Tritones? Yeah, tritones! (a long blog entry - sorry)

I love playing music, but as much as I love playing music, it has never been easy to do. Though I started playing guitar at age thirteen, it really wasn't until I was well into my twenties that I began to fully understand the fret-board, scales, tunings, gear, etc.

Creating and composing music is also extremely hard for me. I can't just sit down and write a song. My brain doesn't work like that.  I need inspiration. I need an idea to grab me and throw me across the room. As I just said above, I can't just write a song.  I need to create a concept. Complex context in which a whole series of ideas form. I'm fascinated by other musicians that work like that.

When Jack White started the White Stripes, it was more than just a band playing songs.  It was a whole concept.  Only two people playing guitar and drums and singing, dressed in simple color schemes of red, black or white, using vintage equipment, recording to tape, sounding as raw and intense as possible while playing songs that sound like they were chosen from the old 1950's Chess Records collection.

Get it?  Before he even started playing a note, Jack White had the whole concept of what the band would look like and sound like.  Not only that -  he knew what he wanted it to "feel" like. He had a vision in his head to follow.  A goal to realize.

That's how my brain works.  I need to know what I want a music "project" to "feel" like long before I even start working on the music itself. So here's where we bring in ...


I have a new project in my head.  Now I have to realize it. I've been fiddling around quite unsuccessfully for a few months now after finishing my "Plagues of Aegyptus" album.  Just can't quite come up with the next idea.  I've tried different tunings (Open C, Drop D, good old E Standard) and just can't get the snowball rolling down the hill yet. However ...

I've stumbled upon a band from Switzerland that I am fascinated by called Sonar. They are an instrumental quartet that play very minimalist music similar to King Crimson's late 1970's-early 1980's output.  Lots of interlocking clean arpeggios, harmonics, deep bass-lines, poly-rhythms, etc. Most people would listen to them and get bored in about a minute, but I can't get enough. And their whole existence is based on a few concepts.  Here is text taken directly from an interview published by Igloo Magazine (09/19/2015):

Thelen :: Before our first rehearsal, I sent the other guys a list of ideas and no-goes that I thought should be an important part of our concept: 1) No effects (except reverb). After many years of playing with all sorts of gadgets and effects, I was kind of tired twiddling knobs to make music. I wanted to concentrate on our instruments and try to produce new sounds just by using our hands and imagination. 2) No sequencing or loops. After often playing with sequencers, I felt that I had enough and wanted to re-experience the joy and the spontaneity of playing in real time with real people. 3) A minimal „less is more“ esthetic « Make the most out of a minimum of ideas » is the best advice you can give to a composer. Very often, creative people have many ideas and cram them all into one piece, to the point that it all sounds random. For me, the best pieces of music are the ones based on one simple idea that organically leads to complex results.

4) Be small & mobile and use a minimum amount of equipment. 5) The guitars and the bass should play harmonics whenever possible and use the tritone tuning exclusively. 6) The music should have a raw, strong and intuitive energy to balance the obvious cerebral and intellectual concepts. 7) No standard 4/4 rhythms, no common phrasing. The key to Sonar’s music is its polyrhythmic and polymetrical nature. I believe that most of the music of the Western world is rhythmically underdeveloped. Harmonically, the step from monophonic to polyphonic music has long taken place, but a similar step in rhythmic and metrical complexity is still to be taken. A piece like « Orbit 5.7 » (track 3 on Black Light) is a good example of the kind of rhythms I wanted to explore: basically, Bernhard’s guitar and the cymbals play in 7/8, while the bass drum, snare and bass guitar play in 5/8, and the lead guitar plays in 3/8, 5/8 or 7/8. But the important thing is that it still has a very compelling multidimensional rhythmic flow and still really grooves.

8) No solos, no virtuosity. This was important. I think we live in a society where music is far too closely associated with the idea of a virtuoso or star performer. I rarely enjoy listening to a virtuoso because the focus is automatically on their calisthenic abilities, not the quality and content of the music. For me, it was important that Sonar would play together like an orchestra without a conductor. You said it very nicely in your Static Motion review: “This quartet is not into empty technique displays and endless pointless solos. These guys are not here to show off or impress anybody. These guys are all about playing together as a crystallized unit that generates deadly wholes by equally combining its members’ strengths. They don’t outshine each other, they intensify each other.”

Okay - now that's a concept. So now I'm trying my own concept loosely based on the above.

1) My guitars are tuned to a slightly different version of tritone tuning - D, Ab, D, Ab, Ab, D

2) Minimal effects.  I still like to use a bit of overdrive in my playing, and since I don't want to just copy Sonar's approach, I plan to "rock it up" a bit with some heavier distortion.

3) Poly-rhythms.  I don't want to completely avoid 4/4, just minimize it a bit, but if I feel like just flat-out playing a straight rock beat with palm-muted chunky guitars, it's going to happen. But I'm throwing a lot of odd time signatures.

4) Re-arranging Deadside Manor.  Yes, I'm using the old Deadside Manor songs as a "base" compositional foundation.  Then I'm turning them upside-down, inside-out and every-whichway. I want the riffs to resemble the original songs, but then become something completely different.

5) Two guitars, bass, drums. And maybe a few extra layers of some ambient background synths, or heavily effected guitars that I want to sound like synths.

6) Solos?  Maybe, maybe not?  Depends how I feel.  The tritone tuning really changes the notes on the fretboard, so any "improvised soloing" is going to sound unusual.  Which is good.

That's it for now.  I already have sketched out a few of the songs on the computer, and it's working so far.  The creative juices have begun to flow as the snowball rolls down the hill and gets progressively bigger and bigger.

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