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Category Archives: Winter is ending and this blog is blooming

we’re really good at liking our own ideas
(what do you think ‘feeling smart’ really is?)

Greg’s post about Springtime, an Improvisation touched on a lot of what I want to talk about here, and I think he did a great job of preparing the audience for a pleasant experience by providing background information and listening tips.  Although, rather than preparing the audience for weird music, I want this post to be about  what we go through preparing weird music for an audience – what draws in listeners and what shuts them out?

So before we can get into that, what do I mean by free improvisation?  The short answer is: “I don’t know.”  What people often mean when they talk about free improv. is something like “improvised music which avoids sounding like established musical genres at all costs,” but that’s not what it means to me, or to the best of my knwlege, my bandmates.  In fact, the name ‘free improv’ is  misleading since a fair amount of planning/structure goes into most compositions of this nature, and what does a plan  do?  It attempts to limit/control a process and make  the outcome predictable.  What’s so free about that, eh?  The best answer to that is an example: listen to the first 2+ minutes of our recording of I’m so Lonesome I could Cry (dedicated New Music Sundaes post forthcoming) and consider what genre that is.  I call it ‘free improv,’ even though the band agreed beforehand on a loose key center, the cello only plays drones, and there is some pre-conceived melodic material.  It still feels free to play, and I think that comes across to the audience as something ‘different’ and/or ‘kind of strange’ – but we’re also very focused on keeping our improv. engaging/fun/cool (not to imply that we always succeed).

So now that I’ve established a completely nebulous and subjective definition of free improvisation, I’d like to explore how musicians draw in their audience with this ‘non-genre.’  Turns out that many rules of ‘western composition & arranging’ work – even without a strict key center/groove/written directions.  Form  is a huge part of ANY music that’s intended to hold an audience’s attention; people get bored fast, and the gradual development of a texture/melody can only hold their attention so much longer before they want the music to ‘go somewhere new.’  This is a difficult  issue to address without any written music or an underlying meter to follow, so the easiest solution is adding/eliminating players, which not only changes the sound quality/quantity, but adds/subtracts the subtleties of individual players’ tendencies and mannerisms (which are hingly emphasized in free improv).

If someone gets bored listening to music that he doesn’t know much about, it’s easy for him to assume that he just doesn’t “get it,” and  as a musician that’s the last thing I want.  I’m all about being entertaining and communicating with listeners, and one easy way to do that is by playing something recognizable. In this case a groove, melody or even a texture will do the trick, but you can also achieve a similar effect by introducing and developing something new to the audience, taking it away and then bringing it back – 99% of  music incorporates one of these two strategies, and most of the remaining 1% is intended for something other than entertainment.

Oh boy, this post is already too long, but there’s so much more to talk about!  If anything is missing/unclear, or if you have any questions/comments please share!  Help us make music that you’ll like – you won’t regret it.

~Cory

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I’ve never lived in a place where I sensed as much of a collective craving for the thaw as the Twin Cities. It’s not entirely based in negativity (ACK! NO MORE WINTER!) either. Right around the time we recorded this I heard no less than three local bands play songs dedicated to the coming warmth. It’s optimistic and relaxing and sometimes makes me want to cry. It’s a knowledge that you still have this huge weight on your shoulder, but you’ve gone 90% of the way, and you’re gonna make it.

Birth and mud.

I think those ideas came forth in this improvisation. We recorded this at our third rehearsal, basing it on no preconceived themes or key centers, nothing but the idea of “springtime,” having never tried an open ended free improvisation (at least of an entire piece), and still to this day it may be my favorite recording we’ve done. A common theme in some other posts has been how happy we are with our blend, and that is absolutely showcased in this performance. There are a few moments in this piece where I have no idea what sound is coming from which instrument, and our ideas flow through each other in some really magical ways. We had thematic material that was developed and went away and then returned, we had a fantastic metric modulation, a slightly-too-long appoggiatura, and, (with no attempt to discover if this is true) the first ever recorded, possibly unfortunate-and-never-to-be-attempted-again, duct-tape solo (keep working on that technique Adam).

Mind you, it’s a little long and rambles on in a few places, and maybe I suffer here from Midas Syndrome, but I think this is an extremely listenable piece of music. Which is rare for a piece of this type. I’m rather tempted to transcribe it and turn it into a composition.

Oh, and if you listen very closely at the beginning, you can hear a water-pipe that ran through our rehearsal space providing the perfect backdrop.

So grab a glass of wine, read e.e. cummings “in just-” and settle in for some birth and mud. I think you’ll come out of it a little quieter and a little happier.

Springtime, An Improvisation

~Greg

I thought I might start off with a synopsis of what we’re currently working on and what we’re thinking, or, what I think we’re thinking….  So, from talking with the other guys I know that I’m not the only one who’s thrilled to have this combination of instruments and their respective players.  In fact, the sonic possibilities seem endless right now, and I find myself curiously listening to all kinds of genres of music and imagining the music with our instruments (kind of like picturing your head on somebody else’s body).

It might be better for us to pick one style of music and really stick to a cohesive sound, but I really don’t think we’re considering any limitations at this point – we’ve got a pretty good variety recorded so far, all the way from free improvisation to a waltz by Shostakovich (more of both on the way, for SURE).  Lately I’ve been absolutely hooked on the Shostakovich string quartets (especially 7-9, and 11) and can’t stop thinking about how different lines will beautifully feature trumpet or accordion, and how one part will sound badass on electric guitar…I really think that with our instrumentation it’ll end up sounding like a fusion of Shosti and Piazzolla.  We’re also looking to flesh out the Shosti jazz suite with the remaining 2 movements – Evan and I decided that we should be a Shostakovich cover band and tour Russia for a living.

For a while we were all about arranging pieces by Tin Hat Trio and Dave Douglas, and I’m still way into that direction, but I’m just obsessed with bringing our sound to some more classical music.  The only problem is, and Adam put it really well when he said that, “this crap is really hard to rehearse.”  That is the only specific direction we’re heading: music that’s hard to rehearse (free improvisation with an ensemble is really time-consuming and difficult to rehearse effectively too, turns out).

-Cory

Welcome to our blog!  This is the area where the members of Lulu’s Playground will come to share our music and ideas with all of you.  Since the groups inception a couple month ago, we’ve been updating our Myspace page with new music almost every Sunday.  We started thinking that it might be fun (and appease the inner musicology nerds in some of us) to write down some explanations, thoughts, and reflections on all the music we’ve been producing lately.

Since we just set this up today it may take a little bit before we start posting, but check back soon for more info!

Also one last thought.  Playblog reminds me of either the Playboy mansion or something for the old Adam West Batman TV series.  Both of which are awesome, and therefore this blog is awesome.  Boom.

Although “Welcome to the Playblog” sounds kinda like “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’Roses, which is considerably less awesome.  Therefore this post is not so great.  However, my logic for the initial awesomeness of this blog still holds true.  I think.

~Evan