Monthly Archives: April 2016

New Yorkers should understand.

New Yorkers should understand.

Things I’ve been listening to new and old.

Harvey Valdes – PointCounterPoint
Jim Hall – Magic Meeting
Gnidrolog – In Spite of Harry’s Toe-Nail
Egg – the Civil Surface
David Bowie – Pinups
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Adrian Belew – Side One
Adrian Belew – Side Two
Charles Lloyd – I Long to See You
Rieflin, Fripp, Gunn – the Repercussions of Angelic Behavior
Various Artists with Duane Pitre – Harmonic Series
Xiu Xiu – Plays the Music of Twin Peaks
John McLaighlin – Extrapolation
John McLaughlin – Where Fortune Smiles
Larry Young – the Paris Recordings
Prince – Around the World in a Day
Prince – Sign ‘o’ the Times
Prince – Lovesexy
Ian Anderson – Homo Erraticus
Shadowfax – Watercourse Way
David Sylvian and Robert Fripp – the First Day
David Sylvian – Blemish
Gavin Harrison – Drop
Gavin Harrison – Circles
Gavin Harrison – the Man Who Sold Himself
Divination – Distill
The Throne of Drones
King Crimson – Heavy Construction


12932990_1032020530222303_3446218467764184127_n cropSome new and old things I’ve been listening to this week. Fripp & McLaughlin I’ve been hearing for years, but I thought it’s time to refresh my memory.

Philip Glass, Nico Muhly – Music for Two Violins
Horatiu Radulescu – Piano Sonatas & String Quartet
Horatiu Radulescu – Lao Tzu Sonatas
Horatiu Radulescu – Piano Concerto The Quest
Steve Howe – Homebrew 4
King Crimson – Live in Toronto
King Crimson/ProjeKct X – Heaven and Earth
King Crimson – EleKtriK
Robert Fripp – Exposure
Lull – Dreamt About Dreaming
Lull – Cold Summer
Lull – Continue
Hariprasad Chaurasia – Krishnahwandi
Tony Scott – Music for Yoga Meditation
Tony Scott – Music for Zen Meditation
John McLaughlin – My Goals Beyond
John McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist
John McLaughlin – Belo Horizonte
John McLaughlin – Music Spoken Here
Mahavishnu – Adventures in Radioland

From the Prepared Guitar Blog, I’m republishing this interview here.

David Beardsley 13 questions
Sunday, November 17, 2013

Which was the first musical sound do you remember?

The house I grew up in always had music. My parents enjoyed classical music, my sisters listened to the popular music of the day and we sang in church….I was fascinated with changing the speed on turntables and I broke a few of ‘em.

Which was the last record you bought with your own money?
The latest CDs were a Harold Budd album, Jane 1-11, Matt Mitchell’s Fiction, the new one from Tim Berne’s Snake Oil and some chamber music by Debussy.

So why did you decide to pick up the guitar?

I had piano lessons when I was young, 7 to 10 years old. I got to the point where I was playing arrangements of popular music like the Beatles with both hands. But I was easily distracted, I didn’t want to practice and my parents stopped paying for lessons.
When I was 13, my mother brought a small student size classical guitar home from her aunt in Germany. Later, friend at school had an electric guitar and I wanted one too. The first thing I did when I tried his Univox was try to get some feedback, then next I was testing out some slide guitar sounds. I asked my father for an electric guitar, but he said I had to show some commitment to the instrument. I taught myself some melodies from a book of fiddle tunes and convinced him to buy an electric guitar for me. I still have that Gibson L6-S. Eventually I got more serious and started to learn rock guitar off records.

Which work of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?

The string quartet as beautiful as a crescent of a new moon on a cloudless spring evening (2004, for string quartet) is a high point. Christina Fong recorded all the parts and I’m still really thrilled with the performance. I’m always thinking about writing the next one, it was a great opportunity.

In 2007, Kraig Grady asked me if I was interested in playing the late Rod Poole’s Voice of the Bowed Guitar (for acoustic guitars). Along with a few other guitarists, we played one of the pieces at Downtown Music Gallery on a Sunday evening when they were still located on 3rd Ave in the East Village.

What are the pros and cons of today’s digital music scene?

Digital recording is a stable medium; there are no fluctuations in the pitch like there are with magnetic tape and vinyl….perfect for static, minimal, microtonal music.

Anybody can make a recording and put it on line, so there’s plenty to choose from, but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. For now at least, the internet really changed the music business.

Nada Brahma

The world is sound. Sound is the world.

What is the space of microtonality?

Microtones are the pitches between the keys of a piano…just intonation is the tuning system using intervals from the harmonic series represented by ratios. In 1980 I heard Terry Riley’s Shri Camel and knew that I’d found something interesting. Another 13 years passed until I was motivated to learn the mechanics of just intonation and use it in my own music. There’s a wealth of new harmonic colors waiting to be used. Beatless large intervals and sparkling tiny intervals make musical textures exciting. Microtonality isn’t a style of music, I just happen to be interested in composing in a minimalist style now.

What’s the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?

A good guitar plays in tune!

Tell me something you love in art and why?

I love creativity and the thrill of discovering something new.

Define the sound your compositions are still looking for.

Sonic adventure.

Why and how do you use extended techniques in guitar?

For my microtonal guitar music, it’s all done with the tuning and a hardware looper – echoes and feedback. It’s a great way to perform solo.

Which living artist (music, or other arts) would you like to collaborate with?

I’d like to have a band again; it’s just a question of the right people.

What dead artist would you like to have collaborated with?

Mark Rothko.

What’s your next project about?

I want to finally record my microtonal guitar album. Life got in the way, now is the time.

From the Prepared Guitar Blog, I’m republishing this interview here.

James Ross 13 questions
Sunday, November 8, 2015

James Ross is a guitarist and composer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., he has studied guitar at the University of Pittsburgh and the Mannes College of Music in New York City. He has studied sitar with Pandit Krishna Bhatt, and North Indian classical music and composition with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela.

A composer in a variety of genres, James has written music for orchestral and chamber ensembles, as well as solo music for the guitar and the zhongruan (a type of Chinese lute). He has also performed and recorded electronic and improvised music.

Recent performances as a composer and performer on the electric guitar, laptop and other instruments include sets at The Bell House; at the Small Beast at The Delancey with percussionist Joseph Benzola; a performance with Kyle Bobby Dunn at Issue Project Room; at Pianos with Richard Lainhart; at Glasslands Gallery with Michael Vincent Waller; at Goodbye Blue Monday with David Beardsley; providing live music for Katherine Liberovskaya and Ursula Scherrer’s OptoSonic Tea series at Diapason Gallery in Brooklyn; with video artist Alex Carpenter at The Tank in Manhattan; and at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center as part of the guitar ensemble for Rhys Chatham’s “A Crimson Grail.” A recording of the “Crimson Grail” performance was released on Nonesuch Records on Sept. 14, 2010.

As a classical guitarist, James has performed as a soloist and ensemble player throughout the Northeastern United States. He received a Solo Recitalist Fellowship in 1992 from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and won the 1993 Mannes College of Music Concerto Competition, resulting in a performance of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Fantasia para Gentilhombre,” at Symphony Space in New York City.

Can you describe an early musical experience that influenced you in some way?

This is probably a fairly common thing among guitar players, but I think it’s worth mentioning. When I was about 12, I saw a TV ad for a compilation album called Superstars of the ’70s. The spot featured a snippet of Jimi Hendrix playing “Foxy Lady.” Just a few seconds. So electric. Incomprehensible to a 12-year-old brain. It got me thinking about what else was out there. And I can’t forget hearing John Fahey for the first time. The tune was “Sunflower River Blues.” Glowing, warm and lovely, but you can hear the Voice of Blind Joe Death, too. Another gamechanger.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

The first was Jackson 5 Greatest Hits, bought with allowance money from my parents when I was about 8 or 9–that counts, right? Still a great, great record. I knew about the J5 from their Saturday morning cartoon.

The last was Tuareg, by my friend, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Benzola.

What are your secret influences or inspirations?

It might not be the most profound of influences, but I love, and get a tremendous amount of energy and encouragement from, watching the films of Ed D. Wood, Jr.: Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, and, of course, the unforgettable Plan 9 From Outer Space. The thought of Wood bombed out of his skull on vodka, dressed in angora (and maybe a poodle skirt) feverishly scribbling a tale about space people coming to Earth to save the entire universe from our childish and warlike ways is somehow tremendously inspiring to me.

The takeaway is that Wood got it done. He got his stuff made, and put it out there. He was uncontrollably motivated to do his work, despite the fact that he had little or no support from an audience or the industry–no matter how crazy it all was, no matter how impossible it might have been to succeed. That’s the way to feel about what you do, I think. A lot of us who make experimental music have the soul of a crazed, semi-delusional B-movie maker. Well. I do, anyway.

What’s the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

It’s very difficult to escape having to think about technique in music. Technique just means what you need to do to create or recreate the sounds in your music. It isn’t the only thing that matters, of course, but no matter what kind of music you play or compose –complex and precisely determined, simple and freely improvised, or laptop electronic–you have to deal with how you are going to make the sounds. If you don’t spend some time working it out, it’s going to show.

It would be great to be able to get away from that. There have been many attempts: I’m thinking of works like Stockhausen’s “From the Seven Days”, or La Monte Young’s Fluxus era compositions (“Draw a stright line and follow it”) that try to take the player beyond the circumstance of a performance or the use of any particular technique–beyond who they think they are. Very difficult. I think this is why accidents or surprises in playing are often highly valued. They seem to come from a place not bound to technique.

Maybe someday technology will allow us to simply think music into physical existence. But for now it’s hard to escape from the need for some technical skill you can call up and rely upon–whether it’s the most polished, transcendentally virtuosic maneuver, or just banging on the open strings of a guitar with a chopstick.

What special or strange techniques do you use?

Banging on the open strings of a guitar with a chopstick.

Which are the main pleasures of the strings? What are their main limitations?

The two most wonderful things about strings (and here, I’m thinking about the guitar and guitar strings) are that you can tune them just about any way you want; and that you can control the sound intimately and minutely–vibrato, precise and carefully timed pitch bends, articulations, timbres–in a way that involves a very deep connection to how the string feels under your fingers and how it reacts to your touch. I guess one of the main drawbacks is that sustain and crescendos/decrescendos on sustained notes are kind of problematic. Those things can be done (Ebow, volume pedal, for example), but they are always somewhat less than satisfying for me.

What quality do you most empathize with in a musician?

When a musician can appreciate small, simple things in music, there is a good chance we will be able to understand one another. To me, it is a sign that the person is connecting with what there is to hear, rather than a technique, or a certain composer’s name, or a particular trend in music making.

Which artists would you like to collaborate with?

Just my musical friends who have been so supportive and helpful over the years, Jim Goodin, Joseph Benzola, Jeff Gburek, Jurica Jelic, Steve Moshier, Paul Muller, David Beardsley, Marco Oppedesano, Marco Lucci, Moody Al, John Mondick, John Marcinizyn, Jim Ferla, Dave Seidel, Greg Hooper, Bruce Hamilton, Steve Layton … I know I’m forgetting people. There are too many. I’m sorry if I’ve left you out. I hope time will allow me the opportunity to work (or work again) with all these people.

Also, I want to jam on “Worried Life Blues” with Keith Richards.

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

Years ago, when I was a first-year music student, maybe 19 years old, I was listening my way through the classics of modern Western music, trying naively to hear everything, when I came across the John Cage/David Tudor recording Indeterminacy.

I had no idea what it was, what it meant, had no context for understanding it, no familiarity with experimental music or Buddhism, no idea who Cage or Tudor were. As you know, Indeterminacy is a collection of 60 minute-long stories narrated by Cage, with musical accompaniment by Tudor. A story that really hit me was the one where Cage says that nothing is accomplished by writing, hearing or playing a piece of music. It made no sense to me at all. How could someone who had dedicated their entire life to music say something like that?

I asked the person I respected most as a musician at the time, John Maione, one of my guitar teachers at the University of Pittsburgh (whom i still greatly respect), what he thought it was all about. Instead of laughing it off, or telling me it was just a bit of pretentious intellectual weirdness, he said, “Well, I don’t know, but coming from someone like Cage, it’s worth paying attention to and thinking about.”

It was a small moment, but I believe it helped me to form an approach to music that is patient, thoughtful and (when I’m at my best) unafraid of the unknown. It taught me the value of keeping my eye on things I don’t immediately like or appreciate, keeping ideas I don’t particularly trust close by, and realizing that obstacles can be opportunities.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

I did a piece in 2008 called Heaven. It uses the sounds of a pair of cooking pot lids that belonged to my mother–they were purchased in the 1950s and are big, heavy gonglike metal domes. They have a fantastic sound; very clear and consonant, with an unbelievable amount of sustain–almost electronic sounding. I made a series of recordings of the lids–single tones, slow, random attacks, tremolos, etc–and then, using pitch shifting, tuned the clips to a series of pitches in just intonation, and finally layered everything together according to a plan of chords and modulations based on just 7ths. I was heavily under the influence of La Monte Young (with whom I was studying) at the time. What is most surprising about the piece is that it actually seems to work. I’m not sure how good the piece really is, but I was expecting a disaster.

What is the most recent musical experience that has attracted your attention?

I’ve been listening to a fair amount of Thai music recently. Both classical and pop. Absolutely taken by “Wong Shadow Music,” a type of pop music developed in Thailand in the early ’60s –influenced by the English group The Shadows (hence the name) and a lot of American surf and R&B. If you like Dick Dale and dig the sound of the Farfisa organ you should certainly look into this style. I’m not sure where it will lead, but it doesn’t matter, really. This music is just a lot of fun to listen to.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

Two projects wrapped up recently that I’m rather proud of. First, is a various-artist release on the Thirsty Leaves Music label called “…should be feared” (?)

The recording was curated by label founder Moody Al, and contains some challenging, yet irresistably appealing electro-acoustic music. I contributed a setting of the well-known Renaissance tune “l’homme arme.” Also, a vinyl release that’s kind of a retrospective of some of my works from 2010 – 2013 just came out on Mensch Musik, based in Koln. The project was assembled, with austere and elegant artwork, by label owner Marco Supernak.

But currently, I’ve been working on a series of pieces for guitars, electronics and field recordings based (sometimes loosely, sometimes very strictly) on the Gregorian melody “De Profundis”. I’m putting together as many variations as I can, based on different segments of the chant melody. Kind of a stodgy-sounding idea, I know, but it has been inspiring quite a bit of material for me. Especially when bringing the electronic angle into it. Leonin and Perotin might have done something like this if they had access to loopers and Ableton Live. Should be available soon at my Bandcamp page: Mulefield.

Will be traveling to South East Asia this winter (2015-16)–mostly Thailand, and Cambodia (all that Shadow Music had its effect, I suppose), but hoping to spend a little time in Indonesia, too. I plan on trying to work with some traditional instruments to produce … well, we’ll see. Probably do some work with a few of the Native Instruments synthesizers I have.

Why do you need music? Can we live without music?

It keeps me connected to the world. I can’t think of many things in my life that are not related to music in some way. And, no: WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT MUSIC. Go ahead and try …

944898_1319002558115871_5103350136366085639_nsome things I’ve been checking out, mostly new to me.

John McLaughlin – Now Here This
John McLaughlin – the Boston Record
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Atomic Rooster – Atomic Rooster
Atomic Rooster – Death Walks Behind You
Jeff Beck – Live+
Joe Zawinul – Stories of the Danube
Miles Davis and Gil Evans – Quiet Nights
Paul Bley – Chaos
Ralph Alessi – Quiver
Terje Rypdal – After the Rain
Max Richter – Songs From Before
Max Richter – 24 Postcards in Full Colour
Max Richter – Henry May Long
Max Richter – Infra
Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Stephen Halpern – Music for Accelerated Learning
Silent Radio (Silent Records)



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