I've flashed on a fun and I think new approach to scalar playing
today, goofing |
around with this Toy Water Trumpet that I just bought (see previous post).
I think it will make more sense if I explain the history of where I'm coming
from, aesthetically, before I describe it.
In retrospect, I realize it's a bit wordy but I enjoyed reminiscing to write it.
Just skip down to 'Constrained Random Scale Approach' if you don't feel
like wading through the verbiage and personal aesthetic history.
My knowledge of scales didn't come from a typical western approach. I took formal music lessons and played piano, cello and clarinet
as a child (parentally induced lessons from 5-13 years old) but I had a talented ear for intervals and I could usually remember a melody if
it was played for me so I faked my teachers into thinking I had learned how to read when I , indeed, never had..
I made it all the way to first chair clarinet in my Junior High School using this lazy approach before the gods and goddesses of rock and roll
stole me away (and before I could get my ass kicked by a more sophisticated high school music teacher <smile>)
I fell in love with the drumset (and girls!) at the onset of puberty and later ethnic percussion and that was the end of melody and harmony
for me for many, many years to come.
When sampling and midi began to happen in a reasonably affordable way (re: Radio Shack Casio samplers) I was extremely
excited by it's prospects as I had already developed a great love for exotic drum machine and analogue drum synthesizer sounds
in modern music.
I realized that I could use an Octapad 80 (an 8 note, sophisticated and progammable midi drum stick
controller) as a virtual modal log drum. I then began to learn tons of world music scales in earnest and began progamming
them into my beloved AKAI S950 (the last great 12 bit sampler and the first good one I was ever able to afford) and I realized that
I tended naturally to like modal and scalar kinds of music (re: ethnic music) far more than more complex western harmonic
approaches to melody and harmony. Like an African Baliphone, there were no wrong notes on it. I liked this!
When I finally bought my first Lexicon Jamman in '95, suddenly, I realized that it would be efficacious to start learning
monophonic and chordally based instruments (and found sounds) just so that I could start very modestly adding more interesting melodic
and timbral elements to my mostly percussive based loops...........that led me to begin to try and understand fretted, blown
and hammered instruments and the ways they used scales.
Then I got bored with my limited knowledge of modal and scalar approaches and I began to learn modern harmony in a more formal way to
try and extract more interesting results from my modest little melodic excursions.
Anway, this led me, by way of fretless string instruments and bansuri flute, to begin to think of all scales as being alterations
of the common greek modes (just for sheer speed in learning).................and then think of these scales in terms of sets
(5,6,7 and even 8 note scales). Furthermore, I began to notice that most scales tended to have certain key notes in them
that usually (but certainly not always) reflected the physics of music, like the 5th (2nd harmonic) and some kind of 3rd (again,
not always). I also noticed that it would be the 'weaker' notes in the scale would be the ones that would be altered
by half or even quarter tones (like in the Maqams of the Arabic world).
As an example of this approach, a pentatonic scale like the Indian rag MADHU KAUNS (1 b3 #4 5 b7) taught to me by Deepak Ram, the bansuri flute master
I would think of as being a Dorian mode with a sharp 4 and minus the 2nd and 6th degrees.
At the same time during this process of learning, however, I had also been interested in found scales and microtonal scales
really fascillitated by live looping where I could play a random set of pots and pans as a metallaphone .............all things constrained by whatever
the 'instrument' I was playing gave me.
All of this led me to yesterday's experiments with the Toy Water Trumpet.
'Constrained Random Scale Approach'
Thinking along these lines I filled the Water Trumpet (by merely holding it under the water and letting the stream go into the individual chambers).
and Then I randomly drained two of the chambers completely, leaving myself with a random 'found' scale of three notes.
Then I played them over and over and decided what the other two pitches should be and meticulously injected water into them
(with a cool little tool that allows for accurate tuning using the marks on the side of the instrument) to tune them properly.
By doing this I had truly created a found scale but I had added notes to make it more musical and versatile to my own ear.
Along these lines I realized that one could take a guitar or five string bass and use the same approach to create
a constrained random harp, if you will
I have experimented with randomly tuning four of my six strings on my recently defretted strat, literally tuning the pegs until
tensioned from slack and then marking their location on the guitar. I then play them over and over again until I get a sense
for what the scale is I have stumbled upon. Then I conciously add two more strings in to the tuning to make it a complete
harp and improvise accordingly.
You then play the instrument as a harp and not a fretable guitar................you are forced into this new scale that is
partially out of your concious control and partially in your concious control.
More experiments to come.