Zaub’s Excuse Mui Soars

Zaub - Excuse MuiIt’s always hard to start these sorts of things out. Like, should I say Zaub is a band? An ensemble? A collective? I also want to avoid words like fusion and eclectic. Those are old terms that don’t really mean anything, as far as I can tell. All musicians combine past with present to find new ways to express their voice. It’s all music, period.

So, that said, I’m going to avoid trying to classify Zaub too finely. They bring a lot to the table. I’m also going to call them jazz rock, even though that kind of puts a sour taste in my mouth. Most concrete labels do. But the jazz here is so strong, and so is the rock, so that’s about as good as it’s going to get.

They have a very strong Middle Eastern flavor, brought of course to the forefront by frontman Toofun Golchin’s impressive compositions and masterful playing. His lead guitar is often answered by Yunus Iyriboz, both of whom come from a strong background of playing bluesy stuff in international modes and rhythms. Max Whipple plays a bass with a ton of strings, and Colin Kupka brings extremely strong jazz and solo chops into the mix. Finally, the infallible duo Dan Ogrodnik and Amir Oosman, who also play together in Rhein Percussion, round out the cast of Zaub’s third album, Excuse Mui.

The record begins with the sonic equivalent of grabbing someone by the collar and making them sit down next to a pair of speakers. Listen up, people, seriously! It’s a great attention-grabber, and really sets the tone for the rest of the 4-track album. You’re going to get some soft moments, but a lot of Excuse Mui really rocks. Most of the time you’ll be listening to various incarnations of Toofun’s secretly catchy themes and melodies. He’s really found common ground in both jazz and Middle Eastern styles by acknowledging the repetition of themes in rotating timbres used by both traditions. That, I think, is my favorite part of this record. Thanks in large part to smart playing by Dan, Amir, and Max in the rhythm section, the transitions between each tune’s sections/movements happen so smoothly, I guarantee you’ll be surprised at least once to find you’re in some new, soothing little musical realm with no earthly idea how you got there. This is music, after all, so who needs earthly ideas anyway? This music soars.

It’s a wonderfully consistent album in terms of quality, but you’ll hear that soaring quality particularly in solos. Collisions features a great guitar solo, and Levitation opens with really lovely world percussion from Dan, plus it has an epic return to the A section that’s maybe one of my favorite moments of the album. You can hear this is in the video linked below.

Ode to Ornette in particular has a great vibe to it, and while I wouldn’t really call it “free” jazz, it’s definitely reasonably liberated. This tune actually sounds a lot more like bebop to me, thanks in large part to Colin’s superb solo. This is one of those songs that always makes me wonder what the hell happened to epic sax solos in rock songs. A really well-done subtle outro takes us to the final track, which finishes up the album.

In the interest of musical combinatorics, Zaub successfully merges virtuosity with the rule of cool. Deceptively earworm-ish melodies and internationally inspired rhythm structures make Excuse Mui a fresh, satisfying sound. It’s well worth a listen. You can find more about Zaub in the links listed below:

iTunes: itunes.apple.com/us/album/excuse-mui-ep/id1092685596
Official Website: zaubnasty.com/#!audio/c1577
Facebook: facebook.com/ZaubNasty/
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/zaubnasty
YouTube: youtube.com/user/ZaubNastyMusic

Thanks to Austin Antoine for You’re Very Welcome

The new album from renowned underground performer and Hodgepodge artist Austin Antoine does not disappoint. Produced, mixed and mastered by the talented Mister-he and sporting a gorgeous cover by Amy LeeYou’re Very Welcome opens with a sense of narrative foreshadowing, teasing the listener with things to come. Vocal processing, lush production, anything goes. You know we’re sonically referencing heroes here, just as the opening monologue suggests, but you’re not sure which ones. Is this Andre 3000 at his most spacey? Gambino at his most theatric? We’ll see.

Wasting no time, Antoine’s first full track is the classic banger, self aware on several levels. We discuss the artist’s place in the scene; we’re assured the artist is young and strong, connected but humble. The rhymes flow, the chorus bangs, the beat bumps. This track knows what it is, and Antoine wants everyone to make sure we know where we’re at.

With Streets of Broken Dreams, Antoine starts to throw the listener some curves. This beat swings pretty heavily, and one can almost imagine some old music-man with white gloves, a cane and skimmer hat, airing out biting sarcasm as if the suffering performer’s woes are just another part of the show.

As the album progresses, it seems like Antoine starts to introduce this crazy new idea where he’s more than “just” a rapper. He’s a performer, and he’s got the pipes to prove it. I love when an artist has put some real thought into their track order, and it’s no accident that the hints of Austin singing toward the end of the woo-me track Summer Days leads into the astoundingly soulful interlude, Kelsey. Contrapuntal, a cappella melodies sung entirely by Austin take us deeper down the rabbit hole, exploring into what hip hop means besides some dude rapping over beats. With You’re Very Welcome, Antoine is taking the listener through a lesson in first impressions. Every artist has a journey that transcends genre, and few albums I’ve heard capture that concept as well as this one.

Got a problem with his singing? Unless you’re Nas (or even then, maybe) you better get over it. That’s the message in Rahzel/Aaliyah, a raw callback track that says, who gives a shit? Austin knows where he’s coming from, and he knows he can freestyle circles around anyone who steps to him. How many rappers out there can use the words “Guinness World Record” in their list of accolades? He’s been killing it for years, but this album is a new step for Antoine. He has accomplishments to back up his confidence. Listen to POWER!!, and tell me you’ve heard anything like this before. Just like with the intro, we know this style is coming from somewhere, from Austin’s heroes, but amalgamated into that dope freshness that speaks for itself. Hell yeah he likes video games, and hell yeah he’s watched Dragonball Z, and hell yeah he can rap like a beast.

You’re Very Welcome represents the new breed of artist. We don’t know if it’s hip hop. We don’t even know if it’s a record. It’s a work done by an individual who is navigating this strange new experience of becoming a performing adult with integrity amidst peers who don’t remember a time without email. Austin has really captured a moment here, and demonstrated tremendous personal growth in a truly relevant release.

You can follow Austin on his website, SoundcloudTwitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can find him on Hodgepodge Records, and you can pay what you want for You’re Very Welcome at his Bandcamp.

Austin Antoine

World Music and Rhein Percussion’s Debut Album

In grad school, at least in my grad school, they did their best to, as politely as they could, shove world music down your throat. This has interesting consequences. As hard to believe as this is, not all world music is good. In fact, most of it is bad. Because the phrase “world music” covers, like, 90% of music. It would be really weird if all of it was good.

Maybe because I grew up listening mostly to some strange combination of jazz, Arabic music, and my school bus driver’s favorite R&B top 40, I don’t tend to go nuts for music just because it has a world beat. Great, this uses maksum, how awesome. It’s still just another bad rap track. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the very first time I heard Big Pimpin I flipped out, but a young half-Syrian kid can only handle so much.

What I’m saying is that it’s easy to write off world music as something kitschy, or some kind of gimmick, and sometimes you’d be right. This happens even in the world of academic chamber music… but not even remotely in the case of Rhein Percussion. Rhein means “to flow”, and they seriously do. This album grooves, regardless of how uneven the meter might look on paper, and it does so in a natural, authentic-but-super-fresh manner. They flow seamlessly between improvisation, complex tala and electronics, sometimes combining all three at once.

These guys played on my recital, and many have since said their performance was a highlight. Rhein Percussion consists of a core group of CalArts drummers, with a rotating cast of collaborators. The tracks on their self-titled debut are all composed, mixed, and recorded by ensemble members and friends. Their signature sound combines world rhythms and instrumentation with drum set, and some truly profound soundscapes emerge. Amir Oosman, as I’ve said before on this blog, is a master kit player. Dan Ogrodnik’s knowledge of hand drumming styles knows no bounds. Josh Carro, it’s been rumored, must now carry around an extra set of tablas because the ones he’s playing sometimes spontaneously burst into flames of ecstasy.

On two tracks, Brian Foreman‘s unique brand of electronics and live processing casts the group’s already modern sound into a deep, dark future filled with buzzy beats and rhythmic surprises that modern live electronic production so often lacks. Other collaborators who should blow your mind just by seeing them all on one album: Matthew Clough-Hunter on gamelan, drummers Sean Fitzpatrick and Etienne Rivera, and Ryan Bancroft, Rusty Kennedy, and Andrew Rowan on conch shell. How cool is that?

When the electronics fade, this excellent album rounds out with a couple live performances. The ensemble has already started performing around Los Angeles, just recently at the awesome Blue Whale with the world famous Hands On’Semble, and they were even featured a coveted slot on the 2013 CalArts Jazz CD. Take a listen below, follow them on Facebook, and name your price for their album on Bandcamp.

Niyomkarn – Hue

I am currently listening to Niyomkarn’s new headphones album, Hue. It was produced on the open source program SuperCollider and is entirely in 3D audio (hence the requirement for headphones). I’m now about halfway through the third track, 28 [FISH], and suddenly we’ve gone from the sound of oily fingers on alien glass to a softly rising sun with TV static, then back to the alien glass except now there’s bugs on it.

There are parts of this album that make my ears and brain very uncomfortable in the most pleasant of ways. Other moments are so delicately constructed, especially in terms of panning, that I had to lie down and close my eyes. Between the chaotically rhythmic blips, beeps, drones, noise, static and sirens is an introspective silence from Niyomkarn, an insistent, calm little plea to listen closely. This is my favorite kind of message in music, and some would say it’s the only message.

Too often, composers compose for a purpose. I know I am very guilty of this, if “guilty” is the right word. But some music adamantly exists merely to point out that sound is awesome. That’s what Hue is. An electronic painting of nothing the eyes can see. It’s full of surprises in a genre that often encounters the problem of being so unpredictable, everything is predictable. Maybe in Hue’s case, this is achieved with the three-dimensional mix. The sounds will parade about inside your head, like a fairy circle if the fairies were surrounded by totally rad forcefields and constantly zapping between superpositions.

I’m now on If and Only If, the center track. Two soundscapes faded back and forth, as if vying for attention, giving way to a massively dead center full-spectrum pulse tone called Drops. This drops into (it’s an accurate title) an Indian Rag-esque tabla jam, and it works so well here. Maybe going to CalArts prepares you to be ready for itinerant rag-esque tabla jams popping out at you from every direction. But Jason Guthrie’s drums are soaked in electronics. They feel utterly appropriate. The live performance of this music is really apparent here.

On the other side of If and Only If, we are faced with music that has discovered sampling, harmony and rhythm, but it has unearthed these strange objects on its own and so come to us as hints and dream-thoughts. The effect is palpable. Theory II is a paramecium rave, leading then into lush swaths of harmonic and vocal sampling in Hers.

And this ending. This ending right here. I won’t spoil it, but I can safely say Hue is a journey I’m glad I took. Though the music may scare you at first, I’m here to tell you that music is supposed to do that. It’s supposed too make you uncomfortable in a way that refuses to let you go.

Find Niyomkarn’s album on Bandcamp. Listen there or via the player below.

Trabajo – Gamelan To The Love God

The ever-changing landscape of what type of music bedrooms produce has another contender for future in the epic sleep chambers of Trabajo, a New-York-City-Once-Williamsburg-Now-Queens-based duo composed of the likes of TJ Richards and Yuchen Lin. When once this tale would begin with a hand-stamped burned CD changing hands in some steamy back alleyway, when I met up with TJ on my most recent excursion to NYC I received a Bandcamp download code. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the new homemade mixtape.

I first knew TJ as merely one of the best guitarists I know, and I, like you, know a heck of a lot of guitarists. But TJ was always a little different, seeking out new compound meters, new tunings, new non-Western traditions so he could stay at the forefront of his craft. I watched him go from Poet Named Revolver to brick walls of noise and shoegaze, eventually embracing sampled sonic landscapes in the form of Trabajo in 2011 with SLOWPAGEANT EP. While TJ had other live acts, all of which were at various levels of amazing, I watched with delight as he began dedicating his focus into Trabajo’s completely un-quantized, pseudo-electroacoustic-hip-trip-hop-indie-rock-noise-worldbeat sound.

The word for my reaction their new EP Gamelan To The Love God is in no way “surprise”. It has long been the habit of extremely talented guitarists in the modern era to move away from the actual guitar, finding other ways to coax music from the universe via their brains to their fingers. But in this case, I hear that certain type of humanistic dexterity that was in TJ’s playing, and a bit of a dawning excitement on his part that you don’t really need a guitar to play one, and that’s what makes all the difference here.

This is electronic music, but it’s also a series of performance recordings. The world rhythm samples, the non-equal-tempered tuning systems, the ancient traditions all merge seamlessly with a modern aesthetic in this case (where so many others fail) because the source materials were manipulated live, with respect and virtuosity and a really solid quartet of ears. Trabajo’s music succeeds where a bevy of chill/worldbeat mashups have not, because this music is not premeditated, but felt.

Gamelan To The Love God references the ancient Javanese love poem Smaradahana, which in the Western world would be roughly analogous to Romeo & Juliet in terms of fame. The album begins with a fairly recognizable gamelan mashup, then proceeds to add more changes and fucked-with-beats as each two-minute track unfolds. Both The Myth and I Am Tetsuo feature major changes about halfway through, adding some gorgeous melody or trunk-rattle kicks, then without wasting time moving on to the next track. In this way the album seems more in line with the J Dilla aesthetic. Indeed, that disregard for traditional structure, informing a new modern narrative for what we confusingly still call “albums” might be the overarching schematic for the future of sample-based music.

The album peaks structurally somewhere around Skidoo 23, a mildly ADHD succession of beats melded seamlessly and sometimes almost humorously. From there we are taken back down by way of several guitar pedals to end with the gorgeous wash of the EP’s final track, Mortal. It’s a perfect ending to an excellent EP, and I can’t wait for more from Trabajo in this direction. I just want to see where this performance-based electronic duo can take us. The EP is available for you-name-it price at their Bandcamp.

Joomanji’s new album free for 48 hours

In a soundscape overwhelmed by inhuman beats and 200late electro-wobbles, groove collective Joomanji follows up their 2012 self-titled debut with Manj, taking us even deeper into what’s possible when good production meets virtuosic jams from across the cultural divide. With its core of instrumentalists, including producer/wizard Jonah Christian and drum prodigy Amir Oosman, Joomanji brings with it a small army of talented friends, each with their own individual flavor.

This collaborative mentality, the fearlessness of appropriation from any musical tradition, never shying away from getting further outside than expected, and the electronic samples and textures are what make the overall soundscape of this release so relevant in the current hip hop/jazz scene. This crossover genre needs to happen more, and California seems like the perfect breeding ground, spearheaded of course by the likes of Joomanji.

Check out Jamal Moore’s deep flute freakouts between Arielle Deem‘s vox on earworm Around the World, or Nick Bianchini’s beautiful trumpet textures sprinkled throughout. Not to mention soon-to-be-world-renown entertainer Austin Antoine rapping, often freestyle, in his default blow-your-mind state. You’d never expect it all to come together, because you probably haven’t heard it work before. But Joomanji pulls it off, and that’s why this is one band to keep an eye on in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Listen for free below, or name your price and download from their bandcamp for the next 48 hours. This blog does not take responsibility for any excessive head bobbing injuries sustained while listening to Joomanji.

If It Sounds Good, It Is Good: an interview with Micropangea composer Brendan Byrnes

Composer, guitarist, and recent CalArts alum Brendan Byrnes stopped by to talk about his debut album, synesthesia, boutique netlabels, and Katy Perry.
 


So, first things first. It’s called Micropangea.

It is called Micropangea.

You are Brendan Byrnes.

Yes.

It’s got 8 tracks. Is Fever Swimmer the only live track?

Yes.

But there are live elements on most of the other tracks.

Yeah, live drums and guitars.

Michael Day did most of the drums and percussion, right?

And one guy named Mike Horrick, who’s a drummer in LA I lived with in Chicago. He listened to that song on the drive up and just nailed it in a couple takes. He wants to be a session drummer. He’s that kind of guy. He’s in a lot of bands, and we’ve done things in the past.

A lot of people at CalArts are doing just intonation and alternate tunings because of Wolfgang. You took his class I’m guessing?

I did. I took the intonation course both semesters, and I studied with him privately.

How much influence would you say he had? Did he give you, like, scales to use?

No, honestly, Wolfgang and I treat microtonality a bit differently. And he’s kind of come from the line of great German composers. He maybe sees himself in that lineage. So he’s writing for instruments that don’t have fixed pitch. And when you’re dealing with instruments where the player can actually tune on the fly really easily, JI is pretty much the only way you can go. You can tune just intervals because there’s a moment of quietness that you get with just intervals. They stop beating, stop sounding out of tune in a sense. My approach is more based on scales, having a fixed set of notes that I use that are weird, and they might be just or they might be tempered, it depends. But I have it laid out on a guitar or a keyboard or at least conceptually. He’s more about the infinite pitch spectrum, but dealing with that with a limited range of prime limits. Have you heard of prime limits?

No, what’s that?

Prime limit is basically… you’ll often hear a 7-limit, or a 13-limit or 11-limit, and the number corresponds to the partial in the harmonic series. So if you’re dealing with 7-limit, that means you’ll have the natural 7th in play, and that against other intervals will be a 7-limit interval. If you have 11-limit, you’re using that quarter tone that’s between the 4th and augmented 4th, so that expands your harmonic space.

So, when you talk about that with his way of composition, that’s a lot more, “Okay, we’re gonna have an orchestra, and you guys all play like 32 cents down here, and 17 cents up here.” Is that what you’re talking about?

Yes.

Whereas you tune the instruments to a scale, and have everybody play the scales you’ve put together beforehand.

Yeah, in a sense. And on the album I’m mostly dealing with synthesizers, so I have a fixed pitch then. But I do intend to bring this into the live realm, and retune pianos and re-fret guitars, that kind of thing. So the pitches are given, and that allows you to use different scales, like different divisions of the octave. Which all have their own character, sort of a color palette, which I find really interesting.

For example, is it Zibra Island that has the non-repeating octave thing?

Non-octave scale, yeah.

To me, that was the scale that sounded the most crazy. Plus you have these rising motions on that one, so no matter what, at some point, it’s just going to sound crazy out of tune.

Yeah, it just never shows up again, and as a composer you’re like, “What the fuck? Where’s my octave?”

When you’re composing with that, is there a tonic that you’re using? Are there base frequencies that you go back to?

With this particular piece, that scale, no. Sometimes there’s close octaves, they might be out of tune, and sometimes you can fake it, but sometimes you have nothing available to you. So it does shape the way your composition is going to go. But there is a pretty popular scale called the Bohlen-Pierce scale which is 13 equal divisions of a perfect 12th, which is an octave plus a fifth. So instead of, in JI terms an octave is 2:1, a perfect 12th is 3:1. It’s the next most consonant interval, so if you give that equivalence and divide that up, you’re making a fifth plus octave. So in that kind of a scale there is a base to stand on. But in this scale it was just wacky.

Are you a Logic guy?

Yes.

And are there a lot of soft synths that you had a keyboard attached to?

Yeah, I used a MIDI controller pretty extensively, and I used this program called Lil’ Miss Scale Oven.

Everybody I know who took Wolfgang’s class, all they ever wrote in was intonation and crazy scales. It’s like hacking your brain. Someone told me Wolfgang can’t listen to pianos anymore, because they sound out of tune to him.

Yeah, they do. I mean I tune pianos semi-professionally, and… yeah. It’s weird. But at the same time I’m really glad that I do that, because there is something to tempered scales, and beating sounds really beautiful to me. I love 12-tone equal tempered, it’s given us hundreds of years of awesome music. It’s a great scale. And JI, it’s like new consonances, kind of like a beatless sound, and that’s cool, but JI music always sounds like JI music. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Does it feel like a movement to you? We can do it more easily now with computers, whereas before we really couldn’t, or it was really difficult to get performed. So do you think it’s going to catch on?

Well, I’ve done a lot of research online and joined various chat groups. There’s a big group on Facebook called Xenharmonic Alliance. It seems to be growing, and it seems that there’s more and more music coming out, and there’s more and more people getting interested in it, I think in large part because it’s so much easier to retune things now. There’s a program called Scala which is free and people are using it… In the year or two that I’ve been paying attention to it, it seems to have been growing, and people seem to be more enthusiastic. Maybe I’m biased because I’m at CalArts and there’s a bunch of people into it, and there’s classes on it and it seems very natural at this point.

But all around the world… There’s this guy Toby Twining, who’s a composer in New York, he just wrote a massive work for choir that’s all JI. It’s heavy, it’s amazing. It’s one of the more important works that I’ve heard for the 21st century. So it seems to be catching on. And I think when people hear it, even if they don’t know it’s microtonal, it has that thing where it’s like, “Oh, it sounds kinda different, what’s going on there?” So for that reason alone I think it could catch on.

You said you wanted to move in a direction of performing it live. Are you going to do a guitar choir, or a band?

I think it’s going to be an ensemble with at least a few guitars. I recently just got a junkie piano and retuned it to just intonation. So, I can’t carry a piano around, but I’m starting to move toward acoustic instruments and get out of synth land.

Which I think is good.

I think it’ll translate.

And you sang too, right?

Yeah, I sang a little bit on one song, Vacant City.

Talk about the process of writing lyrics and singing for a microtonal JI track.

You know it was a lot easier than you might imagine. I mean, you would understand, as a member of a choir, you just adjust. And I’m singing in what is considered 5-limit, which means I’m not singing quarter tones. I’m essentially singing in a mean tone, or 12-tone equal tempered system, it’s kind of the same range. So I’m using familiar intervals, major 3rds and minor 7ths and all that stuff, and adjusting depending on the harmony. It took me a while to really find where I wanted it to be, but I’m not singing crazy quarter tones.

It was more like the leaps I feel, and there were a couple times, like the line “there’s no sound in the air”.

Yeah, like that half step is small, that kind of thing.

Did you do that all in one take?

No, I had the demo in my car a bunch, and I just sort of worked on it.

And just did it intuitively.

It was intuitive, yes. I didn’t have a synthesizer where I was checking stuff. If it sounds good, it is good.

And you said that you use guitars that combine together and make the scale, because they hocket together or something?

Oh, on the last track. So that’s in 17-EDO, which is 17 equal divisions of the octave. I tuned six guitars to that scale. In 17-EDO the fifth is 705 cents, so that means 4ths are good, octaves, and 5ths are good. So on a guitar you just play 5th frets, and fret 12, 17, 19. So that was the only thing the players could play. But each guitar was in a different tuning system so I could cover the whole ground. I had a keyboard with stickers on it to make sure I could get all the notes, and then wrote essentially one guitar part, just played between a bunch of guitars.

This is a concept album too. There was one really cool description on the site talking about the colors that you see.

Yeah, I have synesthesia a little bit. It helps me compose and that’s how I experience music. Songs or albums to me have a definite color scheme and I can’t change that in my brain. I guess it’s useful in a minor degree, but it’s more or less just kinda fun.

Did you talk to the website designer about the colors?

Yeah, I gave her a color scheme and described the locations that I had in mind when composing for it, and she totally took it in her own direction. It was just, “Here’s the very basic bare bones information, do what you will.” She did an amazing job. It’s her own work of art.

You’re graduated with a Master’s now. I’m curious about the practical side of doing music like this. Obviously this isn’t trying to be the next Top 40. It’s a passion for you.

Exactly.

So, especially for people interested in doing this kind of music, what would your advice to them be?

Well, my advice would be to completely ignore your theory from the get go, and tune your keyboard, or your instrument or whatever you got to something fucked up and try to make some music with it. And then, once you do… I mean that’s what clicked for me. Honestly, I took Wolfgang’s class for a year and just sat there and took it. It was like, “Wow, that’s far out.” But it wasn’t until the summer that I had time to retune my keyboard, and as soon as I got an idea working a lightbulb went off. And that’s when I dove into real research.

When you would do a new tuning, how much did you know going into it? Or would you just fuck around?

Well, I had Harry Partch’s Genesis Of A Music, and in the back he has an appendix of all the JI intervals he has on his chromelodeon and the set values. So I made a copy of that and put it on my wall in front of my workspace. And I was like, “I wonder what that interval sounds like?” And I would tune it to that and listen and go, “Whoa, that’s weird, I’m gonna keep that in the scale,” or “I don’t like that interval,” and construct a scale just to try the intervals initially. Some of the scales worked as an entity, some of them didn’t, and then I just started writing pieces. Eventually I realized there were all these other temperaments, different divisions of the octave that weren’t possible on a 12-note repeating scale, and that’s when I realized I need to get Lil’ Miss Scale Oven and start hacking into the applications.

Once I did that it was off to the races. I think you need to understand music and theory to a certain extent, but you can really use your ears a lot. I think the important thing that I realized is that there are interval categories that you can’t erase out of your brain, like major 3rds, minor 2nds, stuff like that. But there are other interval categories that we don’t have access to in 12-tone equal temperament, like neutral intervals, that quarter tone that I mentioned, the 11th partial, some argue the natural 7th partial, we just don’t have access to those notes in our scale. But other scales you do, and in different divisions of the octave you get good approximations of those intervals. So, just getting your brain wrapped around those, and using those compositionally… it’s trial and error. There are theory books out there, but, I guess if you have the right type of brain you could go that route. That’s cool, but for me, I just made music with it and tried to understand it.

What are some intervals that you’re particularly fond of?

Well, I think when you’re first starting, the 11/8, that’s the clincher for most people. The 11/8 is that quarter tone between the 4th and the augmented 4th. Because when you hear that as a consonance, and it’s a note you haven’t heard before, and it’s an interval category you haven’t heard before… it’s not a fourth, it’s not a tritone, it’s like this weird thing, and that it sounds beautiful… that is pretty cool. And notes based off of that are neutral intervals. Because it’s a quarter tone, you get a neutral seventh, which is between a minor 7th and a major 7th, but it’s consonant. There’s neutral 2nds which I think are really beautiful. I guess I’m just really into neutral intervals.

All of these tracks are either in 4 or 3 time, aren’t they?

Yeah, there’s not very much odd meter at all.

Was that a conscious decision, or more because you had that intuitive approach?

I love 4/4, I love 3/4, I love 6/8… I mean I love odd meter stuff too, but to me there was enough craziness going on, I didn’t want to get any more confusing than I already was. And I wanted to make something very listenable, not pop music, but something very melodic, very simple structures, just to make it more listenable for myself and for listeners too.

Some people might say you’re crazy for making a listenable microtonal album.

I mean… Yes. I do consider my audience, but at the same time I think people’s ears are pretty open nowadays. So many people listen to hip hop, especially early hip hop, some of that stuff is so noisy and dissonant and weird, then you put a groove over it and it feels great. So there’s some of that approach in the album. And I mean honestly, I love really shitty pop.

Like what? What’s your kind of shitty pop?

There’s a Katy Perry song out there, I think it’s called Wide Awake? It’s fucking incredible. Maybe because I’m a production nerd.

I’m totally the same way. Every once in a while Kanye will come out with a track and I’m like, “Oh fuck it, I love this song.”

Oh yeah. Totally. You hate yourself for a minute, and then you’re like, “No, this is great!”

Have you been getting reactions to this from people? I’m sure it’s been pretty positive.

Yeah, it’s been really positive. People have said, and I’ve heard this a number of times, that it’s taken a little bit of time to sink in to the weirdness of the tunings. But it hasn’t taken that much time, and once they’ve sunk in it feels pretty natural.

Time into the album, you mean?

Yeah, and I think into each individual song. But I really focused on melody a lot, so even though it’s instrumental I think it really helps people connect.

Yeah, I think I’ll always be a melodist at heart.

I like melody. I don’t think you can get away from melody, it connects with people. And it helps me connect, and I thought it was really fun to have all these weird-sized intervals. I mean, there’s just so much about tuning, it’s the new thing. You have all these new chords and melodies.

I’m assuming you’re planning on releasing more albums.

Yeah… well, actually that’s not true, I might just release stuff now.

Just individual tracks?

Yeah, I’m on Bandcamp, I have a Soundcloud… Right now I just have works in progress on the Soundcloud.

In the future, do you think you’d have a period where you would narrow it down to one scale or intonation and focus on that for a while?

Um… no. There’s practical reasons, like if I have an ensemble that’s a couple guitars that’s we’ve re-fretted, I can’t just keep buying more guitars and re-fretting them.

Well, not with that attitude.

Touché. But I like the diversity of scales, especially when it comes to different divisions of the octave and non-octave scales. They each have their own personality that I think is really fun to exploit and explore. And yeah, you could stick to one tuning system and discover a whole bunch of stuff, but I like the ability to bounce around. There’s actually a guy who’s on the same label as me who released a record maybe three or four months ago, and it was all in 17-EDO, the whole thing. People have their favorites for different reasons that they approximate consonance really well… I don’t know, maybe at some point it’ll be fun to settle on one and really dive in, but at this point it’s so new to me I just want to see what’s out there.

And all these are different, right? There’s no repeating scale?

No.

Talk about Spectropol, too, what’s the deal with those guys?

It’s awesome. It’s basically one guy. It’s based in Washington, it’s a netlabel, and he releases pretty much whatever he likes. But he likes stuff that’s really hard to categorize, polystyle, really into a vast spectrum of music. Everything on the label… the only thing that it has in common is that it’s outside the mainstream.

How’d you find it?

He found me. I posted something on a microtonal forum and he listened to it, and he listened to my Bandcamp and he was like, “Hey I really like the new microtonal stuff you’re doing! Can you make more and I’ll put it out?”

So cool. And you put up Trillopod right?

Yeah, I think that’s what he heard.

So you’re a pioneer, basically.

Well, I mean, a lot of people have written microtonal music.

You’re so humble.

Well, this stuff actually has a tradition that started with Ives, he was kind of the first, and then there’s Partch, and for like fifty years there were only two or three dudes. Then Lou Harrison and Ben Jonhston. In the eighties there was this guy Ivor Darreg who really started the equal temperament movement.

Now, I don’t think there’s really a celebrity microtonal composer like those guys. You could argue Toby Twining, Wolfgang maybe in some way, there’s Kraig Grady, who’s actually an LA guy but he lives in Australia now, he’s doing a lot of JI scales. Probably the most important musical theorist, at least in terms of microtonality, is Erv Wilson. A documentary just came out about him called Sonic Sky, it’s pretty cool. A lot of people studied with him, I think he lived in Mexico and just taught out of his house. I mean it was all oral tradition. I think he wrote some papers for some people, but it’s basically information that was all just passed on.

He was really big with what are called MOS scales, which stands for “moments of symmetry”. It’s more like a formula that he came up with. You have a generator, the size of the interval that you stack on top of itself to create the scale. So in 12-tone equal temperament the generator is 700 cents, a 5th is 700 cents. A period, which is what you reduce it to, so an octave, and then it has to have two step sizes. So like we have semitones and whole tones and you get all of the intervals from that. Those are the only three requirements. And you can have different MOS scales within different divisions of the octave. He was a really important theorist in that sense.

So yeah, Kraig Grady, Toby Twining… There’s this guy Aron Kallay. He’s a microtonal pianist, and he’s associated with this organization in Chicago called UnTwelve. They’re really great, it’s run by this guy named Aaron Johnson. So there’s little things like that, these little pockets…

Which are expanding.

Which are expanding. Absolutely. And I believe CalArts is one of those places. Which is great.

CalArts is definitely one of those places. I mean, if anything, all this is like an easy way to be different.

Exactly! It helps a lot, really.

Are there scales out there that have never been written in?

Oh yeah. Totally. And you can make your own scale, and put your name on it and throw it up on the Xenharmonic wiki, and that is your scale. It’s like naming stars.

Is there anything else you want to say that we haven’t touched on about this beautiful work of art that you’ve put out into the world from your soul unto reality?

I hope people listen to it, and I hope people other than microtonalists enjoy it to a certain extent. And if you’re a musician or a composer, try retuning your instruments to something weird and see if you can make something out of it, and you’ll probably be inspired like I was.

 


Listen to the album in its entirety at the amazing Micropangea.com with full explanations of tunings used in each track, designed by Kerstin Larissa Hovland.

Win Peter Winters

It’s a bit trite at this point to start a review with something along the lines of “in this sea of overproduced busy-ness business along comes Win Peter Winters with a gorgeously nuanced post classical folk pop fusion yada yada”, so I won’t do that. Already acts like Mumford & Sons have shown that people are both ready and willing to take the time to listen to some truly great songwriting with acoustic textures. The music has been compared to many things, but I think I’m gonna go with Rachel’s on this one. Except with more banjo.

What I really want to talk about regarding this new self titled album is the insistence of pop aesthetics with classical instrumentation. Glock, banjo, sound recordings and a lovely cello (Chris’s main instrument) combine with never-not-completely-not-dissonant lyrics to give the vague impression of being lost at sea. The vibe is melancholy and a bit lonely, but with a refreshing sense of dramatic irony (especially the quirky final track, “World Goes On”).

Though I wish the initial track was a bit stronger, by the time we get to “Rain” I was able to completely lose myself in the music, and directly following that we get “Ocean”, the above linked and my personal favorite. The concept album has generally consistent orchestration, but this particular track has a certain patience to it, which I love, and I’m always a sucker for a good solid refrain at the end of several successive stanzas. I know, I’m a nerd.

Listen and purchase at his bandcamp and like his Facebook page.

If you’d like me to review your own music, just ask. I love getting new ear candy!

A Rundown of the New Lujo Sampler

The new 2011 sampler from Lujo Records is pretty outstanding. The overall impression is one of purposeful eclecticity, which is a word I just made up. There is a definite shape to the sampler, and I’m proud of them for putting the more genre-bashing electro stuff first.

Tracks one and two come from Bluebrain and John LaMonica, respectively, and feature the coolest beats.

The third track comes from A Lull and has the best overall sound. If you ask me, this is the band to keep an eye on. Their debut album “Confetti” drops April 12 (their video for “Weapons For War” is at the bottom of this entry).

In a very close second comes “Trampolines” by Yourself and the Air, which many people probably prefer over the A Lull track. It has stronger and more discernible lyrics, but I personally prefer head-bobbin to indie. That’s just me though.

Next comes Enlou with the track “Amphibians”, which is the last of the truly strong tracks on this sampler. After this Lujo takes you through a few sine waves of fun, going super-ironic with The Torches and Baby Teeth, then out with some raw rock/strummy stuff that holds its own in authenticity. Favorite moment of the second half is probably the first third-ish of “When You Were Young” from Discover America, though I feel the song drops off in quality after the first chorus comes in.

All in all some really exciting stuff, Lujo Records! Looking forward to more.

Urceus Exit – Compensation for the Sound of Silence (disc 1)

It’s a tough thing, in this ever changing world, to be aware of one’s history while at the same time yearning for something new and different, and I’ve found that the electro sector has had a hell of a time trying to figure out what to do next. They often lean too heavily on either putting more in or taking more out, and it turns me off.

That said, I found Compensation for the Sound of Silence to be an extremely pleasing mix of those two options. In a word, I would describe this music as “undulating”. I got the very vivid impression that I was standing in a dark room, when suddenly the darkness began to shimmer and vibrate in the shape of sine waves, neurons, and, at times, a chorus of pale hands trying to rip me to shreds. I mean this in the best possible way.

Fitting to the album title, Urceus Exit remembers their most important tool in music… namely, silence. While there are few true pauses, almost every track makes sure to remind us that, while driving beats, arpeggiated blips, soundscapes, and baritone vox are here to help us that, eventually, all undulation ceases. Then it drives back in again. It’s a pleasing thing.

The overall sound achieved thankfully avoids the muddiness you sometimes run across in this genre. As a final touch, at key moments I was blown away by some truly compositional harmonic flavors, leaving me with a final impression of Voltaire meets Download. Head on over to urceusexit.com to learn more, purchase, and contact.

And a bonus:

Urceus Exit
by Austin Henry Dobson

I INTENDED an Ode,
And it turn’d to a Sonnet
It began a la mode,
I intended an Ode;
But Rose cross’d the road
In her latest new bonnet;
I intended an Ode;
And it turn’d to a Sonnet.