Friday, December 24, 2010

Good night!!

Fuck this. Fuck this crazy weird music. I’m starting a soft pop band and we are going to play ballads. I’m sick of this crazy music sending me crazy and stressing me out. No one gives a fuck and it’s so fucking hard just to do one single thing in the creative music world. Fuck art. What good is it. In face fuck music. I’m done with stressing and working and working and writing and organising and sweating and going crazy all for nothing. You can’t do all that as hard as I have for as long as I have with no encouragement and not want to give up. In fact, fuck music. I’m going to get a job in a pizza store and spend my days off in bed. Good night!!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beauty Thing.

To discuss what beauty is and what we find beautiful is to talk about the unspeakable. Beauty is beyond words and what we find beautiful often transcends so far over our highest level of understanding that we can’t even begin to apply analytical techniques. But for us attempting to make something beautiful we must be able to do this – or at least try to do this. We must find a way to make a definition of what is beautiful and create a sort of system or formula that functions as our means to achieving beauty. Paradoxically the creator cannot fully understand what they are making, how it is perceived by others and even how it functions in society. How we experience beauty is purely emotional and how we create beauty is (supposedly) largely mathematical and formulaic. The kind of creativity that makes something beautiful is more than just a well thought out formula at play but it is a large part of what’s at play.

Beauty has to fall into the same category as other deep and extreme words that are associated with strong feelings. To experience something beautiful is to just know that it is beautiful. When something is bland or mundane the word ‘beauty’ will never come to mind. Extreme feelings of varying sorts are often triggered by something beautiful in one way or another. For the people who just experience it there is no real need for them to identify and label what they are experiencing. But for the people who profess to create it, a much more careful and self aware approach is needed. A beautiful thing can be many different things. Beauty is experienced through the senses and many different fields of creativity work at making something that triggers emotion through the senses. Some fields are specifically for one sense others use different more than one. Beauty can play on psychology and often takes the audience by surprise. Beauty can be intellectual and experienced as something more like admiration or appreciation.

Forming a flexible definition of beauty is essential because of the vastness of what one might call beautiful and how our perception of those things (and all things) changes with time. As we have a number of beautiful experiences we should find what these things have in common. The general principals of what we find beautiful is what makes a flexible definition possible. This definition is complex but should be put into descriptive words (whatever they may be). The experience usually involves some sort of deep emotion and so the definition usually uses words of that nature but only functions as a basic foundation for creating the formula. This definition can be used to explain what one might find beautiful in any medium or felid of creativity (but not how to make it). It can also be used with varying amounts of combinations, something may fit only part of the criteria and others may have more or less of the criteria working for it. Updating the list on a regular basis allows for one to let go of what one may have found beautiful in the past but may not now and also the things that one may find beautiful now but not fit the current definition. The extremity of an experience is what should guide the change in definition and the weight of its influence on the prospective creators definition. The definition is the goal. The definition is what the artist should always work towards. The formula should be driven to achieving the goal.

For one to make something beautiful one must not only identify what is beautiful but how it was made to be beautiful. There are a number of ways in which one can go about analyzing why something is beautiful and how it was made. Usually the work in question will always maintain some level of mysteriousness. A hybrid of many techniques discovered from many sources is the only way of encompassing all the steps involved in the procedure and making a rich formula. Something that is beautiful is rich and has many layers that can be seen on many different levels. To understand something this complex a creator must question how every act and thought was involved in making the works of inspiration and draw them all together.

To analyze something beautiful one must first understand the plain aesthetics of what it is they find beautiful. This is usually best done by imitating, as precisely as possible, the thing the prospective creator finds beautiful. The attempting to re-enact the creative process with the same tools in the same way, for the same reasons and for the same outcome is highly insightful but only serves as a development of a larger picture. Of course these sorts of things are unique and exact copying is unfathomably impossible. The inconsistencies can give birth to new ideas for the formula. Copying alone has nothing to do with beauty, it only serves as an exercise. Originality should be embraced in creative fields for that which is a copy will never be as beautiful as the original.

Another step is for the prospective creator to understand how the creator went about making what they made. The researching prospective creator must go beyond experiencing what the audience experiences. This is a much more indirect way of studying the work of inspiration and often involves discussion of less-specific processes such as general attitudes and states of mind that are used while creating. These subjects can be hard to find commentaries on, especially because the final product is usually all that is meant to be perceived. Then again, when creative people develop a formula it is often notated in one way or another, usually in some kind of encrypted language that can be deciphered by cross referencing multiple works. How the formula is expressed by the creator can be expressed any way the prospective creator wants, so long as when it is applied the similar outcome is achieved. When the formula is not so mysterious the prospective creator can find it easier to assimilate. Assimilating other creators formulas can be make it seem deceptively easy to create something beautiful so when developing a formula it is important to take on many forms of analysis that all work together as a whole.

Yet another way for a prospective creator to develop formulas for beauty is to experiment. Testing out formulas or principals can be a complex process and sometimes deceptive because assessing how affective the formula is can lead to a whole world of other complex questions like: ‘Is the work causing the audience to have an experience the creator wants it to?’ and ‘Is the work causing the creator to have the experience they want it to?’. The former is difficult to answer because one can never really know what the audience is thinking and the latter is difficult because the creator has been so entrenched in the process of making the work that any non-analytical perception of it may be difficult. The process of creating rules out any chance a creator has of seeing the beauty they make because if beauty is incomprehensible and the person creating it must understand it to make it there is no way it can be beautiful to them. This situation requires the adoption of a generalized process of trial and error. The feedback from the audience and the creators own experience must be used in a strictly non-literal way. Using the feedback as a guide to steer clear of lager failures can work well in conjunction with other procedures of analysis for forming a formula.

A creative person cannot ever fully know how their work is perceived. Nor can they perceive it like an audience member. Furthermore a creative person cannot fully know how their work functions in the society it exists in. Neither can they create something beautiful for the sake of bringing themselves or anyone else an experience that is anything other than a feeling provoked by beauty. A beautiful thing can function in society with all levels of significance. Someone can sing another person a song once whilst another person can sing a song thousands of times to millions of people and yet both are beautiful songs. Something is not beautiful unless someone perceives it to be beautiful. This does not mean that something is more beautiful if more people perceive it to be. What matters is the profundity of the experience. A profound experience of beauty will not only cause an intense feeling but cause a reaction. The feeling itself is just emotion and the reaction itself is inspiration.

One might also realize what they find ugly and move away from that in order to approach beauty. If beauty is a study of the extreme and extremes always come with a polar opposite, one should be aware of what they don’t want their work to be. This is why art criticism plays an important role in art making. Anti-ugly attitudes can work on every level including aesthetically, conceptually, procedurally and in terms of the experimental approach.

I think perhaps I need to adopt some of the discussed processes in order to create a beautiful essay with a beautiful structure and an at least a kind of beautiful summery. At least I can still make fun of myself.

Jazz School Rave.

Man, jazz school. What a ride it’s been. What a long time it seems I’ve been in Canberra. I’ve been through a lot of changes whilst at jazz school and I’ve explored many different avenues of music making or I guess attitudes towards music rather than processes of making music. It’s been kind of rough I guess. I’ve had a lot of fun with the other people doing the course. I’d say the best thing about the whole experience has been meeting and hanging out with the other musicians that are around. I’ve met some really hairy cats whilst at jazz school and I hope I’m friends with them for the rest of my life. There are some really strong bonds between me and some of the people at jazz school and I really cherish that. I’ve met some really good improvisers and really good players. I’ve figured out a few things about music that I can say for certain now. But dropping out has really put my confidence at a low. I have obviously had some struggles academically but I think over all it’s been really fun and a really worth while experience. I guess I am pretty cynical about jazz school and all and that will come across in the paragraphs to follow. But yea. It’s been good.

When I first started going to ANU Jazz School I was really disappointed with the music that was being played by the students at the Uni and in general in Canberra. The older musicians weren’t doing anything interesting or exciting at all and it scared me because everyone was like man this is it. Plus the drummers were using brushes on the cymbals and clicking their high-hat foot real fast like that’s what makes a good drummer yeah man really fast lefty brushes cymbals what? I’d never seen that until I moved to Canberra and I’m not into it. Plus most people’s idea of ‘free jazz’ was really off the mark if you asked me. It’s kind of look down on by a lot of people there which is a shame because I think it’s a big part of the jazz tradition. When I first moved there I was getting ready to knuckle down and practice 10 hours a day and learn some jazz standards. It took some time to adjust to a new city and living out of home in a share house with random freaks and not knowing anyone except Feddie. Finding practice rooms was tough and I didn’t have a keyboard so I didn’t get into a routine for a while. So on my first day I walk up to my personal teacher (the guy that does one on one piano lessons with me) and I said: “Hey man, I’m Jono Lake, I’m your new student, you better watch out for me, I’m coming to get you.” And he actually looked kind of scared even though I was just joking and all and just trying to make a first impression. I guess it’s safe to say I was pretty out from the get go.

So at the start of the first concert practice thing one of the teachers stands up and is all like “Ok boys and girls, perform like you’re on a gig and it’s your music and it’s your band and original and all that yea like you want to play and how you play when you play in your band and when I played with Freddie Hubbard and yea” and 2 hours later he stopped talking and we had concert practice. I was pretty keen on that attitude towards concert practice, of like doing something creative. But it turned out that’s not really what they’re after. I’ve had some really good concert prac performances before. I’ve done some things that’s had the place in an uproar. But those are the ones that I seemed to only just pass. The ones I got a better mark on were the ones that were jazz and straight and were really actually quite shit. I have had some shit ones though. I have eaten some big shit in concert practice before. Especially when playing on other peoples ones. They would get their marks back and the comments would be about my shit playing and it’s their fucking assessment. But most other people were fucking boring as hell man. It’s called concert practice, like you have a practice at doing a concert and fuck man, I wouldn’t go to these things if I was paid. It was just so lifeless and boring and so low in energy. Every now and then someone would do something cool, but sometimes I would be afraid that I was starting to lower my standard and become like the older cats were when I arrived. I went to a lot of gigs too when I first arrived in Canberra. Hippo bar once a week, Trinity bar, the Front once a week or so, the shows at the jazz school. I saw locals playing that were at the so called ‘top’ of the Canberra jazz scene and there was a scene in Canberra, but it didn’t have really heavy cats. The heaviest cats on the scene were the teachers at the jazz school and they didn’t do much outside of straight jazz. Now I respect the teachers from jazz school they are amazing musicians. But in terms of ‘the shit’ kind of thing they don’t do much for me. By the 2nd year I had figured out what was worth going to and what wasn’t so didn’t see as many live gigs. The best gigs were always of out of town bands from Sydney or Melbourne.

So anyways, pretty quick I started to puke from all the older and graduated musicians in their bands and doing all this boring shit and the piss weak drummers and so I started to make my own shit. I started the double drummer quartet with me on drums, John Wilton on drums, Feddie on alto and Shanghai on trumpet. It was an all improvising group that played every Friday at the art school happy hour for 2 years or so and did an album with Masso called ‘Moments at The Front’ and had some other people play in it and things and like Shanghai played drums and Callum played guitar and now we call it ‘Rainbow Kisses’ and I don’t think John likes that band because he quit. Like the drummers at ANU jazz school eat really big shit. There is no one that’s got anything interesting going on - except maybe John. Or Evan Dorian, he at least is making music. But most of the drummers I couldn’t stand. I have more chops than most of those kids. I play with more energy (especially in the double drummer group) and it was frustrating because I’m not even a drummer. But they are actually better drummers than me because they can play jazz better than me. I guess I just like really angular shit. The other project I started in retaliation to jazz school boredom was Lakeside Circus and that’s all original music that has many different emotions and styles or whatever you want to call it and I compose pretty much all the music. Its me on piano with Alec on bass a drummer (it was John for the first year) and a few horns. Bucko on tenor, Feddie and Shanghai and later we got others like Patches and other horn players and other drummers. We rehearsed once a week and did lots of gigs. Its in it’s 2nd year of existence. Did out of town gigs. But Circus band was way more exciting than most of the stuff that was happening at jazz school even if it wasn’t as technically ‘proper’ or ‘professional’ as the older bands. We didn’t really play modern jazz or anything, we just made instrumental music. Not many people actually have a band with a proper name that plays all original music with regular gigs and rehearsals. Reuben does it. Austin Buckett Trio did it. But there’s not much more than that. Which is weird because I thought that was the point of jazz school. Aren’t you meant to make music and start a band so you can experiment in a flourishing musical environment? I don’t get it. Where is the music?

The cats playing in my bands were my favorite players. They were also my closest friends. Meeting them and getting to know them was amazing and getting to know their playing was even better. Shanghai and Feddie are by far the most inventive and naturally talented improvisers in Canberra. They can make intricate music out of nothing. Shanghai doesn’t even know it but his playing shits on all those other trumpet players that can play higher and with a so called ‘better’ tone. Feddie just has this raw deep angular thing that I just really fucking love. He can only get better at music. John Wilton has got to be the most mysterious confusing and waked out guy I have ever met in my life. I honestly have no idea what the fuck to do with that guy and I don’t think I ever will. I remember when I was first getting to know John he would just laugh at me for how I would talk then I would laugh at him for laughing at me. Plus that guy makes the most killer sandwich in the world. So everyone else that I met at jazz school but didn’t really play with is cool as well like: Lilly, Butler, Smeltik, Phone Booth, Peter, A Lick, Tony Gibbs, Troy Johnston, Fuckstick, Pure, Jack, Sophia, Kimber, Pounder, Lustri, Reuben, Nick, Tye, Thomas, Skyko, Andy, Simon and too many more to mention sorry if I forgot you.

I failed jazz composition and arranging twice. This was at the very same time I wrote and arranged over 30 songs for a 6 or 7 piece band. I put a lot of time into the songs for Lakeside Circus. They are all different and they have all been carefully developed. Even after we have performed them I bring ‘em back in for developing. This was a bit of a theme for my time at jazz school. I mean – failing a class for not doing the work but outside I’m doing things that are almost just as hard. It was the same for my personal lessons. I would always go in with all this shit like stride piano or the poly rhythms or the technique exercises I wrote or the boogie-woogie I was practicing and always it was the same. My teacher just said it wasn’t his area of expertise and so I couldn’t use them to be credited as part of the course. Which is a real kick in the fucking face. Man, it wasn’t really out shit. It was jazz shit. If I could have counted all the stit I did at home to the course credits I would have done a lot better. Besides, my teacher should know better. Plus, this entire fucking course is sold on the idea that it’s tailor made for each student. It’s bullshit that they put out all this talk about creativity and originality and the importance of being yourself – and all the lectures’ in that Uni are talking about it - and then turn around and treat it like we’re on a conveyor belt and if you don’t fit the mould you’re out. It’s bullshit that they teach it like this is the real world. Jazz school jazz is not the real world. Well, I guess if the real world is a world of shit plastic cheap imitation jazz it is. But it’s not for me. For me the real world is exciting and it’s going to get deep down into your bones and in the real world musicians make the sort of music that can’t be touched by any one eyed, washed up deadbeat Uni lecturer. In the real world beautiful music is being made that is so astounding that it leaves you speechless. It doesn’t try to fit into any categories like jazz or classical or whatever and it’s not trying to tick the boxes. It’s creative music and its exciting. You can’t mess with that.

I didn’t fit in at Jazz school. Not really. I tried really hard to fit in. I mean in terms of the academia. You can probably read earlier blog posts where my attitude is that of complete appeasement to the jazz school. I failed the classes because I quite simply couldn’t cut it. I just wasn’t good enough because my energies were focused elsewhere. I don’t think even if I could have focused I would have done too well either. I’m not really a proficient player. The only thing I really pride myself on is creativity and that comes out in my composing more than my playing. I tried really hard and I feel really bad about failing. Marc Hannaford, Dave Goodman, Keith Jarrett, Alex Masso and Jim Black are probably some of the most important musical influences of my life and they are all people who did really well studying music at university. They all had the discipline and skill to stick out what they set out to do. They all had the focus and strength to do what it takes to finish a degree. I didn’t do well in the institution. I have a different way of thinking that simply doesn’t fit. I believe in music. I believe in creativity. I have my own ideas about music and I’m pretty confident in them. I have been severely tested by the jazz school and now that I’ve been through it all I’m that much stronger. Or so I try to tell myself to help feel better about dropping out. My ideas are pretty fucking insane though. For example, I believe that musicians make music. Now that’s just a load of bullshit if you ask the jazz school. How fucking outrageous and crazy is this guy? Where does he get these ideas? I think I’m going to pull my hair out! Musicians learn how to play an instrument and how to play music. They emulate something to make a copy because that’s the best we can hope for. Musicians learn the rules of a tradition and then stick to the rules because that’s how you make music. Fuck that shit. Fuck the jazz school if that’s what it’s all about. I’m an artist and I create music. I create music that is a thing of it’s own and you can’t mess with that. But then again, maybe I’ve just missed the whole fucking point.

I deferred a semester at the end of 2dn year to really think about music. I had also developed a serious back problem that was really stopping me from practicing. 10 hours a day my ass. That would be sweet, but in reality I have had some really low times with practice and composing and it’s pretty much always because of my saw back. At one point during my time at jazz school I couldn’t sit at the piano for more than 5 minutes without going into excruciating pain. When I had days like that I would just listen to CDs. I’ve invested a lot of time and money into learning Alexander technique since then and I’m getting better. I’m not fully better, but I hope to get there. I think there was also a lot of stress just from how I thought I should play. That was hard to deal with. There was always two ways to play for me. The way I wanted to and the way I should. I did a lot of practice during my time off and I felt really refreshed when I came back. But I quickly fell back into my old ways of rebellion. I started taking a composition class with Jim Cotter and that was really cool. He is a really cool cat. I really enjoyed getting lessons from him. He was probably the most insightful and exciting teacher in that whole place. He really is something. He is probley the only person in Canberra who actually inspired me and challenged me. He was the only one that I actually respected enough to act upon his advice. So anyways I failed and all my units were dragged out and I felt really shit about being at that place. With the deferred semester and all the classes I’d failed I’d actually only got half way through the course in the time it’s meant to be completed. I don’t feel good there anymore. I just had to quit.

I’m not the musician or the person I thought I’d be when I got to this point. I’m pretty sure I’m not following in the footsteps of my heros and I’m ok with that. Life in the real world is going to be hard I think. I’m going to have to work in other fields to pay the rent and bills. I think I’m going to work in a cafe or have jobs like that. Music is what I’m all about though. Honest music. I just don’t think I’m going to have the energy or resources to make music full time for a few years to come. I’m not a proper musician. After all, I did fail the jazz course. I’m not a qualified musician. I’m not a professional musician and I can’t see how I would ever be one. I’m going to have to do without a lot of things in order to make the music I want. I’m going to know what it’s like to be a starving artist that’s scraping by. But I think I’m ready for that. I don’t think I’ll ever really get anything in return. I may not even make good music. Well, maybe one day in the future a heavy cat might mention me to someone and say I’m doing something of interest. But that’s about all I can really hope for. Not that it really matters. I only care about music. To be perfectly honest I’m feeling really drained from being in Canberra and being through jazz school. I feel creatively drained and my confidence has been crushed. I failed to do what I set out to do and I don’t see how I could ever live that down. Jazz School has been an amazing learning experience, but in all the ways I didn’t expect. The people I’ve met whilst there are really great musicians and great people and I’ve had a lot of fun times with them. But in the end there comes a time when you have to move on and for me I think that now’s the time to move. I don’t know how moving would really be any better. But I guess that’s half my problem. I’m just lost and without direction. My path is unclear to me. What the future holds only the future can tell. Whatever that means.

Man I hate to end it off on such a negative note. I did really have a lot of fun whilst in Canberra. The only real bum was the academic shit, but that was only one small part of the thing thing. There were heaps of fun times where we all got tweaking or would have some beers. Shed times were good. Pub times were good. Biginellie times were good. Front times were good. BBQ times were good. Gig times were good. Good times.

Sunday, June 27, 2010



Words cannot express how I feel. The long ramblings of a blog do music a disservice, for music is more profound than words. To be caught up in the description and discussions of what music is and what it does and how we make it is to be caught up in something other than music. To talk and discuss is to spend time when we are not involved in music (or not as involved as we could be). “There is always something better I can be doing with my time and that thing is to wake up more.” –Keith Jarrett. Even the most profound words do not come close to evoking the kind of ecstasy that music does when it speaks to us. How much worse for our reputation is talking than playing? So much more. Now I want to bring my thoughts into action, for that which is understood needs not be discussed.

I’m putting this blog on hold. Just as I am putting Lakeside Circus, the Double Drummer Group, my solo piano work and my free improvisations on hold. I doubt anyone will protest much at my deciding to do so. I have had the time to think over my decisions and now it’s time to decide. I’m putting everything on hold, except for the thing that really matters – music. Patience in learning will do great things for the future, but right now I’m in the present moment and I intend to stay here. Listening to music will be my safety guard from the fall I took into corruption and the exhausting ‘creative cult’ that I almost fell a victim to. Listening to music will be my doorway into a higher awareness of beauty. My reputation is irrelevant. My ability is irrelevant. My approach is irrelevant. All that matters now is music – my music. Flexibility has been embraced and contemplation has been prohibited (perhaps just temporarily, as I am quite fond of contemplation). From here on in I intend to make some permanent changes and that means making the same choices day by day and moment by moment.

Sometimes I wonder how many readers I actually have here. I know of some people that read it and some of those have (at times) made me think twice about posting here, mainly Hannaford and Feda. I’d hate to sound as pathetic as I think I sound to those people, let alone the people that read that I’m not aware of. But I guess that’s what a blog is about; putting it out there just for the hell of it. It’s irrelevant what my readers think. It’s irrelevant to me what my readers have learnt or enjoyed from this blog. The entire thing is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is my music and my relationship to it. Sounds like something a Christian would say about Jesus right? Well, music should be more intense that religion. Music is beyond words. I know where I stand. I know what I’ve learnt. Now is the time for a new chapter. A new chapter, written beyond this blog...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Listening To Music

Musicians should be able to listen to an entire album with complete devout attention to the sound for the entire album. How else can we expect to play a whole set of improvised (or just interactive) music and actually respond to everything that happens? I can’t really do this without thinking about something else or making a cup of coffee. Concentration is something that takes a long time to develop. Some music can just be background shit. I don’t we need to always devout our entire attention to what’s playing on the radio or CD player. I think that some music should be given attention, but I also think music should command your attention by kind of forcing you into listening to it. Sometimes we hear shit that is just so bland that we can’t really listen to it. When I’m going to a live gig I like to devote as much as I can to listening to the music. I think that doing all this is a good way to open up to how deep music actually is. Sonically speaking, pop music is really quite stunning (John Mayers ‘Continuum’ anyone?) and has a lot in it. Anyways, I’m just saying. I like listening really intensely. I think the more I can do that the better music will be. Farts sound better as well. They offer even more comic relief when you’re fully aware of the depth of the soundwaves. Over and out.

The Meaning of Music (part two)

How profound is a life in music? How much more profound is a successful career in music than any other kind of career? There are amazing musicians that have done a lot, but they aren’t changing the world. There are scientists, philosophers and politicians that are changing the world (or already have). There are people that have not done amazing things, but lived a life of meaning (such as the American Dream). But how important is that to the meaning of life? What actually is a ‘high’ life and how far can we go with profundity? How often should we contemplate these kinds of questions? When and where is the time and place for these kinds of discussions and at what point does it become pointless? The imagination of a man, in all its brilliance (or even genius) is nothing without the realisation of these dreams. How does one bring their ambitions into reality? How do we reconcile that we are all limited by the opportunities we have and that we all have a place in the world that is always dwarfed by someone else?

I think that the most profound thing that I can do is in music. I dream of making original music that is beautiful and transfixing. That conclusion in itself gives reason for me to stop contemplating all together and just work on realising that dream. Is there a point at which we decide and conclude? How does a concrete conclusion leave flexibility for failure? I think perhaps as usual I will conclude with the answer that it’s all about balance. That’s the only real answer that really kind of makes real sense – balance. I think I balance over towards the thinking side of the spectrum more than I like to admit. I think I think too much about thinking. Doing, as plain and simple as that is, is actually something I could do a lot more of. Well I guess I’m in Blog world at the moment so I might as well enjoy it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Scene

I hate hype. I find it hard to really hear what a musician is actually doing when there’s all this pent up press and talk about them going on. Most of the time, when everyone raves about a musician to me I usually have a harsher judgment of them when forming my opinions. I guess this is just because I’m jealous that everyone is talking about them and not me. But what is cool about hype? What has it got to do with music? A musician walks up on stage with all this confidence and plays this shit and everyone loves it and then walks around the club like they own the place. Am I the only one that is actually listening here? It’s understandable though, I got all bubbly inside when Mr. Mitchell said he had checked out my Myspace tracks. What would you expect I’d do if everyone kissed my ass as much as they kiss Tinky Tinky’s? Plus, the more hype there is about you the more gigs you get (not to say that’s the only way of getting gigs).

I guess everyone has their pride in their craft, and they have worked for that confidence. It’s the only place they actually can be confident in a world full of so many uncertainties. So why not soak it for all it’s worth? I guess I can be a bit cynical. It’s all just what I like and what I don’t. I’m still going to kiss the ass of the musicians I like. But maybe I should be a little more subtle about it. I want to promote the music that I like, but still have people make up their own minds. Press is all about promotion – not reality or forming opinions (at least not for the musicians). Also, an understanding of how appreciating music and not liking it can work with forming your opinion is important. When last at Bennett’s Lane, James Greening said to me about the Drub gig that he could enjoy listening to it but not want to do it and that it’s taken him a long time to get to that point. If it takes a heavy cat like Greening a long time to learn appreciation, what hope do little dipshits like me have? Making music, from my point of view, is about making music. NOT about creating a cult or generating respect from anyone. Only the heaviest cats actually seem to be able to do this in music today.

The Meaning of Music

Music takes many forms for many reasons. We need to decide what music we are going to make and for what reason. I think that for pretty much every musician, there is always more than one kind of music for them and more than one reason to play music. Knowing when to play what music is important, especially for a creative or avant-garde musician. Music can be alienating and music can be intellectual. There is a time to make music that is artistic and intellectual (and maybe perhaps a little self indulgent) and there is a time to play with the audience in mind. Music can be enjoyable to the player and enjoyable to the audience. Music can be a product, a science, a philosophy, a form of psychology and of course music can be art.

To me there is something especially attractive about jazz music – and I mean the swinging/American songbook/improvisation kind of jazz. Jazz is intellectual and complex. Jazz requires thought and discipline. Jazz is also popular and accessible. Jazz is so compressed that I find listening to large amounts of it tunes my ears to the fine details of music (and sound). This makes my experience of other kinds of music that are maybe not as ‘fine’ in their timbre (such as rock and metal) so much more enjoyable. Jazz performance is unlike any other kind of music. Jazz harmony, as I stand with it now, is the most complex form of harmony. I beg someone to contest this point. Maybe serial (or post-serial) harmony is more complex, but does harmony become more complex by analysing it in more ways? Jazz harmony has as many functional parameters as any other and is athletically more complex than anything I’ve come across to date, if I may speak so generally. This is not to mention jazz melody.

My approach now is to have a core foundation of what my music is. For me this is the jazz piano trio that plays jazz in a more or less traditional (but personnel) style. The trio is what inspired me to play music in the first place. Jazz is the music that is my reason for playing music. The lesser pressing needs for musical expression will sit to the side of the piano trio. These projects as I stand today are: solo piano improvisation, a 7 or 8 piece ensemble (with piano trio plus horns) that plays fully composed ‘hybrid’ music, improvising duos and a commercial band that I am yet to invest in. I understand now that the opportunity to make ‘high art’ is a rare one, and is for a reason. Being a musician is a career and a career involves many different tasks.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I reserve the right to get angry. I reserve the right to speak passionately about music. I am within my rights to speak hard to my fellow musicians in the name of making the music better. Where did all the passion go anyway? What happened to loving music outwardly and being vocal about love and passion? Where did the energy go? My music is real and my music will bite your fucking face off. This music should be loud. This music should be irresistible. This music should be a privilege to play and every moment we’re in it we should cherish it. I reserve the right to shout about it. I reserve the right to shut the entire thing down if it’s not to my standard. This is our name. What does our name say about us? What does our music say? Are we plastic pussy-assed dipshits? Or are we going to grab this shit by the throat and fuck it ‘till it’s dead? It was like this - in the beginning. Where did all the passion go? How could you forget something like this? How can anything so pure become so corrupt? I reserve the right to drag this shit up again. I am within my rights get angry. I am within my rights to speak passionately.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The horizontal axis represents complexity with 1 being the most complex and 30 being the least. The vertical represents popularity with 1 being the least popular and 40 being the most.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Patience in Youth

Patience in Youth

I’m gonna be frank for a second. I have a lot of ideas. I really think that there is some good shit transpiring in my brain and I think there could be some great shit coming out. Lakeside Circus is a really cool band. I think there’s a lot of potential in it. I listen to shit loads of CDs and get loads of compositional ideas. I want to make music. I want to make interesting, creative, exciting instrumental music. It’s a bit of a hard one to actually work with though. To think all these things is pretty easy. To actually carry something out like this takes work and persistence.

I want to make real music - music that has nothing to do with regulations or the scene or anything like that. I want to make art and art is the only truth in music. I hear bands that have just done their shit. I just hear their shit, the final product, and I wonder how the fuck they do it. I spend hours on end trying to work out how they do it. I think analysis is a really big thing. I’m into the kind of analysis that builds up to really interesting shit. Like how Eminem has each verse of a song get longer as the song unfolds so that by the time the final chorus comes it’s a release. The same thing happens in metal. I like how Slipknot can write a song like “Disasterpeices” with pretty much just 3 or 4 notes, but when the orchestration is considered there are no two bars the same in the entire song. I like it how in the 1950’s jazz musicians played heads with horns harmonised in unison, then Human Feel write songs like “After the Fact” in 2007 and use the same idea with all these other aspects incorporated as well. Unity in something like that is beyond me. Composers like Tim Berne are doing some really complex shit these days and yet they sound so smooth and logical. I like music that has a vibe or an energy. I want to make music that gets into your bones and shakes up shit.

Being patient is the biggest part of actually going about putting these ideas into practice. Me, being youthful and rebellious and the fucking restless fuck that I am, want to do these things real quick and end up making second-rate versions of good shit. To actually play music and play an instrument with mastery and ease takes a lot of practice. We all know that. Taking the time to really go through it all with a fine comb takes a lot of fine comb time. Somehow I need to learn to suppress my urge to do shit and actually focus on learning it all properly. End of composing rage. You can all go home now.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Music Making (part two)

Being a musician really is a hard thing to be. We, as young students, see amazing musicians create brilliant music. We for some reason think we can do the same and decide to create music of our own. What we’ve heard is so magnificent that we have to break down the music making process into smaller parts. We spend years contemplating and working on music making, always asking how did these greats do it? I sometimes think that if I just do this, this, this, this and this I will make great music. But really how can we ever measure up? I think it’s a process. I think clear goals are a necessary. I think finding yourself has as much to do with expelling corruption as discovering reality. How do musicians discover reality? Or do they create their own? I have experienced music making in a corrupted way and discovering that I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on came as quite a shock. Respected musicians of the world who speak of the music making process always do so from a long way down the path, back towards the kids like me who may just be starting out. This is what can create the confusion between what is necessary and what is possible.

I’m done with having heroes. Heroes will never live up to your expectations and you will never live up to the amazing things they have done. I think the answer to that question is to just do the best you can. Making the best music that I can, and actually making it, has always been my fundamental working attitude. I was compromising the quality of my music in order to make it. But now I think that I shouldn’t make music unless it is the best music that I can make. This (perhaps ironically) means that I will not make music any time soon. There has to be a standard and that standard has to be high. I know I’m all for being on my own journey, but how does my music actually stack up?

I am always changing. I have always had pride in my wiliness to be open to new things and explore the possibilities. But now I think is the time for a clear goal. Music isn’t as simple as one two three. But I have no doubt that I am meant to be in music. That’s not meant to be a cute cry of passion. There is nothing pretty about my love of music. I don’t think there is anything in me that is different to any other musician. Plenty of people want it more than me. Plenty of people work harder than me. Plenty of people have it better than me. All I know is that I have a voice that needs to be heard. I feel that voice is a good large number of hard yards away, but I know it’s there. I’m just crawling from the womb and I want to be reading Shakespeare. Patience and persistence is the name of the game now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Moments at The Front

Moments at The Front

1. Tweaking (part one) 08:21
2. Constipation anonymous 03:30
3. Tweaking (part two) 08:03
4. The Thinking/Feeling Ratio 23:34
5. Are you George From Andi and George Band? 04:39
6. Fellow Forms of Life 06:35

Shane Spellman – Trumpet
Andrew Fedorovitch – Alto Saxophone
Jono Lake – Drum Set
Alex Masso – Drum set

Improvised live in concert at the Front Cafe Lyneham, Canberra on April the 5th 2010

Recorded by Matt Sykes

Producing and editing by Jono Lake April 10. Masso give small editing advice on April 15 (and Jono agrees).

Mastered by Matt Sykes at his home studio in Nowra on April 23rd and 25th

Artwork concept by Jono Lake. Artwork Layout and design by Thomas Combe.

Pressed by Mad CDs April 28 to May 12. Released on Lakeside Records 13th of May 2010

Contact Jono directly for CDs to be posted out.
Write to: P.O. Box 2336 Bomaderry N.S.W. 2541

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Jono Lake
Solo Piano

Recorded by Matt Sykes April 10 in Rehearsal Room Three at the Australian National University Music School. Mixed by Matt Sykes at his home studio in Nowra April 12.

Improvised by Jono Lake on a 9ft Yamaha grand piano (out of tune).

Mastered by Oscar Genoa April 14 at Studios 301 in Sydney.

Printed by Mad CDs 15th of April to 29th of April.
Artwork concept by Jono Lake (typo). Layout and design by Thomas Combe.

Released on Lakeside Records 30th of April 2010.
Contact Jono directly for CDs to be posted out.
Write to: P.O. Box 2336 Bomaderry N.S.W. 2541

Monday, April 12, 2010

Collecting CDs


Since going back to Uni this year I have started my music collection almost completely from scratch. I left my entire CD collection (hard copy) at my mum’s house in Nowra, almost none of which are on my iTunes collection. My iTunes collection is compiled almost completely of new stuff that I have started to check out since going back to Uni. A lot of the music is of artists that have ‘trustable’ names that I haven’t really got WAY into before (but have heard a bit of). Artists like Pat Metheney, Chet Baker and Cannonball Alderley. Unfortunately these artists (and many others) were mostly disappointing. I often found myself resorting to new albums, that I haven’t heard before, of artists that I really like (as opposed to artists I know I ‘should’ like). It was either that or cling to the precious few albums that I kept in circulation that have always been favourites. Unfortunately of the completely new names that I’ve checked out relatively few have really got me tweaking and found their way into regular circulation.

I’ve put these regulations on my collection for a few reasons. One was just to force myself to expand and stop myself from getting stuck in a rut. Another one was just to change, which is pretty much the same thing. I believe in growing. I believe in searching and pushing forward no matter what the circumstance or outcome. A different group of CDs makes for a different group of sounds that are familiar, which makes for different music making. I think for me, because listening to a wide variety of music has such a big influence on my music making, changing my CD collection would be a good way to change my music. It has been changing. But such a small amount of genres, artists and bands grab me that I find myself resorting back to albums that are sacred. These are the albums that I’ve listened to for years, but not in years, and had huge musical impact on me when I first heard them. Albums like: “Broken River” by Tim O’Dwyer Trio and “Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek” by Reliant K. I guess things just start to happen when you listen to music intensely for years on end. We can’t expect to expand in the exact same manner that we are now forever. In a composition lecture I was in recently Larry Sitsky said something relative to this subject. He said that so much is available now that we have to ignore certain things. We have to choose to deal with only a certain amount of music. I think I’m getting to that point. There is still a lot more out there that I want to check out and I hope I am always a pro-multi-genre believer. But when you generalise too much it can get hard to remember the finer details of what one truly loves the most. Balance the pyramid.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Upcoming CDs

Next week my first album will be recorded, mixed, mastered and printed. It is a solo piano improvisation album recorded by Matt Sykes at the Australian National University on a 12ft Steinway. It will be mastered at Studios 301 by Oscar Ganoa and pressed by Mad CDs. I’m doing as much as I can to ensure that it all works out smoothly. There is always a bit left up to chance though. It’s hard to know how I will feel on the day of the recording and how the timing of the mastering and everything fits into place. I’m pretty sure it will be sweet though.

I’m also taking steps to release the double drummer quartet gig that was recorded live at The Front Cafe in Canberra with Alex Masso. If it all goes to plan 100 copies of that album will be available within the next month or two. I also plan to tour that album with the basic trio of Shanghai, Feda and me and then have a different drummer for each town that we visit. There are a number of venues and drummers that I have in mind. I recon about a 5 day tour in June would be something to look out for.

Laters blog world...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Double Drummer

Yesterday was the first Double drummer Quartet gig of the year. We had me on drums, Andrew Fedorovitch on alto sax, Max Williams on tenor sax (who are normal offenders) but this time Shane Spellman, who normally plays trumpet, played drums. We all know he was a killer black metal drummer when he was younger, and I was definitely up for having him play drums because that band is all about being open to more abstract approaches – mainly by having players play their second instrument.

It was a pretty fun gig. Feda cut sick and reminded us all that he’s not just some ‘shit-at-jazz’ alto player – he’s a ‘blow-your-fucking-brains-out’ good avant-garde improviser. Shane really stepped up as well and was able to push it to that high intensity where everything is way out of control and we all just blow our tops. I loved going hard on the drums. It’s been so long. It was so loud and angular.

Seeing the trio Roil (Mike Mikowsky, Chris Abrahams and James Waples) after the gig made me kind of question the brutality of the double drummer quartet. The players in that trio are really careful with their sound. Perhaps the double drummer quartet could learn something from that. Well, I guess it’s not like we don’t play ballads. But it seems to me that there is an appeal in playing with a dirty sound. Jazz seems to have become ‘classicalised’ in a way with such a big emphasis on ‘good’ sound. Piano players playing on Steinways and drummers useing flat rides ect. Sometimes I’d rather hear something a little more ‘wrong’ or out of tune or with so called ‘harsh tone’. In fact Shanghai is the master at playing with shit tone, but that’s what I love about his playing so much. Jazz music isn’t classical music. Avant garde music isn’t jazz music. What sounds good is totally a matter of opinion.

In a few weeks we have a gig with Alex Masso. It’s me on drums, Feda on Alto and Shanghai back on trumpet. It’s going to be an interesting experience to play with someone as good as Masso. It’s an indoor gig (we usually always play outdoor gigs) so that may put limits on how loud it can get. I don’t know how it’s going to sound, but I do know it’s going to sound the way we want it to sound. It may not sound ‘clean’ and it may not even groove, but we do that intentionally. The sounds we make are sounds we like, though it may seem a little strange to some that anyone would like these sounds.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Something Boys

I have recently been thinking about forming a new band with Finn Ryan on drums, Shane Spellman on trumpet, Andrew Fedorovitch on alto sax and me on electric keyboard and piano. They all seem keen for it, the only thing we are waiting on is for me to get the required equipment and get it together. What I really need is a Jazz organ with distortion, or some kind of Nord or a Rhodes with distortion and a channel switch and an acoustic piano and a celesta, or just a really good keyboard with all those sounds. I just really want to bring the metal side of me out in another way. Lakeside Circus has a lot of ‘metal’ in it and a lot of the compositional ideas come from metal music. But that band doesn’t really capture the actual sound of what metal is because it’s all acoustic jazz instruments. With this band there will be more of a balance towards the metal side with the electric keyboard against the acoustic horns.

My understanding of ‘hybrid’ music really opened up when I saw the BBC Trio last year. Jim Black has shown me a way into electronic music that may end up satisfying my lust for guitarists who can click a switch and get that sound. To make my keyboard sound like a guitar with over drive and be able to play way down low, with all the other sounds that your typical keyboard has these days AND have a real piano would just make the possibilities so great. I’m not professing to thinking that I’ll ever play as good as Nels Cline, but getting what he does on guitar across onto my keys is the kind of direction I’m thinking of going. I just see it as a way of encompassing more of ‘me’ into my free improvisations.

The BBC Trio (as I understand it) improvised their entire gig in Melbourne. That’s the kind of approach I’d like to take, because me and Finn have improvised free ever since we started playing and me and Andrew play free on a regular basis, as do me and Shane, and Andrew and Shane. I believe we are all capable improvisers and listeners. But I also think that without some sort of grounding the sound of the band could turn out to be anything at all, and I definitely have a specific sound in my head. I think written interludes will appear amongst workshopped and spontaneous improvisation. But then again, Circus band was originally going to be a ‘mostly free’ improvising band, and now it’s pretty much all locked-in composition.

I want to do maybe one or two gigs with this band this year. I’d also like to record the gigs. It’s going to be a long time coming if it happens because Finn is out of state and I haven’t got the shit together yet which makes rehearsing hard. But when it happens (or even if it happens) it will be a really sweet band. It will be new music that draws on all the wide things I listen to and like. It will be another step into another place and with this combination of musicians, I’m sure it would be a blast.

The band will be called: Something Boys

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fantasy Bands

This is a blog response to the “Fantasy Football” blog by Ethan Iverson. It is on his 'The Bad Plus' web site.

There are a lot of musicians that I really love that are in the same circle as each other but don’t play together. I sometimes wish my favourite players would play in different combinations (in addition to the ones they do). My fantasy band is: Jim Black on drums, Marc Hannaford on piano, Tim Berne on Alto, Scott Tinkler on Trumpet and Hilmar Jensson on Guitar. I’ve heard these players in various different band with various other artists. I guess I know this band will never happen because of the America/Australia divide. But I did get to see Tim Berne with Hannaford and Tinkler when he was in Australia last year and it was incredible. I guess I would like to hear this band because I know they are all capable players (especially conceptually speaking) and they all have a personal sound that I can identify with and like.

A kind of joke that I like to have with my friends is to make up fantasy band that would obviously be a nightmare, like: Clayton Thomas, Mark Isaacs, Evan Manell and Chet Baker. Now I like all those players and really think they are incredible musicians, I just think that together it wouldn’t work. I usually find that musicians that really gel together are the players that have done time with each other, and work things out together: like the Matt Keegan Trio. In theory we could get the best alto player, the best drummer, the best bassist and the best trumpeter and put them in a band and we would have the best band in the world. But certain players go well with other certain players. I think this is why the album “Live at Massey Hall with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove” doesn’t really do anything for me, even though I really like all the players on that album.

The players I really like to play with are my friends. They are the people that understand me the best and I am the most comfortable with. Sure, they aren’t as good as some other players that I probably could play with but the chemistry is more important that just being ‘good’. Combination of musicians is an interesting thing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blast Beats

The foundation blast beat that all other blast beats arise from is simply continuous 16th notes with the hands on the ride and snare and the same on the double bass drum peddles. This exact beat however, is one of the lesser played blast beats in death metal. The many variations that arise from this beat have their own place in the music. There are beats more common for verses and others that are more common for choruses. For example a lot of drummers bring the two hands into 8th note unison between a cymbal and the snare for verses and then later split it up again for choruses and bridges. Choosing when to play the 8th note snare beat on the beat and when to play it off the beat is a choice made according to the guitar riff. I’d call the off beat (or ‘oom-pa’ beat) more of a thrash thing (as heard in Slayer) and the on beat snare thing more of a black metal thing (as heard in a lot of power metal like Trivium). How and when players decide to play on or off is what makes their sound unique. George Kollias of Nile revolutionised the blast beat by leaving out the left foot part of the double peddle 16ths and the right hand on the ride cymbal and learnt to place crashes at various points with the now available right hand.

The blast beat as opposed to a pure thrash beat is different in that it ‘over plays’ the riff it’s behind. Where guitars play 8th notes in death metal, the drummer usually plays 8th notes on one part (like the hi hat) and 16th notes on another part (usually the bass drum). Where as in “speed metal” or “hardcore” or even hard rock the drummer would just play 8th notes on one part (or between two parts of the kit) and not double up on the bass drum and even play a lesser part again on top of that (like crotchets on a cymbal). Of course we can only generalise about the difference between death metal and thrash metal. The cross overs are countless, and with bands like Shadows Fall playing blast beats it’s impossible to draw the line these days. Slipknot is a great example of diversity, they have wide ranging metal beats from blasting to Nu grooving and even hard rock (and soft rock these days). How diverse a drummer plays beats in a metal band is also another aspect that makes metal drummer unique. How we rank metal genres from fastest to slowest (or more subdivisions to less) is beyond me.

How blast beats are actually played is as long a journey as any musical embankment. All accomplished death metal drummers have extreme technical ability and endurance. The single stroke roll for the hands, feet and between any combinations of the four limbs is the basis of all blast beats. In my experience, playing a single stroke roll with one hand on the ride and another on the snare is harder to play clearly than just playing both on the snare. A lot of death metal drummers will change their type of blast beat from fast to slow to fast and intersperse fills in order to “rest” between the really fast blast beats. For example they might play a 16th note blast between the ride and snare, but then play a fill at the end of the bar and come out into a more ‘thrash’ like beat for a while. Playing a single stroke roll around the kit as a fill is much more forgiving to dropping notes or being a little behind that playing a blast beat. Also, a lot of drummers will mix up the difference between playing fast on the feet and fast on the hands. For a few bars they may play 16ths on the double peddle and 18ths on the hands, then 16ths on the hands and crotchets on the bass drum. There is no doubt though that death metal drummers have massive chops and a great way around the kit. I also am fascinated about the art of blast beats and the many various components that make up what metal is.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Music Making

There’s not much more to my music than technique and attitude. When I improvise and compose, what comes out is within the limits of my technique (as in, ability to actually play the notes) and an expression of my attitude. My technique is formed by specific rudimental exercises that I practice and everything else that I actually play like standards, Mixolydian scales, diminished voicings and so on. I guess my attitude is formed by the music that I listen to and the studying of the attitudes of the improvisers/composers that I like. I study them by talking to them, reading about them and just listening to their music.

Listening is a big thing for me. I think the power of listening to music in a non-analytical way is underestimated in the Jazz world. Musicians can easily get caught up in the whole “he played the flat nine and jumped to the 3rd of the next chord and then played the triton substitution” kind of listening and forget that the music they are playing is an expression of their attitude towards life. These bebop musicians were hard living (and sometimes arrogant) people - not nerds in a University sitting over a text book. This is not to say I don’t listen in an analytical way, of course we all need to listen with a fine comb, but also to know when.

The answer is many answers in a way. We should listen to many different types of music in many different ways. Who can say they differentiate between appreciating a type of music and being turned on by music? Who listens to certain styles of music only for the academic and mathematical content and other styles just to chill out? Perhaps when transcribing a solo by a jazz musician we should ask some questions about how we are listening and set aside time to listen to the same song with a different mindset. all these questions and the many questions unasked and the many answers that there are, come into the overall whole that is my attitude. It’s all about diversity and widening the spectrum.

My attitude is expressed within my technical limitations. I work on my technique as much as I can (or at least I sometimes like to think I do). It’s not a matter of having just enough technique to do what you want, or even playing all you can with the technique that you have. It’s a matter of working on technique and then expressing your attitude. Simple as that. What comes out is music. My music created in the only and best way I can.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010



Recently I’ve been getting into a brother recording of ‘One Down One Up’ by John Coltrane Quartet at the Half Note (with Alan Grant). It’s unreleased and isn’t mastered. It came to me through someone who I have no idea how they got it. The playing is incredible, everyone simply burns the hell out of it, much the same as they do on ‘One Down One Up’ and it sounds half decent as well. It’s just got me to thinking how many amazing recordings there would be out there that aren’t available. How many albums does Blue Note have stored up? How many does the ABC have that are just incredible pieces of music that no one has really ever heard? I also know that a lot of people these days record their tours and never release it. I know there is a recording of the BBC Trio at the Melbourne Jazz Festival 2009 that hasn’t been released and may never be. I also wonder how many of my favourite artists record at home (just on some low-quality gear) to document their playing much the same as I do. I know a lot of artists have recording gear at home these days. What happens to these recordings? Sometimes I like to think there is away into this ‘underground album’ scene. I like to think there is some especially hip shit out there that wasn’t released because it wasn’t commercially profitable but is an absolute gem. But then again, I know there is plenty of great shit out there that is available. It’s just a matter of working out where it is and then getting it. It’s a big enough task working out who is hip and what albums they have done that are hip.

No One Thing Will Make You Good

It gives me the shits how some people say that if you just have great time you will be good. Do you think if you took away Keith Jarrett’s knowledge of harmony, his sense of melody, his touch and tone and ability to interact and just left his great time he would be what he is? No. Everyone who is great has an incredible sense of time (and we all agree this is a very important aspect of music making). But these great musicians also have great harmonic understanding, sound, concept and a whole bunch of other things. I guess we hear people say that one thing is the most important thing a lot in the institution because they are trying to get us to focus on that one thing. Sure, as if we aren’t . As if we aren’t practicing all these little things that are spread across a wide spectrum of all the various things we can practice. Sure, we are still shit. We still sound like shit and can’t play our instruments, but we are working on it - one slow step at a time. Sure, we will never get there. We will always be shit. But that’s ok if we just keep going.

Free Improvisation

To me, improvisation is an expression of an attitude. When improvising freely in a band I go in with (hopefully) and attitude that is going to allow for interesting dialogue. I guess for it to be dialogue the most important thing is to listen alertly to what other people are saying, respond with taste and also say intelligent things myself. Those three main areas are complex things in themselves. Listening alertly means hearing what other people are doing and hearing what I myself am doing and being ready to act with a relevant responce. Responding with taste requires a certain amount of subtly in adding to the overall sound by playing a role that compliments the other players approach to the overall sound. The right time to step in and make a statement of one’s own is a hard thing to judge. No one likes greedy improvisers and we all know when it’s going on. It’s just hard to explain and deal with when that situation arises. Sensitivity, a taste for structure, contrast and interest is what should drive the decision to ‘step in’.

A lot of what I improvise is so called ‘non-tonal’ music. That’s just because it’s what I (and my fellow musicians) usually hear and like. But improvising freely should not rule out the major scale. Really, it should not rule out anything. In fact, for free improvising everything should be taken into consideration. The reason ‘personality’ seems to be such a big part of the avant-garde is because of all the amazing combinations of our influences that come out when we are improvising. There is something quite unique about how a jazz drummer (with his understanding of what ‘swing’ is) can play a rock beat (with his understanding of what ‘grunge’ is). This is but one example of a whole spectrum of things – which is why we should study our favourite classical composers, listen to metal bands, do gigs with folk vocalists and go and see what modern be-bop players are doing, because it all counts towards what we are as a musician who makes music by improvising.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Listen to Yourself

Listening back to recordings of myself makes me feel really strange. I’m quite undecided about how to approach it because I usually react in many different ways. Sometimes I wait a while and forget what I played and then listen to it and like it, but then later listen again and not like it. Sometimes I listen to it right away and like it, having not felt good about it whilst playing it. Some things I’ve recorded sound like dog shit to me every time I listen to it. I guess it I should like listening back to myself because it’s my music. After all, I am making music that I like. I guess listening for mistakes (or places for improvement) is something I should do while I’m playing. I really should have an awareness of my weaknesses, but maybe listening back to myself will allow for a deeper insight into what exactly is going on. It may be a way to check wether what I am imagining is what’s coming out.

I have recordings that I did years and years ago and when I listened to them I have no idea how I possibly did it. I think that for a while after recording something it’s best to just sit on it and forget about what you did, and then go back to it. I think if I ever release anything I will have to release it without hearing it because I know that chances are I wouldn’t be happy enough with it. I guess in the end, my music is for me to play and create and other people to listen to. I don’t listen to myself all that much. It’s a strange thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Piano is Young

Over the past year or so I have been developing a technical exercise for playing piano. The exercise revolves around building the independence of each finger. From what I have heard, not many pianists fully exploit the capability of the piano to allow for a player to sustain one or more notes while playing other notes of shorter duration. To do this takes a lot of coordination because some fingers have to be held down while others go up and down. That’s pretty much what the exercise is: a systematic way of holding down every combination of fingers while playing every combination of every other finger. It’s a pretty time consuming thing to do, but I’ve found that doing only small amounts really improves strength (if you would call it that) for playing more conventionally. The sostenuto pedal allows players to sustain notes while playing short notes and also re-engage in the sustained notes. This is also something that even in the most advanced piano music I have heard is only used as a momentary technique.

When all this is considered one might be able to remark at how “one note, then another note, then a another...” piano players actually are. Perhaps I am just ill informed and someone needs to lend me some CDs. What I am working on with the practice exercises is a balance of an over-all sound that incorporates sustained notes and long notes, which is hard to hear because long notes usually go with long notes and short with short (hope that’s not too much of a sweeping generalisation). But I really think that the piano can do a lot more than people have already done. That may seem like a bold statement, but I’m not saying that I will be the one to do it. I can’t do anything on the piano when you consider all the people that have sat at one before. All I’m saying is that I can imagine things. The techniques exercises are just a thing. Maybe if I take it to its greatest lengths I will touch the edge of what a human can do at the piano. Until then, I won’t know how effective it is.

No Answer

I’ve been thinking a lot about spirituality recently. It seems that everyone has their system of ‘higher’ living whether it is the writings of a great philosopher, religion based around a god or an attitude of a group of people. I sometimes worry that I am one of those people who live so called ‘average’ lives but I also realise that we all have our own way of living. I know there are people in this world who live extraordinary lives (as I see them) and I sometimes wish I was more like those people. Music for a long time has been my ‘means’ of so called ‘higher’ being but now I’m bringing into question just how real this pursuit for ‘enlightenment’ is. I think just enjoying what we have is a big part of enjoying life. As opposed to going after things we don’t have and then gaining happiness by attainting them.

A part of me thinks I should get way into something. Maybe I need to read every single book that Krishnamurti and Gurdjieff ever wrote. Maybe I need to study Kant, Socrates and Hume. Maybe I should believe Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. I don’t think it’s that simple. We sometimes need time to question the bigger questions of life. But I also need time to question the concepts of my craft. I also need time to take a shit. These systems and so called ‘answers’ of our existence seem to only spread so far. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t have an answer. Or even any answers - to anything. But I know I’m here to do something and I want to enjoy doing that thing. Even though I’m not sure what that thing is or how I’m going to do it or how significant that thing will be to anyone or anything (or how relevant that so called ‘significance’ is).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's Heavy - Not Random

Recently I’ve been listening to the album “The complete ‘Is’ Sessions” by Chick Corea. It’s really free avant-garde music with a lot of really thick (textually) group improvisation sections. Some parts are really busy and chaotic, even to my ears. But I understand that it is a way of improvising and there is still interaction between the players. This improvisation seems to be the logical extension of jazz improvisation and interaction. As in the more traditional jazz this avant-garde improvisation has different instrument performing different roles to create the overall sound. They also interact by responding to each other, it’s just done in a more subtle way. I like this kind of music because it’s got a lot of meat to it. I can understand how it is musical and logical. For the people who say it’s just a bunch of crazy shit, they can get fucked. Do you think Chick Corea plays free just for the hell of it? I wish more musicians (or even fellow musicians) would be open to styles of music that they aren’t fully acquainted with. Maybe it’s just my youth making me all over eager, but I like really brutal music and ‘The Complete Is Sessions’ is definitely one of those albums that is brutal – not meaningless. I guess some people just don’t get it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Recently I have been developing a compositional device that allows for players to improvise off two different meters as they please. The idea first came to me when I started to hear how Tim Berne creates a mix between formal notation, improvising off that formal notation and freely improvising (or soloing). My idea is to extend basic cross rhythms so that the ‘over the top’ pulse is more recognisable than the underlying pulse. The tune I am working on at the moment is called ‘Princess’ and is based on 4 over the top of 7. So we can all play four on seven, it’s just 7/4 time sig with 16th notes grouped in 7. But I have extended this 7/4 bar by adding a further 7 16th notes. That means we have 5 over the top of 35 16th notes. Or we could have two bars of 4/4 and a bar of 3/16, or a whole bunch of different combinations of bars. The underlying bar lines that I decided upon for the composition was a bar of 4/4, a bar of 7/8 and a bar of 5/16 (that all adds up to 35). The reason I chose this is because the increase in time divisions (4,8,16) adds to the release of the cross rhythm on ‘one’. Over the top of these three bars I still maintain the groups of 16th notes in 7. A very simple way of playing the pattern is to just think of it as 5/4 with some straight up septuplets.

Of course, because this piece is for piano, bass, drums, alto sax, tenor sax and trumpet I have to balance the weight of the players playing in each ‘pulse’. The underlying 3 bar pattern (which doesn’t actually contain an obviously coherent meter between them all) is strongly outlined by motivic content – particularly in the bass parts. The saxes then sit between the lower part and the ‘over the top’ cross rhythm while the piano and trumpet play in the 5/4 bar and even stretch away from septuplets. Playing 4 over the 7 16th notes ends up being 20 on 35 which play sound extreme but between players is possible – and dramatic.

The difference between the two ways of looking at it really is held together by the note choices. As I understand it, there is a good chance it cold just turn out to be a 5/4 song with lots of players using septuplets. The note choices I have made for this composition are just things I’ve heard in a loosely atonal way. I understand the principals of atonal and serial music, but haven’t used formal devices for this tune (Princess). I have done some compositions with tone rows and know the shapes of some grandmother chords, and things of that nature. But for this song I started with the rhythm and then started to hum over it once I had internalised it a bit. From the lines that I scat and work out I usually do some tweaking and changing of notes to make it more ‘out’ especially when writing parts for instruments that play at the same time. Like, I might end my scat on an ‘A’ but then decide to change it to a ‘Bb’ in order to make it fit in with another instrument, but then have to change that other instrument’s part as well. It could go on like this, back and forth between all the parts for a long time. Playing the parts on the piano, the lyricism of how I can sing it and the relation of the instruments (in regard to register, rhythm and each other) is always high on the list of priorities.

This is all only about the first little bit of the tune. I also have an over-all structure that I am working with. I don’t know when it’s going to get played or performed because I have a lot of tunes for Lakeside Circus that I want to get through. This music is different to Circus band, even though the players in it would be pretty much the same. I want to start a different project that deals with group improvisation over complex cross rhythms and has really heavy written parts to work from.