Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Survey results and some interpretation and thoughts

So, I am back again. I thought I would take this chance to share the results from both the initial, and the follow up survey with everyone. It should be noted I won't share the actual comments people made since I don't have permission to do such, but I will give a brief summary of the results.

First here are the results to the initial survey,
It is noted below that the results do not "add up" this is explained and corrected below.

For those keeping track the second survey began to explore the topic a bit more in depth. It should be noted as all data was collected anonymously it is not possible to know if respondents were consistent between the two. In hind sight this may have been something to consider, but, at the time since no controllable database was used, and anonymity was sought after this was the route that I had to follow. Here are the results to the second survey:


So where does this put us? First I would have liked to get a larger sample size, but that is not really in my control, that being said I will open up a form that will be linked below if you want to anonymously leave your thoughts on the subject matter. If you want to comment directly feel free to comment here, or e-mail me your thoughts. OR GUEST BLOG. These things are very important when developing an article in my opinion, since often in music we rely on the objective comments of the author to express an idea. I would like a great blend of objective and subjectivity towards the overall product.

Second, If we look at the totals there is an error in the initial survey, there were 55 logged respondents, but of that 55, 5 submitted a form with no data, so the adjusted percentages are as follows:
  • Have performed: 40%
  • Studied/would like to: 8%
  • Interested: 32%
  • No interest: 20%
Now an initial comparison of the data provides some points of interest. The first area, which could be very coincidental is that 20% of people have no interest in this style of music, and 18% have never seen a work like this. We can go one step further to consider that of the 14% of respondents (second survey) 80% of them (or 11% of overall) have no interest in exploring this kind, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened with a larger sample source. Though, there are some consistencies, though they are hard to infer from a small sample.

Looking again at the responses in the second survey we can observe that the OVERALL negative impression that would lead to not wanting to explore this music is a total of 25% (11% have not seen chart, 14% have seen). This is again close to the results (+5%) of the original survey. Both of these are positive as the initial survey had no inquiry in to exposure beyond personal performance.

Now a few key points of the written responses are as follows:
  • The success of the music seen appears to rely heavily on a few key points,
    • First, the actual composition itself, is it effective and is there an inherit purpose to the piece.
    • Level of the performer, there seems, based on responses, a lot less room for "faking" as the inherent style of the music requires a very active performer. 
      • Not full of melodies, something needs to be there.
    • Is it cohesive (compositionally and as a performance) unless the goal is to be not. Clarity in architecture.
    • How well are the electronics used. The multimedia, when well done is full of  virtuosity, not an afterthought, or perceived therein to be one.
  • Equipment used NEEDS to be high quality, and all bugs sorted out.
  • Audience involvement, not necessarily in a cheesy educational way, but tools are needed to engage the listeners, especially those who are new, and could feel overwhelmed.
These highlight reoccurring themes in the survey responses, there are many other ideas, and thoughts that are all appreciated and will have great use. What struck me the most is the complexity of reception of this music. This is something I myself am trying to figure out as much as I can so it is good to see it is an active element of the environment that surrounds the field.

So, more will come as I interpret data, if you want to add anything feel free as I said to do it in the comments, or e-mail. If you want it to be anonymous, follow the link below.

Link to form

Again, thank you to all those who took time to fill these out they are serving me greatly towards constructing an article that should hopefully apply to the interests of many and not be self serving ;)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Please take this quick survey, and a mute project

Hey everyone,

As readers know I am working on an article, part of it involves some kind of ground work research mainly to help with the focus of the article, I am on the second phase of the survey, If anyone can take this quick survey it would greatly help. Just follow the link.

Link to Survey

As well, I have started building my mute that will be used for live electronics, the first phase is really a proof of concept I will throw some photos out now and follow up a bit later. The idea here is to get a high quality audio signal for processing since the silent brass and ebrass mute sound far to 1940 phonograph for use live.

Cork and base removed. Tuning sleeve removed and trimmed for maximum internal space for condenser microphone.
 Cork drying on.
Hole cut for microphone. Again compared to the silent brass/ebrass microphone I will be using the same set up I would use for regular amplification. The goal is a high quality signal.

 Hole covered and access maintained, three different bonds in place to keep rubber wall in place. Thank to bike commuting in Chicago so I have lots of old tubes that are no longer road worthy.
You get the idea.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Another collaboration!

I am excited to post that I will be working with composer Jordan Kusel on a work for amplified horn, live electronics, and reactive video. Should be a blast, coming to Chicago near you in 2015!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

New exercise: One for the ears

One thing that I like to do is scale work with drones and a metronome. This past year I started working on scales that fall outside regular scales. For this post let us call Major, minor, chromatic, pentatonic, and whole tone our regular scales. They are mine, so for the next few moments that is how it shall be.

Now I started working more regularly on other scales to keep working out my ears and working new patterns into my practice routine, So I want to share them with everyone, I have found they are great for the ears, a nice change of pace, and is a great mental workout. Do things from many different starting pitches, transpose them around, and put them in different octaves. The goal for me was to get these into my bones so they are as comfortable to me as my regular scales. In addition to really working on my ears

So here is a rundown of the drill:

The scales are based around a few things, Symmetry, pitch sets, variations of pentatonic patterns from other musical styles, and finally my favorite, the enigmatic scale. Enigmatic scales are the powerhouse of building up the ears as you lose your perfect intervals and sense of tonic are not near by.

While doing this try them with drones, without drones, with a tuner, and without. An example of a way I use the tuner when working on these would be establishing my first pitch, then without using the tuner slowly playing the scale making sure to pay close attention to the integrity of the intervals. Then, when reaching the octave, establish the pitch then check into my tuner to see how the octave fared.

So here is a link.

Click me for scale fun!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The horn in the mix of a new world

So I have been busy working on many projects, lots of writing and other such things so this post comes courtesy of the collection on writings I have done before, which is for such occasions as this. A quick little insight into this to decide if you want to read any of it, the goal of this paper was to give some context to the horn in modern aesthetics in particular to modern music. As well as providing some historic information on it. My be up your alley, or may not be. If you think it is follow the link below. If not, off to the wide world of internet memes, cats, and trolls.

New place, same sounds: The horns emergence into modern aesthetic.

Drop me a comment, hit the +1 to let me know you were here.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The strange, the weird, the wonderful.

As the title of this post hints at, this one is going to be jumping into some strange and wonderful places. Some quick background before I start to give context to the oddities that will be here.

I am currently working on a work by Vinko Globokar for a concert. As with Globokar's music there is always an element of improvisation and a fantastic chance for colours. As time has been spent on the work the other three brass players and I have arrived with some great, complex colours and sounds.

Through the looking glass we go. All the techniques we used are common enough to not be totally obscure. That being said, a few of them are more common in music that deals with saturation or of music that shares in that aesthetic. So if you are a stranger to that realm this may seem pretty strange. Though this work is not a work in the style of saturation we decided based on the requests in the score that Globokar has made that some of these techniques would accomplish them. I'm going to have audio as well of the techniques in isolation. Now, I was back and forth on this as many of this techniques are part of what we can additive sound in that the interaction of them with other sounds is what creates the affect of the gesture. But, in the end I decide to hermetically isolate them here for your ears and interest... perhaps enjoyment?

So here is number one. Using a reed in the horn. This is more common than you may imagine, though the level of its success varies greatly. As I said this is more common than one may imagine, especially if you are dealing with composers who do compose in saturation.

Now.., I keep mentioning this word, saturation. So let me let me just put this here.

Alright so back to the reed in the horn thing. As you can see from the start of the video there was an oboe reed in play. The recordings I am posting are using a bassoon reed, you do get a different effect later this coming week I will follow up with an oboe reed for comparison, cause that's just the kind of thing I do.

Bassoon reed in horn:

The next technique I am using is one that as far as I know was pioneered by my friend, composer and hornist Max. Imagine now if you would a CD, you know those cool shiny circles from the 90s? Well what you do with that is by gently resting it in the bell you can create various buzzes and rattles. There is a similarity to stopped horn with it as well as playing into a snare drum but it is full of irregularities. You can alter it in many ways such as: pressure, amount of air allowed past the CD, amount of contact points, etc. Another similar procedure would be the use of a buzz mute. (Aluminum foil, and a straight mute...) This application, being the CD mute I use during a very loud section of the work, the idea behind it was to transition from the sound of amplified buzzing (using instruments or stopping mutes) back to the sound of unaltered horns. So we were looking for a sound that had both buzz and tone melded together.

Cd Mute:

The final one I want to put out here is a glass mute. There is already a great article out there by the Oil Valley hornist, but I will quickly touch on this. The glass mute, to my ear is similar to a straight mute with most of the resonance cut out. Though the kind of bottle used, thickness and quality of glass will ultimately effect the sound in the end. Glass mutes do get called for every so often, though usually they are not really optimized. Now what I mean by that is that the colour and timbre is very subtle so if the texture around it is thick, or... well there at all you are better off using something else. Now, Globokar presented a great opportunity to use this mute. One of the movements starts off with just me, on a pitch of my choice (from several options) and the indication "foggy" so I spent some time playing with registers, notes, mutes, techniques and it just hit me.. WAIT THE GLASS MUTE. The mute I used for the recording is a beer bottle, I also have a coke bottle (which I use in the Glookar deadens the sound even more) a few different beer bottles, and a champagne bottle.

Glass Mute:

So in the end what does this all mean? Why does it matter? These kind of questions are ones I ask myself constantly. For this moment these decisions, these sounds represent in my mind and through creative collaboration with my colleagues a means to best capture an idea and that create meaningful contributions to the overall work.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Contact Dermatitis and Brass Playing

Quick background here, About a year and a half ago I conducted some basic data collection and did a great deal of research to complete a research paper in my Masters degree which was based on Contact Dermatitis in brass playing. I was able to get a small survey done as well as collect some valuable insight from players willing to share their expereiences. Myself, I have mild ACD (Allergic Contact Dermatitis) so I wanted to know more, and invesitage the experience of others. It is later now, but I am going to release this paper for others to share, I had some time to let is sit, and reflect and ultimately decided I was happy with it and its content and would share it with others.

Click the link below to read it. It will also be found in the downloads tab.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis - That's Irritating

Happy Horning.
One more thing, I am writing an article at the moment and am still trying to get more survey results to have a meaningful sample. It is one simple question, found here. As well please if you have opinions etc, please contact me with them

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Survey help needed

Hi everyone!

So, as part of the repertoire project, an eventual outcome of it is to have a publishable article so I am trying to collect some simple data to help supplement the research. If anyone out there reading this finds this it would be great if you could take a few moments (literally seconds of your time) to fill this out.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

September.. the other "new year"

So it is September now, to some this is more of a "new year" then January 1st, this is the time school goes back, orchestras start to get started up again, the leisure of the summer schedule get's filled up with teaching, meetings, music, etc. I saw a tweet earlier this week from Orchestras Canada that brought up this idea of this other „new year" and what resolutions people would make. SO, I figured I would follow suit since I don't have tons going on right now. That being said the schedule is filling up with auditions,  Penderecki, Maximilian Marcoll, Stockhausen is peeking out again, plus many more. As well the next few weeks are plotting to further assault my video game time. So here are my resolutions for myself:

1) Use the audio recorder more, and use it more effectively. I have been thinking a great deal about this and have a few ideas of how to pursue this.

2) To be more aware of the effect on the colour of my sound that fingerings have.

3) Cultivate my soft and compacting playing more.

So there it is. In writing. Guess I need to do those things, not saying there isn't a tremendous amount of other things to be constantly worked on, but for the next little while these things will be a focus.

There will also be some good blog posts as I start working on new works and such, there are some cool ones coming! So that is exciting, a few premieres as well.

Saturday, 12 July 2014


So a quick update, it is summer and I am out playing in the mountains and such so I will not be making any new posts until August. I suggest everyone else go play outside until then.

Until then here is what the internet was made for...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Dealing with Big scores Part 2. AKA scanning

So I wasn't really planning on doing a second part to this topic but following some comments, I thought it would be a good chance to do some comparisons. SO I have.

First off I don't endorse, nor was I approached to support any apps or programs these are ones I have used or others have. So this is just a comparison between three ways to get the score in. The three in the ring are:

  1. Scan Tailor (captured on a Nikon D90 with a 18-105 lens) ---> this is my preferred and usual method
  2. Scan to Text (Free version, leaves a watermark)
  3. Camera Scanner for PDF by S4BB Limited
So here are the results, they are linked as the files themselves would never have fit on the page.

Scan Tailor: (3 results from same photo. #1 No alteration, #2 +10 line darkness, #3 -10 line darkness. As always I don't use despeckeling as I find it does more harm than good to sheet music.)

General comments:
First off what I like about Scan Tailor is it is FAST and you can batch process a great deal of files. Once you start it you can go off an work on other things. Yes you are not doing it directly on the device but I can speak from experience my camera is faster at capturing photos, there are less glitches, and I have a more consistent product.

You can also edit things more, cropping, borders, margins, etc. The plus from this is a consistent product as you can match all pages to the same margins and position. Less irregularities are a nice thing.

Scan to Text:

General Comments:
What I do like about this app is it picks up pencil marks really well, in addition it doesn't just call a photo a document scan, as many apps I have tried put the photo in gray scale and call it quits. This app gives you limited editing, you can select content and compile a PDF in the app itself, so you can keep adding the next page until you are done. As well it will deskew the page for you, though with music this could get frustrating as you cant control the output and deskewing software I have used seems to struggle with music especially when you have long strings of 16th notes. (Dewarping is a mess... never use it with music on any platform, at least I have not found one that doesn't make the music useless)

Downside it is not fast. (I was using a BlackBerry Z10) This was the slowest app I used.

Camera Scanner for PDF

General comments:
Like Scan to Text, this allows basic editing and output in files.

Big downside, this is an app that converts to Gray scale and calls it done.

Overall comments:

My big takeaway from this is about finding what fits your needs. My preferred method is still Scan Tailor, the additional time of taking pictures (point and click cameras work great as well you don't need a DSLR) does make it seem like a larger project upfront. Though in hindsight if you have an efficient workflow it negates that as you can process a great deal of files in one go. In addition, you have more control over the output (editing). I did very very little editing with this post, in the past when I have worked with graphic scores I always take them to Photoshop first to make sure they are super clear so I get details like pencil marks, graphics etc. So again with Scan Tailor you get speed and control the apps don't offer. 

One plus to the apps is you can do it right on your tablet/phone and you have it on device. Scan Tailor is processed on computer so you will need to transfer the files (cloud storage, etc). Though, in my opinion there are some perks to having it all in the cloud.

With the apps I think the best is to try a bunch as you will need to find a good balance of speed, control, and quality to best match you needs.

At the end of the day I think the biggest factor is time and the availability of hardware... and patience. One of the apps almost caused me the throw my phone out on to the I-90 since it crashed several times (luckily it kept the files in my workflow....)

Let me know you were here. Hit the +1 or drop a comment or suggestion below.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Dealing with BIG scores and parts

So anyone who has been active in new music has probably dealt with this one time or another, that of the


So there are obvious challenges with this, including things such as transport, needing several stands to rehearse, arts and crafts to make it work for performances, having a copy for study, and more!

So before we go blasting people for this, big scores are useful when there is a great deal of information present. When you are doing a work for a complex audio track, two or more instruments, and timer you really do need to have all of that information on hand to execute a great performance. There are some exceptions with publishers. I won't name them here but with some you end up with what is a standard size printing on a score with GIANT margins. I did a piece like this recently I ended up taking a paper cutter to it (I own the part, librarians calm down) and turned it into a very usable size score (with the original binding).

Though the last thing we want to do is mutilate parts to make them easier for us. So I have a method that I have used in the past, and have used to help colleges out that I will share with you all. (Hold applause)

A year ago I built a book scanner to help me digitize my library so I could have it with me on my tablet at all times. The benefit of this was I had access to all of my resources at all times, so when I wanted a single page from Arbans I could just pull it up and use it. No copying, or carrying around that tome or the back problems that will come with it. So why is that pertinent to this? Well with a book scanning set up you can turn HUGE pieces of paper into whatever size you want very easily. I won't get into full book scanning workflow or anything as there is tons out there on the subject already. I will just help cover one sample case here, the problems I found and solved etc.

Here is that part we all saw coming. Don't start acquiring music this way that you do not own. Support publishers and colleagues that work hard making this available to us. If you make performance copies destroy them after etc etc we all know the drill here. If not, consult your local librarian and they will let you know how it works.

So Step 1:


  • Camera (that can have a wired/wireless trigger)
  • Tripod
  • Camera trigger
  • Conversion program. I recommend ScanTailor
  • Suggested: A way to convert images to PDF.
  • Piece of glass (recommended) or a way to keep the page totally flat (books/scores) if they are not it will warp the output.
Step 2:

Set up.

This is mine, I made the stand out of cardboard, you can find blueprints for this in tons of places. Not a necessity, but makes life easy, I have used a music stand in the past as well. What is important is that the angle between the lens is and the item being captured is the same or else you will warp the page.

Check out here for ideas.

Step 3: Take some pictures.

Now you get to process the photos!!

Here is a guide that is just better than what I would type up... so.... CLICK

Friday, 13 June 2014

Week off

Well, I have reached my week off from horn. I will also be taking this week to not think about music and such in any intellectual way. SO, here are some people that have already done that. Enjoy.

Also, check out this recording from a performance of Accords Perdus Max Pankau and I gave last week.

Here are some thought provoking things as well I have read recently.

Finally, from Erin Paul's blog

See you all in a week.

Friday, 6 June 2014


If you take a look at the top of the page you will see two new link, a project tab, and a downloads tab. I have put an exercise I like to do in there.

The idea behind it is practicing the division of a beat into rhythms we tend to not be as good at. Mainly, five, seven, and nine. I had a conductor once ask how often we all worked on those subdivisions... needless to say not a lot of people did, or do. The end result of that is we are great at dividing a beat into 2, 3, and 4 but our ability to play even 5/7/9/11/13 etc... is poor in comparison. So, just some food for thought. Use a metronome, take time to make sure you are accurate in  your subdivisions and not guessing. It is my opinion that this kind of work will make you a better musician, and when you encounter polyrhythms they become "not a big deal" which frees you up to be more expressive.

Exercise link

Some cool stuff in the pipeline so stay tuned. Leave a comment, hit the +1 button, you know the drill.

Friday, 23 May 2014

The overlooked things make a big impact.

First off, sorry posts have become less frequent I am BUSY, This month has brought the Rite of Spring, Till, Rosenkavalier, Liadov, Lanza, Bedrossian, Messiaen, the list keeps going.  BUT, here today is a post.

So this post will be in two parts and comes from two places, Grisey's Accords Perdus and Messiaen's Appel Interstelliare. That is a big bite of horn music, also both quite different from each other. In many ways this post is a continuation of two other posts Faking it, and The Little Things. I am sure this post will say something by itself, but the is a great deal of ideas and thoughts I will be building on from the previously mentioned.

First off, this idea I have that an exceptional performance of any kind of music requires a few things.

  1. Knowledge of the style and score.
  2. Knowledge of the composer as well as their idiosyncrasies when it comes to notation. (For example we Know Bruckner and Mahler marked their music VERY heavily compared to others. The same is true with composers now a days. Though with modern notation less is left to "conventional knowledge", but there are markings etc. that remain rather consistent in various styles.. see point 1.).
  3. Validity of the publication. This has two big points. First, the quality between publishers is vast... some work heavily with composers and we can generally assume that the marking there in are valid markings. Though, others are not as consistent and full of errors (this also applies to music from other era, but the wide range of publishing venues currently complicated matters a bit more). Second some composers more than others are known to constantly revisit their music (Boulez for example) to make changes. So, is the music you are working from the current one, or is it a photocopy of the first draft that became heavily revised. This may seem like a big thing to bite off, but I believe that this kind of responsibility is needed to bring accurate and purposeful interpretations to listeners.
  4. Quality collaboration. This is the byproduct of all of the above, we all have different ideas, hopefully built on experience and education, someone may have the missing piece of the puzzle. 
So when we consider all of the above what does it all mean. 


Example 1 from Grisey's Accords Perdus 

So, quick thing to be said. Accords Perdus is a work for two horn based on the natural harmonic series of many horns. The end result is you have varying degrees of microtonality, when you consider and actually take the time to analyze the microtonality the piece becomes more complex sonically, and in turn more interesting. It is one thing to just get the pitches on the page but Grisey gives us much more to consider. The same way we analyze Beethoven's music to know the harmonies the same thing applies here, that is the analysis of the score. SO to example 1. We see that both horns have marked an E eighth flat, one could possibly assume that this is a moment of unison between the two horn. BUT (there wouldn't be a post if there wasn't a but) if you take time and compare harmonic 7 on the SI horn (the upper horn is currently using SI horn to get the E eight flat. The part is not in SI, just the use of SI horn will give the appropriate pitch) and harmonic 10 of the FA horn you would find out that the natural intonation of those harmonic series would place the pitches not in unison but actually ~17.5 cents apart. This kind of thing happens often in the work so one has to take time to really figure out what is going on, so that it can be conveyed to the listener in an obvious way.

I will be back later with part 2 which will talk about the last two points from my list of 4 in regards to Messiaen.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

What are these skills?

So when I started playing new music I never thought about the wide range of skills one would need to develop that fall outside the standard playing of the horn. I am not talking about extended techniques or interpretive dance. I am talking about the nitty gritty things that have to happen when you perform some of this music.

For those that have followed the blog, or know me know I do a great deal of works with electronics. So as a point to start from, let us start from there.

I was fortunate in my undergrad to have taken two courses with composer Laurie Radford, One course was called sonic arts, and it dealt with the recording and altering of sounds, and composing from that material. The second course was an independent study in Max/MSP dealing with live signal processing. These skills, which have included Max/MSP, various audio editing programs, sequencers, etc. have been a GREAT use to me in various ways. The most obvious is in performing works with electronics. That being said, I highly recommend hiring someone who specializes in this if you do perform these works, it just takes a great deal of stress and strain off of you, since you will have enough to worry about. Though, being able to draw on these skills is a huge asset in rehearsals and practise so you can become familiar with the sound world you will be performing in.

So that was one huge set of skills they don't teach to all musicians, if you get a chance take courses in those things, it is a ton of fun. Currently working on Grisey's Accords Perdus has called on another skill. That is being able to generate a click track for performance. It would be helpful to mention that the click track for the Grisey is not a simple track to make, though the process is simple, it can be time consuming. For those who want to make a simple click track Audacity is the best, it is simple to use (though limited in control). I generally use Ableton Live to make my tracks but since I was under a time crunch I went back to audacity for this one.

So this was just a quick post talking about little things... interviews are coming up soon, as are some in depth posts relating to some really cool things... trust me.

Make sure you check out the horn repertoire project, I have been adding to it lately since I have had a little time to do some research.

Until next time.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Solfège and how it saved me

In my undergrad I was fortunate to have a musicianship teacher who was FANTASTIC. From him, I learned tons of incredible things that have always been of tremendous use. Especially with music that falls outside that easy to hear world of tonality. One of the skill is, as the post gave away, is solfège, for those of you that don't know you can read about it here. In short it is the assigning of syllables to degrees of the scale. There are two forms we used and had to master, movable do and fixed do. Movable do was reserved for tonal music where as the key changes so does the location of do. Fixed do was used in Atonal music at times. I should explain this a bit.

In the simple form fixed do is a method of solfège in which middle C is do and as tonality shifts you alter where the tonality falls. So C major would be do  then as we modulate towards G major suddenly your scale is based off so which is now functioning as do. In Atonal music we would use this form, it made you truly internalize what the intervals were and how they sounded. That being said if we hit a moment that was based on a diatonic scale we would insert or modulate to movable do to match that. This was something we exercised with our teacher, which was great because it taught you to find harmonic stability. As time has gone on it has given me the ability to quickly recognize these things, since there are times where you will totally miss it.

Lately I will work in fixed do when I encounter these moments but that is for a personal ear training reason. I have a feeling after a few months I will be back to my old ways of using movable do and fixed do together. This is because I really enjoy the way it allows you to dissect the music beyond a purely technical "checklist" fashion of analysis and into a larger scale understanding of the work.

So that is the preamble if you are still with me here I am going to talk about how I use these tools. One thing I have been asked, or commented towards is. How do you get this stuff in your head and the extension of how to sight read music that lacks obvious harmonic structure (talking in the sense of diatonic or chromatic music... for purposes of this post the word chromatic does not apply to something like Salome which is at the edge of chromaticsicm.).

Here are my secrets, they are not that ground breaking, they are tools I learned from my musicianship professor that I have kept up and built on.

NUMBER 1: Solfège... be good at it, if you can sight sing it... you can sight read it (On this, practise using middle C as do for fixed do. I am talking to horn players and such here. Don't think of the horn middle C as do in fixed do since the horns C is an F which is a fa. We are working on our ear, not horn.)

NUMBER 2: This is an extension of number one. The book Modus Novus.
This book is remarkable, it will help train your ear to hear elements of Atonal music. It gets them in your ear. Again I work out of this book in fixed do most the time. I will sing exercises, then buzz them, and finally play them on the horn. We are trying to make slightly obscure intervals second nature so when you encounter similar things in the wild you have them in your bones.
NUMBER 3: Practise sight reading Atonal melodies. Find things with rhythms that are not super complex, dissect the music into manageable chunks first, find intervals, think in solfège. Then either sing it or play it. The benefit of working in fixed do as a horn player is that nothing changes onto the horn, I just recreate the exact same pitch content, and the solfège syllables are still relevant. (Though one could argue this is the case with movable do also. The argument I would make based on personal experience is that each scale has a certain "colour"  or "taste" and you are changing that around when you start transposing.

That is all for this week. In the coming weeks I have some Q & As planned with some cool people, and some more topics.

Slap that +1, or drop a comment letting me know you were here.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Contrasting sounds

As I expand on the content of the Blog I will be focusing mainly on works I am doing, especially since there is quite a great deal of things on the horizon between Mocrep, Ensemble 20+, concerts, and commissions. So there will be lots to talk about, figure out, experiment with, and create.

Up first, I am working on Vinko Globokar's Dos a Dos right now, which is a wild work. We are doing it with two horns as it is scored for any two instruments. I am working with Composer/Hornist Max Pankau on it which is great. One interesting aspect of the work (from many, between lights, and screaming at each other in the dark) we get to choose our own unique acoustic articulations (aka sounds). We are experimenting with using different mutes to create unique contrasts to each other in addition to other more conventional means of altering sound.

Enter..... The glass mutes. (Composers should probably stop reading here... As I don't want to be a victim of mob brutality. Though, if someone does want to write for glass mute, a few quick things. 1. Glass mute changes will be SLOW, we are dealing with something that will make some fantastic new dents in our horns, or will shatter on the ground. 2. If the texture around this is in anyway "thick" you wont notice it, this is a subtle colour. 3. Most people probably wont want to make a mute...)

Back to the mute. Glass mutes all sound unique, the best way to describe it is like a straight mute that doesn't resonate much. That is a very simple way to explain it, the quality of the glass, cork or no cork, thickness of the bottle, etc, all effect what sound will be created. So we are trying lots of things, including water in the mutes, and other creative applications of materials.There are almost limitless possibilities. It should be noted that Globokar does not call for glass mutes, we made that decision ourselves. This is an important distinction of Globokar's works, is that we as performers get to search and experiment to conceptualize and realize the work within Globokar's outline. It is a great experience and as a performer is very rewarding because in the end you feel that you have really created something unique. 

There are some other great things in Dos a Dos, voice, lighting, staging, all the things we expect from Globokar. I will get into this more and probably throw up some videos of experiments as we work to realize this work.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Changes, news, and miscellaneous things.

So, there are going to be more changes here, as you can see with the addition of new pages, the Biblio project and such. There will also be a content change. One thing I have learned is that you can never predict what is going to happen next, the things that happened I never saw coming. If you have been on the "about" page you would have seen I have announced a project. I will get into that in a moment, first, the changes.

It is taking a great deal of time and resources to get the multi-channel tape part for the Stockhausen, and my workload exploded here. So ultimately, I felt it would be best to push the Stockhausen back till fall to make sure nothing is rushed and there is time to get all the materials. In addition to this I have had requests to cover other things on the blog as well. So I will do that. Everything is going to be related to new music and things associated with it, ideas, techniques, etc. So watch for that. Posts may be more frequent since there is lots going on I could talk about.

Now for the BIG news. I have begun collaborating with composer Pierre-Henri Wicomb. The end of this will be a new work for horn and multimedia. This is the thing that I never saw coming, and am extremely excited to be a part of it. I will keep everyone posted on that project as well.

Until next time.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The little things make all the difference

As I mentioned in an earlier post I have been preparing Gérard Grisey's Accords Perdus to perform with Composer/performer Horn player Max Pankau . For those of you that are not aware of this work it is MONUMENTAL for two horns. It is based on the natural harmonic series and is done so in a way that you end up with a great amount of microtonality, from quarter tones to eighth tones. It is a remarkable work you can read about it here. The Oil Valley Hornist blog does a great write up on it so I will not try. Go ahead and wander over there and have a read.

What I want to talk about is how I go about learning microtonal skills. This also relates back to the Stockhausen as he does call for some microtonal sections. More often than not microtonal things fall under that "faking it" post I made a few weeks back. Which is a shame, because poorly executed microtones sound all kinds of bad. When I first encountered micrtones I took a peers advice and just "played it out of tune". When I look back that was terrible advice that just missed the point. So here are my quick tips to figuring it out

  1. You need to learn to hear and be comfortable with microtones. 
    1. Practice playing a semitone and find the space equal between the two. Try different fingerings etc ( I will get into that later) For the horn we are lucky since the harmonic series has things like flat seventh harmonics. KNOW THE SERIES, and use it.
    2. Don't use a tuner to do it. That is just a dog chasing it's tail, be able to HEAR it. Compare from the semitone above and below, isolated and in context.
  2. Figure out the best way to do it for the work you are playing.
    1. Two examples:
      1. I did a work last year that had some rapid microtonal things, no way I could do it well with using harmonic series based intonation. You can always DETUNE your horn. A brief note about that. Usually things happen too quickly to muck around with slides. So detune the Bflat side of your horn and use it for the micro sections and the F side for regular things. Mark the slide where the quarter tone is (eighth tones are a diff beast) and use a slidelock so you can get back to home base quick. This will also work if a composer gives you microtones below the trebel clef staff (horn in pitch) where microtones don't really exist in the harmonic series.
      2. Grisey's Accords Perdus uses harmonic intonation, you are called to play quarter tones, and eighth tones so the only way you will make it work is the harmonic series. That being said, when you are in rehearsal you need to make sure the aural product is correct so be prepared with all the alternates (fingerings, and where they are in the harmonic series).
  3. Be aware of the colour. With microtones the colour shifts on the horn through a great deal of spectrums we usually don't get. Keep an ear for it make sure it makes sense sonically.
  4. Finally, practise, practise, practise. These things are hard enough on the best day and fall outside the traditional technique in many many ways, so when they are called for don't be surprised (you will surprise people when you can actually do them)
I did some google footwork for people.
Oil Valley Hornist - Huge resource for this stuff, great work!
Charles Ives - Not for horn, but you can really hear it.
Doug Hill covers this in his Extended Technique book (something all horn players [and not composers...] should own.)

Sunday, 30 March 2014

A post on nothing.

Sorry everyone, but this is a post about, well... nothing.

I just wanted to let everyone know that due to being alarmingly busy suddenly with various auditions, recordings, and projects that Stockhausen is taking a brief break. Which is okay, as the performance will not be until the fall some time apart will be fine. I will keep posting here though, since I am going to be working on it in some ways. Mostly away from the horn. Still things to learn and share, but for this week. Enjoy the following.

On that note, I should get back to the practice cave before rehearsals begin this evening.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

"Faking" it

So the title of this post is misleading, sorry, but that is just what it is. This post will be back about my learning process and Nebadon, and what I am doing with this work. Though it is worth noting that this is one of my big concept things I feel strongly about, especially towards new music. For now, let's jump back on starship Stockhausen and depart for Nebadon (nerd alert).

One thing I truly respect about Stockhausen's music is by and large it is rather quite playable, that is not saying it is easy, it is actually rather difficult. It is full of little things that at first look simple but turn out to be either complex or downright ludicrous, be it in it's coordination, execution, or simply playing it with a beautiful sound. I will put two examples of this on here.

So above are those two examples. There is nothing really complicated about the patterns, they present some challenges, but again, nothing to lose that much sleep over. (Ignore my markings since that is some analysis and such that I have talked in brief about before). So back to the challenges that exist in these examples. With the first example, the challenge is can you make a nice clean shift between open and stopped, maintain pitch, while entering delicately on a higher pitch. BUT, the priority here should be can you do it with the singing sound that you would use in Brahms, or Schubert.

Example number two, the challenge is facility in the low range, clarity, a good trill, and a resonant sound. This is good enough for a sub par version of this lick (which appears in various permutations throughout the entire work (over 20 minutes!!) It is a tricky little lick, but executing it has to be a guarantee, not a good enough.), what I am truly striving for is can I make a "majestic" or "interesting" musical line out of the material, in such a way that nobody notices this slightly unidiomatic horn lick.

Since Stockhausen writes music that is very playable I am going to pull an example from another work I am preparing that is more towards the... "are you kidding me? I'm not a bass clarinet" kind of lick." Which will help me make my bigger picture point.

As you can see, this is a little further away idiomatically from something horn players are used to seeing. (The work is full of this, and it grows in complexity, and each permutation you get LESS variance in what pitches you need to draw attention towards.) So this is the kind of lick my title was referring to, Faking it. Anyone who knows me knows that when I hear someone say "I can just fake that" is akin to nails on a chalkboard. So I think I will take  moment to explain that, and as well relate it back to Stockhausen, and Sirus (dork) in general. 

If you have ever been to a new music concert, you have heard (and probably in great supply) faking. Otherwise known as, kind of making the gesture. Now, some of you have probably made it to see a concert of new music that seemed to be so insanely good there must have been some witchcraft going on. Well, there was no witchcraft, you probably heard someone(s) who had spent countless hours getting it AS CLOSE to the ink as possible (while keeping a wonderful, intune, captivating sound, that is full of musical gesture). If you imagine playing Beethoven and the player beside you is "faking" it, you would know they were not up to par, and that person would most likely not be in that chair next concert. Could you imagine a concert of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with a string section full of faking it (you probably can...). When you compare those to performances where they "nailed it" why would you ever buy the other product.

As a performer I feel obligated to make sure I can play the music as well as I can. If that means I have to woodshed a lick up until the day of the concert that is what I will do, I can't personally accept "faking" it as an answer for any kind of music. So back to Nebadon, I am focusing on always having this wonderful sound that is full of colour and intrigue. My sound model is the same that I would use playing Cello Suites (in C) on horn. If someone froze time on a single note, I wouldn't want them to think that I was playing some strange modern music (or isn't good...). I would want them to be able to say what a great resonate note, he must be playing some Schubert. (Then when time resumes they would be in for a treat)

 This isn't a problem unique to new music but it seems to be a slightly more accepted practice for one reason or another.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

What is in a performance Part 2

So this time around I felt like talking a bit more in detail about the nature of programming this style of music.

I wrote this awhile back and never published it anywhere, but I think it will find its home in this series of posts I am working on. (So if the voice is a little strange I was writing for a less casual posting.. so I had my serious pants on that day)

As someone who is active in new music I am always facing certain challenges that are not as present when programming from the conventional cannon. These challenges can be seen as opportunity for an immersive experience for the audience, if thoughtfully planned.

One challenge is that of the perceived expectation of new music. Robert Blumen talked about at great length in his article “Why do we hate modern classical music”, I won’t get into this article since I don’t think I could keep it brief, at all (though if you want to raise your blood pressure, go give it a read, and try to be polite. This article also highlights how the terminology we use can be harmful. I hate using the phrase "modern classical music, or anything close. This music has it's own genre, there is no need to try to borrow from another. Rant over). What he does bring to the front though, is that people expect modern music to sound like “car crash” music. I assume those reading this are well aware this is not the case, nor is this an opinion that I share in the least. There is a tremendous amount of great music out there and some of that “car crash” music he speaks about is some of the greatest in the cannon. This creates a unique for us, especially as performers that is: how on earth will we get this music out in a way that is going to be meaningful.

One of the most used (read: abused) tactics I have seen is referred to as “The hostage program”. This is where you program a monumental, popular, and a largely accepted work at the end of a program, or have it share the first half of the bill. This is done largely so people don’t have the chance to show up at intermission to hear only their favorites. While we are going down that road while you are at it scrap the intermission, now people are there to stay (I have seen this done, and it usually ends with a very fidgety upset audience). This hostage method works to some degree as you do create exposure for the audience this is largely due to the “rules” of concert halls related to seating. If you want to hear Brahms, you have to hear Mason Bates, or R Murray Schaffer.

Last year I programmed a recital with Turnarounds for amplified horn and tape, Spiegel im Spiegel, Deanimator for horn and electronics, and finishing with The Reinecke B-flat trio for horn, clarinet, and piano. Though, while programming this I fell a new way that I could approach programing. The intermission in the afore mentioned program came AFTER Deanimator which left me to figure out how do I program the first half, and to do so in a way that people leave with a great experience. A major problem/opportunity with electronic music (in programming in my opinion) is how quickly it can cause tension, emotional highs and lows, angst, relief, etc. When the recital was in its infancy there were two works that were going to be there no matter what, Turnarounds, and Deanimator. Two things these works do (both fantastic works) is taking the audience through highs and lows at a rapid pace in ways that can be overwhelming the listener. When I realized this I figured I needed to find a piece that would bring the listener back to a calm, and relaxed state. As well they needed to be ready and receptive to the experience the next work.

The answer came to me in Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, now as a horn player, attempting the Pärt was, perhaps, the most challenging undertaking I could think of at the time. Which was daunting, and more than once I considered my mortality, and thought to myself there had to be another way. Though, I could never seem to find one that would work as well as the Pärt. So as a performer I faced the challenge. In the end the response from the programming of the first half from the audience was great, they didn’t care there was a “masterpiece of the repertoire” coming after the intermission. The first half was so successful as a whole it simply worked and didn’t need the “treat for the audience” of the Reinecke.

From all this I learned a major lesson in programming new music, if we want the music to become more popular, appreciated, and accepted it has to come from the performer and programming. As well as through very meaningful execution of the music since we have something that the standard cannon doesn’t have as much of, the importance of the live performance. New music is such an immersive experience which simply can’t be replicated at home in a pair of headphones. Seize the power of that and go forth and program. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

What is in a performance Part 1

As I mentioned in my post last week I was preparing to talk about certain elements of a performance that in my mind help make a complete and memorable performance... Then I was sidetracked. But, we are back to our regular programming and will go on from here.

So in part 1 I plan to address the main areas that help create complete products both in the micro and macro picture as well as briefly touch on a few things. (Remember this is my opinion, and as always is very much me figuring these things out with the hope for dialogue to happen)

Starting on the macro sides of things I always consider a few things when programming a piece.

1) Do I have a theme or if not, can I derive one from the work that is causing me to program a concert.

    • Most if not all of my recitals etc, have come from the desire to perform a singular work.
    • I always strive to have some kind of internal consistency that help pull things together, OR helps progress the concert from work to work in a way that you can go from Gabrieli to Globokar.(You can do it... if you plan it out and make it make sense.)
2) What is the desired effect/affect of the recital as a whole. (I also address this on the micro side)
    • This will directly effect what I program around the major work. If I am trying to create a recital full of radical aesthetics I will not be programming Strauss, sorry old chap it just isn't in the books.
3) Finally... is it possible.
    • Anyone who has been with me as I program recitals knows in the initial stages I have no feeling for the actual demands of the recital (Nor should I).This has led me to reprogram things many many times. On the plus, each work that I omit can easily become the basis for the next concert. 
      • I should note, there are times when a work fits the bill so perfectly that you simply have to suck up you mortality and make it happen (for me that was Speigel im Spiegel).
4) Time.. since well, we have to be sensitive to that. 
    • The more radical a program becomes the more I am aware of this since people (me included) can only take so much.

On the micro side, the list is basically the same so I don't need to explain it further. The only thing I will mention is that I try to avoid programming works that are very similar, if I do I need to find a way to give the listener time to digest things (intermissions, lighter works, etc).

I think a great number of times when we talk about making a great show we look at what we have in front of us, instead of what we could have. Stubbornness has led to some recitals that are intolerable... long, redundant (as much as I love Bach I don't need 2.5 hours of keyboard Sonatas.), and inaccessible.

Here is my big point that I have come to personal terms with, you may agree, or not... As the performer we are the least important person in the process. The Audience is the king, they buy tickets, they tell their friends, they literally feed us, both in food and in the ability to acquire more food. That being said, Everything starts from what WE want to present. We then find a way to balance things so that the audience walks away and remembers what they say. Though we are the least important, we do hold all the cards it just helps to know what game we are playing. (Trust me if you try to play blackjack in a poker game you won't fare that well)

In regards to the Stockhausen I think I have nailed down the program (for the time being, I am sure it will change) for now it will be including Messiaen, Reynolds, and Stockhausen. Will be fun.

Until next time.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Making it matter

I originally started this post to write about what I was going to do to make Nebadon come off successfully as a great performance of a piece of music. The hope of that post was to draw some very obvious parallels between ANY style of music. About those certain things that we as performers need to do to make a works performance successful, be it Bach, Mozart, Stockhausen, or Globakar. Since, in my opinion at least there are certain elements that need to happen to make a performance great.

Now, here is where that post went off a rail... I agree with everything I just wrote or else why would I put it on the internet. What I started thinking about though was the big that question we as performers are faced with (or should be in my opinion). That is the big WHY. What is it about whatever piece of music you chose to present to the world that makes it special, that makes it unique and worth sharing. Yes we all have different tastes. I can say in total certainty (I’d bet all my Star Wars cards, even the Fett man on this) that there are more people turned off by new music than on. This presented me with an interesting question, it is one that I have faced before but as time goes on more clarity comes from it. It is this, how do I make this matter? In the grand scheme of things, for music, and its place/role in society how do we keep value in music. At the same time how do we keep pushing the barriers of imagination, of sound, of possibility. I love Brahms as much as the next person but that isn’t the end of the road, it is a point on the journey.

As you can tell this post is very much of me working it out with myself. Though, it is also an invitation for dialogue about the subject matter. I would love to hear from people who don’t like new music (and are willing to discuss it, not just call it stupid sounds and dumb composers… since, I am sorry if this is your attitude you need to grow up) about what is it missing for you.

I don’t have answers to all the above. I have ideas, lots of them. I know why this music matters to me (as does all music) I think one challenge we face, especially those of us who spend a great deal of time in the “new music” world is not only reaching out to others, but inviting them to reach back.

Maybe next time I will talk about Stockhausen…               

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Memorizing, and a thought

I will be the first to tell you I do not memorize my music all that often. In the past I always memorized my unaccompanied works, which is something that I have let slip. This has been in part due to how complicated some of the works have been, as well dealing with time scales, graphic notation and other… well let’s call it what it is, excuses. Though now, as I continue down the Stockhausen road I am reaching the part that I have left the most time for, memorizing the work, the time scale, etc.

Now, the reason I am doing this is that in the performance notes, they very first note is that the work is required to be performed from memory all the time. With Stockhausen this should be taken very seriously as his works (as Nebadon does) contains staging elements, lighting elements, and so forth. The piece demands it from the performer. That being said a 25 minute electronic work that is full of complexities not only in the horn part, but in the relationship between time and sound, as well as the interaction with the tape. (Later on that in a later post)

On the plus, I started memorizing right away, as well taking the time to analyze the work will always aid you, since understanding the internal consistencies in a work will help it make sense and give location in your mind to the material. This I think is an often overlooked element when people play new music, they either write it off as strange and don’t show it the respect it deserves, or go at it haphazardly. All this music is full of internal consistencies and as the performer you need to understand them so you can deliver it intelligently to the listener. As well, much like memorizing a work by Beethoven understanding the harmonic framework will permit the memorization to happen faster and more securely.

Tiny post, and tiny rant complete.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Some growth

Over the past two weeks I have been BUSY, which has been nice. Though, it did send the Stockhausen towards the back burner for the present moment. Before I did get swamped learning new music (Falstaff, Concordanza, etc) I did get that lesson on the Stockhausen which was very insightful As well gave me some indirect feedback on my preparation to this point. There is an update to my performance plan for this (though I will be open to venues ;) )

First the lesson.

When we undertake works like this I think it is very important to find people who are involved in the traditions that surround this music. Be it through their mentors, a life time of performance and conducting, and so on. I am fortunate enough to get to access to these people on a daily basis and have really taken advantage of it and plan to continue. One thing that came up in the lesson was in regards to this tradition that is being established right now around modern music and music of the 20th century. It is not hard to imagine back to Viennese court days and with our modern understanding of the performance traditions of those times to imagine how things could have been in the performance world. Well, right now we are in our own period of traditions in regards to notation, and performance.

“NOTHING is as obvious as it may seem.”

It could be something as simple as a slash through a note, the use of IRR, time scale, etc. all of these markings have been around long enough to have had a tradition established for the most part. Or at least a general consensus among performers on how these gestures are executed. I can tell you that after this lesson and discussing what has become the consensus, and why has changed how I play things. It also makes me feel rather silly for not asking more questions before.
In regards to this development of tradition, or musical language I think it is so very important to have all avenues of communication open, and critical thinking turned on. Since the availability to information is so present now with the internet and its ability to disseminate this information to most everywhere there is no excuse to not be asking all the questions.

In the end I learned a lot more than I have written here, that will come later.

My plan is to perform the Stockhausen in May, on a program with works by Messiaen, Reynolds, and one other word TBD.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Still here, still horning

Sorry for the lack of posts but life has been busy the past few weeks travelling between Chicago and Cleveland one week and Chicago and Calgary the next. That being said work on Stockhausen has not slowed and new ideas and concepts are filling the air as I practise.

To elaborate on that I have been busy conceptualising Nebadon for the last few week since I have a great majority of the technical demands under my fingers it is time to really get into the heart of the work. An interesting thing about Nebadon is that it is a work by Stockhausen where he does not retain the same absolute control over the performer that he does in many of his other works. There are next to no dynamic markings of any kind, instead we are left with the instruction that the horn is to be always present over the recording. Now in once sense this does direct the player to perhaps force things or to limit their dynamics even though the horn is amplified, we as the performer need to be very aware how we are interacting with the tape part in regards to register and the natural carrying power (as well as how they respond to amplification).

Luckily this is not my first rodeo, I have performed several amplified works in the past and am slightly comfortable knowing where I need to really produce a great deal of sound and where I can lay back. This ties into an earlier post as well in regards to studying the electronic part, more often than not in a work like this there will be moments of very dense sound, and moments where the electronic part is more transparent. Taking this into account and since Stockhausen is allowing the horn player to have some freedom this has been a focus for me, where can I find conventional musical elements that I can highlight.

The next challenge has been the analysis, anyone who is friends with me on Facebook saw posts I made with photos of the score heavily marked in pencil crayon trying to pull apart Stockhausen's music. This really aids me in gaining an understanding of what is going on. In addition, since this has to be memorized I can't over emphasise the importance of knowing this work inside out and backwards.

It took me some time but I was able to unlock some brief moments of the work (I will elaborate on this in a later post) and it never continues to amaze me that a work that appears on the surface to be so overwhelmingly complex is in reality, extremely systematic, and simple.