Archive for transcription

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


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?

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.