Sunday, December 16, 2012

Expandable Form in Music

How much can the organization of the sound change before a piece of music becomes a different piece of music?

Copyright law tells us that we cannot copyright a chord progression. This means that if two people play the same chord progression, they aren’t necessarily playing the same piece of music.

On the other end of this, you can copyright a riff or melody line. So, if you change that riff or melody by lengthening all the notes, is it the same piece of music? I’m sure many will say “yes”.

Let’s take it a step further. What if you were to not only lengthen the time it takes to play the melody or riff  by slowing the tempo, but then you shortened the length of each note and inserted another riff or melody (in the same timbre and range as the original) in all of the empty space. Is this still the same piece of music? I’m sure there would be a very differing answer to this depending on the example used (and the determination of the person trying to defend their intellectual property in the court of law...).

In the first post on this blog I shared two pieces of music. The first was a studio recording of several electric guitar riffs looping out of sync with each other in order to create phase between the timing of the riffs (like the timing phase between car blinkers in a line at a stop light). In the second example, I performed live and looped those same riffs, and then improvised and explored different sounds and sections inspired by the original idea.

In the time since that improvisation, I have come up with a list of sounds, riffs, and formal sections that work really well with the original looping riffs. Making the score for the piece more of an open "to do list".

What I mean by "open" is that since the timing of the loops is not exact (due to the phase effect mentioned above), the entrance and length of each new section starts to matter less as well. Given all of the musical ideas I want to have happen in this piece, the length can get as short as 7 minutes.

Here is a live recording at Studio Z (As performed by Bryan Schumann 11/20/12):

Here is where things get really interesting. Since any of the entrances of any of the riffs or sections can happen at different times, each formal section can also be extended in length since it is really up to the performer to decide when to proceed to the next section. For example, the solo section could go on for a very long time or could be just a few quick lines if desired.

Using the "to do list" method outlined above, I have made a studio recording of Sunday with its form expanded out to just under 11 minutes long.

Pro Tools Session - Sunday - (12-15-12)

So, going back to my original question.  Is the 7 minute-long piece of music the same piece of music as the 11 minute-long piece of music? 

I intend to explore the idea of expandable form in greater detail, and come back with more examples, more questions (I promise), and maybe even a few answers.

Until then, cheers,

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Those Who Make Sound - Part II: All Those Who Contribute

Recently I was given a fantastic experience that really shed some light on the second of the three questions asked in my last post.


Are all those who make sound also making art?

On Friday, Oct. 26th I had the opportunity to improvise 3 hours of ambient music for The Minneapolis Photo Center's Photo Exposure Lotto event. I brought a pocket recorder so I could listen back later.

Shortly after beginning the first set, the room filled up with about 100-120 very noisy patrons who quickly became happily imbibed on flowing spirits and even more noisy.  My initial thought was, "there goes my recording – but no big deal, I’m glad there are people here.” Upon listening back, I found that the sound of the crowd added a really great ambiance and whole new level of interest to the overall sound.


Fading from foreground to background the murmuring crowd blends perfectly with the other parts of the music. When somebody walks near the recorder with loud shoes (good one around 18:58)...the clacking falls perfectly in time (or perfectly out of time) with the other percussion. The bursts of laughter (starting at 16:25) are outstanding contrasts with the otherwise subdued sounds with which I was then filling the room. I can't help but smile when I hear them.

In the first entry in this blog a questions was asked. Are all those who make sound also making art?

My response, although not addressing every instance of sound making, is a response none-the-less: All those who made sound in that room contributed to this piece of improvised art.
Now, is my above statement only true because I am the “creator” of the art and I have the right to say so? Probably. 

Would it be a completely different scenario if the music were not improvised, and the sounds that made their way into the recording where a random cough or sneeze? I think so.

Is it time for another open ended question without an answer? Of course.

If the audience adds enough of their own sounds during a live performance, can the overall output of sound be considered to be a different piece of music?

A special thanks to The Minneapolis Photo Center for having me, Sara Horishnyk for booking me at the event, and Kate Schumann for her amazing trumpet playing.

Until next time,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Those Who Make Sound

I have started this blog for a two main reasons. First, it will act as an open journal for all of the musical happenings in my life and career. Secondly it will serve as a vehicle to explore the philosophy of sound as art as a whole. I will use samples of my current and previous works as part of the discussion, and in doing so, will provide a deeper insight into my creative process.
I’d like to start by posing a few questions that have been on my mind lately:
When does sound become art?
Are all of those who make sound also making art?
Does sound need to be organized, edited, and polished for it to be counted as music?

Every day while living our lives, we all experience a constant barrage of sound:

Our alarm clock, our footsteps, the door, the water running, automobiles in traffic, the radio, a squirrel in the brush, those who say "good morning", the clacking of keyboards, the infinite wealth of music available to be streamed directly into our ear buds...sigh

In the vein of the last question listed above, I actually have another question that if addressed may help provide a little bit of insight. 

Does the time spent editing, refining, and polishing the sound directly correlate to the level of legitimacy of the art?

Here is an original idea. Using multi-track recording on Pro Tools, I tracked the original line on electric guitar, and added additional layers only after refining my performance before each take. 

This track is 3 minutes and 20 seconds long, and took me around 8 hours to complete from start to finish.

Here is the same original idea. This time (about 7 months later) I played the idea into a Loopy HD on my iPad, and developed the idea through live improvisation inspired by the guitar loop. Every sound on this recording was laid down in real time. I was able to instantly record, loop, and mix all the different sounds I felt inspired to make.

This track is 45 minutes and 25 seconds long, and took me around 47 minutes to complete if you count set up time. 

Because of the time I spent methodically assembling the first example, is very clean and precise. I enjoy listening to this piece of music a lot. The second example is not very clean or precise, but has a lot of very interesting moments that probably would not have happened if I had spent as much time redoing all the “bad takes”. I enjoy listening to this piece of music a lot too. 

Again I ask, does sound need to be organized, edited, and polished for it to be counted as music?

Please contribute to the discussion by leaving your comments (in time) directly on the SoundCloud players above.