OCTOBER 28th 2018 — In Paris I started a personal catalogue of rhythmic patterns to help me with my music-making. I just now strung them all together one after the other, and so far there are 6,762 bars (measures) of patterns and variations. I add to it daily.
This has been all about laying a solid foundation and has involved hours and hours of painstaking, methodical work.
I have every pattern: 1) on paper, in a notebook I bought in Paris, 2) on my iPad Pro, which is my main creative multipurpose tool, in four separate apps (if anyone is interested: Notion, DrumPerfect Pro, Patterning, and Cubasis 2), and 3) in cloud storage. So it would take quite the calamity for me to lose them.
But yes, I decided the foundation is now solid enough and now I can start really building with this resource to draw on. I have been doing that all along in tandem with this, but I mean even more actively.
Now comes melody, instrumentation, and all the really fun stuff.
As this series progresses, the variety of music will grow ever wider, since my interests in music extend to all types of music and since for decades THE GRAMOPHONE covered all types of music, not only classical, as today.
The quality of recordings will also soon improve radically, since the late 1920s marked the switchover from the much less advanced (and so-called-then) acoustic process to the (again so-called-then) electric process of recording.
From my rudimentary reading on this topic, this basically meant that microphones started being used for recording. Up until that time, music was recorded by singing and/or playing into a kind of tube.
OCTOBER 19th 2018 — Starting with this entry of this “Let’s read” series, I have decided to share Spotify playlists of the pieces I pick out from each issue for special mention. These have also been added to the previous entries.
Editor Compton Mackenzie opens the issue by presenting the idea of what would later be named the National Gramophonic Society. Here he is only asking his readers whether they would support the venture enough for it to be worth doing. They would, and the Society would go on to make many worthwhile recordings of music previously unavailable on record.
The editorial is followed by an installment of “A Musical Autobiography”, also by the Editor. He looks back on a time when he was such a short way along the path of musical appreciation that he honestly couldn’t perceive the melody in the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s SYMPHONY NO. 6 IN B MINOR, even though a friend played it to him over and over, getting more annoyed with each attempt.
Elsewhere in this feature the Editor writes:
“[…] I am always suspicious of perfect taste that has not been reached by leagues of bad taste.” (p. 65)
“For one’s own pleasure I am sure that it is a mistake to have exquisite taste in all the arts. For the rest of my life I intend to be quite impenitent about music and painting, and never to allow myself to get beyond works of art that still delight me, though I know them to be far removed from the first rank.” (p. 65)
“I do not fancy that I shall ever lose my bad taste in music, although I regret to say that I am beginning to find Puccini impossible. This is a sad business, and I grow to like Bach better and better every day.” (p. 66)
About the page numbers: At this point in its history, and for years to come, THE GRAMOPHONE employed page numbering that continued from one issue to another throughout one volume — one year.
Many people would have these volumes bound in handsome hardcover collections, so the result at the end of every volume was essentially a thick book of several hundred pages.
A highly detailed index was also produced for each volume. I have not seen any of these indices myself, as unfortunately they are not part of the magazine’s digital archive. But I should add that the digital archive is searchable — to the extent that the Optical Character Recognition catches each word.
Maybe one day an angel somewhere will drop these indices — not to mention the missing ads from the early years — on the laps of the people maintaining the archive. I hope so.
Recordings of especial interest that are on Spotify:
Cellist Pablo Casals and pianist Walter Golde play a transcription of Chopin’s NOCTURNE IN E FLAT MAJOR, Op. 9 No. 2. Casals would record this again some years later.
From pioneering harpsichordist Violet Gordon-Woodhouse (discussed in previous articles in this “Let’s read” series), Domenico Scarlatti’s SONATA IN A MAJOR, K. 113, L. 345 and SONATA IN D MAJOR, K. 29, L. 461. In these early days, recordings of instruments other than the most familiar ones comprising the symphony orchestra — and piano, of course — were rare. I always perk up when I find on Spotify one of these recordings featuring less common instruments.
Ragtime piano with Max Darewski: “MONKEY BLUES”.
F. Sharp starts her review of dance records with:
“To listen in cold blood to a succession of dance records is fair neither to the records nor to the reviewers. The following have all been danced to, and a dancing expert has given her valuable opinion on their merits.” (p. 79)
And a few paragraphs later she makes the first mention in the pages of THE GRAMOPHONE of the wonderful Cole Porter:
“Talking of syncopation, I cannot find in any catalogue records of Cole Porter’s marvelous syncopated music. I have not any American catalogues by me, but I suppose some recording company has got him on their list. I cannot understand why we are not given anything by this young master of rag-time.” (p. 79)
Spotify playlist for this entry, “Let’s read THE GRAMOPHONE in Iceland: No. 4 — September 1923”:
This issue is available as part of the magazine’s digital archive, which every subscriber (a month or a year, digital or print+digital) gets access to.
OCTOBER 16th 2018 — I visited Chopin’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris a bit over a year ago.
And the greatest thing was that there was his music in the air just then, just like in an episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER that had a scene actually filmed there: “On the Orient, North”. Someone was playing it from their phone. I almost couldn’t believe it.
Also wonderful was how the apartment I rented happened to be located literally just down the street from this cemetery (and I mean, Paris is huge), which I always knew I would want to visit. But I didn’t even realize this when arranging for the flat. It was the only one open to me, really.
It was on rue du Chemin-Vert (“Street of the Green Path”). And in Paris I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life. I treasure some of those memories.
OCTOBER 3rd 2018 — Here and embedded below is a great concert performance on YouTube of a terrific piece from the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA version of 2003–2010.
Mister McCreary conducts, and the vocal soloist is Raya Yarbrough. Recorded in July 2010 at the Tenerife International Film Music Festival, Canary Islands, Spain.
For me, music for American science fiction series stagnated for a long time following Gene Roddenberry’s death in 1991. From then on the producers of the STAR TREK spin-offs actively worked to push music as far into the background as possible.
They even fired their best and most interesting composer, Ron Jones. Fortunately all his soundtracks for THE NEXT GENERATION are now available on Spotify, for example.
From that point in the early 1990s, music in the TREKs became a thin, disappointing hum in the background, rather than being an active, strong voice or even character of its own.
This was not the fault of the composers, all of whom would have been capable of much more, as shown for example by Dennis McCarthy’s soundtrack for the seventh film, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, where he was allowed more range and freedom. He was one of the most active composers for the spin-offs ever since the debut of THE NEXT GENERATION.
BABYLON 5 fortunately went for strong, powerful music, by former Tangerine Dream member Christopher Franke. And then later the GALACTICA reimagining with Bear McCreary was just wonderful in this area.
He scored every episode of those four seasons as well as the associated TV movies, having started as assistant to Richard Gibbs on the miniseries that preceded the first season.
Bear McCreary’s official site is here. And you can find him on Twitter: @bearmccreary.
OCTOBER 2nd 2018 — There’s a fresh wind blowing. Some corner has been turned. I don’t know why or how. But that’s the feeling.
I was thinking this with some wonder on my way to the grocery store, and next thing I knew, this book, THE UNASHAMED ACCOMPANIST (1984) by Gerald Moore, fell in my lap — I found it on the free book exchange rack at the nearby shopping center.
Gerald Moore is a pianist whose work I got to know in the early 2000s when I acquired a collection of back issues of BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE, the cover CDs of which featured full, quality performances of classical music. He played on some of them.
(I still have that collection of magazines and CDs. I packed them and only a small number of other important things into plastic storage boxes and asked my parents to keep them for me back in Finland.)
I also remembered an interview with him from those issues. And the thing is, he was already active in the 1920s, so I’m currently coming across his name in the back issues of THE GRAMOPHONE I’m now reading.
To paraphrase from memory one of my favorite writers: We respect serendipity around here. I’ll share the exact quote in a later entry when I come across it again.
Or, for another paraphrase of the general thought, when two meaningful events occur in such close succession, it means something.
Somehow, the things we need seem to find us sooner or later, wherever we go. At least, as long as we follow our hearts. No matter how strange or difficult the road.
P.S. “There’s a fresh wind blowing in THE WILD SHORE,” is what Ursula K. Le Guin said of Kim Stanley Robinson’s debut novel, which I only just realized was published the same year as THE UNASHAMED ACCOMPANIST. Mister Robinson is the only living science fiction author whose work I read.
SEPTEMBER 29th 2018 — As a little exercise, I turned a “chip tune” ditty from the first LEISURE SUIT LARRY game into sheet music.
This is one of the most famous themes in the world, from the 3rd movement (Marche funèbre) of Chopin’s PIANO SONATA NO. 2 IN B FLAT MINOR, Op. 35 (FUNERAL MARCH).
Anyone who grew up playing computer games in the 1980s heard this theme in dozens of games, and it probably appeared in hundreds, typically as the game over music. A lot of classical music ended up in games in those days in particular, as various creative adaptations for often highly limited sound chips or synthesizers.
Chopin wrote this theme in B flat minor, but for this game it was transposed up a whole step (two keys on the piano keyboard, whether white or black), to C minor.
As the first step, I extracted the sound file from the game, then used a free program to convert it into MIDI data. But it turned out that — whether the problem arose from the original sound file format, the conversion process, or the eccentricities of the MIDI standard — the resulting MIDI file was unusable as such. It looked nothing like the above orderly notation, the score instead being full of 64th notes and rests and so on, and the measure breaks were all off.
I could always have gone to sheet music of the sonata as Chopin wrote it, but I wanted to follow this particular adaptation of it. So I wrote the above based on the messy data from the MIDI file, correcting the timing and other issues to create this still very faithful result. It follows the rhythms and of course exact notes of the piece as it appears in the game.
Finally I analyzed the piece for the chords and added those. I’ve done this kind of analysis of hundreds of pieces and I find it a great way to learn. It means going through every note and rest and every other detail in a piece of music and seeing how it all fits together.
And one of the nice things about it is that no piece of music is too short or simple for this type of analysis. Every piece is rewarding to do and can teach something.
Chopin is one of my favorite composers. But I want to write more about him in an entry of his own. So that’s another story.