Drummers Are Rare, Elusive Creatures

My band’s drummer left a few weeks ago. Such a shame, really. Other than being an excellent drummer, he had good composition ideas that he generates by writing his grooves and vocalizing the riffs he hears in his head. Because of many personal problems he had to address, he had to vacate his place.

It’s rather difficult to look for a really good drummer who can play the sort of stuff I hear in my head. I do hope I find one soon so that we can pick up where we left off a month ago. The problem is that my band’s not your usual alternative rock or pop band, so finding a drummer that can play our kind of music takes extra patience. I am probably being too ambitious in this regard, taking on a sort of Frank-Zappa-like attitude, but what the hey! I gotta dream big.

So, to the 10 (or less) of you Metro Manila residents out there who are crazy enough to read my blog, I would like to ask for your help so that my band can find a new drummer. Here are our preferences:

1. Can play in any genre or style, especially metal, jazz, and prog.

2. Willing to jam with us in Makati City, preferably every Friday afternoon to evening.

3. Willing to learn, no attitude problem i.e. no rockstar mentality

4. Ability to read standard notation is a plus but not required.

So there you have it, folks. Drummers are such elusive, rare creatures that we require assistance to find one who’s willing to jam with us.

An Unexpected Surprise: Fanboy Elation

Lunchtime around this period of my life consists of a single cup of homemade Greek yogurt mixed in with honey and some sugar-free strawberry preserves. As I was eating my lunch and reviewing my GuitarZoom transcription work, I get this friend request from Michael Shawn Turner. After accepting it, he suddenly tells via a private message something like, “Hey are you the guy who wrote this? ” And then I realized I was talking to one of my heroes: Battery’s Mike Turner!

I was very much surprised. I never would have thought one of my heroes would start to speak to me, let alone read my blog! Anyway, to cut the somewhat long story short, it was a very pleasant exchange. He even wished me well in my search for a new drummer. Afterwards, he explained the reason why Battery ceased to exist: he flew to Los Angeles. It was as simple as that!

I remember saying in my blog that I regret not purchasing any of Battery’s albums back in the day. Mike Turner revealed to me that all of Battery’s songs are available via his Reverbnation page: http://www.reverbnation.com/michaelshawnturner/songs. Now I know that I can enjoy Battery’s music via the web.

I cannot thank Mike Turner enough for being an inspiration and for giving me a fragment of his time.

Before I end this piece, I’d like to share with you folks Mike’s latest project called booRADLEY. They started an Indiegogo campaign, so please visit the page and offer your support. I’m very sure that it’s a decision worth taking into consideration:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/booradley-join-our-journey

A Jazz-Prog-Rock Fusion Band’s Early Beginnings

Since going for anything musical full time in a professional capacity, I decided to form my very own jazz-prog-rock band with two guys from graduate school, namely Diamond Manuel on trombone and Jeffrey Abanto on guitar, bassist RJ Sy (Karl Roy Band, Kastigo, etc.), and drumming virtuoso and chef KC Puerto. Together, we’re Hi-5! Nah, just kidding. We’re an unnamed jazz-prog-rock fusion band that is currently in its infancy. The video above is an excerpt from our two-hour first rehearsal session together where we had the audacity to take a crack at Alan Pasqua’s “Proto Cosmos” (popularized by the Tony Williams’ Lifetime band and Allan Holdsworth). I am quite pleased with our first session together as we were able to go through a somewhat tricky piece and survive it, hahaha! Other than this piece, we also had loads of fun with a free improvisation session. Hopefully, we’ll start working on original music as well as a couple of covers to spice things up.

The spark of it, all, however, was this free improv session with Diamond:

Lunch Break at the PWU School of Music Recital Hall

This is probably the first time I spent my lunch break on music rather than on food.

What’s happening here is actually a test of recording equipment. This is a video recording of myself and Jeepney Joyride trombonist Diamond Manuel performing a free improvisation jam. Everything here is completely improvised. The first piece is a 20th-century classical sounding ditty influenced by the likes of Bartok, Varese, Messiaen, Zappa, and maybe a bit of Debussy. The second piece is a pretty straightforward swing jazz in C minor.

Now, as to why I was testing recording equipment, I was checking recording levels on my Zoom H4n because I’m supposed to record Diamond’s trombone recital this coming Saturday morning. He will be performing his recital program on December 6, 2014 at the Philippine Women’s University School of Music Recital Hall. It’s free admission, and safe to say that I don’t think anybody’s going to hear this sort of jam session at the event.

The test did come out great on my Zoom H4n. I have to say, however, that the video posted here is from my crappy smartphone and so the audio quality is not so great. Since I usually have to take videos for my research, I suppose investing money on a real camcorder isn’t such a bad idea.

So, if any of you are in Manila on Saturday and happen to have some free time, please drop by and watch Diamond Manuel’s trombone recital. Cheers!

The Search for Christian Progressive Rock

About 9 years ago, when I was looking for progressive rock bands that were Christian in orientation, I first found out about Kerry Livgren’s work both with Kansas and then with Proto-Kaw and his solo work:

Afterwards, I discovered Ajalon:

Then I discovered Glass Hammer:

A few years after that, progressive rock giant Neal Morse became Christian (although he kind of misunderstands what the Trinity is all about; his views sound like a mix of tritheism and modalism):

It doesn’t really do any justice by just watching these clips. Keep in mind that Christian progressive rock (like secular prog) is known for suites and concepts albums so it’s always best to listen to entire albums to understand the big picture i.e. the love of God manifested through Jesus Christ.

Morality in Music

It annoys me every time I read or hear one of these things:

  • Christian Rock is depraved.
  • Drums and electric guitars are the Devil’s instruments.
  • Christian Hip Hop is inconsistent with scripture.
  • Contemporary Christian Music is evil.

These and other statements have that air of bigotry and intolerance. I really want to ask such people these questions such as these:

  • If a hammer can be used to smash another person’s head to smithereens, should the serious Christian avoid using a hammer in carpentry because a hammer has the potential to be used as a murder weapon?
  • If a match can be used to burn a house down, should a Christian freezing at the mercy of wintertime avoid using a match to light a fire and keep oneself warm?
  • If a depraved person can use a fork or a chopstick to stab somebody in the throat, should Christians stop using forks and chopsticks because they have the unchristian potential to harm another person?
  • If Handel’s big hit “Hallelujah” from the oratorio Messiah features a 4/4 rhythm and features fast scalar runs similar to non-Christian guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, should Christians stop singing the song because it shares a lot of traits with the “music of the world”?

More often than not, people who appeal to such rhetoric are those individuals who tend to impose their own musical preferences on other people. If we were to accept the fact that the style of music found in traditional hymns is the only proper way to worship God through music, isn’t that just simply confining ourselves to a particular musical culture that came out of Europe? Are we therefore equating European sacred music as the only kind of music that could glorify God? Sounds very ethnocentric and bigoted to me. Such arguments fall along similar lines such as the Authorized King James Version is the only acceptable bible ergo archaic English is the only kind of language acceptable to praise God. Such is hogwash.

Every genre and style of music can be considered a particular language that reaches people both in the intellectual and emotional level. Do proponents of such a narrow-minded view say that only traditional hymns are acceptable music for worship? Doesn’t that eerily follow the same line of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church followed when they did not allow the Bible to be published in languages other than Latin? Do we mean to say that people from Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world will be in sin if they wrote and sung worship music in the particular style of their culture? I would strongly disagree to such notions. Where is it that we read in the Bible that we cannot use pentatonic scales, percussion instruments, drones, and other non-European musical techniques in worship? We read it nowhere! Matter of fact is if we read passages like Psalm 33 and 150, it seems to me that ancient Israel used music accompanied by stringed instruments, trumpets, timbrels, and dancing. Now tell me, does that look like a choir accompanied by an organ or piano? In my mind, it sounds more like a big band rather than your hymn-singing choir.

Psalm 33:3 (KJV) even reads, “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” It doesn’t sound like somber hymn singing to me. If we are to be really legalistic about this, then church should be burning their organs and pianos into one big bonfire and start training musicians how to play the kinnor and shofar and teaching the congregation to sing songs  in Phrygian Dominant rather than the more traditional major and minor scales. You sure can’t find in the Bible that organs and pianos are the only instruments allowed and that electric guitars and drums are the Devil’s. If you really are dead set on thinking that drums are evil, perhaps you should rearrange Handel’s “Hallelujah” in a way that the piano doesn’t sound so percussive. Oh, and if you have an orchestra that will play it for you, forget about using timpani too.  If you’re going to say that music that tends to elicit certain emotions is not appropriate for worship, why not go for something emotionally neutral like 12-tone serial music? I will be the first to tell you that is a ridiculous idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I love playing and singing traditional hymns and I play such music every Sunday at church. The fact that I have a strong disgust for are these people who brand themselves as Christians  imposing their own tastes on others and declaring that to be holy writ. Such bigoted declarations on music are the laws of men rather than the word of God and are bound to cause division rather than unity. I have always believed that music for worship should be composed in an appropriate way, matching the content of the words with the expression of music, using a delicate touch when being meditative and expressing power when proclaiming God’s magnificence.

I would go on to proclaim that music i.e. the arrangement of sound and silences in an organized manner is amoral. It’s about as good as a hammer can be when used to build a house and can be as evil as the same tool when used for murder. We can only attach morality to music depending on how it is used. You would never expect me to write music reflecting God’s omnipotence using a sweet-sounding flute and light string arrangements; It would be all out bombast with drums, brass,  and a distorted guitar to demonstrate that.

Want more info? Go to these links:

http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/contemporary-Christian-music.html

Bassists Matter

People who ask whether bassists matter or not are just plain ignorant.

Again, I will repeat this: people who ask whether bassists matter or not are plain ignorant.

Every time you take out all the bass frequencies in any piece of music, it will sound bare. It’s as if you took out a person’s spine.

Some people try to further ponder upon the question, :Do bassists matter?” by examining isolated bass tracks. That is probably one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever seen on the Internet.

Here’s a better challenge to those who question whether or not bassists matter: Try to listen to tracks of any of these artists without the bass tracks:

  1. Rush
  2. Primus
  3. Iron Maiden
  4. Return to Forever
  5. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Any person who would say that bassists don’t matter at all after hearing bass-less tracks of these artists are idiots.

Moving to an Apple-Based System

My frustration with Windows-based systems has gone up to an all-time high. It has become increasingly difficult to work properly with it. My current data management frustrations have just tipped the scales, and so now I have decided to get a Mac system. I’m not keen on spending money just for the sake of becoming up to date with the latest technology, but the situation has called for me to get an upgrade if I want to keep working properly. Yes folks, as of this point in time, I’m using a MacBook Pro to write this entry.

Last 2012, I discovered how difficult it was to use a Windows laptop for a live rig (even if it is loaded with a good amount of RAM and a top-notch Intel processor), the latency and audio quality (even with ASIO drivers) was just unacceptable. I performed every tweak I can think of, used an external audio interface, and a stripped down Windows XP installation, only to find out that it will conk out during a live performance. Had I been using a MIDI controller that had no internal sounds, I would have been toast.

On my Windows desktop, it is not unusual for me to experience a crash at least once a week whenever I’m working on a music transcription/engraving project or video game BGM (background music work). Those BSODs represent lost time and opportunities that aggravate me to no end. Add to that a failing hard drive and I could just scream mad out of frustration. I said to myself that I can’t afford to have something like this happen to me on a frequent basis, and so I purchased this Mac.

My initial test on this particular machine involved using Main Stage. I was blown away regarding how easy it is to use. I could easily cook up the keyboard rig of my dreams, connect this MacBook to one of my digital pianos, and start playing as if I was like one of those classic Prog Rock keyboard heroes like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman (minus the cape, spinning pianos, and knives). Sibelius worked wonderfully on it. Logic Pro X took a bit of time to figure out, but it wasn’t as hard as learning Cakewalk as a newbie.

As a composer and musician, I would really want to focus on just writing and recording music. I don’t have the patience to tweak for hours on end just to get things working. I want to just plug in and have a go at it rather than frustrate myself further with going over system and software adjustments. The night that I received this machine proves that. I’m not surprised why there are many musicians who prefer Apple’s Mac over a Windows PC for their work.

So, should I keep my Windows system. Of course, I’ll still keep it. Matter of fact is that I’ve managed to get it to work once more. The only problem is that I can’t rely on it as much as I used to, so it will probably serve as a backup machine or a general, all-purpose home office workstation with a secondary function as a recording rig. As far as music-making is concerned, I suppose I’ll transition to this Mac in a number of days.

Is Jazz Dead?

Is Jazz dead? Depends on where you live. In the Philippines, it’s barely surviving, no thanks to local mass media, many of which are hell bent on keeping people stupid with anti-neuron “music” and TV shows. However, artists like Johnny Alegre and the Tomodachi Trio along with places like Tiendesitas try as much as they can to keep it alive. In the place where I serve, I’m the only guy who’s seriously into jazz, my bandmates know of it on a superficial level, and the rest of the folks attending the services have little idea of it. The way things go with the music industry nowadays, it is probably hanging on for dear life even in its birthplace, the U.S. of A. although because of its cultural value it might continue to live on. In places like the university where I attend, some semblance of it still lives through the popular music courses being offered. Unfortunately, we don’t do jazz in graduate school. I asked the dean numerous times if we had a jazz major or elective since I was interested. The reply was negative.

If you ask Wynton Marsalis the question “Is Jazz Dead?”, here’s his reply:

Maybe we could try asking Frank Zappa that question. He said, “Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.” Perhaps you can take the word from someone who can be inspired by some of the most profound things on earth down to the most mundane of things like fried chicken:

Postmodern Societal Attitudes Give Rise to the Starving Musician

Any decent business (especially businesses involving media) would hire a number of people and services to get something done. The range of such services would involve anything from PR personnel to cleaning services. All of these people get paid, whether they get down dirty to clean whatever muck such project accumulates or act as your typical desk pencil pushers. It does seem really unfair that while people have budget for such things, there are others who simply leave music out of the picture. Such a thing has been going on for as long as I can remember like all of those times that I have played with a mediocre dinner or endless cups of iced tea the only remuneration I get for music. It sucks really that there are numerous times that in certain events, people ask you to play for them free. It’s like society is conditioned in such a way that music is free like air, yet the fact remains while it is possible for any person to learn how to play music, not everybody can become pros at it. Therefore, as law of supply and demand would dictate, a demand for music from a pro should equate to financial remuneration. What you should sow is what you should reap, right? Now, why is it that so many people, ranging from the casual party organizer to media giants, think that they can get music for free? To put things into better perspective, I’d like to share this fascinating letter from D.J. White, a professional musician, to a media company who would like to use music for free:

 

whitey letter

 

 

Now, every serious musician (myself included) has invested close to a lifetime of learning to be able to do what they do best. Matter of fact is that until now, I am investing time and energy to learn new skills, techniques, etc. so that I do better. It is fact that such activity requires money simply by virtue that all musicians have the same needs as other people, just as Abraham Maslow had charted in his hierarchy of needs. Therefore, professional musicians, such as myself, have every right to demand payment for what they do. Now, the problem is that why is it that certain sectors of society feel entitled to get music free, never providing a budget for it? Shouldn’t we musicians have the final say regarding that? After all, such parties are the ones in need of what we do best: provide music. Another question is how can society’s perception change? How can we change the mindset that music has a premium. It something that demands effort, patience, and time, that it is something produced by people who have bills to pay and mouths to feed in order to keep on going. Are musicians also to blame as to why people can get away with getting music for free? Maybe it’s time that all musicians in the world start to dictate the worth that they deserve so that others won’t just push as around to play or write music for free. Perhaps there are ways out there that can change the attitude of postmodern society so that we no longer give rise to more starving musicians.