Phrygia (Hera’s Saga): A new soundscape by the idiosyncratic beats of dejacusse

My dream is to co-create musical soundscapes for dance, theatre, yoga classes and art galleries. I am living this dream as I speak it. Since retiring, I have had the opportunity to create soundscapes for dance and art galleries. My next art gallery soundscape will be performed on August 15th at The Makery in conjunction with photographer Allie Mullin’s show Svadhyaya: Discovering Self Through Asana. I feel very connected to this idea as I have experienced shifts in my physical/emotional/spiritual body from doing yoga asanas.

I began the soundscape as I usually do by ear searching through the Ableton library for some basic sounds for the current project. Percussion and plucked strings came to the forefront, and I began laying down ideas. Several ambient synths made their way in to fill out the opening sonic pallette. Then tempo became a powerful consideration. I began with a languid, trance-like rhythm, perfect for the grounded still place from which asanas are approached. Now there was a need to energetically engage. The beginning tempo was 120 bpm, so I played around with increasing tempos and layering in more parts. For the grooves, I focused on a broad drum kit that contained pretty much every percussion hit one could ask for from samba whistles to four different floor toms to cymbals of various diameters and tonal qualities. Then I added a drum rack that was as small as the first one was large, containing maracas, cymbals, tamborines and agogo bells. These two racks allowed me to work out some lovely groove varieties that can be pulled in at whatever tempo at any given moment.

I got stuck mid-week- caught up in melodic figures feeling too facile, not enough depth for my ear. I am working in E Phrygian mode which makes E the tonic of the primary scale for the piece. In terms of chakra tones the E is related to the heart chakra, which feels very fitting given the theme of Allie’s exhibit. While E Phrygian is a natural minor mode, it can be shifted to a dominant mode by raising the third degree of the scale. So I played around with that for a while. Ableton allows me to play parts into a clip using a midi keyboard or I can insert a clip and draw in the notes where I want them. I can move notes around, change the grid to accommodate note lengths up to 1/32nd. I can adjust rhythmic relationships and even build in a “live” feel by adjusting quantize settings to less than 100%. I once told a friend that Ableton allows me to manipulate the molecules of music!

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Here is a screenshot of my Ableton template so far. The columns on the left are tracks that contain clips. Each track houses a particular instrument voice. Each clip is a phrase that can loop or play once or repeat two, three, however many times I choose. I can set the loop to play for a certain number of measures and then trigger a new behavior. The column on the right is the Master fader and trigger for each scene. The lines across are referred to as “scenes” which are full of melodic/rhythmic statements. The entire piece is divided into 5 sections that get increasingly faster with more complex layers. Sorry the picture isn’t clearer, but it gives you an idea of what I am talking about with using Ableton.

“In C” is influencing my approach to the work as I develop patterns that can be played in unison, or overlapped in counterpoint and still have sonic integrity. This is where things get fun. The melodic instruments I am using are a plucked samisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument), a bass, something called New Age Strings, and, of course, vibes. I LOVE the sound of vibes and I doubt I will ever create a piece without them. I frequently end up crafting a long, conversational melodic line with them; no hook, just a stream of conciousness flow of intervals. I will someday challenge myself to solo for as many measures as I can. For now, the final scene, at 300 bpm, will be the space for the vibe conversation. It will be my Pattern 35.

I am spending this second week of work finding the organizational flow for performing the soundscape. How will I move from one scene to the next? How do the clips overlap rhythmically and sonically as the tempo rises? Today I color coded clips by scene and instrument type. I named some of the rhythmic clips so I would have an idea of the feel of each one. Some of the big drum kit grooves may need some tweaking. I am thinking about moving forward and then backward through the scenes. I want to add in some acoustic sounds like vocalized Sanskrit words and some rattles and bells.

This afternoon I played the piece forward through four tempo changes and then back three. I am really happy with the way the clips all hang together through all the tempo changes. I have some momentary off the beat grooves on high bells that really give a kick at the right moments. The piece ran 37 minutes- I was laughing with Trudie that my soundscapes always seem to come in at about a half hour- the length of my attention span! (Not bad) Anyway, I listened to the whole thing again and got this idea to take a half a dozen hand percussion instruments and invite the folks at the party to “talk” to the soundscape. Anyone who wants can carry one around and just talk back when they notice something in the sound as it unfolds. I think this would be cool.

Here is a sampling of the opening as it is at the moment:

So now I have a satisfactory backup recording to load onto the Ipad- I always like to be ready in case my main computer malfunctions. (Jody Cassell has ingrained in me the need for having backups. It is a smart practice.) And I am feeling very good about this piece being able to extend over a long period of time. The first section ran 8 minutes and it could easily go 20 maybe 30 minutes. The fastest section is short and then I start moving backward through the piece bringing the tempo down. I discovered (for myself; you probably knew this already) that raising the tempo abruptly works most of the time, but lowering it abruptly, not so much. So I will map the tempo adjustment to a knob on my interface so that I can turn it down slowly. This will also allow for a lengthening of the piece.

The name came to me as I sat drinking a spicy tea which warmed me into a lucid dream state. “Hera’s Saga” is an anagram of a special name for someone with whom I have a deep heart connection. Plus Hera was the Goddess of Marriage (particularly fitting in this case) and the reigning female deity of Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek Gods and Goddesses. Sagas are, of course, stories. “Phrygia” refers to the E Phrygian modality the piece is rooted in. I was looking for a Sanskrit name, but this one seems right and good to me. Reminds me of younger days when I thought I had finally found my religion in Wiccan/Goddess Spirituality. So powerful to move from a lifetime of God as old white guy to the vast, suppressed history of female deities.

Isis, Astarte, Diane, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna. One of my first chants.

I digress. If you live anywhere near Durham, NC and are up for seeing some wonderful photos and hearing some awesome grooves, please do come!

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My Secret Identity

I adopted Rob Brezsny as one of my long term gurus after reading Free Will Astrology/Leo horoscopes in The Independent for a year. Week after week, Rob would speak to some important aspect of my life or get me asking questions through the lens of his oracular perspective. Then there were the occasional weeks when I scratched my head and forgot about it. But he was with me enough to get me interested.

Now me and thousands of others throughout the world are friends with Rob on Facebook. Rob sends us beautiful pictures, essays, poems to start your heart, ideas for mayhem and assorted baubles of joy every day, often multiple times a day. Rob’s book “Pronoia is the The Antidote to Paranoia” is my Bible. A lot of what he shares comes from there.

On July 28, 2014, Rob’s newsletter contained this homework assignment:

Make up a secret identity for yourself. What is it? How do you use it? Testify at Truthrooster@gmail.com.

My Testimonial:

I have never known what to do with my power to go unnoticed, to fly under the radar. Then I realized this is the space to cultivate my secret identity-The Love Sniper.

When I am in a public place, I love watching people. While I watch, my mind makes random and usually unhelpful comments (“bad haircut”,”nice jacket”,”love those shoes.”) But then, all of a sudden, I will REALLY see one particular person. I zero in on that person, I breathe into my heart and shoot love energy out through my eyes. I pull the trigger of my mind which shouts “I love you!” loudly, fiercely, with a steely compassion. The person is struck, then moves on.

Heart open, mind quiet, I await my next victim.

Day 2:

Today I discovered that I am not the only Love Sniper around. I was in line at Costco; the clerk was a tall, muscular guy with short brown hair in small spikes down over his forehead. His face was full of tension, like a permanent scowl. He appeared to be in a great deal of emotional pain. I was preparing my heart with breaths, ready to shoot nametag “Tim” with a love shot, when I noticed the man in front of me. He was shorter, rounder and slightly older than the clerk. He wore droopy red basketball shorts, a baggy t-shirt and a ball cap. As he waited for his change, he looked deeply at Tim’s face. I watched his eyes move tenderly over his scowling countenance. He never dropped his gaze as he gently said, “Thank you, Tim” and took his change from Tim’s hand. When I moved up, Tim did not make eye contact, but I noticed a slight ease in his demeanor. Nice job, Brother Love Sniper, nice job!

Day 3:

I got sniped today by a tall man waiting for the bus. I was walking in downtown Durham, and as I approached him, he got a big smile on his face. Our eyes met as I got nearer and he said, “Good morning!” and I gave him the same love back. I felt lighter and full of joy.

Day 4:

As I walked up the steps from the Durham Farmer’s Market, I was behind a young woman carrying her toddler son. He was bouncing his face off her shoulder and saying “I love you” over and over, then she kissed his head and said, “I love you, too.” Just then he and I made eye contact. He smiled, then hid behind his Mom – a Love Sniper-In-Training.

It appears there is an army of Love Snipers out here. Feel free to join us.

Music Like None Other In The World

Alfred Frankenstein, in spite of his unfortunate name, was a highly respected 20th century classical musicologist, art critic and teacher. From 1934 to 1965, he worked for the San Francisco Chronicle writing reviews of local music and art happenings. Mr. Frankenstein was not immune to the tremendous artistic upheavals of his time, which may be why he was so appreciative of “In C.” He was a strong supporter of the avant garde happenings at the San Francisco Tape Music Center and he gave the Center some great publicity.

Mr. Frankenstein attended the second performance of “In C.” It is noted in a number of interviews with people in attendance that he was quite excited by Terry Riley’s work and had many questions about his creative techniques. The headline of his review has become an iconic descriptor associated with “In C.” Here is the review in its entirety:

    Music Like None Other in the World

Terry Riley, who got his training as a composer in the Bay Region, is back after several years in Europe, and he reported in to the local public in a concert Friday night at The San Francisco Tape Center. During his sojourn abroad he has developed a style like that of no one else on earth, and he is bound to make a profound impression with it.
He uses a variety of structural devices., but they all seem to eventuate in much the same effect. He begins with very simple melodic material, restricted in compass to only a few notes. This is very simply harmonized at least at the start. The rhythms are as axiomatic as the other elements, the tempo is brisk and rigidly unchanging, and the volume level is consistently loud.
This primitivistic music goes on and on. It is formidably repetitious, but harmonic changes are slowly introduced into it; there are melodic variations and contrasts of rhythm within a framework of relentless continuity, and climaxes of great sonority and high complexity appear and are dissolved in the endlessness.
At times you feel you have never done anything all your life long but listen to this music and as if that is all there is or all there ever will be, but it is altogether absorbing, exciting, and moving, too. One is reminded of the efforts of Carlos Chavez to reconstitute the ceremonial music of pre-Columbian Mexico. Terry Riley may have captured more of its spirit than Chavez did. Not that the pre-Columbian analogy is Riley’s ultimate value.
The style discussed here reached its peak in a piece for instrumental ensemble called “In C,” which stayed on C for the better part of an hour but left one refreshed rather than satiated. Riley does other things, too. A piece called “I” turned out to be a dramatic sketch based entirely on inflections of the perpendicular pronoun as taped by John Graham. This was furthest from the manner of “In C.” But “In C” was the evening’s masterpiece and I hope the same group does it again.

According to Robert Carl, Mr. Frankenstein’s review of “In C” had great historical impact. For one, this group of experimental composers recieved recognition from a well-known member of the “classical establishment.” Secondly, Mr. Frankenstein articulated key elements of this “new” music that would later come to be referred to as “minimalism.” He identified simple, constricted harmonies and rhythms, repetition, a fast and steady tempo, and little deviance from the dynamic of loud. Finally, Frankenstein compares the work to that of a great 20th Century composer, Carlos Chavez, thus placing Terry Riley and “In C” into a “classical context.” Carl suggests that Frankenstein’s review likely lit the way for the inclusion of “In C” in this pretigious Oxford University Press series.