Vegetable-Bass: Solo Performance @ De Meldkamer – Dec 9th 2019

// On Sunday Dec 8th I was invited to perform an entire solo vegetable-bass set at De Meldkamer – a small gallery and artspace in the heart of Maastricht. As part of their Christmas series, they have curated a range of different artists to partake in four consecutive Sunday evening concerts. 

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In preparation for my album recording in late February, this performance served as the perfect opportunity to take the music outside of the practice room and to perform it to a real audience. After an intensive year of focused practice – full of frustration, excitement, persistence and quite often a sense of warped reality – it was incredibly rewarding to finish off the first semester with an enriching performance in which I felt completely connected to my music and to my instrument. Although battling a cold, I also felt a higher level of vocal confidence after commencing regular lessons with Sabine Kuhlich and Charlotte Haesen; both of which have helped me immensely so far with technique and improving my breath support. 

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Whilst there is still lots of room for improvement (for the rest of my life, let’s be honest here…), I feel inspired and ready to record the current material as an audio snapshot of my progress in the past year. 

Full recording below :  

 

‘A Tree Tells’ – Notation V. 1

// My latest piece ‘A Tree Tells‘ holds a deeper meaning than the average artichoke.

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In the midst of the Bushfire crisis in my beloved Australian homeland, I felt a need to channel my sadness and angst into a song – told from the perspective of a tree (pictured) that I connected with during a recent movement workshop led by Sebastian Stert.

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It is easy to take nature’s magic for granted, but as our treasured planet continues to change ever so rapidly, this workshop was spent strengthening our connection to nature and reflecting upon the importance of self-grounding amidst our environment. It is so important to remain mindful of the need for greater action to preserve the stunning habitat in which we are harmoniously immersed within… It is so easy to lose touch… to forget to stop and listen to the trees. But perhaps the most valuable part of this adventure was a moment of connected energy between the trees and me. They have been there for many centuries, and will outlive all of us. The least we can do is to respect them and all that they give. // Needless to say, I went straight home and wrote A Tree Tells

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This composition is purposefully simple. In contrast to the other vegetable pieces, I felt that the lyrics were the foundation for this piece of music. Thus, I chose to use only partials to accompany the vocal melody; … to enhance the story, and to avoid distraction from the fundamental meaning of the lyrics.

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~~~ Notation ~~~

The notation of this piece has offered a great exercise in my continued enquiry into different methods of communicating my music to others on the score. As I have previously posted about the notational inconsistencies of harmonics across different scores, I have tried a particular method for this particular piece:

Click here for the full score: A Tree Tells 

——– > A numbering system was used to indicate which strings the partials are played on, accompanied by a diagram that I have made below:

Double Bass - String Numbering Diagram

——– > A second page is focused on the bass part, with a pitch indication on the line above. This allows for much closer detail in regards to particular string numbers, with a direct reference to the sounding pitch of each partial (see below).

Untitled~~~ Summary ~~~

Whilst I am currently experimenting with the complex world of notation, I am satisfied with the level of clarity that I have achieved in this particular score so far. In contrast to my other pieces, I chose to focus on this one due its simplicity and single-line accompaniment. The rare occurrence of double-stops has allowed for a cleaner appearance on the page, and perhaps with more work in this direction, it will become easier to translate the rest of my compositions into a more consistent form of notation.

 

 

Holy Basil – Take 2

// This is a short post – but an important one —> My practice today has been focused on utilising more freedom within my newer compositions. — In a lesson with Matthias Nowak several weeks ago, he suggested that I continue the persistent exploration of my existing ideas, and to expand upon these to consider more variety of ideas. During a very busy couple of months, it has been difficult to find focus and balance between my individual practice and the energy put into other projects (namely Meatshell and AHA trio). A pending recording also adds extra pressure, whereby each of my pieces has felt relatively ‘stuck’ in place. Now is the time to open the doors and to allow myself to continue creating within each one. The possibilities will be forever growing, after all.

In this light, today’s afternoon of practice was spent exploring the sounds within Holy Basil, particularly in regards to the use of my voice. While the recording is very much ‘in progress’, I feel that this was an important stepping stone towards the final stages of preparation with this piece thus far.

It is sometimes important to take a step back from the difficulty of each technique, and to focus on the bigger picture – focusing on the inevitability of imperfection and the beauty of spontaneous exploration.

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A Vegetable-Progress-Report

It is time to organise the many compositional sketches from the past two years and deliver a vegetable-progress-report. ——-

As a highly intuitive musician, I thrive in an experimental (and distinctly non-routine) practice environment. And whilst it is rather easy to succumb to the feeling of ‘information overload’ (especially when delving deeper into the world of extended techniques), I seem to have established a successful format in which to compose and create music in a challenging, but artistic way. – – – – > In the past, I would often record ideas on my phone, only forgetting to ever return to them or to develop them any further. However, the use of a blog has allowed me to hold myself accountable to these ideas and to develop upon my them past the initial point of discovery. The documentation and reflection that currently accompanies my compositional process has become an invaluable tool in self-growth.

The table below includes all of my solo pieces, composed between August 2018 to the current day. *Note: Whilst there have been numerous other experiments and sketches along the way, the pieces that are documented are those that I currently aim to include on the album. – – – – > The middle column lists the particular techniques of each piece on which I have focused and the right-hand column lists a number of pieces and musicians that have inspired the process. It should be mentioned also that the right hand column lists only the explicit influences for each piece thus far; it would be impossible to list each and every piece of music and person who has inspired the creative process for each vegetable-piece. After all – influence can arise from anywhere at any given time, even unknowingly.


 

Year 1 (already recorded)

Techniques used

Inspired by

Cauli-flower Part I Frog Strike (where an up-bow strikes all the way to the frog of the bow, creating an intense, percussive effect upon delivery).

Artificial Harmonics with glissandi

Robert Landfermann (technique he uses often, and which I first discovered during a masterclass with Pablo Held Trio).

Dave Holland’s ‘Combination’ (from the album Emerald Tears)

Cauli-flower Part II Combination of harmonics and vocals, utilising a broad range of the fretboard First moments of experimentation between both unison and harmony of partials and voice.

Double-stopped harmonics in Duo una certa nebbia (Stefano Scodannibio and Hakon Thelin).

Bean Pitch-specific tapping and sliding with both hands Barre Phillips – ‘Riverbend’ (Call me when you get there)

Stefano Scodannibio and Hakon Thelin – ‘Geografia Amorosa’ (The middle section of this piece features prominent tapping, played percussively by the left hand).

Beetroot (in blossom) Artificial Harmonics past thumb position combined with vocals

Percussive bouncing of bow combined with consistent left-hand plucking

Elisabeth Coudeaux – ‘Found Not’ (Some Poems: Cello Solo)

Dave Holland’s ‘Flurries’ (Emerald Tears)

Barre Phillips – ‘Quest No. 4’ (End to End)

Stefanno Scodannibio ‘Granada’ (Incontri and Reuniones) – features a recurring bouncing rhythm on the G string

Jerusalem Artichoke Focused on continuous bowing, forward momentum & experimentation with sul pont. vs sul tasto. Slowfox – ‘Thought’ (Gentle Giants) -Gramms is heard to play a continuous harmonic movement in the beginning
Year 2 (in progress)

Techniques used

Inspired by

Snow Peas (served two ways) Quarter tonal double stops Elisabeth Coudeaux Solo Concert + ‘Knut’ from her album – involves detuning or slight variation over double stops (particularly major thirds).
Black Radish Combination of left-hand tapping and bowed partials

Combination of consistent  left hand pizzicato pulse with bowed melody.

Elisabeth Coudeax – ‘A Faint Voice’ – the ascending melodic lines and motivic patterns in cyclic formation. Also ’Found Not’ – combination of left hand tapping and right hand bowing

Dave Holland – ‘Flurries’ (from Emerald Tears)

Combined stopped notes with partials – particularly inspired by ‘Inner Door – Pt. 2’ (Barre Phillips – End to End).

Mark Dresser – ‘For Scodanibbio’ (Unveil) – combination of a constant pulse with bowed melodies and textures

Vegetable Delivery Alternate Tuning (G string tuned down to an F#). Nina Harries – ‘Lose Yourself’ (self-titled albums) & ‘Clown Song’ (Youtube) – spoken word over double bass groove.
Raw Ginger Root

(previously titled Aubergine Flowers)

Alternate Tuning (D string tuned down to a C#),

Focusing on double stops and control over simultaneous stopped notes in combination with partials.

Larry Grenadier’s ‘Vineland’ (The Gleaners), which also focus on double stops in an alternate tuning.

Barre Phillips ‘Grants Pass’ (Call me when you get there) – i.e. the forward momentum and chordal movement.

Dieter Manderscheid ‘Subito Sera’ (Thinking Of)

Double-stopped harmonics in Duo una certa nebbia (Stefano Scodannibio and Hakon Thelin).

Holy Basil Artificial Harmonics amongst the lower positions on the neck – i.e. stopped C, stopped F#, partials no. _____ (to be graphed). 

Combination of voice and dissonant/clashing harmony on the bass.

Robert Landfermann (Live concert of Pablo Held Trio in which he utilised the lower part of the neck to execute artificial harmonics).

Barre Phillips – ‘Amos Crowns Barn’ (Call me when you get there) – inspired by the major tonality of C major particularly.

Hakon Thelin – ‘H Moll/D Dur’ (Thinking Of) – particularly inspired by the timbre of the higher partials

Fava Bean Folk Melody Higher harmonics ____ (numbered partials yet to be determined and graphed) H Moll/D Dur’ – Hakon Thelin (Thinking Of)
Growing (out of nothing) No particular extended techniques, other than the independence of voice and bass feat. a specific vocal melody and lyrics Nina Harries – ‘Icarus’ and ‘Heavy Doubt’ (from self-titled album) – her folky vocals in combination with simple but beautiful bass grooves
Techniques (yet to try and implement)

Techniques used

Inspired by
Preparations/Non pitched ideas Non pitch sounds and grooves, with use of preparations i.e. rods, mallets Elisabeth Coudeaux – ‘Me.’ (Some Poems: Cello Solo)

Dave Holland – ‘Flurries’ (Emerald Tears)

Mark Dresser – ’Clavuus’ (Unveil)

Independence of two different time meters Use of left and right hand to create two opposing parts in experimentation with different time signatures and subdivisions i.e. 3 over 4 Matthias Nowak’s Time Grid
Flautando Partials The singing nature of high partials in direct imitation of a flute  Mark Dresser – ‘Entwined’ (Unveil)

// Upon reflection of the above pieces, it is clear that I have started to categorise my pieces into a prepared list in order to organise my practice schedule in preparation for the album recording in February. Whilst it is currently very much ‘in progress’, it is useful to determine distinct influences in order to continue the momentum of each specific focus, also serving as a reminder in regards to certain techniques that I am interested by, but that I am yet to implement. – – – > One thing is certain, however, and that is that I am gearing up for an intense couple of months prior to the debut vegetable recordings! Ready…. set…. go! (said the carrot). 

Black Radish – A creative application of the 3rd Messiaen Mode

Black Radish is my latest work in which I have limited myself to the third Messiaen Mode – nothing more, nothing less.

* Vegetable Note: The Black Radish is the winter cousin of its purpler spring version. But don’t be fooled – whilst it is less common, this variety packs an extra punch with a slightly tougher texture.

In reference to my previous post: // The Third Messiaen Mode which focused purely on the theoretical components of this mode, the 9-note scale has provided me with a refreshingly different approach towards particular note choices and melodic lines (listen below)

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In my current area of focus, it is easy to fall into the trap of using repeated ideas, which is what I am consciously trying to avoid through my solo-development. However, through my exploration of ideas over the past couple of weeks, I found that the purposeful omission of certain notes outside of the mode forced me to further consider my compositional choices.. (read below!)/.

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The compositional process:

The tonal centre of Black Radish can be loosely interpreted around an A lydian sound throughout the piece. However, I have consciously altered the bass notes underneath different melodic lines to shift away from this consistent harmonic centre – for example, utilising also an F (00:10) and a D (00:30).

The middle section of the piece features the use of left-hand tapping, arco bounce and bowed partials (1:00 in the recording). It is mostly atonal, moving through different motivic structures within the mode. Upon reflection, this part of the piece was particularly successful in allowing me to regenerate new possibilities on my instrument and to actively make atypical creative choices as a composer. *Vegetable note: The punchy effect of this section was also influenced by the edgy vibe of the mysterious Black Radish.

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The beauty of limitation: a note of reflection:

As both an improviser and a composer, it has been hugely beneficial to set a pre-determined parameter/s upon myself during the creative process – in this case, harmonic limitation. Hence, as I continue to experiment in my daily practice, I am valuing the essence of simplicity that is felt when I consciously limit my focus into smaller areas. Not only has this been a relief for my scattered brain, but it also provides a feeling of true growth and a desire to push further and further away from ones comfort zone – even if it feels slightly forced at the time. Through this process, I now have another vegetable-piece to add to the pending album… What a mysterious treat. 

// Snow Peas (served two ways) – Notated Version 1

As I continue to progress further through my Masters research project, it is time to start documenting each composition in a more finalised manner. Throughout this process, I have been learning and researching more about notation methods for extended techniques in order to present my music to others in a semi-readable format upon the conclusion of my studies.

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// Featured in this post is the latest version of Snow Peas (served two ways) V1, in a notated format. Firstly, there are a few things to consider in regards to this score:

  • As this is the latest of my Vegetable-Bass compositions (and not yet recorded), it is currently labelled as ‘V1 – Version 1’ to allow for future changes to be made.
  • The notated version may differ slightly across different performances to allow for added interpretation and improvisation on the existing material.
  • As with all of my compositions so far, the score indicates the fundamental structure which has underpinned much of my practice so far, however I intend to use this only as a reference for myself in the future to allow for the continued development of this piece.
  • It is important to present each of my pieces to other musicians in the most accessible way possible; thus it will be necessary to apply the same system and format to all of my solo scores, particularly in relation to the notation of harmonics and particular symbols.

There are certain elements of the notation used in ‘Snow Peas (served two ways)’ that I want to draw particular attention to for future reference:

  • Use of text to suggest particular techniques (i.e. ‘right hand pizz strumming with thumb’)
  • Use of brackets to clearly separate the use of pizz and arco in fast-changing sections (i.e. bars 14-17)
  • The use of certain symbols to indicate a particular component (i.e. l.h. plucking with fourth finger; seen on page 3, e.g. bars 44-47)
  • The split system method for double-stops tends to read a little clearer amidst a busy piece of music such as this. I first notated each of the bars in with combined stems, however the visual aid of reading a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ note for each double-stop seems to look better (in my opinion) – especially when they involve use of quarter-tones and different harmonics.

// In regards to the above, the current version of this score is certainly a step in the right direction. Whilst it still looks rather daunting and full of information, I aim to present each of my pieces in a spacious format, with clear sections and instructions to avoid confusion (as much as possible). Throughout the coming months, I expect to change certain elements of my notational style to further improve upon this area – undoubtedly this will involve further research into existing works, a process of trial and error, and the development of a system that I can use across all of my scoring from here on. ~

// Snow Peas – (in progress)

The snow-pea — a vessel of crispy green goodness, available throughout the entire year due to its ability to survive a mild frost. The flavour is fresh, whilst maintaining a bitterness upon the first crunch. 

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This is the first of the vegetable bass compositions for my Masters Year 2, which I have been working on gradually throughout the past 2 weeks. Unlike some of my previous compositions, this piece is currently taking a rather segmented shape with several different sections heard throughout.

// There are several components that I have focused on during the experimentation process so far – listed below:

  • The effects of bowing between sul pont and normale
  • The use of quarter-tonal double stops, utilising the clash between a pure harmonic and the fingered note (often heard as a quarter-tonal C#).
  • The use of different sections and motifs to add variety – i.e. pizzicato grooves vs legato sections of bowed double stops.
  • Quicker changes between motifs to develop my ability to change ideas abruptly

 

The recording below indicates the current version of this composition (with much room for change and improvement). During the coming weeks it will be interesting to refine the different phrases within this piece, as the need for consistency and precision is vital to create clear contrast between sections and to add clarity to the harmonic qualities of the ‘pure’ double stops and those featuring various quarter tones.

More to come on this in the very near future… // 

 

// Week 1 – Year 2 – Return from BANFF

Last week I flew back from the Banff International Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music, and it is safe to say that I have returned feeling hugely inspired. During my time in Canada, I was fortunate to gain mentorship from an amazing faculty of musicians including Tyshawn Sorey, Vijay Iyer, Okkyung Lee, Steve Lehman, Fay Victor and Linda Oh (plus many more). Each of the guest mentors are internationally acclaimed, both as composers and as musicians, and it was amazing to have the chance to learn from them and also from the fantastic group of participants who came from all over the world.

One of the most influential aspects of the entire residency involved my time in cellist Okkyung Lee’s ensemble, in which I adopted a wealth of knowledge in regards to graphic scores, unconventional notation and solo development. There will be more to come on this later, however I have proposed to conduct a workshop in the latter area as part of my Masters outreach, as I feel that Lee had some excellent ways of bringing out the individual voice of different musicians. In relation to my masters project, which focuses on my own solo development as a bassist and vocalist, I believe that jazz education often lacks an emphasis on playing alone. It can be a daunting area of focus, however with a few tactics and parameters, the instrumentalist can reach places and creative ideas that have never surfaced before. This was certainly the case for me during the residency, when I was able to absorb and perceive many different performances, often involving a mixture of collaboration and solo projection.

To channel this newfound knowledge, I have delved back into my own vegetable bass project this week, with a new sketch entitled ‘Snow Peas’. I have used inspiration from watching Okkyung’s solo cello performance. She used a range of different motivic ideas in her improvisation, and developed each upon repetitions within a cyclic form. Perhaps the most exciting part of watching her play was the unpredictability of the music – she was able to freely move between ideas, often quite abruptly, which she also enforced amongst the participants in her solo-development workshops (i.e. different exercises to force one of their comfort zone and into a different sound world).

 

Whilst this sketch is only a starting point for my next piece, I will be trying to use a larger palette of different sounds within my compositions to provide some contrast and through-composed elements within the mix. /// 

// Continuity of Musical Ideas

Last week I travelled to Cologne for a lesson with Sebastian Gramms. A recurring topic that surfaced during this session was directly related to the continuity of musical ideas, both within composition and improvisation.

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As a composer, I have a tendency to form varying ideas and motifs within a single practice session. As an improviser, this is also (often) the case. My brain likes to float around, rather than sit still.

But here comes the truth: the performer is always ahead of the listener.

Especially when listening to improvised music, it can take some time to process what is actually occurring in the moment. As a performer, it is easy to become restless in assuming that repetition is growing ‘stagnant’ or ‘boring’ to those around me, which causes me to jump between ideas at a faster pace than what is often needed. But in reality, many special moments within improvised music aren’t heard for long enough.

This became particularly apparent during Friday’s lesson, in which I became increasingly aware of the effectiveness of developing a single idea for a longer period of time. Both during improvisation and composition, it is often necessary to consciously expand an idea to allow it to breathe. Undoubtedly, some musical moments are less effective than others; however, perhaps the real challenge is to stick with these ideas for just a little bit longer, and attempt to play them with conviction (regardless of the inevitable internal dialogue that questions everything in that very moment).

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// This week’s sketch – ‘A Vegetable named G’, is focused around several motifs, which are connected and cycled in free-form. During the process of composition, I had notated several extra ideas to add, however I actively disregarded several of these in an attempt to allow more flow and continuity in the piece. Two sections are to be heard in this particular (iPhone) recording – the first is a pulsating drone on G with varying melodic motifs, and the second is a brief harmonic melody inspired directly by Larry Grenadier’s piece ‘The Gleaner’ (off his new album).

The intention of this piece is to create a feeling of calmness and transience. From a playing perspective, this piece enables me to settle into a steady rhythm, unhindered by my usual over-supply of motifs or sections. The bouncing of the bow is the main feature throughout this piece, and I intend to develop more control over this component in the weeks to come. //

// ‘Parsnip’ – a pizzicato sketch. 

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1200-499133076-parsley-root-bunch

 

~ This piece started out as an improvisation, during practice. As part of my lessons, I am aiming to record segments of experimentation, and later listen back to ideas which may be used in composition. ~

 

// In regards to this particular sketch, I was first propelled by a constant pulse (started by the beginning motif), resulting in a central groove based loosely around the tonality of ‘G’. The effectiveness of the using the open-string G in combination with the fingered G (on the D-string) has allowed for a different sound between the two notes; through intentional shifts in tuning on the fingered version, this has allowed me to create a sense of tonal tension in a conscious effort to differentiate the two (otherwise) equal tones.

The percussive element of this piece is achieved largely by the slapping technique in my left hand, which has allowed me to experiment with accented cross-rhythms, occurring amidst the note groupings. A later section features the intentional absence of notes for a short while, through muting the strings on the fretboard and continuing the pulse. Following my lesson in Cologne last week, I had actively chosen to incorporate this particular sound into this sketch, as a way of broadening my improvisational vocabulary. Upon listening, I intend to extend this section a lot further in future recordings, experimenting also with different parts of the instrumental body, and perhaps some metric modulation to further the importance of rhythm.

It has been a refreshing change to limit myself to pizzicato in this particular composition. As my technical focus has been solely on the bow for the past 6 months, I have realised a need to incorporate more practice with plucking techniques again to continue broadening my ideas in this area. This became particularly apparent in my previous lesson with Sebastian, during which I started formulating ideas for a ‘pizzicato portfolio.’ More to come on this…