Monday, March 28, 2016

Closed due to Illness

Sorry Folks, 

Closed due to Illness


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Simon Jermyn 13 Questions

Photo Scott Friedlander

Simon Jermyn is an electric bassist, guitarist and composer originally from Dublin, Ireland living in Brooklyn, NYC. Simon’s debut album Trot A Mouse was released on Fresh Sound New Talent in 2008 featuring Chris Speed and Loren Stillman

Photo Peter Gannushkin

He is a member of a number of ensembles including his own group, Trot A Mouse with Tom Rainey, Ingrid Laubrock and Mat Maneri, world renowned drummer Jim Black's  group Smash and Grab with whom Jermyn will soon perform at The Village Vanguard, a collaborative trio with Allison Miller and Jerome Sabbagh, Howard Peach (with Lander Gyslelinck and Chris Speed), as well as his solo project of tape pieces entitled Spirit Spout, commissioned by the PRS for Music Foundation, IMC and Culture Ireland which featured a recent performance at the London Jazz Festival.

Simon regularly performs all around Europe and the States at festivals and clubs.

Since moving to New York Simon has had the opportunity to perform with Bill McHenry, Ben Monder, Jim Black, John Hollenbeck, Oscar Noriega, Chris Speed, Tony Malaby,Ralph Alessi, Dan Tepfer, Ches Smith, Loren Stillman, Jonathan Finlayson, Satoshi Takeishi, The Mivos Quartet, Jacob Sacks, Jeff Davis, Briggan Krauss, Tommy Crane, Tyshawn Sorey, Nate Wood, Kirk Knuffke, Empyrean Atlas and Glass Ghost amongst others.
In addition to the above Simon holds a PhD in Performance from University of Ulster.

Photo Peter Gannushkin

Of his most recent release entitled "Pictorial Atlas of Mammals" by his band Trot A Mouse, the Irish Times said
'Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, violist Mat Maneri and drummer Tom Rainey may not be troubling the top of the charts, but they represent the vanguard of American improvised music and, with records like this, Simon Jermyn is claiming a place among them.'
and of his previous album entitled "Hymni" Downtown Music Gallery's Bruce Lee Gallanter noted
“By far, this is the best solo electric bass effort I’ve heard since Hugh Hopper’s classic solo album ’1984′ from 1973.”


Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

I think the first record I bought with my own money was one of the Guns'N'Roses Use Your Illusion albums ! I think the first 'jazz" record I bought with my own money was Herbie Hancock's The New Standard and I remember being puzzled by Scofields playing at the time !

The most recent record I bought is a Simon Nabatov trio record called Tough Customer with Tom Rainey and Marc Helias and the first track from the new Cuong Vu Trio meets Pat Metheny record.

How's your musical routine practice?

It changes depending on what is going on. I have some warm up / technical / sound / time stuff that I do a version of almost every time I practice. Often I am focused on learning peoples compositions for a gig.

Photo Peter Gannushkin

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

I think its relevance is to enable you to realize whatever your musical ideas are and to be able to deal with the musical challenges you encounter.

Depict the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.

Thats a tough one. Something that is honest and personal but can change and be suprising ?!

How do you feel listening to your own music?

It really depends. Sometimes its unbearable. I can't help but notice all the things I don't like in my own playing. Sometimes its great though , even weirdly moving. I guess to a greater or lesser extent we all take elements of our favorite musicians / musics and incorporate aspects of them in to our own playing, so it stands to reason that sometimes its enjoyable to hear oneself !

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician

I started playing music when I was 7 and I can't really be certain about specific sound experiences before then. Since then however there have so many it's hard to know where to begin.....

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music.

Hearing Bulgarian Women's choirs both on record and live on a trip to Bulgaria many years ago.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences? 

Well, they are not really secret but.... I like books… recent years lots of Murakami, Dave EggarsHeart of Darkness made me think about some things. So did Moby Dick even though I only read half of it. My parents are a huge influence. Religion. I like listening to birds. I got pretty in to boxing for a while.

What would you enjoy most in an art work?

Usually its honesty tempered with a mastery of craft tempered with vulnerability

 Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?

I am pretty over the moon about the living artists / heroesI am collaborating with presently like playing in Jim Black's guitar quartet performing the Bagatelles of John Zorn for example. I have been able to play with a number of people that I have really looked up to for a long time since moving to NYC, not to mention all of my peers here.

If I had to pick somebody not alive though, I think Carlo Gesualdo would have been pretty interesting to collaborate with. So would John Dowland.

What quality do you most empatize with in a musician?

I think the same qualities mentioned in question number nine.

What is the most recent musical experience that has attracted your attention?

I just saw a rehearsal of the Messiaen's Turangalila-synphonie with the NY Phil with Yuja Wang on piano conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and that certainly attracted my attention.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I lead a band called Trot A Mouse with Mat Maneri on viola, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor sax and Tom Rainey on drums. We released an album called Pictorial Atlas of Mammals a few months ago on Chris Speed's label, Skirl records, so that is important to me.

I also recently completed a solo tour that came out of several months of work. I was the recipient of a PRS For Music grant that enabled me to commission 3 composers to write tape pieces for me to perform solo, on either 6 string electric bass or guitar. The project is called Spirit Spout and there will hopefully be a record soon.

Aside from those things I have been enjoying playing lots of sideman gigs with various bands.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

LOW: The Power & Beauty of Bass

November 8, 2015 - July 31, 2016

In broad acoustic terms, “bass” refers to sounds that fall below 262 Hertz on the frequency spectrum. In musical terms it can refer to the instruments that make those low sounds as well as the sounds themselves. Its presence in music is critical. The pulse laid down by the bass is like an engine. A whole band will move or not move depending on the actions of the bass. And the notes played in the bassline are like a compass. The lowest sounding pitch can help us find true north, or the harmony of the music.


About the exhibit

This exhibition introduces several aspects of the low register—bass—experience. Our goals are to open your eyes, ears and imagination to this sonic realm, and to inspire you to incorporate this new awareness into your everyday activities.

SEE, HEAR, and FEEL low sound

In this part of the exhibition, visitors can engage with four different interactives, all developed by Dr. Chris Warren.

Who is Dr. Warren? Chris is a sound artist, signal processing researcher and musical instrument inventor. He earned an M.A. in Music, Science and Technology from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Music from UCSD. His research in acoustic measurement produced the EchoThief Impulse Response Library. These sonic snapshots of distinctive spaces throughout North America provide one of the most rich and varied collections of reverbs available. He is a resident artist at Space4Art in San Diego and performs with the group A Hundred Ghosts. He teaches music composition at San Diego State University. His scoring work can be heard in the new KPBS radio series Incoming.

#1. SEE Bass Frequencies

An engaging video explores how bass waves can be seen, using water in a subwoofer or through a hose.

#2: SEE Your own voice
Ernst Chladni (1756–1827), musician and physicist, developed a unique method to make sonic vibrations visible. He covered thin metal plates in sand and then bowed them like a violin to make them vibrate. Sand moves away from the areas in motion (antinodes) and collects in the areas at rest (nodes).

By measuring the distance between these nodes and antinodes, Chladni could see that low frequencies create large wavelengths while high frequencies create shorter ones. In the LOW exhibition room, this digital recreation of Chladni’s experiments uses the sound of your voice to move pixels around like grains of sand. See the difference in how it reacts to a low growl or a high whistle!

Transform you voice. In opera, the lowest male voice is known as basso profondo, Italian for “deep bass.” In this interactive, visitors can sing into the microphone to transform your voice into a basso profondo.

Feeling the Low End. Bass waves can be felt as well as seen and heard. Experience it for yourself. This interactive uses a musical product called the “ButtKicker,” a low frequency audio transducer designed specifically for musician monitoring, stage and studio use. Dave Garibaldi of the group Tower of Power, explains the impact of this product in a live performance setting: “The ButtKicker has helped me to feel my bass drum as well as hear it. Oftentimes the sound of my bass drum is lost with the bass. The ButtKicker has changed all of that.” Mickey Hart (famed Grateful Dead drummer) says, “Thanks to my ButtKickers, I can actually FEEL the low end on stage which my in-ear monitors just can’t re-create.”


Under the musical direction of Kamau Kenyatta, a series of videos showcase the thoughts, insights and musical expressions of artists who play low register instruments.

Who is Kamau Kenyatta? Kamau Kenyatta is a pianist, saxophonist, GRAMMY Award-winning producer and arranger, and a lauded lecturer at the UCSD Music Department. He has worked with jazz greats including Hubert Laws, Donald Byrd, Yusef Lateef, Jim Pepper and Earl Klugh. World tours have taken him to over 20 countries and include stints with The Supremes, Carl Anderson, Oscar Brown, Jr., SWV, Silk, the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and New Kids On The Block. His 2007 recording Destiny is his most recent release as a leader.

His work as a producer and arranger with vocalist Gregory Porter has yielded two 2013 GRAMMY nominations, and a 2014 GRAMMY win (Best Jazz Vocal Album) for his work on Porter’s Blue Note Records debut disc Liquid Spirit. Kamau has also produced Porter’s upcoming 2016 release, as well as a groundbreaking project with Brazilian vocalist and composer, Ed Motta.


This video explores the relationship between musicians and their low-register instruments. Why did they choose their instrument and how does it make them feel? What does their instrument sound like solo and with other instruments? Watch, listen and find out!



Discover what music would sound like if the bass part were missing. Guests can watch a video or listen to the music selections on an interactive iPad to hear (and see) music played with and without bass. Do you think it makes a difference?



Harry Fleishman's Condor

The instruments and products on display in this exhibition are a small sampling of the many low register instruments that exist in today’s musical world.

Fleishman Big Compact Bass - Luthier Harry Fleishman's 2015 Compact Big Acoustic Bass is the culmination of nearly 40 years of development to make an acoustic bass that is compatible with acoustic guitars. It is made from curly maple, ebony and mahogany.

Didgeridoo is a musical instrument that originated among the indigenous people of Australia. It’s made of a hollowed out log and is usually played sitting down. A low drone sound is produced by continuously vibrating one’s lips, and a continuous tone is created through the use of circular breathing – simultaneously breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Bass Clarinet (Jupiter 675N) The bass clarinet is a single reed woodwind instrument that was developed in the late 18th/early 19th century. It can play notes an octave lower than the more commonly heard B-flat clarinet and also has a large dynamic (loud/soft) range.

Bassoon (Jupiter 363) The bassoon is a double reed instrument of the woodwind family that has a rich history spanning several centuries. While considered a low register instrument, it is not as low as the contrabassoon whose bore is 15 feet 8 inches long, compared to the bassoon’s 7 feet 9 inches.

Alto Flute (Armstrong Step Up Model 703 “Heritage”) The alto flute sounds a fourth lower than the more common C flute. Its tube is longer and thicker than a C flute and thus requires more breath from the musician. The headjoint of the alto flute may be straight or curved to accommodate different arm lengths.

Bass Trombone (Jupiter XO 1240) Unlike brass instruments that use valves to change pitch, trombones typically use a “slide” mechanism. In order to play the right note in tune, a trombone player develops very accurate muscle memory to know where the slide must stop. The ancestor to the trombone appeared in the 15th century and was called a “sackbut.”

Tuba (King Student Model 1135W) The tuba is the lowest sounding instrument in the brass family. It was incorporated into bands in the mid-19th century and replaced its predecessor known as the

Ophicleide. The main tube of a B-flat tuba is approximately 18 feet long.

Sousaphone (C.G. Conn 36K Series Fiberglass BBb) The Sousaphone is a type of tuba and is the descendant of an instrument known as the Helicon. The main difference is that the latter has a moveable, directional bell. The first Sousaphone was created by J.W. Pepper reportedly at the request of John Philip Sousa himself.

Baritone Horn (King Student Model 623) The baritone horn belongs to the brass family and is commonly played in school bands and marching bands. If laid out flat, the tubing of a baritone horn would be 9 feet long. Compared to the euphonium, it has a smaller and more cylindrical bore. This causes the sound to be somewhat more strident than the larger euphonium.

Euphonium (King Student Model 628) The euphonium is similar to the baritone horn in that they have the same musical range and fingering. However the euphonium has a wider bore which is also more conical than the baritone. Thus, the sound of the euphonium is a bit more mellow, or darker, than that of the baritone horn.

Marching Tuba (King Student Model 1140MW) The marching tuba is similar to the concert tuba listed above, however you will notice that its piston valves are positioned differently to facilitate a different playing position.

Baritone Saxophone (Jupiter 593GL E-flat) Commonly referred to as the “bari sax,” this instrument is larger (thus lower sounding) than the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, but not as large as the bass, contrabass or subcontrabass saxophones! The saxophone family was invented by the Belgian musician and instrument designer, Adolphe Sax (1814–94) who was looking for an instrument that had the power of brass with the expressivity of the woodwinds.

Bass (Silver Creek LR-102 Lee Rocker Tuxedo) The upright bass, also known as the double bass or simply bass, is the largest and lowest pitched stringed instrument in the orchestra. The bass on display is different from an orchestral instrument. Instead of the natural wood finish, it has a black laminate finish and is set up to be played Rockabilly “slap bass” style. It is endorsed by famed rockabilly bassist, Lee Rocker.

Kick Drum (DW Limited Edition Timeless TimberDrum Set) This bass drum was manufactured using lumber dropped by ships on Lake Superior that sank to the cold bottom where it was perfectly preserved. Years later, the Timeless Timber company recovered this wood from lake bottom and discovered near-perfect acoustic properties.

EarthQuaker Devices “Bit Commander” This is a monophonic analog guitar synthesizer. Octave effect boxes are a type of special effects unit which mix the input signal with a synthesized signal whose musical tone is an octave lower or higher than the original.


Electro-Harmonix Bass “Big Muff Pi” Distortion Pedal This is a distortion pedal also known as a fuzz box. “Fuzz” is a term used to describe a particular form of distortion, originally created by guitarists using faulty equipment.

Electro-Harmonix “Q-Tron+” Envelope Controlled Filter An envelope controlled filter is a type of wah-wah effects pedal. The distinctive choppy rhythm guitar sound on many funk and disco recordings from the 1970s popularized the effe


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Richard Osborn 13 Questions

Richard Osborn first came to the guitar from the world of classical piano, as a result of the civil rights movement and the folk music revival growing in strength in the early 1960's. He learned Delta Blues fingerpicking from a friend but ended up more influenced by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt. At the same time, he discovered the traditions of world music, and became a passionate and lifelong fan of the great master of the sarod, Ali Akbar Khan. He studied and performed with legendary guitarist Robbie Basho in the early 1970's. Robbie Basho first created a new style and musical philosophy, after studying Indian classical music with Ali Akbar Khan himself, arguably one of the greatest living musicians of India at the time.  In the mid-1970's, Richard took over 3 years off to delve into the technique and repertoire of classical guitar. But he then disappeared from public view for 20 years, due to a severe injury to his left hand, and turned to painting for a creative outlet during that time.

Richard represents a renewed and vigorous link in the new chain of “guitar thinking” first created by Robbie Basho and John Fahey in the early 1960’s. Both trailblazers established the acoustic steel string as a viable solo concert instrument.  Where Fahey brought his dark inner visions and a composer’s sensibility to the American blues tradition, Basho’s work was a re-spiritualization of the connections between east and west, exemplified especially by the Indian raga. Basho’s epigram, "soul first - technique later", is interpreted in the work of Osborn as a more open way of creating a sound universe of beauty centered on contemplation and dramatic inner movement, fresh, renewed and direct because improvised. All the paths of a personal "free raga style" on the acoustic steel-string continue to expand the genre, allowing influences from other world music sources, as well as American folk and the deep treasuries of Western classical music as well. 

He re-emerged in 2010 with his inclusion on Tompkins Square’s Beyond Berkeley Guitar, and in 2012 published his solo debut album, Giving Voice: Guitar Explorations. Giving Voice has garnered dozens of enthusiastic reviews, has earned Richard a nomination as “Best New Artist of 2012” (Zone Music Reporter), and was #21 in the Top 100 Albums of 2012 in the category of worldfusion/new age/ambient music (ZMR). His last release is 2015's disc, Freehand. He appears in the documentary Voice of the Eagle: the Enigma of Robbie Basho (2015) about the legendary guitarist by British filmmaker Liam Barker.

What do you remember about your first approach to sound?

I was about 8 or 9 years old, and a typical goofy kid. I was at a summer camp in the mountains above the Los Angeles basin, and on Sunday the counselors led us all across a meadow to an open air chapel under the pine trees for a service. There was nothing but rows of logs for benches and a crude pine pulpit. I paid little or no attention to the service. But at one point, they announced that the camp cook would sing the Lord’s Prayer. He was a youngish Japanese American man with a high but very strong and beautiful tenor voice. As soon as he began, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I felt like someone had cut open the top of my head and lifted me up and out. Those two elements, that of unexpectedness and that of floating freely into a landscape in a hitherto unknown dimension discovering in the process deep emotional states of which I had been unaware, have accompanied most of what I would call my primary or primal experiences of music.

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

Becoming undone and somehow articulated as a conscious sentient being by a first experiences of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Ali Akbar Khan’s sarod playing. When I first heard Khan-sahib, I experienced his music as though it had arisen in my own throat from deep within.


What do you recall about your playing and learning process?

My evolution as a musician has paralleled my spiritual journey, and follows the idea contained in the sadhana expressed in Sanskrit as neti neti (roughly, neither this nor that). It is one thing to “follow one’s passion”, but it is another to discern which path is the unique personal path meant for you. As a young musician, I loved Western classical piano literature, but my life was not such as to allow a whole-hearted full-scale entrance into classical music. In succession, other “incarnations” were entered and passed, every one of which deserved its own whole career: folk music, blue grass, blues, American primitive guitar, jazz, and so forth. Discerning your way comes from a willingness to enter without actaully knowing the way and from a vigilant mindfulness. Learning music for me has almost more to do with listening than with playing, what Basho once called being aware of the suchness of the sound. For instance, while I am not the mental giant that Bach was, to be able to improvise 5 voice fugues, my lifelong passion for Bach’s music has helped me to listen in multiple layers, lines or zones. This kind of far-flung awareness may be compared to a spider attending to the entire surface of his web and responding to new developments arising in different Zones.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?

My deepest roots musically have to be the Western classical composers who were most meaningful to me as I was developing music consciousness when I was learning to play the piano: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, (all of whom were known as great improvisers!) I had the fantastic good fortune just at the time my musical taste was maturing, to run across a guy with a very eclectic taste which included great traditions of world music. As early as 1964, this man, Roy Lundholm, had introduced me to Ali Akbar Khan, Japanese koto music, Near Eastern oud, gamelans, and on and on. From this chaotic mix, I think my own nature gravitated to Bach and Ali Akbar Khan as the major poles of my own musical thinking.

The second part of your question may be even more interesting: “secret influences” with an emphasis on non-musical ones. For me this brings up the entire “track” of the inner journey. Jungian psychology, zen Buddhism, phenomenology and poetry have been influential in my musical development. An interest in physics, especially the thinking about quantum mechanics and relativity, is also at play in my encounter with the world. The practice of Albert Einstein of conducting thought experiments has been a very useful paradigm for me. A few books have had an abiding influence on me throughout my creative life, most notably the Gospel According to St. John, Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, and Charles Williams’ The Figure of Beatrice in Dante’s Divine Comedy. As my journey continued, I discovered roots in Sufism, both musically and spiritually. From 1980, my predominant influences have been from Christian mysticism, especially the Carmelite saints (Santa Teresa de Jesús, San Juan de la Cruz, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Blessed Élisabeth de la Trinité). I think I have also been strongly influenced by great jazz improvisers, and interestingly most of those have been saxophonists for me (like Branford Marsalis) but also Keith Jarrett.

What is your relationship with other art disciplines?

As for most people, certain art forms speak to me more than others. Music was the first that spoke to the depths of my soul and passion. Then came literature. My undergraduate degree was in literature, and I think this does contribute an underlying predilection for music that has a feeling of “narrative” and “statement” and development of motifs within a unity. This persists in the particular “gharana” (“school”) that I prefer in Hindustani classical music as well as my prejudices in all listening. I injured my left hand around 1980, severely enough that I could not play the guitar at all. Initially there was some doubt that I would even have an opposable thumb for the rest of my life. It was such a psychic shock that I immediately jumped into painting for a creative outlet.

 After 15 or more years, my left hand regained enough strength to make playing guitar again a possibility, but it took another 10 years to rebuild my chops. When I finally got to the point of being able to improvise, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that my earlier difficulties with improvisation had been resolved, and the well-springs of melodic invention had opened up. I quickly realized that the things I had learned as an abstract expressionist painter were applicable to musical explorations as well. I still carried a prejudice for the play of musical ideas that are integrated as a whole in some kind of unified or overarching frame, and the ways to accomplish this had been foreshadowed and prepared by my thinking in the visual arts, and probably literature and poetry as well.

Let me add that one of the most important “artistic disciplines” to me consists of walking mindfully in the natural world. I recommend being inspired by the melodic lines suggested by the growth of a branch of an oak tree, bird song, or the edge of a cloud or the dance of light and sound on a stream of water.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

Technique is essential to realizing one’s full potential. The guy I first learned the raga style from, Robbie Basho, used to say “Soul first, technique later”, but he clearly put technique in the back seat. This was somewhat ironic, since in Indian classical music, soul and technique are intimately fused from beginning to end, which I believe is correct. There is of course a danger in getting too technical. But in my own development, I realized early on that if you don’t develop technical competence and mastery, you are always going to be limited in the choices available to you, the things it is possible to “say” musically.

 This can be something as simple as wanting to jump to a note on another string at a time when your picking has flowed the wrong direction. In a melody-driven approach like the raga, one also has to be ready to move up and down the fretboard and across the strings at a moment’s notice. Although many look down on “scale work” and other technical studies (“palta” in Hindustani music) as drudgery, I believe that, along with sheer facility, it also brings the musician into an ever-deepening encounter with what I call the “absolute meaning” of each note in a scale or raga and with the “valences” of combinations of notes, where they want to go or move. So technique leads one into a deeper appreciation of soul, while it is creating the means for soul to express itself.

If you could, what would you say to yourself 30 years ago, about your musical career?

I don’t really have (or want, for that matter) a “musical career”. From the beginning, and in the end, it’s only music itself that interests me. I would say that it is OK to come to music just as you are, to enter that relationship in the way that you want, and just encourage myself to do what I have done: be true to yourself as man and musician, and be guided by the deepest part of your soul. That and pay no attention to the vagaries of the music biz.

Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?

A piece called The Glance. It has deep personal meaning that spans my entire life and is intimately connected with deepest experiences of love and death. What surprised me was that I created it at all. In my younger years, I had struggled with improvisation, not knowing how to proceed in a way that would open up. The piece came after a long forced hiatus in my musical life of almost 20 years. When I once again took up the raga style approach to the guitar, this piece showed up. I was so surprised that I had created an actual original melody that I spent several weeks pursuing the “cognates”, the pieces that kind of sounded somewhat similar to it, to see if I had just plagiarized it from someone.

Depict the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.

This is impossible. In a way, musical exploration is like trying to imagine what the world would be perceived like with a sense that one does not yet possess. If you were blind from birth, how would you imagine sight? Yet when it starts to happen, when you begin to hear in a new way, find a new sonic landscape, something happens in your heart and soul. Part of the exploration then is learning how to perceive and move within this new space. The times I have discovered something new, exciting and satisfying, the experience has been something like smell: it is like some exotic unsuspected fragrance that transports you. I theorize that the somewhat synesthiastic experience (combining with smell) has to do with smell being the most primitive of our senses and connected to the oldest parts of our brains. I guess I would add that in my experience the new appears by grace, as something stumbled upon or given.

What’s your craziest project about?

This might be a piece I call “Unknown White Male”. The title comes from a documentary by the same name that is about a man who comes to consciousness riding a train to Coney Island one day. He has no idea who he is and no memories of prior experiences of any kind. Eventually, people work out his identity and try to reconnect him with family members and friends. But he doesn’t remember them. What is equally startling about the story is that having his memory “data bank” erased means that when he eats some strawberries, he is experiencing strawberries for the first time, but not as a child and unconscious but rather as an adult. There is one scene where a friend takes him to the seashore and he wades in: he is totally overcome by the experience of the ocean. My way of entering this “space” is to start with a very dark Indian scale, and then to play it one fret off from its usual location: the result is that the strings of the tuning (normally the supporting tonic and dominant) therefore are always deconstructing the notes of the scale: “home” (tonic) does not feel like home, “dominant” (the “home away from home”) is no longer a resting place, etc.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I’m working on my third album right now. Once that is done, I will be returning to my beloved dark “shed”, where I am happiest. My biggest project right now is to try to articulate what creating a “Western raga” might consist of, what meaning it might have for a Western musician to acquire the approach of Indian classical music without necessarily appropriating the entire apparatus and system.

That said, it is clear to me that just as with Indian classical music a spiritual practice (“sadhana”) of some kind must be central; otherwise, one is just acquiring mere technique, or imitating or trying to sound “Indian”, all of which are impoverished approaches to music itself. I have begun a blogging exploration of these concepts, and along the way to create practical paradigms for study and practice for the interested guitarist.

The other project that has been attracting me for a while is to create an improvised setting for the Spiritual Canticle of San Juan de la Cruz - St. John of the Cross. This is a poem in the vein of The Song of Songs. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great voice, but I take comfort and inspiration in the return of bassist Charlie Haden later in his life to singing, so I may plunge into that abyss.

How do you feel listening to your own music?

I do not enjoy listening to my own recordings. The perfectionist beast that I try to keep chained up in the basement gets out and points out every single nanosecond of error. I can literally recall the internal feeling and perception of every mistake. But I love re-entering the music worlds I have discovered in my explorations, and pushing those explorations further. Part of the mindfulness that should be part of musical exploration is to be aware of the emotional component of the music. So re-exploring pieces enables one to discover new connections and depths and heights, as well as enjoying all over again the joy of discovery.

What does your musical routine practice consist of?

I always begin with a free-form meditative exploration or “alap” on an acoustic steel string. This keeps me focused and centered in the stance of mindfulness and listening that I believe is essential for the musical explorer. When I come to a natural place to end, if something significant happened, I may pause to write down some notes or even go back and record some sections. Then I proceed with a “technical workout” on a classical guitar: this is a group of exercises that have evolved from my own years of study of classical guitar, exercises from Scott Tennant’s “Pumping Nylon”, others of my own devising, about 4-5 classical studies, then more exercises on the acoustic steel string again, this time aimed at developing raga style chops. By this point, if I have time, I remain open to hearing things happening and pursuing them.

Selected Discography

expanding raga style guitar into a new “American Raga,” Rich pushing the boundaries of improvisation. Freehand, is available at CD Baby and iTunes.
Giving Voice: Guitar Explorations
Rich’s beautiful new free Raga style CD, Giving Voice, Guitar Explorations is available at CD Baby and iTunes.

Beyond Berkeley Guitar
Rich is on this collection of some of Northern California’s finest acoustic guitarists. Available at CD Baby.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Michael Keith 13 Questions

As a professional guitarist in Toronto, Canada for over 30 years, guitarist/vocalist /improviser and strings player Michael Keith has worked in numerous musical environments. Most notably as a blues singer/guitarist as well as in the area of free improvisation. Michael’s drive to reinvent and expand his expressive vocabulary has led him to private studies in traditional Chinese and Persian music, which have given him many opportunities to collaborate with artists far beyond his blues and rock foundations.

Arcanum Verba were recorded during the summer of 2015 on 3 string guitar. This album is deeply inspired by the players and music of the 2 and 3 string instruments of Iran, other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. The pieces are played on a modified baritone ukulele with 3 strings. He has been working with this instrument for about 6 years. It is a response to a number of traditional instruments and their music combined with his history not only as a blues and experimental guitarist, but also as a soul travelling through the human experience.


He discovered the music of Ostad Elahi (Nur Ali) early in 2001 and found his heart had awakened in a completely new way:
 I still find it difficult to explain why I am so attracted to the tanbour and Ostad Elahi's playing in particular. Although I tried, I struggled to find ways of letting this divine inspiration move through my own music. Eventually I found myself improvising on a baritone ukulele in a similar style. It came quite naturally it seemed. When I purchased an actual tanbour I still found myself going back to the ukulele. The baritone ukulele is larger then a regular ukulele, almost like a small guitar. I fooled around with the number of strings, tunings and other details until something finally clicked.
It feels like the traditional instrument for the world of music that exists in my head and heart and I feel at home with it.
The music on the recording is culled from a number of improvisations based on a number of melodies or motifs that he has begun to catalog in a type of tablature he created for this instrument.


Some of his career highlists:
2015- December release (web only) of Arcana Verba, a culmination of 6 years work on developing a unique and personal approach to inter-culturally informed/inspired improvisation and composition
2009 – multiple appearances during the 416 Improvisors Festival
2006 – recording for the EMANEM record label, releasing Number Nine – Emanem 4129, Michael Keith, acoustic guitar, voice, John Oswald, alto saxophone and Rogert Turner, percussion.

2006 – performance at the Festival du Musique-Action (Nancy, France)
2005 - Composing music for Venerable Master Hsing Yun's Buddhist poetry, performances in Taiwan at the request of Fo Guan Shan Temples
2003-2005 – consecutive annual performances in the Distillery Jazz Festival
2000 – recorded and toured with Mia Sheard in support of her album, Reptilian
1997 – Canadian tour with Martin Tielli of the Rheostatics
1996 - National Television Broadcast of performances with Carlos Del Junco

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

MK: I bought Love Gun by Kiss. it was my first album purchase. I still have it. My last purchase was Music for the mind featuring the music of Ostad Elahi

How's your musical routine practice?

I have never really "practiced". I just play and try to get to a point where i am in a deep place and all time and things outside of what im doing cease to exist.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

Technique is individual. I utilize things that i need to play the music I want to hear. Some things I hear seem to be based only in technique. This is not music to me. Some people have very very little technique and the music is rich, authentic and beautiful. When I was younger I wanted to be super fast but I realized eventually that it was not really important to me. Conveying emotion in an honest and earnest way is vital for me.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

It's easy to get your music out there and available at this time in music history. That's exciting to me because I like to share what I do. There is so much out there though that it's becoming a challenge to stand out and have people actually listen.

Depict the sound you're still looking for, or the sound you'd like to hear.

I am after a sound in my head always. At this point it lies somewhere between the simplicity of the earliest, most primitive music I can conceive of and the most risk taking unheard of sound I can imagine. Wow, that makes no sense.

What special or unusual techniques do you use?

I try to push into unchartered territory everytime I play. I play alot of 3 string ukulele these days and have borrowed many technique ideas from other stringed instruments like tanbour, dotar, ngoni.

Which is the main pleasure of the strings? What are their main limitation?

The strings touch the fingers and the sound is right there. it's a beautiful thing. There is no limit really.

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

The first time I heard my friend play a power chord on the electric guitar with distortion was about as magical a thing as I could imagine. I was about 12 years old.

Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music.

In about 2001 I heard a recording by Ostad Elahi, a tanbour player from Iran. He was a judge and a highly respected spiritual figure. He never performed. He played only to connect with the divine and in gatherings of friends to do the same. His playing was rooted in a tradition but he moved very far past that. Improvisation was a big part of his music. He truly made a connection with music on a level that precious few artists get to experience I believe. Luckily some family members recorded some of his playing sessions.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?

My roots, I believe, lie deep in a sense of belonging to something greater. Music helps bring me closer to the unnameable. it allows my spirit to move far beyond the physical restraints of my body. I am deeply inspired by the divine spirit which I see at work in many things beyond music. I am a fan of abstract, new, improvised, hybridized and experimental art in various mediums and do not require it to be done by anyone of name.

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?

I would have loved to sit and listen to the master Nur Ali Elahi play tanbour. My collaboration would be my ears.

What instruments and tools do you use?

I play cheap electric guitars that I don't worry about damaging. I have a few customized 3 string ukes. I also have some instruments from Iran and Central Asia.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I am trying to catalog my melodies for 3 string guitar in a type of tablature I have devised specifically for my instruments.
The hybridization of different musics from around the planet is appealing to me so I continue to work in that direction.