Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #2 of 3

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, with his blue Fender stratocaster guitar, fronts the Blues Kings.

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, fronts the Blues Kings.

“With the power of soul, anything is possible.” – Jimi Hendrix

This is the second of three papers in the heading, “Native American Perspectives in Music”. In an earlier blog entry you’ll find my first paper and some background info.  In this essay we shall see that linking music with traditional and contemporary indigenous knowledge transforms human consciousness into the spiritual field.  One point that is made explicit by almost every author in this anthology is that legends, dance, music and song texts weave traditional and contemporary knowledge to generate power and transform consciousness.  Furthermore, with this transformation we learn that sound is a healing force.   Finally, we shall see how the preservation of ecology is related to the preservation of culture.

Understanding Native American Music Across the USA (Part 2)

“The sound takes me there.”

~ Margaret Paul; Passamaquoddy Traditional Singer (Browner 2009: 60)

Native North American’s weave traditional and contemporary knowledge by linking music with legend and dance to transform human consciousness into the spiritual field. This review focuses on a book, a website and a recording to develop understanding about Native American music across the United States. Specifically, key points from the Introduction and Chapters 3-9 of an anthology of scholarly case studies, Tara Browner’s Music of the First Nations, will be explored. Additionally, this author will summarize three stories at the PBS website, Circle of Stories-Many Voices, and explain why this author selected them and what was found to be important. Finally, using a musical piece from the CD accompanying Beverley Diamond’s book, Music of The First Nations – Tradition and Innovation in Native North America, this author will explain this musical piece’s contribution to the understanding of Native American perspectives discussed in this paper...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #2 of 6

Listening device - not necessarily for music.

Listening device – not necessarily for music.

Does music change when new musical practices and new technologies emerge?  Does subversion and transgression uproot the tyrannical weight of cultural memory?  This is the second post in this heading, “Critical Theory And The End Of Noise”. We are going to explore the thoughts and perspectives of some new and old friends. Look out below!  because we are going to interact with Canadian philosopher of communication theory, public intellectual and fixture in media discourse – Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980);  Austrian composer, longtime Bertolt Brecht associate – Hanns Eisler (1898-1962);  one of the foremost continental philosophers of the twentieth century,sociologist, philosopher and musicologist known for his critical theory of society – Theodor Adorno (1903-1969);  innovative French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician – Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995);  Spanish avant-garde experimental musician and sound artist – Francisco López (1964);  Swedish musicologist, researcher, writer, music critic – Ola Stockfelt (1953);  English musician, composer, record producer, singer, visual artist, and one of the principal innovators of ambient music – Brian Eno (1948);  author and Professor of Cultural and Postcolonial Studies known for his interdisciplinary and intercultural work on music, popular and metropolitan cultures – Iain Chambers (1949);  American composer, accordionist, author, and music professor who is a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music – Pauline Oliveros (1932); and American composer, music theorist, early adapter of electronic music, and Professor of Music Emeritus at Princeton University – J.K. Randall (1929-2014).

Reading Review #2

As new musical practices and technologies emerge, it is necessary to develop a new discourse about listening conventions because changes in music production and the reception of sound have caused a shift in the definition of “music”...

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Musical Composition And Structured Improvisation

Robert Crumb - Record Collector

Robert Crumb – Record Collector

Growing up as a guitarist, I learned a lot about music from records.  By the time I was twelve I learned how to slow down a record and pick out the guitar and bass parts.  I’d learn the chord progressions, riffs and solos from records and recordings.  Later on I collected  jazz records to hear the musical interaction and learn more songs.  My friends often did the same thing and recordings influenced how we performed.  However, learning from records and other musicians isn’t the only way I learned about music composition and improvisation.  The following essay is the first in a series under the “How and What I Learned” heading.  Originally written in early 2012, I tried to keep this essay as concise as possible.  Further reference on specific subjects may be found in the extensive “End Notes” which are used to more fully elucidate subjects.  Of my own work which is mentioned in this paper, many of the CD’s and some of the scores are available in the BLOG STORE.  A variety of supporting documents (SD) are mentioned in this essay and although they are not published here, they are available upon request.  Many composers and musicians are referenced in this essay.  If you are unfamiliar with someone, do yourself a favor and check them out.  There are so many fine musicians/composers out there.  I’m the type of musician who likes many forms of expression and so I am influenced by many sounds from many time periods.  For me, this is essential to be a creative 21st century composer and improvisor.

Musical Composition And Structured Improvisation – How and What I Learned

“Whenever music takes on the task of expression, it develops new technical means.”

~ H. H. Stuckenschmidt

This essay defines how and what I learned to develop a solid foundation in musical composition and structured improvisation and my incorporation of these techniques into recorded works...

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Anthropology Of Music – Post #1 of 3

The following essay was originally written in 2011 for a course I took called “The Anthropology Of Music”. In this course I learned about the theoretical perspectives that influence the field of ethnomusicology – the study of how and why people use music. An understanding of the diverse rubric of perspectives in this field helps me to enjoy music more than I previously did and more than I previously imagined. For example, at this point in 2014 I have been playing music over 47 years; since I was four years old. So, coming from a blues, rock and jazz background, I know how I learned music and I know how music and musical culture has been transmitted to me. A lot of that info is upcoming in future essays. I’m mentioning this because the rubric of my own understanding is more diversely illuminated since I began to understand the myriad of perspectives and approaches that ethnomusicologists employ.  To put it another way, at heart I am a performing musician. I relate to sound from an emotional point of view. When I play music with others, the sounds others make evoke emotions and nature.   When I hear the sounds others make,  I am inspired to participate and communicate with them using my own sound. However, by understanding contemporary cultural anthropological methodologies and perspectives, I now enjoy communicating and participating with a lot more people who use and enjoy music in ways that are different than me.

Anthropology of Music – Reading Review #1

“What has characterized ethnomusicology most throughout its history is a fascination with, and a desire to absorb and understand, the world’s cultural diversity.” ~ Bruno Nettl (1991: xi)

Bruno Nettl

Bruno Nettl

In this review, three books from three time periods link the development of ethnomusicology with the world’s cultural diversity and reflect on the history of ethnomusicological and anthropological theory and practice. Published in 1964, after “some fifteen years of thinking and of discussion with colleagues”, Alan P. Merriam’s The Anthropology of Musi...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #1 (2 of 2)

(This post is continued from last week)

Tara Browner’s, Music of the First Nations, is a collection of case studies by nine authors. One key point in the introduction describes the increasing difficulty in studying Native American music since the mid-1970’s because of Native American antipathy towards ethnomusicologists due to copyright and ownership disputes. Browner mentions that contemporary ethnomusicologists are learning to cope with legal, ethical and cultural issues. Differences in methodology, field methods and outlook have been developed with the research being more community based and oriented with “service to Native peoples as a primary goal” (Browner 2009: 2). In addition, ethnomusicologists are trained in the ethics and infringement of intellectual property rights. Lastly, Native Americans themselves are pro active in the direction and use of research in their communities.

In the introduction, Browner states the theoretical perspective used in each essay. As this author is learning the varieties of theoretical approaches employed by ethnomusicologists, the references Browner provides on the approaches of each essay (2-3) is helpful. Given that this book is recently published, the contemporary issues and questions that each writer addresses is intriguing and timely.   For example, in Chapter 1, Paula Conlon’s fieldwork explores how the traditional musical style of drum-dance songs continues to maintain links with the past. The contemporary culture is reflected in the interaction of the composer and teacher of the song (a man) with his wife, who in turn teaches the song to other women in the community for public performance. Although the composer does not sing in public performance, he may cry out from time to time while drum dancing. With regard to the known authorship of the 147 drum-dance songs, only four are attributed to female composers (9). Obviously gender issues exist that contribute to this disparity...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #1 (1 of 2)

Although I was born in Chicago, I was raised in New Jersey.  I grew up at the end of a dead end street.  As a kid in Plainfield , NJ in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, my friends and I ran around the neighborhood visiting our neighbors, many of whom were first or second generation immigrants from around the world.  Being a skinny kid, my friends mothers wanted to fatten me up.  Every place I went I was fed.  And every house had different music being played.  So  I heard music from many places in the world.  I remember enjoying traditional Irish music, Louis Armstrong, Top 40, R&B, Motown, Tito Puente, The Beatles, Tom Jones, Wes Montgomery, Bossa Nova, Swedish folk songs,  Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, classical music, 1950’s Doo-Wop and rock and roll,  and more.

As a teenager, now living in a rural area of NJ,  I visited local libraries to read about and listen to more jazz than I could ever find at nearby stores.  Additionally, I also borrowed music anthologies released by The Library of Congress and The Smithsonian Institute.   These anthologies focused on music from various parts of the world.  I enjoyed these recordings and learned a bit about the music from the liner notes and learning songs by ear.   Some of these recordings were engineered by scholars trained in ethnomusicology.  However, most of these recordings were older than the established field of ethnomusicology and thus were made in a predecessor  discipline such as comparative musicology or folk song studies.  Although the distinctions are significant with respect to the scientific and cultural conditions employed during the learning and transmission of the research, it is not the purpose of this paper to delve into those distinctions here.  Future essays will.

This is the first of three papers originally written in the fall of 2011 for a course called, “Native American Perspectives in Music”. As a prerequisite for this course I studied Anthropology. My ‘go to” text was Anthropology: A Global Perspective by Raymond Scupin and Chris...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #1 (2 of 2)

(this post is continued from last week)

Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #1 (2 of 2)

Giving value to Noise allowed electronic music pioneers to experiment with and establish new forms of musical expressions. The innovative power of electronic music lies in the hands of those composers who use the medium for experimentation in order to scrutinize musical axioms. French composer, musicologist and experimental electronic pioneer Pierre Schaeffer coined “music concrete”; ‘concrete’ meaning “directly” as opposed to dealing with the detours of notation and conductors (xiii). Many influential musicians worked with Schaeffer in his electronic studio including Varèse, Györgi Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio. Composer Makis Solomos notes, “It is true that the electro-acoustic practice of the 1950s made Ligeti, Stockhausen, and Berio discover radical new ways of conceiving music in general, and that they applied these new ways of thinking to their instrumental music” (245). In this way composers used Noise as the sound upon which they would build from. In essence, this is the ‘grain’ that Barthes wrote about. Some composers were captivated by new sounds before they began experimenting with electro-acoustic music. Solomos notes, “Xenakis is more like Varèse, who wrote radically new music before the introduction of the new technology, a music that is no longer composed with sounds but composes the sound” (245). After World War II, new theories about music composition and production thrived simultaneously.

Iannis Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis

Solomos mentions, “I will say with [music theorist] Theodor Adorno that the evolution of the new, electro-acoustic means of artistic production converged with the independent evolution of music itself ” (245). The power of experimental music was found in the new Noise. Solomos notes, “With Xenakis, as with some other composers of his generation, music became partially experimental...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #1 (1 of 2)

Blue peeling paint on a Tokyo building.

image by BE

In the winter of 2012 I took a course called “Critical Theory And The End Of Noise”.  This post, a reading review, is the first of six papers from that heading which will be published here.  These papers have been edited or modified since I originally wrote them.  I added a few commas and tied some points together a little better than before.    There is always more I could do, but my hero Bruce Lee is whispering in my ear , “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”  People get ready, a variety of high-brow and low-brow sources are cited.  Sheesh, this essay runs the gamut from German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, to French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician Roland Barthes to French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic Michel Foucault to composer Edgard Varèse to French economist Jacques Attali to champion of experimental music Henry Cowell to French composer, musicologist and experimental electronic pioneer Pierre Schaeffer to music critic Simon Reynolds to pop singer Adele to prolific musician, writer and editor Merzbow.  The street artist Banksy wrote, “Some people criticize me for using sources that are a bit low brow but you know what? ‘I’m just going to use that hostility to make me stronger, not weaker’ as Kelly Rowland said on the X Factor.” Thanks Banksy!  Did you know that in 2013 my co-led trio TOTEM> released  a CD called “Voices Of Grain”?  Barthes and some other writers, but especially Barthes, sourced in the following paper,  inspired that title.  Thanks RB.  By the way, some readers may not know that I was fortunate to study with composer Gheorghe Costinescu who received a Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia University and also received a Post-Graduate Diploma from The Juilliard School, where his main teacher was Luciano Berio.   Berio was a student of Schaeffer...

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Publishing Schedule


old photo 48th street NYC

I have 16 papers that I’d like to publish here. I wrote these between 2011-2012 and have subsequently revised them a little bit for this blog. Some of these papers read more academically than others because I was exploring a variety of styles of technical academic writing.  My publishing schedule will be on an alternating cycle involving four topics or headings. Each heading has numerous essays: three to six. Furthermore, each essay may be divided into two or more parts which will be posted on consecutive weeks. So for the next six to twelve months, the topics or headings I’m going to cover include:


Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – 6 essays


Native American Perspectives in Music – 3 essays


Anthropology Of Music – 3 essays


“How and What I Learned” Essays:

  Music Composition and Structured Improvisation

            Theory and Harmony

            Western Music History From Antiquity Through The 18th Century

  Intro Guitar Technique and Advanced Guitar and Performance Techniques


Consequently, as the blog develops, I will post more about my own compositional strategies such as:

The Musical Atlas Of Inner Constellation

Development of String Quartet #1

Thanks for your interest and please stay tuned.

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Mission Statement

    This blog is about my involvement with music and functions as a forum of expression where I hope to illuminate how I engage with and use music. This is a big topic for me because I have been playing music, and specifically the guitar, for most of my life. For me, a guitar is an instrument for evolution and revolution.  An evolution of consciousness and self-realization through the manifestation, manipulation and use of sound.  Evolutionary processes give rise to a diversity of musical expression. These processes take place over relatively long periods of time.

    Furthermore, guitar and musical revolutions for me emerged from fundamental changes in power and organizational structures.  These changes took place in a relatively short period of time. Aristotle described two types of political revolution:

  1. Complete change from one constitution to another.
  2. Modification of an existing constitution.

    For me the “constitution” may be my own personality, the general musical marketplace, or the musical culture with which I participate.  Many of the essays I publish here will illuminate my personal course of evolution and revolution.

    People make music what it is. So for the most part, this blog is especially about how I make and use music with others. In this blog I’ll strive to touch on the ways in which I make music meaningful and useful in my life.

    My hope is that readers will be attracted to the diverse perspectives that I express about music, my own music history and the music history of others, my participation with other musicians, how and why I make music, music composition, improvisation, the economics of the music business, issues of identity and authenticity, guitars (probably lots about guitars!), guitar gear, recording and engineering techniques, new music technologies, sheet music, the books I’ve written and the books I’m working on, transcriptions, opinions, reviews, etc. My hope is that this blog helps you to think musically.

    I am uniquely qualified to talk about these su...

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