Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tunes 51 Through 56 (The Hits Keep Coming)

I was recently listening to Terry Gross' interview with John Oliver on Fresh Air.  During the conversation, John Oliver mentioned that he played viola as a teen.  He said, "The better I got at it, the more frustrating I found playing it because I realized that I could not make the music sound the way I wanted to make it sound. And it was so infuriating because you just feel so impotent.  There were girls that I played with - when they played the violin could make it sound just spectacular. And I knew if I practiced for the rest of my life I would never be able to make it sound like that. So it was that weird situation of as I got kind of good at it the more and more I wanted to smash it into a wall.  When you start being able to technically play the notes of like an incredible piece like the Bach Double Concerto - just one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written - and playing it at my absolute best I was always butchering it. So it was really, really disappointing to kind of feel that the better I got, it felt like the worse I actually was".

I've experienced this frustration myself.  To overcome that hurdle, I set about writing my own personal repertoire of music to play that is mine and mine alone - little melodies I can play for enjoyment that are free from any genre, style, quality, precedent, example, tradition, expectation or sound other than my own devising.  OK cool.  That's now done.  I have 50+ tunes.  Enough to last a lifetime.

Last month I saw Bill Frisell play in New York City.  With him were Thomas Morgan, Rudy Royston and Eyvind Kang.  The improvised musical repartee that this quartet was able to achieve was both transcendent and discouraging.  The ease at which these guys made music together was an ever present reminder that what I'm doing is something completely different.  To overcome that valley I had to hit the reset button and realize that what I'm doing is something completely different.  So there.

When I reached 50 tunes in February - three months earlier than goal - I gave my mind a break.  However, I'm always going to have a creative drive that can't be turned off.  Fortunately I have an open tap and whether it's a blank page or a musical instrument, shit is going to come out.  It might be shit, but shit is going to keep coming.  That can't be stopped.

Tune number 51 is called Flea Circus.  I had the title before I had the melody, so it was going to be the title of whatever I wrote next.  This is what I wrote and it came to me almost immediately after hearing the Arthur Russell album Love Is Overtaking Me for the first time.

Number 52 is Doro Wat.  In this case I had the melody first.  I stole it almost entirely from the music of Mulatu Astatke who is basically the inventor of Ethiopian Jazz.  Soon after "writing" this music I needed a title and found the words Doro Wat which I learned was an Ethiopian chicken stew.  At my first opportunity I went to an Ethiopian restaurant to sample Doro Wat, and yes it is tasty!

Tune number 53 is called A Weird Drame.  It's a direct result from seeing Bill Frisell in New York.  During his first set that night he played his tune Baba Drame.  That sound stuck with me and the first time I picked up my banjo after returning home a melody very similar to that was the first thing I played.  The same exact notes you hear here.  Before leaving for New York, I had already been working on a little melody that I had hummed while listening to melodica player Augustus Pablo.  In the interest of convenience and synchronicity I forced that Augustus Pablo type melody upon the Bill Frisell/Baba Drame inspired melody.  A Weird Drame indeed.

Number 54 is called Kestrel.  I guess there are four mini parts to it.  It's a combination of things but I can't remember what the genesis was.  Some of it might be from steel drum music.  But steel drums have 55 notes not 54.  I know that one section of this was in my head as I woke up one morning and I played what I had heard in my head on the banjo as soon as I had gotten up and walked downstairs.  The rest of it - or all of it - might be an exercise in trying to make distinctive melodies out of a small amount of notes.

Tune 55 is Now Defunct.  I pride myself on not being able to transcribe by ear very well.  This is how I convince myself that I've written an original melody instead of a direct note for note copy of something someone else came up with.  So hopefully that happened here, although a trained ear might hear a similarity to an obscure composition called Funky Resurgence by Ulysses Crockett.  I noticed that because Funky Resurgance's head melody was my source for Now Defunct, but upon transcribing/writing it I noticed an unexpected similarity to the Phish song Meat.  Cool.  I love stuff like that.  The B-part was just slapped on spur of the moment.  This may be a continuation of the trend to write really simple, sparse melodies with just a few notes.

Finally, tune 56 is called Wanderley.  Six tunes in less than two months might be a fairly fast pace, but it's not as fast as the 50 tunes I wrote over nine months from June 2017 to February 2018.  I don't feel as much pressure to create right now, being content with the 50+ tunes I've got.  I can't even get to all of them in a week now unless I play an average of 8 per day.  Anyway, I had a little melody going based on what sounded to me like the vocal line of the Bad Religion song Operation Rescue.  It was too insignificant to stand on its own so I shelved it temporarily.  Meanwhile I was listening to the Brazilian organist Walter Wanderley and as a result came up with a tropical sounding melody.  I played with some more experimental sounding B and C parts for it, but then I realized that the teeny tiny little Bad Religion based melody could be tacked right on and a simple, fun tune was now in existence.  I would like to welcome Wanderley to the world.

That's all I got for now. 

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