Posts Tagged ‘i ching’

It’s been a while, but many interesting things are going on

May 3, 2008

Yes I’m still alive and kicking. I’ve been quite busy still, lots of things going on. Some of which will end up on this blog sooner or later. Here’s a bunch of stuff to look out for here, hopefully I’ll make enough progress soon to do some more posts.

My Sound-Lab Mini-Synth problem
Ray Wilson\'s Sound-Lab Mini-Synth front panelI got one of the PCBs for this a couple years ago. It’s still not built. In fact I put it on the shelf for a very long time and ignored it. Recently I picked it back up and dedicated myself to finishing it before I began work on any more projects. (You can see the effect it had on this blog) Well, I’m about 6 or so hours into panel wiring and I realized I’m in so far over my head that I have about a .0001% chance of ending this with a functional synth.

The root of my problem is that being ambitious as I am, I didn’t want to do the “simple” version, I wanted all the mods! So mine was patch-able, had signal inputs and all other manner of bells and whistles. Well, that’s all great, but I only have a very minor understanding of electronics, and all the info on these mods is pretty sketchy if you don’t. So I came to a resolution the other day (while working on it). I’m ripping out all the wires, and building up the simple version. The fact of the matter is, I’d need a book just to figure out how to make my pervious effort fuction, even after it was built. I’ll be starting this coming week probably… wish me luck.

Al’s 8-track recorder and new compositions
An image from Al's scoreAl has a fairly decent digital 8-track recorder that has been kicking around the practice room since we started playing. he apparently got it some time ago, made a few (very nice) recordings on it, and then didn’t touch it for years, and forgot how to use it. He recently enlisted my assistance in helping him figure it out as I’m good at gadgets.

After a half-hour or so, we got the recording and playback thing/saving down and since then we have done two very nice “blind-improvisations” (playing along without listening). One that is about 5 minutes long and involved us taking turns, basically performing for one another on a variety of instruments. The other is about 14 minutes long and involved us doing duo improvisations, and then overdubbing them with more duo improvisations. The result of this technique has always astounded me, no matter what, it always sounds like we were somehow listening even though we weren’t. I’ll see about posting these when I get a chance to transfer them.

Now that he has his trusty 8-track back in business, Al has also 

An image from Al's score

begun to think up some scores we can record on it. The first of his scores involves a time grid, and instruments, durations, etc. governed by chance operations. We are still trying to decide whether to assemble it or to attempt to perform it. An accurate performance is nearly impossible with two people, which could have interesting results, but we may do both, just so we can hear the piece realized accurately. In duo form it would most likely be a composed piece of improvised sections, as the score makes no mention of *how* to play.

My wife and I went to morocco for 11 days, a few weeks back. What a time. We saw and heard so many amazing things. The proliferation of fantastic local music there is staggering. If only we had this kind of community in America.

I of course recorded as much audio while there as I could, and I happened to catch some amazing musicians in Jamaa al-Fna square, in Marrakech. I have alot of audio to sift through though, so it may be a while before it ends up here. We also took a ton of photos some of which I may post later as well.

Experimenting with “Straw Reeds”
I have been looking for an easy way to excite vibration in objects, to be able to play them like horns. I have tried a few methods, but nothing has worked out quite well enough for me to use it often. But after we came back from Morocco, I realized the thing had been sitting right under my nose for a long time.

A “straw saxophone” is something I learned how to make in some art class ages ago. Basically you take a drinking straw, flatten one end by squeezing, and or biting it (biting works best but don’t overdo it) almost flat for about the last inch of the straw length. The take scissors and cut the flat end to a triangular point. If done right you should have to evenly pointed tips nearly touching, parallel to eachother. It may take a little experimentation, but you should be able to blow into the straw and cause it to sound due to the vibration of the end you just made.

Ok, so big deal… it makes a single toot sound. Well this is where some Moroccan ingenuity comes in. I discovered this mounting technique on an instrument I brought home. Find a pipe or something reasonably close in diameter to your straw, so that your straw can slip inside of it. Now, wrap the un-altered end of your straw with masking tape until you can fit it in the pipe securely. The instrument I had, got close with the masking tape, but finishes it up with wrapped thread, which looks much nicer and i’m sure works better, but just masking tape works great.

Now, if you blow into the mouthpiece, you will sound the pipe you are using. Play around you can make many different sounds. If you can make a slider or cut holes in your pipe, you can make different pitches as well. I have been trying this on every cylindrical object in the house recently, and finding lots of interesting sounds.

Here’s a clip of me playing it attached to a 3 foot long pipe.

So that’s some of what I have been doing. There’s still a bunch more, but I’ll have to save that for some other posts. Al and I have been getting some great LPs recently, so I should do some reviews of those at some point to. Cheers!



July 2, 2007

So my partner in musical debauchery Al and I decided to make our collaborative efforts offical by branding ourselves with a name. Now, this brings me (of course!) to a deluge of pholosophical questions… “How do you give a name to something that is undefined?”; “Can there possibly be a word or words that evoke an accurate concept of what this is?”; “Why does the name Ashtray Navigations have to be taken?” (yuck yuck).


Above: Notes from our naming experiment

So after a couple false starts we decided that we would use two of our favorite devices in music making – improvisation and chance – to come up with a fitting name. We began with the use of our temporary moniker “AL B & ET”, subjecting the letter order to chance, but ultimately what came of it left something to be desired. Then we tried our full first names, which had a similar effect. Through all of this we were in hysterics at the alien sounding names that were coming out. Finally I suggested a nonsense word writing excercise. Improvised words. So we took turns writing off the top of our heads. Our goal was a longish word, and in retrospect, apparently one with neanderthalish qualities. We then chose which word would become our names by using the I Ching. Thus we became LATRALMAGOG. Pretty epic.

I am also posting our third session now. This one is much more ambient than previous efforts. It seems the music we make is very much effected by our moods on any given day. This is bay far the most peacful thing we have done. It is also quite beautiful at times. I hope you enjoy it.

Implements used in this recording:
Cymbals, tape machines, loop cassettes, Heathkit oscillator, Silver platter, circuit-bent tape player, melodica, shakers, bells, toys, cookie tin lute, appalacian mouth bow, air organ, electric kalimba, various effects boxes, etc.

no real clean way to chop this one up, so here’s the whole thing as one track:


Taking Chance.

June 24, 2007

(Though the following is not directly related to music, I think it has some relevance in it’s relation to my life, I hope you find it at least mildly amusing.)

Montague: You studied Zen Buddhism in the 1940s and ’50s, which had a great influence on you. How much does the I Ching govern your life? Do you throw the I Ching each morning?

Cage: My life, as you can imagine from what I said earlier, is not governed. And certainly not by the I Ching. I attempt to move according to circumstances. I now have 200 plants, and when I’m home, they have first priority. I spend the first two hours of each day without the I Ching taking care of them. I use the I Ching when it is useful, just as I turn on the water faucet when I want a drink. I find the I Ching useful to answer questions, and when I have questions, I use it. Then the answers, instead of coming from my likes and dislikes, come from chance operations, and that has the effect of opening me to possibilities that I hadn’t considered. Chance-determined answers will open my mind to the world around.

The above is an excerpt of an interview with John Cage by Stephen Montague. I found this recently while searching for information on the I Ching, and this portion in particular struck a chord with me. I have thought a lot about this tendency we have to run our brains needlessly in the attempt to make the simplest decisions… which restaurant to go to, what movie to watch, whether to stay or go to an event. None of these are “crucial” decisions. Sure, if I choose to go to an event, It may change the course of my life, but so can staying home. In the end I don’t really know, so my decision is arbitrary. Neither here, nor there. So why not subject it to chance?

All of us have weird little preferences that don’t have a whole lot of rationale behind them. We stay within our little area of experience and shun certain other areas for no apparent reason. For instance, I myself have weird preferences with movies. There are certain genres that I never want to see. War movies for instance. I hate violence, especially when it is done in a close-to-life manner, so due to this, I avoid movies such as war movies because I’m afraid they will be violent. Now, is violence all a war movie has to offer? Of course not. There are some very brilliant and meaningful war movies that could have the potential to expand my mind… but with my preferences unchecked, I’ll never see them.

I was talking to a close friend about this not long ago and he made the brilliant observation that in a lot of these decisions, the criteria amounts to “no data”. If I have decided to see a movie at a respectable movie watching establishment, where almost anything will be of some “literary” value at least, and yet I am not familiar with any of the movies, how then do I base my decision? In most cases I look at a website that has a small photo and a crappy review. So my decision is based on the recommendation of a person whom I do not know, (and who probably has countless prejudices of their own) and a small photo. How could this be an accurate description of my possible experience with this film? There is NO DATA! So why not subject it to chance?

I decided it was time to answer this question for myself. So with the support of a patient (but also intrigued) wife, I embarked upon what I am jokingly referring to as “chance month”. Starting this past wednesday, all of our evening entertainment options (within certain limitations) will be decided by chance. We have a real problem of plopping down in front of the tv every available night and this seems like the perfect opportunity to subvert that. Now of course as John Cage states above, it has to be within reason. For instance, I’m not going to turn down dinner with a good friend because the dice told me to watch a movie instead. I feel like that would be an infringement on one of the richer aspects of my life. But for those countless nights when my wife and I are determining the evenings plans, post work and tired and are probably going to end up veging in front of the TV, chance will be the deciding factor.

Here’s how it has worked thus far. While making dinner (I’d subject that to chance if we had the cash to go out more often) I stop for a moment and roll a dice 3 times. One for movie/tv, one for reading, one for projects… high number wins. From there on out other decisions can be made by chance as well, but are not required in our simplified model. For instance, lets say the dice says to read a book. Well, I always have the one I am currently reading, but I have many other books (art books, photo books, encyclopedias, atlases…) I could look at as well, so I may choose to flip a coin to decide if I am to read my current book or explore some of the others. The same could work for many other scenarios as well. This area isn’t strictly chance based, but chance being in the air, if a decision comes up chance is most likely how it will be solved.
Now I realize that this is a fairly narrow grouping of options. One could argue that I could add a few more things to the initial chance list. Of course! But one has to start somewhere. I am sure we will modify this as time goes on, but even if it remains this simple, I am still optimistic about it’s potential to move me into activities I may not choose otherwise. Thus far it has been a few days and I am loving it. It has helped me to be both open minded and motivated. Who knows this may last more than one month…