Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Needs

Tonight I was thinking that I wanted to post up a solo free improvisation. Somewhere in the process of listening to tracks from the last few months and narrowing down on what kind of thing I wanted to put up I realized that, well, I actually just want to post some John Fahey.

"My Needs" (from the album Days Have Gone By, 1967)

This song is a long improvisation on the hymn "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need". You can thank my (lack of, spotty, secular, Jew"ish") religious upbringing for the fact that I'd never heard the original until just now. I won't link anything, but if you want to get your mind blown, youtube this hymn and listen to pretty much anyone's video. Especially the polyphonic ones. Seriously.

Throughout, Fahey returns to the material of the intro as a refrain separating single note improvisations loosely based on the melody, chords, and feeling of the hymn, before finally stating the hymn itself in its entirety, unadorned and very simply, at about 5:30. There is so much to be learned here about patience, pacing, and structure in a solo performance. To play an instrument with so little sustain, to be so alone instrumentally, to play so simply, and with such maturity. The reason I love this recording is for the sense of space Fahey creates. Development is present, but unhurried. Time passes, but does not feel like it does. The moment is suspended in space and the listener can breath. To master this music, for the performer, is to master oneself. If only for the moment.

Music is art experienced temporally, tied to presentations of finite length which move at a rate not set by the listener. Yet I believe the goal of all music across genre and culture is to suspend this sense of time's passage. To create space where the listener and performer can go and life can be stopped and felt in its wholeness.

I've known about Fahey for years: he is the guy who discovered Leo Kottke, one of my early heros, and a Takoma Park MD native (I grew up right next door, in Silver Spring MD). But I'd never heard him and 'gotten it' until I picked up the album Days Have Gone By for $4 at Idle Time Books in Adam's Morgan. Whenever I hear this album I am reminded of the summer of 2009, when I listened to it again and again while driving back and forth to Dewey Beach.

"On the Banks of the Owichita" (from the Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites, 1964)

If the previous track is for night time listening, this one is for the morning. Not quite on the same level perhaps, but beautiful in its rustic qualities - for me, I hear the sound of geese flapping their wings in the rattle of the slide against the wood of the guitar, choruses of insects and animals in the scrape of the metal slide on the wound metal strings, the depth of a body of water in the huge harmonics, and the rising sun and starting day when the beat kicks in at 2:00. Simple and effective, and again, a solo guitar, fully realizing a song. Something to aspire to, in a weird kind of way - this music is blunt, simple, beautiful.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Tonight I'm playing with Carolyn Malachi in Annandale, VA. I'm looking forward to it. For those of you who may not live in DC, I've been playing guitar with Carolyn since about February of 2010 - well over a year now! Playing with her accounted for most of my performing last fall. She's doing big things (including a 2011 Grammy Nomination, for her song "Orion") and sounding great, and its been a pleasure to be involved.

Carolyn Malachi - Voice
Gary Prince - Guitar
Tarus Mateen - Bass
Jabari Exum - Djembe
Produced by James McKinney
Music by Regan Carver

This track is from her summer 2010 release "Lions Fires & Squares". I'm playing my Ibanez. This solo was about half composed, half pieced together in the studio - I planned what I would play for the first 8 bars of my solo, then did several takes playing that and improvising the rest, sometimes repeating similar things, sometimes not. Then, James and I listened back and picked out what we thought were the best moments from each take, which he later strung together into a complete unit.

Some years ago I probably would have felt a moral opposition to constructing a solo in this way. I used to believe quite strongly that everything possible should be played live in the studio, by the full band playing together, in one take. I still hold that, for some types of music, a live take is preferable, because there is so much more potential for energy and spontaneity. But I recognize now this it isn't a realistic way to get a good recording, and have come to accept as well that mining a set of improvisations for their best moments and putting them together isn't cheating. Why would it be? There is no cheating in music as long as it ultimately sounds good. And to get it sounding good, you do whatever necessary.

I've mellowed, and I'm very happy with how this turned out. James made that guitar sound great and really realized what I was after. Carolyn made a music video for this song as well, which you can view here. I used to dream of being in a music video when I was younger, I didn't make it in front of the camera this time, but I'm getting closer!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Improv with Kate Olson, 2.21.10

Digging in the archives tonight for no particular reason: please enjoy this track, the first improvisation from the "Improvised Duets" CD release concert at BloomBars, February 21st, 2010.

Gary Prince Kate Olson 2.21.10 Improv One by Gary Prince

Gary Prince: Electric Guitar
Kate Olson: Soprano Sax

It is hard to believe this is the first music I've posted featuring Kate Olson. Kate and I have improvised together since 2006, when we met as members of the Creative Arts Orchestra at the University of Michigan, when I was an undergrad and she was getting her Master's in Improvisation. During the summer of 2008 we would improvise together almost twice a week, often joined by Matt Endahl and Tim Cohen, mostly at the Canterbury House. In many ways the dynamic we developed that summer culminated in the recording of "Improvised Duets" in May of 2009, the recording of which is a story for another time. Kate lives in Seattle now and I miss her dearly. The last time we got to play together was November of last year, also at BloomBars - the next time will hopefully be early fall, whenever I can make it out to Seattle. It can't come soon enough for me.

When we performed it live, this track began with about 2 minutes of low, extended technique noise making, clearing the air following a Djembe Khan by Jabari Exum. I decided to leave that off of this track, in the interest of keeping things listenable. I am proud of this track for the way it builds, for the space we leave at the outset, the way the instruments switch roles naturally between soloist and accompanist (at about 3:20), and the transparency of the groove. I think this track is a good example of playing that is supportive without being overly imitative: a common trap in improvised music is trying to play exactly what your partner plays all the time - this chokes the music and limits it, especially in groove playing, where it becomes too easy to get 'stuck' in a tempo, time signature, key, or feel that is no longer compelling.

I feel awkward talking about my own playing like this, like talking about things I liked in my past playing will jinx my ability to play well in the future. I hope you enjoy the track. This weekend I'm playing for the first time with Chelsey Green and the Green Project, practicing, and getting ready for my life to belong to the Levine School of Music Music and Arts Day Camp. More soon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Borrow Love

Two Saturdays ago I performed at the cd release for the album "You Call That Brave", by my good friend Sarah Fridrich. I played on one track on the album, "Borrow Love". Here it is:

Sarah Fridrich: Piano/Vox
Dan Marcellus: Drums
Gary Prince: Guitar

It's funny how time goes with an album - Sarah and I first worked on this song together in the winter of 2009. It was a lot slower then, and without drums. We recorded it almost exactly a year ago, in Sarah's basement, by putting a mic on my amp and then a big blanket over both (to muffle outside sound). I'm using my Ibanez here. The solo was originally an improvisation from rehearsal. It's hard to say now, but I was thinking about having a very dark, very wide sound - very different from how I normally play. I suppose if I was better at blogging I would have put this up two weeks ago, before the concert. Ah well.

In any case, I had a great time, there was a good crowd, and Sarah sounded fantastic.

Dig the goofy picture of yours truly from soundcheck

I've given up on the whole 'looking cool' thing. Goodnight folks.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

GMT Trio 4.22.11 Continued

Some more music from my 4.22.11 concert with Matt Endahl and Tim Cohen, in Ann Arbor. This music is from the same show as my previous post.

Prince Endahl Cohen 4.22.11 Improv 1 2nd half by Gary Prince

Gary Prince: Guitar
Matt Endahl: Fender Rhodes
Dr. Tim Cohen: Drums

This excerpt is from the first improvisation of the concert, which was about 27 minutes long - we're joining here just shy of 15 minutes in and going all the way to the end. I have this track beginning partway through my atonal, Derek Bailey-esque solo, enough of which I've left in for context. Note that Matt is using a delay pedal on his rhodes - you can really hear it at around 9:30. This is also one of those rare, rare occasions when I'm not actually loud enough in my soloing - I correct this partway through. I like my playing overall but I really wanted to share this because of the incredible groove Tim and Matt create.

I have conflicting thoughts about excerpting from larger tracks in this manner. The main reason that I do this, as opposed to posting up entire, 30+ minute improvisations, or entire concerts, is to try and make this blog (and this music) listener friendly. I know how I am as a listener when it comes to something I'm finding on the internet: impatient, preoccupied. And I love listening to music, and I have a lot of patience for long tracks. Plus, this blog is for a general audience, and the psychological price of admission of pressing play on a 30 minute track, or downloading a concert and listening to it, is higher than I expect most people to pay.

So, I've been trying to capture what I think are the most compelling and complete parts of the performances, particularly that showcase something of interest to me and that won't be too hard to listen too. That doesn't mean I don't think the whole show is compelling, and I regret that some of the process is lost - when something is excerpted, one doesn't get the whole context of how it developed. But of course, to truly get that context, you need to be at the show and in the moment. Excerpting is really a form of retroactive composition, and changes the essential nature of the music. I will note that everything I post up here is free of internal edits or EQ adjustments, except to raise or lower the overall volume level and fade in and out at the beginning and end.

There's a rich tradition of this kind of excerpting in jazz: "Bitches Brew" and "Live Evil" (Miles Davis) are the first things that come to mind. Listening to 'Sivad', the first track of "Live Evil" (a live recording) we just hear a drumroll into that nasty bass line, fully formed and kicking ass - we don't hear the half hour of equally killing developing, polishing, and poking around which took place beforehand to get the groove to such a heavy spot. That's what the box set is for.

Does anyone have any thoughts about this issue? Is there anyone wishing I would put up the whole performances?

Friday, May 13, 2011

GMT Trio 4.22.11 Ann Arbor

Today I'm posting up some of the music I made with Matt Endahl and Tim Cohen when I was in Ann Arbor a few weeks ago. This first track comes from the show we played on 4.22 at the Le Dog House - it is from the second (of three) long improvisations. I've excerpted the first 11 minutes.

Prince Endahl Cohen 4.22.11 Improv 2 Edit by Gary Prince

Gary Prince: Guitar
Matt Endahl: Fender Rhodes
Tim Cohen: Drumset

Beware the volume starts very low and gets somewhat loud on this track. This was recorded on my Zoom H4, which was held by our good friend Tenaya, who was sitting maybe ten feet away from the three of us, at most. We were playing in a living room - you can hear other people at the party talking at some points. True Ann Arborites will recognize Theo Katzman at 7:44. I'm playing my Eastman, and occasionally using my wah pedal to color my tone. I love the way the rhodes and guitar blend throughout this track, and am proud of the way we slowly develop the initial mood, giving each other a lot of space and taking our time. This is how I play.

The whole show was kind of a surreal experience - we were preceded by two very good groups playing similar music, a very rare experience for me in the past few years. The entire time some random movie about explorers in the Amazon was being projected onto the wall behind the bands (on mute, with subtitles EDIT: Matt tells me the movie was Warner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God". there you have it). Theo told me after that there was a moment when we kicked into a groove and the characters on screen started dancing with us. I recall feeling in the moment like I wasn't totally gelling with the music - counterintuitively, this can sometimes be a good thing. I've often found in free improvisation that when I'm really into it, I listen back later and realize I was playing way too much, not listening hard enough or being sensitive enough. Whereas sometimes when I don't feel like it is coming together in performance, I'll listen back later and be very pleased with my playing, because I will have been listening really closely and being very careful. This is one of those times.

I excerpted this track from the longer piece in the interests of making it listenable to people who didn't actually perform it. From the end here we continue into a drum solo and then drastic changes in texture, transitioning into a new set of ideas and developments, for more than another 10 minutes. Almost always when we play together we play this way, flowing naturally from one idea to another, seeing one to completion (as I believe we do here) and then growing out of it without a break, often for a half hour or more. At some point in the near future I intend to write more about this kind of playing, and the way I listen to this music.

For now, I hope you enjoy. Note that I've made this track, and every track I've uploaded to date using soundcloud, available for download - just click the little down arrow on the right side of the player. There will be more music from that weekend soon!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Japanese Buddhist Chanting

These past few weeks have been busy, between going to Ann Arbor, teaching, performing around DC, and general living. I've got a lot to say about that, and tracks to post, but not tonight.

Instead, I thought I'd share what I'm listening to this beautiful, peaceful Sunday evening. It is only about 10 minutes long, and I would strongly encourage/challenge you to listen to the whole thing - just take it in, sit with it, and be immersed.

Japanese Buddhist Chanting by Gary Prince

Last December I went to Japan, for the first time, to visit my younger brother Ian Prince. Ian is an assistant language teacher in the JET program, in Oshima of Imabari, a small island in the Inland Sea. While there, my family and I traveled around a good bit, spending several days in Kyoto, visiting temples and sight seeing. That's where this recording comes from.

I wish I could say I knew more about it. Each of the major Buddhist temples in Japan has a small gift shop where they sell charms, amulets, votive tablets, and other similar souvenirs. Though they often carry the same kind of stuff, each temple's selection of things is a little different and specific to that temple. This recording comes from one of the first temples we visited, in Kyoto. I'm ashamed to say I don't remember the name. It was on a cassette tape, and I got it as a souvenir for Matt Endahl, who was good enough to transfer it to digital at the WCBN studios when I was visiting Ann Arbor. The writing on the cassette case is, of course, entirely in Japanese, with an image of a lotus flower on the front, and I have no idea what is going on. The woman who sold it to me told me it was monks chanting sutras (the words of the Buddha). That was all I could get out of her - the language barrier was pretty severe.

So, enjoy. The monks are hitting large wood bells for accompaniment - like these

Also, a large, resonating metal bowl (the sound at the beginning, like a gong):

And a higher pitched chime like instrument that I don't have a picture of. These pictures come from one of the temples, also in Kyoto.

I feel like we have a tendency, in our modern, secular, commodity driven experience of music, to forget that music can be experienced in this way: as a part of religious ritual, as a way to experience a trance like state, through repetition and rhythmic consistency. This music (and it is music) doesn't go anywhere. There is no journey, no narrative, just the experience of the sound. Music doesn't need to go anywhere. It doesn't need to have a goal, a beginning, or an end, or development. Development is not inherent to the nature of music, it is a tool we can choose to use, or to abandon! The power of this music is manifest when you allow yourself to be immersed in it brought into sync with the vibration. For further proof, look to the minimalist composers, look to noise musicians, look to baptism by sound, look to the music of nature, the music of the cars passing in the street, the sirens in the distance, the neighbor's windchimes, all of them barely audible through the open window, but always playing...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guitar/Djembe Duets, part II

As promised Monday, here's another track of myself playing with Jabari Exum (djembe/beatbox), from October 1st, 2009. It says 2010 in the track title, that's a typo. This was recorded in my living room, and is the end of a much longer, very rambling free improvisation:

Gary Prince Jabari Exum 10.1.2010 Improvisation v. 2 edit by Gary Prince

There isn't as much structure as in the track I posted last time, but I'm still pretty pleased with it, especially with the way it becomes sparse at the ending, just after 5:10. It doesn't hurt that I'm actually completely in tune on this one. A friend told me it sounds like movie music? Jabari plays djembe with several large metal panels, with rivets, inserted into the sides of the drum. He uses these both like cymbals (a bad analogy, but the best I've got) and for their sympathetic shaking/buzzing. On this track they're primarily doing the latter, Monday's track features these things (I don't know the real name, anybody?) much more prominently. Click here to see a picture of what these look like. He also has bells around one of his ankles - you can really hear them at the beginning of the track. That's him beatboxing at the beginning as well. I'm using my wah pedal extensively and playing my Ibanez. The ending doesn't quite fade out how I wanted it to and I'm a little too lazy to go back and fix it tonight - so that's what's going on there, if you were wondering.

John Chambers, the owner of BloomBars (where Jabari and I are both resident artists) filmed a little of this particular jam and mixed it into a video, which you can watch here. Yes this is the same video I mentioned in the last post.

This Sunday I'll be going down to West Virgina to play at Sheperdstown with Carolyn Malachi. I don't think I know anybody in WVA, but if you live down there and happen to read this, come on out!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jabari Exum and the Train of Thought

Yesterday I heard my good friend and fellow BloomBars Artist-in-Resident Jabari Exum perform his piece "One Voice" at Sankofa Books on Georgia Ave, a wonderful and positive bookstore, the existence of which I had been completely ignorant about until today. Below is a video of Jabari performing one of the pieces from the show - the piece I want to highlight starts about 3:00 into this video.

This music is important and people need to be going to hear it. When Jabari premiered this show at BloomBars two weeks ago I had to go twice, I was that impressed. He really is one of the true gems of the DC music community, as a percussionist and as an MC. He doesn't have a website up for this project, but at the end of this post you'll find the dates of future performances - the next one I'll make is probably April 17th, but they will all be amazing.

Of course, this post is not just an excuse to promote my friends, it's also an excuse to show off the music I've made with them. 

Gary and Jabari BloomBars October 2009 Track 1 by Gary Prince

Jabari and I play most regularly together these days in the context of backing up Grammy-Nominated Artist Carolyn Malachi, with whom I'll be performing at The Kennedy Center on May 8th, more on that later. For a while before we started playing with Carolyn, Jabari and I used to get together somewhat regularly to improvise guitar/djembe duets. This track is from the only time we did such a performance live - John Chambers, who founded and owns BloomBars, and happens to be my next door neighbor, pressured us into it. My tuning is a little, shall we say, 'rustic', but I don't think it detracts too severely from this particular recording, which is a free improvisation. I'm playing my Ibanez. There is a video too, combining footage from this performance with a session we had in my living room the previous day - check it out here. John literally walked into my house while we were playing and sat on the couch filming us without my noticing. That's what I get for leaving my door unlocked.

There's one more track of this music that I want to put up, but rather than letting this post get outta hand, I'm going to save it for a few days. Stay tuned.

"The Train of Thought" by Jabari Exum upcoming performance dates

April 12 9:30 pm Ben's Next Door
April 17 4:30 pm Sankofa Books
April 24 4:30 pm Sankofa Books
May 28th 7:30 pm ECAC

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Breakfast in the Field

The summer after I turned 20 I must have stolen a bunch of cassette tapes from my father. I can't remember why I did this or what else was among them except for a home recording of the 1981 album "Breakfast in the Field" by Michael Hedges. I remember putting it on and feeling like I knew every note before it was played. This was music that fit perfectly, with not a note out of place or accent missing. And it sounded suspiciously similar to the music I was writing for solo acoustic guitar, the origins of which I'd always taken to be some combination of being really into Leo Kottke and wanting to write music that would sound full without singing or accompaniment. Then, lo and behold, I realized:

Michael Hedges "The Happy Couple"

I was trying to sound like Michael Hedges. I'd been writing music that sounded like Michael Hedges and developing a style that sounded like Michael Hedges all without knowing who he was. When I told my dad how eerily familiar the music was, he explained that he used to play it for me when I was a child, in an effort to get me to fall asleep. And suddenly, my playing made total sense.

We can only begin to know how affected we are by factors we can not consciously remember. The music we listened to as an infant, what we ate, how we were treated by our parents, the environment we grew up in. Yet no matter how much we grow and how much we get to know ourselves and change and develop, this bedrock of our personality remains, perhaps unknowable even through introspection, until we hear music from childhood and know it without ever remembering knowing it before. And in these unconsciously remembered experiences are the roots of our aesthetics. Do I love this song because of its aesthetic qualities? Or do I love the aesthetic qualities of this song because this is what I was given as an infant?

There are a lot of things I love about this song. Listen for the way Hedges fluidly embeds natural harmonics into the melody of the song in such a way that they don't jump out, but add richness and subtly. Listen to how he alternates between expressing the melody in the middle voices and in the upper voice. Note how Hedges develops this song through a gradual increase in note density, reaching the climax at 2:25. Listen for the different sections of this piece (the first section, for example, repeats for the first time at 1:30), and how they are treated differently, or juxtaposed to different developments. But above all, I think of the name of the piece - how happy is this couple? Are they misconceived as happy by the world? Do they put on a guise of happiness? Or are they truly happy, their love tempered by a kind of shared experience of melancholy, as expressed musically here? Perhaps the different sections of the song can be heard as two people talking to each other, or telling their story separately. This is the infinite beauty and power of purely instrumental music to suggest moods and meanings by attaching only a few words, even to the point of suggesting feelings that are inexpressible.

This piece is performed on a six string guitar tuned low to high G B E F# A D - an open G 6/9#11 chord. Just in case you're not a guitar player, standard guitar tuning is low to high E A D G B E - an open Emi7 add 4 chord (I'm not calling it an 11th because the A is so low), a not particularly beautiful, if utilitarian tuning. Hedges studied composition at The Peabody Institute in Baltimore, and said that he chose the tuning to fit the composition, rather than starting with the tuning and going from there. In this way he presumably avoided the typically guitaristic pitfall of writing songs based more on a particular idiomatic shape than on compositional intention. Hedges rarely worked in standard tuning, and regularly employed tapping (both hands) as a way to extend the instrument's range.

That's him in 1988 in Guitar World magazine, holding a Dyer harp guitar, which, yes, he actually played. That huge metal thing is some kind of crude pickup for amplification. Hedges died tragically in a car accident in 1997. I won't say I love all his output, or even all of "Breakfast in the Field" - he can get a little New Age for my taste, and something about fretless electric bass has never sat well with me, Jaco's playing on the Joni Mitchell album "Mingus" excluded. Which does cast a shadow on the theory that my aesthetic preferences in music come from hearing this album as an infant. Or maybe I was just always asleep by track 4 when the bass starts in. If you're going to get one of his albums, and you should, this is the one to get.

As long as I'm putting it all out there, compare "The Happy Couple" to my tune "Leaves", written early 2006, and available for download here. I do have a transcription of this tune, if anyone ever wants it. This is an old recording and you'll have to forgive its failings. I'm playing Andrew Klein's Martin, and this was recorded by Mark Swiderski. This is before I started growing/maintaining my RH nails for fingerpicking. I will confess to being proud of my control of dynamics throughout this recording.

Gary Prince "Leaves" by Gary Prince

I'm playing in double drop D - low to high, D A D G B D. This is one of the only tunes I have in an alternate tuning, and I still perform it, even five years later. I don't think I need to write about the obvious influence at work and how it is expressed structurally and aesthetically in this piece. I feel no shame in admitting the elements of my playing that are frankly derivative, and I like to think that my influences and imitations in my playing are varied enough, that, when expressed today and combined with my musical abilities and limitations, especially in free playing, I wind up sounding like myself. After all, is this not how culture works and develops?

I conclude this homage with a picture of myself playing the harp guitar at Dusty Strings in Seattle last August. I'd be lying if I said I figured out how to use those extra bass strings effectively. But yes, I felt pretty cool. And that's what playing guitar is all about, right?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sweater Set this Wednesday/A Blast from the Past

This Wednesday April 6th I'll be going to hear my good friends The Sweater Set play at the Strathmore Mansion at 7:30 pm. They'll be doing it April 27th too, and I plan on going to both - if you're reading this, and you're in DC, I highly recommend going. The Sweater Set is comprised of two of my very close friends, Maureen Andary and Sara Curtin. Both of them make beautiful music individually and together, and they are some of the best of what the DC music scene has to offer.

Before she was in The Sweater Set, Sara used to occasionally sing with The Midnight Special, the blues band comprised of myself, Andrew Klein, Zach Lupetin, and a rotating cast of drummers that defined my existence from about 2004-2007, when I was in college at the University of Michigan. We even did a few gigs with Sara as front woman, calling ourselves Sara Curtin and The Royal Family (because my last name is Prince, get it?), playing primarily blues standards and the like.

The best recorded example of this is this recording of "Ball and Chain" (by Big Mama Thorton, done here like Janis Joplin), from April 14th, 2007, recorded at the final Midnight Special show, at 701 Catherine St in Ann Arbor, our friend's basement

Sara Curtin The Midnight Special Ball and Chain 4.14.07 by Gary Prince

Sara Curtin - Vocals
Gary Prince - Lead Guitar
Andrew Klein, Tomek Miernowski - Rhythm Guitars
Zach Lupetin - Bass
Theo Katzman - Drums
Recorded by Dave Schall

Sara had no idea we were being recorded.

This is how I spent my early twenties, playing in our friend's unfinished basements, to crowds of our friends and peers, for zero money, for as long as we felt like playing, and doing whatever we felt like playing, usually at an obscene volume. Using broken equipment, getting the police called on us for being too damn loud, and doing it all two or three times a weekend were our M.O. I would trade those experiences for nothing.

I'm playing my Strat, and using the whammy bar a lot. If it sounds a little janky it's because the drive channel on my amp broke during our second song, and I wound up borrowing Theo's overdrive pedal and cranking the shit out of it to compensate.

Hope to see you Wednesday

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Slow Burn

Today I'm posting up a track from August 27th 2010 at Canterbury House, the day before the concert that Matt Endahl and Tim Cohen's duet came from.  For your listening pleasure:

Gary Prince (gtr) Matt Endahl (pno) Tim Cohen (drms)
Canterbury House 8.27.10

Gary Matt Tim Guitar Feature 8.27 by Gary Prince

Obviously I'm making up for the lack of guitar on Sunday's track by posting something extremely guitar centric tonight.  This piece is a free improvisation, and comes from the beginning of our session.  The section which comprises this track actually starts about 12 minutes into the first improvisation, and comes after a very dense section of atonality, a little bit of which I've left in for context.  It's worth noting Matt had been playing that same piano figure for at least two minutes before it ultimately emerged from the chaos.

Though this track is perhaps atypical, for us, in its adherence to conventional forms and instrumental roles, it should be remembered that playing free doesn't mean not playing conventionally.  It means not being required to play conventionally.

If you listen closely you can easily hear the amplified piano, particularly at the beginning, manifested as what I hear to be a kind of 'shimmer' surrounding the sound of the acoustic piano.  I'm playing my Ibanez Artcore AS83-VLS through Matt's Fender Hot Rod Deluxe.  A large part of my sound here comes from using my wah pedal, a Crybaby Classic.  I remained on a clean sound for much longer than I normally might, mostly because Matt didn't have a channel selector footswitch (used to shift between the clean sound and an overdriven sound on the amp), meaning I eventually had to manually reach over and hit the button to change to overdrive, at 7:55.  The effect is that the guitar remains held back for longer than I normally might have kept it, sounding as though it is struggling to break free of the band as the piece builds.

Speaking of which, I think I'm playing alright here, but the real joy and skill is in the rhythm section - the way Matt and Tim naturally and slowly develop and build and vary their accompaniment to both respond to and push my playing.  This is the slow burn - measured, unhurried, powerful, long but not tedious, intense without being overwhelming, building gently and gradually, all with a sense of space that is both liberating and exciting. The job of the soloist is to ride the crest, to hold back and to lead only gently, and to allow oneself to be pushed.  To me, the most effective pop ballads are the ones that create this sense of space in very short periods of time - giving the impression of the slow burn, even as the whole song might be only four or five minutes.  Truly this is an aspect of playing that is much more related to one's internal, non musical emotional development than to any instrument.  I don't pretend to be a master and I would hope nothing I write here is confused for conceit in any way. 

I had a lot more that I considered writing about free improvisation, but I think I'll leave things here for this rainy Wednesday night.  Spring can't be here soon enough for me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going to Ann Arbor/Matt Endahl and the Amplified Piano

Today I bought tickets to go to Ann Arbor April 21-24 - which means that, pretty soon, I'll get to play with two of my closest musical brothers, Matt Endahl and Tim Cohen.  Which means that, pretty soon, I'll be going head to head with the likes of this:

You'll have to forgive me for the awful camera work and narration. There are worse things to be bad at.

The short version is that I first met Matt Endahl in the fall of 2004 in Improvisational Forms, the pre-requisite class to the Creative Arts Orchestra, then taught by Ed Sarath. We were both sophomores at UM, though this was before I was actually in the School of Music.  Matt and I started playing together regularly in the summer of 2006, after we found ourselves both briefly working in the house band at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island.  We were roommates from 2007-2008.  It was just about the time when we started living together that Matt invited me to jam with him and Tim Cohen, a physics graduate student and drummer Matt had been playing with for a few months.  In April of 2008 we were joined by my good friend Kate Olson, an arrangement we came to call the KGMT Quartet, and that has more or less stuck even since Kate and I moved to opposite ends of the country.  The experience of playing with these folks multiple times a week that spring/summer of 2008 directly paved the way to my album Improvised Duets, the story of which I will save for a future post.  These three people are a constant inspiration to me.

Determining what track to post here tonight was a real struggle.  Ultimately, I've decided to put my ego aside and share something that doesn't feature guitar.  This track is a free improvisation from our performance at Canterbury House August 28th, 2010.  It is a complete performance - partway through the show we broke off into duos, Gary/Matt, Matt/Tim, Gary/Tim; this is their duo.  I'll post other tracks from this performance in the coming days.  Until then, listen for the amplified piano at the beginning of this track, for the interplay between the musicians, how Matt and Tim work as a unit, and for the overall structure of the piece.  It's a slow build, but well worth it.

Tim Cohen and Matt Endahl duet, 8.28.10

Part of the practice of improvised music, for me, is learning to experience the music your partners are making as though you yourself are creating it.  This way, I am as emotionally engaged with and invested in what Matt plays, or what Matt and Tim play, as I would be if I was playing it myself.  This is true even if I'm not onstage with them.

Through this practice, one learns to let go of the ego and not seek to impose one's musical will on the group, or become too attached to a given sound.  If we listen from this place of no ego we tend not to play out of obligation, that is, to play just because we happen to be holding the instrument and are expected to.  It is crucial to avoid unnecessary, aimless playing in any music, but especially so in free playing, where your mediocre idea might stifle your partner's brilliant idea.  When all the musicians playing together learn to listen to and trust one another in this way, there is no limelight to seize, no ego to bruise, no I sounded great, he sounded terrible.  We all make music as one, and experience it together.  Even though I'm not playing on this track, I'm in there, listening.  This is what it means to be participating energetically, to be fully present, whether as an audience member or as a performer.  This kind of listening/engagement is something you can practice whether or not you are a musician.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

All of us are family

About a month ago I had the great honor of having my music used in a short film by Marcos Davalos, a filmmaker located here in DC.  The film is called "All of Us Are Family."

To quote Marcos' description:

"In 2010, families from 68 grassroots organizations from 23 countries convened at the fourth international convention of Families for Sexual Diversity. Starting with only a handful of participants in the first gathering of FSD in México in 2002, the number of families and countries has grown with each meeting in a celebration of empowerment."

He uses two songs of mine, "Window" and "Attic".  "Window" is the one you hear first, "Attic" comes in later, and is featured in the closing credits.  I'll admit I've never been the best at naming my songs.  Marcos deserves a lot of credit for how well he wove this music into his movie, teasing really limited musical material into enough substance to fill out his film.  He also deserves credit for being able to bring the volume up on that recording of "Window" without it sounding terrible, something I've never been able to do.

I wrote "Window" in one session September of 2006 sitting on the porch of 328 Catherine St in Ann Arbor on a beautiful day, just before school was starting.  I remember moving inside to finish it amid the boxes of roommates moving in, and that it was just after I had cut my (then quite long) hair short for the first time since childhood.  This recording is from a concert I gave at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor November 10th of that same year - I believe it was recorded on my friend's macbook, which is why the volume is so low.  I've never managed to record or perform it again as well as I did on that concert, though I've certainly tried.  Often, the simpler a song, the more elusive a compelling performance.  "Attic" was also born in one or two sittings out of the theme from an improvisation.  It was recorded the day after that same concert by Tomek Miernowski, at the UM Recording Studio.  It also dates from Summer/Fall 2006 and I'm pretty sure I never gave it a second thought after recording it until Marcos used it.  I think it complements the video perfectly.  I used my father's Washburn acoustic for both tracks.

Here are the songs in their original versions:

"Window" (beware, volume is very low)


Part of the reason I go into such detail is that I have, for the first time, put some of this music online where it can be downloaded for free - click here for the link.  I'm pleased for these very simple and humble songs to still have a life even almost five years later, and to be able to contribute in a small way through my music to the LGBT community.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An orchestra through the reverse end of the binoculars

Today I want to share a video I found a few years ago that continues to be a major inspiration to me:

Let's for a moment forget about the fact that Segovia is a classical guitarist, that he is demonstrating these things on a nylon string guitar, or even that he plays a guitar.  Any instrumentalist can seek to develop a palette of sounds in this same way, and so many of us who developed in popular music styles seem to simply content ourselves with one tonal quality, one dynamic level, one way of attacking the instrument.  We can do all this before resorting to digital effects to artificially change the sound of our instrument - something I have nothing against, but something that I hear often, and rarely hear done in a way that reflects a mastery of the sound being produced.  Nels Cline is one of the precious few guitarists who I've heard really use a lot of effects, and use them like a real instrument.  Because that's what they are - a guitar with effects is no longer just a guitar.  It's a new instrument, and like a new instrument, it needs to be studied and mastered.

The thing that really blows my mind about Segovia's approach is how he integrates these different tonal characteristics so thoroughly into a piece.  What I mean is, often I, for example, may say - ok, this section I'm going to play with this sound.  This next section with this sound.  Segovia truly hears the entirerty of the line, and says, ok, these three notes, that's the cello coming through - this stab, that's brass.  This moment here, that's piano.  It creates the illusion of orchestration, almost in the same way Bach creates the illusion of polyphony with a single line in the Violin Suites.

Speaking of which, the best example I can think of to demonstrate this is by far Segovia's recording of the Bach Chaconne.  It's long, but very worth it.  Note especially at 6:57 as we transition into the Major section of the piece, how Segovia uses his timbral choices to bring in the new section as though viewed first from a distance and zooming in, a very cinematic effect.  At least that's what I think of. Segovia transcribed this piece for guitar in 1934, and though I don't know when this recording is from, the good sound quality would suggest later.  This recording is from the album "Andres Segovia - The Segovia Collection, Vol. 1"

Andres Segovia plays J.S. Bach's Chaconne in Dmi, from Violin Partita #2:

I could say a lot more about this piece, about its emotional weight, about how it comes at the end of a suite were each preceding piece slowly adds and develops each motif ultimately heard and realized in the Chaconne, which itself is far longer than each any others, and far longer than typical for the final section of a Baroque suite.  Listen for how the essential musical material of the piece is presented in the first 4 bars, only to then be twisted, turned, elaborated on, first in minor, then major, then returning to minor, over 13 minutes.  How the mood goes from dark and musically spare, to dense and intense, to nostalgic at 6:57, to exuberant, before returning to the original feeling and musical material, a feeling now felt so much deeper because of the material preceding it.  Wikipedia tells me it was perhaps written in memory of Bach's first wife. 

To me, this is the apotheosis of classical music and the relationship between composer and performer - Bach wrote it, Segovia interpreted it - transcribing it and arranging it for his instrument, orchestrating it dynamically and timbrally.  He didn't simply play it and try to recreate it faithfully, itself a lot of work, he made it his - he owns it, it is not something outside of him, even as he first recorded it over 200 years after it was composed.  The emotion of the piece, how Bach wrote it, how Segovia played it, how I hear it some 70+ years after that speaks to how the essential elements of human experience and feeling are unchanged.  Any music can convey that to anyone.  Music only dies when listeners, critics, or musicians pay more attention to the stylistic features of the music than the underlying creative, emotional content.

This music, the Chaconne, is real, adult emotional expression, in contrast to our society's (and a lot, but not all of pop music's) obsession with youth - granted I'm young, and obviously value youthful expression given that everything I've recorded would qualify as such, but one spends most of life not being between the ages of 17 and 30, and examples of mature musical expression do not have such a high level of visibility or value in our current culture.  I understand the Chaconne better now than I did when I first heard it 4 years ago because of the life experiences I've had, and I expect this appreciation and understanding to only deepen with age.  That statement is not meant as a judgment call on one kind of music v. another, simply an observation. Bach was somewhere between 32 and 38 when he wrote this around 1720, Segovia was 41 when his transcription was published.

But I digress far from my original point, which was going to be that, while Segovia probably saw the electric guitar as an abomination (ok, he definitely did) - just think of how many more timbral options I as an electric guitarist have at my command.  To begin with, any way of attacking a classical guitar you can do it on an electric too - it might not be quite the same, a layer of subtly might not be there, but it can be done, and that lack of subtlety is made up for in the fact that I have two pickups, two tone knobs, two volume knobs, all the knobs on my amp, my pick, the fingers on my right hand (and the gradations of nail v. flesh, and RH position, the same that Segovia uses) and any effects that might be on the floor in front of me - I personally use a wah pedal and the channel selector switch on my amp, to go between clean, dirty, and very dirty settings.  Why should I not alter these settings as I play?  Why not practice these things, to develop control over them?  Nevermind the fact that I have a way wider dynamic range (volume) and can still achieve some level of subtlety playing within a band at a high volume.  Within a group, I can fill my sonic space in any number of ways to complement the texture of the group - I'm thinking of course of playing with Matt Endahl (piano), Kate Olson (soprano sax), and Tim Cohen (drums), who I'll write more about later.  I'm not saying I'm a master of this kind of thing, anything but.  Most guitarists outside the classical world seem blissfully unaware of these concepts.  I know none of the jazz guitar lessons I took as an undergrad so much as once mentioned developing a dynamic range or tonal palette - all that came for me by suggestion and necessity when playing with the Creative Arts Orchestra - an experience I'm sure I'll describe more in the future.  I hope that opening up this line of thought might inspire more guitarists to experiment similarly.

I'd like to dedicate this post to Andrew Sargus Klein who showed me how to get an Mp3 embedded into blogger, and with whom I first shared that Segovia video when I found it more than two years ago.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Coming to grips with the 21st century

Welcome.  If you're reading this, I imagine you already know me.  If you don't - my name is Gary Prince, and I play the guitar, and that, more or less, is what this blog is going to be about.  There's more to it than that of course - I teach guitar at The Levine School of Music, in Washington, DC.  I play all over the area with various groups.  I am a resident artist at BloomBars.  I create original music, alone and in small groups.  I listen to a lot of music and think about it all the time.  I also busy myself with the general aspects of living, and that undoubtedly will feature here as well.  I went to the University of Michigan, where I studied Jazz & Contemplative Studies and Psychology. 

This is me coming to grips with the 21st century, where everyone can share their every thought online instantly, where as a musician, or a person up to anything interesting, you practically have an obligation to.  This blog accompanies my brand new website - www.garynprince.com.  The site was created by fellow guitarist and Levine colleague Matt Dievendorf and all credit for its beautiful design goes to him.  The pictures on my site were all taken by one of my best and oldest friends Isabelle Carbonell, currently continuing her adventures in documentary film-making in the Mid-East.  The picture currently at the top of this site was taken by my friend and musical soul-sister Kate Olson, whose music you will undoubtedly hear a lot of here.  I also have a youtube channel now, where I'm gathering all the video of me I know about - if you have some, please contact me.  Note that the "Listen" tab on my site allows you to link to downloads of all the professional recordings I've made.

I'll be updating this blog at least once a week, and regularly posting music, video and photo.  Besides posting things that I enjoy and have something to say about, I'll be using this site as a kind of clearing house for my (extensive) archives of home recordings - if you've played with me, ever, you're liable to hear yourself here.  I'll be writing about teaching and using this as a space to update the world on performances or other events I am doing.  I'll probably even write a little about non-music things - though I promise no half-baked political rants, ever.  No similar promises will be made regarding soup recipes, thoughts about whatever I'm currently reading, or posts about how much I love sitting on my roof.

If you have a question about guitar or music that you want to ask, whether you know me or not, ask me, and I'll answer it.

That's all for now!  Thanks for reading and listening,