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pencils, paper and writing for piano

Pencil and paper
My Studio

I just bought a box of the Blackwing 602 pencils and an 18 stave manuscript book from the Archive company.  

If you go online and run a Google query for Music Manuscript Paper, most of the top links are for sites that provide templates for your printer.  That's all fine and good, but  I've not been able to find the size and weight of paper.

I've never had a hard time finding reasons not to write, so I wouldn't put too much on having the 'correct' paper and 'proper' pencil.  But there is something tremendously gratifying about the tactile feel of a good pencil on thick paper.  The 18 stave is 12 x 16, so when I'm scrabbling down quick ideas for piano they all form  a mind-map on a page which I can savagely erase, whimsically connect,  and distractedly elaborate with marginalia.   I can stand at my studio piano to write, then sit down to play. 

I don't know yet what will be  the overall shape of Raw Moon.   I'm trying to capture a few characteristic surface textures, one of which I want to have massively glistening, shimmering clusters, ranging across the whole piano.  For this section, not sure whether I want to write using mostly  trills, tremolos, glissandi and grace notes, leaving a lot of freedom for the performance. I'll end up notating the rhythmic material, because when I really listen to how I'm playing it, there are specific phase shifts and whatnot that I think will be important.  It's just that that's a lot more work, isn't it? I'm watching how my hands are moving, the details in notation  are the result of these larger physical gestures.

Messiaen samplePerhaps it will look something like this Messiaen score?  Messiaen is a composer who wasn't afraid of working on a score.  The Raw Moon  material  is based on computer generated tone clusters derived from the translation of the lunar image into frequency information, so the density will be heavier than in shown in this  particular sample.  But the offset tuplets in each hand create the kind of flittering effect that I'm looking for.   






I found the Archive

I forget what we used when I was a student.  Probably the archive sheets that fold out, buy a sheeth of those.  I've tried printing on loose leave moleskin paper, loose leaf linen paper is most effectiove so far, but still 8.5x11.

I bought a fcked up pen with 5 lines , but oit turns out to eb very difficult to get a consistent line. 


Don't get me wrong.  I love flkying away along the keyboard.  I rely on being able to write discoherent, unchorded statements knowing that when it comes time to order and organize, I can cut and paste without using scissors and tape.

I took a course once at College Park, we actually sliced tape.  Can you imagine?  Can you imagine how Stockhausen got those sounds?  The technology is better now, I don't claim that the sound of tape is something I can even distinguish, let alone value over anything else.


Where is everyone (or, "why haven't we seen any ET if the universe is 'teeming' with life)

Earlier, I wrote that the universe is teeming with life.  But if that's correct, then why haven't we seen any aliens on Earth?  Why aren't we routinely in contact with Extra-terrestrial life forms?  Doesn't it seem like my Teeming Universe runs right into Fermi's paradox?

JodrellEnrico Fermi is otherwise known for his work developing the first atomic bomb.  His paradox is a formulation of criteria concerning the age, size, likelihood of civilization developing and surviving into a sustainable space-faring colony.  Fermi says that by now, all things known, there has been time for aliens to travel far enough to reach earth.  The fact that they haven't suggests that they don't exist.

The Drake Equation formalizes Fermi's Paradox, and all approaches to 'solve' it challenge one or more of the assumptions included in the Drake Equation.  The discovery of planets orbiting distant suns suddenly allowed for the possiblity of many more life-sustaining planets.   If humanity succeeds in developing beyond mutually assured destruction, then the expected lifespan of a civilisation increases and the opportunity for galactic exploration increases. 

A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself - think of Zeno's Paradox, where you are rendered incapable of crossing a room because each step is half the remaining distance to the opposite wall.  There's nothing contradictory in Fermi's statement.  I'm not sure if it even rises to the level of a conundrum.   I'd rename it Fermi's Observation. 

Observations are  filtered through our own expectations of viable technology.  There's a variable in the equation for the number of civilisations that emit detectable signals in to space.  We have assumed that those signals will be in the radio frequency.  It's not a bad assumption.  We have been very effective in viewing the universe with radio telescopes, and undoubtedly radio waves are a fundamental characteristic of the universe.  Perhaps Fermi assumed that 'detectable signals' were physical artifacts visible on the earth. 

In the 17th century, the idea was to dig  huge trenches shaped like the pythagorean solids in the Bavarian forest.  Filled with pitch and ignited, these were intended as meaningful signals to geometrically inclined Martians.  Our radio search will look this way, too, one day.

I'm poking around at the edge of McLuhan  to figure out what the next medium is, the medium that has the same relationship to Electronic and Electronic has to Print.  When the terrestrial flips from hot to cold.   But even that will still be "not the alien".  Thats the point.  The alien is alien.

Check out this bit from the Squonk Opera show Astrorama.  It's guaranteed to entertain, and also hits on an important point.  The alien contact experience is so radically different from anything we've ever experienced before that we can't expect to define and probably can't recognize even if we're in the middle of it. 

That's the point of space open up the senses of the participants so that they are more likely to see whats really always here, but is too bizarre for words.



Toothache, and Chod practice

At the center of the Chod practice are two 'feasts'.  In the first (the White First) I visualize my  heart melting in a cauldron made from my own skull.  The second feast, the Red Feast, the flesh is cut from my bones and laid.  The White Feast is a distillation, the Red Feast is dismemberment.  My somatic body recognizes the experience - head cut open (twice), most recently, a grapefruit (benign) taken from the vagus nerve.

 Chod practice, like all practice, prepares the practitioner for the path of enlightenment, but  with particular attention to the immanence of our own death.

I've had a persistent and difficult to diagnose throat infection.   Several courses of antibiotic treatment cleared up a some secondary symptoms, but couldn't budge the sore throat.   I figured  this was the arrival of another benign but poorly placed tumor.  Then a few weeks ago, I woke up with a toothache.  And I mean an ache, something Dickensian.   I've never experienced anything like it without a self-administered morphine drip. 

I blame a lot on the breathing tubes inserted during surgery and the drainage pumps sucking out my chest while I was in recovery.  I think that tube cracked my tooth on the way out, and I've been suffering a buildup of consequences in my ear, nose and throat.  I'm not a doctor, and no doctor would substantiate what I just said.   But there you go, what do they know. 

I recognize that I'm  holding onto a seed of blame and anger passed through filters of aggreivance, injustice and general irascibility.  I can look at my responses to the experience in one of three ways.  I  can renounce it; I can transform it; or I can self-liberate

If I renounce anger, I can seek  to avoid situations that generate anger.  If I find anger arising, I can practice to settle the anger in my mind.  If the anger arises, I can choose not to respond to  the emtotion, which will plant a new seed for future action.  This is sutra.

If I practice to transform anger, I will recognize the inherent emptiness of the emotion which in that moment could open up a profound realisation through the unification of emptiness and bliss.  This is tantra.

If I self-liberate, I recognize the reality of non-dual perception where anger is not anger.  This is dzogchen.

Physical pain has the same set of potentials, and Chod is a powerful practice to transform.   What I did, I  dosed myself with percocet and avoided not just the pain but also the practice.  Oh well, maybe next time.

On Friday morning, I had  a root canal which helped some but couldn't fix the crack they found  down the middle of my tooth.  On Monday at 4pm, my dentist pulled the damn thing out and everything got better.    I'd lost 7 pounds in 3 days, stripped my knuckles to the bone when I fell over walking the dogs (blame the drugs), threw up the first food I ate after 72 hours (blame the drugs), and didn't shower for what felt like weeks (mea cupla).  I had locked jaw, swollen glands and irritated bowels.  It would have been better for everyone to just leave me out for sky burial on Penn Avenue.

I could have offered up my remains to be used for ritual instruments.  Chod practice begins with 3 blasts on a  trumpet traditionally made from the femur of a practitioner.  Unexpectedly, my dentist let me keep the tooth, which I soaked in peroxide for a day and a night  and now have on my altar.   I don't have a bone kangling (yet) but I do have my own tooth/bone on the altar.

Whitechapel, Iain Sinclair, MI-5 and someone at the BBC

Someone at the BBC has been reading up on their Iain Sinclair.  


In Spooks, Matthew Macfadyen plays Tom, who serves as the senior case officer for section D in seasons 1-3.  Spooks was re-named 'MI5' when it broadcast here in the States.  I guess so we wouldn't confuse it with  what, I don't know, the Simpsons?  Anyway, some skullduggery later, Tom is replaced by Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones), a charismatic and troubled transfer from MI6.  Adam makes it for a few more years than Tom  did before he also gets done in too.

Tom moves on to star as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid  in Ripper Street.  Adam left MI5 (dead) to become  a young DI looking for respect from the tough-bitten crew in WhitechapelRipper Street begins a few months after the last of the murders associated with Jack the Ripper, in 1889. Whitechapel is set 100 and some years after the murders, and season 1 follows Adam ( DI Joseph Chandler) as his team tracks down a copycat killer.  

Ripper Street quickly leaves behind its eponym.  But Whitechapel  has a second season with another copycat, one who has studied the  Kray twins.

This is all Sinclair's territory.  Read White Chappell, Scarlett Tracings for an epic, arcane prose-poem Ripper bit.  Here's Sinclair on the Krays , who also make an appearance in Lights out for the Territory .   Liturgy emerges when Sinclair walks.  A London emerges that has as much to do with Blake's Jerusalem as it does the high survelliance state and Olympic relics. Sinclair has walked with Alan More, whose From Hell is a mesmerising and comprehensive reflection of Ripper lore.   In a moment of high style, I would have said that it is a London extracted from Blake's buttocks.  I'm not being intentionally provocative here.  When I first read Sinclair, he was walking around the M-25 motorway in part to exorcise residual withcraft from the Thatcherite mausoleum in the Millenium Dome.  

All three shows  feature London as a character, with stunning cinematography of the city:  they've also read some Ackroyd, I'd guess, and certainly know their Robinson.  

Someone in the BBC has packed Whitechapel with all of this.   Yes, the OCD detective inspector is a shallow conceit, and there's plenty more a bit over-ripe plot and character.  But let's say you have the same interest in Ripper lore that you may also have in Lord of the Rings.  Remember in the Jackson movies, when you kept looking at the screen and seeing some other illuminated scroll in Quenya?  Whitechapel is like Lord of the Rings where you get to see Tom Bombadil. 

It would be an interesting survey, to study the overlay of Ripper studies and Tolkien.  I suspect, not so much?

There's a character in Whitechapel  who refers to the "canonical' Ripper killings, and if that's your thing, I think you'll have the deep satisfaction of someone who recognizes the mainstream theories;  appreciates the callout to some alternates;  but also catches references to the downright quiggly.  

That seductive finger slide

There's a maneuver at the piano keyboard where you reach up to a higher note, let's say with the ring finger of the right hand, and then while still holding down the note, sliding up one of the other fingers, let's say the second finger, without lifting the ring finger until the note is safely held by the second.  It's a move that let's you smoothly make your way up the keyboard, in a melodic line; or jump around safely in some gymnastic arpeggios. 

But when I play certain composers, that finger slide just feels wrong.   Not that it's bad (it is bad, very bad.  It is a louche and decadent position).  I just feel that the  music demands a carefully discovered hand position...once you've got that position, playing the music is easy, it slides in to place, just occurs.  Messiaen scores are formidable, but I really do think that the strength of his compositional craft was the capacity to throw his hands on the keyboad, remember exactly what had happened, and notate it  so accurately that someone else could throw their hands upon a second piano to acheive the same result.  The notation is not  to capture the specific notes...the notes are the epi-phenomenon of a physical gesture.  Recreate that principle twitch, and the notes fill themselves in. 

This is a bit of a crank position.  But I also remember the years I spent studying from the Alfred Cortot Rational Principles of Pianoforte Technique .

Cortot Cover     Cortot Sample

Cortot writes

"In the beginning of this work, we stated that we thought it possible to group all the problem of pinaistic execution into five essential categories.  We conceive this classification in the following manner:

  1. Equality, independence and mobility of fingers
  2. Passing under of the thumb (scales - arpeggios)
  3. Double notes and polyphonic playing
  4. Extensions
  5. Wrist technique, execution of chords
We consider that in the whole literature of the pianoforte, no difficulty exists which cannot be placed under one of the preceding headings."
Throughout the text, I get the sense that Cortot also looks for the root cause, the underlying gesture that explains each passage.  The whole series of exercises are designed to be played through each morning, like calisthenics.  Time to practice, if I'm going to play Raw Moon with any conviction. 

Computer assisted composition, piano preludes

Over the summer, I worked on Moon Ikon, an electronic piece that derives musical gestures based on the contours of the lunar surface.  I'm now starting to work on a set of piano preludes, working title Raw Moon, which are based on the electronic sounds.  I use tools published by IRCAM in the Open Music forum to parse out the electronics, generate  pitch material and export a MIDI file.  From there, I open up the file in Sibelius...where the fun starts.  

If you listen to Moon Ikon, you can hear that the material is very pure, an unrelenting chorus of sine waves.  I've broken the piece in to 28 sections, because I envision 28 preludes and because there are 28 phases to the moon.

ASAnnotation analyzed the sound file, in this case called Moon 19.  The particular view is an analysis of the partials, highlighting those that meet certain threshold defined in the various settings.  I won't make any claims about these values, most of them were default and a few I messed around with just to see if it made any difference ( it didn't).  Here's a visual of the screen.  

ASAnnotation Screen Shot

The output of this analysis is a file in a format called Sound Data Interchange Format.   SDIF is a kind of markup language for music and one of the many cool things it can be used to do is to translate non-musical material into musical vectors (pitch, amplitude etc).  I have a patch in OpenMusic which does nothing except translate SDIF into MIDI.  

A snap of what the  first page of the score looks like when I open in Sibelius.   

Moon Piano 19_0001

If I play that on the internal synth, using a bell sample, sounds like this:


Moon Piano 19


That's pretty cool, and I have in mind a large scale electronic rendering based on the MIDI files.  Something like The Orb hanging with Jean Michel Jarre on the London Eye scoring up some acid.  But for now, notice that tintinnabulation of the bells is not really represented in the visual score.  I can't account for that, except that the MIDI file is finer granularity than the notation software can represent, but which can still re-play.

 The first edit I did in Sibelius was to expand the single staff onto two staffs.  Then I ran a couple of batch processes to reduce the number of duplicate notes.  I say 'reduce' rather than 'remove'...the SDIF translation generated not just duplicates but  stacks of unison.  That means that when I delete a note because it appears to be a duplicate, I find another identical note underneath it.  When I was done with it, the score looks like this:

Moon 19 with piano_0001

and sounds like this:


Moon 19 with piano


A horse!  A Horse!  I'd give a horse and a kingdom to know how to tweak Sibelius so that my scores looked like this:


Moving through 28 of the Raw Moon raw material, by the time I finished 6 or so, I was heartily tired of the effort involved.  I couldn't figure out a reasonable spacing of accidentals in a tone cluster, and since I'd already resolved that this was raw material (see 'working title'), I started to ache for a pen and some paper:  in some preludes, yes I would try to recreate this wonderful player piano style, reminds me of the Conlan Nancarrow studies.  In others, the diaphonous trill of the original download.   And in the rest - something like the Messiaen Vingt Regards.