Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Most recent articles

New Videos: Breakup Songs, Real Girl

Posted by on Apr 23, 2013 in Recordings |

A few days ago I got myself a Zoom Q2HD recorder. It’s a good stereo sound recorder with fixed-focus HD video, great for quick ‘n’ dirty live recording.

I cracked it out right away, and recorded a couple of living room videos, one in San Francisco and one in Shell Beach. Here they are. Hope you enjoy them!

The Flying Dream CD

Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Recordings |

In the late 90’s and early 00’s, I recorded a number of song demos for promotion to music publishers. Around ’02, I compiled the recordings into a CD, Flying Dream.

I’ve burned, sold and given away hundreds of these CDs over the years. Last year, I decided it was time to give my poor CD burner a break and release Flying Dream for real. I asked my friend Cher Odum if she would do the cover art. Cher has known and loved my music for a long time (I gave her one of the first ones ten years ago). She was inspired, and spent two days painting a beautiful cover in her unique style.

FD Art

I’m proud to announce that Flying Dream is now available in physical form from CD Baby, and as a digital download from iTunes, Amazon, and the rest of the usual suspects. All the sites have previews so you can hear before you buy. The 13 songs are available separately too.

A few highlights:

  • Flying Dream is four part a cappella harmony, with me singing all the parts.
  • Driving is inspired by my many beautiful trips to Whidbey Island in Washington State and has a rare electric guitar solo.
  • The Cove is my love song for the beaches of California’s Central Coast, and for one beach in particular, and for my dear friends who love it too.

Snooze Alarm, It’s Your Fault, I Could Fall In Love With You … each song has its own flavor and personality. I recorded all the instruments and parts, mostly in my little guest house in San Luis Obispo.

Songs are bookmarks that open our memories to particular pages, as effectively as the scent of a madeleine cookie. Many times, over the years, someone has told me of their experience with one of these songs, how they cried or were influenced, how it marked a page. Every once in a while someone asks me if I’ll burn another one because they wore the old one out. Mighty gratifying. I hope you get a chance to hear it too, and that it brings you joy.

A Performance Video

Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in Recordings |

 

Mr. Natural, by the great R. Crumb

Mr. Natural, by the great R. Crumb

Sacred Grounds Cafe in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood has had an open mic of some sort since the late 60’s. In its current incarnation, it’s hosted, every Thursday, by local music teacher and multi-instrumentalist Mr. Natural, who thoroughly looks the part!

There’s a fun crowd of regulars and it’s a warm, accepting and inviting atmosphere. Every level of player shows up, from first-time-on-stage virgins (who are greeted with great enthusiasm) to seasoned veterans.

Every week, there’s a featured performer who gets to play a 45-minute set. Mr. Natural records a video of every show, and posts it to YouTube on his channel.

I played the feature this past March 7. I extracted my set from the full video and posted it on my own channel.

It’s a good way to inaugurate my Performance Video page. Enjoy!

Cadences

Posted by on Mar 12, 2013 in The Lattice, The Notes, Tonal Gravity | 2 comments

A cadence is a chord progression that gives a sense of arrival or resolution.

One particular cadence, the V-I (or V7-I) is especially powerful. In classical music, a V-I cadence is practically mandatory at the end of a piece, and it is the biggest gun in the composer’s arsenal when changing keys, or modulating.

The following movie shows a I-V-I progression. It starts on the I to establish the tonic, then there’s tension, then resolution. The V-I cadence draws the ear back to the tonic chord.

Here’s a cadence that visits the V7 first:

To me it looks like the V chord tosses out a rope, lassos the tonic and pulls.

It’s interesting to look at the notes in light of tonal gravity. In yesterday’s post, I laid out two rules of gravity on the lattice:

  1. Movement away from the center creates tension; movement toward the center gives a sense of resolution.
  2. The closer you are to the center in your journey, the stronger the sensations of tension and resolution are. The field is stronger closer in, just like real gravity.

There are four notes in the V7 chord.

  • The 5 is as close as you can get to the 1 (in harmonic space), so it creates a lot of tension. It is an overtonal note — that is, it appears in the overtone series of the 1. Pluck a string tuned to the tonic frequency, and the 5 will tend to be strongly present in the timbre of the sound. The way I see it, the ear is always searching for home. Every note gives it two clues — which direction is home, and how far away is it? The 5 gives a very strong signal, pulling the ear toward the tonic: “Home is this way, and it’s close! Come on!”
  • P1060030The 2 reinforces this conclusion. It’s farther out, so the signal is weaker, but it is still in the harmonic series of the 1, and it’s pretty close in. The little detective in the ear gets another clue.
  • Same with the 7, although now the effect is weaker. In traditional theory, the 7 is called a leading tone, and it’s thought to pull melodically toward the 1 — a sort of gravity in melodic space. It “wants” to resolve a half step upward. I feel this too, and I think the harmonic pull reinforces it further.
  • Then there’s the 4, which is what makes it a seventh chord (the 4 is a minor seventh of the 5). This is a reciprocal note, that is, it’s generated by division rather than multiplication. Like the 5, it points directly at the 1, from point-blank range. Reciprocal energy is different from overtonal energy. To me, it feels as though reciprocal notes are pushing toward the tonic — the message feels more like “Home is that way, now go!”

For the detective in the ear, the 4 slam dunks the case. The only reasonable conclusion is that home is located in that empty space between the 4 and the 5 on the lattice. Any other interpretation is much weaker. Every note in the V7 chord is pointing strongly to the 1, and when the notes collapse inward to the I chord, the resolution is completely satisfying.

I’ve heard a charming story about Beethoven. Apparently the composer was depressed and wouldn’t get out of bed. A friend came by and played some music, ended on a dramatic V7 chord, and sat down to wait. Beethoven finally had to get out of bed and play the tonic chord. Tough love! Don’t know if the story is true, but it certainly could be. The V7 is strong medicine.

When this particular chord shape appears somewhere else on the lattice, it can point so hard to its own center that the ear believes the tonic has moved. It’s as though the gravity of the planets is so strong that it can move the sun.

Next: Intervals

Tonal Gravity

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Consonance, Just Intonation, The Lattice, Tonal Gravity | 1 comment

I believe that the great driving force in tonal music, that creates the drama and story of the music itself (independently of any lyrics), is the longing for home.

Home is the tonic. If a song is in the key of A, all the A’s in their various octaves will sound like home.

Although there are many exceptions, most music begins on the tonic, to show the ear what key the piece is in, and ends on the tonic, to bring the listener home again. In between, the music wanders, out and back again, creating tension and resolution.

One of the beauties of the lattice is that it shows a clear graphical display of this tension.

It’s as though the tonic creates a sort of gravitational field around itself. It acts a lot like real gravity. The chords and notes move in this gravitational field, like planets and moons around a sun. The gravitational field follows a few basic rules:

  1. Movement away from the center creates tension; movement toward the center gives a sense of resolution.
  2. Notes that are overtonal from the center, generated by multiplying, located to the right and up, will feel more resolved. Notes that are reciprocal, generated by dividing, to the left and down, will feel unresolved.
  3. The closer you are to the center in your journey, the stronger the sensations of tension and resolution are. The field is stronger closer in, just like real gravity.
  4. The closer together two notes are, the more consonant, or harmonious, they will be when sounded together. The farther apart they are, the more dissonant they will be, the more they will clash.

Roots generate local gravitational fields. I think of them as Jupiter to the tonic’s Sun. When the root is on the 5, for example, it shifts the gravity field to the east on the lattice, and the 2 and 7 become harmonious, consonant notes, rather than dissonant ones. The tonic still has great influence, so the entire chord feels unresolved — a 5 chord pulls very strongly toward the 1 chord, a property that is heavily relied upon in Western music. As long as the 5 is the root, though, the 2 and 7 will be consonant harmonies, because they are close to the 5 on the lattice.

Here is a movie to show how that works. The music starts with a tonic chord. Then, one at a time, the 2 and 7 are introduced. These notes are dissonant, and create a sense of tension against the tonic.

Then the root moves to the 5, and the character of the 2 and 7 changes. Now they form a major chord based on the 5, a harmonious configuration. They have become moons of Jupiter. Hear how the dissonance goes away? But there is still plenty of tension, as now there are three notes venturing away from the center, pulling the ear back toward home.

Then the root moves back to the 1, and the 2 and 7 collapse back in toward the center. There is a sense of arrival.

This movie illustrates another observation: consonance / dissonance and tension / resolution are not the same thing. They both relate to distance on the lattice, but they do not necessarily track together. When the root moves to the 5, the dissonance goes away, but there is a new tension, a drive to resolve toward the center. The ear remembers where home is, and longs for it.

These principles can be consciously used to create desired effects when writing and arranging. Resolution and consonance give the music beauty, and tension and dissonance give it teeth.

Next: Cadences

Rosetta Stone

Posted by on Mar 6, 2013 in Just Intonation, The Lattice, The Notes | 0 comments

Almost all Western music, including my own, lives in the world of tonal harmony. This means:

  • There can be, and usually are, multiple notes playing at the same time.
  • There is a key center, or tonic, around which the notes are arranged. The tonic doesn’t always sound — it’s an intangible presence, the home from which you leave on your harmonic journey, and to which you will hopefully return.

The multiple notes can have different functions:

  • Roots are the fundamental notes of chords. A G chord has its root on G. Roots are local centers that move the ear around the lattice as they change.
  • Harmonies flesh out the chord. In a G major chord, the harmony notes are B and D. They stake out more lattice territory and add definition to the chord. Is it a G major, minor, seventh? The harmonies establish this.
  • Melodies dance in the harmonic field set up by the tonic, roots and harmonies. They have more freedom than the others. Melodies travel fast and light, and though they can sing the same notes as the others, they can also travel farther afield, further embellishing the chord, or leading the ear toward the next chord in the progression, or lingering on the last one after it has changed.

All this action is happening in two musical spaces at once.

Piano-keyboard

Melodic space is the world of scales. It’s organized in order of pitch. The piano keyboard is a perfect representation of melodic space.

full lattice all-01

Harmonic space is the world of ratios. Multiply a note by a small whole number ratio, and you have moved a small distance in harmonic space. Multiply by large numbers, and you have moved a large distance. The lattice is a map of harmonic space.

The two worlds are not the same. Often, they are opposites. The perfect fifth is a small move harmonically but it’s a mile in the melody — bass singers have to jump all over the place in pitch. Small melodic moves tend to be big harmonic ones. A chromatic half step, the distance between the 3 and b3, is only 70 cents, less than the distance between neighboring keys on the piano. But on the lattice, it’s a long haul — down a third, down another third, and up a fifth.

Writing and arranging a song is sort of like designing (rather than solving) a crossword puzzle. There are two intersecting, independent universes, Up and Down. To design the puzzle, you work back and forth between the two, massaging them until they don’t conflict, and each one makes sense on its own.

All of the notes live in both harmonic and melodic space. They may have a foot in one more than the other — the roots tend to move small distances on the lattice, the melodies usually move small distances in pitch, and the harmonies tend to bridge the two, moving melodically while staking out the form of the music on the lattice. But every note moves in both spaces, all the time.

Rosetta_stone_(photo)A great advantage of the lattice is that it serves as a sort of Rosetta Stone, a bridge or translator between the two worlds.

The Rosetta Stone was carved in 196 BC and rediscovered in 1799. It immediately became famous because it repeats the same text three times, in three different languages. It was the key that allowed scholars to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The lattice bridges the two musical spaces by means of the patterns it presents to the eye.

When two or more notes are plotted on the lattice, they will form a particular visual pattern. Any time you see this pattern, no matter where on the lattice it is, the relationship between the notes of the pattern will be exactly the same, in both harmonic and melodic space.

3-01For example, this pattern shows an interval of a major third. The ratio of the frequencies of these two notes is 5/4 (or 5/2, or 5/1 — twos don’t count, they just shift the note by an octave). Any time you see two notes in this formation, no matter where they are, you know they have the following relationship to each other:

  • Harmonic space: When the notes are sounded simultaneously, they will have the characteristic sound of a pure major third.
  • Melodic space: When you move from one note to the other, you are traveling a distance of 386 cents, or about four semitones on the piano.

Getting familiar with these patterns, and learning to recognize them wherever they are, has made it easier for me to think in harmonic and melodic space at the same time, which makes writing and arranging music much easier.

Next: Tonal Gravity