Friday, October 13, 2006

the shark-tailed dog

A surprising article on Rudresh Mahanthappa's Codebook in Wired. They've chosen the geekiest angle possible, obviously (the article contains music samples).

the tune "Further and In Between" is based on the cyclical number 142857. Like all cyclical numbers, this one has some very strange properties; for example, if you multiply it by 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, you get the same digits in a different configuration (for example, 2 x 142857 = 285714).

By mapping particular musical pitches to each digit and running through his multiplication tables, Mahanthappa came up with a winding, circuitous melody that makes a surprising amount of sense. That's partly because he wedded it to a strong, swinging rhythm, and partly because he gave himself permission to fudge things a bit in order to prevent the math from overwhelming the music.
Math-rock (I considered crypto-jazz, but that sounds too sinister) was never truer to its name. I haven't had much time to spend with Codebook since I bought it at Mahanthappa's recent Brussels stop, but the bits and pieces I've heard suggest it to be impressive. Definitely complex, but not as nerdy as the article suggests (or as "accessible to the general public," which is the author's over-enthusiasm speaking). Iyer's suppler approach constrasts with the altoist's relentlessness and is blowing me away, at the moment.


Ethan, on Ornette, pragmatically and passionately defines a harmolodics for the rest of us. The post is titled "Prelude," hopefully there'll be more.

A question for the experts: what with all the substitutions of substitutions and other crazy harmonic strategies out there, has the line between playing changes and not playing them blurred out of existence? Or is it more a matter of intent? ie. Playing a system that makes it sound like you're not playing the changes qualifies as playing the changes, whereas playing "the idea of [changes]" (as Ethan puts it) doesn't qualify?


Bebo Valdes listens with Ben Ratliff.
There are books of sheet music by Rachmaninoff and Chopin; a photo of him in a tuxedo, tall and commanding, on the cover of “Cha Cha Cha & Mambo for Small Dance Bands,” a book he wrote and published in Havana in the 1950’s, aiming at the English-language market; paintings by Haitian artists; Joseph Schillinger’s “System of Musical Composition,” the dense theoretical books beloved by intellectual musicians of the 1940’s and 50’s that break down melody, harmony and rhythm into mathematic logic. There is, incongruously, a shelf of pop-music lead-sheet books like “100 of the Greatest Easy Listening Hits,” all well thumbed. Then there are some recent awards, including several Grammys, and a ceremonial key to the city of Miami.
Note that the awards are positioned below the easy listening hits.
“Even though I’m Cuban, I’m really an American arranger,” he reflected. “Because the way I write has as much to do with American music as it does with Cuban music. And at the same time it has to do with the fugue.” (An example of his fugue writing comes in the middle of “Devoción,” a beguiling part of his “Suite Cubana.”)

It was pointed out to him that fugues have little to do with Cuban or American music. “Yes, but I do it anyway,” he said. “Why shouldn’t I, if I know how?”

Settled in Shipping has gotten into the habit of spending a lot of time on trains to New York. Follow him around.


Phil Freeman on the perpetual joys of rediscovering Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. A quibble: no way does a two-CD collection qualify as a box set.


While I find the other three the tracks on Adam Benjamin's MySpace page horrendous or kitsch (his user name is E-Jazz-Q-Lation, after all), "Countdown" makes an unexpected amount of sense recast as digital Mwandishi-meets-electro-samba. More about It's a Standard, Standard, Standard, Standard World on Greenleaf.


In the don't-know-the-music-but-like-the-blog category: John Mayer.