I co-lead a band now that I quite like, we’re called EMS, we’re a 12 piece band, and in addition to being the bassist, I also compose and arrange for the group, rehearse the band, as well as organize rehearsals.
The result of being all these things to a project is that I bring to it an excessive level of mindfulness to rehearsal and performance. As is I don’t have the brain space to do any of my jobs fully, I have a long way to go as a bass player, my arranging and composing will benefit from more experience, my ability to rehearse a band effectively is still in its early days, and making sure everyone is able to attend every rehearsal at a convenient time is an impossibility. So given that I haven’t perfected any of these arts individually juggling them all at once is a dubious proposition.
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word these days, the sense I mean it in is the sense in which your thoughts are primed for a given occurrence. If you smell burning you become mindful for fire as you try to track down its source. Being the band leader, arranger, and bassist, I find myself bringing a level of mindfulness beyond what I’m actually capable of tracking simultaneously. I just can’t worry about the notes and rhythms and articulations and dynamics of all 12 people, while reading my part, while keeping track of the use of the remaining time in rehearsal, and thinking proactively about how to improve the performance of the material. Trying to tackle all these issues
Prep: nothing helps more than preparedness. Doing prep is like having access to many days worth of brain power ahead of time. By anticipating problems and solving them in advance you’re allowing your self to access in realtime an amount of brain power magnitudes greater than you could going in with nothing. Plan how you want to use available rehearsal time, make sure your parts are taped and edited to give performers an easy read, communicate to your band as many details as possible to reduce questions and confusion that take up rehearsal time. Learn your parts so that you don’t need to focus on reading and can i stead listen to and engage with your band.
Allies: encourage the members of your ensemble to participate in assessing the performance of the band. A good band leader is able to leverage the total talents of its members including band leading talents. Knowing when to delegate responsibility is a quality of a strong leader, in this way you multiply what you can accomplish in the same period of time. Long standing members of your ensemble will likely come forward with suggestions and observations, but asking for someone’s assistance can be an opportunity to build trust and loyalty with your ensembleers. If you’re able to find a strong collaborator share leadership with a co-leader, two people sharing a load together are able to accomplish more than working on their own, and you’ll have someone who wants you to succeed to commiserate with when things become challenging. I know I could not have started EMS without the help of my friend Marie Goudy.
Debrief: Record your rehearsals and performances and then check them out. With multiple passes you’ll catch things you couldn’t have otherwise. Hearing what isn’t working in your charts will give you the perspective you need to improve them. Is what you wrote lame? Maybe your musicians aren’t capturing your vision and you need to rethink the way you communicate. At some point the posthumous analysis will spill over into prep for the next gig which is a sure sign you’re improving.
Focus: identify what it is you need to be doing at any given point and do that only. When it comes time to perform you’re not a a composer anymore, you’re a musician. Tackle your part with the same mentality and sensitivity you would any other piece of music. Forget about why you wrote what you did when it comes time to play and just focus on being the best performer you can be. By the time you have your instrument in hand on the band stand it’s too late to make changes to your arrangement so just put those thoughts out of your head.
To learn more about EMS follow the link. In brief we’re a 12 piece jazz band that operates out of Toronto playing original music composed and arranged by Marie Goudy and I. We’re a dynamic band whose sound is rooted in the jazz tradition with no fears about exploring new frontiers.
All photos by Matt Pocsia and Logan Cerson
Conrad Gluch – Alto Sax
Pat Smith – Tenor Sax
Alec Trent – Bari Sax
Marie Goudy – Trumpet
Brad Eaton – Trumpet
Charlotte Alexander – French Horn
Zach Smith – Trombone
Modibo Kieta – Trombone
Chris’s Platt – Guitar
Josh Smiley – Piano
Liam Gallagher – Bass
Alex Lank – Drums
My new project, Daily Video Game Reviews, has me reviewing video games on Twitter. Everybody I told about the idea before I kicked it off said the same thing: “How are you going to review a video game in 140 characters?”. If you’re curious you can go look now, but by and large the idea is to reduce the game down to what at its heart makes it successful and then make some silly gag about that with a funny picture. We’re not building rockets over here, but I hope you’ll go check out @DailyVGReviews and have a laugh.
So that’s the how. The why is to try to engage at a deeper level with the games I am playing and have played. I buy all these video games with my squirrelled up bottle caps and string and promise myself by playing them I’m learning more about games. Having to think of a punch line mans I actually have to have something insightful to say, or at least try to. I find myself thinking about what the core experience of the game was, how its mechanics compare in unlikely ways to other games, or what other life experiences compare to the in game ones.
One thing I don’t want to do while reviewing games is just list memes. Memes are great, no judgement, they’re just not the focus of this project. My hope is that I’ll be able to find an amusing angle on these games that is my own, and the very nature of meme based, snow clone, macro image style humour is to speak from the zeitgeist. Also I’m getting tired of meta humour, that’s just me though.
Hopefully @DailyVGReviews will make you laugh and help you to think a little deeper about games in the process. I know at the absolute least it has made think a little harder a little more regularly. A big thanks goes got to Brook Jensen and Ryan Tan for the artwork. Feel free to suggest games to review, let me know what you think of the reviews, and please share it with your friends if you find it funny.
My big band chart It Keeps Happening is being performed by the Heart House Jazz Orchestra. Here are some thoughts on this first for me: having a piece I’ve written performed without myself being one of the performers.
Firsts are interesting experiences because they give you a vantage you couldn’t have known. Think of the accomplishment as the top of a hill, the goal is in sight the whole climb, but the view from the top can only be imagined. The ‘hill as challenge’ is a pretty well tread metaphor but it’s doing work for me. The view from the top gives a new perspective on not only where you’ve been headed next but where you’ve already been.
Here’s something I didn’t see coming: getting a piece performed means relinquishing the illusion of control over its performance. As a member of an ensemble playing my music I never actually had control over the performance of my piece, but it took giving up any performing stake at all to realize that. I thought that as a composer, and thus the sole author of the work, I would have the fullest ability to dictate the performance. With my new vantage point I appreciate something that I couldn’t have before I had such a total understanding of my piece. I appreciate now how small a portion of the performance the composition really is.
I’m learning to appreciate the role of the performers and band directors more than I previously have. I’ve spent a great many of years trying to become a composer, and now that in a small moment I’m a composer and not a performer I understand how little I contribute. Now that I’ve gained some insight, I’m finding some peace and trust. I’m pretty sure that this is a good thing.
I’m thrilled to have the Hart House Jazz Ensemble perform my piece It Keeps Happening, and I’m looking forward to hearing my take on this fantastic ensemble. I’m looking forward to moving toward the next experience that will help bring what little I’ve learned with this experience into still better focus.
P.S. Special thanks to Brook Jensen for helping me think this through.
Satoru Iwata died on July 11th of 2015 and that made me pretty sad. The former CEO of Nintendo, and programer for such classic franchises as Super Smash Brothers, Pokémon, and Kirby, was a person who started with a love of coding and turned it into smiles on the faces of millions of people all over the planet. His influence on my life has been profound.
I decided to write a piece of music in his memory. My goals were to capture the easy going joy he brought to his games, with his belief that the best games are ones that everyone can enjoy. There’s a lot of arguing in art music and jazz about if it’s good or bad for the music to “dumb down” in an attempt to appeal to the greater listening public. I’ll try to go Iwata’s route, the that says the smartest design is one that anyone can appreciate. Fingers crossed, let’s hope I manage.
So my composition, named Iwata in his honour, is something I’m setting for the jazz band EMS that’s co-lead by my good friend Marie Goudy. It’s a 12 piece band, 3 saxes, 5 brass, and 4 rhythm. The goal for my arrangement is to communicate as clearly as possible the mood of the piece I’m attempting to achieve. I’m going for a breezy, optimistic, and light hearted samba. I’m tying my best to look at every note and phrase and ask if they help or hinder communicating that feeling to the listener. I don’t believe I need to compromise on harmonic or melodic language, or simplify texture or meter, rather I’m trying to use the fullest pallet possible to accomplish that goal. We’ll see how it goes, the listener is the ultimate judge after all.
The arrangement is going well so far. The simple song it’s based upon is going to debut on the 2nd of October during the launch party for In a Flash. You’ll have a chance to hear the 12 tet arrangement on the 19th of October at 9:30 pm at the Rex Hotel in Toronto. I hope you’ll take the time to check the music out, and remember the contribution of a man who left the world a happier place. Rest In Peace Satoru Iwata, we never met but I’m going to miss you.
Super Mario Maker has been a real treat to play over the last couple of weeks since its release. The game excelles in a lot of areas, but I think the thing that stands out the most for my musician brain is the little touches in the audio design that make playing the game a joyful musical experience. These are things that create gameplay out of music where other games just put dumpy sound effects. I’m not talking about the compositions in the game. As Super Mario Maker is able to draw on the best tracks from some of the best game music ever created the pedigree of the music is indisputable. I’m talking about the audio design.
The thing that’s great sounding that I want to talk about here is the pitch tracking in the game’s editor. Simply put the game auto tunes the names of each game element you place T Pain style. The game matches the pitch of the melody to the sound cue every time you place a game element. The result is identical to the thing that jazz musicians with minds addled by too many hours in the practice room do, sing the name of instrumental tunes to their melodies. I’ll post some audio of me singing a song in this way soon.
Honestly this goofy way of singing to a tune is a sort of folk game musicians play to keep their spirits up, to find another route into understanding the songs through the tongue twisters the “lyrics” often create, and to create a sense of community with the other musicians who do this silly thing. Super Mario Maker manages to encapsulate this whole other game within one aspect of the audio of its level editor. This is on par with the emergence of tower defence and MOBA games from the Warcraft 3 editing tools. In short, Nintendo has created tools that are as much a fun game as the game its self.
Here’s what happens when I’m building a course. I place a game element and I like the way it sounds. As I place more I start to try to line up the syllables of the game element’s name to phrase musically with the melody in interesting ways. Maybe I’m laying out the back beat more, maybe I’m trying to place elements with long names so that they phrase over the bar line, maybe I’m changing course elements to try to match syllables to the melody’s intended phrasing. What’s important is that the a mini feature of a feature is allowing me to do manny of the creative things I do when I compose music as just a tangent of playing the main game.
There’s plenty more fine touches in the game. The height of the note blocks determines their pitch when jumped on. The game allows you to record your own sound effects to be triggered during play. The list goes on. I can’t wait to see what the Super Mario Maker community manages to come up with in this audio rich environment. I’m so pleased to have my hands on a game that sounds as good as it plays.
Here are some codes that will let you access levels I’ve designed:
I Ran Contra: 9B67-0000-0043-DED6
Dog Fightin’ Aces: ADC3-0000-48F6
What Are They Up To?: 936A-0000-004D-A65E
Big middle of big week
Performing tonight and tomorrow night. 3 gig week. High water mark
Lots of emphasis on finding tension and releasing it.
Lots of super stretching. Working out my lower back with gravity as I write. Left shoulder could really use some love too
Lost in the Stars!
Get flute part to Patrick.
Keep working on diminished sounds
Playing relaxed is easier, takes less energy, sounds better, allows you to learn faster, and releases tension built up during I relaxed practice
I should care I should learn.
It’s coming slowly and I don’t know why. My brain doesn’t seem to be in a super retention state this week which is too bad. Some times you learn like what, other times not. If there were metrics for tracking things like how fast I’m learning music that would be sweet. Feeling like you’re not leArning music isn’t the same thing as not learning music. Of course you want to feel like you’re taking it all in, but in most ways it’s better to actually just take it in. Press forward
Getting better. Kink nearly worked out of my left shoulder. Don’t know how it got there, but likely as a result of not bowing in a relaxed position, should too high, too much tension and force. Whoops!
Dim harmony stuff
Passing, dominant and auxiliary diminished chords. Pass chords typically step down by semi tone between degree 3 and 2 in major. Diminished chords can also have a tonic function
In C, Emi7, D#°7, Dmi7.
D#°7 = D#, F# A C, or D# E# F# G# A B C Cx
Dmi7 = D F A C or D E F G A B C
The root and third stepping down is a nice sort of settling to an otherwise restless sound.
Dominant diminished chords are also sweet. They work like a tritone sub in many ways, where the root steps down by semi tone. “
C#°7 = C# E G Bb, or C# D# E F# G A Bb C C#
Slap an A under the C# and you’ve got A7b9 which leads to D all day. Dominant diminished chords pass upwards.
Auxiliary diminished chords expand harmony, typically either a Maj7 or a 7 chord, but I think it could find use else where.
CMa7 | C°7 :||
C7 | C°7 :||
C e g b
C Eb gb a
Or c e g Bb
C Eb Bb Gbb
Chord chart idea:
Dmi | % | G