RECORDING | Southbound – “I’m Missing You” b/w “Southern Roads”

Posted in recordings with tags on June 28, 2017 by dukewisdom
southbound_missing_you_45

Troy Jens, 1962 – 2014

Usually this type of post sees me going on and on in great detail about the minutiae of some self-indulgent project I’ve just unleashed. But this post is actually a tribute to my friend Troy Jens, who made his own choice to head off into the woods and not come back three years ago. Some of the below is adapted from a Facebook post I made when his body was discovered on this day in 2014.

did perform on this record, so it belongs here categorically. Way back in 1986-7 I played bass in a band called Southbound led by Troy, a fantastic singer and songwriter who became a good friend and mentor of sorts. We played mostly in the Omaha area, covering whatever bar patrons of that era wanted to hear. (I’m having strong memories of playing .38 Special, Bryan Adams, Bob Seger—very good memories, as a matter of fact, “Old Time Rock and Roll” notwithstanding.) Like many bar bands, we also mixed in a smattering of originals. Troy was steeped in everything from the above classic rock fare to gospel music and all points in between. I think he once told me his favorite singer was Barbara Streisand. At any rate, with this type of background Troy’s tunes were a cut above the type of original music you might hear in the Cabay Lounge in Papillion, NE—and a cut above lots of our cover fodder. Which is how it came to pass that we recorded a single most obscure.

In early ’87 we made a few trips to Topeka, KS (don’t ask me) to record a couple of tracks. The producer played a very smartly arranged bass line on the A-side, “I’m Missing You” (I was an 18-year-old guitar player—what the fuck did I know about it?). And my bass playing can be heard on the B-side, “Southern Roads.” I think it’s actually my only appearance on a vinyl record.

I’m pretty certain this one single is the total recorded output of the band, though Troy did release at least one more 45. I’d fallen out of contact with my old friend for most of the ’90s and ’00s, but we were able to digitally reconnect and share a few laughs and memories later on. I’m thankful for that.

RIP, Troy. Glad I got to know you and make music with you.

IMPROV | Quartal voicings et al.

Posted in video with tags , on June 27, 2017 by dukewisdom

The fabulous Rick Beato got me thinking about using quartal voicings (based on 4ths), à la McCoy Tyner on the guitar neck. If you stack diatonic 4ths in G major, for example, you get G C F# B E A going across six strings. Based on A dorian (the second mode of G), you have A D G C F# B across the neck, and so on. Naturally, these sets of notes imply sus4 and +4 chords (among others) throughout the key. Some of this thought pops up in this bit of improv.

Of course it would be preposterous to say that my rambling has a damn thing to do with the great McCoy Tyner, but it’s nice place to start and a good way to bump creativity.

TRANSCRIPTION | Zappa “I Come From Nowhere” (excerpt)

Posted in transcriptions with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2017 by dukewisdom

Their eyes are all frozen over

… and when I say excerpt, I mean approximately one measure. Here’s a shard that I can hardly believe still exists, a transcription of a harmonized line featured in the Frank Zappa song “I Come From Nowhere” (from the album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch). I deciphered this tangle (presumably originally performed by Steve Vai, Arthur Barrow, Tommy Mars and/or Bobby Martin) in about 1999 for an ambitious project that never quite got off the ground, by working from a vastly slowed down version of the recording. (Back in those days we just let the kerosene powered record player run down, of course.) As the run is written in tablature, there’s no key signature indicated. And it really wouldn’t help: This is classic Zappa, full of chromatic twists and turns, arpeggio inversions battling each other in parallel harmony and other madness that defies clear categorization. And, seeing as it was essentially an internal memo, I didn’t include a time signature. With Zappa, of course, the rhythmic concepts are as complex as the melodic material. This transcription by Kasper Sloots has the pattern in 27/16, which makes sense, though I’m not sure I agree with it in context.

Is it accurate? I thought so at the time. If Mike Keneally were swinging by to give me a technical edit I wouldn’t withdraw the scrap of paper, but I might not bet my paycheck on it. While there’s no archival film footage of any of Frank Zappa’s bands playing the piece for reference (it was apparently never performed live), there are video clips of Zappa Plays Zappa (or whatever the hell they were allowed to call themselves at the time) taking it on in 2013. I notice Dweezil plays his part in a different position. Maybe that would make it rest under the fingers better. (Just kidding.)

Care to spend an evening working this handful of notes up to tempo?

TRANSCRIPTION | “Friday Night (Is Killing Me)”

Posted in writings with tags , , , , , on December 4, 2016 by dukewisdom

friday_night

Here’s a scrap I found floating around on the old laptop. It’s a transcription I made (at the request of a friend) of the song “Friday Night (Is Killing Me)” by Bash & Pop, a band formed by Tommy Stinson after the Replacements broke up (and who have reemerged in 2016). (Sorry for those hoping for tab of “Friday Night” by Vandenberg.)

Why bother dusting off this handwritten fragment? For starters, check out the amorphous EBEBAE tuning. Is it “open E11” or “open A sus2” or … what? Also, it reminds me to talk about learning songs by ear: We’re now probably in the best position ever to figure out how to play songs. In this instance I studied the studio recording and a live YouTube video. The combination of hearing a clean version and eyeballing what’s actually going on can be pretty illuminative (assuming they’re both being executed the same way). What’s more, we now often have access to loads of online transcriptions. As most of those are in no way vetted, it can be a risky proposition, but stitching together the best of several interpretations can be effective. And, of course, we no longer have to degrade our media and hardware by playing one second fragments of Zappa keyboard lines again and again (am I projecting?) since there are many software options for looping and slowing down audio. Use all of your resources, people!

Speaking of the accuracy of random online transcriptions, is the above 100% precise? Not sure. Why don’t you play along and decide for yourself?

RECORDING | The Great Vehicle – Observatory Sermons

Posted in recordings with tags , on December 4, 2016 by dukewisdom
The Great Vehicle - Observatory Sermons

The Great Vehicle – Observatory Sermons

Please have a listen or download this progressive rock EP at bandcamp.

The Great Vehicle | Observatory Sermons
A Space Operetta in Six Stanzas

[[Each of the scenarios described below is taking place simultaneously. Right now and always.]]

001 The Man With the Neutron Scalp

[[Neutrons carry no electrical charge; their behavior is essential to the production of nuclear power. Yuri Gagarin, the star of this song, said, “The road to the stars is steep and dangerous. (Spaceflight) isn’t the work of one man or even a group of men. It is a historical process which mankind is carrying out in accordance with the natural laws of human development.” As he was hurled through space, Gagarin was an analogy: As neutral, yet powerful as a subatomic particle.]]

This song nearly refused to exist. Each time “Neutron” was exported—even by them most ballin’ computer we had access to—the mix became haunted by inconsistent glitches and other weirdness. (The machine was anything but “working normally.”) The finished product is the result of several subatomic edits. Embedded in this track is the explosive sound of a door slamming shut in the stairwell of a Virginia Beach Sheraton. We know you people love the field recordings. Internal notes about this song make reference to “the Prong section” and “the Queens of the Stone Age riff.” Please try to identify these sections in the interest of mental dexterity.

002 Lazlo Szombathy

[[Lazlo Szombathy is a peripheral character in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Mother Night, whose inclusion was a nod to the interconnectedness of all actions. Watch what you’re doing: We are all peripheral characters in the Novel of the Galaxy.]]

Wherein Betse Ellis makes the Kansas and Mahavishnu Orchestra dreams of those who have such things come true. That’s the main melody there in the acoustic intro, reharmonized a fifth lower. We know you people love reharmonization. The melody at 1:54 originated as sort of a guitar placeholder, then took on a most macabre flavor when doubled by Betse. The song is in 7/8, but contains exactly one measure of 8/8. Can you spot it? Do you care?

003 Did I See You Limping?

[[Things can get a little perilous down around the gantry. In fact, near Baikonur Cosmodrome, cases of “launchpad lameness” (стартовая площадка хромота) were once so common that it was easy to identify a certain grade of worker based on his gait.]]

The main riff may be considered 11/4 or 6/4 + 5/4. Or perhaps you will not consider it at all. For more counting, the section at 1:27 has 5/8 and 8/8 going on over drums in 5/4. Let’s boogie. Additional nuts & bolts: Note how the harmony guitars that enter at 3:24 foretell the drum pattern at 3:29.

004 Sundials

[[So long as a planet rotates on its axis, sundials operate the same regardless of the star supplying the light. The sundials in question happen to be on EPIC 201637175b, an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf K2-22. This destination is 734 light years from Earth, but due to the nature of this story, listeners there are currently receiving.]]

This piece has undergone many revisions of arrangement, concept, and title. It started as a memorial to a departed friend, then took on more meaning and dedications as more friends departed. Enough with that bullshit, people. This is our first song to feature a ship’s bell. (We know how you people … oh, forget it.)

005 The People’s Cathedral

[[By its strictest definition, a cathedral is a very specific religious edifice. In the scope of the Observatory Sermons legend, a cathedral is any space in which the Invocation of the Bald Chemist is being observed. This may include a frozen warehouse, near a tree, or aboard the Chinese Shenzhou 5 reentry capsule.]]

It’s the title track to a different release … you know, like “Sheer Heart Attack” or “Houses of the Holy.” For those interested in the schematic, “Cathedral” is built around a fairly simple 6/4 over 4/4 polyrhythm. Just don’t try to listen to the opposite part when you’re playing along. Also, the bass and guitar are playing the same repeating pattern, but offset by three notes.

006 Pioneer 11

[[NASA ceased communicating with the exploratory spacecraft Pioneer 11 on September 30, 1995. But it’s still out there, a ghost ship heading toward Lambda Aquila, a star it will encounter in about four million years. Hitch a ride on that great vehicle.]]

“Pioneer” is The Great Vehicle’s longest, most spacious piece. The guitars are tuned, low-to-high, DADFCE, or what you might think of as open Dm9. Y’know, if you wish to do a cover.
The free-form middle section was harvested from the defunct Great Vehicle song “23/24 of Something.” It was conceived as a cross between musique concrète and a Calder mobile, and may or may not accidentally owe something to “Cygnus X-1” by Rush (probably don’t mention that to Gregg) or possibly “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party” by Pink Floyd (definitely don’t mention that to Gregg).


The players:
Mason Fann – Bass, fractional wave mutilation
Gregg Todt – Drums, percussion, baritone strangulation
Troy Van Horn – Guitar, percussion

Also featuring:
Betse Ellis – Violin (or is it Fiddle?)
The Tuvan Learning Center Annex Singers – Singing

Produced by The Great Vehicle
Recorded at #Industries
Basic tracks engineered by Paul Marchman
Additional recording at The Prussian Film Commission

Thanks to:
Paul Marchman, Betse Ellis, Joey “Boatswain” Hamm, Jason Brown, Mike “Whoof” Stover, Rex Woodwind, Robert Crypt, the late Cozy Powell’s leather gauntlets, North Tunnel Whitespace Math

Cover art: Some unsigned thrift store painting that hangs in Troy’s house.

Gear geek data:

Guitar sounds:
1974 Fender Stratocaster, 2006 Gibson Les Paul Studio, ’00s Michael Kelly Patriot Hot Rod, 1982 Gibson Marauder, ’70s Opus XX acoustic, 2005 Gibson SG Standard, FrankenBaritone (Fender Jaguar body with Danelectro neck), Peavey Power Slide (all strings tuned to A), Scarlett custom 50 watt guitar head, Marshall 4×12 cabinet, ’70s Fender Pro Reverb, 2005 Vox AC30, slide … Craftsman 11/16 socket

Bass sounds:
1974 Fender Jazz Bass modified with DiMarzio P-bass pickup in neck, original J’s in humbucker configuration in bridge with series/parallel switching (custom candy apple red finish ,once owned by member of The Commodores … for extra fucking vibes), 1995 American Fender P-Bass with custom wound Scarlett pickup in tobacco burst finish, Clayton Acetal standard 1.00mm picks (clear), 1972 Ampeg B15S, Scarlett 200 watt White Knight head into fearFul designed DIY 15/6 + fearFul designed DIY 15.

Bass pedal chain: Boss TU-2>Joyo Ultimate Overdrive> Boss LS-2 (A loop) EHX MicroPog>1972 EHX Big Muff fuzz>Boss PS-3>Dunlop 105Q bass wah>Boss RV-3> (A output) -> Ampeg (B output) Dunlop TS-1 tremolo>Akai Headrush E2 ->Scarlett

Drum sounds:
Ludwig Green Sparkle John Bonham kit – 26 x 14″ kick drum, 14 x 10″ rack tom and 16 x 16″ and 18 x 16″ floor toms, Yamaha Tour Custom snare 14 x 8″, whatever cymbals were laying around not broken, Blue Rhino propane tank (empty) (we suppose).

Additional:
Bebot Theremin App played on iPhone6S through Scarlett head
credits
released October 14, 2016

TRANSCRIPTION | Edgard Varèse – Density 21.5

Posted in transcriptions with tags , on September 4, 2015 by dukewisdom
Edgard Varèse - Density 21.5

Edgard Varèse – Density 21.5

You know, I thought the Internet had simply everything—but I was wrong. So when my not very exhaustive search for a guitar tablature transcription of Edgard Varèse’ “Density 21.5” (a 1936 composition for solo flute) turned up nothing, I took matters into my own hands. And here we have just that, an arrangement of the piece in my own hand.

What about playing “Density 21.5?” Hell if I know—I’m no flautist. Actually, as a “guitar transcription of a classical piece,” there’s not that much here; the piece lacks the arpeggio fireworks of a Bach gavotte, for example, but instead takes character from ambiguous and slippery rhythmic and melodic phrasing—part of what makes it interesting. It’s kind of a bitch to count, really, with all of the tied notes and syncopated groupings. In the original sheet music, measures 24-28 feature indications for certain notes “to be played softly, hitting the keys at the same time to produce a percussive effect.” I’ve marked those notes to be played as hammer-ons.

Have I made any errors (other than taking on this project)? Since I made the transcription without the aid of a guitar in hand, the chances are good. I’m just going to leave them as “aspects of my arrangement.” Can you spot problems?

Like most of my friends, I became familiar with Varèse from his being quoted on Frank Zappa album covers (“The present day composer refuses to die.”). And once you absorb the angular swoops and turns of this piece it’s pretty easy to connect the dots (no pun intended) between FZ and his hero. This music, by the way, was written for the initiation of the platinum flute of one George Barrère, 21.5 being the density of that element, hence the title.

Would you like to hear it? Check out Jaques Zoon’s version as intended on flute or Justin R. Stolarik’s percussion reading. Or perhaps you’d like to make your version and share in the comments.

Click here to download a PDF of the arrangement.

RECORDING | The Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists – Islands Shouting Lies

Posted in recordings with tags , , , on June 10, 2015 by dukewisdom
The Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists - Islands Shouting Lies

The Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists – Islands Shouting Lies

Let’s see if I can make sense out of this.

This is one of those projects (I’m sure you know the type) that started as a spark of inspiration sometime in the early ‘00s, fell by the wayside, languished on obscure disc drives, was resurrected, changed identities, then repeated the process. And now, due to public demand and label pressure (lies), here at last is Islands Shouting Lies by the Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists. (Follow the link to listen and download for free.)

What is the project all about and who are the Chamber Soloists? Glad you asked. Islands Shouting Lies is pure aleatoric music, which is to say that aspects of the pieces are left to chance. The gist of the venture is the pitting against each of other of guitar improvisations governed only by an approximate length. Each “Iteration” features two or more solos which are simply superimposed. The interplay that results is entirely synthetic—what Zappa called “xenochrony.” If you’re into this type of thing, the outcome is frequently fascinating.

About the Soloists and their contributions:

“One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose” is a bizarre improvisation by Omaha, Nebraska’s Dave Benscoter. Listening to the piece by itself might make you itch.

“Remember, To a Tick You are Food” by Mike Stover of Kansas City, Missouri is the oldest component of the Islands—older than the project itself, in fact. This fretless guitar improvisation was inspired by a book on Lyme disease, in title if not performance.
(Mike plays steel guitar among other things for KC’s outstanding The Grisly Hand. Give them a listen.)

“On Fire Tonight” comes from Chicago’s Matt Silcock. At some point in the years between this project’s conception and execution, Matt’s original file was corrupted, so what’s here is a mutated, chopped & screwed version of the authentic item. Even then it had to be rescued from a flattened mix owing to (wait for it) a hard drive failure, hence its unfortunately sparse appearances here.

“Choir in Bondage” comes courtesy of Ben Levin from Boston. From the sparing amount of time I’ve been able to spend with Ben, I’d say that “Choir” is an absolute manifestation of his personality—intelligent, adventurous, and humorous.
(You must check out Bent Knee and the Ben Levin Group.)

“Whatever You Say, Man” is by Jorge Arana, also of Kansas City, and was the final improv to arrive. I have wondered aloud if the title was Jorge’s reaction when I explained this project and asked him to contribute. I was certain he had the appropriate acumen for Islands and “Whatever” does not disappoint.
(Be sure to check out the dazzling Jorge Arana Trio.)

“Bewildered” is by Troy Van Horn … that’s me. This track, like “On Fire Tonight,” was lost in the Great Data Failure of 20xx. Oh well.

“Lab Rat 2” is also by me. It’s a recent improvisation to replace the above. I used my ca. 2006 Les Paul studio through an Akai Headrush for added graininess.


Here is how the tracks meet up. Unless my spreadsheet has gone afoul (a distinct possibility), the first piece listed is in the left channel.

Duets
‣Iteration 001: Lab Rat 2 vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose

‣Iteration 002: One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iteration 003: Remember, To a Tick You are Food vs. Choir in Bondage

‣Iteration 004: Choir in Bondage vs. Whatever You Say, Man

‣Iteration 005: Whatever You Say, Man vs. Lab Rat 2

‣Iteration 006: On Fire Tonight vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iteration 007: Choir in Bondage vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose

‣Iteration 008: Whatever You Say, Man vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iteration 009: Remember, To a Tick You are Food vs. Bewildered

‣Iteration 010: Whatever You Say, Man vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose

‣Iteration 011: Choir in Bondage vs. Lab Rat 2

Trios
‣Iteration 012: Lab Rat 2 vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iterattion 013: On Fire Tonight vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food vs. Choir in Bondage

Kitchen sink
‣Iteration 014: All hands. Every track at once. (It’s really far too much. You probably shouldn’t listen to it.)


Some of these gents know each other; others have never heard of one another. This is part of what I consider to be the magic of the project.

Regarding the title: In “The Light That Failed,” Rudyard Kipling said, “We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.” That seems appropriate to the proceedings. Quoting Kipling? What is this lofty bullshit? Well the whole damn thing is pretty lofty, isn’t it?

Many thanks to my co-conspirators, Dave, Mike, Matt, Ben, and Jorge for humoring me in this preposterousness. Thanks to Mason Fann for Headrush and Yeti visitations. Acknowledgement to Rex Woodwind.

Realized at The Prussian Film Commission.