Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you have been following this space, you have had the privilege of witnessing first hand, a composer composing in the most traditional (notated untradititional) sense, to then flip everything over on its head. As for the former, I used to blog regularly about my compositions as they were notated, clean, and eventually “shaped” to a realization to my expectations. An early example of the approach I used is not too dissimilar to Conlon Nancarrow’s piano studies.

I have visited both sides of the gigantic scale of new “classical” (“amaranth”) music and here I am reporting back.

Not since the days of MIDI – or as an even better example – the first synthesizer – have things evolved this fast and changed so dratically. To put it bluntly, digital audio workstations are the Holy Grail of new classical music. But in this case (as opposed to MIDI/synthesizer), its insanely here and now – relevant to mainstream art and (for lack of a better term) the avant-garde, without apology.

I will happily continue to notate music. However, the symphony, I can solidly attest to, is not located at your nearest concert hall anymore. Your symphony is located inside someone’s computer which can regenerate any experience, record live (improvisations of all varieties), and invent (the key). Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, I believe would be the first to agree if they by some miraculous chance were somehow shuttled to our present time.

In this sense, the tradition of “old” classical music needs to be carried on now more than ever. The legacy of counterpoint, voice leading, etc., definitely has value moving forward into the new universe of music. The fact that one can get away with composing new music without learning the foundation of classical music is a point worthy of stopping at and digesting. I will go into this further to some extend by way of Part 2. I hope you revisit this topic as I will point out my opinion regarding potential shortcomings of the new composer which I guarantee will surprise you.

Steve Moshier – The Calling – improvfriday (9/25/09)

Steve Moyes – Sycamore

Alun Vaughan – Just a Phase

Jukka-Pekka Kervinen – Impro 09/25/09

Lee Noyes – Clustering

Johnny & Faith – Improv 9/25/09 theramin

Benjamin Smith – Ben.improv.Sep.20.2009

Shane W. Cadman – Piece 092509

Steve Layton – 1.  Spaceship (attribution to Benjamin Smith, Lee Noyes, Steve Moshier, Token Wonder).  2.  The Library of Babel (attribution to Adam Kondor, Benjamin Smith, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Shane W. Cadman).  3.  All Through the Night (attribution to Jeff Harrington, Steve Moshier, Token Wonder, Build, Roman Opalka).

Adam Kondor – SuperBrand

Jeffrey Harrington – Thunder – Sanibel Island – 7-25-09

Paul Muller – 9/26/09

JC Combs – September 25, 2009 with War of the Worlds Fake News Cast (Attribution to Lee Noyes, Jeffrey Harrington)

Greg Hooper – Limit (video impro)

Bruce Hamilton –  Fole-felu improv part 1 – Fole-felu improv part 2 (Attribution to Jeff Harrington, Steve Moyes)

Bruce Hamilton – Clocker Improv

Dave Seidel – Sisters and Brothers Live at the Starving Artist, July 16, 2009

Steve Moyes – Untitled Improvisation

David Toub – For Philip Glass

Alun Vaughan – Untilted Rendered

JC Combs – 4/17/09improv

Paul Muller – Stuck in Four

Benjamin Smith – Vocal Impro7/15/09

Jukka-Pekka Kervinen – Use of Period

Paul Hertz – Polymetric Phrygian Plainchant

Dennis Bathory-Kitsz – Crying Hard

ImprovFriday June 12, 2009

Charles TurnerWind and Heat — *Robot Disco

Alun VaughanYadirf

Lloyd Rodgers Group per Paul Bailey Twelve from the Black Book 3/10/01

JC CombsUstream Performance 5/24/096.12impro

Steve MoyesBeing Undoing

Joseph Benzola Prayer for Peace

Greg HooperNothing On

James RossIrrational Music No. 1 for Pencil and Chair — *Irrational Music No. 2 for Pencil, Chair , Voice and Cat

Lee NoyesRossettoNoyesSaresanssnarehandsNoyesjune12SnaresanssnareNoyesJune12

Jukka-Pekka KervinenImpro #13

* Creative titles of the week.

viola1ImprovFriday was particularly fun yesterday and very busy. A big welcome to Vanessa Rossetto, who provided a beautifully aching improvasition for viola.  Not in the romantic sense, but as if she were deconstructing the viola and every so often we hear the instrument speak one sentence, perhaps explaining the meaning for its existence.

Special thanks to James Ross who came up with no less than three improvs yesterday. The first two were mellow guitar improvs: Zhongruan improvs#1 and Zhongruan #2, recorded on the balcony of the hotel James was vacationing at while in the Jamaican countryside last week. The third was The Birds of Hell: James described the improv as “some chaotic lunacy,” and he was right on in my opinion. Very cool tune. Alun Vaughan brought us one of the smoothest improvs I have heard in awhile called “The Caves,” bass + eBow + reverb is how Alun described it. Listen to it, amazing improv and technically flawless. Jeff Harrington played a possessed improv that displays his brushing up of late on the keyboard with “Noise Dance Improvisation,” in which he described as “a chaotic, cycling, monophonic machine spinning out of control.” Steve Moyes played a looped electric guitar improv called “ Loop of the Day.” It starts out with blips and bleeps, adds a dash (or strong dose) of electronic buzzing + a cup or two of charismatic guitar solo and licks and skillfully blends it all together. Charles Turner made me laugh with the description of his 2-Minute Improv. “Sometimes these things don’t turn out so well,” Charles explained. Quirky, imaginative and somber is how I would describe it.  Jukka-Pekka Kervinen Improv #12 For Five Instruments is an assortment of improvs all at once!  A real delight.  That closes out all the solo improvisations.  Phew!

Now onto the collaborative improvisations, a new function of ImprovFriday. Lee Noyes mentioned we should give it a go over at the ImprovFriday Group in the style of Cadavre Esquis, a group headed by Phil Hargreaves. The idea is to place a “seed” consisting of a sonic bare idea for anyone to download and add onto. This musical improv game has an interesting history. Translated to English the name means exquisite corpse and dates back to the surrealists (1918) to John Cage and Lou Harrison and so on. I have a little experience myself with Leif Jordansson’s group called “Open Source Composition.”

Lee realized that my improv, The Hypnotic Ice Ant, from last week was minimal enough to work as a seed and added onto it with two versions titled simply, “Ice Ant #1 and Ice Ant #2.” Lee added percussion to #1 and piano to #2. Greg Hooper added guitar to #1. At the same time Steve Layton added to #1 as well. Paul Hertz made a trippy mix of both. I have pretty good taste and don’t casually use the term Amaranth, but I’d say the final versions fit that description and are indeed treasures.

An ordered list of the final versions:

Ice Ant #1 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Steve Layton

Ice Ant #1 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Steve Layton, Greg Hooper

Ice Ant #1 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Greg Hooper

Ice Ant #1 Mix by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Greg Hooper, Paul Hertz

Ice Ant #2 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes

The Ice Ant #1 Mix Screen Shot taken by Paul Hertz


A Quiet Exit

March 31, 2009

This video was shot on a drive back to Seattle from Portland two months ago.

Tonsils on Piano

January 4, 2009

I’ve been fighting a virus for the past two days and yesterday was the worst. I had achy joints all day, but no fever. So I go to bed and wake up with all the joint pain gone, feeling good as new. Except my throat feels raw. So I go and look in the mirror and they are three times as big. Seeing that I didn’t have a fever, I’m pretty sure this is some kind of viral tonsillitis.

I’ve been getting the vibe from people that Bats in the Belfry is too mean. I really don’t care, but since I’m not 100% health-wise, I’ll give the people something not so mean. Its a little ode, once again, to Nancarrow. Funny, though, once I plug the high powered grand VST in, it sounds a little Chopin-esque. Of course, with my style stamped in there somewhere.

Tonsils on Piano

Let me introduce you to a friend of mine, composer Marc’antonio Modaro. I met Marco back in the days of  We used to frequent their message boards and enjoyed lively debates (of course in the middle of composing works).  We then coincidently joined a composer network called “The Group” which subsequently changed (with my suggestion) to Classical Music Makers (CMM).  CMM turned into a venture which happened to coincide with my retirement from composition.  I don’t know what became of CMM, but I know Marco helped in that arena along with Jeff Harrington and many more composers who have been reunited over at NetNewMusic.

Marco writes beautifully constructed works (described in more detail below in the interview), much of them with a touch of difficult piano sections.  I used to write up reviews back in those days on a popular indie online review site and gave his Fantasia opus 10 a 10!   (P.S. He also performed a piano work of mine called “Time Capsule” which is at his page over at NNM)

I highly recommend visiting his site for a listen over at NetNewMusic.

Here is a brief bit of his bio followed by a little Q&A.

The italian Composer-Pianist Marc’ antonio Modaro was born in 1964 in Pistoia but he always lived nearby in the city of Montecatini Terme. He studied piano in Firenze with Giorgio Sacchetti who studied with pianists such as Carlo Zecchi and Benedetti Michelangeli. In 1990 Modaro moved to New York and he was often performing at the Steinway Hall where he quickly gained a virtuoso reputation among the other concert pianists.  He was offered to take part at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1993 and he was selected for a tournee’ of concerts in the United States and South America, but he refused preferring to dedicate intensely to composition.

JC:  Who are your greatest influences?

MM:  In composing I think Bach, Liszt, Chopin and Debussy, as a pianist Horowitz and of course Michelangeli because I studied with one of his students, Giorgio Sacchetti in Firenze.

JC:  What are you working on right now?

MM: I am finishing the first part of my concerto for piano and orchestra and I am also finishing my Piano Etudes op.11 .

JC:  Fill us in on what you you have been up to for the last five years?

MM:  In 2005 with another italian composer, Giorgio Sollazzi, I started a project named “New Composition in Progress” and I was back to  concerts with a successful series of concerts of contemporary music, but in Italy it’s very difficult to pull up a tour of concerts of contemporary classical music, so despite the great response from the public, we didn’t find a good agent that could help to make the project grow.  I also have been composing a scherzo for sax contralto and piano, an Ave Maria for organ and soprano, a piece for organ, a divertimento for guitar and an aria for soprano and orchestra.  As a painter with Riccardo Lenzi and Luca Angeli, I started a new artistic movement called Movimento Aristico Praticomateriale that proposes the total symmetry between concept, work, communication and the market .

JC:  How would you describe your style or technique?

MM:  For sure to know well the piano technique helped me in composing the music I wanted to compose for this instrument . To have technical limits prevents you from squeezing the best you can in terms of  structures and textures from an instrument.  A  pianist understands right away if a composer of a piano piece is a good pianist or not.  If you read Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition you understand that he didn’t know the piano as much as you know that Liszt was a great pianist just from reading his Sonata in b Minor or even a simple valtzer. My style of composing is a bit complex but it’s coming right off what I said before.  Piano literature lately has been going toward forms of composing that has nothing to do with being “pianistic” in the classic or in the contemporary sense of the word.

The result was that the sound of the piano was losing its own “essence” and personality.  Many times it was not sounding as a piano anymore and was constrained in musical forms that were using it at 1% of its instrumental and, why not …,orchestral possibilities.  I thought that it was possible to find new communicative lines, making the instrument to sound as it was made for: in a complete pianistic way. To achieve this goal I explored new pianistic textures and mechanics ( the Etude op11 were made for this purpose); that keeping a special and recognizable pianistic sound would ” enlarge” the grades of the scales, alternate arpeggios and tonal chords so that the harmonic tonal basement would lose its association from a bit to the next  one.  Without all this the listener would not have the sensation of any change of tonality or forced dissonances or mechanical rigidity coming from a preordered atonal texture. The result is what I called crosstonality, which is just a name that quickly describe complex pianistic motions and textures that make possible to perceive the music as a continuous palette of different notes and colors that is not more tonal in the purest sense of the word nor is it atonal or polytonal, even if  in many moments coexists association of different tonality at once.

JC:  If you had to describe Marc’Antonio Modaro in one word, what would that word be?

MM:  Christian.

One of the more funnier quips from a composer and it makes sense since Wagner was a giant at the time, garnering most of the attention.

“One cannot judge Lohengrin [by Wagner] from a first hearing, and I certainly do not intend to hear it a second time.”  – Rossini

Personally, the piano doesn’t come to mind when I think of Rossini until I heard this work,”Prélude inoffensif.” I have taken quite a liking to the work and its clear, just as clear when you hear the great Chopin works, that the romantic period was slamming the door on the prototypical piano model.  Great works came after but still everything has concievably been done in that style and nothing new is in the offing.  To be new is to be different.

I have decided to dedicate a mini-project (set for potential release between Bats in the Belfry) to my close childhood friend, Mars Webbens, who mysteriously disappeared on April 7, 2007. Not to worry, readers, he warned me in advance of this. He said “the date is set, but unknown to me, to travel once more. Master calls on me at the most unexpected moments.” Alas, the date must have came and gone and I often think about what wonders his eyes set upon.

The work shall be a continual, extended, meandering piece, expected to start and finish the weekend of August 15-16, 2008-of course.