Posts tagged music

Posted 6 months ago

Mary Halvorson: Pay for live music!!!


I went to see a really amazing concert tonight. A trio of musicians of the highest caliber who played beautifully. It was a “pass the hat” concert with a suggested donation of $10. I watched the tip jar go around (clearly labeled ‘suggested donation $10’). A couple people put in nothing, another…

An important message from guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson. For real!

Posted 9 months ago

A new interview/performance/demonstration where I talk about my SuperCollider-based live sampling and granular synthesis setup and discuss my new album IRIS.

Posted 9 months ago


Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Rhythm Section and a Laptop: solo works from Brian Chase and Carl Testa

The history of early electronic music stayed in close alignment with “classical” music circles for many decades—the sounds were new and otherworldly, dovetailing nicely with New Music innovations from serialism to indeterminacy, and from a practical perspective, building and maintaining the first generation of synths took the kind of money one rarely finds in musicians’ hands outside of academia. As time went on, and electronic instruments became both portable and affordable, they increasingly became go-to instruments in rock and pop music circles, and as we all know, the popular music of the last several generations is constructed from mountains of silicon and electricity.

As pop music took over the Moogs and the hard drives, though, the classical music world slowly shuffled its feet backwards toward the exit doors. With a few notable exceptions, most of the contemporary classical folks whose work I’ve admired over the years have quietly but pretty thoroughly avoided electronics, other than the occasional amplified acoustic instrument. You can see the same kind of trend in jazz music as well: other than basic amplification needs, you have to go all the way back to the 70s to find a really active period of electronics in jazz.

But as electronic instruments evolve from hardware to software, I think we’re due for an invigorating electronic revival in New Music of both composed and improvised disciplines. To an extent, it seems inevitable: if you’re 40 or younger, you’ve lived at least half of your life within the “computer age,” after all. When computers are an ordinary fact of life, moving from towers in home offices to handheld devices on nightstands, it’s only natural that they’re going to be integrated into a wider variety of musical activities than ever before. It’s a total non-issue for the youngest generation coming up: living with computers is just living.

With that in mind, here are a couple of exceptional records integrating acoustic instruments and software manipulations. Both of these records create sonic environments that remind me of “classic” eras in electronic composition and improvisation, though the primary sounds within each are triggered by activities on acoustic instruments.

Carl Testa - Iris

A phenomenal upright bass player and composer, Carl Testa’s ”Iris” is a document of live solo bass/electronics improvisations. Playing bass while writing live code into a SuperCollider-based software environment, these pieces outstretch into chamber group-sized acoustical spaces with an unpredictable timbral variety—a surprisingly melodic brand of electroacoustic improvisation.

Opening track “At Early Bright” is a great introduction to the concept, as it features some of the most harmonically simple bass playing on the album, against which you can develop a feel for a few of the ways this software interacts with the live-sampled fragments of sound. Working mostly with variations on a tritone-based figure (which amusingly sounds like a Black Sabbath riff early in the piece), crystalline tones four and five octaves above the source material fall into melodic patterns and shimmer in quickly-repeating delays. As the synthesized fragments continue to unwind, Testa adds more complexity into the bass parts, with some walking lines and some harsh tremolo-bowed passages. In this piece, at least, he keeps vibrato to a minimum, locking tightly into tune and working each note for pure tone.

There is some beautiful, emotive vibrato in alternating bowed/plucked passages in the next piece, “When Scattered,” from which a few relatively unaffected loops are retained to build tense passages with close-voiced dissonances that would be difficult or impossible to play as doublestops. The SuperCollider setup doesn’t start to have a noticeable role until halfway into the piece, where it picks up textural clouds of sound from a section of particularly bristly extended technique shredding, with fast bowing scrapes and col legno, ect. This is followed by “Diffracted,” which is the most texturally-focused piece here, closer to “classic” eai with little concern for harmonic development.

My favorite track is the final piece, “And Engulfed,” which evolves slowly to incorporate large aggregations of beautiful high-pitched synth chords that glisten and whirl around one another. Toward the end, it takes on somber tones that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the denouement of a Godspeed tune—amazing that all of this sound can be produced can controlled from humble bass tones with live manipulation.

It’s a great-sounding record regardless of how these sounds are produced, but if you’re interested in seeing a bit of Testa’s setup, here’s a video of him tweaking a live synth module in SuperCollider:

"Iris" will be released on July 16th, and you can pick it up via LockStep Records. There will be a 5.1 DVD audio mix that you can buy and download, as well as CD and mp3 formats. I only have a stereo setup, myself, but I imagine that the many fragments of granular sound manipulation would sound really amazing in full surround.

Brian Chase - Drums & Drones

As drummer in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Brian Chase is probably the most commercially successful musician whose music I’ve profiled here. But he’s been a long-time participant in avant-garde circles, too, playing with scores of folks on the NYC downtown scene, including some seriously wicked drumming on Jeremiah Cymerman’s “Fire Sign” album that I reviewed a while ago. Through a series of events that are fully detailed in the liner notes, Chase has been developing a compositional process for filtering and effecting the sounds of drums to tease out the overtones, creating electronic-sounding music in just intonation.

These liner notes deserve a mention all their own—they’re the most extensive notes I’ve seen in quite some time, fully elucidating both the personal and technical developments that led to this music. At times they get quite confessional, and in reading these elaborate notes, listening to the album many times, and watching the DVD, I kind of feel like I know the guy. And I like him. Chase has created a mini-site for the record here, which has some meaty excerpts of the liner notes and a lot of additional information and samples. Very much worth checking that out.

So I’m not going to delve into heavy technical details here—the liner notes have all of the information you could hope to find about how each track was made, as well as a narrative describing the three-phase evolution of this concept over several years. Instead, I’m going to try to describe how this music sounds, and how I’d suggest listening to it at first:

The basic physics that make this music possible are pretty straightforward. When someone strikes a drum, we’re all trained to think of it as a rhythmic event in which the first moment of articulation is “the money.” But after the initial hit, the drum continues to resonate for quite some time, and it contains a complicated set of interlocking frequencies, partially dependent on the main resonant frequencies of the drum shell, but also quite variable depending on the tuning of the drum head.

As Chase uses a number of filtering/effect strategies to attenuate various pitches within the set of natural overtones, pure sine waves are brought into the foreground. And a lot of these waves are very, very high pitches. When you consider that the fundamental pitches of many drums are already quite high, and the lowest overtones start sounding an octave above their fundamental pitches and head toward the stratosphere from there, a lot of the most interesting melodic stuff in this music happens in the upper ranges of your hearing, approaching and sometimes crossing into the territory usually reserved for hearing test tones.

Though the track sequencing of the album is really nice on repeated listening, I would recommend starting your experience with this music on track 4, the “Bass Drum Drone.” As one might expect from the low fundamental pitches of a bass drum, a lot of these overtones sit in the midrange of your hearing, making really nice washes of pure chords and rhythms that are easy on the ear. A bit of feedback finds its way into this piece at times, and it ends on a high note—literally—but I find that I get a bit of hearing fatigue jumping right into some of the pieces that start in super high pitch ranges.

Here’s another weird thing about listening to high-frequency compositions: when there are moments of complex high-frequency density, you can make your own melodies simply by moving around the room or sometimes even subtly moving your head. I first became aware of how much you can control this as a listener at a Jason Zeh show last year, where he creates really rich fields of high-frequency sound with modified cassette players. Moving around in sweet spots between the cranked PA speakers, even a tilt of your head would bring out different pitches, as those tiny waves react in wildly complex and functionally unpredictable ways to volume levels, speaker placement, and the proportions and variety of reflective surfaces of the room you’re in.

That’s part of the big-picture challenge with getting the most out of just-intonation music: if you have the opportunity, it’s nice to figure out what the strongest resonant frequencies are in whatever room you’re using with the music, and then if it’s possible to tweak the tuning of the music to work with those frequencies, it’s a way more powerful experience with lots more sympathetic vibrations erupting into the room. For this reason, I slightly disagree with Chase’s liner note recommendation to listen to this album on stereo speakers versus headphones or computer speakers. If you want to hear it “how the artist intended,” I think a really good set of headphones is worth trying with this album. But you’ll want to try it multiple ways. When you pump it through a stereo, experiment with variations in speaker placement if it’s possible, and you’ll be able to get all kinds of sounds out of this album, from crazy hornlike sounds in the middle of “Snare Brush Drone,” or a perfect storm of complex pitches to try that head-tilting trick with in “Drone State of Mind, V 1.”

What I’m ultimately saying is that while this is essentially a drone album, and the influence of and affinity with other kinds of just-intonation drone music is definitely present, don’t expect “In C” bumped up a few octaves. This is its own thing altogether, and you have to live with it in a very unique way.

There’s a great DVD of mostly black and white visuals that comes with the disc, too. Produced by Ursula Scherrer and Erik Zajaceskowski, I found it fun to play around with the album as a purely audio experience a bunch of times, trying different setups, and then checking out the video. And if you get a chance, see this live! From the couple of videos floating around online, it looks like seeing this performed with the videos projected would be an intense, beautiful experience. You can check out a couple of live videos here. Pick up the CD/DVD/liner note epic from Pogus Productions.

—Scott Scholz

Review of my new album IRIS on KilledInCars. Listen here:

Posted 9 months ago

The last track from my upcoming album Iris. The whole album uses live sampling and granular synthesis of the bass to generate all of the electronic sounds on the album. This music was made for performance and the music was all generated and recorded in real time. The album will be released on July 16th 2013 on LockStep Records.

Posted 10 months ago

I am very pleased to announce that my new album IRIS will be released on LockStep Records on July 16th 2013. I made this trailer to give people a sneak peek into the sound of the album. I will gradually announce more details and release more sound samples. This album is the culmination of 2 years working with live sampling and granular synthesis of the bass using SuperCollider. Please share far and wide to those who you think may be interested. More info soon!

Posted 11 months ago

I was very pleased to get this in the mail today. AB is a great man.

Posted 1 year ago

I will be performing my music for solo bass and electronics this Saturday in New Haven, CT. My new album of this music is coming along very nicely. I am looking forward to stretching out a bit on these pieces. Bassist Shayna Dulberger’s quartet will also be playing a set. She is a fantastic player and a great composer as well. I’m looking forward to sharing the night with her group.

Posted 1 year ago

I took my old 4-track TEAC reel to reel recorder out of the closet. Who wants to come over and make some tape loops?

Posted 1 year ago

Starting out with Lilypond music notation software

Over the past 4 years or so, Lilypond has become the primary software I use for music typesetting. I use it because it’s workflow suits the way I write music, because it is relatively easy to customize and make one’s own, and because it is open-source software and is not at the mercy of a company’s current interests/priorities (ahem).

This post is meant to provide someone with knowledge of writing music some basic tools for getting started using Lilypond and will hopefully open the door for some people to start using this great software.

Lilypond - What is it?

Lilypond is a markup language and interpreter (kind of like HTML on a web page and a web browser) that reads markup language and outputs a PDF file of music notation (and if you want a MIDI file as well). You tell Lilypond what music you want printed by writing it out in code. The code is fairly straight forward and once you get the hang of it, can be entered very quickly. I think of it as akin to taking a handwritten letter and typing it out in a word processor like Microsoft Word. You can get straight to downloading here if you want.

Lilypond Code - What does it look like?

When you first open Lilypond, a file opens up with a little introduction typed out and the following code:

  title = "A scale in LilyPond"

\relative {
  c d e f g a b c

You save the file to your desktop (or wherever) and then select “Compile - Typeset file” from the menu. A PDF file will then open up and you will see the music.


Now, Lilypond made a lot of assumptions from our limited input. We only entered in note names, but Lilypond put in a treble clef, 4/4 time signature (common time), and made each note a quarter note. Lilypond has some defaults assumed so that it is easier to jump right in and see the music. But let’s get right to adjusting the output. 

Note names are written as is “c d e f g”. Sharps and flats are written with -is and -es appended to the end of the note names. So C# is cis and Db is des. This is based on the German words for sharp and flat. If you would prefer to use the english spelling (C# is cs, Db is df), then include the following line of code at the top of the file.

\include ""

So let’s change the code to write a D Major scale instead of C Major.

  title = "A D Major scale in LilyPond"

\relative {
  d e fis g a b cis d


Rhythms are written directly after the note name. So a half note D would be written d2 Quarter note F# is fis4 Dotted Eighth C# is cis8. (with the period after the “8”). Let’s now change the rhythm.

  title = "Rhythms in LilyPond"

\relative {
  d1 e2 fis4 g4 a2 b4. cis8 d1


As you can see Lilypond automatically adds measures when you need them. Finally let’s change the clef to bass clef and change the time signature to read “4/4” instead of “C”.

  title = "End of Lilypond Tutorial"

\relative c {
  \clef bass
  d1 e2 fis4 g4 a2 b4. cis8 d1


Now I have added a “c” to the \relative command so that the notes will sit on the bass staff. The \clef command is used to change to any clef. And the command \numericTimeSignature tells Lilypond than I don’t want that Common Time time signature.

So that will hopefully get some people started. I highly recommend reading thisthis, and the whole site in general. And whenever you get stuck just search “Lilypond ___________” (The blank  being whatever you have a question about), like “Lilypond trills” or “Lilypond remove bar lines” and you will probably find your answer. Feel free to ask me any questions or if you need clarification on anything.

Posted 1 year ago

Just finished one of the recording sessions for my new album featuring my music for solo bass and electronics. We recorded the 4-channel electronics with a surround sound microphone. Here I am in the middle of the setup. Photo by audio engineer Eric Tate.