The magnitude of force


I’m making progress on my CD of piano improvisations with synthesisers. Although since it, the project, goes where it wants—or so I think it does—some of it is turning into electronic improvisations that include the piano as a side effect rather than the main point.

Some of what’s emerging reminds me of what I liked when I first began to play the piano. Reminds is the key word.

Emergent music

As regards what’s emerging  I seem to work best when I have a larger goal—a concept—in mind. The thing of it is however that the concept only become clear a few days ago.

So working on a project is akin to stumbling around with no shoes in a dark room with assorted things on the floor. For me that means being careful for toes!

There’s definitely more work that needs to be done—and calling it work is stretching things. Meanwhile, here’s the latest mix of composition—it began as an improvisation—I call it The magnitude of force —the link goes to a sound file in my Dropbox account. I can’t recall where or how or what I initially improvised.

The Analogue of Electricity

The working title of the CD is The Analogue Of Electricity. Returning to the idea of concept, I realised a few days ago if I came up with anything resembling a title, which a few days ago I did—The Analogue of Electricity—then I could google the phrase.

What I found from my search were things that I call phrases of interest. Those phrases of interest, reworked a little bit, will be the titles of what’ll be on the CD.

Composition? Improvisation?

As for the things to which the titles will refer, that leads to another question:

What’s the diffference between a composition and an improvisation?

I mean, I know the difference between the two as both words are commonly used. Most people and especially musicians, do.

For example, when I directed a music composition and theory in a university my colleagues seemed to know the difference between the two. I think I too understood what they saw as the difference between the two.

For sure, my professors in graduate school saw a difference. They told me as much. But I wasn’t ready at the time to challenge that distinction, in graduate school or as a faculty member at a university, to really put those distinctions to the test.

And of course, you’d have to ask and I still do ask

What is the difference between a composition and an improvisation?

It is an important question and not just a matter of semantics given that many composers and improvisers in the 20th century worked to erase those distinctions. There were composers who relied upon operations of chance. There were other composers who used algorithms. There were and are composers who used statistical data. There were and are composers who sonify data.

Or, we might ask about Duke Ellington:

Were his compositions sketches, whatever a sketch might be, that he sort of wrote out knowing such and such an individual was likely to do such and such a thing with whatever sketch was received?

There’s a John Coltrane recording where, at the beginning of a take he says something to Elvin Jones, his drummer at the time. That something, best as I can remember is something like

Give me a thing. You know. A thing.

Of course Elvin Jones gave him a thing!

When? Where? How? Why?

My questions now are when one plays an improvisation does it become a composition if in any way, shape or form it’s recorded or written down or otherwise saved and retrievable?

Or does retrevability even matter. I mean, who cares how something is categorised if …. how to even complete this question?

As far as process goes, if one overdubs one improvisation on top of anotherdoes the whole thing transform into a composition? Or is that a form of musique concrète where the concrète hasn’t yet set?


I know, I’m certain, that the issues I’ve raises are not pressing questions that require answers. Rather, they’re probably rhetorical questions where some will go further than others to craft answers.

Yet, they might just and only be rhetorical questions and at best they may lead to hypothetical answers. But, for me, they may lead some thought or another that leads to yet another improvisation or another.

And who knows, we’re back at the beginning where improvisations may  transform into compositions. And then of course, it would be wrong, I think, to acknowledge that anyone who plays anything from a page, no matter how detailed the notation, isn’t in some way interjecting improvisation?


The intention of the composer? Give me a break! It’s not uncommon to lose track of our own intentions, much less to gain knowledge of the intentions of someone else!

Really, it just all comes down to the difference between what we do once spontaneously and what we work on and refine over time. But even that, as an explanation, leaves much unanswered.

I mean, there are computer programs that write music that are in some cases is indistinguishable from repertoire that comes from a human who created the style the computer program is imitating. But whoever so wrote that program and will write those programs, are we talking about individuals and teams who know about intention?

Or is there something deeper lurking behind intention? Is intention simply the best we can do to describe something like motivation?

Songs (without words)?

And to change direction totally, completely, that’s not even mentioning the idea or the norm that tracks on a CD are often known as songs. I do know I’ve been listening a little to Wu-Tang Clan and reading some about them as well.

What I’m reading is contextualising what I’m hearing. And there’s a lot of context and intention there.

Where is Wu-Tang Clan? I remember first hearing them in the 90’s and I didn’t get it—that is, their music seemed to me like an affront. I hard sort of the same issue with the group Rage Against the Machine. II might as well mention or admit that for me, James Brown fell into the same category.

It’s a category about which all I can say is I didn’t find it, get it, or understand it—until I heard their music decades after it was released.

Albert Dailey

But, as Albert Dailey, a fabulous jazz pianist who was active in NYC in the 70’s and 80’s sometimes said, usually when he was,how to say it, running behind schedule?

Better Albert Dailey late than Albert Dailey never.

The plan and James Bacon

Back to the CD, I’ll take my mixes to my favourite recording studio in Sheffield where James Baker, a fabulous engineer and musicians, will master them. James is highly skilled in that dark art.

Meanwhile, I know enough to get out of the way as he practices it. So, the plan is for all of that to happen next month, in March. Although I won’t be surprised if I need more time before mastering commences!

The quality of the mix

Let it be said: I’m responsible for the quality of the piano recording in my mix(es). Or, to put it another way, James didn’t record the piano. Trust me, he specalises in recording pianists and he’s superb in how he does it and what comes from his skill and studio.

As for my mix, it’ll be what it’ll be. But there is something to be said about having and taking the time to get it as one wants it. So that’s my plan and that’s why this project—The Analogue Of Electricity—is consuming copious amounts of time.

But, then again, I do tell my students, as regards learning how to play the piano that

It’s going to take time!

Hurstwood Farm Pianos and James Bacon

Should I mentionJames is head of sales for Hurstwoord Farm Pianos? That’s where the Steingraeber 205 I have in my home came from. Although, that HFP link goes to their subsiduary website—and here’s where I should point out that HFP design and manufacturer their own in-house brand. That’s a story, a great story in of itself that’s full of innovation and more.


If you listen to The magnitude of force—and I hope you do—the link goes to a sound file in my Dropbox account. I recommend listening with headphones or decent rather than indecent speakers. Another way to phrase that is please don’t use iPhone or computer speakers—that sort of thing—because they won’t reproduce high and low frequencies and a lot else that’s in the mix. On the other hand, some say the mix should sound ok on WHATEVER system it’s played on, so there’s that point of view as well.

If you have comments that you think might helpful, let me know. All feedback gratefully received. And hopefully I’ve squashed all typos.