Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recent music discoveries

I'm fortunate to have friends with good taste in music.  One of today's discoveries is Northern Picture Company.

Israel Nash is another (specifically the Silver Season album).

Making Lemonade

There is an American saying: "When life goes you lemons, make lemonade"

My "lemon" was the discovery of two new holes in my retina in early January, which meant I needed a second surgery on my eye and would have to start the recovery process all over again.  The recovery process starts with the removal of the protective eyepatch and receiving 3 different kinds of prescription eyedrops.  Most of the recovery time is waiting for the gas bubble that is put in the eye as part of the surgery to shrink.  It could take as much as two months for the bubble to dissipate completely.  While the bubble is there, I am required to maintain face down position as much as possible during waking hours, so that the bubble can act as a splint on the surgically repaired area.  In this case, "face down" means pointing the nose towards the ground.  This position also helps prevent the bubble from causing a cataract.  As the bubble shrinks, I can gauge if my head is at a sufficient angle by the bubble itself - if it appears as a line across my field of vision, I'm not "face down" enough.

The second surgery fortunately went fine.  This time I did not have a sore throat as a result of the general anesthesia process.  I have basically have a month of medical leave from my job.  Upon learning that a second surgery - and the restart of the recovery process - was imminent, I thought about how I would spend that month.  Between the first and second surgeries, I had spent my time playing a bit of guitar, messing around with iPad music apps, fooling a bit with my OP-1, and watching a lot of streaming TV shows.  I decided to use the time between the 2nd surgery and my return to work to improve my skills as a guitarist, with particular focus on expanding my repertoire - that is, the number of songs I can play on guitar without accompaniment.  This is the one non-electronic instrument I can play while adhering to "face down" position.

Becoming a better guitarist - this is the "lemonade" I am making.

This is what I've been working on as a guitarist:

1. "For All We Know", "Darn That Dream", and "My Funny Valentine" from the book Barry Galbraith Guitar Solos
2.  "We Three Kings" and "Away in a Manger" from the TrueFire course 335 Christmas.
3.  Cello Suite #2 Prelude by J.S. Bach, arranged for viola by Watson Forbes
4. A mix of technical exercises from the Two-Hand Groove Guitar and Creative Arpeggio Design courses.

The tunes in Galbraith book appear in order of difficulty, which made the decision on what tunes to learn first quite easy for me.  Thus, three jazz tunes I'm working on are the three easiest tunes in the book.  There are a bunch of different ways to learn how to play jazz, but the one thing that everybody has to do is learn jazz tunes and be able to play them competently.  Guitarists have to learn both the melody and the chord progression for each tune.  The "chord-melody" approach is how guitarists can work on both the melody and the chords for a tune at the same time, in such a way that the tune can be played on one guitar, without accompaniment and at the same making the listener feel like nothing is missing..  This Galbraith book is well-regarded for its chord-melody arrangements of 13 jazz tunes that just about every pro jazz player is expected to know.  So the primary goal at the moment is to simply memorize and play each tune with good time and no serious mistakes.  The next goal would be to learn why particular harmonies were chosen in the construction of these arrangements.  Galbraith added passing chords here and there, and elected to use chord inversions instead of always using root position chords.  The study of these harmonies should yield ideas for jazzing up pop songs, jazzing up Christmas carols,  as well as of course creating original music.  A lot of jazz improvisations are built off of deep understanding of the harmony as well.

The course 335 Christmas includes 5 Christmas carols, arranged by Larry Carlton in a jazzed up style for solo guitar - again these can be played without accompaniment.  The goal here is to be able to play all 5 tunes by next Christmas.  I've always been caught every Christmas without knowing how to play carols - time I did something about that.

I can't play my viola and maintain "face down" at the same time.  This is one reason I've been playing the guitar so much.  I've wanted to learn Cello Suite #2 on the viola because it sounds kind of dark and gothic compared to the much more popular Cello Suite #1 Prelude.  Thus, I'm reading this piece on the guitar.  The focus is not so much on guitar picking technique as it is on reading standard music notation and seeing how much of this prelude I can get into my head so that when I'm able to play viola again, I have a little better idea of how the music is supposed to sound.

The Two Hand Groove Guitar course features Ben Lacy teaching how to play a bass line and "drum" parts simultaneously, while also adding chords on top of all of that.  My progress in this course has been pretty slow because making my left and right hands do separate things at the same time does not come naturally to me.  I did however get the "Rosanna" drum parts fairly down.  Now I'm working on playing a simple Latin bass line and a basic kick and snare drum part at the same time.  I do want to go somewhere with these concepts eventually, perhaps by the time I reach the end of the course, I may have improved enough on the chord-melody side of guitar playing to effectively incorporate that with this two-hand groove stuff.

Before I had all day to practice guitar playing, every day, I had allocated my guitar practice time increasingly towards learning song arrangements for solo guitar.  To be able to play blazing single-note guitar solos like Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, etc. requires a considerable amount of practice time, and this was time I would rather spend on building a good repertoire of songs.  Playing a complete-sounding arrangement of a song - with at least the melody and harmony at the same time - requires just about as much practice as the virtuosic single-note soloing aspect of guitar playing.  The more parts of a song you want to play simultaneously, the harder it gets.   That all said, I was intrigued when the Creative Arpeggio Design course was released, because Tim Miller stated that he'd figured out a way to play particular types of lines used by particular jazz pianists that have been very difficult to play on guitar.  The method taught in this course is elegant in its simplicity of concept but requires a fair amount of practice because I'm not used to moving my fingers that way.  It does indeed lend itself to unusual sounding lines.  I will try to get these sounds into my head, and later reproduce them by ear on the viola and electric violin, which are the instruments I prefer to use over guitar for single-note soloing, even though they are harder instruments to play.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tutorial on making ambient music sounds on the OP-1

As an OP-1 owner, I've made various attempts to create ambient music sounds on this wonderful little device.  This video demonstrates some techniques for making those types of sounds that are new to me.

New Yorker article on Goethe

Funny thing is, I've been attending art, film, and music events at a place called the "Goethe Institute" for a few years, yet knew next to nothing about Goethe himself.  Filing for future reference.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Track breakdown for "Heroes" by David Bowie

This classic track made a lot of David Bowie fans cry after his passing.  It's like we all discovered anew the emotional impact of this song.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Random jazz releases to investigate

The Bell - Ches Smith, Craig Taborn and Mat Maineri

The audio clips I've heard sound up my alley.  A review:

The Sevens - Tim Berne

This one is older but the audio clips intrigue me

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Random David Bowie stuff

Speculative article about Bowie and the occult:

Track from the Heathen album featuring David Torn, one of my favorite guitarists:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2015: Best Anime I saw - #2 Polar Bear Cafe

As much as I enjoy watching anime, a lot of it follows tried and true formulae, so it's a real treat when one is discovered that is truly unique.  Polar Bear Cafe (aka "Shirokuma Cafe" - "polar bear" is literally translated to "white bear" in Japanese) is one such anime series.  On the surface it's a comedy that may appeal to anyone who remembers Seinfeld or Cheers - a "show about nothing" that most frequently takes place at an establishment where most of the characters sit at a counter and converse.   Without any great conflict, the show relies on the strength of the characters and comedic writing - and it succeeds on all fronts.  This is a show that can savored over and over.

The principal characters:  

Polar Bear/Shirokuma - A gentle, refined, pun-loving bear who possesses many interests and skills/talents, both obvious (entrepreneurship, cooking) and hidden.

Penguin-san ("Mr. Penguin") - An emperor penguin who imagines himself to be the group's voice of reason, with an oversized ego.  He eventually treats Panda-kun as a little brother of sorts.

Panda-kun ("kid Panda") - A lazy, apparently dim-witted teenage giant panda who turns out to be a very caring friend and sometimes even displays surprising insight and wit.  He takes a part-time job at the zoo, working in the panda enclosure alongside coworker Full-Time Panda.

Memorable supporting characters:

Llama-san ("Mr. Llama") - A kindly llama who often wishes he got as much attention as the pandas.  He might also be a bit jealous of his friend Mr. Alpaca's cuter appearance but it's only hinted at.  Just about every character gets his/her own ending theme song - his ("Llama-san's Mambo") is by far the most popular.

Grizzly - Polar Bear's best friend since childhood.  Where Polar Bear is kind and gentle, Grizzly is gruff and short-tempered.  He owns and operates his own bar.  Polar Bear bar tends for him when he hibernates or goes on vacation.

Mr. Handa - The head zookeeper and thus the boss of the animals working at the zoo.

Rintaro - The handsome human florist who turns out to have a somewhat creepy obsession.

Lesser Panda - An adorable red panda who inexplicably looks up to Panda-kun, despite having a greater work ethic and generally being more reliable and responsible, as well as being a better baseball pitcher (he's got a wicked curve ball).

"Wild trio" (Wolf, Tiger, and Lion) - These good friends have been regulars at Grizzly's bar, though family and work responsibilities have reduced the frequency of their hangouts.  Lion is often away on business travel.  Tiger has taken over his family sweets shop.  Wolf is pursuing his dream of eventually opening his own bakery.  All three are fans of the rapper MC 469MA.

Tree Kangaroo - The master coffee bean roaster who seems to work exclusively for the cafe.

Masaki - A young man who is so moved by the quality of the coffee at the cafe that he becomes an apprentice of Tree Kangaroo.

Red Squirrels - Assistants of Tree Kangaroo who sort the bean for him.  They also supervise/discipline Masaki.

Here's Llama-san's catchy theme song - never fails to cheer me up when I start feeling negative emotions do to my current medical condition:

The first opening theme of the series is also pretty catchy:

The 3rd opening theme also puts a smile on my face, because it sounds like a children's song:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2015: Best Anime I Saw - #3 Yowamushi Pedal

This was the year I finally learned how to ride a bicycle.  I found Yowamushi Pedal by going a quick Google on cycling anime.  The main character is the Reluctant Hero archetype who immediately wins fans by being an anime nerd who is shy and completely guileless.  As the story progresses, he encounters characters who represent archetypes well-known to fans of sports anime:

The Icy Cool, Talented Athlete
The Fiery Athlete (who says/does things you wouldn’t dare do yourself)
The Cute Might-Be-Love Interest (romance doesn’t happen in sports anime)
Casualties (characters who are forced to drop out of competition, and when they do, it’s treated like losing a comrade in a war movie).
The Friendly Rival (he clicks with you immediately but it turns out you have to beat him later)

I later learned that this anime was based on a  manga written by a cycling enthusiast.  The attention to detail in bicycle riding/racing technique and equipment becomes apparent.  While the story does not offer many surprises, it is well executed, with some great racing animation sequences, with a very satisfying conclusion.

First episode on Crunchyroll (can be watched for free - paid subscription eliminates the ads)


True or not, this article has a bunch of great musical examples.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Elements Week 3, Day 5 - This is where I will pick up when I get back to it

What happened Tuesday was I had a morning appointment with my ophthalmologist - the one who operated on my eye.  He found two new holes in my retina on the left side.  Surgery to repair the new holes is scheduled for early next week.

As mentioned a while back, I was under doctor's orders to avoid any strenuous activity, including strenuous exercise, so that the pressure in my eyeball would not rise to dangerous levels.  While I felt I could perform the exercises in the Elements program without any dangerous strain, I decided to stop the program.  There is still a lot I do not know or understand about the eye, especially the retina, other than a blow to the head can cause retinal detachment.  So while I suspect Elements poses little risk to the retina, I don't want to take any chances at all.

The doctor advised me to keep my head in a sort of tilted nod position, so that the bubble that is already inside the eye will be pressed against the new holes.  The idea is that the pressure of the bubble on the holes might cause them to heal themselves.  I suspect though, this is like the Hail Mary Pass in American football - you take a shot despite low chance of success, just because you can.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Early Ryuichi Sakamoto

Sue's Changes, by Charlie Mingus

No particular reason for posting this - no new celebrity deaths or anything like that, that I know of.   Just good music.

Pierre Boulez passed away Jan. 5

NPR tribute article:

Anthemes II - composition for solo violin and Max/MSP:

Interview in Japan:

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Paul Bley listening

Paul Bley passed away on January 3.  I'm embarrassed to admit lack of familiarity with his works, so I'll use this blog entry to gather music with which he was involved that I should be listening to.

This is just one track from Paul Bley and Scorpio.  I'm guessing the others need to be heard as well.

NPR article on Paul Bley Trio, with their version of "Ida Lupino"

Blindfold test with Paul Bley:

NPR article tribute article - includes a version of "All The Things You Are" which Pat Metheny praised for Bley's solo:

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Cooking tip from the iPad Musician Facebook group

Baked chicken - nicely cut up, a couple of large tablespoons of Sandwich spread (yes you read that right! wink emoticon ), about 4 large tablespoons of V8 juice (yep - you read that correctly too! grin emoticon ) and a good healthy helping of some of that red curry powder. Mixed together, microwaved. And... Instant Indian (sorta!). 

Very nice anyhow. (We had some Basmati left over - so - served on a bed of Basmati) 

Why for the Brits? Well, because Sandwich spread is harder to come by elsewhere. I have some stock from the British Food Depot now. So, easily to hand. Yum by itself. Amazing instant curry mix ingredient. Odd eh? But, true. Try it! smile emoticon

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Elements - Now in Week 3

Today I completed Day 3, Week 3 of Elements.  Week 3 is when we start turning up the heat, as it were, on the 3 "animals" that form the foundation of Elements.  We either start bending our arms to increase the load on the arm, or we start raising our butts higher, to challenge ourselves more.

I have to think more about what I'm going as I'm performing the animal movements, and that's a good thing.