asked by my sponsor Vandoren to create a video for their page. I checked it out and was appalled by the timbres of the artists on their video page. Thin, nasal, bright, edgy, big band-y, uncultivated, uncontrolled, cliche-ridden, hollow: some adjectives that sprung to mind. And this is supposedly the summit? Then a thought for a moment about why it is I dislike most saxophones sounds with such verve. Then I tried to stop thinking and it felt better. Then I closed my eyes and could feel my brain waves slowing down to 16 Hz C or somewhere close to Alpha and it felt better. Then I remembered hearing Passion Flower when I was small I didn’t care any more. Then those nightmarish 21st century sounds disappeared on the event horizon. Then I woke to the reality of a stubborn virginal vandoren reed that needs taming tonight. Then I boarded another empty train to somewhere meeting nobody for nothing really other than some jazz.
To redeem myself to any piano friends out there I offer a track from Evans/Hall’s Undercurrents which I carry with me of late. Bill Evans doesn’t seem to strike the piano like the aforementioned attack the saxophone and many others hammer down the keys; no, he draws the sound of of the wooden body with care. He for me is the prime example of beautiful tone on that instrument in jazz.
Rhapsodie I hear:
With my last drop of strength I make it to Leipzig to play some jazz having made the long journey here from the mountains of Austria- a bizarre Thermal springs where the elderly walk around in white dressing gowns lending the town the feeling of being in an institution. But the universe was to give me a tiny upper- the promoter collects antique saxophones and brews schnapps- after the gig my batteries were at least recharged in part.
Now, on my way to the gig in Leipzig, I am gifted with a brief moment of dislocation. This happens when I hear some distant music but cannot make out what instrument it is and what they are playing. Like waking up and not knowing where one is- I like to remain in this zone for as long as I can, especially when there are sounds at play. Then the music can work its true magic. And it seems to be easier when your body is tired and your brain waves are just in between alpha and beta- hovering around that low c of 16 hertz.
At the halfway point of our Root70 tour. One of the reasons I love to play in this band is the freedom and flexibility in the air. Rocking up with my new tuning ideas the band has had no problems in tuning down to A432 and it has been a good experience. The bass strings are looser, my mouthpiece is pulled out and Nils adjusted without delay. It is a different sound indeed- for my ears it is richer in overtones, less bright and edgy, more rounded and at ease with itself. The tuning is less aggressive, it is a more subtle invitation to the ears of the listener- it doesn’t seem to penetrate with the same forcefulness. It is certainly a different world. Not believing anything without trying it out, this tour has been an excellent test ride. I will try and record one of the concerts for you the listener to compare- it is purely in the realm of feeling and deeper reactions to the music that sometimes take more than a day to be assimilated and recognized. The vocal quality in the instrumental sound has been one of my main fields of study and this tuning, as advocated by Mr Verdi, seems to bring that out even more. It is a negation of ever-increasing brilliance and speed dictated by the urge to be noticed, as well as a return to a more natural poise wherefrom sound and can be intoned without excessive force. Having said that, it is also simply another arrow in our sound armoury- another colour to employ. A440 tuning or higher is not a given as we are raised to believe. It is a particlar colour, very much “in tune” with the zeitgeist of the 20th century and the tension and restlessness it represents, still prevalent today. Tuning to A432 feels like a negation of the sisyphean search for the dominance over the ear of the other. Music making doesn’t have to be an artform that penetrates the other. It can invite, it doesn’t have to intrude or violate. In this case, it needs to be “in tune” with greater cycles and rhythms as well as the minuscule ones. We stand and sing at the cusp.
Reading around, some are want to be instantly dogmatic about the virtues of 432 tuning versus 440. Whenever I come across militant proclamations of righteousness in any field I smell a rat. It is for the individual to make the experience, the deeper and more thorough, the better.
Music of the future is more of a vibrational science than a playground of human expression. Emotion can be in the mix, humanness as well, but we have to have a more subtle atonement to the forces that brought us here and continue to sustain us (if only just). This means recognizing the patterns and creative building blocks around us- from a micro- to macro- level- and employing these in our sound work.
Back to the jazz. Yes, we age. Being on the road is taxing and the travel takes it out of you. The concerts in the evening recharge you in someway but there are certainly walls one hits on the way. Sometimes it feels like you use up every last drop of energy on stage and no amount of sleep or food will recharge you. It is a fight but we all love a fight. Better post this quick before entropy blows out my flame and cools my molecules.
Is 10.11.12.13 not a beautiful date? Ok, there’s no 13 on the end but I almost wish there was. Since falling deeply for the 13th overtone the quality of the 13 is like a veil through which reality is filtered to me. More on that soon.
Allow me to introduce you to a compact little band I share with Pedja Avramovic: St. Hammond Brothers – inspired by our long love affair with the Hammond B3 organ. As soon as we scored a beautiful 1956 restored organ some months ago, the champagne was smashed off her sleek black side and our band took off. Right of the bat I will offer a small disclaimer about my drumming. I do it because
-I like a challenge
-I was lucky enough to play with some great drummers in the last years and I’ve been closely observing their every move and learning
-I need a counter balance to my harmonic work which was getting so deep, my thinking was almost about to drown ( even if it is sweet for me to shipwreck in a sea like that)
- I love to hear John on guitar in our band and in the coming years I will match him on drums, mark my blog words
-because of the economic crisis, we needed to keep the band small and compact
- I got obsessed a little with them funny drum rudiments
- I like New Orleans music so hey, what the hell.
We were born in a bar in Cologne and have successfully defended ourselves on and off the stage. My kit is already blood stained. This is us playing the song “Guilty” the other week.
Perhaps one of the highest and iciest peaks I ascending this year was the mountain of Haydn. Luckily I had an experienced guide and Mr Nabaotv helped me through the many glaciers and and pitfalls on the way up. It was a long journey of many months- sifting through his huge oeuvre and trying to make meaningful interpretations of the works. I stood for a long while in front of this mountain without making a single step towards it but simply observing and wondering which path up I could take. Frankly, I couldn’t see any at all. Later, during the trek we discovered many beautiful melodies that lent themselves to improvisation. One of them is this gem, called Recollection. It is a part of the soon-to.be-released marathon which I am proud about- proud because of all the sweat and tears that went into this and because with a guide like this, any peak can be reached.
Recollection, Hob XXVIa:26:
Some Jazz lines promised to a distant journalist:
I’m on the road- the jazz road- once again. Time to catch up with some chores that have been on the to do list for quite some time. Once of them was prompted by a comment I made some time ago on this blog, something along the lines of “observing the state of affairs in the jazz festivals I’m playing at, this music is deeply up shit creek without a paddle”. This must have been red rag to a journalistic bull and I was politely asked by a fine journalist in Swizerland to elaborate- the longer the better, he sayeth.
I put it off because I a)don’t like to enter into internet based debate where the usual level is about as high as my primary school and always swiftly in the realms of ad hominum b) have enough to worry about elsewhere c)like to concentrate on the positive d)well, who cares what I think, anyway? Well ok, Herr X does care and has repeatedly asked me to write more so I’ll do my humble best.
It’s a tricky one but obviously this journalist shared my sentiment and was curious as to a musicians perspective on the whole. Now this path is fraught with obstacles as I would have to generalize massively and as we all know, the art form itself is completely and delightfully subjective. I may think that a good 90% of what I just heard at a large jazz festival is substandard, impotent, tragically comic even- but there are still hundreds of satisfied fans…so what? Maybe I bother even to write about it because I do care about the art form
Being on the road now, slogging it out in small jazz clubs, holding my jazz dreams up on a high bar school over a rioja, being in the permanent tour daze- maybe all this tarnishes my view towards the negative but I’ll write some words all the same. The situation is complex but for all it’s worth, I’m giving you my take on it in one of my pithy little lists:
-to kick start things, no one, and I mean no one, can give me an adequate definition of jazz so I’ll give you mine. Jazz is a kind of music with improvisation at its core which surfaced and developed last century, firstly in the good ol’ US of A. It can take on a myriad of forms and adapt to the geographical locations but the improvising aspect remains its central pillar for yours truly.
-a quote like mine at the beginning of this post is obviously a sweeping generalisation, something I would only do when I am in a very jaded mood. Attending jazz festivals of late tends to put me in one of these. Why? From my perspective a lot of the music is stuck between clinging to a lost past and striving a little too hard to be new or different- or in the vapid no man’s land in between the two.
-jazz used to be able to comment on its times with its lyrics, its forms, or in the breaking down and reinventing of its forms. At a certain point, there is no more business for the deconstruction companies. In times like these, in which the speed of society almost seems to have reached its terminal velocity- who could possible keep up? It’s easier to post on Facebook than comment via your music and many do it it this way.
- even long before the ancient Chinese made this observation, I’m convinced that music has always been a fair and complete reflection of what is currently happening in society. If the society itself is sick, then the music could be too. Taking a step back and looking at the world today, one could be forgiven for making the observation that all is not rosy. Do I really need to elaborate here? Could it not follow that much of the music produced in such conditions would mirror the society it springs forth from? Be it Japanese noise rock at 120DB or German Folk music Hit parade- these sonic emanations perfectly compliment the mind set and state of being one can easily find in the modern human. Don’t get me wrong, there are still pearls out there- but let’s try to generalise by listening to the whole picture. The Jazz sounds also give us a good feedback on society and if most of the music we hear is indirectly coming out of institutions such as jazz schools, this too could color what we hear.
-the hifi audio scene caught up with the music itself that needed no more than the absolute basics to be heard- even mono would do for this. The results weren’t necessarily the happiest marriage.
- in the jazz world we find the particular phenomena of strong “expressions” of the ego. Because of a host of factors, the player’s individuality is starkly, often grotesquely, thrust into our (the listeners) perception- this through solos, musician bios, and the fact that the music itself is created around “personalities”. This is how it is sold and received. Solos are clapped and musicians fight hard to define themselves as individual entities- on and off the stage. Around them is also a whole network of who constantly wash the emperor’s clothes. They seem to me to serve themselves more than the music. This aspect stands in stark contrast to many other “musics” around the world. Like with anything here- I am not saying it is good or bad- I am simply observing. If you want to experience some individual expression in a pretty extreme form- go to a jazz festival. If you want to experience a group of musicians serving the music and making it together, go to Senegal, go to Indonesia, go to Brazil. Excuse my brevity.
-which is sicker, I sometimes ask myself- the planet itself or the human society living on it? Which needs more healing? Can music do it? I think it can but for that to happen we have to move above expression of simple human emotions- this means going deeper into frequency, vibration, and the cause and effect of sound- this cannot be done if random dudes are simply honking down their saxes over tunes in 442hz about their last broken relationship- please excuse the extreme example.
- for my taste, I’ve almost had it with egos fighting for expression in jazz, or in any other music for that matter. Recently, whilst being forced to attend a classical concerto I also pondered on just how sick this genre is, also clinging on to a lost past in which basic human emotion gained dominion over the planet and gifted us with unending war and a sick globe to tread on. It too is also, like jazz today, institutionalized and this could be an important one. These days, most musicians I hear have past through institutions. Could the curriculum at your average music conservatory be as far removed from the original spirit of the music as say a Catholic seminary’s subject matter is from the original christian doctrine? Quite possibly I think but I know that once in a blue moon, a special teacher can cut to the essence and make a difference. And re egos, I mean- in times in which confusion and speed reign, I don’t need to hear another musician’s expression of this, just like I don’t need to hear another musician’s song called “New York Dialogue”- unless he or she is channeling and that is a seldom phenomena in jazz to my ears. Musical channeling happens when the ego is first removed from the equation and by definition of what the music requires in its soloist forms like with most jazz, this aint easy methinks.
- a lot of jazz musicians I hear at these festivals are trying very hard, I can hear it. They try to write tunes in odd meters, they pull all kinds of stunts to create something “new”. But hey, one could argue- if they don’t stand up there , who would? Someone has to play up there. Yep, that’s dead right but I’ll put it on my list all the same.
-audiences and musicians are exposed to a little too much information, methinks- this obviously being a broader phenomena.
-a lot of the jazz seems a little over-testostoronised for my taste- funny, because behind the scenes the jazz dudes are anything but. This kind of overtly Yang musical expression has a need to prove itself, receive recognition, and dominate. In a musical context, if you want to experience these- hit your local jazz festival or radio big band. Extreme Yang is soft and flaccid on the inside.
-there’s simply too much happening for me in the music, it is not at rest, the band doesn’t just groove but rather there always has to be some SOLO! Must it be so?
-a couple of times I came across some debate about jazz, the problems of it, etc. Most of the time the debate itself, like most jazz criticism and journalism is, dare I say, not as deep and nuanced as it perhaps could be. The whole schazam appears to me like a dog chasing its tail, and I’ll happily include this little post in that equation. As mentioned, a lot of it descends into ad hominum or to something along the lines of “If you don’t like our country, leave it”. And I have to say, despite its baseness, there is a point in there. I’ve known a few great jazz musicians to have given up after witnessing the horror at the end of the jazz river. Shame, as hidden within the music is still a spirit, a flame that should never be blown out. That flame to me is this spirit of improvisation which works on so many levels and is a vital tool for survival amidst the spectacle of modern digital culture. Perhaps more than ever, people need something to hold on to and “our ” music can still give a lot – it can be so real you can touch it with your ears.
-I should say at this point that I am guilty of all of the above crimes. It’s a bit like meeting someone you don’t like and realizing it’s because he exhibits qualities you too possess.
A lot of great musicians out there don’t give a toss about the difficulties we paddle through whilst on festival tours and that is perhaps the right mindset. I put my foot in it with my earlier blog comment and have at least done my humble best to justify what I heard. I remain optimistic. Play my humble sax and never give up on this beautiful art form of truly being in the moment.
The side is always grassier on the other green.
Fict and Faction.
Most of this blog tends towards facts, but then again facts are slippery things. This post blends both of them. I am about to release a minor tidal wave- the biggest of the inner marathons I mentioned- and a part of that wave is called The Dharma Cowboy.
The partly fiction- the bit inside the CD- reads so:
The Dharma cowboy is a lonely guy sitting on a dry plain somewhere with a guitar and a half empty bottle of rum.
He’s not from around here, in fact he’s not from anywhere.
He dreams and speaks quietly. He doesn’t rhyme. He speaks in riddles.
He stares up at the sky and hopes and breathes.
He doesn’t have a horse but he often sings of one.
He is most at home inside the setting sun which he stares at daily.
His only companion is the distant echo on the plain and the wind.
One day, he was no longer to be found- just his old broken guitar, a single rusty spur, and an empty rum bottle remained.
The facts are closer to this:
It was 2004 and I was working inside a buddhist retreat in the Colorado Rockies. It was intense in many respects. To let off some steam I left the retreat grounds on a Thursday night and headed to the closest bar- a classic American dive with pool tables and piss-like bud on tap. I had my guitar on me. I played some for fun. The bar was almost empty. The bartender liked it and asked me to come back on Friday to play “for real”. I did. The joint was packed. They were all waiting for my “gig”. But the mic was shitty and my untrained voice was drowned out by the din. No one dug it. There was general mayhem- the bartender was squirting the pundits with bud and I had no iron mesh in front of me. It was carnage- not to say I don’t like carnage-but it was kind of negative carnage and my “gig” sucked big time. Anyway, the night was a rough one and I retreated back to the buddhists.
When I got back to Germany a few days later I went into a friend’s studio with my guitar and a couple of mates. I had a bottle of rum I found on the studio and this bottle, which I later found out to be worth 4 times than my guitar- was at my side as I improvised the record, worth now about half as much as the empty bottle was. Alchemy- the rum became verse through my vessel. I picked myself up out of the pools of bud and bile and went on with my life.
The whole thing was done in one night. One inebriated night.
But there was one thing I had in my head before.One was The Song of Armergin- an ancient bardic hymn which had stuck in my head for some reason:
I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall…
Mine was improved a Western version using only the broken memory of the Bardic verse. I don’t give a dam if my accent aint authentic- that’s not what it’s about- it never is for me- it’s about transformation. Authenticity in world like this? That for me is the lier lying to himself whilst lying.
Today I leave you. There are certain things I will not miss but there is one big one I certainly will: the light. You are up there in my three top dominions of light (my homeland, Iceland, and you) but none of the others beats your wildest and deepest orange hues of the late afternoon sun on a winter day streaming off the green palms and pines- you take my golden sun medal in clarity, nuance, and pure brilliance. I will always remember your light and the angles she strikes you at.
I said my humble goodbyes, the hardest being to “my” mountain- Montcau, the rise behind the village covered in beautiful pine woods which has been my training ground and retreat for the past several years. I make a summit run and breathe in the pine air. In the years I’ve been running up here I’ve encountered no more than 3 other runners on the trail. From the summit you can see Barcelona in the distance, covered in innocent diesel fumes and free radicals- beautiful from a distance.
A typical trail on Montcau
I visited my local- El Mirador- the tiny greasy bar overlooking Montserrat where I wrote so many of my pieces and shared a morning coffee that felt like a smack in the face and awoke me to composing like nothing else could.
Spanish rock music plays through a small distorting radio placed next to half a tortilla and bottles of gin. In the morning the first rays of sun can be seen striking the rocks of Montserrat. In the years I have been here, no one has ever asked me where I am from- the strange white guy with the sandals and music paper sipping wine did progress up the ranks though as I never needed to order- my coffees or wines were set in front of my manuscript paper with a nod and without commentary.
The rough Catalan enters my right ear and exits my left without upsetting too much on the inside. The beautiful thing about these old, small radios, is that they only fill up a tiny space of frequency and your mind fills in the rest, if you care to. No there is a lesson for the hi-fi brigade out there- how blissfully and expensively wrong they can be and not know it.
This place has a hard edge to it softened only by the light. But one is left in peace essentially to do what one needs. And I did what I needed to.
I raise my glass to you, Catalunya- fare thee well!
When I started to hear about a lower tuning pitch- C128Hz- I was at first curious. Then the universe started handing me sign after sign so it was clear I had to give it a shot. I never take anything for a given without trying it myself and so I retuned all my instruments down and have been working for the last several weeks in this tuning of A432. For the non-musicians out there, I am talking about the number of vibrations per second. It certainly feels right somehow. In short, the doublings/octaves line up perfectly (1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128) to give us the C128Hz reference tone. Knowing well the power of number itself from the last few years, I kew such perfection and simplicity in the structure is not to be taken lightly. Secondly, our A440 was set in a time of massive upheaval on this planet and when the pitch was gradually creeping up, keeping pace with the degree of chaos and confusion in the times. Certainly my alto, though she was built around the time of this turmoil, is well at home at A432- the mouthpiece is far out, more of her tube vibrates, there is more looseness in the equation. In short- I like it, it feels good. It is an opening, and this tuning does seem to lock into something greater than us. In such terratorium, you have to test it out, play in it, and trust your heart on it.
I used it on a new piece I created based on the Lucas Numbers- a series very similar in principle to he Fibonacci row, only with a different beginning. The fact that she starts with 2,1,3,4,7,11 and includes the 7, gives the series a more bluesy feel- again we are back at the Mississippi Delta. Here is an excerpt of Lucas River, tuned to C128Hz and soon to be released.
Of the 3 marathons I am engaged in right now one of them was a physical one which I finished today in Cologne. Some observations:
- most of the comments about my barefoot sandals mistook them for sauna sandals. These earned me a lot of comments. I think though that in ten years or so the Germans, having a desire to do everything properly, will catch on to natural running as long as the shoe industry can be overcome-won’t be easy.
-I saw two other barefoot runners in the field of 25,000
-sometimes I felt like an indigenous man somewhere in history, with the white man laughing at me because of my “primitive” shoes and I in turn pitying him almost for being so far away from his roots- there is an unfathomable distance between us
- loved the nonchalant expressions on the dogs faces watching runners run past- how futile it must seem to them
-a lot of Samba crews peppering the route- I used to cringe when I heard this German Samba from a distance but upon seeing their older faces for the first time I was filled with compassion
-the city is a hundred times better car free- when are they finally going to realize that?
- although there is a nice feeling of group meditation and flow, I still prefer to be on a trail by myself somewhere with the wind. I don’t think I’ll make this a habit. Also, I prefer uneven terrain to simply pounding the pavement, which is what heel striking runner in their shoes are effectively doing- it is all about the way in which we touch the earth, methinks.
- my time was average but I was more into keeping my form and breath and taking in the scenery. Time? What’s that?
-there is a lot of heart in Cologne and I also heard some spectacular one-liners- no one can tell me Germans lack humor.
-the last 4 kms are a little on the painful side, but once you’ve made pain your friend you never run alone.
As we say in New Zealand: yeah, na.
Another massive week- hard to know where to start so I’ll simply cut to the point and describe in short the summit rather than the getting there. After a long hiatus of waiting I made it back to my favorite studio in Berlin with someone very special indeed. Pina Bettina Rücker plays crystal bowls and she completely jettisoned my preconception of the instruments. She takes her “instruments” to another level and the way the alto blends in with them is something I had been searching for without knowing. The shapes given off by the frequency monitor from this session left the engineers astounded, they had never seen anything like it. In this way, we can give form to the kind of structures which have the power to heal on many levels- here is where my true interest lies.
There are different kinds of barefoot marathons I am running at the moment, each on different levels. About the physical ones I will write very soon- pushing my sound work into realms like these is one of my inner marathons.
This is a sample track from our 5 hour session:
Well that was quite a week and all I can do is give my humble best to describe some of it.
It began with an evening with the architect Peter Zumthor in Cologne at the opening of a show at the Kolumbia museum. This is by far Cologne’s most beautiful edifice and I waited for the moment in which my mentor’s works (those of R. Horn) were exhibited to enter and enjoy the building. To be inside the work of my favorite architect and with him and also view the works of my mentor was a treat. I had my eyes open for the many details in this museum such as the tiny spaces between the walls and floors and the dance of light on the surfaces, the urinals, and the proportions of the mirrors cushioned by dark woods.
Not long after, I was visited by the Indian singer Mahesh Vinayakram. As we struggled to find any available rickshaws in Cologne Mashesh set himself up in my kitchen and played and sung non stop for several days. We exchanged rice recipes and ragas and he feel deeply in love with my monochords and sruti boxes. Here is a picture of the man well established in my kitchen and a short track with his exceptional voice and my monochord.
Not long after that, Root70 with strings hit the studio in Deutschland Funk to record the new album. It was a strictly analogue affair just as I like it- no pussy footing around with headphones and cabins and edits- rather a couple of great mics in a great room and a group of musicians prepared to blend with each other in every detail and the make the fine alterations in the moment of playing. Heads up to Nils for having the vision and balls to set that up. Shame about all those beautiful neuman mics that got lost when this meteorite hit us:
During these recordings the film “Sound of Heimat” premiered in Cologne. It is hard for me to say much about it as I am so involved in it but seeing it for the first time I can at least say that it is beautifully filmed and that it has a meditative pace to it- something to be appreciated in these times. It tells the story of various Germans and the passage of German songs throughout the complications of history. It is a road movie which reveals some hidden parts of Germany and some authentic bipeds fully dependent on music to feed their souls. The trailer for the film is here and it starts in German cinemas this week.
Once in a while I let Cossette off my leash and let her have a bit of fun. I titles this one “For Play” and her bed mate is a classical girl met in a a bar close by.
In a tiny town called Spielfeld Strass in the bottom corner or Austria I cart my cymbals, tenor and alto saxes, and sruti boxes of the train and change for the tiny locomotive to Maribor, Slovenia. The train is a little more beaten up and rattles immediately upon start up. Young girls in tight jeans and bright tops smoke outside, utilizing every last second of possible inhalation. The conductress sports powerful perfume that remains in my vicinity long after she goes. The wagon’s scent: a blend of sweat, alcohol, and honesty. It seems I arrived back in the (albeit most “European”) part of the Balkans once again. I am armed an dangerous- the piece I have with me is a memory of the melodies I learned long ago when I stayed with the monks of the Plettere monestary here in Slovenia.
Once upon a distant time I was asked by my teacher (then Nat Su) to learn the words to standards. This helped to internalize the melodies. And indeed, the ones for which I liked the words were the ones that stuck with me. I’ve also always been a bit of a sucker for tunes with extra tags- tunes like Its’ alright with Me and many other Cole Porter jewels. The Nearness of You stayed with me through my memory-challenged journey through middle age mainly because I liked the line I need no soft lights to enchant me and she sported a tag. Now, 40′s and 50′s America isn’t exactly the pinnacle of eroticism or love metaphors in the rich history of the word and many of the songs struggle to get deeper than I love you or will you be mine? ( Pardon me, I what you?) . Often were these the ones that my middle age anti-virus programs erased without my knowledge. There is infinitely more subtlety in the metaphorical description of the bedroom arts in the Book of Solomon than most of the 20th Century western popular song canon. So have we really evolved? I would beg to differ here. Here one could, and probably should, digress, but my point is for now that when poetry and music come together in the right way, it sticks and the result is greater than the sum of the parts. And still, when I play this melody, the words are very clearly in my mind’s eye and my ear’s mind.
Shortly before I was ready to travel to Memphis to record and, in his words break the matrix, with my friend Sean, he sadly passed away. He was to me much more than a guitar player but it isn’t easy for me to put what he was into words. Naturally, Sean Lane lives on in the many clips and recordings but there is much of his work which still hasn’t seen the light of day. He used to tinker around a lot in his Memphis home and I would like to upload on of the many tracks he sent me which I have since filed under “hope”- tracks in which I hear that little concept ring out. On this one, Sean plays all the instruments and sings and you can hear his signature fast guitar lines as well as some classic Lane-esque harmonies. Sean, I’m breaking down the matrix still, my friend.
Two jets in the sky above Holland form a massive, unintentional X. When I see it I think of the rune of Gebo. Three hot air balloons nearby form a kind of signature in the blue.
I leave Catalunya just before their National day on September 11 when cries of Llibertat echo amongst the colorful flags. When I saw this as a teenager it impressed me- now it scares me because in it I perceive less an affirmation of the self and more a negation of the other. Liberty from what, exactly? And once you have it, who or what is next on the chopping board? Like modern day fascism in its various sleek masks, they define themselves primarily by their opposition of the other. It’s easy to shift the blame elsewhere. I could be wrong though and simply paranoid- let’s hope so.
Well, if in doubt, retreat into nothingness- though 4’33’’ isn’t really nothing, it’s quite something in fact. This is a radio program made by radio journalist Michael Rüssenberg about some musicians reactions to the piece of Cage. None of us were prepared when he asked us if we thought the piece was music or not. Some fodder for my German readers….
The last thing I expected on the island of Formentera after playing a concert was to encounter a Chinese free jazz saxist and flutist. Li and I sat late into the night exploring the space around our lowest common denominator of musical and wordily experience, putting us swiftly into the realms of pentatonic and red wine- the later seems to have taken of in China, igniting the taste buds of the Manchurians. I discovered that I may have more notes at my disposal but he has more embellishments, alone through the reduced melodic possibilities of his chinese flute. Is less more then? Well, not necessarily. But it is certainly interesting to play together with a folk musician/improvisor and find a common melodic thread- the music is slowed down, breath enters the equation and becomes a device, there is no one to rush us and no one to clap for us- just the night outside and copious wine inside.
Not long after a violent storm blew over. Did we set it in motion? Li thought so.
This for me is true culture exchange. Without the sponsors, planning, and empty platitudes. Spontaneous with a touch of combustion. Moments like these make being in semi-permanent exile worth it. I experience more than I could possibly ever put into words. Then they disappear like tears in the rain and our chinese-irish songs are remembered by the wood of the cottage and no one else.
The week of sound on the mountain of Pilion in Greece ends in the main square- funky saxophones blend in with the bagpipes and drums of the village. Overtones and microtones are peppered with Balkan rhythms as we hit the locals with the first ever village Balkan Brass Band. The party is still in full swing at 4am when some of us are whisked away to Athens airport against our will.
Some hours later I am at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea, readying my saxophone for a wedding. It is 8pm. I’m supposed to be there at 10 so I pack my dress shoes in the case, don my running sandals, and take the mountain route. It takes me an hour and there is no one on the track- nothing but the moon which bathes the mountains silver and makes running a joy. The quality of this reflected sunlight against rock by night is all I need right now.
When I arrive I am still several hours early so I set camp put the back with the huge army of waiters and chefs. Fascinating to watch them prepare the dishes for the huge main tent and a joy to sit at the table and listen to their songs and laughter. I take out my sax and play with them.
Come 3am and it is show time: my reed is hard, my mic is plugged directly into the behringer dj mixer, the mojto bar is in full force- and my sax blends in with the disco tracks as the ties are loosened and high heels are cast aside. Cigar smoke and sugary drinks fill my nostrils and exit my horn in the form of funky licks. Each piece is so far away from 440hz that my mouthpiece is sliding up and down my neck all night. We hit it for hours on end. Backstage a waiter has fallen asleep on my sax case.
Soon there are two eyes in the sky watching me pack- a red one and a blue one. The blue one still has a silver gleam. The red one is warming up to melt the molten mountain silver. Once past the gate I swap the shoes for the sandals again and begin the run back. Again, for a fleeting moment, the world is at peace.
Thessaloniki is steaming hot by 0900
I’m picked up by the sound engineer of the village
He stops in town to load the trunk with litters of Cretan Ziporo
“slightly better quality than in village- less hangover”
We parallel park precariously amongst the horns, dusts and cries
I remove the duck tape from my Quinoa muesli
And gently tip it into the plastic cup of Greek yogurt
The diesel mixes subtly with the amazonian superfood
The sun beats down with nothing better to do
The fruit shop owner marvels at my duck taped muesli bag but elects not to comment
The sound engineer returns with his beverage of choice
The world is at peace
Over the last year or so I have noticed two clear types of listener in my concerts. This has become apparent as I have been performing two very different pieces in the same concert- and the responses give me clear insights into the inner workings of the listeners. Invariably the same applies to my recordings of these pieces.
In short, group A. goes for the music itself and group B. goes for the execution thereof. Group A. will go for the piece Love in Numbers, as the music seems to sing out without much of the player involved (little do they know!). This group seems to be able to easily bypass the need for technical delivery (already disqualifying most jazz/classical music right off the bat)- sipping the royal jelly and bypassing the kilos of honey. Group B. will much prefer a work like The Well Tempered Sruti Box because more of the player is involved- they can see and feel him sweat and suffer as he wrestles what music he can out of his instrument. They like to feel the years of sweat that has gone into this and this response mechanism seems in my mind to hail back to the romantic period or whenever it was that the odious word and concept “virtuoso” oozed its way into our parlance and practice. Remember, if there is no word for something, then there probably is none of this something. (By the way, what is the word for an everlasting and universal peace between sentient beings?)
All this is well and good and I am doing my best not to imply that either group is closer to the truth, after all, who could be in this subjective art form par excellence? At the end of the day it’s a case of whatever does it for you, dude. But the interesting thing I have found is that there is little overlap between the too- it is more often than not an either/or situation and this, readers, puzzles me to this very day.
Were you to walk up to me in the streets and embrace me saying my music had changed your life, or were you to hurl stones at me and tell me my music comes from the sulfurous mouth of the devil himself, my inner response would be the same- how liberating! But I had to come a long way to get to the acceptance that I, the player, am not the music but the vessel. I don’t in fact choose any of these methods of expression and it’s not me that’s expressing anything anyway. Don’t shoot the messenger or the jester. Don’t even judge him. Just let him run through the mountains with his royal jelly or babble cryptic utterances from the heavens- that’s his job,buddy.
A distant drummer friend of mine recently completed, after at least year’s hard labour in hotel rooms, another electronic masterpiece. I know of few personalities who find such complete expression in their sound creations; when I listen to his music I am verily talking to the man himself- Jochen Rückert- with all the possible complexities you could imagine. The music is charged not only with difficult odd meters and microtonal tuning, there are several contorting layers that put this almost in a genre of its own. I know there are programmers out there who compose rather complex beat-orientated music but I’ve heard nothing that comes close to this. But what really strikes me here, and this I know to be a facet of the man himself, no matter how intricate the sound layers and composition is, he always lets the emotion speak out which was the driving force in the first place. I hear futility, forlorn hopes, loneliness, hidden tenderness, the struggle for the Word, the fight to express the unspeakable- in a capsule the most acute inner conflicts of modern man laid out on the page already by the likes Kafka, Cioran, Celan, or Canetti.
A minute in and a voice sings ding dang dilly dilly dada who who. Is this the child whistling innoccently over the rubble of Hiroshima? The American drone pilot humming as he takes down a Sudanese civilian from an armchair in Oregon? The Titanic’s helmsman singing sweetly as disaster looms. After a few minutes later we find ourselves in the middle of a straight thumping beat but when Rueckert writes these there are layers of meaning and cross-reference beneath: it could almost be the Berlin underground of the 90′s until it quickly morphs into a Merzbow-like wall of noise which is swiftly swallowed up by the very program that ushered it into existence- a glitch in the monstrous organic machine in which tiny sonic cancerous expressions expand and burst with pus, littering the innards of this digital nightmare? This hideous conglomerate of flesh and metal, of intelligence and zeros and ones; is this the voice of modern futility and pain? The machine regards itself in the broken mirror that is this world and screams out in the process. Is this the sound? Is this the minotaurus of Duerrenmatt- the beast who without knowing what it meant, wanted to become human? Does the machine need us to realise its nature? Is there a way out for us, once we have glimpsed the nature of the beast? Could Kafka have even dreamt the full extent of the nightmare when the mind became mechanic and the machine seeped blood?
“He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—”The horror! The horror!” Conrad
To represent the album in miniature I chose the track Anal Jesus. Here we find everything which makes him programming language so unique. The album is now online and called rest from what. One of the tracks is called sadness surrounds us and I too think that in many ways it does, thank goodness we have sound sculptures like this who can give expression to this and a tiny opportunity for us to rise above it, for there must always be hope amidst the rubble.
Anal Jesus Wolff Parkinson White :