Musical Architecture and Recursive Systems

Wow, what a title. Sounds so official and serious. The reality is I’m a total science geek and enjoy reading about such things and using them as metaphors for my creative process. What do I actually mean? Another good question… Not so sure myself.. Let’s see where this takes us.

In an organic sense, I like to think of a composition as a piece of musical architecture. This metaphor will eventually break down but I want to see how far I can take it. A good composition or song has a strong idea at its core that is inherently simple. Without this simplicity nothing can be built upon it. I don’t mean it has to be simple by the literal definition i.e one chord or a trite melody or a predictable rhythm. Oftentimes, taking simplicity too literally can yield a less then satisfactory end result. What I mean by simple, is that it is clearly and eloquently presented, and can act as a vehicle for creative and improvisational growth. It may be that the most clear way to present a compellingly simple idea is through one chord, but another idea may be best expressed in its clearest form by something which appears more complex.

I think a danger is to have a specific idea of what simplicity is and relate it to a style. One element of this concept is the notion that a pop song is inherently simple, or the idea that a pop song is based upon a certain type of simplicity which cannot be achieved in other ‘styles.’ Someone could consciously try and write a song in a specific style with a preconceived notion of what simplicity should be, and end up with an idea laced with ambiguity and confusion, far from being simple in the positive sense. I think the notion of style can be a drain on the energy that should be put into clarity of thought and flow of ideas.

Without this clarity, a song is just a structure with no foundation, and as hard as the interpreters try and bring it to life, it will inevitably implode. Simplicity is clarity, and has nothing to do with style. It is embedded in a process of growth and evolution, and without it there is no impetus for musical transcendence.

When I’m engaged in the process of writing a song, I’m very conscious of that initial idea and first understanding it on a high level before shaping it into a foundation. I have to look at it from many different perspectives, reflect on its contours and embrace its essence. The idea can take many shapes and branch off into multiple songs. One clearly stated idea can yield a number of compositions as it provides an opening for growth and change. Through the shaping process certain vehicles are less effective for presenting the core material, and they fall to the background or link up with another idea at the core of some other piece. This process requires an openness and commitment to fully explore a concept and consider it from different perspectives.

Along the way you may find multiple ways to represent these ideas, some appearing with what seems like effortlessness, and others hidden within deeper layers of meaning. I mention this because this process is at the core of my creativity. A posture of openness and the viewpoint that as a composer you are merely finding flexible shapes to represent clear and beautiful ideas and feelings, and not to get attached to these shapes, is very important to me.

The moment I get too attached to one idea, the process is interrupted or ended. That is not to say that you should not focus on a specific interpretation of the material as this is also essential, but that we need to realize this focus is still part of a larger shape, a larger body of work, of energy, of clarity and expression. Along the way beautifully crafted structures emerge, yet unlike those built of stone these structures continue to be flexible and evolve over time without decay.

I’m committed to this process of growth or evolution, and sometimes I like to think of it as a recursive process with mutations. You start with a simply shaped, clearly articulated idea which within it has an elegant code for something, who knows what exactly. Then your mind begins to layer things upon it, almost as though they are copies of this original idea. Yet as these copies come in contact with other thoughts and streams of consciousness they change ever so slightly. Over time, and through reflection these slight changes add up, and the copies continue. [When I discuss time, it is relative. Intervals of this process can happen in what feels like days, hours or even a lifetime but ends up actually being a lone moment, or vice-versa. Things happen along the way in different intervals of time, but that is insignificant] What started as a tiny but clear fragment, has become this beautifully, yet spontaneously and organically crafted piece of consciousness, or root system that has become a song.

This process compounds, and along the way songs/compositions make their way into the world should you choose to share them. Yet, these songs are nothing more then a bi-product of this recursive process; the real joy is in the process. Each little piece of this journey, (say a song) has some of the process embedded within. When someone plays the song the imprint of this process might show its face, bringing a quality of spontaneity and life to the air that has nothing to do with style.

A great song has a process built into to it, providing the architecture for communication on some level, and just pure and simple passion and excitement.

At least that’s what I think,

Michael

p.s. check out the writer Douglas Hofstadter and the book I am a Strange Loop. Also check out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I love these books.

my first time

This is my first blog ever! I keep deleting what I’m going to say because I feel like it is dumb or too serious. I’m going to stop deleting and start writing…..now!  So what I’d like to say first is that I love playing in this band and I love being with these fabulous people. We are growing together musically and dare I say… spiritually. It is incredibly exhilarating and  fulfilling to be going down a road with three others who are helping to steer and power Michael’s parents van in the same direction! Wow…I can’t thank them enough for their love, support and the use of their new van! I think we’d have a really hard time touring on my scooter, although, it’d make a really good album cover. Picture this…. Rebecca in the passenger seat with Felicity on the handlebars and Harley and Michael sitting on top of the Vibraphone which is being towed behind the scooter. I haven’t worked out where the guitar and trumpet would go yet.  We’d all be wearing unitards, goggles and paper bird beaks.

Continuing on the note of supportive parents, we have been receiving so much love and support from all sides of our families, friends, partners etc. and I don’t want to diminish anyone’s contribution by forgetting to mention anyone, but we love and thank all of you so much for everything that you have done and are doing for us.

On a less serious note… when the four of us get together it is a hilariously good time. We all have wacky senses of humor. If we aren’t playing music, eating, drinking espresso or beer, we are laughing and that is so inspiring to me. Bunny in the freezer! Just put some vinegar on it!

Love Rebecca

OCFF recap

We had the pleasure to attend the OCFF conference in Ottawa this past weekend and it proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. The Ontario Council of Folk Festivals hold a conference every October to bring it’s members together to discuss the various topics that concern the community in a series of panel discussions and meetings. It also functions as a showcasing and networking event for artists, artistic directors, labels, and management companies alike.

Being our first time there, we didn’t know exactly what to expect, but it was our intention to meet a bunch of people, collaborate with friends old and new, and present a couple private showcases in our hotel room. We hoped that we’d gain a fan or two and open the doors for some work in the Folk Festival community. We turned both beds into one huge sofa, lit candles, set up a sound-system and offered beer, wine, and hot apple cider to our guests.

What a party! The private showcases, which take place between 11:30pm and 4am on both the Friday and Saturday nights, occupy two entire floors of the hotel, with each room presenting showcase sets every half hour. There was plenty of jamming, sometimes lasting till the wee, wee hours.

I enjoyed some interesting discussions with an array of folks and the experience was an affirmation to me that we are slowly finding our place in the music community at large. We have sometimes struggled with being too jazz for the folk crowd and too folk for the jazz crowd, but I think now more than ever we are sure of our identity as a group of creative and open minded artists with some songs to share, and plenty to learn from our predecessors. If we can use our music to bring some people together from these and other seemingly disparate musical worlds than we’re on the right track….. I think.

Thanks to everybody who took the time with everything going on to come hear us play, and a very special thanks to Jaron Freeman Fox who sat in with us on Saturday with some beautiful fiddle playing.

Harley