As of writing this post I am nearly halfway through a Kickstarter project to fund my debut album as jazz composer/bandleader. One of the reward levels is “Composer Package” where “I’d love to share with you PDF scores of each of the compositions and arrangements that appear on the album, as well as some notes on the my process and the theoretical underpinnings of each tune.”
I want to give a good example of this so that more of you might be excited to pledge at this level. Thus, I am offering up, for free, the first two pages of one of my songs, “The Miraverse” as well as a draft of my notes on how I wrote it.
Here is the preview score
If you want to listen to the music and follow along in the score, here is a video of me performing the song live
And now, the analysis
The genesis of this song, and the place from which it takes its name is Manifold Recording, a beautiful recording studio in Pittsboro, NC, whose proprietor, Michael Tiemann, espouses a concept of recording music that redefines the relationship between the listener/participant(s) and the composer(s) and musician(s). He calls this concept The Miraverse, and elaborates on what he means here.
Because The Beast had previously worked with Manifold’s Chief Engineer, Ian Schreir, I was lucky enough to get a call from him in the very early days, to put together a jazz ensemble so that he could run a test recording session before opening the studio for business. After that session, I started writing this tune.
The space itself is gorgeous – you can see pictures and videos on the website. Not just visually gorgeous, but more importantly acoustically gorgeous. Architect Wes Lachot used motifs of triangles, parallelograms, hexagons across every aspect of the facility. From Wes’ website:
Manifold “embodies and exemplifies the principles of Organic Architecture, wherein every part is integrally related to the whole, and the whole is in turn related to every part, so that nothing essential is missing, and nothing is included that is not essential. It is a type of fractal Architecture that reveals its truths at multiple scales simultaneously.”
I wanted to write a song where the entire composition organically grew from a few motifs, and also where each part joined together a la ‘fractal architecture.’
As a nod to the lack of right angles at Manifold, I chose to avoid duple time signatures (4/4, 2/4) and rely on my trusty, lopsided friend, 7/4 (or 7/8).
The entire song, from 2 measures of music
The song begins with piano, where the right hand and left hand are each playing a syncopated ostinato pattern.
The right hand rhythm is pretty close to the Brazilian bossa nova comping pattern, modified for a bar of 7 instead of two bars of 4.
The left hand part doesn’t directly complement the right hand part. In fact, the beats that it emphasizes sometimes conflicts with the syncopation of the right hand part. I want you to feel a little uncomfortable. Like when you are listening to a phase minimalist piece by Steve Reich and each of the parts sort of fit together, but not in a way that you are used to from popular music.
Every time the top of a measure of 7 comes around it’s like the needle on a record skipping a beat; each of these two parts lurches and resets itself to the beginning. You want to tap your foot on 1 and 3, hoping for a slow funky groove, but you never quite get it.
The piano is the instrument on which I am trained to perform, but the way I write at the piano and play in my group, I think orchestrally, like each of my fingers is a member of a symphony.
Next to enter is the acoustic bass. Usually the role of the bass is to anchor the band both harmonically and rhythmically. That tends to mean outlining the strong beats of a measure, providing something that people can dance to. This bass line offers no such repose. It is sparse (only two or four notes in an entire measure) and highly syncopated (does not help outline the downbeat). The final bass note lines up with a right hand piano chord, but not a very important one.
The only saving grace in all of this, the only Elmer’s Glue holding the entire house together, is that the drums have a very simple part – snare cross stick on every quarter note downbeat, hi-hat on every eighth note. But neither is the drum part funky – there are no accents. It’s almost as if the drummer is the metronome and the piano and bass are what provide some sense of ‘groove.’ The exception is that the drummer’s kick drum doubles the bass part – a flip of what the kick drum usually does (play downbeats then snare play upbeats).
So, now we have this intricate groove with four parts (piano RH, piano LH, bass, drum-metronome) chugging along. I like the uncomfortable feeling but I also strive for balance in my music. I’ll always remember a composition workshop I went to at IAJE where one of the composers talked about how she liked to hold some parameters constant while modulating others. “The Miraverse” plays with syncopated surface rhythm, so I opt for a much slower harmonic rhythm (chord changes only every two measures), and a saxophone melody that, if you look closely, is merely a re-ordering of the seven pitches of the diatonic scale (dorian mode).
Deriving the rest of the harmony and melody from those first two bars
…will have to wait until after this Kickstarter project is successful and you opt for the Composer Package reward level or above :)