I Wish Most Filipino Luthiers Were…

…able to create real, unique, custom instruments!

Please take note that I have deep admiration for Filipino luthiers. I am not insulting  or trying to offend such fine craftsmen. Their craftsmanship is superb. That I do not doubt. However, it seems to me that most of them are afraid to take up the challenge of experimenting and building unique instruments that will bring about new sounds that will bring about much needed change in the OPM scene.

I will admit I am crazy. I have this loony side. I like weird stuff, with weirdness that crosses over the border of becoming unique without sacrificing function. For years, I have had this dream or aspiration that one day, a Filipino luthier would be able to make the instrument/s of my dreams. Some of these instruments I dream of having include extended-range guitars (more than 7 strings) and a guitar that can function like a viola de gamba (arched bridge and fretboard). It feels very frustrating that these proud luthiers can’t build any of these. There are a number of things or reasons why these luthiers can’t make such instruments, and that would include lack of materials or a lack of knowledge.

One day, while I was on Facebook, I approached this luthier who had a substantial following. I requested from him to give me an estimate as to how much it would take for them to build it. He said he can’t do it because he doesn’t have existing patterns or templates for it. I said I’d take the risk of spending more just to make sure my vision is realized. Afterwards, he said he just can’t do it. A few months later, he starts spewing pictures of how he masterfully copied Taylors, Gibsons, Martins, and Fenders for his customers.

What does this tell us? Do we revel at the fact that we are good copycats? Why can’t we Filipinos aspire for bigger goals? Why can’t just try to change? Why do we have to stick to years of traditions that don’t push us forward?

Again, I am NOT trying to insult Filipino Luthiers out there. I am merely posing a challenge. Please build real custom instruments, not just copies of popular brands like Taylor, Fender, Martin, Gibson, Guild, etc.

My Version of Kadsagurongan Using a Sample Library

“Kadasagurongan” is a tradional Maranao kulintang piece that I learned how to play when I was taking my “Teaching Philippine Music” elective at the Philippine Women’s University School of Music. This recorded version was made possible through the use of “Philipperc”, a Philippine indigenous instrument sample library developed by Stephan Marche of Detunized.Com using my samples of kulintang and other Philippine instruments.

Philipperc: New FREE Philippine Percussion Library from Detunized!

Hey folks! Before anything else, I want to greet everybody a happy New Year!

Now that we’ve got the 2015 greeting out of the way, I just would like to post about something I’m really excited about: It’s the new Philipperc Ableton Live and Kontakt percussion library from Detunized!

The story behind Philipperc is this: I’ve always wondered about how I can get Philppine indigenous instrument sounds into my compositions without actually owning those instruments. For one thing, instruments such as a Kulintang set are expensive. Just so you would have an idea, in cultures such as Maranao and Maguindanaon, Kulintang sets are properties of the wealthy, treasured heirlooms that can be used as dowry for weddings! To be frank, I don’t have the money to purchase a set of babendil, agung, gandingan, and kulintang for myself. But then I had the good fortune of being enrolled in the Philippine Women’s University School of Music where I’m finishing my master’s degree of music education. It just so happened that it had the perk (pun!) of getting access to the musical instrument museum where they have this awesome collection of Philippine indigenous instruments. I spent one Saturday afternoon sampling a set of agung, gandingan, dabakan, and a kulintang. I also recorded a number of tongatong samples for good measure.

I sent these samples over to my good friend, Stephan Marche, CEO of Detunized, and asked him the favor of developing the samples as a virtual instrument. He went on to do this and developed versions for Ableton Live and Native Instruments Kontakt. He then asked me to go write some demos. To cut the long story short, it was awesome!

What is Philipperc really? It’s a sample-based virtual instrument for Ableton Live and Kontakt that features samples of Dabakan, Agung, Gandingan, Kulintang, and Tongatong. This instrument is intended to be used by composers, music producers, and music students, especially those who are studying indigenous Philippine music. At this point, Philipperc is available at no cost whatsoever! Therefore, I would advise you to get a copy now as this is, I believe, the first Philippine percussion sample library ever developed in history. I’d love to say it’s sort of groundbreaking in a sense. Should Philipperc take off well, we could probably go on and make a more comprehensive library with more Philippine instrument samples like kudyapi, bungkaka, kubing, etc.

To download Philipperc, just go to https://detunized.com/downloads/philipperc/. The prototype version I’m currently using is laid out as a drum rack, so if you have something like an Akai MPC or a Roland Octapad MIDI Controller, it will be great.

Now, what does it sound like? Here’s the demo I wrote for the release of Philipperc. It’s called “Where Coast and Mountaintops Meet.” Enjoy!

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!

Newbie Tries Live Looping Using Ableton Live

I am that newbie, and boy do I suck at this. How many times do I have to suck before getting it right just like those folks at the BOSS Loopstation Championships? Gotta shed some more wood on bass? Piano? Ableton? I guess that would be everything.

The Janko Keyboard: Very Innovative Yet Oddly Unpopular

It took me years and years of training on the piano to get to a somewhat competent level. For basic technique, I had to learn 48 scales with 48 different fingerings (12 major, 12 natural minor, 12 harmonic minor, and 12 melodic minor scales). I also had to learn various arpeggios in all 12 keys. Add to that pentatonics, blues scales, and seven modes in seven different keys plus variations, and that’s a lot of work without even getting into playing some real music. While it probably is easy to read music using the traditional piano keyboard, it is hard work to get technique up to real good shape. No wonder why starting young is a good thing when learning the piano; it’s such hard work.

Why can’t the piano as we know it today be like the guitar where you can learn just one scale or chord shape yet be able to play that same scale or chord shape in all 12 keys? How I wish that the piano could be like the guitar in that aspect. It’s a good thing that some people thought it can be like that. Case in point, Paul Vandervoort demonstrates such a possibility in the video below:

Mr. Vandervoort here is playing an otherwise normal piano fitted with what is known as a Janko keybooard.  As explained in the video, such a keyboard has great benefits such as:

  1. Easy transposition:  Play a scale shape, chord, arpeggio, or melodic passage in all 12 keys.
  2. Reach intervals beyond an octave easily, even if you have small hands.

I find it odd that the Janko keyboard’s practical and ergonomically sound design was not enough to supplant the otherwise difficult traditional piano keyboard. Has centuries of traditional piano keyboard use shackled us pianists to the past that we find it hard to embrace the future?

If given a chance, I’d like to have a piano and a MIDI controller with a Janko Keyboard layout. That’s going to save me so much effort in the long run.


Greg Bennett Electrics (Samick) No Longer in Production

I am a proud owner of a Greg Bennett Concord CD3. I call it my all-purpose guitar simply because I can use it for every genre or style of music. It has a fixed Tune-o-Matic bridge so it’s very easy to maintain. It plays so well and can hold it’s ground against the Fenders, the Gibsons, the Ibanezes, and the ESPs (this I know because I’ve played every one of those guitars). It is an underrated guitar hence its relatively affordable price point. Unfortunately (or fortunately in the case of a collector), Samick has ceased production of every electric guitar in the Greg Bennett line. I wonder why.

If you check out the Greg Bennett web site, all of the electrics and the basses are now in “The Vault”, meaning that such models are now out of production. My friend, Allan, store manager of Lazer Superior Musical Instruments in SM Bicutan said before that I had acquired one of the last remaining Greg Bennett Concords in the Philippines. How many of those were actually shipped here I would not know, but I’m glad I got mine 2 years ago.

If you have the money for another guitar and you see a Greg Bennett, I suggest that you get it. When properly set up, they play very well and they sound really good. I like mine so much that I would never trade it for my friend Pastor Abong’s U.S. made Fender Showmaster or any other electric for that matter. Matter of fact is that if I can get another Greg Bennett Concord, I’ll go have it fitted with locking tuners and a floating Wilkinson bridge (or some other floating bridge that is easy to maintain, the opposite of a Floyd Rose).

So, to those people who have got themselves a a Greg Bennett electric, I salute all of you for making a great choice. Take care of your Greg Bennett electric because I doubt you’ll see another one again.

SMALL UPDATE: Greg Bennett now designs guitars under the Ethan Hart name. They look really good.