Harmolodics is the musical philosophy and compositional/improvisational method of jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. It is therefore associated primarily with the jazz avant-garde and the free jazz movement, although its implications extend beyond these limits. Coleman has also used the name "Harmolodic" for both his first website and his record label.
The Grove Dictionary of Music tries to set forth the known knowns:
...apparently involves the simultaneous sounding, in different tonalities and at different pitches [...] but in otherwise unchanged form, of a single melodic or thematic line; the procedure produces a type of simple heterophony. [...] More generally the harmolodic theory espouses principles already well established in free jazz, namely equality among instruments (rather than the traditional separation between soloist and accompaniment) in harmonically free collective improvisation. According to Ronald Shannon Jackson, a member of Prime Time, the term derives from a conflation of the words “harmony,” “movement,” and “melody”; Jackson has also stated that, in his opinion, the term has no precise musical meaning.
1978 Germany. Ornette Coleman - sax, violin; Ben Nix - guitar; James Blood Ulmer - guitar; Fred Williams - bass; Shannon Jackson - drums; Denardo Coleman - drums
Coleman defines harmolodics as "the use of the physical and the mental of one's own logic made into an expression of sound to bring about the musical sensation of unison executed by a single person or with a group." Applied to the particulars of music, this means that "harmony, melody, speed, rhythm, time and phrases all have equal position in the results that come from the placing and spacing of ideas."
Don Cherry advance this approach
one of the profound systems today for both Western and Eastern music. [...] When we would play a composition, we could improvise forms, or modulate or make cadences or interludes, but all listening to each other to see which way it was going so we could blow that way. Ornette’s harmony would end up being a melody and the original melody would end up being a harmony. So he could continue on that way to write for a whole orchestra, starting from the first melody which ends up being harmony to the harmonic melodies that come after the main theme.
Harmolodics seeks to free musical compositions from any tonal center, allowing harmonic progression independent of traditional European notions of tension and release (see: atonality). Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value. The general effect is that music achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.
Ronald Radano suggests that Coleman's concepts of harmonic unison and harmolodics were influenced by Pierre Boulez's theory of aleatory while Gunther Schuller suggests that harmolodics is based on the superimposition of the same or similar phrases, thus creating polytonality and heterophony.
Coleman has been preparing a book called The Harmolodic Theory since at least the 1970s, but this remains unpublished. The only other known explanation of harmolodics that was written by Coleman is an article called "Prime Time for Harmolodics" (1983).
COLEMAN: So for me, making music is like a form of religion for me because it soothes the heart and increases the pleasure of the brain and most of all it’s very enjoyable to express something that you can hear and can’t see, which is not bad you know and everyone gets the same benefit. That’s a pretty good equalization there you know plus I’ve been playing so long it’s not ummm…my real concern. It’s my real concern for the things that I would uh like to perfect in music is to uh heal the suffering, the pain and the uh and the uh what is it called when you’re…when you’re lonely?
Proponents include James Blood Ulmer and Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Ulmer, who played and toured with Coleman during the 1970s, has adopted harmolodics and applied the theories to his approach to jazz and blues guitar.
"The harmony doesn't dictate the direction, the melody does." Bern Nix
Bern Nix define the harmolodic way in one interview to allaboutjazz:
"I [once] said to Ornette that it seemed like counterpoint. I was working with him, rehearsing with him, and we were getting down to a couple of different lines... and I said to him, 'You know, to me this sounds like counterpoint.' He said, 'Well, it's not exactly counterpoint, it's something else.' You know what I mean? The way Ornette uses language, he likes to put his own spin on everything. But to me, it's contrapuntal. I talk to other people and they say the same thing.
"I always thought harmolodics was an open-ended exploration of the meaning of melody, rhythm and harmony; that's the way I see it. [You're asking] what is melody, what is rhythm—what it is. It's more like that, than a big system, you know—it's ways of dealing with it. [You] figure out the different ways of doing [it]."
Prime Time, a twin electric guitar band plus Coleman and the rhythm section, released a number of albums, and Nix played on six, beginning with Dancing In Your Head (A&M, 1975) and ending with Virgin Beauty (CBS, 1988). The albums in between were Body Meta (Artist House, 1976), Of Human Feelings (Antilles, 1979), In All Languages (Caravan Of Dreams, 1987) and Live At Jazzbuehne Berlin (Repertoire, 1988).
He describes the journey on the albums: "We were basically working on the same concept with all the albums. Essentially it was an evolving thing, really—the same concept, the whole idea of compositional improvisation and just trying to develop it. If you get a band, you try and develop it, to try to make it better. It was basically the same kind of idea—composing, orchestrating as you play."
The Harmolodic Manifesto
by Ornette Coleman
Of all inventions of 20th century musical instruments the most challenging ones today are the Electic Guitar, Bass & Drums. Most of those who play these instruments, which are countless players, are dedicated only to their personal expressions free of concepts are styles. Normally they are used as supportive players not equal to jazz or classical concepts, etc. When I started to form a Harmolodic Band, I auditioned a young kid who did not read or write music that played the Bass (electric). I asked him to play whatever he wanted. As he started to play I joined him and when he stopped I thought I would offer him a job and teach him Harmolodics. He told me he did not want to play the kind of music we were playing although I was playing with him (what an example of personal interest). This confirmed my belief in Harmolodics.
Question: "Where can/will I find a player who can read (or not read) who can play their instrument to their own satisfaction and accept the challenge of the music environment?" For Harmolodic Democracy - the player would need the freedom to express what Harmodlodic information they found to work in composed music. There is always a rhythm - melody - harmony concept. All ideas have lead resolutions. Each player can choose any of the connections from the composers work for their personal expression, etc. Prime Time is not a jazz, classical, rock or blues ensemble. It is pure Harmolodic where all forms that can, or could exist yesterday, today, or tomorrow can exist in the now or moment without a second.
Enter: "Sound Museum." The title is used as a metaphor. The sound of this music is made from the way its played not by a given sound played in a set sequence. All are epxressed as equal information for the players to compose imporivse withouot any reference to a style which lies in the judgment of memory. in writing a letter or any form of academic expression, the results are all used as a form of repetition. Equal but not free. Free but not equal. One only has to observe someone else's judgment to know that. This CD has one song and thirteen instrumentals. The song tells a story of the need and want of a couple who have had a relationship for a long time while existing with the condition of their trust and love.
"Sound Museum" exists in two CD renditions of the same compositions played differently in each rendition. This concept was done to show music harmolodically. In the Harmolodic world the concept of space and time are not past or future but the present. Applied harmolodics will allow equal relationship to any information where an answer or a concept is an opinion. The four players are expressing their opinionss free of the leader. In harmolodics, the melody is not the lead. The melody occupies the same concept as a written document like a letter. One writes what they wish as in a song: Don't You Know By Now. As a composer/player, the work that goes into composing is totally independent of playing and vice versa. I have found this to be true of playing the violin and trumpet. I don't play either the same as I do the saxophone. For me it is impossible, unless I transpose what is called the melody and play the same unison pitches on each instrument. It comes out sounding different. For me, it works.
All musicians who are playing in this quartet and Prime Time use the Harmolodic concept. Harmolodics is not a style. Those who judge the concept of Harmolodic playing are using outdated terms to describe their knowledge. All listeners are equal in their opinions.
Communism, socialism, capitalism, and monarchy in the world (have) and are changing for a truer relationship of the democracy of the individual. Every person who has had a democratic experience by birth or by passport knows there are no hatred or enemies in democracy, because everyone is an individual. Learning, doing, being, are the conversationship for perfecting, protecting, and caring of the belief in existence as an individual in relationship to everyone, physically, mentally, spiritually
- The concept of self.
- I play pure emotion.
- In music, the only thing that matters is whether you feel it or not.
- Chords are just the name for sounds, which really need no names at all, as names are sometimes confusing
- Blow what you feel - anything. Play the thought, the idea in yoru mind - Break away from the convention and stagnation - escape!
- [Musicians] have more room to express themselves with me...They should be free to play things as they feel it, the way it's comfortable for them to play it. You can useany note and rhythm pattern that makes good sense for you. You just hear it - like beautiful thoughts - you don't listen to people telling you how to play.
- My music doesn't have any real time, no metric time. It has time, but not in the sense that you can time it. It's more like breathing - a natural, freer time. People have forgotten how beautiful it is to be natural. Even in love.
- When we were on relief during the Depression, they'd give us dried-up old cheese and dried milk and we'd get ourselves all filled up and we'd kept this thing going, singing and dancing. I remember that when I play. You have to stick to your roots. Sometimes I play happy. Sometimes I play sad. But the condition of being alive is what I play all the time.
- Music has no face. Whatever gives oxygen its power, music is cut from the same cloth.
- It was when I realized I could make mistakes that I decided I was really on to something.
- People don't realize it, but there is a real folklore music in jazz. It's neither black nor white. it's the mixture of the races, and folklore has come from it.
- I have found that by eliminating chords or keys or melodies as being the present idea of what you're trying to feel i think you can play more emotion into the music. in other words, you can have the harmony, melody, intonation all blending into one to the point of your emotional thought.
- There is a music that has the quality to preserve life.
- I listen to anybody. The only thing I am interested in is their natural ability. I don't care if they're playing buckets. I'm only interested in what gets through to people, what makes them tap their feet, what moves them.
- I was out at Margaret Mead's school and was teaching some kids how to play instantly. I asked the question, 'How many kids would like to play music and have fun?' And all the little kids raised up their hands. And I asked,'Well, how do you do that?' And one little girl said, 'You just apply your feelings to sound.' She was right - if you apply your feelings to sound, regardless of what instrument you have, you'll probably make good music.
- You really have to have players with you who will allow your insticts to flourish in such a way that they will make the same order as if you sat down and written a piece of music. To me, that is the most glorified goal of the imporvising quality of playing - to be able to do that.