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.

 

 

Take the time to listen to what you have just played….

// Yesterday I had a session in Cologne with Dieter Manderscheid, from which I took away some fantastic points of advice. The list below relates directly to solo performance and discovery – all of which I endeavour to implement further into my own practice:

  • Instead of beginning with the most difficult part of a piece, allow yourself to warm up towards that moment —> ground yourself with the instrument – tune in, resonate with the sounds and connect yourself to the intonation. For the double bass, the partial series is particularly useful in this regard – starting from subtlety and building further from this.
  • Start with a mood. As a soloist, it is both normal and useful to choose from a pool of ideas during performance. However, it is important to take time with this, and to build form gradually and mindfully in consideration of the listener. Development takes time.
  • Practice silence. Barre Phillips previously said that he would perform a solo concert for himself each and every week. And indeed, this is something that can often be overlooked as a soloist. With so much solitary time spent in a practice room, one can forget to see the bigger picture and to practice the moments that matter most – for example, silence and pause.
  • We don’t have to play all of the time. Instead, take breaks. —> Take the time to listen to what you just played.
  • What comes out during a solo performance is what we often do most in the practice room.
  • Experiment with rest and density.

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On a personal note, I particularly resonated with the idea of listening to what has just happened. This in itself can add a sense of mindfulness and relaxation to the pressures of solo performance, training one as an individual to feel comfortable within the moment and to be guided by the energy that is felt from within, and also from the room.

On a broader note of reflection, the aforementioned topics above can be made relatable to any musician who is embarking upon a journey of soloistic development. Irregardless of level, it takes a certain shift in mindset to embrace the vulnerability of individual discovery; thus, a deeper level of awareness is vital in preserving the beauty of spontaneous exploration and intuition (in combination with progressing technical discovery).

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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. 

// The Third Messiaen Mode

During my last session with Matthias Nowak, we spoke about the importance of different harmony with a particular focus on the third Messiaen Mode.

 

A brief overview:

Olivier Messiaen was known to utilise a series of 7 symmetrical scales of limited transposition, structured across a series of cyclic intervallic formations. Each of the scales can be utilised over a vast range of tonal centres, due to the many harmonic possibilities inherent within the combination of notes of each one.

^too many words (!!) – I know. But I’ll do my best to summarise it further below:

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The third Messiaen mode (also known as the Augmented Scale) features three sets of repeated material (each of which is spaced a major third apart) – forming a 9-note scale (fig. 1):

Messiaen Modes

In particular reference to the symmetrical harmony in mode 3, there are also three fundamental augmented triads that arise clearly from the notes (see fig. 2 above).

However, this is only the beginning of the many different chords that are hidden within this single 9 note scale; as the notes in this scale range from G A Bb, B C# D, Eb F Gb (fig. 1), this particular mode corresponds with a large range of other tonal origins. 

The list below details the many other options available within the third Messiaen mode (fig. 3):

Fig. 3 – Triads and 7th Chords within Messiaen Mode No. 3 (Root note = G)

Triads G major, G minor, G dim, G aug, A aug, Bb major, Bb minor, Bb aug, Bb sus 4

B major, B minor, B dim, C# aug, D major, D minor, D aug, D sus 4

Eb major, Eb minor, Eb dim, Eb aug, F aug, Gb major, Gb minor, Gb aug, Gb sus4

7th chords Gmaj7, Gmaj7(b5), Gmaj7(#5), G7, G7(b5), G7(#5), Gmin7, Gmin7(b5), GmMaj7

Bmaj7, Bmaj7(b5), Bmaj7(#5), B7, B7(b5), B7(#5), Bmin7, Bmin7(b5), BmMaj7

Ebmaj7, Ebmaj7(b5), Ebmaj7(#5), Eb7, Eb7(b5), Eb7(#5), Ebmin7, Ebmin7(b5), EbmMaj7

A7(b5), A7(#5), C#7(b5), C#7(#5), F7(b5), F7(#5)

Bbmaj7, Bbmaj7(#5), BbmMaj7, Bbmin6

Dmaj7, Dmaj7(#5), DmMaj7, Dmin6

Gbmaj7, Gbmaj7(#5), GbmMaj7, Gbmin6

Undoubtedly, the options within this particular scale are abundant. Interestingly though, due to its symmetrical structure the third Messiaen mode is limited to only four different tonal combinations in total (*note: each single mode already covers three variants within itself when each repetition/grouping is ordered differently i.e. starting on ‘G’, starting on ‘B’, starting on ‘Eb) – just as augmented triads are also limited to only four transpositional variants.

And whilst this is all highly theoretical, a later post will follow this week in which I have actively limited myself compositionally to only the notes within the third Messiaen mode (fig. 1). In regards to composition, the active choice to set parameters within a modal framework has allowed for different musical choices to arise as a result, with a refreshing ambiguity to the harmony as the root notes can freely be shifted below.

More to come on this, but in the meantime, ——

… thank you Olivier Messiaen for your paramount musical influence!