The Sea Between

Here is the last minute of the version of “The Sea Between” I recorded for “Bare Wood 2”.

The guitar melody that starts after the chorus ends came from an improvisation. I liked the vibe of the improv but the strings had been on the guitar for too long and one of them was clearly out of tune. I tried to get used to it, hoping that the mood of the playing might outweigh the handful of notes that were out of tune, telling myself that most listeners might not hear what I was hearing, but I could not. This week I learned the phrases and re-played the melody. It was interesting to learn the notes and spaces of an improv and turning them into a prescribed melody. I rarely if ever do that, often preferring a slightly strange sound, as from a piece of nail-glue that is coming loose for example, to trying to recreate the vibe.

It turned out alright though and I am happy with the feeling of it. I added an octave below for the start of the melody and like how that grabs the attention.

This is the first version of the piece, from my post on 24. December

I always find it fascinating how a song changes when I can use several guitars rather than a solo guitar performance. Of course, adding Jon’s upright made a huge diff as well. :-)

Computers and Africa

I am learning how to use a program called Live, made by a company called Ableton. Ableton is headquartered in Berlin and consists of 350 people from 30 different countries. The software has been around for almost twenty years and for much of that time I have used it for really simple things, like taking a drum performance and slowing it down, or speeding it up. In the lingo of Live this is called warping.

Last year I started looking at what my next studio might look like. I have always used ProTools for recording, mixing, and mastering and that’s the software I am most comfortable with. I am pretty sure christmas + santa fe, released in 2000, was the first album I recorded with ProTools. I am using a very old version of the software, 6.9.1, because that’s all my old studio computer can handle. At some point I will have to switch to a newer computer, which is why I am thinking about my next computer as well as the software that I might use. I looked into Logic, but it feels like software for a keyboard player. Great for a person who uses MIDI, but I don’t use MIDI. I installed Luna, but that didn’t feel right to me either. Perhaps I am simply too used to ProTools and therefore I can’t see the possibilities of the other applications. This might be so. However, with Live I do see new possibilities.

In the last few weeks and months I watched a whole bunch of videos on how to use Live and try to work with the app for a few hours every day. Slowly, I understand it a little more. The software might not work as well for audio editing as ProTools does, but I want to try to record “slow2” with it. There is no better way to learn a method than by using it.

Today I messaged Jon that it might be easier for me to work with Live if I had a nice, big external monitor – because Live feels very dense on my laptop. There is a lot packed into the screen space. Our chat turned from huge screens for computers to using goggles instead because they would use less resources… once they exist. Jon wrote that one might need a larger mouse for a huge screen. I replied that it should be called an elephant. Then I wrote that it would be even better if I didn’t have to sit at a computer. If there were cameras in the room, connected to the computer, I could indicate the amount using the space between thumb and finger. Jon mentioned wanting to be able to conduct the software, rather than having to write automation.

Then I mentioned that Brian Eno said in an interview that computers didn’t have enough Africa in them. That led to this TED talk about Fractals at the Heart of African Designs. The talk explains that binary fractal code was used in Africa and then…

In the 12th century, Hugo of Santalla brought it from Islamic mystics into Spain. And there it entered into the alchemy community as geomancy: divination through the earth. This is a geomantic chart drawn for King Richard II in 1390. Leibniz, the German mathematician, talked about geomancy in his dissertation called “De Combinatoria.” And he said, “Well, instead of using one stroke and two strokes, let’s use a one and a zero, and we can count by powers of two.” Right? Ones and zeros, the binary code. George Boole took Leibniz’s binary code and created Boolean algebra, and John von Neumann took Boolean algebra and created the digital computer. So all these little PDAs and laptops — every digital circuit in the world — started in Africa. And I know Brian Eno says there’s not enough Africa in computers, but you know, I don’t think there’s enough African history in Brian Eno.

There you have it. Africa is at the heart of computers.

Three Steps Forward

My grandfather also called it the crab-walk: three steps forward, two steps back.

In Hermann Hesse’s book Siddhartha the ferryman says the river has taught him everything he knows. This is true for many things we study intensely and I could say the same about the guitar – it taught me everything. When I began to meditate, it didn’t feel very different from playing guitar. When I went on my first Sesshin I was asked how I was holding up to the many hours of meditation. My answer was, I am a musician and I am used to this.

It’s not a straight line up the mountain. As anyone knows who has driven in the mountains, whether in Austria or France or Colorado, the road rises and and then plateaus. It may even go down for a while before it rises again.

I think the mountain road mirrors how the aquisition and development of a skill works excatly.

If you watch Jon closely you will notice that the fingers on his right hand do much more than strike the string to produce a sound. Playing the correct note at the right time is important but it is only one step in becoming a truly great bass player. The great bass player will use a finger to produce the correct note, then this finger, or another one, gets ready to strike the next note. But if that next note is part of a different key the excellent bassist will use a finger to dampen the previous note so that it doesn’t deter from the new key.

I think this is a great example of how an ability plateaus. At first we are happy to simply play the right note at the right time. Eventually we realize that we can improve and that a note needs to not only be played in time but also should be stopped in time.

Transit 3: migration

Transit 3 Cover Sq

Jon Gagan’s third Transit album is now available in our ListeningLounge. Click on the above image to go there.

Transit 3: migration contains 15 songs with performances by:

Jon Gagan – bass, keyboards, sound design
Eddie Garcia – drums
John Bartlit – vibraphone, marimba
Ottmar Liebert – flamenco guitar, electric guitar, wah, handclaps
Dimi Disanti – electric guitar, solo electric guitar
Robby Rothschils – djembe, calabash, conga, cajón, percussion
Nancy Gagan – vocals
Deborah Domanski – vocals
Mark Clark – bongos, udu, seed pods