Wing it

When asked to define improvising, I say I play music that is less than five minutes old.  Yet it isancient, in that thes ounds that attract me have an archaic feel.  When it is truly happening I feel that I am lightly touching something deep in culture, deep in genetics, deep in our animal nature &mdash  a fundamental connection to others. Making art, whether you do it solo or in a group, derives its patterns from everything around us, in an interdependent network.  We learn to work as nature does, with the material of ourselves: our body, our mind, our companions, and the radical possibilities of the present moment.
Stephen Nachmanovitch


Night comes, an angel stands
Measuring out the time of stars,
Still are the winds, and still the hours.

It would be peace to lie
Still in the still hours at the angel’s feet,
Upon a star hung in a starry sky,
But hearts another measure beat.

Each body, wingless as it lies,
Sends out its butterfly of night
With delicate wings, and jewelled eyes.

And some upon day’s shores are cast,
And some in darkness lost
In waves beyond the world, where float
Somewhere the islands of the blest.

— Kathleen Raine

Mátyás Seiber

Mátyás Seiber was born in Budapest, 4 May 1905.  He moved to England as a young man to escape the Nazis.  He studied with Kodaly, as you can no doubt hear in this music.  He expanded from there to compose in many different styles, but he was most comfortable and most engaging when he embraced his native East European folk music tradition.

    Jazzolet, a youthful work               Permutationi, a serial composition for wind quintet

Disheartened, he raised his eyes towards the slow-drifting clouds, dappled and seaborne. They were voyaging across the deserts of the sky, a host of nomads on the march, voyaging high over Ireland, westward bound. The Europe they had come from lay out there beyond the Irish Sea, Europe of strange tongues and valleyed and woodbegirt and citadelled and of entrenched and marshalled races. He heard a confused music within him as of memories and names which he was almost conscious of but could not capture even for an instant; then the music seemed to recede, to recede, to recede, and from each receding trail of nebulous music there fell always one longdrawn calling note, piercing like a star the dusk of silence. Again! Again! Again! A voice from beyond the world was calling.

— words of James Joyce, set to music in Three Fragments “atmospheric”

Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.



I discovered this music when I was in college, more than 50 years ago.  It remains my favorite symphony of the 20th Century, though the style is to play it too fast today, “because they can”.

Below, it’s cued to the 4th movement.  Listen for flute and clarinet solos.  Laugh at the goofiness of the last two minutes.

Sergei Prokofiev was born Apr 27, 1891.

The basis of Western music

As a child, I wondered about the 12-tone scale.  As an adult, I realize how much it is worth wondering about.  It is a minor miracle of mathematical coincidence and perceptual psychology.

All of Western music since the Renaissance, classical and jazz and pop and whatever, is constructed from 12 notes.  Of course, physics tells us there are infinite gradations between every pair of adjacent notes.  But our ears hear them as one of the 12 notes played out of key, or as a sliding between two of the notes, or as vibrato modulating one of the 12 notes.

How much of this is perception is built into our genes, and how much of it is cultural habituation, from having heard 12-tone music all our lives?  Here is some scientific speculation on the question.

I remember as a child thinking that an octave sounds like “the same note” in different guises.  I felt this long before I learned that an octave was a factor of two.  (And even longer before I learned that the 12 tones divide that octave into 12 logarithmically even increments.)  Yes, logarithms.  It’s all about ratios.

Why we have 12 notes in the musical scale (video)

Following the math of the 12-tone scale, we come to the finding that the next (past 12) natural division of the octave is into 53 microtones.  History of the 53-tone scale

Here’s a sample of 53-tone music .  Do you think that a musical culture could ever be built around the 53-tone scale comparable in expressive range and creative potential to the 12-tone legacy?


Eugène Bozza

Eugène Bozza, born this day in 1905, was a man out of tune with his time, absorbed in the aesthetics of music, composing music that is pleasing and interesting to the ear while the world around him was mired in despair, his homeland was occupied by Nazis, and people everywhere were wailing in pain and loss from the Second World War. None of this is in Bozza’s music, nor is there any concession to the intellectualization and abstraction of music that reached its nadir of dominance over musical criticism during Bozza’s most productive years.