Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Are You Really Listening To?

I've been reading some of Lydia Goehr's books recently. Here most well known one is The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, An Essay in the Philosophy of Music. After reading that I started The Quest for Voice. Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy. I have almost finished this one. I wish I was a faster reader.
In the Museum Goehr discusses the concept of a "work": how it emerged and came to regulate the production and performance of music in the Western Art music tradition. I'm not even going to try to relay all she covers in the book, but after reading it I felt like I was able to better understand how 'classical' music exists in the terms it does. Beethoven is used as the exemplar in this study.
In Quest, at least so far as I have read, Goehr explores the battle between formalism and transcendentalism. One of the backdrops for this exploration in the idea that music is essentially a social/political activity. From my limited reading this idea stems from Adorno. My understanding of this (please correct me if I'm off) is that music is created at a time and in a place that is unique. It reflects social and political concerns. Music changes through dialectical evolution (Geohr uses the term "doubleness"), i.e. it takes parts of various ideologies and combines them in such a way as to produce new music that is the another step forward in a continuing tradition. Beethoven is used as the exemplar in this study.
All of this has got me thinking about how we listen to music. Being an improviser who's main point of reference in the jazz tradition, do I share the opinion that what I create is part of a dialectical evolution? It seems to me that Jazz is most often taught in this way. i.e. learn the tradition and out of that we'll find our own thing.
But that's not really my main concern. My main concern is this idea of a regulative concept. While in the jazz tradition the 'work' concept is not regulative in the same way it is in the 'classical' tradition. I think there is something that is similar.
So, with that in mind, have a listen to the following clips and think about who it is you are listening to.....

3-01 Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 I. Allegro con brio

01 Aria

03 Moose the Mooche

01 Looking In Retrospective


Chances are you heard Beethoven in the first clip. That seems to be the most likely response.

What about the second? Did you hear Bach? Did you hear Glenn Gould? Who is it that is coming out of your speakers? Does the 'work' travel through time and maintain its identity that whole way? Or is Gould indispensable in his role as performer? Is it Gould you are listening to because without him, you wouldn't be hearing Bach. The matter becomes complicated further if you're at all familiar with this piece, or indeed Bach's keyboard writing and generally accepted performance practices. Gould is eccentric, to say the least. Given this, are we also hearing the music in relation to what is also negates?

And the third? Most people would say that they aren't listening to Gershwin. Instead, they might say they are listening to Charlie Parker. But aren't they also hearing Lester Young? On one hand in terms of the profound influence he had on Parker, but also in terms of what Parker developed as an evolution of the music? It doesn't stop there: we are also listening to the other members of the ensemble, who are all playing in a way that is functionally creative. Each member also brings with him a tradition, in terms of the musician and in terms of the instrument. There is balance of 'old' and 'new.' One of the questions that pops up at this point is, "If I don't know about the background of a person, or a piece, do I hear those things that are being developed upon and/or negated?" Perhaps this a reason why Adorno always stated audiences should be educated; in order to 'unlock' the mysteries of the music.

By the time we get to the fourth one, matters become extremely complicated. Not only are we hearing everyone with in terms of what I discussed above, but we are also hearing a composer play his own work. We hear others play his work while he is present, indeed, involved with them in the performance. Take for example a moment where someone other than the pianist (who is also the composer of the piece) is soloing. Not only are we hearing everyone with in terms of what I discussed above, but we are also hearing a composer play his own work. This music was also made quite recently, given that, are we also hearing the extraordinarily complex pantheon of music in the 20th century that has enabled these people to make music this way? Maybe a better question is, why do there people do things are certain way.

In Jazz and improvised music, it seems, there are regulative concepts that exist that allow others to formulate a judgement about the said performance. Whenever we come to make music, we are bringing with us a set of limits as to what we want to hear. Some may immediately point to 'avant-garde' movements in music. As long as those movements define themselves in terms of negation, i.e. rebellion, they is a regulative concept in place.

Now I am in no way saying that these are bad things, these regulative concepts. To imply that music could exist without them is idealist. I just think that, given the complex times we live in regarding contemporary music making and its connection to place, time and people, it's worth being aware of what these things are, and how they exist in our creative lives. By becoming more aware of these things I hope to be better in touch with what really matters to me in music, because I have a feeling making music is not about fulfilling the regulative concepts I bring to the table.

Just for fun, here are some more clips for you to ponder.....

05 Round About Midnight 1

04 Everything I Love

02 The Healer

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Recital Program notes

As part of my masters program at V.C.A.M. I will give a 45 minute recital on December 2nd at 6.30pm, at Federation Hall, Melbourne.
Unfortunately I cannot exceed my word limit of 1000 for my program notes. Hence I am publishing the 'extended version' here. Enjoy!


Marc Hannaford - piano

Scott Tinkler – trumpet

James McLean – drums

* * * * *


90+ - Elliott Carter

Anda Two {trio version} – Hannaford

More (than Nothing than Ever Before) – Hannaford

Rumination - Hannaford

Anda Two {solo version} – Hannaford

90+ {modelised version} – Carter/Hannaford

To do, having learned, is an intellectual prejudice. To learn, having done, is an absurdity. What is real is the synchronism of to learn while doing and to do while learning.”[1]

Jankelevitch’s perceptive passage regarding improvisation demonstrates the circular nature of this art form. Our own artistic development relies on the synchronised interplay between ‘doing’ and ‘learning.’

By coming into contact and beginning to play with Australian improvisers Scott Tinkler, John Rodgers, Ken Edie and Elliott Dalgleish, I realised my “doing” was not sufficiently developed to have what I felt were meaningful music discourses with them.

In 2006 I was introduced to the musical language of American composer Elliott Carter (b. 1909). Firstly, I feel that my analysis and implementation of many of Carter’s compositional techniques has allowed me to develop a musical language whereby I can improvise with these people with probity and conviction.

Secondly and more recently, Carter’s rhythmic language as used in 90+[2] and Two Diversions[3] has led me to create frameworks for improvisation that are dually related to the notion of form in the jazz tradition and the notion of structural polyrhythm in Carter’s music. Thirdly, using some of Carter’s scores as a reference, the variety of ways these rhythmic frameworks may be realised in a performance in relation to the traditional roles of those instruments in an ensemble (particularly in relation to the jazz tradition) has led me to question, re-evaluate and develop my own attitudes to ensemble playing.

The structural basis of Anda Two (Marc Hannaford) is the juxtaposition of two polyrhythmic pulsation streams. The pulsations are at intervals nineteen and twenty-three semi-quavers, respectively. This composition grew out of my investigation of mid-range polyrhythms in Elliott Carter’s music and his choice to often avoid prime numbers in the generation of polyrhythmic streams. It is interesting to me that, while non-prime numbers provide a greater number of discrete realisations of a single polyrhythm in terms of simultaneous primary pulsation (what most people would call ‘the beat’) division and grouping, polyrhythmic streams containing prime numbers have only one realisation; that is, each polyrhythmic stream is generated by grouping a common primary pulsation division. The coincidences of these polyrhythmic pulsation streams provide the beginning and end of the form on which to opening melody and subsequent improvisation is performed.

In this program, this piece is presented twice, once for solo piano and once for trumpet/drum kit/piano trio. The reason for this double-presentation is two-fold. Firstly, I hope it will give the listener a chance, if they so desire, to hear the rhythmic framework of the composition. In my experience as a listener, hearing multiple realisations of the same work may result in the active listener perceiving common motifs. In this case that motif is the underlying rhythmic framework mentioned above. Secondly, each realisation presents challenges in term of improvising what, in the musicological terminology used to analyse Carter’s rhythmic language, is called the surface rhythm. While there is some continuity between the challenges in solo and group realisations, the different orchestrations of what is essentially a similar musical vocabulary result, in my experience, in unique challenges. Playing solo allows the performer to make all choices regarding musical material, but burdens them with the responsibility of being the sole maintainer of the larger rhythmic structure, resulting in the need to balance improvisatory freedom with compositional structure at a high level. This is a theme I will return to in this essay at a latter stage. The trio realisation presents challenges that also balance freedom and structure; whilst some trio members may maintain the large rhythmic framework others are able to improvise without the inhibition of the possibility of losing track of where in the framework they are, but also means that individual’s improvisations may introduce unexpected materials, possibly resulting in the other member’s disorientation regarding the improvisatory framework. This problem has been ‘solved’ in my research by developing the materials for improvisation as a group in rehearsal, ensuring a kind of clarity improvisation that allows for more improvisatory freedom.

90+ (Carter) is built around a stream of ninety, evenly spaced polyrhythmic pulsations. This stream provides a structural framework around which shorter polyrhythms and surface rhythms of various speeds are composed. A great variety of character and speed is achieved by the use of metric modulation, which alters the speed of the primary pulsation whilst maintaining the polyrhythmic pulsations at a constant speed of 18 b.p.m. . Carter’s magnum opus in this vein is Night Fantasies written in 1980. Using a systemised approach to rhythm and harmony, Carter creates a ‘series of continuously changing moods’ that ‘capture the fanciful, changeable quality of our inner life at a time when it is not dominated by strong directive intentions or desires – to capture the poetic moodiness that, in an earlier romantic context, I enjoy in works of Robert Schumann like Kreisleriana, Carnaval, and Davids-bündlertänze.”[4] 90+ is demonstrative of the trend in much of Carter’s later music being less systemised than the works composed around the time of Night Fantasies. However 90+ maintains the sense of interplay between foreground and background: “Its foundation is rigorous and regular; its musical surface is improvisatory and changeable.”[5]

This sense of the musical surface being improvisatory in character creates an obvious connection with my own study of improvisation. Indeed, one main challenge in my performance-lead research has been the aural assimilation of the local polyrhythms and surface rhythms Carter composes.

What may not be so obvious, given Carter’s obvious rigor in constructing compositional frameworks and developing a harmonic language, is his connection to a time in western art music when improvisation was still considered a valid form of artistic expression.

The polyrhythmic streams Carter generates in his works are orchestrated in such a way as to emphasise polyphonic texture; multiple voices sounding simultaneously that develop linearly.

This reference has been extremely useful in my analysis of Carter’s works. Roeder used this technique to analyse the rhythmic streams of Schoenberg’s music.[6] In his paper, Roeder is able to parse Schoenberg’s music into rhythmic parts and offer an analysis, in terms of pulsation streams, of each. "Pulse streams are considered to be distinct continuities, not levels or groupings of each other, so this approach does not involve meter in the exclusive and hierarchical . . . Rather, it analyses an irregular surface as the sum of several concurrent regular continuities . . ."[7] The only difference in applying this method to Carter’s music is that the pulsation streams become polyrhythmic, whereas in Schoenberg’s they generally are not.[8] Roeder’s comments are perceptive and useful in understanding the role this rhythmic structures play in this music: “In music that deemphasizes traditional harmonic or linear processes these pulse streams may integrate the accents of local rhythmic figures synergistically into compelling large-scale continuities. The nature and the interactions of these continuities -the synchronization of pulse streams and rhythmic motives relative to each other-create rhythmic form in the music."[9]

My program contains 90+ in its fully notated version, as well as a modelised version. In discussing the multiple realisations of a single piece of music in the central African music tradition, Simha Arom states: “While the score of a work of cultured music is the link between the abstract thought of the composer and its materialisation, the score of music from an aural tradition is the link between living musical reality and an abstraction of it. In both cases, the score links a message with a code, but in one, its purpose is the reproduction of the message from the code, while in the other, it is the discovery of the code through a study of the message or set of messages; and after the code has been determined, the score remains indispensable for showing the relationships between the code and the multiplicity of messages it is capable of engendering. In most music from aural traditions . . . there is no definitive text. Two performances of a given piece will differ, often considerably, even though the users treat them as identical. There is a text, but not a univocal one."[10] A modelised score represents this underlying “code” and can be used to generate multiple realisations of the same piece. The modelised score of 90+ contains only the ninety evenly spaced polyrhythmic pulsations that form the structural foundation for Carter’s improvisatory surface rhythm and local polyrhythms. For my realisation of the modelised version of 90+ I will improvise this surface and local polyrhythmic activity while maintain the ninety polyrhythmic pulsations. While Carter may not be easily linked with the music of central Africa, the connection between Jazz and African music is well known and documented. My connection to both the Jazz and western art music traditions facilitates this exchange, then, as I am able to use the ethnomusicological approach to analysing central African music to relate to Elliott Carter’s music through improvisation.

More (than nothing than ever before) (Marc Hannaford) is an exploration of local polyrhythmic materials used in Carter’s Two Diversions.[11] The various polyrhythms composed for the piano and drum kit intersect sparingly, roughly once every few bars, and consist of orchestrations of polyrhythms at various speeds, using a common primary pulsation division. The trumpet melody weaves through these two parts, remaining linked to them through a common primary pulsation, but utilising different and changing primary pulsation division so that it never coincides with either of the parts. The form on which the group improvises is a simplification of this idea, using a series of pulsations that gradually speed up and slow down in relation to the primary pulsation. Carter uses this notion of polyrhythmic speed in constructing each of the two voices in Two Diversions. In movement one, one voicing maintains a regular speed while the other articulates various polyrhythmic speeds around it (much like 90+) The opening of the second movement presents two polyrhythmic streams that are similar in speed. As the piece progresses one gradually speeds up while the other gradually slows down.

While at first glance Elliott Carter may not appear to have very much to do with the broader concept of developing an approach to playing Australian contemporary improvised music, closer inspection reveals some interesting philosophical links. While it is not at all my aim to imply that the American composer’s (whatever that may mean) socio-economic landscape at that time is the same (or even similar) to my own, I do feel that, in surveying Carter’s examination of the challenges he faced (faces?) in finding his own artistic identity, I may use some of the issues Carter raises to answer questions I have of my own situation.

Carter, in discussing the American composers’ landscape circa 1961 makes three particularly interesting statements:

“Paralleling the experiences of many Europeans, Americans have recently come to feel that this musical heritage does not furnish answers to many important new questions, necessitating a search for new answers outside the traditional approach."[12]

The “traditional approach” Carter mentions here is referring to the pedagogical/historical continuum of the European art music tradition.

"On the other hand, in large part because of the heterogeneous character of their country's heritage, American composers over the past fifty years have studied one European school of composition after another with great care, in their desire to express themselves truly and effectively. As a result, there can be no simply defined American tradition or style, and it is entirely possible that there never will be one."[13]

"To an American musician, the post-War European trends seem to have been directed toward the disintegration of the routines and formulae that characterised the highly accomplished techniques of all previous, great European composers. To us, this appears to have been undertaken in a spirit that is very thoroughgoing, even to the point of denying the fundamental reasons traditionally put forth for writing music. A definite break with the past on every level seemed urgent to the younger European composers."[14]

Each of these statements demonstrates a different aspect of the challenge Carter felt was facing him at this time. Seeing a generation of European composers develop personal approaches to music making that, through careful study of tradition, were able to question the role fundamental compositional techniques such as tonal harmony and rhythm played in creating ‘new’ music, perhaps Carter realised he too had to question the traditional approaches to music making so that he might develop a music that, while informed by tradition, was reflective of their unique cultural and geographic situation.

Faced with the established tradition of American Jazz that is itself embedded in the complex socio-economic-political framework that is North America, many Australian improvisers, in my experience, look for a way to adapt this language to reflect their own cultural and geographic situation. In light of this, and reflecting back to my first encounters with Scott Tinkler, John Rodgers, Ken Edie and Elliott Dalgleish, I can now infer that the solution I sought was not only related to my want to creating music with these people, as I described above, but was also part of a larger concern to develop an artistic voice, that, while informed by tradition(s), was my own. Indeed, it was this very process my mentors has gone through in their own lives.

In light of this is it is only natural that I should turn to traditional jazz forms as part of the process of assimilating Carter’s rhythmic materials. Lennie Tristano (b. 1919) provides an interesting case study in this respect. Firstly, he would often record standard jazz repertoire without stating the primary melody, instead using the underlying harmonic form as a point of departure for his own improvisations. This process is not unlike the ‘modelised score’ concept expounded by Arom above. Secondly, Tristano was keenly interested in developing rhythmic variety in his improvisations. The recording I am drawing on: Deliberation[15] demonstrates both of these concerns. It is based on the traditional jazz standard Indiana. While it was common practice for be-bop era musicians to compose new melodies on existing chord changes (Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm being adapted by Parker to form Anthropology, for example), Tristano’s realisation of this chord progression is improvisatory. Tristano creates rhythmic tension mainly via displacement; effectively he conceals the traditional points of emphasis (the start of the bar, major points in the form) for extended periods. My performance, Rumination, places the same harmonic form in the time-signature 7/4, and draws upon the local polyrhythmic language of Carter to create oblique gestures over the form.

* * * * *

“The musical universe, not signifying any particular meaning, is first of all the antipode to any coherent system. The philosopher who reflects upon the world aspires at the very least to coherence in attempting to resolve contradictions, reduce the irreducible, to integrate the necessary evils of duality and plurality. Music ignores such concerns since it does not have ideas to line up logically with one another. Harmony itself is less the rational synthesis of opposites than the irrational symbiosis of the heterogeneous. Is it not harmony that, in Plato, causes contradictory virtues to reconcile and agree among themselves? The experienced simultaneity of opposites is the daily regime, incomprehensible as it might be, of a life full of music.”[16]

The notion of contrast in music is not a new one. Although Plato saw music as a danger to the level-mindedness of man, it harkens back to his notion of an object/body split[17]. It’s realisations in music are well known: melody/harmony, content/form and text/music, to name a few. Jankelevitch, however, sees this notion of contrast as the very thing that gives music its charm. It is the thing that results in the ineffability of music; music reconciles elements that would seem irreconcilable. Jankelevitch gives the example of polyphony as the only instance where multiple melodies can he heard simultaneously, on more or less equal footing. This notion of polyphony, then, brings us back to Carter, and in the case of my program, the notion of interplay between the contrasting elements of structure and improvisation. While this is a commonly excepted paradigm in the musical world, these two terms are not mutually exclusive, especially for someone, like myself, who pursuing developing a language for improvisation through structured concepts like those in Carter’s music.

My process of coming to terms with a new (for me) language for improvisation that is based on Carter’s rhythmic language has been via a gradual building up, in complexity, of rhythmic vocabulary. Starting with the very basic ideas of primary pulsation, primary pulsation division and grouping, and utilising a strict methodology involving the exploration any number of combinations of these factors, I have gained an intuitional aural understanding of enough of Carter’s rhythmic language to improvise using it as a basis. The challenge has then become to maintain this language while also adding a ‘higher’ level of rhythmic structure, so that the improvisation may still develop organically (from the creators point of view) whilst also having some reference (Carter’s scores were used in this regard) to the overarching, form-giving rhythmic structures. This method of mixing the improvised with the structured, or, as is becoming more apparent in these notes, the mixing of various kinds of structure, is exemplified not only in this recital, but is currently my mode of considering all of the performing I do, no matter what the points of reference are (Jazz, Carter, etc.). This technique of building from the ‘bottom, up’ is in stark contrast to the musicological way of analysing Carter’s large scale rhythmic structures, which, citing the idea that the meaning of music is not contained in it’s details, takes the largest structures first (in the case of Carter, structural polyrhythm and the length, in time, of the work), and, using mathematical calculations, derives the notation for the smaller structures. This method, although a valid method for analysis, is practically useless for anyone wishing to adopt Carter’s rhythmic language to use in a creative way. As Hofstadter demonstrates in his investigation into intelligence and creativity in ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach’[18], building a complex model up from smaller, cellular ideas is not only an effective methodology in teaching and learning, but also mirrors the model we have of intelligence itself.

My notion of interplay between structure and improvisation, therefore, is one that is not only natural and engaging in the realm of music (Jankelevitch may even say that this is how I might give meaning to my music), but is also in line with a greater notion of what intelligence is.

In conclusion, I am not under the impression that any of this information in my notes conveys the meaning of any of the music contained in my program. Jankelevitch states in his book that it is impossible for the performer to convey any particular meaning to his audience, but that it may mean anything to anyone. It is an open system, “not signifying any particular meaning ”[19] and therefore, according to Jankelevitch, ineffable. Similarly, I believe, Carter is saying something similar when he talks of the composer: "What he is aiming at, after all, is a whole in which all the technical workings are interdependent and combine to produce the kind of artistic experience that gives a work its validity and in so doing makes all its procedures relevant."[20] While I am concerned with details in the sense of using them to develop a language, in the end, the ‘meaning’ or any piece of music can only be determined on an individual basis.

[1] Vladimir Jankelevitch, Music and the Ineffable (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003), 28-29.

[2] Elliott Carter, 90+ (New York: Hendon Music, Inc., Boosey and Hawkes, 1994).

[3] ———, Two Diversions for Solo Piano (New York: Hendon Music, Inc., Boosey and Hawkes, 2005).

[4] ———, Night Fantasies (Associated Music Publishers Inc., 1980), program notes.

[5] David Schiff, The Music of Elliott Carter, Second ed. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1998), 213.

[6] John Roeder, "Interacting Pulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony," Music Theory Spectrum 16, no. 2 (1994).

[7] Ibid.: 232-33.

[8] Ibid.: 233.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Simha Arom, African Polyphony and Polyrhythm, First ed. (Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1991), 173.

[11] Carter, Two Diversions for Solo Piano.

[12] Elliott Carter, Collected Essays and Lectures, 1937-1995, ed. W. Jonathan Bernard (Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 1997), 63.

[13] Ibid., 66.

[14] Ibid., 70.

[15] Lennie Tristano, The New Tristano (Atlantic/Wea, 1956).

[16] Jankelevitch, Music and the Ineffable, 18.

[17] Richard Kraut, "Plato," in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University 2009).

[18] Douglas R Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic Books, 1999).

[19] Jankelevitch, Music and the Ineffable, 18.

[20] Carter, Collected Essays and Lectures, 1937-1995, 214.


Arom, Simha. African Polyphony and Polyrhythm. First ed. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1991.

Carter, Elliott. 90+. New York: Hendon Music, Inc., Boosey and Hawkes, 1994.

———. Collected Essays and Lectures, 1937-1995. Edited by W. Jonathan Bernard. Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 1997.

———. Night Fantasies: Associated Music Publishers Inc., 1980.

———. Two Diversions for Solo Piano. New York: Hendon Music, Inc., Boosey and Hawkes, 2005.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid: Basic Books, 1999.

Jankelevitch, Vladimir. Music and the Ineffable. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Kraut, Richard. "Plato." In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University 2009.

Roeder, John. "Interacting Pulse Streams in Schoenberg's Atonal Polyphony." Music Theory Spectrum 16, no. 2 (1994): 231-49.

Schiff, David. The Music of Elliott Carter. Second ed. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Tristano, Lennie. The New Tristano: Atlantic/Wea, 1956.