Friday, March 13, 2009

Blog moving

Hi all - I just wanted to let people know that my blog is permanently moving to my new web site - See you there!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Oh. My. GOD.

I just stumbled across something so amazing, so surprising - I am totally and completely blown away by this. Essentially, this guy scoured You Tube for videos of musicians and singers playing/singing solo. He then mixed and spliced together various videos to create a new song. The process is amazing, and the songs themselves are so - damn - good.

This is something completely of our own time - something that is only possible right now. I'm amazed by this - I can't say that enough. Here is the first video I saw - I'll embed that in this post - after, I'll post the link to hear all of his songs that he's created - and they're all great - I would highly recommend watching them all.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Remembering Mandy on March 5th

Today is the 7th anniversary of my friend Mandy Morris' death. In rememberance, I thought I would post the audio to my piece that I wrote to honor her memory, the Hommage a Mandy Morris, and also the piece by Mandy that inspired it.

After her death, Mandy's mom, Sherry Morris-Imhoff, gave me a CD of ten pop songs that Mandy had written and recorded on her little mini-disc recorder. The sixth one was just an unfinished song that I really latched onto, and used as the base material for my piece. I never knew the title of any of her songs, because she never showed the songs to anyone while she was alive, so I just dubbed it Pop Song VI. Anyway, wherever Mandy is, she is missed.



Tuesday, March 03, 2009

15 albums that changed your life (11-15)


I was first introduced to De Staat in the Spring of 2000, during my last semester at the University of Texas. My friend and fellow composer Rafael Hernandez and I would, at least once a week, listen to pieces of new music that we didn't know, but felt like we should know. One week, Rafael chose De Staat by Dutch composer Louis (pronounced Louie) Andriessen. The only other thing of Andriessen's I'd ever heard was a performance by Bang on a Can of his Hoketus, which I wasn't into at all (and I'm still not). So, we sat down to listen.

I'm not sure why, but when I heard it for the first time at our little listening session, I violently rejected it. I hated it - plain and simple. I don't know if it was just because it was something so different and so out of my experience at that time that my brain just wouldn't take it in - lol - idk.

About a year later, during my first year at Indiana University, I was in the music library, and for some inexplicable reason, I decided to give the piece another shot. I checked out the CD and score, and sat down to listen to De Staat for the second time.

About 6 or 7 minutes in, my mouth was hanging open, and I was thinking "How could I have totally misjudged something so terribly." It actually kind of disturbed me, and taught me a valuable lesson, which is when approaching something new, to try to drop all of your preconceived notions about what makes something "good" and try to be as open as possible. This is of course easier said than done, but I still try to live by this rule.

The first thing that really stuck me about De Staat was the "orchestra" itself. It is highly unusual - and Andriessen wrote so many works with similar orchestras, that "Andriessen bands" have now begun cropping up across Europe. The orchestra for De Staat is:

4 Women's Voices
4 Oboes
4 Trumpets in C
4 Horns in F
4 Trombones
2 Electric Guitars
Electric Bass Guitar (6-string)
2 Harps
2 Pianos
4 Violas

Furthermore, the whole orchestra and voices were miced and mixed (as in amplified with microphones, etc and mixed by a sound engineer through a mixing board), more like a rock band would be than a classical ensemble. The text excerpts that Andriessen used are from Plato's Republic, which consist of dialogues between a teacher and a student learning about music and how those concepts relate to Greek society (and contemporary society as well).

I will post an excerpt from the piece below, as the entire work is about 36 minutes long. One of my absolute favorite parts begins at 5:46 in the excerpt. It's some of the most dynamic brass writing I've ever heard, and I always wondered how many rehearsals it must have taken to get that tight. Another technique Andriessen used is antiphonal placement of the brass, which hearkens back to the 16th century, when Andrea and Giovanni Gabrielli would place multiple brass groups on the north, south, east and west sides of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy. The parishioners would have sound coming at them from different places at different times, or sometimes all at once. It was the worlds first form of surround sound.

Andriessen has followed this tradition by splitting the brass into 2 groups and placing them on the far right and left of the stage, stereophonically. It's difficult to hear in the recording (although it's a little easier to hear with headphones on), but at the 5:46 mark in the excerpt, he really uses it well. Live, you would hear the brass shooting back and forth from left to right to left, etc very fast. I've unfortunately never seen the piece live, but it must be striking to hear.



This is actually two different CDs, but they both came out at about the same time, and I discovered them both at the same time. All of these pieces were favorites of mine before I ever heard of Paul Galbraith. When I first saw the CD, and the picture of this guy playing a funky looking 8-string classical guitar, slung over his left shoulder like a cello and sporting an end-pin (also like a cello) that was sitting on top of a big resonator box on the floor, I was like WTF?!?

Galbraith's approach to guitar playing is totally and utterly unique. Where he got the idea to have such a guitar built, and also the idea to completely reject and re-invent classical guitar technique I have no idea. But, it all worked, and worked incredibly.

Because of his increased range (his guitar has one extra high string and one extra low string), he could play the Bach pieces as they were intended to be played. What I mean by this is, as guitarists, we constantly have to bring bass notes up an octave from where Bach wrote them, because our modern guitars simply don't have the range that the lutes of Bach's day did. Hearing Galbraith's versions in the original octaves and his incredible ornamentation skills really put these pieces in a new light for me, and expanded in my mind what was possible with the guitar. Galbraith's design for his 8-string guitar inspired my own design for my 8-string electric guitar.

I'm going to post the entire Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 below. This is one of the greatest pieces by Bach, period, hands down, for any instrument or combination of instruments in my opinion. It also contains one of Bach's greatest fugues, period. It's sad that these pieces are little known outside of the classical guitar world, simply because they don't exist in any other forms like many of the violin sonatas and partitas do for example. I should mention that this piece is starting to come to the attention of more keyboard players with the re-discovery of the lautenwerk, a lute-harpsichord that was played by Bach, and many believe he really wrote all of his lute suites for this instrument and not for the lute itself. For a very long time, people knew about the lautenwerk from books, but not a single instrument survived to the present day, so it wasn't until very recently that a few harpsichord makers actually started to re-create lautenwerks based on descriptions from baroque sources. There's actually a fantastic recording of the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro on the lautenwerk on the Naxos label by keyboardist Elizabeth Farr.



I first heard OK Computer at a party in Indiana. I had heard of Radiohead, and their early "hits", like Creep, which I liked, but wasn't knocked out by or anything. After kind of hearing OK Computer in the background during the party, and catching bits of it here and there, I asked the guy hosting the party if he would mind playing the CD again. No one seemed to mind, so he did and I really listened the second time around.

I was amazed by the variety in the album, and the complexity of the song writing, but at the same time how incredibly unified every song was. And despite the great variety among songs, the album seemed incredibly unified as a whole. From here I started to check out more of their albums (at this time Anmesiac has just come out). Radiohead seemed to be able to take huge risks in re-inventing themselves with every album, yet managed to produce something that was at least as good as their previous effort, and still come out sounding like themselves - a feat that they continue to pull off to this day.

I can tell you, from a composers perspective, this is the ultimate achievement in creating music - creating a sound that is all your own, while being so ingrained in that sound, you can branch out and experiment while maintaining the integrity of it all. These guys are, to me, every bit as genius as any classical music composer ever was.



A few years later, I was full on into studying early music, and just starting my renaissance lute study with Nigel North at Indiana University. I don't remember how I found this CD - all I remember is how blown away by it I was. I guess I was expecting to hear something like chant, or even something like renaissance church music that you'd expect - something like Palestrina I guess. This was a sound that I totally didn't expect - that I'd never heard. It was like something from another planet to me when I first heard it. I had no idea that music like this ever existed.

I should get into the history of it a little bit so you can understand. Perotin lived in France around the year 1200, and worked in the then recently completed Notre Dame cathedral. All we know of him comes from what are essentially class notes, taken by a music student there a generation after Perotin's death, from a student only known to us as "Anonymous IV". Anonymous IV referred to him as Perotin the Great, and as the best composer of discant, which was an early form of polyphony. The reason I had never heard anything like this is because in later centuries, as the renaissance grew, this kind of polyphony was deemed "archaic", and was strictly forbidden, ensuring that Perotin and his music would be lost to time for about 6 or 7 hundred years (until re-discovered in the 20th century).

Perotin's music has had a HUGE impact on me as a composer, and I have used his polyphonic and contrapuntal principles in my own music. I look to Perotin as a teacher of counterpoint more than I look to Bach, and that's saying something for any composer. I can only imagine what this music must have sounded like in the massive, reverberated, cavernous space of Notre Dame. It must have sounded truly like music worthy of praising God. Listen for the incredible 2-1 suspension at 9:27 - gives me chills every time.



Around the same time, my friend Rafael Hernandez was introduced to Meshuggah through one of his students, and he introduced it to me, knowing it might be something I would like. Even though I've been a long time fan of metal, I hadn't discovered anything new that really blew my socks off in probably ten years or more, so I wasn't expecting a whole lot. But again, as with every other album on this list, it simply blew my mind.

Meshuggah is part of a new wave of metal coming from the Nordic countries - in Meshuggah's case, Sweden. They're breathing new life and vigor into the genre, and for me, Meshuggah is the best of the lot. You have to think of this music as almost exclusively rhythm - like a tribal drum ensemble or something. I have never heard such complex rhythm in any kind of popular music as with Meshuggah. The odd meters and complex poly-rhythmic patterns are mind bending - and I think the drummer is super human - hehe. The guitar soloing style is also really unique for metal. It's more akin to jazz fusion a la Allan Holdsworth than anything in rock or metal guitar.

I also feel I need to say something about the "cookie monster" vocals - lol. Many people dismiss these vocals as merely some guy screaming, with the tone of the voice immediately conjuring feelings of screaming out in pain, or anger. I would ask you though, if you were going to invent a vocal style that would match the tone and timbre of the heavily rhythmic and distorted guitars, what would you do? This is essentially what vocalist Jens Kidman has done, and rhythmically speaking, his vocal delivery is right in step with the complex rhythms of the band around him - almost very close to rap at times in terms of rhythmic placement of syllables.

Meshuggah continue to put out great albums, my favorite being Catch 33. But, Nothing was where I started with them, and I still love it.


Monday, March 02, 2009

15 albums that changed your life (6-10)


After I graduated high school in 1991, I entered the University of Houston studying Communications, with a secret desire to study music. My first semester, I took one of my arts electives and signed up for a music class. It was kind of an informal music history class for non-music majors. By this time I was getting more and more interested in classical music, and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. I was listening to the classics at home and even reading music history texts for "fun" - lol. I was also starting to teach myself how to read and write music at this time.

During the first day of class - the FIRST DAY - the professor played us the 4th movement of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. I never expected to hear anything like this on the first day of class. I think this was the first piece of classical music written in the 20th century that I ever heard. I was totally and completely blown away by it. It had everything I loved about music at that time - the power and intensity of the metal, the depth and complexity of prog, and so, so much more. It kind of opened my eyes to what was possible and set me on the path to becoming a composer. This was definitely a big one for me.



Around the same time, I discovered the Kronos Quartet album Black Angels in kind of a round-about way. I was listening to the then new Faith No More album Angel Dust, and there was a song on there called Malpractice. Even though this was a pretty hard core metal tune, there were samples you could hear towards the end of a string quartet woven into the fabric of the music. I thought this sounded awesome, and I was pretty sure it wasn't anything that Faith No More had written, so I went into the liner notes and discovered that the samples were taken from this Kronos album, from a piece by someone named Schostakovich.

It turned out to be Dmitri Schostakovich's String Quartet #8, which was the last piece on this album of music for string quartet. Also, Kronos had included probably my first introduction to "early" music - the 40 voice motet Spem in Alium of Thomas Tallis. Also the title cut Black Angels by George Crumb scared the shit out of me :)

The String Quartet #8 was incredible - especially when I realized this guy was writing heavy metal music years before heavy metal was supposedly birthed by Black Sabbath. And this music was ten times more intense than any heavy metal album I had ever heard. I was also really fascinated by Schotakovich's use of his initials D.S.C.H (translated into notes as D-E flat-C-B) as the main musical motive (I was unaware at this time that this was a tradition started by Bach, where Bach had used his own name B.A.C.H (B flat-A-C-B) as a musical motive in many of his works).

Schostakovich wrote in his memoirs this, about the affect the piece had on him as he was composing it: "The psuedo-tragedy of this quartet is such that, while I was composing it, the tears just kept streaming down like urine after a half-dozen beers." Wow.



In 1993, I was working at Blockbuster Music, the now non-existent record store that was started by Blockbuster Video in the early '90s. I worked with this guy named Mitch Davis, who at the time must have been around 30 years old - I was maybe 20 at the time. Mitch was from one of the inner city Houston neighborhoods, sported a huge afro, and was one of the coolest and smartest dudes I have ever met. The guy had no formal music education, but knew more about music than most music professors I've known over the years. He was especially knowledgeable about jazz, soul, funk and rap/hip-hop, and as I knew next to nothing about any of these genres at the time, he was truly one of my first professors of music, and I really looked up to him. I learned from Mitch many, many things, but most importantly that you didn't need a degree in music to really know music.

One of the albums that Mitch introduced me to was The Chronic by Dr. Dre. Hearing Mitch talk intelligently about rap, and how this album represented real frustrations and issues that existed in the ghettos opened my eyes to rap as serious American art. It was a world that was totally foreign to me, but one that Mitch grew up in. He introduced me to many other great artists - Miles Davis and John Coltrane - Erykah Badu and Me'Shell Ndegeocello - and many others. But I think The Chronic had the biggest impact on me. I have no idea what ever happened to Mitch, but I hope I can re-connect with him someday.

AUDIO: DR. DRE - A NIGGA WITTA GUN (small warning - probably don't want the kids to hear this one)


Probably about a year later, while still working at the record store, my musical curiosity was in full bloom. Blockbuster Music's gimmick was that you could come into the store a literally pull any CD off the shelf, bring it to the "listening station" and listen to it. I was taking full advantage of this and devouring music on a daily basis. I kept hearing things about Frank Zappa, and I would see his records all the time in the store, but I hadn't ventured there yet - not sure what was holding me back. Finally, my curiosity gave way, and I picked up one random album and brought it up to the listening booth, where I believe Mitch opened and played the CD for me.

I was sitting there with my headphones on when the first track Peaches En Regalia came on. From the first ten seconds I was like "What the hell IS this???" - but in a good way - lol. It was another one of those moments when I was completely blown away by a sound I'd never heard before. It was like rock and classical and jazz and something unnameably weird all rolled into one. After listening to the first track, I remember looking at Mitch with a stunned look on my face, uttering an expletive, and knowing that I would be a Zappa fan from then on. Mitch just smiled back at me with a look on his face that said "I knew you'd like that." The rest of the album was just as strange and wonderful, and Zappa's guitar soloing style is utterly unique - no one else sounds like he does.

I would later discover many great Zappa albums, including Apostrophe and One Size Fits All, which contains the song Inca Roads that I based my own piece Hommage a Frank Zappa on. Even later I would keep discovering music from this genius - classical music albums like The Yellow Shark and Civilization, Phase Three.



I think just before I went off to music school in 1996, I discovered Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich. I was listening to more and more classical music at the time, and was going through every album by the Kronos Quartet I could find. I initially picked this one up because one of the pieces, Different Trains, was performed by Kronos. The other piece on the CD Electric Counterpoint was performed by the jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. I had heard of Metheny, but had never heard any of his music at this time. I had no idea what to expect of this piece - a piece of classical music for electric guitar?? And not just for electric guitar, but 13 electric guitars all layered on top of each other.

This was my first introduction to "minimalist" music, and the rhythms and harmonies were so close to the music I was already used to, I immediately identified with it. I thought the sound of all those guitars woven together like threads in a tapestry was fascinating, and I loved the groove of the third movement. This is the piece that made me realize that classical music and pop/rock music didn't have to be these two completely separated worlds. They could co-exist together. I have since performed this piece myself, and I love it to death. Steve Reich has also become one of my favorite composers, period.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

15 albums that changed your life (1-5)

There's been a "note" going around Facebook for a few months now that contains the following tag line:

"Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dig into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Literally socked you in the gut. Then when you finish, tag 15 others (or more!), including moi. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill."

I thought instead of doing it as a Facebook note, I would do it as a more extensive blog. As with many of my other musician friends that have done this on Facebook, I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I found it near impossible to narrow the list down to a mere 15, so many fine albums have been left out, but the thing is to present 15, so I have. I have also done my best to put these in some kind of auto-biographical order.

1) VAN HALEN - 1984

Van Halen's 1984 was absolutely the first album to make a real musical impact on me. I was 11 years old when the album was released, and I still remember seeing the record at Sears, where my father worked at the time.

Everyone was of course in love with this album at the time - it was beyond huge. For me though, I was just captivated by Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing. I also clearly remember listening to the tape on my Walkman in my Dad's chair at home one afternoon, and Hot for Teacher came on. I remember listening to Eddie's opening solo, and thinking to myself, "I want to be able to play that." It was in that moment that I decided to learn how to play the guitar.



I was in 8th grade at Dueitt Middle School when the Beastie Boys first album, Licensed to Ill was released. I was the perfect age, and had the perfect mix of raging hormones for this album to make an impact on me. On top of that, this was my first concert ever. I saw the Beasties during the Spring of my 8th grade year at the Summit in Houston, which I find totally incomprehensible that this place that I saw the Beastie boys, and later, Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, Ozzy Osbourne, and even Andrew "Dice" Clay, is now the nations largest mega-church.

Anyway, the Beastie Boys mix of juvenile rap and metal set the tone for my high school years as an aspiring metal punk. I think I started to appreciate the rhythmic intricacies of rap and also opened the door for metal to invade my life, which I believe opened the door for classical music to invade my life. There has even been a study to prove this fact - read about it HERE.

VIDEO: FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PARTY (embedding was disabled - WTH??)


Around the same time that I discovered the Beastie boys, I also discovered Ozzy Osbourne, and possibly even just as importantly, his guitarist Randy Rhoads.

For me, there wasn't a bad song on this whole album, and I still think the guitar solo for Mr. Crowley is one of the greatest rock guitar solos ever. Also, probably the first "classical" guitar piece I ever heard was Randy's Dee - a piece for solo classical guitar that he composed in hommage to his mother, who apparently taught him everything he knew about music. The fact that he had this beautiful little piece, probably showed it to Ozzy one day, and despite Ozzy making a dark metal album, was like, "That's f*#c@n great man, let's put it on the album!" makes me love this record even more. I looked at Randy Rhoads as a model when I was in high school. This guy, who was a great player, but also a great musician who studied music, knew music theory, and studied other disciplines of guitar playing. He was the closest thing to a music scholar that I had found at the time, and I still respect the hell out of the guy.

VIDEO: MR. CROWLEY (I love how Ozzy just kind of stands there at the end looking sort of amused and confused - hilarious)


When I was a freshman in high school, I discovered Moving Pictures when I heard Tom Sawyer on the radio for the first time. This was my first introduction to "progressive" rock, or prog-rock. Even though Moving Pictures is one of Rush's most straight forward rock albums, it introduced me to the genre and to Rush's music. Through Rush, I was introduced to more advanced musical concepts that I would take with me into my study and creation of classical music. Things like odd time signatures (like the 7/8 time used in Tom Sawyer for example), to extended, almost opera-like musical forms (as in their concept album, 2112), to their use of unusual (for rock music) intervals, such as the prominent tri-tone in YYZ (not to mention the use of the morse code for yyz as the opening rhythm), to their thoughtful virtuosity. Even Neil Peart's live drum solo from the same period introduced me to many kinds of orchestral percussion that I had never seen before. I branched out from Rush into a whole list of other prog-rock bands, including Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Dream Theater to name a few, but Rush was always my favorite.



Around 1988 when And Justice for All came out, I would look forward to Saturday night all week for one reason - Headbanger's Ball on MTV. I had just started to take interest in this kind of music, and had just started watching Headbanger's Ball when one Saturday, I caught the world premier of Metallica's first music video for their song One. I had of course heard of Metallica before, but never gave them much thought, because that was stoner music - not something I would be interested in. But, I watched the video all the same, and I was simply blown away by it. I had never seen or heard anything like it. It was totally raw and powerful to me. Seeing their intensity while playing, Lars Ulrich's facial expressions looked like he was going medieval on his drum set, and the sheer virtuosity of James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett on their guitars. I mean, say what you will about heavy metal music, whether you love it or hate it, but no one can deny that these guys can f*$@ing play their instruments.

The songs on And Justice for All also brought me one step closer to discovering classical music. They were of epic length and complexity, and filled with new ideas and nuance that I would discover with every listen. From here I would go back and discover their absolute masterpiece Master of Puppets, but this is where I started with Metallica, and I still love this album.


Tune in tomorrow for albums 6-10!!!