July 12th, 2016Current Mood: Sneaker Pimps, 6 Underground
Sometimes I am shocked that a week has passed. I'll teach a student, and then later that day think about things I need to accomplish that week. Before I know it, I'm having another lesson with the same student, and I'm reminded that the week is over, and I might be in exactly the same position as the week before. And then it happens again.
Roger Reynolds once lectured to some students, myself included, that most people do not do what they think they do with their time. He advised us to experiment for one week by keeping a journal, and tediously recording all of our activities for seven days. At the end of a week, we could look back and examine how we passed the time.
It's important to step back and consider how your time is being spent. If all that matters is today, then we should do our best to avoid doing things that we think are urgent, things we do not feel are that important to us. You don't want to run out of time.
I hear a lot of similarity between Alessia Cara and Portishead.
July 1st, 2016A friend of mine showed me a fretless electric bass that he made himself. Parts of it, like the neck, were built from a gorgeous light colored wood that had several marks in it, that looked to me like freckles. The back of the neck had emerald markers in the shape of sharks. The pickup was custom. The entire instrument seemed so unique that way. It made me think about the customizability of instruments, and how that allows musicians extremely personalized avenues of expressivity.
The guitar family is a great example. Many guitarists build their own custom guitars, deciding on what kind of pickup to use, the shape of the guitar, the wood, the strings, and other factors. Some players go even further and design hybrid guitars that have more than six strings. Bear in mind that these guitarists also have the option of setting their own custom tuning for their instruments, and many do just that! There are players who have no competition because they are the only one who can perform on their specific instrument. It's an incredible union, absolute uniqueness, allowing a musician to explore new ways of expressing themselves, and pushing forward the tradition.
June 17th, 2016There has never been a society discovered without a history of music.
I treat sounds like possessions. When I compose, the combination of harmony and rhythms I select reminds me of the culture of body modification and adornment, the way people select different artistic styles to implant or tattoo onto their skin as representation of who they are. Jimmy has the dragon tattoo on his arm. Alicia has the septum and tragus piercings. Dani makes glitch music.
There is so much layered into a composition. An entire lifetime of musical study plays a role in the decisions made during the writing process. Maintaining a consistent composition regiment will invariably give the composer greater experience, and his music will evolve and (in theory) improve over time. The composer is arranging sounds that have a personal meaning or significance to him, and assembling them in an order to create audible decorations for the passage of time. The listeners all travel through time together and experience an individual's perspective, a personal expression that the composer meticulously constructed having exhausted several other possibilities that the listener does not hear.
I began another composition yesterday as a form of therapy. Sometimes the act of creation is the most logical outlet for overwhelming emotions. The resultant creation is a historical artifact of one's life that will always represent that moment in time. Which is why listening to music sometimes feels like time travel.
June 8th, 2016This month has been very busy. I have 36 students now, 6 gigs this month, and my EP mixes are complete and ready to be sent out! It is important to avoid overexertion.
I recently saw a video that was urging young people to stop attempting to follow their passions, because by doing so they might miss out on many wonderful opportunities, and they might not have the skills necessary to fulfill their dreams. Although I can understand and appreciate the warning of that message, that is, do not allow one's passions to blind one of great opportunities, I still feel that taking an opportunity for the sake of it being an opportunity might ultimately not be in the best interest of the individual in the long term. If we are considering a person's self-worth, we must presume the individual cares to secure a living doing something that grants her satisfaction. That doesn't mean that the work must perfectly align with the passion, but it must contribute in some way to the person's attainment of that passion, and provide a sense of worth to the individual.
I think when people are underemployed or misemployed, they perform poorly at work and feel little self-worth from the hours they sacrifice earning someone else good wages. A lot of people find themselves underemployed or misemployed because they seized an easy opportunity which was presented to them. I think those who follow their interests into the workforce might also find themselves underemployed at some points in their career, but at least they are unlikely to be misemployed.
With the world being so interconnected, the global markets trade without limits, social media reaches the farthest corners of the planet, it seems like a new generation has embraced the possibility of pursuing passion by focusing on niche products and niche markets. Whether that be specialty goods, archaic knowledge, or a unique style, the buyers are waiting, and even searching for you.
So yes, follow your passion. And be very very good at it. Be unlike anyone else. Study it and continue to improve at it for your whole life. Others will take note.
May 30th, 2016What a nice day.
Should that have ended with a question mark?
I was practicing this morning for some upcoming shows. I took a walk after that. And then I felt hungry for new music to hear. I've been browsing SoundCloud and YouTube using the power of the hashtag to find sounds with key words of great interest to me. Glitch. Piano. Ambient. It's amazing where the metaverse of music of today. There is a lot of amazing content out there, buried beneath layers of web code, and outshined by heavily promoted major artists.
Today's happiest discovery was the track "Missing Screws" by Melopsych.
The inspiration from that music fills me with determination and drive. Time for work.
May 30th, 2016La Cita Bar
336 S. Hill Street
Los Angeles, 90013
May 24th, 2016My tracks are in the very last stages of mixing. Dux and I have gone through four mixes already, and now that we're approaching our fifth mixes, everything is sounding incredibly clean and full.
Right now, I'm checking for any last discrepancies or issues with the mix.04 tracks. It's great listening to a track and deciding, "It's ready for release." I was listening on my Yamaha HS8s, comparing with my Beyer Dynamic Pro headphones, also to my Beats Executive headphones, apple headphones, and car stereo.
At this point, we're looking at a June release for the EP.
May 11th, 2016I was talking with Vardan today during our lesson. I was saying to him that in music, I like to create expectations for the listener, through repetition or sequencing, and then disturb the listener by denying them that expectation. The feeling of surprise that overtakes the listener is simultaneously shocking and exciting.
The listener cannot possibly know ahead of time what a composition's structure will be. They rely on their first experience listening to determine how the piece develops. As they hear patterns, the brain makes expectations. Certain chords should happen here and there. The first wave of surprise at a substation or alteration forces the listener to stand guard, suspecting more surprises to come. But when? And how? The listener becomes tense with anticipation, not knowing when the next surprise will appear.
I think there is joy in that. That's what makes the music interesting. It leaves things to be desired; questions to be answered.
May 6th, 2016I had a very productive session with Dux yesterday. He has helped me to modify my innocent tracks that held potential into polished works ready for distribution. I'm looking forward to a wis release. If CD Baby works quickly, the music will be available this month.
If I have to choose between exploring a musical path where I pursue the calling of a jazz pianist, or the calling of a solo electro-acoustic artist, which one makes more sense? They both interest me. Does a decision need to be made? I suppose in a manner of speaking, in terms of day to day work focus, there are only so many hours in a day, and therefore, pick something. Do this or that.
I was at a jam session a few weeks back at the Blue Whale. My main reason for going is to remind myself of the growth available. I love hearing the other pianists who have such diverse skills in exploring that music. I always leave very inspired to practice. At this particular session, I remember playing a few tunes I didn't know (I read them off of someone's iPhone). We ended with a blues.
I left Little Tokyo thinking, I should probably make time to work on some Blues things. And then I thought about the time I've been spending developing new ambient, glitch, downtempo electronic music, layered with pretty harmonies, on top of which I'm working out ways to improvise. It seems clear to me that at this point in my career, the electro-acoustic path is my most important (and personally satisfying).
The other huge advantage of focusing on solo electro-acoustic music at the moment is that I can rely on myself. Hiring a drummer, bassist, and horn players is not free. And scheduling between 2-5 players is difficult. Also, paying gigs in LA.
Does that make sense?
What till you hear what I've made.
It's off to a jam session at USC now.
April 19th, 2016This week's musical focal point has been mixing in Ableton Live. I'm taking rough tracks that are close to completion, and isolating every sound. That means every hiss, every buzz, every hit-hat hit, and every synth. I look at the frequencies across the spectrum with one of Live's tools, and look for appropriate ranges for each sound. It's like finding a sonic 'home' for the noises. Then I color code everything by category (lows/basses/kicks, snares/hats/percussion/, synths). It's so organized; it's relaxing to observe.
Meanwhile, I'm working on laying behind the beat as an improvising strategy. It is difficult to master because one must avoid being too much behind the beat, and thus, late. I suppose the appeal of this tactic is that it gives the performer more of an edgy, organic sound, versus a rhythmically quantized even stream of sounds.
I'm reading "The Sixth Extinction." It's incredible. Surveying the geological epochs before studying the current Anthropocene, Elizabeth Kolbert reveals devastating predictions scientists are making for our future. A great companion to "The Doomsday Book" by Gordon Rattray Taylor.
Earth Day is Friday. Do something good for the planet that day. Don't contribute to pollution or other destructive acts.
April 16th, 2016This week I had a lesson with Thavius Beck for Ableton Live, and with Vardan Ovsepian for piano. The focus in both cases were my compositions. I've gotten more comfortable with the idea of putting all of my ideas and musical skills into one outlet. My current focus is to compose detailed electronic music, ambient with rich harmonic design, that provides a space for me to improvise on piano (and other keyboard instruments).
Putting forward the effort to improve myself and my music in clear and goal oriented ways gives me great comfort, and convinces me that my work can make a difference. As I discover more about the state of the earth and the environmental disasters that are caused by corporate negligence and bribed policy makers, I become all the more determined to alter my lifestyle in ways that defy the economic goals of those business giants.
Don't forget to check out my artist page, which has more detail on how to alter your lifestyle to implement change:
The EP will be done soon (just finalizing some tracks with Dux), yet I've already begun working on the next one. It will be even better than the current one. Starting lessons again is pushing me to critically explore every element in my music. I want every sound to have a purpose, no wasted materials, noises carefully crafted, every chord conveying the gravity of my concerns, every note communicating hope of unlocking ideas that wait just beyond our scope of perception.
April 6th, 2016I like pondering the future trends of music when I explore new artists and see live music. No one really knows or has any way of truly knowing what will come. As a musician with a background and love for jazz, I sometimes worry about how I will be able to explore that style in my music in way that is relevant as years go by.
In 2012, I started writing my Thesis about glitch and jazz for my MFA. It was about the under-explored musical atmosphere created when acoustic instruments are combined with glitch. Not only that, but I was interested in systems of music that also incorporated improvisation, alongside the glitch. Looking back, I think I was just scratching the surface, and did not fully grasp what potential that music contained.
Later in the fall of 2013, I discovered a Sweedish composer who made an album called Sknail: Glitch Jazz. I emailed him to tell him how much I loved his work, and he sent me some free music plus autographs. It was wonderful hearing that music actually getting explored, and even praised by critics. Perhaps there is a future for jazz in glitch?
Late last year, I discovered Tennyson. And I'm now beginning my binge. (Typically, when I really begin enjoying an artist, I binge on their work for weeks, sometimes months.) Tennyson is a young duo project from Canada, with influences like Flying Lotus and Lapalux. The two are brother and sister, Luke and Tess Pretty. Before they were 12, they had already released a few jazz albums. I'm not kidding. They're jazz players. Luke decided to combine his love for jazz with his love (and talent) in producing electronic music, and to bring his sister on board to to drums and percussion.
I can't fully express how this music moves me. The elements of jazz (to me) are present. I hear the rich chords, the advanced progressions, and of course, the synth lead solos (and sometimes piano solos!). It's amazing. And what's more, is that this project is very well received. They are not just some obscure weird electronic/jazz project. They are well respected serious contender in the realm of electronic music.
It gives me hope for the jazz musicians who are dabbling more with electronic music. The future could turn ugly with lots of very simple beats dominating the market, and a few cheesy hooks capturing the attention of the masses. Or, just maybe, all of the talented would-be jazz heads will start migrating into electronica, and our music market will one day be saturated with multi-talented producer/improviser/instrumentalists who have carved out a new habitat, one that is respected and cherished.
April 5th, 2016I performed last week in Venice, promoting my upcoming EP, Syrxio. It was a great experience, and gave me really good practical knowledge of things I need to do better next time. Loading the Live sets individually between songs takes too long, and leaves more silence than I'd like. I'll have to prepare a massive Live set, with most tracks compiled into single tracks, leaving only a few MIDI tracks working as live instruments for me to toggle through. the cue track I made was very helpful, but I kept the volume too low, and my headphones kept coming out. I'll need to invest in a pair that hook to the ear.
But it was so fun. I had so much of my stuff on stage. Two keyboards, a mixer controller, a pad controller, a laptop, audio interface, external hard drive, notebook, manuscript paper with music scribbled on, sunglasses, keys, an iPod, a folder, a little mirror, a TV dinner stand, business cards, and some whiskey. I had a blast, and felt inspired to pursue more shows like that.
True to what I vowed on syrx.io, I gave half of my earnings from that show to environmental activist orgs. In this case, I gave it to Boyan Slatt's Ocean Cleanup Project. Look it up.
March 30th, 2016I'm getting ready to perform a solo piano and electronics set tomorrow, promoting the EP's upcoming release. I've been trying to basically perform as much as I can for these tracks, as opposed to just letting the track play and sitting behind the keyboard waiting for sections. It's difficult arranging electronic parts for live performance. Nobody wants to create the impression that the performance is just a bunch of backing tracks. However, that happens to truthfully be the case regarding most electronic music. The trick is to find enough ways to perform elements live, that the experience becomes something worth watching.
By the way, I'm still at only 3 bags of trash for this year.
March 17th, 2016I went to see a show last week at the Blue Whale, mostly because of a pianist whom I wanted to see perform. I hadn't seen this particular musician for years, but knew of his great skill as a composer and performer. I won't mention his name.
The concert was fun, and had an awesome line-up of players. The compositions were impressive. The room was full.
The pianist played a lot of notes. Fast notes. Lots of ideas, and very little breathing room. I quickly got bored of his playing. I couldn't hear a sense of narrative through the improvisation. Everything felt so rushed. I dissatisfied. And it made me think about my own playing.
The content is so important. Every small idea that gets used as a building block should be treated as a carefully developed motif. I've learned that using space brings more drama than no space, and showing restraint is more of an indicator of musical maturity than showing no restraint. Those are some concepts I'm working to incorporate more into my playing.
I finished a couple of new arrangements that I will be trying out with my trio this weekend. Also, we'll see if I receive any noise complaints here at my studio. Hopefully not.
Also, my zero-waste living is going pretty well. On a day to day basis, I've gotten used to the changes I've made, but it still seems like I forget lots of things, like to remind fast food places not to include a plastic fork and napkin, or trying to explain to a student that I would prefer not to have bottled water. Still, this year, I've only taken out the trash 3 times, which I think is very impressive, compared to taking out the trash every 5 days or so before. This last batch was only half full. I had to take it out because it had non-vegan food stained styrofoam that was going to start growing things, had it been left for another few weeks. But normally, all of my vegan food scraps are taken to the nearest compost, and my garbage never has food, thus, no foul smells or moldy growths.
March 7th, 2016I was noticing that I struggle when playing piano at fast tempos. This, of course, is completely natural and very common, because it requires a lot of finesse to press small keys quickly while moving the hands laterally along a keyboard. I've studied a lot of harmony and (lately) melodic shapes, which I don't struggle with as much. However, in practice, the physical limits of my hands has been slowing down my ability to convey the ideas I hear in my head. This, most likely, is due to a lack of practicing stamina and mobility.
I used to think that practicing quickly for the sake of playing quickly was a sort of showy, vapid strategy. I've heard many musicians say that showiness and dazzling technique are nothing next to beautiful and moving content. It's the material that matters.
While that is true, it is also important to keep your hands in shape (musically speaking). I think this means practicing, to some extent, fast passages that repeat dozens of times, that tire out and ultimately strengthen your hands. I think I'll start with Schmitt, Op. 16, the Preparatory Exercises.
Like all things, balance is crucial.
February 24th, 2016My work on my EP has been moving along very well. Dux has been really killing it with the producer thing. I'm very glad to have gotten the chance to bring him on board.
Something I've learned from him is that special effects (like adding reverbs, delays, EQs, compressors, and all that colorful audio trickery) should be used sparingly. I think I had the tendency early on to put those effects on every track of every song, constantly trying to take the sound further and further away from its origin. But it turns out, the richest sounds to have in audio are usually not very manipulated. I've toned down the level of audio effects lately, trying to focus more on the quality of the original sound instead.
I think I may be seeing a release date in May for the EP.
February 16th, 2016I'm recovering from the flu. That should be the end of my entry for today.
I don't usually get the flu. Most often, its just a cold that makes me annoyed for a few days. The flu, though, takes me down. It gets me to call off of work, which I hate doing. It also takes away my appetite, which slows down the recovery process. Thankfully, it seems I am finishing recovery, having taking medicine like a smart chap, and spent the last four or five days sleeping extra. Hooray for sleep!
It's remarkable how often new tasks and chores pop up into my life that are seemingly urgent and pretend to demand my immediate attention. Those tasks will continue to appear, week after week, year after year, and I will always have those mundane unimportant tasks that just "need to get done." Which is why those should be treated as second priorities, or heck, last priorities, after all of the important and creative stuff that deals with personal growth and health. Yes, I see the stack of tax papers, and business expense write-offs that need to be catalogued, and the recycling bins are overflowing, and I need to register that warranty on that thing so I can send it in for a replacement, and other stuff too. But I need to be creative. So that comes first. Getting my artistry and vision out into a physical form is the first job. Tasks happen when and if there is time.
February 8th, 2016Last week, I was at the grocery store buying oatmeal. Wait, it gets good. I've been transitioning into a zero waste lifestyle, and learning how to adjust along the way. When I shop, I can't use plastic. I try to buy everything in bulk, if I can. So the oatmeal.
I went to Sprouts with my mason jars, and went to fill them up with oatmeal. I had done this routine once before: gotten the tare weight, had the cashier subtract the tare weight, and charge me just for the weight of the actual food. So I thought this time would be fine. But when I got to the counter, the woman told me, "I'll let you in on a little secret: You pay more for the food if its in jars. It's cheaper to use a bag." I responded, "I'm going to have you subtract the tare weight, so no, I won't pay extra." She asked me, "How will I do that?" I told her, "I can help you subtract the weight of the jar from the readout, or I can just calculate the cost myself." She put her hands up in surrender and said, "I don't know how to do that, I'll have to find a manager." So she got another associate to go fetch a manager, while she just waited there with me, as the line grew longer. We stood looking at each other, waiting for the manager. She goes, "It's really more trouble than it's worth." And I said, "I'm not going to use plastic."
When the manager came out, he just looked so annoyed; I guess I was causing everyone a huge inconvenience by reducing my plastic usage. I told him the tare weight, and I told him I calculated the price, and I told him how much he needed to take off of the total. This will sound ridiculous, but I was causing this scene over $1.50 of being overcharged. But I didn't care about paying that extra or getting that difference back. It was about getting the service at a grocery store that is supposedly all about green friendly products and the environment to just understand how to subtract tare weight. It was like nobody understood what it was, and that I was cheating the system some way. It was extremely frustrating. They still overcharged me in the end.
Next time, I'll bring a burlap sack.
I've pretty much gotten the swing of things for my current stage in the zero waste transition. I am still buying recyclable plastics. I take my food waste and other compostables to Pomona college when I'm in Claremont. The only landfill waste I make so far is floss, and also fruit stickers, and rubber bands on fruit. Haven't figured out a zero waste alternative yet. I might try silk floss or something. I also need to find the details about recycling different kinds of papers and such (like receipts).
I've been trying different pianos, and considering purchase more and more. I think the best move for myself is to purchase an "entry level" piano, around 7K, so get my studio on the market as a piano school. But ultimately, I'll want to trade it in for a handmade mid-tier instrument. I went back to Hollywood Pianos today because of all the pianos I've tried, the one that I kept thinking about was an Estonia six foot grand. I thought of it in higher regard that what I heard (for my price range) at Steinway (i.e. the Boston pianos). I tried out Yamaha's, and was shocked and embarrassed that somehow, I don't appreciate those pianos so much anymore. They are missing something to me, despite a younger version of me swearing I would someday own one. Now, I think I want the Estonia.
I went back today and they were wrapping it up. It had sold. They can order more, but I thought it was amusing that I felt heartbroken seeing them take it away. I suppose I should start saving for the downpayment.
February 3rd, 2016I had two fun gigs last week. A trio gig on Thursday, followed by a solo piano gig on Saturday. So much fun. I can't believe how much stuff I accomplished despite needing to also make time for practice.
I was nervous for the solo gig because I hadn't done solo since New Year's Eve, which I suppose is fairly recent, but this was a bit different. I was performing in a home, for a few guests in close proximity, so I felt my presence would be very substantial. I think the evening ended up being great, and I found a good mind set in which to stay focused.
Firstly, I played very little. I mean that in an improvisatory sense. Normally, when solo, I feel the need to fill the emptiness with more sound. But the opposite is more effective in reality. Leave the silence. It amplifies the music. Play less. The fewer the notes I played, the better they sounded.
Secondly, I did not allow myself to think of time passing. I had 2 sets to fill, but I didn't ever check the time. I sat and played thoughtfully, and waited until eventually the host came to me and asked me if I wanted a break, since I looked tired. I played 80 minutes non-stop. And then another 40 minutes after a break. It was a good performance.
January 28th, 2016I don't have much interest in purchasing an upright piano anymore. At this point, I feel its either a baby grand, or a grand (gasp!). The places I checked out both have trade in options in case I wanted to upgrade from a 10K piano to a 40K piano. Can you believe I'm talking about those numbers? Maybe I'll wait and get a green car first. We'll see.
Dux, the prodigious producer/keyboardist/engineer/designer has been demonstrating impressive skills during our sessions. I try my best to watch him work. Thing is: two things. 1) He works fast and 2) he works well. I mean that he has a depth of knowledge on so many tools. When he works he auditions ideas to experience the results before committing. For him, its about experimenting with educated guesses. He hears an idea, and implements three or four possible ways of enhancing the sound. It's magical.
Tomorrow's gig will be fun. I haven't played with the trio for a bit. We'll have the exceptional Will Logan subbing in on the drums. I've been preparing some party songs for Saturday's gig, and I think I'm just going to have the trio experiment on a few charts. I want to hear the band play Rihanna, Frank Ocean, and Radiohead tomorrow. It will be joyous. I really can't wait. I don't even want to fall asleep. I just want to play already.
January 21st, 2016I was very pleased with the music from the Revenant. I was initially surprised to learn that Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto were doing the score. I mean, I wrote my Master's thesis about those two! Experiencing their work on the big screen was very enjoyable.
I'm getting back to work on my Ableton music projects. After hearing the crispness of the electronics, and the depth and richness of good string part writing, I just want to capture those feelings with music. It's weird how we treat music that way. Someone was asking me why we like certain sounds. Composers, I mean. And I figured it had to do with self expression. So many indigenous people from around the world live in societies where body modification was a part of the culture, and an element of expression. Tattoos and piercings could be indicators of origin or beliefs, age, certain rights, and other traditions. Those modifications expressed ideas or beliefs or heritage of a person.
Music works in a similar way, especially for composers. When I hear a sound that I like, I want to own it. I want to use it to craft a musical experience, which really is just a decoration for the passage of time. I want to keep those sounds so that others will listen and experience what I did when I heard the sound. That sound will be a fingerprint. It will mean I was there. I left something behind.
January 14th, 2016Oops, I missed a week, or two. But at least I got everything moved and unpacked at my studio. I'm getting ready for a recital this weekend being held for one of my schools. I'll even play a little bit, too.
I started collaborating on a comic book series. It's mostly top secret stuff, so I can't tell you anything about it. In fact, I don't even know why I'm bringing it up. Other than it's super exciting and a nice new interest to pursue. I'm just contributing storyline.
I think my whole schedule needs to be revamped. A good 24-hour period once a week without work would be refreshing. I think I've been perhaps a tad too ambitious and allowed myself to fill most of my time with work and projects. Then again, the year has just barely begun. My sister turned twenty-two today.
I have all of these lists that I've been accumulating for years now. Some are lists of albums I should buy, others are lists of classical music pieces I should learn, some are lists of languages I should learn, others are lists of daily habits I should explore (like meditation and yoga). It's insane, I'm wondering now why I felt so compelled to make these tasks, and pile tasks on top of those tasks, and then bury those tasks under more. It's really crazy to see it from a fresh perspective. Maybe it was a way for me to visualize growth by assigning goals. I think what I missed was prioritizing. I often skipped over certain tasks (learn Hanon) because something was more important to me, although I never bothered writing down the important stuff, because I knew I had to do it. But maybe that's the way to go. Just wake up and do what is important. The to-do list is always going to be only secondary. There is only so much you can do in a day, which means only so much you can do in a week. That also means your monthly goals should be feasible and managed, which translates to a yearly goal that should be realistic. Do people even have yearly goals? I suppose so.
January 1st, 2016I've made the transition to a vegan diet. A lot of people have made comments about me already being too thin, but this diet isn't about losing weight. It's about being more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and efficient. In order to view myself as an environmentalist, I feel that the only appropriate diet is vegan. I have written a lot more about my thoughts on this and other matters, and soon enough they will be visible on my other site, syrx.io. But for today, its just this.
I feel like my biggest cravings are for taste. But that usually happens when I'm very hungry (which is more often then it should be because I'm a procrastinator and I put off eating for too long and it needs to change). Surprisingly, most of the vegan foods I discover satisfy me extremely well, and have amazing taste. The taste argument falls short, as far as I'm concerned.
I'm still unpacking and getting things organized in my new studio. I need to start cooking, which is a challenge for me because I somehow have this deep opposition to it. I know it's a mental thing; I just need to learn to view it as being just as important as (actually, way more important than) my music.
Speaking of, it's 4 pm, and I haven't eaten since 10 am. Bad start!
December 17th, 2015My car started driving funny. The engine light went off. Never a good sign. The mechanic checked it out and said the transmission is finished. I've put nearly 150,000 miles on the car, so I guess it needs a new one. It's just such an expensive replacement. And it got me thinking...
My car needs a new replacement...
But that will cost a lot of money...
And to make money I need to reach many clients...
In order to reach many clients I need to drive a bunch...
To drive a bunch I need a working transmission...
But that will cost a lot of money...
December 9th, 2015I've been thinking about getting an electric car lately. They are pretty pricy, but that's not my biggest deterrent. The mileage per charge is currently not very impressive. The majority of electric cars on the road have less than 100 miles per charge. That's fine for getting to and from work, and charging the car every night. But it becomes more of a challenge when you factor in traveling to Palm Desert, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, and further for gigs. My family is also quite the drive away.
When I was last at the dealership, the sale man told me that buying electric is going to be much more sensible in a few years, as the technology for longer lasting batteries hits the markets, and cars have 200-300 miles per charge. Thus, the thing to do at the moment: lease.
There are a lot of very affordable electric cars available for lease, most with a 36-month contract. That means you can examine the market in three years to see if the cars at that point have longer battery lives. I'm thinking this might be something I do. Keep my gas Chevy for long distance transport (plus the car is already paid off), and then lease an electric car to use to get around.
In terms of cutting back on carbon emissions, getting an electric car is a must. Surprisingly, even more important than that would be cutting out beef and pork from your diet (these animals take up so much land mass as livestock and produce more carbon emissions than the entire transportation sector!). But more on that topic another time.
December 5th, 2015I know I just blogged yesterday, but I wanted to post a goal. So it's out there.
I'm enjoying a delicious hard cider. And it's going to be the last one I buy for a while. I actually have accrued quite a nasty sum of credit card debt which I now want to eliminate. I think cutting out the purchase of alcohol is going to be quite difficult, but also a very strong motivator. Maybe I'll be out at a gig with band-members, and think about spending some cash on a drink. But my goal is to spend that money instead towards getting out of debt. I think the difference will add up fast.
So cheers to a long period of sobriety, and the slow but steady climb out of my debt hole!
December 3rd, 2015I donated to three different global food hunger charities today. I didn't think it would affect me much, but it did. I have extremely strong feelings about trying to stop the downward spiral of destructive practices that seem to dominate our world and are visibly driving us to a real danger as a society. Among the issues that needs to be addressed is global hunger. I often find myself feeling upset and helpless, because it seems that nothing can be done. It makes me so sad that this issue can end today, what with so many billionaires keeping their money locked away in banks, raking in profits from interest. The world could be feed many times over with the excess money and food we produce.
So we have to do something. I donated just a small amount to these charities, but that makes a difference. I did something. And I feel incredible for participating! I already do not eat beef or pork, because those animals require so much food and water to raise and that food should not be used to feed... food. It makes no sense to me.
Today I gave $30. 30 million people in CA alone. If Californians copied my donation, that's $900 million dollars. The US is 300 million. If every American did the same, that amounts to 9 billion bucks, towards ending hunger. So it can be done, if we all pitch in.
November 26th, 2015My first piano was a Kawaii baby grand. My father bought it when we lived in Georgia, and I was around seven or eight years old. It was black and boomy, with heavy keys. That was the instrument on which first developed a fondness for piano.
The piano then traveled to California, where it would become my own. Through high school I participated in the jazz program and practiced more and more at home. There came a point when I surpassed my father in musical ability, and he told me the piano belonged to me.
Years later my father bought our second piano. It was a Yamaha upright piano, purchased from a musician friend my dad knew. It was a fantastic instrument, with a brighter sound, and newer. We kept the upright by the front room, and the baby grand in the den. Good times.
Eventually, I needed to get some extra cash to pay for all of my applications to grad school, and my dad said we needed to do something about the baby grand because it took up a lot of space, and they were moving a lot. So we decided to sell it to an uncle, so I could use the money towards applications, and give the rest to my father. That left us with only the upright.
For most of my recent years, I have had only my keyboard, and sporadic access to random pianos (like at the university, or piano studios where I teach). These pianos range from steinway grand pianos to old hanky spinet pianos with broken keys. Sometimes the pianos are kind of gross, being victim to childrens' bodily oral excretions. And sometimes I get complaints because of practicing, depending on where I am and the time of day. But I think that all may change.
I have signed a lease and paid my deposit on a studio space, which I intend to use as my personal piano studio. The unit is its own building, at the back of a small lot, behind the other buildings, used as realtor's offices. Guys, it's its own building. This makes me think I will not likely be receiving sound complaints from neighbors who, in other circumstances, would be sharing a wall with me. I am looking forward to having freedom to practice, uninterrupted, at any time I choose. I'm especially excited about finding the piano that I want. It will be the first time in a decade that I had a real piano all to myself.
November 20th, 2015This will be a short entry.
My Ableton class was working on a cover of Daft Punk's famous "Get Lucky." We transposed the progression into E minor. It goes: Em, G, Bm, A. It's a simple progression. But I felt like adding some color to a break down section of the cover, so I modified the progression. The modified chords are: Em9, D/F#, Gmaj7, Gb/Bb, Bm7, Dmaj7, Asus, A. And for fun, I started composing a synth-bass solo over that progression. So much fun.
By the way, my trio released a track, "Abasi" on Soundcloud. Look us up. The trio is called "Conxux" (as in 'conscious').
November 13th, 2015Why do I respect great musicians? It has to do with pursuing common goals. And it has to do with sacrifice.
I respect all kinds of people. Especially hardworking and responsible people. I like to see people doing their job, and treating others nicely. I always do my job, and it upsets me when things go wrong because someone slacked. So what's so important about making music?
I'm not going to answer that.
But I will say that we have never discovered a society of humans without a history of music. It's part of what makes us human; music.
Musicians are craftsmen. They are practitioners of a craft. Yes, it's an art form too, but I like to think of it as a craft. It takes years of study to develop the skills necessary to make good music. Pretty much all of that time spent practicing is not paid for. It is all sacrifice. Let me repeat that. Every moment a musician spends practicing is sacrifice. That translates to years of sacrifice. What for? The pursuit of an idea. To better know oneself. To walk the path of the greats who came before us, and to understand at least a fragment of their journey. To contribute to the tradition. To leave behind a testament. We musicians make music because words cannot express what we feel.
November 4th, 2015We had a very successful recording session on Sunday. There were a few hours of technical mishaps and frustrations, but we finally started doing takes. It was very rough going in, getting tired, but somehow we managed to create something really nice and genuine. We were calling it quits for the day and took one last take, gearing up to come back another day, but that last take did it! Our sounds melded together, we were listening very carefully to one another. I'm very happy with that recording. We're cleaning it up, and I will guide you to it as soon as I can. Can't wait.
The trio also rehearsed a bunch of new compositions yesterday at AMP rehearsal in LA. These guys are great; they come in prepared so we can make the most of our time working together and practicing. It's so important to be as prepared as possible. The trio is really getting ready to unleash.
I will be subbing at BeatLab Academy this month. I'll be running a production session, a few lessons on live performance, and one on vocal recording. It's gonna be a blast!
October 31st, 2015Tomorrow is Samhain. You probably are thinking, "Wait a minute, don't you mean Halloween?" Well, it's also Halloween, but Halloween became a thing way later. Most of what we do on Halloween was borrowed from Samhain. And in the US especially during the early 20th century, it became a widely commercial festival involving buying costumes, dressing promiscuously, and the sales of millions of pounds of processed junk food candy. But it just used to be the midway point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.
I started feeling quite annoyed with the commercialism behind most holidays. Think about it: St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, Fourth Of July, Thanksgiving (seriously, the celebration of a genocide), and Christmas. It's become a thing now to buy buy buy on those days. To me, they don't really represent anything besides mass consumerism. Especially Christmas. And if you're not Christian, why partake?
Lately, I've become very interested in the annual cycle of seasonal festivals. These are days that fall on evenly spaced out dates throughout the year and they mark natural changes of the seasons. In other words, they represent the earth's organic natural cycles, which have a lot to do with where Earth is in relation to our star, and its tilt. To me, this seems like a much more genuine and important relationship to be conscious of.
There are eight Sabbats observed throughout the year. Two equinoxes, two solstices, and four cross-quarter days (midpoints). Look up the wheel of the year to learn more.
Samhain is special because it is also the Wiccan New Year.
October 21st, 2015What is it about solo performance music that I am drawn to? Simple: I have only to rely on myself.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy making music with others. Actually, that's usually more fun. But if I want to do something without any outside factors to consider, the only path is solo. I think that is part of the draw of EDM. A lot of these DJs learn how to do so much on their own. Sure, some of them aren't doing much, but a good number of them have explored lots of means of performance.
For my own solo works, I often consider how I would perform by myself. It's safe to say that the focus would be keyboard/piano. But also glitch effects. Probably to some extent sequenced glitch and drums patterns to keep rhythm. What would be interesting, though, would be to further explore some of the things from my thesis, namely score following and automatic triggers in Max/MSP. I sometimes use a grid controller, and a mixer controller. Yet the freedom to have Max do it all while reading a MIDI score, following my piano playing, allows me the opportunity to focus on my primary instrument.
I'm getting more interested in writing specifically with solo performance in mind. That means leaving some space in the music and considering how I would realize the material in real time. Finger drumming is a lot of fun, and setting up some loops, although I try to avoid too much repetition. I think the ingredient that needs to be revisited and explored the most (for me right now) is Max.
October 13th, 2015As the title suggests, I am trying my hand again with blues scales. These scales were among the very first things I learned as a piano player, because they made improvising less daunting. I could play these notes in any order, and not sound bad. But of course, its more complicated than that.
I haven't put much effort into revisiting the blues scales in years, mostly, I think, because I associate those scales with beginner tactics. This allegation couldn't be further from the truth.
My last lesson with Vardan was in September, and I had shown him a bunch of original compositions (mostly electronic music works) that had solo sections that vamped a few chords only. I had prepared some ideas that involved lots of chord substitutions and fancy slash chord arpeggios to show him. However, after listening and playing through the materials himself, he offered, "I think the focus here should be blues." And he played the blues over those changes like I didn't know.
I think my earliest approaches with the blues were very one dimensional, and revolved around played notes mostly directionally and locally (i.e. going up or down, and not much range). But to explore the combination of notes in that scale, expand the range, and add a few chromatic notes brings the music to an incredible and very impressive level. So, I'm trying to revisit the blues.
October 9th, 2015I went to a jam session in Temecula Wednesday night, at a bar called Pub 'N Grub. It was fantastic for a number of reasons.
Number 1) The caliber of musicians was very high. Apparently his jam has been going on for years, and thus, the musicians have grown with the music and as a group. There is a clear respect for the music and the improvisation, and a lot of reverence as well.
Secondly, there is a crowd that also has a deep respect and interest in the music. People are listening, and even coming up to the musicians to praise their performances. The entire assembly is like a family. A lot of these people know each other, and get together like a congregation, except its at a bar late at night and people are drinking and dancing. But its rare to find the combination of very serious musicians and a crowd that seriously listens.
This is something I'm trying to figure out. I realized pretty quickly that the vibe was a "smooth jazz" vibe. But what does that really mean? I wouldn't consider myself a scholar on this topic, but just out of my own curiosity I want to break this down and try to understand it.
The repertoire was very diverse. The band (myself sitting in included) played Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk, Gnarles Barkley, and also some old standards like Summertime and My Funny Valentine. The drummers were playing primarily hip-hop patterns, some R&B stuff, and funk. The bass player was the host and responsible for keeping everything locked together, so I think he wasn't trying to take lot of liberty in, say, exploring changes not on the charts, or 'playing out.' I mean, the goal was a tight and locked together sound. "In the pocket." Very polished. The bass player asked me what I can play, and I told him 'mostly jazz.' He said, 'this isn't really the room for that,' I think meaning that the crowd here wants to move and dance while we improvise, rather than just listening to a soloist shred on Donna Lee. So I just read some other charts on the spot, like the stuff I mentioned before.
My impression is that smooth jazz deals a lot with the drum groove and the bass player's materials, because those are the focal elements of rhythm. With a very structured/solid base, everyone else sort of just falls into place above that. Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.
But I do know that these players took the music seriously. They were so full of spirit with their playing. I went through high school and early college disparaging smooth jazz, like so many others. I mean, I think the reason it gets such a bad rep is because in a lot of ways (i.e. record sales) it outshines the other stuff, and people (musicians) get upset. My old teacher, Kamau, once told me that it really doesn't matter what genre you play. There's no war. There's just musicians trying to make a living, so why are you going to get on someone's case for trying to make a living doing any kind of music? That resonated with me.
October 5th, 2015Since I've moved to Claremont, I've seen lots of musicians playing on the street. You've probably seen them too. They're the two guys playing acoustic guitar and singing songs in front of the yogurt shop; or the dude playing sax to a track of September by Earth, Wind & Fire; or the guy with the banjo in front of the bank. There are people playing on the street every week (maybe every day).
I've been writing a lot more lately, especially with Ableton, in a sort of gearing up manner to prepare for solo performances. I love playing with other musicians, but I don't often have a budget to do so, and so, I'm starting to really consider ways of performing solo with all of my tricks. Playing on the street is something I've thought about.
Unfortunately, I don't play a portable instrument (and I'm not considering melodica). I'm only really interested in playing keyboards alongside laptop. This requires considerable setup and amplification. Because of the workload involved, I wanted to make sure I was going about this the right way.
I looked in to getting a permit in Claremont for entertainment. Turns out, that's really just something businesses need to purchase, but not individuals, or more specifically, "cafe musicians." Yes, that's the legal term here in California. But I could't find any details online about getting permission to play on the street.
Eventually, I called the local police department to inquire. A lady answered and asked what I needed, and I explained that I was curious about getting a permit or permission to perform. She put me on hold to find the answers. When she came back, she asked if I wanted to block off a street for a concert, and I said no. I just wanted to play on the street for tips. She said hold on, and put me on hold. Finally, she came back and said, "I've got some answers." Great. "Musicians are not allowed to perform on the street." What? You can't be serious. "If you see musicians playing on the street, you can contact the police department, and we'll send out a unit to make them stop." Fail.
I guess I won't be playing on the street. Perhaps, that's for the better.
September 26th, 2015I am going to change my name. I've made the decision, and I am going through the process now. I've already written up a letter describing why I'm doing so, where my new name comes form, and how you can help. Details are at this link:
I will have new domains, email addresses, and even social media sites (I know, wow). I'll try to make this transition as simple as possible for you, but just hang in there and follow me on this journey. Good things are coming. And I mean music. :)
September 14th, 2015My website has been down this past month, so I have not been able to keep regularly posting entires. My apologies for that. But I'm back, and I aim to keep my blog going. Now then, where were we?
I've been working on my solo electronic album lately, and I've even managed to get the attention of brilliant producer and keyboardist Jonah McLean, aka DUX. If you haven't heard of him, look up "itsduxmusic." When I take piano lessons, I feel pushed to work more, because I have somebody with expertise taking the time to evaluate my work, and I feel responsible. Having a producer to work with pushes me in the same manner. I'm actually now bringing in my electronic pieces to my piano lessons to examine how to improvise over them. I'm really enjoying the result. I'm looking forward to making some significant progress in the coming months.
I haven't heard very much electronic music with highly skilled improvising pianists. This is probably for a number of reasons. 1) Highly skilled improvising pianists probably find most of their work and study in jazz, and few jazz artists use electronics (as in laptops, sequencers, controllers, synths). 2) Most producers probably haven't been trained to be highly skilled improvisers on piano, and so they lack the ability to add that element, or even to account for that element. It's rare when I come across electronic music that satisfies me with excellent pianistic passages and beautiful, warm electronics.
August 3rd, 2015One of the most important and overlooked aspects of success in the music business appears to be branding. It seems much more common in pop, and especially electronic music, but not very apparent in jazz. For example, in pop music, you have artists with aliases or single-word names (Lady Gaga, Rihanna), and their music and image get packaged into an easily consumable idea. Electronic artists like deadmau5 even have brand logos, which seems to be a growing trend.
However, jazz artists do not tend to follow this path. For the most part, you have Brad Mehldau, and the Brad Mehldau Trio, or you have Gerald Clayton, and also the Gerald Clayton Quartet, etc. In some cases, you find groups like The Bad Plus, Fly, Kneebody, Snarky Puppy, and GoGo Penguin, who present their music as the work of a collective, rather than the presentation of a single person's vision. The branding in both cases is different.
I think as an artist, branding should be thought of as an effective means of promoting one's work. It must be challenging for Bill Evans, the saxophonist, and for Avishai Cohen, the trumpet player, because their names are often confused for other famous jazz musicians. That might be a case where an alias becomes a very important and useful branding tool. Perhaps we'll start seeing more jazz artists begin using aliases or identifying as a group collective rather than the brainchild of a single individual.
July 26th, 2015I've been teaching piano lessons since I was sixteen years old. It has been mostly an on-and-off gig for the majority of that time, until I graduated from school in 2013 and needed to work much more. Now I teach twenty-two students, most of whom are young children. After two years, I feel that I've learned so much and I have become a very good teacher, or so I've been told by parents.
In the beginning, I was very unsure of how to best help students improve their sight-reading and technique. I wasn't even very familiar with the best books for the kids. But after two years, I've gained so much confidence and insight into what challenges are the greatest for little ones learning piano. It's actually become very enjoyable working with kids, and seeing them make the right connections with the instrument. I especially admire the youngsters who behave quite seriously about learning the instrument, and always come in prepared. Nowadays, parents comment on how good I am at working with little kids, how patient and helpful I am, how quickly I address issues. I feel great pride in that.
I believe it is almost inevitable that musicians end up teaching, because so many people want to learn music. Once one is able to find pride in that work, life as a musician is simply fantastic! You either gig, compose, or teach, and all of it gives you joy. What a deal!
July 16th, 2015I bought all of the albums by Animals As Leaders. I've been playing that music non-stop for a couple weeks now, trying to get those sounds into my head. I generally obsess over a single artist for long periods, before moving on and consuming something else.
I had this idea that it would be nice to buy a new album every week. That amounts to about $40 a month on new music. During that week, I could just listen to new music all week, over and over, letting it sink in. It would be a great way to consume a large quantity of music. That's 52 new albums of music a year. It's the next best thing to studying.
July 10th, 2015I've been working on arrangements for solo piano lately. Most of the repertoire is standards, with a few modern favorites of mine. There is a great challenge in utilizing the piano to its fullest, to make the instrument sound like an ensemble. Whether its Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or Paranoid Android, the challenge is to negotiate eighty-eight keys and ten fingers in a way to get a full, rich sound. Sometimes this can be done playing stride piano. Sometimes it is accomplished with right hand chords with the melody as the top voice. But as of late, I have found playing three to four voices in two hands extremely effective, and very difficult. There are dozens of exercise books that focus on playing multiple voices in the hands for piano. The overall effect sounds as if two people are playing the instrument instead of one. Exemplary models of this include Mario Laginha and Brad Mehldau.
July 6th, 2015Getting to the studio and recording three times in the past five weeks has been very helpful and motivating. I'm listening back to the music which before I had only imagined, and now I can experience the real sounds reaching my ears. For me, very few things are more satisfying than that.
Our recent works are exploring the use of live electronics within the context of the jazz trio. I'm working through Ableton, using a Novation Launchpad to trigger electronic elements. I'm trying to avoid precomposing anything too rhythmic, because I'd rather have the trio perform as organically as possible, without having to wear headphones to hear a click, keeping them lined up with a click track. Instead, I'm composing more free-flowing electronic parts, that complement the trio, without competing for rhythmic dominance. There is something very beautiful in combining those acoustic and electronic sounds.
June 24th, 2015A long time ago, my brother showed me a trio called Animals As Leaders. The group is labeled as a metal band, but I hear great harmonic depth and musicality in their compositions. I think most of the material is written by the very talented guitarist Tosin Abasi. I was so inspired by his music, that I had started composing a piece for my trio in the same vein as his music. But I never completed the composition. I had assembled some motivic ideas, and even rehearsed them with the drummer, but nothing more.
Recently, I decided to sit down and complete the composition. Over time, the ideas have evolved, and have taken on new and unexpected forms. The piece still reflects a similar vein as the metal band. Having finished the composition, I am motivated to dig into my memory of unfinished works and give them life. The sense of accomplishment is great when I complete a piece. I'm calling this work Abasi.
June 11th, 2015Last weekend I performed at the Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale, Arizona, near Phoenix. Michael Sinatra got booked for the performance, and it just so happened that I was going to be in Tucson that weekend visiting my father. My dad ended up doing the gig with us, which was the first time in about six or seven years that we performed professionally together. It was a very fun experience.
Last night, I went to the Blue Whale jam session, hosted by the Monk Institute for the last time until Fall. There were few pianists in the crowd, so I played more than usual. For one of the songs, they called up Michael Mayo, along with his father. Michael said it was the first time the two ever shared the stage at the Whale. We played Beatrice.
Lately, I'm getting more studio dates with the trio, and finally getting our sound recorded. I feel especially motivated now to write because the fruits of that labor are now tangible and more viable than ever. It can be disheartening to work hard on a composition for an ensemble, to only end up with a mediocre recording of poor quality. Not having access to a good studio has been a factor in my motivation to focus on solo piano and electronic works. That focus may shift now that my trio has a means of recording.
May 27th, 2015One of my focuses lately has been on improving my skill as a melodic improviser. My teachers have pointed out to me that I tend to rely heavily on my left hand, the hand that colors the music with harmony and substitutions. But my right hand tends to be lacking in terms of sustaining a listeners interest and in navigating the changes alone. Lately, I've been trying to avoid using my left hand, forcing myself to evaluate the ideas my right hand explores, and causing me to be more selective in what I play.
One thing that I've noticed is that playing the "right" notes all of the time quickly becomes boring. By right notes I mean notes that fit the modality of a chord (i.e. notes that belong to the scale of the chord). There is some interesting patterns that can be explored in just a single scale, but the phrases get lost in a neutrality of harmonic variability, resulting in a sort of stasis that lacks vibrance. I think what I am discovering is that the key is dissonance. There must be dissonance that (in some way) leads to a satisfying consonance. The so called "wrong" notes are the ones the listener hears best, and those notes guide the motion of the soloist. The resolution that comes after a brief passage into a neighboring region is the most rewarding. I'm sure I have this information stored away in the recesses of my brain; some distant past music lesson analyzing Bach's use of dissonance, and others too.
It's simple but effective. Chords need not play a huge role in the left hand. With the right hand, outline a dominant seventh with a flat 9, instead of just C7. Throw in the major seventh on a D-7. If pedaling a major chord, drop down a semitone and outline the neighboring triad: D/Eb. Almost any chord can be substituted for a diminished 7th, and then resolved back to the expected harmony. Be sure to find your way back to the consonance though, unless that's not your thing.
May 20th, 2015This might seem like a silly topic, but I have recently became attuned to the magic of tuning drums. I have been working in Ableton on a handful of electronic works, probably best categorized in the ambient or IDM genre, but I don't care much for those labels. At first, I just picked drum sounds that had interesting timbres. Often, those were distorted or glitchy sounds. As of late, I took it one step further and started exploring pitch with percussion. I feel that my ability to hear pitches has only recently improved to a level where I can distinguish distinct pitches from cymbals, snares, and bass drums. What I have found is that when drums are tuned to a key that matches the rest of the work, they melt into the resulting soundscape like asteroids falling into the outer layers of a burning star. The way these sounds coalesce is beautiful. I advise all producers of electronic music to explore the benefits of establishing a harmonic symbiosis between drums and melodic instruments. Everything fits like clockwork.
May 11th, 2015I was at UC Santa Cruz last week, performing a work by my friend, Pablo Rubio Vargas. It was written for piano, violin, cello, and electronics. We rehearsed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and the concert was Wednesday evening. Three composers shared the concert, and I was impressed with all of their music. It was a great opportunity to see the beautiful campus, the wildlife, and also to have good conversations with many interesting people.
I had a duet gig this past Saturday with Michael Sinatra in San Diego. That was a very enjoyable experience. Playing without drums and bass opens up what I am allowed to do; I can change the harmony, slow down or speed up the tempo, decorate parts in inventive ways. I felt unleashed playing in that format, piano and voice.
I'm also trying to get some studio time for my trios. This Friday and the next, I'll be doing more recording, which will ultimately be for promotion. Those sessions force me to be ready and to perform well, without getting too ambitious and making silly mistakes. It's great practice for the real gig.
Finally, I'm finishing up preparations for Nick Maldonado's upcoming senior jazz recital. He's given me several of his original compositions, which I find very inventive and well written. They are fun to play through with the group, and a great challenge at the same time. We have a few weeks left to fit in two rehearsals and get everything concert ready. I'm looking forward.
April 24th, 2015A while back, my teacher told me about the benefits of composing or writing out one's solo (as pertaining to improvising through a set of chord changes). I found it hugely beneficial, in that it required that I spend time carefully studying multiple possibilities of what could be played over a certain harmony, planning out motifs and transitions, and exploring different rhythms. I had started writing out a solo for a recent work, preparing to record the work and the composed solo. When I brought the sketch of the solo to my teacher, and told him about my upcoming recording, he advised me against recording the prepared solo. He explained that preparing a solo as a method of study is excellent practice, and has numerous benefits. However, recording a prepared solo instead of improvising one on the spot removes the element of uncertainty, and in his opinion, renders the solo 'dead.' There is a certain life that only exists when the mastery of improvisation is called upon, and it cannot be replaced with something written beforehand. There is no substitute.
April 17th, 2015There is a difference between monotonous practice, and focused practice. Sometimes, players get into the habit of practicing for a certain number of hours per day, and expect great results. But practicing monotonous exercises or familiar works for a few hours a day does not guarantee any progress. Sometimes, we may even get into the habit of practicing poorly, making mistakes over and over until we get something right. In other words, we practice making mistakes. So what is focused practice? And how many hours should we practice?
I read through dozens of online articles on that topic, and found that most professionals claim that no more than three to four hours of focused practice a day is all that is required. Focused practice requires an individual to strategize before practice even begins as to what he or she aims to achieve during practice. This could be increasing the speed of playing something, or mastering an exercise with more clarity or dexterity.
Take, for example, playing scales. I have been trying to improve my ability to play scales in four octaves, in parallel and contrary motion, blindfolded. I do this because I want to have complete mastery of the twelve keys, and to be comfortable playing in any key without looking at the keyboard. I usually struggle the most with C major, because there are no black notes, and without looking I tend to stumble. The idea behind monotonous practice is that after enough repetitions, for an hour a day, over the course of weeks, I will improve, no matter what. This isn't accurate. Focused practice requires me to be more specific. I must identify the issues at the source. Perhaps the mistakes occur when my hands are in contrary motion at opposite ends of the piano. At that point, I have to stop and consider what went wrong. Perhaps my thumb moved prematurely, and my fingering was displaced. Next, I don't repeat the exercise, but rather, I work out a new exercise that specifically addresses the issue, and start slow. This might just be playing a single octave scale in contrary motion at opposite ends of the piano, with added attention to the cross-overs. Ideally, one would audio or video record their practice, and review it later. Keep a practice-journal to write down observations, and to have a record of your improvements and struggles over time.
Luminaries like Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker were said to have practiced for over ten hours a day. But others like Arthur Rubinstein advised not to practice more than three or four. Lang Lang stated that his father devised a six-hour-a-day regiment, that he followed strictly for years. I read a study that claimed the top performing musicians at certain schools had something in common: 50 hours per week of practice (that comes out to about seven hours per day).
My advice is write down your goals, and categorize the them. I read an example where someone's goals were broken down into improving technique, practicing repertoire, working through linear construction, and finally performance. Technique was purely mechanical: scales and arpeggios. Repertoire was playing through material that you should be ready to play at anytime, and that you are improving. For a jazz musician, this would be your standards. Practice would involve studying chord changes, and working through certain areas of a piece. Linear construction would be taking a motif and working it through every key, or improvising continuous scales over certain changes, in every key. Performance should entail playing through a work without stopping, as if you were in concert. This is different than the "repertoire" section, where you work through ideas. I think it makes good sense to dedicate some time daily to just performance, which also builds confidence and informs the performer if he or she is actually ready for performing.
Once you have your goals written down, make an attempt to go through everything, and keep track of how long it takes. Pick one thing to work on for technique, two or three things for repertoire, one idea for linear construction, and maybe two things for performance, daily. Divided this way, and with focused practice, it makes sense to me that a musician can make real progress having only dedicated between three and six hours a day, depending on the player.
I've spent three hours today memorizing the third and fourth chorus of Keith Jarret's piano solo on "Too Young To Go Steady" from Standards Live (I just finished the transcription this week). Definitely valuable, but I think a few other ares of musical growth need my attention today. Good thing its only 6:30pm. Time to go.
April 8th, 2015I am learning how to be a better pianist and composer. In order to learn, I must listen and mimic, the same as a child learning to speak. My studies require that I listen to the musicians that inspire me, to hear the nuances in their playing, and consider their technique. Transcription is an excellent tool for growth because it allows the student to examine note for note what the subject performed (which offers some insight to what they thought, especially for improvisers). But it also forces the student to listen to a particular recording dozens of times over, memorizing every note by ear at first. Details of the subject's style subliminally become imprinted upon the student.
I also look at scores written by great composers, in hopes that I can learn from them. Of late, my attention has ben focused towards Mario Laginha, Gonzaguinha, and Guinga. Their compositions are so harmonically dense with shifting tonal centers, rich melodic colors, and mesmerizing melodies. After learning to play pieces by them, I write my own, guided by what I've learned. I believe it is working.
The other day, someone asked me to rate myself as a pianist on a scale of 1 to 10. I refused, but I thought about it later and thought that using a scale of ten is very challenging, as opposed to a scale of five, like that used in letter grades (A, B, C, D, F). Five is simple: Excellent, above average, average, below average, failing. But a scale of ten has a lot more room. I thought about it carefully and came up with a break-down of a scale of 1 to 10. Here it goes:
1 - No experience. Terrible or atrocious. ("I've never touched a piano.")
2- Very limited experience. ("I've touched a piano a few times. I don't know what I'm doing.")
3- Novice, a beginner. Just learning the practice. ("This is my first lesson!")
4- Trainee. Having some or little study. ("I've played for about a year. I know a little.")
5- Good. Average. Decent. ("I can play John Legend!")
6- Experienced. Well trained. Notable. (I can play Chopin!")
7- Outstanding. Professional. Highly skilled. ("I am a concert pianist.")
8- Masterful. Extraordinarily gifted. A leader in the field. ("I am Brad Mehldau.")
9- Legendary. An icon of the tradition. ("I am Bud Powell.")
10- Divine. The pinnacle of achievement. The greatest that ever lived. ("I am Art Tatum.")
March 18th, 2015I've started a transcription of "Too Young To Go Steady" as performed by Keith Jarret's standards trio. If you haven't heard this track, I encourage you to seek it out. It has been regarded as one of the most exemplary models in the whole of jazz, representing the pinnacle of achievement as improvisers within the trio. As one examines the motifs, one finds that melodic integrity has priority over following the changes. Keith's performance is so melodically grounded; there are moments where he imitates Bach. It's amazing that his knowledge of music is so extensive that it enables him to summon ideas from 250 years ago, whilst improvising.
March 14th, 2015Today, I went into the studio with the musicians from the Ana Barbara band to record. We've only played the music from the band, and a few jams during our brief sound checks before shows. But the chemistry has always been very apparent. It was exciting finally getting to come together in a setting where we could all just focus on being creative and making something fresh.
I haven't been in a studio for a while now, and I had almost forgotten how useful it is to record oneself and listen back with studious ears. I can hear the ways in which I've grown as a musician, but I can also pick out the flaws that need attention. If I could record at least once a month, and listen back to those recordings for self-critique, I feel that I could progress quicker. Musicians always stress the importance of recording and listening back. It is a form of editing. It's time to focus on improvement.
March 3rd, 2015I was teaching several students today; Mondays are busy teaching days for myself. I have started noticing a trend among my best sight-reading students. They have so much confidence with reading notes, that they tend to "plow through" the music, struggling from measure to measure, but moving forward no matter what. This is a good habit to develop for concerts (to play through no matter what), but I find it is bad for practice.
Because I never developed great sight-reading skill, I could never read through to the end of a piece. I always had to learn measure by measure, stitching bars together, working on my transitions very carefully, memorizing all, until eventually I'd reach the end. By the time I reach the end, I could seamlessly play through a piece. But the key to being able to do this is working from a measure to measure mentality.
If a student is a great sight-reader, I allow him or her to try an entire piece once. But then, I advise only to work on passages, transitions, single bars, and the sections where the student displays weakness. After a portion is performed well, and the student attempts to continue, I always stop them, and force them to repeat the brief passage several times to develop muscle memory.
There's no rush. Work it out. Repeat.
March 1st, 2015One of my recent assignments was to compose a piano solo. My piano instructor and I were working through a chart by the great Brazilian composer, Guinga, and discussing the importance of melody speaking more powerfully than harmony. He explained that the improviser must play more than "just the changes." The changes need to be communicated through a melody, which is where the real music making happens. So he asked me to compose my solo, instead of improvising it. After taking home the assignment and carefully examining the movement of the harmony, and considering very carefully which notes ultimately were the most crucial in defining the harmony, and working on numerous ideas for over a week, I finally wrote out the entire solo.
This experience has really highlighted the importance of melody during improvisation. I feel as though I am turning a new leaf as a pianist and improviser, as I learn to perform through the chord changes, but speak using melodic lines that contain a solid harmonic structural outline.
I recommend the practice of composing a solo for music that calls for improvisers to play through chord changes. This practice is making myself a better improviser, and though the goal is to become familiar enough with the internal design of a multitude of harmonic progressions so that one is able to spontaneously improvise a fluid musical theme, starting out by composing these solos forces one to consider carefully the musical structures that exist internally in the work.
February 19th, 2015I graduated from high school in 2006, and immediately starting working various jobs. I think I've been fortunate to have been offered so many teaching opportunities from such an early age. I've worked as a piano teacher, math tutor, chess instructor, and electronic music educator; most of these programs were held as after school classes. I been able to grow tremendously as a teacher. Teaching pays pretty well, and affords me the time to invest into my music and composing. It works out very well for me.
My newest assignment will start next month, at Turning Point School in Culver City. I'll be starting an after school MineCraft class! This is looking to be very fun, as I used to enjoy computer games quite a bit, and most of the students are already excited about this program.
February 5th, 2015I heard a piece by Jonny Greenwood, called Alethia. The music was gorgeous, and the name grabbed my attention. The word means truthfulness, and refers to the Greek mythical goddess of truth. I had been composing a simple piece for piano (could be performed as a trio), and upon completion felt this piece would be well suited with the same title.
I say simple in that it is only three pages, and follows a basic ABA type strutter, with variations. It's metric layout is that of 5 + 4 + 4. That is, the song is mostly in 13. I don't sit down and decide before hand that I will compose something torturous in 13 because its rare and challenging. I just start playing the ideas I hear, and they usually turn out to have odd metric designs. Most of the harmonic design is simple triads and inversions, which I feel sometimes are best for producing the most harmonious and resolved cadences.
The next step is to mater the performance of the work. The most difficult part will be improvising over the quickly changing chords, and the odd meter. The left hand must be practiced repeatedly until the rhythmic pattern is completely ingrained, so that the right hand can move freely and perform opposing rhythms and subdivisions.
I also have been playing around with new design ideas for this website. It's important for a composer's website to contain easily accessible information about his or her works and history, and everybody has their own idea as to how that is best achieved on a website. I aim to have my new layout up within the month.
While working on the new layout, I completed a full catalog of all of my musical works, divided into three categories: acoustic, electro-acoustic electronic. My earliest documented pieces date back to 2008, which is only 7 years ago, and marks my second quarter of my first year at UCSD. My earlier musical ideas were realized later, once I had the tools and knowledge to write them. Its strange to think I've only been notating music for such a short period of time. It feels like much longer. In total, there are a little over 100 pieces, the majority being either acoustic or electronic, and the fewest being electro-acoustic.
Most of my electronic works, I feel, are quite primitive, and represent my early attempts at exploring electronic music production, using mostly Reason, and eventually Logic. Few of those works are longer than 1 or 2 minutes, because my compositional goal at the time was not to explore an idea to its end, but to merely create as many ideas as possible, and move on. Presently, my interest in electronic music is in unraveling a musical idea to an end.
Between practicing, composing, and transcribing, I feel there is so much work to be done.
January 28th, 2015Tonight, I am listening to Art Tatum. I am also YouTubing those who have attempted to replicate his masterful performances. In all of my studies of piano history and repertoire, I repeatedly come back to the same virtuosos who transformed the instrument into something greater, and changed the future of piano performance. There are a great many piano players who have distinguished themselves as icons and legends over the past three centuries. There are just a few who have far surpassed even the highest skill levels ever demonstrated and shattered the expectations left to them from the prodigies who came before. And then way above that, you have Art Tatum.
I just sit and listen in total awe and wonder of this musical genius. It's easy to get discouraged when you hear someone like Tatum who just seems so eternally unrivaled. But you also have to realize that his accomplishments are proof of what can be gained. What could you accomplish if for one year, all expenses were paid, and you could pursue music for thirteen hours a day? Would you? I often ponder the idea of sacrifice in that respect.
January 15th, 2015Tonight, I am listening to music written by the great 20th century composer Toru Takemitsu. My first listening experience tonight is with the work that first gained Takemitsu international attention, Requiem for String Orchestra (1957). The first element to seize me is the sound of the wide dynamic ranges, from deathly quiet to thunderous over brief momentary gestures. The gargantuan sweeping harmonies cascade from page to page in unsteady slow rhythms that evoke a grand sense of awe and wonder. The influence of Debussy is quite evident, but this music is wholly sui generis. As I listen, I imagine oceans of different colors and textures forming waves and currents that crash into one another and blend into new forms. Looking at the score you can observe how Takemitsu breaks up predictable rhythms using subdivisions, ties, frequent changes in tempi, and use of fermatas.
Nostalghia, for violin and string orchestra, was composed the year I was born, 1987. The first sounds make me thing of a fog slowly drifting across a lake. I've paused and started the piece over three times now because of how beautiful it is, I must hear it again. If anyone wants to send me the score to this piece, it would be considered a divine gift. The careful orchestration is as precise as the work of a surgeon, with brilliant moments of the violin cutting through the ensemble using harmonics. The rich harmony rumbles at times like the breathing of a slumbering giant. There is a pattern to the soloists melodic motif, an ascension of intervals, rising through the clouds, pitted against the tangle of oppressors growling beneath. The tension of the string orchestra continually threatens to consume the liberating themes performed by the agile violin.
I feel now that his works are calling for my attention. There are writings by Takemitsu as well, where he graciously offered some insight into his creative process. We should be grateful when opportunities arise which allow us to learn and grow.
December 8th, 2014I've been gearing up for another gig with the Ana Barbara group. This time, we are destined for Guatemala. We land in Guatemala City, but that's basically all I know about the show. That is generally how these gigs work; I get the plane itinerary and a rehearsal schedule. It will be a fun weekend, I'm sure.
I've gotten more comfortable using Ableton and my Novation Launchpad Mini as a controller for cycling through synth presets, and performing with a double keyboard rig. When I'm practicing for the gig, I can tell that I'm ready when I'm playing along with the track and I don't notice myself. The strings blend perfectly with the ensemble, or the synth lines are totally disguised with the recorded lines, or the organ sounds mellow but not pronounced. My goal is to sound exactly like the recording (that means voicings, rhythms, and also timbre). Rehearsal is Wednesday.
I recently picked up a new student from one of my schools, teaching music theory and a splash of vocal coaching. There is something about teaching music theory that I find very logical, like teaching math. It is a study of systems, relationships, values, formulas, symbols and codes. I liken studying music theory to studying the grammar rules of a new language (not quite the practice of speaking that new language, but certainly learning the rules that govern it).
When I teach piano to my students, I find myself sight-singing the music before they play it, sort of as a read-through and indicator to the pupil "this is what it's supposed to sound like." In college, I dreaded sight-singing as the most challenging discipline where mastery was required before graduation would be permitted. But now I see that those skills were among the most valuable that I attained in school.
With my new student, I have taken to teaching him solfege. I remember studying solfege with my TA, Kathleen, during freshman year. I really do enjoy the way solfege sounds, and it definitely helped me improve my sight-singing by associating certain vocalizations with different pitches. It somehow reminds of Gregorian Chant as well.
November 19th, 2014A week ago I drove out to LA to attend the monthly jam session at the Blue Whale. This one was hosted by the Monk Institute. I arrived at the end of the first set, just in time to see my friend David Otis (who also performed with me for my Graduate Thesis Concert at UCI) taking a solo on a tune. Everyone in that band was extremely gifted. I was especially impressed by their vocalist- a talented young man who exhibited excellent control over his voice, singing arpeggios and runs as if he were playing a sax. The set came to an end, and the band announced that the second set would be open for sign-ups.
A line of musicians formed in front of the sign-up sheet, eager to get their names down for a chance to play. I commented to a friend who was with me that playing at a jam session is a high stress experience, and it is of greater value for a musician to play at a jam session at the Blue Whale than it is to play at a regular corporate gig. Why? Because your audience at a corporate gig is often not comprised of mostly high level musicians, listening to your every note, and judging your technique. At those corporate gigs, not everyone is listening. But at the jam session, all eyes are on the performer, studying him. It is an extremely valuable experience to a budding musician to get in that zone and try his best.
After you sign up, you wait in the crowd. The host band will delegate someone to call names from the list. Maybe your names gets called for the first song. Maybe not. When your name is called, you head up. You don't know ahead of time who you will be playing with, what song you will be playing, what songs everyone else knows, who's taking a solo first, how the song will start or end. It is expected that everyone has enough experience to make those decisions when they get to the stage. When I got to the stage I asked the horn players if they knew "Lady Bird." One did, the other didn't. I asked for "Nardis." No. They asked for "Beatrice." "I don't know it," I said. I made a mental note to learn it this week. We settled on "All The Things You Know," which is one of those songs everybody should know.
I'm glad I got up to play. I was definitely outplayed later on by some killer pianists, but that doesn't really matter to me. Performing live at the Blue Whale at the jam session forced me to play at my very best, to listen to everyone around me, to synchronize my rhythms to the band, and to focus intently on what I was doing. The goal for me was just to experience a few moments of synchronicity, which I did. Goal attained.
I should attend more jam sessions.
November 10th, 2014I have this habit of reassessing my musical goals, prioritizing new goals, and often adding to the list of goals at a faster rate than I can actually achieve those goals. Perhaps this strategy is what keeps me never truly satisfied with progress. But every day you work is progress, and every new exercise is progress, and every new measure you compose is also progress. So there.
I was warming up the other day with my major scales routine, and I decided to set new goals using other scales. Normally, I play all twelve major scales over four octaves in parallel, contrary, and oblique motion. I also do the scales in tenths, and also using chord voicings where the top note of the chord is the desired note from the major scale. The intervals descending from the top note of 1) the first chord voicing used in this exercise is: perfect fifth, minor second, perfect fifth 2) the second chord voicing used in this exercise is: major third, perfect fourth, major second. I decided that I would like to be able to apply the same routine to six other scales.
I passed over using the majority of the modes, because they are derivatives of the major scale. I did, however, select the Aeolian mode (aka natural minor scale), because it would make the transition to working on the harmonic minor scale much quicker. In addition to those two minor scales, I intend to add the octotonic scale (aka diminished scale) to the routine as well, learning to play all three scales and eventually working out playing the scales in parallel motion in major and minor tenths. There are also three hexatonic scales to add to the routine: the augmented scale, the whole tone scale, the blues scale. In total, that gives me seven different scale sets to practice (one for every day of the week). Perfect.
November 4th, 2014I started looking up various competitions for composers and their new works, and surprisingly encountered numerous sites dedicated to just such a thing. Many organizations will hold competitions to promote a school, or the org, or a scholarship, or to raise money. There are also many professional ensembles out there that put out "call for scores" where they invite composers to send in their works. Sometimes winners are also awarded a cash prize. Other times not. But the point is not to win extra cash (although that's a plus). The point is to share your work and spread your name.
I'm seeing that there are lots of these calls for scores and other competitions that ask for similar instrumentation (i.e. the piano trio, string quartet, etc.). It would be useful for a young composer to learn early on how to arrange for the popular requests in instrumentation. Start writing for quartets and trios. Learn how to mimic the greats. Explore multiple styles. And do not neglect the score. Put detail and design into a score. Format your work. Make it unique. Help it flourish; it must stand out to get noticed.
While giving away the most interesting musical materials at the start of a piece may not be the most appropriate for compositional design, be aware that judges will play samples of your work from the beginning, but may not get through the entire work, so make sure the first notes heard on your recordings sound intriguing at least. Even if you don't win a competition, the judges are usually prominent people in their fields, and you have an opportunity to leave an impression on them with your work. Do your best.
October 8th, 2014I saw Gone Girl last week. My brother introduced me to the work of David Fincher years ago, and I've since kept up with the director's latest works. When Fincher released The Social Network, it was the first time he collaborated with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The score was extremely well received, and I was very impressed with what I heard as a very unique style of composing for film. Reznor's music expressed anxiety, urgency, but also simplicity, ambience, and was detailed with full and exotic textures. I heard the musical fingerprint of that composer.
Fincher's next movie was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, also completed in collaboration with Reznor and Ross. The director's most recent film is Gone Girl, and the music was again composed by the same duo. In every film, the music is different, but the fingerprint is there. I can recognize stylistic elements that strike me as characteristic of the composers. It excites me to realize that one's work can grow to develop a signature style, which may someday be classified as a descriptor of one's artistic technique.
Of course, this idea of musical fingerprints goes way back, and also extends to other disciplines. Palestrina had his own style, as did Bach, Mozart, Debussy, and Stravinsky. Same with John Coltrane, John Williams, John Lenon, and John Cage. Vladimir Kush, the painter, has a style of his own, and the writings of Steven Millhauser are easy to identify ownership.
You must work.
September 29th, 2014I was preparing a lesson recently for a student about tonal harmony, tonal progressions, an counterpoint. I hadn't been over those materials since undergrad, but I enjoyed revisiting the old rules. The book on Tonal Harmony offers diagrams that show viable progressions, complete with arrows that display alternatives for certain chords. Everything appears so...restricted...so controlled. Or at least, disciplined. It makes me wonder if in a century, when students examine ways in which popular music of the early 2000s was composed, there'll be similar diagrams that show (and simplify) what we may think are artistic nuances in today's music, but which may actually be explained with simple flow charts that future students will study and comment, "My goodness, how controlled. Where is the freedom?"
A man was bleeding from the head at the gym today. He was exercising on one of those pully-type weight machines, where the person stands up straight and pulls down on a steel handle, which pulls a chord over a pully and lifts the weights. He lost his grip, or something went wrong, and the handle shot up to his forehead. Blood dripped off of his temple and stained the floor. He simply put his palm to his head to stop the bleeding and walked to the restroom. I ran to the front to tell the staff, because I thought it looked serious. He was bleeding from the head, come on.
I'm teaching composition to a few of my students. That is probably my favorite subject to teach, because I get to serve mostly as a guide and let the students do the work. The work is important; it doesn't matter if the work is good or bad, it just needs to be finished, so the students can improve. Improvement is the goal, not perfection. Is there such a thing? Certainly not in music.
There's a YouTube clip of Richard Bona performing a duo with Bobby McFerrin. A good friend of mine once described the music they made as, "the sounds of angels singing."
September 16th, 2014I'll be teaching Intro to Logic for Relativity Workshops starting Thursday October 2nd. It's a 10 week course (divided into parts 1 and part 2) that meets once weekly for 3 hours. We'll be studying Logic Pro X, learning the entire layout of the DAW, exploring the new Drummer feature, Drum Machine, and Drum Kits, making beats, understanding basic synthesis and crafting our own sounds, playing with samplers, audio editing, as well as some mixing and mastering. Naturally, we'll need to cover some fundamental music theory as well, in the early part of the course. I'm really looking forward to it though, and I'm already coming up with interesting examples and demos for the class.
August 26th, 2014This week and last week, I've been working on a brand new musical, written and directed by one of the heads of Relativity School. I was enlisted to create an arrangement of three very popular songs on the radio to serve as the opening to the show. The instrumentation is comprised of seven vocalists, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. I was also asked to compose an electronic sequence to accompany the band. It's been a very fun project working out ways of cutting songs shorter, transposing so everything flows smoothly, and moving vocal lines around among different singers. I'm looking forward to turning in the final score/stem this weekend, and hopefully getting a chance to see the end result performed live in front of an audience.
Also, this week, Mark Guiliana's BEAT MUSIC project will be performing (CD release party) at the Blue Whale in LA (Thursday and Friday night). They are one of the most impressive live electro-acoustic bands out there. Check them out!
August 11th, 2014I studied once from Roger Reynolds, the composer. I was in a class in Washington DC with students from various artistic backgrounds: a director, a photographer, a musicologist, a DJ/drummer, an artist, and myself. We had all taken up internships at different institutions throughout the capital (I was at the Library of Congress, in the Division of Music). There was a lesson that came to my mind recently.
The professor was explaining a study involving progress and a sense of achievement in individuals. The experiment involved two groups of people, wherein every individual was given a project that had to be completed in a short period of time. In the first group, individuals were told to tell other participants about their project and their progress during the given timeframe. The second group, however, was forbidden from telling anyone anything about their project or their progress. For the second group, their work had to remain in secret. Both groups were given an identical timeframe to work on these projects.
The study showed that individuals in the first group felt a sense of great accomplishment and achievement just by discussing their projects, and they felt as if they had completed much of their work. Individuals in the second group felt as if they had barely made much progress at all on their work, and felt that they still had much to do. But the evidence showed that people in the first group actually completed far less than work than people in the second group. What does that mean?
I suppose when one tells a friend of a goal or major project, often the friend will respond positively and sometimes even congratulate him or her for making the decision to undertake that project. But the congratulations are not truly deserved, for none of the work has even begun. This can create a sense of accomplishment that unmotivates a person from actually starting/completing the work. Instead, if one decides upon a project and keeps it to himself or herself, then all responsibility lies with that person to begin work on that project. There is no premature congratulations. There is no reason to celebrate and skip the work. The work must be done.
July 30th, 2014I spend most of yesterday inputting all of the exercises from my piano lessons into Sibelius. The exercises are biweekly assignments, where I have to invent a simple motif (usually using a pentatonic scale, or some arrangements of 5 -7 notes), and then modulate that motif diatonically, and later chromatically. Effectively, this is practice in the art of transposing, which is vital for mastering one's instrument and truly being knowledgable as an improviser.
Normally I scribble down my exercises on manuscript paper, so I keep some record of the assignment. But those can get very messy, especially if I also need to write down proper fingering beneath every note. Sometimes I work on permutations of those exercises and have no record of those except for my memory. I decided I should start formally keeping a record of all of those exercises, first by naming them, and then by transcribing them into Sibelius (into a collection). I already have 18 pages of exercises (14 pages of which are variations on augmented scale patterns outlining triads and major seventh chords in different ascending and descending styles). As I invent more exercises (motifs) I'll add them to my catalogue.
Composing exercises is also composing.
July 9th, 2014Over the past month I've been writing a new piece that started out as a piece for solo piano. Today I finished my newest composition for piano and violin entitled "Lament for the Earth." I can't wait to get the music printed tomorrow.
I started off with just a very simple melodic idea, and initially decided to keep the difficulty at a minimum for this piece, so as to make it as accessible as possible to anyone who might want to try it out. Eventually, though, I couldn't help myself and wrote a few passages that require some figuring out.
During the time I wrote the piece, I had been following several social media pages that expose all sorts of political and socio-economic issues that, frankly, make me feel pretty sad. It seems so difficult in out current system to effectively make lasting changes. When you look at the distribution of wealth across the globe, and the way greedy corporations irresponsibly decimate our vital natural resources, and how so many people appear to have far more enthusiasm about trivial things like sports (billions of dollars spent on FIFA for example) than they are about saving the lives of the suffering and starving, the news continues to report mass shootings and police brutality, and our government subsidizes food that makes us ill. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
Makes some changes. You may inspire others to follow.
July 1st, 2014I just purchased some albums by an electronic artist based in Tokyo that have deeply inspired me. The artist is Ametsub, and his albums are "All Is Silence" and "The Nothings of The North". I discovered him while browsing the website of an old label which first aired some extremely notable glitch artists, the label "Mille Plateaux". By the way, another amazing label is "Raster-Noton" which is run by Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) and Ryoji Ikeda, who are two of the top electronic composers in the world. I first heard Ametsub's track 'Repeatedly' and was in awe of the subtle harmony that was decorated with sparse yet moving glitch textures. The effect of the song was coma inducing, and I felt extreme joy and calmness in hearing those delicate sounds, so carefully woven into a moving composition. Both of his albums are moving and majestic. To me, they display incredible taste and design with electronic materials. It is no wonder that Ametsub is receiving recognition from the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, as well as international acclaim.
I highly recommend listening to Ametsub's music.
June 27th, 2014When I first decided to create an online presence for myself, I chose to use Tumblr as my host for a webpage. This was years ago, maybe 2008 or 2009. I setup an account and a page that had my bio, pictures, scores, contact info, blog, and a link to a bandcamp site which housed my music. It was pretty rudimentary, but it had everything potential clients would want to see for a website. I decided to just go with my full name: Daniel Andress Sanchez. Squish all that together, and you end up with danielandresssanchez.tumblr.com. Those three 'sss' in the middle are ghastly. This is a very long and somewhat unattractive web domain, but I figured it would have to do.
Years later, my friend Zac and I designed a new website from scratch and bought a professional web domain. I wanted something easier to remember, and easier to type. I went with dasmusic.org, because it condensed my initials and met my requirements. The new website would integrate everything to one single site: music, scores, MFA Thesis, blog, etc. We came up with a minimal and sleek design that I think works well with the aesthetic I'm pursuing. As soon as we had the new site up and running, I deleted the Tumblr account.
Now, I expected Tumblr to delete my web address, and for my page to no longer exist. At least that's how I thought it worked. Evidently (and to my dismay), danielandresssanchez.tumblr.com is still in use, but not by me. I guess Tumblr gave away my web address to a new author. I was under the impression that a deleted account would go idle or remain dormant. I had no idea Tumblr would give my old account away to a stranger. So apparently there is a website with my full name (which used to be my website before dasmusic.org), and now someone else is the owner of that site. I've emailed Tumblr asking why someone else is now using danielandresssanchez.tumblr.com, but they refused to help me. How disappointing.
In any case, to avoid any confusion, let me make this clear: I am in no way associated with danielandresssanchez.tumblr.com.
June 13th, 2014In college, I had a TA who was a cello performance DMA student, and she once explained to me the importance of regular practice. She said she practiced from 6 to 9 am every morning, because it was the only time of day when she wasn't occupied with other responsibilities. I tried waking up at 6 am to practice a few times last week, but I found that I could hardly concentrate enough to practice in a productive manner. My warm-ups were uneven, and my fingers kept stumbling. It wasn't working. So instead, I took to waking up at 6 am to read in the living room for half-an-hour, followed by practicing. I discovered that it worked 1,000 percent better for me.
A few days ago I compiled all of the circuit-bending glitch sounds my friend Zac and I have recorded over the past year or so (some 400 samples), and mapped them into 5 drum racks in Ableton Live 9. The mappings were saved as different presets for my MIDI keyboard, and now I effectively have the equivalent of 5 full keyboards (88 keys each) of pure glitch sounds. In my studio I keep my two keyboards stacked, and I was trying out my new glitch keyboard presets in combination with grand piano and rhodes. I feel so inspired to compose.
June 25th, 2014Yesterday, I had my first lesson with Vardan Ovsepian since January. This past Wednesday, he premiered his new piece for chamber ensemble entitled "Clockwork," in 6 movements at the Blue Whale. It featured some of the best players in town including Artyom Manukyan (cello), Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (viola), Nick Mancini (vibes), and Tatiana Parra (voice). I made arrangements to start lessons again at the close of the concert.
I schedule my lessons on the same days that I have work in LA, so I can avoid making unnecessary long trips. In our lessons, I ask about practice techniques and how to develop my own exercises that will broaden my language for improvisation. We work through challenging motifs in a diatonic scale, which I am asked to transpose (also diatonically) according to some intervalic pattern. Later, I have to work on transposing the motif chromatically according to the pattern. One of the things I get out of working through those exercises is a feeling of conquering new territory on my instrument. Being forced to work in any key transposing small patterns unlocks doorways to new grounds in my improvisations. I bring staff paper and take notes studiously, not wanting to forget any valuable advise for practicing and performing. At the end of the lesson, we worked through a chart I was preparing for my gig with the trio. It was Robert Glasper's "Jelly's Da Beener."
Speaking of the gig, the trio was united again since January and played very well Saturday night. I prepared new arrangements for everybody, and even went as far as to buy binders for all, print the charts, and enclose them in plastic sheet protectors. I even made a folder for our singer, Michael Sinatra, with pages of lyrics for his charts, with notes about the form and key of his tunes. Being prepared means not having to worry about your group getting lost in a tune, or someone missing the chart in the correct key. It means we can focus on making good music.
Recently I upgraded to Logic Pro X for work, and the new synths are spectacular. Now I am working not only with Ableton (which has two built-in fully-customizable synths in addition to dozens of presets), but with Logic Pro X (which has eight built-in fully-customizable synths in addition to hundreds of presets). On top of that, I'm getting Sylenth soon. I am very excited to start creating so many custom sounds with so many synths.
June 13th, 2014We have a gig a the end of this month with Michael Sinatra for a private event, which we are looking forward to. I've been meaning to write up new arrangements for our set. Since most of our vocal selections feature a melody, short solo, and a return to the melody (usually over the B section and then out), I've wanted to work out a design that incorporates a longer solo section, or perhaps multiple solo sections, without taking too much away from the original design of each piece. For the most part, the trio has been reading off lead sheets from fake books, without much detail provided for a road map that pertains to our group. It's time now to work out new arrangements specifically for my group. I enjoy that kind of project.
I don't have any dates on my calendar just yet for more Ana Barbara gigs, but my music director told me we have several shows this November in south America. I expect this will involve us traveling beyond Bolivia.
Recently I revisited Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book, looking for lines to work on transposing. I decided to put some hours into working on my symmetrical scales (sometimes called diminished scales, or half diminished, or combination diminished), which correlate to dominant 7(b9) chords, and diminished 7th chords. These are fun scales to explore because there are only three of them, and transposing becomes a lot simpler. There's a diminished scale that works over C, Eb, Gb, and A (which I think of as scale X), another diminished scale for Db, E, G, and Bb (scale Y), and a third diminished scale for D, F, Ab, and B (scale Z). You can use the same patterns that exist in one of these scales (e.g. scale X) for multiple chords like C7(b9) and A7(b9). Also of note, each of these diminished scales contains 4 major and minor triads belonging to the roots that outline the diminished 7th chord. So, scale Z has D, F, Ab, and B major and minor triads. Really interesting patterns can be developed from those harmonic shapes.
April 24th, 2014I have a lot of goals in music, and at times it can be overwhelming each day to approach my station and decide how best to use what few hours I have available to me to develop my musical skills.
I primarily identify as a composer and pianist. As pianist, my goals include developing better technique (working through technical piano exercises), becoming a better improviser (practicing jazz transcription and transposition), and also broadening my performance repertoire of both jazz and classical music. At the same time, my goals in composition involve improving as both a composer of instrumental music (solo piano, jazz trio, chamber ensembles, etc.) and of electronic/electro-acoustic music (which requires me to continually develop with software like Logic, Ableton, and Max/MSP). That is a lot of goals, and they can't all be tackled at the same time.
What I try to do is to approach 2 or 3 topics a day, devoting between 1 and 1.5 hours to each. I even have little cards with specific goals written on them, which I shuffle into a small pile and draw from (face down) to see what fate has chosen for me to work on that day. For example, one morning the cards might instruct me to work on electronic music in Max/MSP, and also to work on jazz transcription. Another morning my tasks could include working on classical repertoire, and composing instrumental music. I am able to juggle everything because of this system that divides my goals into manageable workloads. I have found it to be very useful.
April 15th, 2014I performed at the Dolby Theatre in LA last night in the band with Ana Barbara. It was a huge production involving a mariachi group, a banda group, the pop band (us), back-up singers, a horn section, choreographed dancers, tons of fancy lighting effects, two projectors, a center-stage elevator, and a lot of crossed fingers. It was pretty remarkable to be part of that production at the Dolby. I performed with double keyboards plus laptop running Ableton, with a Korg NanoKontrol2 and a Novation Launchpad to change keyboard presets and playback some pre-recorded elements. This new setup I'm using seems to work so much better than my previous setup. Now, if a tour comes up, I don't need to worry about bringing my keyboards, nor about arranging to have a specific keyboard waiting for me at the venue. All I need now is to bring my laptop with everything saved in Ableton, and bring my two controllers. Any two keyboards provided to me (with MIDI ins and outs) will be sufficient to run my rig. Traveling to perform with this band will be so much easier now.
We'll be performing again in Bolivia later this month with Ana Barbara. Our gig is on Saturday the 26th, and we'll be cutting it close with our itinerary. Most likely, we'll be flying over Friday and Saturday (its a very long flight), and arriving a few hours before the concert. Our departing flight will be the day after. These sorts of gigs tend to be somewhat rushed, which usually means very little opportunity to actually spend time in the foreign country where we're playing. All we can really plan on is doing our best, as always, in hopes that we'll secure a longer lasting tour, and perhaps get a chance to really visit some new places.
I think the best part is working with really great musicians. Everyone on the team has an impressive musical background, is hardworking, and easy to get along with. When I first started playing with the group, I didn't really think much about how important it would be to get along with bandmates. But when you are doing an international performance (for example), that involves meeting at an airport at 6 am, flying several hours to another airport, layover another several hours, a couple more connecting flights, eating every meal together, landing in a new country, getting setup in your hotel rooms, riding in a van together, rehearsing together for multiple days in a row, the band becomes something of a family. It is a huge relief to be working with such easygoing, kind-hearted bandmates, all of whom are super talented.
March 9th, 2014For my upcoming gig, I'm preparing recordings of background keyboard parts that will be played back with a sequencer to augment the live performance. Some of the songs have up to four or five different keyboard effects and lines (organ, piano, synthesizers, pads), and its complicated to perform with four or five keyboards, and shuffle around to get to the right instrument at the right moment. So what we do is we record these "stems" which are basically just the parts we won't be playing ourselves, but parts that we need to have for the live performance. They are sent to our engineer, who creates a single arrangement in a sequencer with everyone's stems (percussion, drums, guitars, keyboards, background vocals). Then, during the live performance, all of the musicians play their primary instrumental line, while all of the additional lines are played back from the recordings we prepared earlier, the "stems," being performed through the sequencer. To make sure we are playing with the sequencer in time, a separate audio channel is setup that has a click track (i.e. a metronome) which is hooked up to in-ear headphones and wired to each musician. The audience doesn't hear the separate audio channel whatsoever, but the musicians are given a guideline to perform perfectly in sync with their stems by using the click track in their headphones. My job in the coming week is to go through all of the tracks sent to me, and learn all of the keyboard lines. Some of the lines will be performed live, while the rest will be recorded this week in my home studio and sent to our engineer to be integrated with the final arrangement of everyone's stems.
I've been so busy lately with different things, but I have finally finished the Bach Invention No. 15 in B minor. It is so satisfying to have learned that piece, especially since classical music was never something I spent much time studying in college or growing up. Learning that piece was sort of my way of convincing myself that I can learn classical works, and that I can execute them just as well as my improvised music. Learning that piece has also motivated me to look for more classical works to add to my repertoire. I'd like to record the Bach soon and make it available for downloading, and I'd also like to make a video of me performing the piece. I'll try to get those up very soon. Fingers crossed.
February 23rd, 2014I've ordered two new MIDI controllers this past week, which means once I retrieve my other keyboard from Arizona, my new "ultimate performance setup" will include a Korg SV-1, Casio Privio 300, two Korg NanoKONTROL2s, a Novtion LaunchPadMini, my MacBook Pro, and perhaps y iPod and iPhone for additional control as well.
The Korg NanoKONTROL2 is a great little controller with 8 dials, 8 sliders, and 35 buttons. Having two in my arsenal is plenty. Plus, the LaunchPadMini has an additional 64 buttons for control. These next few months will be very exciting with the new music I'll be composing.
Ableton is really allowing me to work alone, in the sense that I can easily set up dozens of presets, controllers, tracks, and perform at my keyboard by myself. As I practice my new composites, I feel like I am performing with a group, only because so many different musical events are happening as if I had a band reading my charts. There is some getting used to reaching over and activating various controls, triggering different parts of a track, and jumping right back into to improvising. But I'm looking at this as if I were learning a new instrument. It will take practice and some getting used to before these MIDI controllers are fully integrated into my performance practice.
What's on my calendar for tonight? Circuit bending.
February 18th, 2014My newest book came in the mail this week. Erik Satie's "Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes and Other Works for Piano" contains 172 pages of his original pieces. I've been hearing a lot of his works flood my Pandora stations lately, and many of them are not too complicated to learn, especially for novice players–perfect for some of my students. Sometimes just sticking to a workbook's curriculum gets tiresome and uninteresting for the students who are ready to advance to something more meaningful. For them, these pieces offer a chance to learn something new and challenging, while at the same time satisfying that urge to work on serious music. It's also more fun for me to teach.
The majority of my time lately has been focused and preparing for this upcoming 5-week EDM Lab Workshop, which will take place in LA. When I first was told about this course, it sounded to me like a casual workshop event. But when I learned it was a 3-hour class that meets twice a week for 5 weeks, I immediately compared the instruction time to a typical graduate seminar course, which meets twice a week for 1.5 hours over the course of 10 weeks. It totals 30 hours. That means I will be teaching a course that offers the same amount of instruction as a graduate seminar. I'm looking at this the same way I would if I was a professor preparing to teach an electronic music course at a university, because effectively that is what this is. I've been working with others on developing the curriculum, editing the syllabus, preparing presentation slides, notes for the students, examples, planning when to invite guests speakers, examining the space where the course will be taught, and making all the other necessary preparations. After seeing how much preparation is involved in setting up a course like this, I certainly have a great deal more respect for my college professors.
February 10th, 2014I am learning the Bach Invention No.15 in B minor. I never spent a lot of time working on classical music as I got into piano–my focus had always been jazz and pop, composing and improvising. But I did learn a handful of classical works growing up. I wish I would've spent more time at it. But now I have so much interest in classical music. I am interested by the mechanics of performing difficult passages at high velocities, and the ways these composers of old made transitions and subtle suggestions of harmonic motion with elegant motifs and cadences. I hear jazz musicians incorporating the stylistic fingerprints of classical music into their compositions and improvisations as well. There are so many books on technique and exercises that were written by these same composers, who were sharing their secrets to better piano performance.
For me, learning a classical piece like this is difficult. I generally memorize everything I play, especially if it is more advanced and quite challenging. Having it memorized puts me at ease when I perform. To do this, when I am learning a piece, I divide and compartmentalize measures into small phrases, and repeat until what I am playing sounds good enough for performance. Sometimes I'll start with a measure, and repeat it a dozen or so times. I create a loop out of the material I am examining. I try to understand the mechanics of the passage; what is the best fingering? How are these rhythms supposed to be interpreted? Once that measure is solid, I'll add on another measure. If it is too complicated, perhaps I'll only add on a beat. Or only a single note. The loop grows slows as I add more material. One measure becomes two measures becomes ten measures becomes sixteen. When I finally reach the last measure and learn it, the entire piece is already memorized. It works for me.
I am very happy to have eighteen students now, and to teach music with five schools. I can tell people now that I make a living as a musician, full-time. Being able to focus only on music, not having to work any odd jobs at all, I consider that success. Although I only graduated less than one year ago, I am here at this point. At last.
I suppose perseverance is key. Keep at it.
January 26th, 2014Last week, I came home from a gig in Bolivia with the internationally renowned singer, Ana Barbara. I played keyboards in front of 2,000 people in a make-shift concert stage somewhere in La Paz. It was a remarkable experience to say the least. The band I worked with was very talented and professional. Despite several last minute changes to the concert, and numerous logistical hiccups, we delivered a wonderful concert and pulled through. I am really grateful to have played with them. Thanks Bolivia.
I'm back in Upland now, getting more private students, and preparing a new adult electronic music production course for one of my schools, which will focus mostly on Ableton. This is very exciting stuff; Ableton is one of the best programs out there for live electronic performance. It'll be a 5-week course that Relativity School is offering in LA, meeting 2 days a week for 3 hours each day. I'm looking forward to running that workshop.
The trio just had a gig a few days ago in Laguna Hills, playing for a very receptive crowd of seniors. There was a woman who was 105 dancing more than anyone else! Imagine that. It's always so gratifying to have people come up after the show and compliment us on our performance. You have to imagine that some of these seniors were listening to this kind of music when they were my age, so they are especially familiar with how this music should be performed. I'm planning on working some more with the trio in the next month or so, and getting some fresh material on the site for promo. We'll update the trio tab when we get everything sorted out.
This year is off to a great start.
June 27th, 2013As a graduation gift to myself, I recently ordered some books off amazon, which have presently arrived. I think I now I have thorough collection of exercise books designed to improve a pianists technique. I'm pretty excited to have all of these now, and to work on little by little over the years.
Mastering Piano Technique, -Seymour Fink
Brahms, 51 Exercises for the Piano
Czerny, 40 Daily Exercises
Hanon, The Virtuoso Pianist
Czerny, The School of Velocity
Dohnanyi, Essential Finger Exercises
Beringer, Daily Technical Exercises
I. Philipp, Exercises for Independence of the Fingers
Vardan Ovsepian, Mirror Exercises
Yeah, this is probably overkill.