Tuesday, June 29, 2010


So I've been out of town and out of touch, still am, really. Not playing, obviously, and thinking about music not much at all. I did start reading The Perfect Wrong Note, a book my wife got in exchange for a book by Victor Wooten. It actually speaks quite well to the issues I had and have, and talks about the problems with classical training, particularly for the educated, "book-smart", overachiever type. Like me. So far, though, I'm not sure my approach bears much relation to his ideas. Breaking things down, trying to analyze intellectually everything, figuring that I can add some kind of life or musicianship later, after the notes are down... Not possible, says he. Vitality and life from day one, holistic, right-brained, accepting and enjoying, like the three-year old learner. Victor Wooten's ideas are not so different. And there have been, of course, a long stream of similar advice, of which the first I read was The Inner Game of Tennis. How useful this will be to the bassoon operator remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Louchez 6

I want to finish learning and recording the Louchez's, they aren't that hard. This one is #6, which I actually had a nice take of a few days ago, but Voice Memo app ate it. Claimed it was recorded, but wouldn't play it back, and after syncing, it was gone. Oh well, a chance to try again. This time recorded onto my laptop, and with a different mic than I've tried before. This is an AT802 dynamic omni mic, bought by my dad many years ago, and was apparently a pretty good mic back then.

Louchez 6 by TFox17

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wandering star

So if I want to try live looping, the easiest way to do it is to rip off somebody else. With that goal in mind, I'm going to try to do a transcription of Kid Beyond's cover (and another) of Portishead's Wandering Star (and another, all links to the videos I'm working from). So far I've worked out it's in B minor, which has the affect "the key of patience, of calm awaiting ones's fate and of submission to divine dispensation", or alternatively, spacey 90's emo. Kid Beyond puts it in C# minor, "Penitential lamentation, intimate conversation with God, the friend and help-meet of life; sighs of disappointed friendship and love lie in its radius." Only better one would be F# minor or D# minor; 19th century Romantics could be pretty emo too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lesson #1

So I've started taking regular lessons. My goals are to clean up my technique, and advance my bassoon playing skills in a more general way. I have other goals too, like the live looping I've linked here occasionally, and learning enough harmony etc that I can keep up around my house. M is not fond of playing note police, felt he spent maybe too much of his education being policed, and doesn't enjoy that aspect of teaching. That's fine by me: I'm pretty good at being self-critical, perhaps too much so, so I just better show up with the notes prepared. He enjoys working on phrasing, and is good at it.

We spent awhile talking about what I wanted, and could do. For performance opportunities, he mentioned an oboe friend who runs student recitals, which he sometimes crashes. Royal Conservatory exams is another possibility. This is quite a bit of work, you have to have a lot of pieces prepared all at once, but some do it. Some adults also participate in Kiwanis. And next year's Bassoon Bash of course.

After discussing what I was after, I played Louchez 5, which I have worked up. The notes were fine. We then spent 20 minutes or so working on the first couple of lines. There's a lot of concepts that I simply don't have, all in the area of phrasing; how much how hard when, based on what the music is doing harmonically at that point, tension and resolution. My head was swimming after awhile, with overlaid structures of louder/softer, emphasis and crescendo, leaving me confused as to exactly how loud I was supposed to be at each note when. All good, though; this is what I'm paying him for. I came home after my Moose lesson with substantially improved sound.

My marching orders:
o Scales and arpeggios to warm up. 16th notes, w/ metronome, C, F, and G. Scales must be automatic, so do same ones daily. Don't need to do it more than once. This is in contrast to my previous practice of tons of long tones/intervals etc, all done slow then fast.
o Milde scale exercises. We'll start at the beginning, and go through.
o Solo repertoire. Mozart, for reasons I'll go into later. And we picked the Elgar Romance, as a melodic piece to work on, which will contrast with the more technical Mozart. Other ones suggested that looked interesting to me was particularly the Villa-Lobos, a Vivaldi Sonata (in C?), Besozotti, a Faure, and... can't remember them all. There's time, there will be others.

Fair bit of stuff, really. For next week, I'll try and prep the first two Milde's (C scales and arpeggios), and the notes of Elgar. I've been working on memorizing Mozart, and I guess I might have to play that too. We'll see. But I want to try and keep it simple, for the moment. With etudes, tone, and reeds, I have lots to do. And I'd like it to be clean, as clean as I can. That's the anal perfectionist in me. That aspect clashes very badly with my basic laziness and fickle interests, not to mention the free and improvisational ideals, but hey, it's part of me too. Plus trying to keep make progress on making reeds, plus my job, family, rest of my life...

Reed: G5. Worked great, really, no complaints.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

More materials for reeds and bocals

I previously wrote about a successful synthetic clarinet reed, based on a anisotropic polymer. They aren't the only one, Fiberreed is another, based on what they call a "Hollow Fiber Foamresin Compound", a composite of hollow fibers encased in foam to provide an appropriate balance of lateral and longitudinal stiffness. Sounds plausible. Some of their models incorporate carbon fiber, which interests me, since carbon fiber is one of the strongest and stiffest materials, and dominates a lot of applications. In addition to the usual benefits of artificial materials (no water absorption, longevity) Fiberreed promises reproducibility, and will custom adjust a new reed to match your favorite reed of any type, and then sell you a new copy anytime you want. Like Legere, Fiberreed is single reed only, which I'd guess reflects partly manufacturing simplicity, and partly market size -- there's a lot of sax players out there. Fibracell is another maker, again with a fiber composite, this one with Kevlar and resin, and there are likely more besides.

Bocals are also heavily affected by material, with makers offering a wide range of metal mixes and thicknesses, in addition to lengths and bore variations. (Heckel lists ~6000 stock combinations, even before you start asking about something custom.) Unfortunately, even the best makers seem to suffer wide variability among nominally identical bocals, so the usual advice is to try many, and try them blind as to maker and model. Other materials used include wood, from Paraschos, which seems to make everything out of wood (even clarinet ligatures!). As for carbon fiber, you can buy carbon fiber sax necks from Zen Composites, and Leonardo Fuks has made at least one carbon fiber prototype bocal, shown here. Hard to tell much about how well it works from that short clip, though.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Tried to learn a little about harmony, and got distracted by math again. Maybe if I wrote some down I could stop going in circles (nyuk nyuk).

Let's talk notes and their relationships. Consider the twelve even tempered tones of the western scale, from C up to D#, ignoring what octave they are in. (In math language, I'd say we are identifying pitches separated by an octave; WP says they are now a pitch class, and that I'm now talking about what a psycho-acoustics person might call chroma rather than note. Musically, we're just ignoring the inversions, to keep things simpler for now.) We can arrange these notes around a circle in two ways: with adjacent notes separated by a semitone, ie the chromatic circle, or separated by a fifth, in the circle of fifths. If you take steps around the notes by semitones or fifths, you end up back where you started after twelve steps. In math language, we can say that these notes, and the intervals connecting them, are isomorphic to addition modulo 12, and that the notes form a cyclic group. The semitone and the fifth can each be considered generators of the group, ie a step that will take us all the way around. Their inverses are the reverse steps, which for the semitone we can call -1 (if a semitone is +1) or equivalently +11 (these are the same, modulo 12, just like a major 7th up and a half step down take you to the same note, ignoring the octave). The inverse of a fifth is a fourth, ie a fifth up = +7 semitones is cancelled by a fourth up = +5 semitones = -7. These are the only generators of the whole group, which for complicated reasons Wikipedia wants to call Z/12Z, or maybe C12. What happens if you try iterating one of the other intervals?

Well, the whole group is cyclic, so you're going to get something cyclic, it just won't be the whole group. We can call what you do get a subgroup. For example, a minor 3rd = 3 generates the following group starting from 0: 0, 3, 6, 9; which is a dim7 chord, the tetrad consisting of only minor 3rds. This subgroup is C4. Musically, we have three of these depending on which note you begin on. The other intervals also generate subgroups: C6, the whole tone scale, generated by a whole step; there are two of these; C3, the augmented triad generated by a major 3rd, there are four of these, and C2, the tritone dyad generated by the tritone; there are six of these. And that's it: that's all the patterns we can make by fixed step sizes among the twelve tones.