Saturday, April 25, 2020

Having Fun with Pentatonic Scales

Earlier this month I spent some time with five-note scales, AKA pentatonic scales. I sort of felt rejuvenated after doing so. When you just have five notes, each note becomes vital; an entity in itself. It's less about what notes you have to work with or the succession you play them in, and more about how you play those notes and the feeling you have while doing so.

Pentatonic scales are conducive to improvisation - playing original, unpredictable phrases of your own invention, in free rhythm. Just playing around with these notes makes pleasing sound combinations. You can hop around however you like.

The pentatonic scale is sometimes referred to as the black key scale since if you play only the black keys of a piano keyboard you will be playing in a pentatonic scale. Playing within pentatonic scales can cause your music to take on an Eastern feel, as the pentatonic scale is the most frequently used type of scale in the music of the Far-East. It is also used in Native American flute music.

To create the most common type of pentatonic scale you simply remove the 4th and 7th notes from the 7-note major scale.  In the key of C (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) you remove the 4th note F and the 7th note B to create a five note scale with the notes C, D, E, G, A.

From this five note scale of C, D, E, G, A you can create four other modes:
D, E, G, A, C (transposed to C that would be C, D, F, G, Bb)
E, G, A, C, D (transposed to C that would be C, Eb, F, Ab, Bb)
G, A, C, D, E (transposed to C that would be C, D, F, G, A)
A, C, D, E, G (transposed to C that would be C, Eb, F, G, Bb)

These modes can go by different names in different cultures:
C, D, E, G, A = Ryo in Japan, Tizita Major in Ethiopia.
C, D, F, G, Bb = Yematebela Wofe in Ethiopian music. Slendro in gamelan.
C, Eb, F, Ab, Bb = Shegaye in Ethiopian music. Man Gong in China.
C, D, F, G, A = Ritsu in Japan. Ambassel (Major) in Ethiopia.
C, Eb, F, G, Bb = Minyo in Japan, used in Shakuhachi flute music. Also called Batti Minor in Ethiopia.

Some other more unusual pentatonic scales include:
C, Db, F, G, Ab = Kumoi in Japan. Ambassel (Minor) in Ethiopia.
C, Db, F, Gb, Bb = Iwato in Japan.
C, Db, F, G, Bb = Han Iwato in Japan.
C, Db, F, Gb, A = Anchihoye in Ethiopian music.
C, Db, Eb, G, Ab = Balinese Pelog pentatonic.
C, D, Eb, G, Ab = Hirajoshi in Japan, Tizita Minor in Ethiopia. Distinctive use of semitones. 
C, D, F, G, Ab = Kokin Joshi in Japan.
C, D, Eb, G, A = Akebono in Japan.
C, D, Eb, G, Bb = Pygmy scale.
C, Eb, F, G, Bb = Batti Minor.
C, Eb, F#, G, Bb = Batti Minor 4# in Ethiopia. A variant of Batti Minor/Minyo.
C, Eb, F#, G, B = Batti Minor 4/7# in Ethiopia. Like the Hungarian minor mode minus two notes.
C, E, F, G, B = Rhukuan in Japan. A unique scale from Okinawa. Also called Batti Major in Ethiopia.
C, E, F#, G, B = Batti Major #4 in Ethiopia. A variation of the Batti Major mode. Also the "Chinese" scale.
C, E, F, G#, B = Batti Major #5 in Ethiopia. Also called Bacovia in Romanian music.
C, E, F, A, B = no name Japanese mode. (one of the Kumoi modes)
C, E, F#, A, B = no name Asian scale.

Note that Hirajoshi, Kumoi Joshi, and Iwato are all modes of the same basic pentatonic scale.

Pentatonic scales are a reminder that your instrument can be a spiritual tool to reach enlightenment and that playing is a form of meditation. Total absorption in the task is perhaps a more noble achievement than advancement to a higher technical skill level. 

Under the watchful and critical eye of a master one may practice the writing of Chinese characters for days and days, months and months. But he watches as a gardener watches the growth of a tree, and wants his student to have the attitude of the tree - the attitude of purposeless growth in which there are no short cuts because every stage of the way is both beginning and end. (Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, Zen in the Arts)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Music To Be Heard But Not Necessarily Listened To (Part 1)

So much of the music we take in is based on performance, to entertain and capture the attention of an audience. Even when listening through your own headphones or speakers, music is still designed to actively engage with the listener. But since we can't go to concerts right now, why not turn our periphery to music that can be heard but doesn't necessarily have to be listened to. Maybe if only a plant was to hear it, or feel it, that would be enough. Or the audience could just be furniture, or wet paint, and so on.

With that in mind, there's no better place to start than a Grammy winning 2019 compilation called Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990. This 3 LP set presents an overview of the minimalist, ambient, and New Age music - collectively referred to as Environmental music - created by Japanese composers and sound designers in the 1980's. These quiet natural sounds were created for "spaces, products and experiences", whatever that means, or to "transport the consumer into a parade far away from the heat and hurry of urban life.” OK now I'm really confused but I am enjoying my new Sanyo air-conditioner, so that's a plus. If you can't leave your house to be in nature, at least you can feel close to it by listening to this Japanese environmental music.

Next we have Brian Eno's 1978 masterpiece Ambient 1: Music for Airports. This is a record I love to listen to on a chilly spring night when sitting out back on the patio while a chiminea fire is winding down. Maybe you had listened to something more uptempo while the fire was blazing, but now it's that last hour when you're not going to be putting any more wood on the fire and you're just letting it wind down to coals, but you have to stay there and watch it finish. Well, Music for Airports is the perfect music to accompany that. The volume doesn't have to be loud because that way any diegetic sounds happening around you can become part of it.

Above I mentioned that this type of music might be something that plants could appreciate. I was foreshadowing Mother Earth's Plantasia by Mort Garson. Back in 1976 plant buyers could pick up this album as a freebie at Mother Earth Plant Boutique in Los Angeles. And somehow we know about this album today and love it. Kitsch factor notwithstanding. Come on, composer/occultist Mort Garson chose the perpetually cool Moog synthesizer for this "warm earth music for plants...and the people who love them"!

I'm going tropical with my fourth selection, Aguas de Amazonia by Uakti (pronounced wah-keh-chee). This is a long-time favorite CD of mine. Uakti is a Brazilian ensemble that makes use of traditional, exotic and one-of-a-kind home made instruments including pans, marimbas, PVC pipes, stringed instruments, various percussion and more to produce its New Age classical rainforest fantasy world. On this 1993 recording they arrange the music of Philip Glass like it was always meant to be that way. Uakti may be really far out, but they tether some of their experimental techniques by sprinkling it with authentic Brazilian flavors.

I feel like I should include some kind of gamelan or gong music on this list, but rather than a traditional Balinese or Javanese orchestra (maybe next time) I'll start with Seattle's Gamelan Pacifica. Their 1994 outing Trance Gong is focused on their original compositions and closes with a cover of John Cage's In a Landscape. It's gamelan music from an avant-garde point of view. Spotify told me to like it and they were right as usual.

Feel better? Feeling cleansed? What a sound bath!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Hiking Sticks vs Trekking Poles: What Type and What Length Should I Get?

Hiking Trail Sign
I've used both hiking sticks and trekking poles. One hiking stick that I've used off and on for 20+ years is just a 50 inch "jo staff", although jo staff might be a glorified term and one that I've only learned recently. This hiking stick I've been using is basically just a solid wood dowel 1 1/8" in diameter that may have originally been intended for use as a broom handle or some other tool. It had gotten pretty scuffed up and dried out and was starting to crack at one end so I gave it a new coat of finish oil and added some rubber can tips to each end. It may just end up being re-purposed as a Chinese Wand.

I like a wooden hiking stick mainly because it feels harmonious with the natural environment of the outdoors. A wooden stick was made from a tree and you're usually surrounded by trees - the stick's kinfolk - when walking on a trail. A wooden staff also has an old school vibe, and it can be used as protection against dogs or other animals or persons you might encounter. On the downside, a wooden hiking stick can be heavy and clunky.

I don't think that a wooden hiking stick needs to be gnarled or crooked like the stereotypical ones, and I don't even think it needs that leather string/strap that you often see on artisan hiking poles. A straight staff like a jo staff allows the user to put their left or right hand wherever they need to - usually lower down for uphill walking and higher up the stick for downhill descents.

Trekking poles made of carbon fiber or aluminum are cool because they are much lighter weight, with a tip that arguably gives better bite and a grip that is more ergonomic, and are usually collapsible or length adjustable so more travel friendly. A drawback is trekking poles may not be as durable as a hiking stick made from a strong wood like hickory. I've had them collapse on me. For this reason I don't even consider the adjustable length or collapsibility to be an advantage. They can also snap in half. For self-defense a lightweight trekking pole might not offer the peace of mind that a longer, heavier staff would. And lastly, the non-sustainable high tech materials are at odds with the natural environment.

Kingfisher WoodWorks
For the wooden straight staff or jo staff type hiking stick, the best might be the hickory ones made by Kingfisher WoodWorks in Vermont. These come in either 15/16 or one-inch diameters, in various custom lengths and (increasingly expensive) quality grades. More info here:

Another option is Scrapwood Martial Arts from North Carolina (?). They make jo staffs ranging from 48" to 54" which would be perfect for use as minimalist hiking sticks. Diameters larger than one-inch are an option and you have more wood choices than just hickory. Details here:

A third maker of wooden hiking/walking sticks is Brazos Walking Sticks out of Texas. Brazos is probably the type of wooden hiking stick that most people think of. Their Fitness Walker models looks especially cool, although the length options are more limited. Check out their sticks here:

For trekking poles I'm only going to go over fixed-length poles since if I opened it up to collapsible or adjustable length poles it would be too much. I prefer fixed-length anyway.  First off we have the FK Trekking Poles by Ultimate Direction. These are described as being super lightweight (and strong) so if that's your primary concern check these out.

Black Diamond makes a similar product called the Distance Carbon Running Poles. These are designed for long distance running so they may or may not be tough enough for hiking. I don't think I've seen any negative reviews though so that's a good sign.

Grass Sticks
I suppose you could also just use ski poles as trekking poles. If you go that route you're on your own. I don't know enough about ski poles to offer any recommendations, with a couple exceptions! Remember what I said about wood hiking sticks (advantage: made of natural materials, disadvantage: heavy and clunky) vs. trekking poles (advantage: lightweight and ergonomic, disadvantage: synthetic material).  What if you combined the best of both?  I think I've found the solution!

A Colorado company called Grass Sticks makes bamboo ski poles that can also be used for hiking. In a chat with the owner Andrew he assured me that Grass Sticks make excellent hiking/walking/trekking poles, for much the same reasons that they make great ski poles too: light and strong. Grass Sticks can also provide rubber tip covers for covering up the metal tip when walking on rocks or pavement. For most hikers the Original Custom Grass Sticks will be fine. For those who hike on steep hills and ascents Grass Sticks' Touring Sticks might be better as they have an extra grip on the shaft that allows you to choke down when ascending steep terrain. Purchase here:!/Grass-Sticks-Ski-Poles/c/23444012/offset=0&sort=normal

In my research I also came across a Utah based maker of bamboo ski poles called Soul Poles. Their SoulLite Walking Stick might be the one to get. Take a look at that here:

What Length?
The length you want is different for a hiking sticks versus a trekking pole. For its wooden hiking sticks Kingfisher Woodworks says on its website When choosing the length of the hiking stick, it's usually good to have an amount of counter-balance above the hand grip. Some extra length is also good for downhill pitches. As a general guideline, we recommend using the measurement from the neck (jugular notch area) to the ground as shown below.
If I was to follow this advice I would end up with a stick longer than my 50" stick which comes up to about my armpit. So that way of measuring may not work for everyone. Another way of measuring is to just add 6 to 9 inches above the elbow, or two hand-widths above where you naturally hold the stick (90 degree angle).

For a trekking pole the length is shorter simply because you hold the pole closer to the end. There isn't that 6 to 9 inches of counter-balance above the hand grip. Ultimate Direction has this pole size chart which I think is spot on:


Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Search for the Best (Non-Phish) Jamband Album

For fun I thought I'd figure out what was the best non-Phish jamband album. We have to rule out Phish because, ummmm, Story of the Ghost. There's a clue above but first let's walk through the process. To whittle down the list I set a few parameters. Mainly, the album had to come out between the landmark dates of 8/9/95 (Jerry Garcia's passing) and 12/31/99 (Phish's midnight 'til dawn Big Cypress set).

Why these two dates? Sure the jamband scene was already burgeoning before the death of Jerry Garcia, but his passing seem to really ignite a level of creativity that may have been stifled up to then. I mean I can remember before the term jamband was even invented, when you had bands like Solar Circus; basically just very minor league Dead lookalike bands soaking up some of the trickle down from the real thing. With the Grateful Dead off the road their shadow loomed a little less large, allowing bands of a certain ilk to show off their individuality. There may have been some friendly competition involved too. Any halfway good band seemed to get a bump or a promotion after the top, top dog was no longer in charge.

Enter Phish. Phish was already killing it, but they really stepped up their game from '95 onward and set a standard so high that no other band could possibly keep up with, but at the same time this raising of the bar lifted many others up along with them. The new average was way better than the previous average. Things happened fast, super fast, then it peaked and suddenly crashed with the performance Phish gave on 12/31/99. Nothing could ever top that so it was almost like why bother. Of course things continued to grow, but my point is if you hadn't done it by 1999 then you hadn't done it. You can't put out an album in the 1970's and have it be a 60's album. So the same thing holds true here.

OK so who are the contenders?  One obvious choice is Widespread Panic. I never did listen to those guys a whole lot, but the album of theirs that definitely qualifies as classic is Space Wrangler. That's from 1988 though, way too early to enter the contest by the rules I'm making up. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with anything WSP put out between 1995 and 1999 and if I didn't listen to it in real time it would be wrong to try and include it now. So cahoots to them for putting out such an ahead of its time album in the 1980's but no can do.

Next would maybe be The String Cheese Incident. They really grew during this 1995 to 1999 time period and put out a couple notable studio albums - 1996's Born on the Wrong Planet and 1998's Round the Wheel. I listened to both of these a lot back then, but upon a 2020 re-listen they just don't hold up. There's an inconsistency due to some songs being too goofy or just not up to par.

I might consider Ween if I considered Ween to be a jamband, but it's pretty clear they aren't/weren't. Especially not in the 1990's. They turned their noses up at such a thought. Although I do probably consider Ween's 1997 album The Mollusk to be even better than Story of the Ghost. Moving on.

I'm going to also rule out Medeski, Martin and Wood and Yonder Mountain String Band. MMW's Shackman album (1996) is no doubt one the best of that decade, as is their 1998 collaboration with John Scofield called A Go Go, but these are not square in the jamband universe, if you will. These are on the fringe, overlapping more with what they used to call acid jazz than pure jamband music. In YMSB's case, their debut album Elevation came out in 1999 so it's within the time frame, but this particular CD was more bluegrass than jamgrass. Not gonna make it.

It's worth mentioning Minnesota's The Big Wu. They never made it big so you might not have heard of them, but their 1997 album Tracking Buffalo Through the Bathtub was one I used to love. The Big Wu were about as stereotypically jambandy as you could get. Unfortunately that works against them now because while still fun, upon re-listen there's too much of an obvious Grateful Dead influence in there for it be legitimately considered.

Now we're getting to the strong contenders. I consider Sound Tribe Sector 9, or just "Sector 9" as they were known in 1999, to be a strong contender. Go back and listen to their 1999 debut Interplanetary Escape Vehicle. Pretty well formed from the get-go, right? Problem is it's all instrumental. Don't get me wrong. I love instrumental music and nowadays I listen to instrumental music more than music with vocals, but lyrics - even if they are mindless, repetitive, non-sequitur filled lyrics - are so part and parcel to the jamband aesthetic that I can't ultimately keep STS9 in the running. The other problem is their 2nd album Offered Schematics Suggesting Peace from the year 2000 is the one.

Keller Williams is a strong contender, believe it or not. Especially his 1999 album Breathe with The String Cheese Incident as the backing band. I listened to that just the other day in preparation for this and was singing along with songs I hadn't heard or thought about in over a decade. Why not Breathe? Because I already know who the winner is and Breathe falls just shy.

Strangefolk's Weightless In Water has all the characteristics I'm looking for. It came out in 1997. They were a jamband. Not the jammiest of jambands, but a jamband nonetheless. Strangefolk was almost like our scene's version of The Jayhawks if The Jayhawks had been trying to appeal to a Phish audience. The emphasis on lyrics and songs was as crucial to Strangefolk as Robert Hunter's lyrics and Jerry Garcia's singing were to the Grateful Dead. Plus, it didn't sound derivative in Reid Genauer's capable hands. This made Strangefolk stand out in what was quickly becoming a crowded field. Most every song on Weightless in Water is good. There's nothing to bring it down. But I'm not there yet.

I mustn't forget about Leftover Salmon. However by my own stupid rules I automatically eliminated what might be their defining album, 1993's Bridges To Bert. Without being able to count that one I look to their 1997 release Euphoria.  Guess what. It's even better than I remember it being. Euphoria has the quality mix of Vince and Drew you expect from Leftover Salmon. This team effort aspect should not be discounted. Having two or even three strong singers/songwriters in your band is a big plus. Having all band members come across as equals with no weak links is a big plus. Despite their bluegrass and cajun roots, Leftover Salmon didn't eschew the jamband label either. They embraced it. Euphoria is very well produced as well. Clocking in at under 42 minutes they avoided the CD era's 70+ minute temptations. This means there's absolutely no filler on Euphoria. This would be the winner if not for .moe.

Yes, .moe comes out on top.  And I had two great .moe albums to choose from: No Doy from 1996 or Tin Cans and Car Tires from 1998. (Can I also count the 46+ minute Meat single that was released as part of the promotion of No Doy?). I'm going to go with No Doy for the win.  The influences are perhaps equal parts Phish, Zappa, Camper Van Beethoven, They Might Be Giants and Meat Puppets. Maybe some Uncle Tupelo.  But on No Doy it's really just .moe sounding like .moe. Not two but three strong frontmen? Rob, Al and Chuck. Check. Crazy time signatures, epic anthems, weird modal scales, nonsense lyrics? Check.  .moe wasn't just working from the playbook, they were helping establish it. Any Grateful Dead influence is deeply buried, imperceptible.  That no longer mattered. Instead of building from a tradition like bluegrass or jazz, if anything .moe used alternative rock as its jumping off point. They just took songs that might have otherwise been 4 or 5 minutes and jammed them out for 20+ minutes live. In the studio these were still good songs without those extra minutes being added on. Save that for the live show. If I was also judging by how many times it got played, then No Doy excels on that front as well. If I had to pick just one album that best represents the "genre" for lack of a better word, this would be it. I might listen to No Doy again right now as a matter of fact.


Friday, April 17, 2020

A Collection of Stick Mobility Exercises

Stick Mobility uses strong yet pliable sticks to help supplement and deepen stretching exercises. In addition to the links provided below I have included some pictures taken of a brochure.

This article called Best Stretch Ever features 8 stretches.

This post contains 4 drills.

This one covers six moves to target a sedentary lifestyle.

Here are some good stick exercises from Tampa Mobility.

This review has some good images of common poses.

A different take on the Bow and Arrow exercise.

This is basically a redo of the Best Stretch Ever article linked at the top of this page.

Stick mobility with a wooden staff.

Stick Mobility's Library of fundamentals.

PVC Pipe exercises.

Upper Body Stick Warm-Up

Lower Body Stick Warm-Up


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Five, Make That Six, Favorite Albums So Far in 2020 (Best Albums of 2020, So Far)

I've been wanting to post this for a few days now, and I already had five 2020 albums picked out as favorites. By the time I got around to writing this the list had grown to six! Here they are.

Phish - Sigma Oasis
What It Is: It's Phish, dude. The same Phish whose live show is where it's at, man. In case you forgot, these guys are pretty good in the studio as well.
Why I Like It: Lots of reasons. There are no clunker songs. Each track is strong. The production may the best I've ever heard on a Phish album. Engineer Vance Powell did a much better job of capturing the band's sound than any of the name brand producers they've worked with before managed to do, and better even than the band itself has done in the past. With Phish you are usually judging the studio versions of songs as being inferior to the live versions. On Sigma Oasis these studio takes come off more as definitive than inferior. Or at least as an alternative. Do I have criticisms? Sure. It's Phish so I analyze everything with a microscopic lens. But those objections are starting to wash away. Phish is a team and they know what they are doing. If they chose to make it this way it's better to trust their decisions than to try and poke holes in them.

Habibi - Anywhere But Here
What It Is: An all female post-punk style band from Brooklyn with more than a hint of an Arabic influence in their music.
Why I Like It: I had already been researching all-female bands from yesteryear - like The Raincoats, Kleenex and ESG - so I was happy to learn of an equally cool present day band. Habibi's songs are super catchy. Just the right mix of garage rock and pop musicality.

Hawktail - Formations
What It Is: An instrumental quartet that uses bluegrass instruments (fiddle, upright bass, flatpicked guitar, mandolin) in a musical style that used to be (?) called "new acoustic". Hawktail has the gravitas of a David Grisman Quintet or the Strength In Numbers Telluride Sessions but with more of a Scandinavian folk influence, à la Väsen.
Why I Like It: The world of new acoustic music is still ruled by the Mike Marshall, Béla Fleck, Darol Anger generation. Hawktail is perhaps the best of the next round of bands following in this progressive tradition. I don't know if they are taking it farther, but they are certainly fanning the flames.

Jon Stickley Trio - Scripting the Flip
What It Is: A wildly unique instrumental trio (guitar, violin, drums) that can hold its own at both jamband and roots music festivals.
Why I Like It: When I listen to Jon Stickley Trio I can't help but think of Shooglenifty, the legendary Scottish folk group that took trad music into new dimensions during the 1990's and 2000's. Jon Stickley Trio's music is very different than Shooglenifty, but it contains the same groovy energy, referencing bluegrass or Southern Appalachian fiddle tunes in the way that Shooglenifty expanded upon its Celtic roots. Jon Stickley (guitar) may have his name in the title, but everyone on board shines with Lyndsay Pruett (violin) and Hunter Deacon (drums) contributing in massive ways to make this the best album of the band's career. Track after track is one brilliant composition after another. I'm liking this one a lot!

Stein Urheim - Downhill Uplift
What It Is: Difficult to categorize music out of Norway that seems to float between spiritual jazz, psychedelic rock and world/folk.
Why I Like It: The first time I listened to it I picked up on what must be a Sun Ra or Alice Coltrane influence. The 2nd time around it sounded more like Pink Floyd or even Phish. The 3rd time it came across as if an American blues musician was traveling along the Silk Road. All on the same 37 minute album. So take a listen today, then again tomorrow, then the next day. It'll be different each time. Pay attention to the remarkably good drums/percussion.

Seahawks - Island Visions
What It Is: A modern day take off on Library music, inspired by the cult classic KPM albums of the 1970's, although this sounds more 90's than 70's.
Why I Like It: Exotic without being exotica. Sunny with a patch of clouds. Slightly buzzed. The soundtrack for relaxing with your cocktail of choice. This is a chilled out album and maybe a little too savory or intelligent to pass for legit Library music, but it's all the better for it. I'm not familiar with the band Seahawks, but this record sounds like something Sound Tribe Sector 9 or Boards of Canada might have come up with if given the same task of expanding upon the KPM catalogue.
Listen here:


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Quarantine Life Week Four - Exercise, Music, Books, Netflix

Lou Reed
Below I ask myself some questions and then answer them.

1. What have you been doing with your time and to keep sane?
Exercise. I started the new year with a pretty disciplined exercise program that has allowed me to lose 30 pounds over the last three months and turn some fat into muscle. So fortunately by the time of the mid-March quarantine I was already in the habit of regularly exercising. Staying at home has given me more time to devote to this. I try to do a heavy workout every morning coupled with a lighter, more meditative practice in the evenings. I've been using unconventional workout tools like kettlebells, steel mace, meels, clubs, a shena push-up board, and a tai chi ball. And in addition have been continuing to get out and walk/hike multiple times a week.

2. What are you listening to and reading?
I've been enjoying new albums by Phish (Sigma Oasis), Hawktail, Jon Stickley Trio and Habibi. And listening to all three Jake Xerxes Fussell albums on repeat. To indulge the stranger side of things, I've let Spotify play all day long based on channels centered around gamelan music of Java, or Mort Garson's Music for Plants, or C Joynes and the Furlong Bray.  I also listened back to moe. - No Doy, Strangefolk - Weightless in Water, Sector 9 - Interplanetary Escape Vehicle, Leftover Salmon - Euphoria and Keller Williams - Breathe.  The reason? To revisit some classic late 90's non-Phish jamband albums to determine the best. The winner? No Doy by .moe!

Plus I've been delving into my vinyl record collection by listening to some Sun Ra, Dorothy Ashby, Mulatu Astatke, and Hailu Mergia. It's been fun tuning in to YouTube for Phish's Tuesday night Dinner and a Movie concert series. John Prine. Spotify's This Is John Prine playlist is better than anything I could come up with myself so I've listened to a few hours of that a couple times this week too.

One thing I haven't been listening to is podcasts. I only like to listen to podcasts when in the car by myself during the 45 minute commute to work. Since I'm working from home I don't have any desire to listen to podcasts at the moment.

Reading wise, I've been devouring crime fiction novels, having discovered Michael Connelly. What a great writer!  I've read all three of his Renee Ballard novels (two of which feature Harry Bosch), and now I'm going back to the very first Bosch book The Black Echo and starting from there. However this crime fiction phase was kicked off with Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg. I am anxiously awaiting the 2nd book in that series. I also had my introduction to the Norwegian Harry Hole mysteries by Jo Nesbo, having started with The Snowman.

In between these police procedurals I also read a couple so-bad-they're-(almost)-good "animals attack" novels: The Roo by Alan Baxter and The Pack by David Fisher.

3. Latest Netflix discovery?
I could do without TV and I try to keep it off more than on, but I occasionally get the urge to find a European version of Sopranos or The Wire or True Detective. The Dutch show Undercover met that need and I made it all the way through season 1 of that one. More recently I've tried the Finnish mystery thriller Deadwind and the Belgian series The Break. I'm not hooked on either though.

4. What’s the one thing you could not do without right now?
I think probably right now it would be exercise equipment rather than a musical instrument, believe it or not. Being focused on doing a daily exercise program has helped me stay disciplined and not develop any bad eating or drinking habits. If I had to pick one piece of exercise equipment it would probably be the steel mace. OK maybe a tenor banjo and a steel mace.


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Primal Flow Wooden Mace

The mace is an ancient weapon that over the last 15 years has been reinvented as a modern day training tool. Dr. Joey Cadena, DPT designed his Primal Flow Wooden Training Mace with this in mind. He originally developed this lightweight mace for using with patients at his physical therapy practice to help improve balance, posture, and flexibility. It's also great for those who just want a fun, flowing workout.

Primal Flow Wooden Mace
This Primal Flow mace has dimensions similar to the 10 pound mace offered by Onnit or Set For Set but since it is made of wood instead of steel it weighs in at approximately 4.6 pounds. That weight makes it great for light recovery workouts, mindful/meditational movements, and building a solid foundation of basic techniques before moving on to heavier equipment. You can also make a light mace feel heavy through slow controlled movements and by the way you hold it and/or position your body.

Along with the mace, I recommend getting a hard copy of Dr. Cadena's spiral bound book Primal Flow Foundations. In this text he explains the Primal Flow technique in detail, which draws from his personal study of bo staff, kali sticks, and katana (Japanese sword), as well as his physical therapy knowledge. The basics are covered in detail: how to hold and grip the mace, positions and stances, and footwork. I even learned that the base end of the mace is called the pommel! There are lots of step by step instructions with the medical reasoning to back them.

My favorite exercises from the book include the Figure 8 Strike (inspired by bo staff movements), the 360 Swing (the most famous mace move of them all), the Outside Mill and the Inside Mill (similar to Indian Club swinging), the Shield Lunge (to indulge in your inner warrior!) and the Tree Pose Upper Cut / Rising Extended Upper Cut (incorporating a Yoga stance).

Something Joey emphasizes is to practice with purpose. This includes maintaining proper position, alignment, weight distribution, balance, mechanics, and the application of anti-rotation (converging or diverging force). At this lighter weight, you can practice slowly while maintaining control to create proper paths of motion and establish proper motor patterns. The skills you learn can later be applied to steel mace and other modalities.

Primal Flow Wooden Training Mace specs
Weight - 4.6 pounds (about 2kg)
Overall Length - about 40 inches
Maceball/globe diameter - 5 inches
Handle diameter - seems to be about 37.5mm
Handle length (not counting ball) - about 35 inches


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Creativity and Flow

From June 2017 to March 2020 I had given myself the ongoing task of writing approximately one new instrumental tune per week. During this time I came up with 150+ melodies. The original intent was perhaps to pen my own repertoire but as the project developed the simple act of creation became the driving factor.

A couple weeks ago I went through the entire 150 plus tunes and culled it down to a more manageable list of about 50 favorites that I like to play and could recall - or almost recall - from memory. In doing so I pivoted from the act of continuous creation and re-focused on better learning and appreciating what I had already accomplished. Resting on my laurels, if you will.

I wrote the name of each tune that made the cut on a card. After shuffling the deck I turn over a card and play whatever tune turns up. If I can't quite remember it I try and re-learn it so that next time I won't have to refer to tab or recordings. Five or six tunes a day played this way and it feels complete. The only problem is I am finding out that doing this is less enjoyable than the act of creation.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who has written about a type of consciousness he calls Flow. When in a flow state you are completely absorbed in an activity which involves your creative abilities, concentrating so much on the present moment that nothing else seems to matter. The enjoyment is found in the intrinsic process of the experience. You do the activity for the sheer sake of doing it.

Perception of time changes, discomfort goes unnoticed, and stray negative thoughts don't enter the mind. You surrender completely to the moment. (This sounds like me on a Saturday morning when I have blocked out 4 or 5 hours of time for the purpose of organizing the creative tap by churning out a tune or two).

When in flow, self-consciousness and apprehension are lost. There is no worry of failure. The thinking mind is removed. I'm pretty sure Phish was in this state at the Clifford Ball, for example. The activity becomes an end in itself; more important than the finished work.

To achieve flow there must be a balance between challenge and skills: not too demanding or too simple for one’s abilities. The skill that I rely on to compose melodies is an understanding of the major scale - doh, ray, mee, fah, soh, lah, tee - and an ability to play these notes on an instrument. By tweaking and reshuffling this established pattern of notes in a scale into new sequences and rhythms then new melodies can be created. This keeps it simple. And by not dwelling on more complicated aspects of music theory like chords or harmony I keep it from being too challenging.

Taking It Further
You can develop your flow to such an extent that every potential threat can be translated into an enjoyable challenge, where inner tranquility is a continuous state of mind. When you are able to find joy in the ordinary or barren you won't be bored or anxious. If you relish every moment of the day then you don't need to escape from anything. 

With that in mind, even going back over tunes I've previously written can be a way to achieve flow. Tunes are not static. They are dynamic. There are ways to constantly increase the challenge of them by finding new ways to play and improvise over them. Improvisation is spontaneous composition. Even if you were to paint the same painting or write the same poem every single day, there are ways to make that a flow activity. 

Going forward I may be less concerned with naming or documenting melodic creations for the purpose of adding to a repertoire. That part of the goal has been accomplished. I have 50+ tunes that I love playing when the time comes to fall back on them, and within these 50+ tunes a full spectrum of "what I want to say" is being voiced. But I will also continue to devote time to spontaneous composition. What I might start calling "catch and release" melodies. Then there can be stories of the ones that got away.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Skipping - Is This The Exercise Craze That's Right For You?


Skipping is not just a good workout. It's a natural part of being human. We skip in play; we skip in dance; we skip just for the heck of it.  Be true to yourself.  Let go of your fears.  Bring freedom to your life.  Splash in a puddle; frolick in a field; giggle to yourself.  You’ll be amazed at the thoughts and feelings that can arise as you skip along your merry way.  Skip for the body, mind and spirit.

Still not convinced?  Check the facts.  When you measure the electrodes, you find that skipping burns more calories than running - up to 700 calories per session - and has less impact on your joints.  What does that mean to you?  How about a slimmer waist, a pert bottom and inner thighs that could crack walnuts!

Not everyone feels they are fit enough or have the right lifestyle to be able to take up skipping full-time. If you aren't used to skipping, start slowly.  Maybe take a class from a skipping instructor.   Learning the proper technique will make skipping very accessible.

Find the courage to skip.  You'll feel energized and more than a little proud of yourself.  Your experience with skipping makes a great conversation starter at parties.  It can spice up your love life too - without skipping a beat!

If you can add skipping to your life you'll end up with a smile on your face, not a grimace.