Playing without music and improvising

Jon Silpayamanant playing with the Eastern Caravan Group at Cafe D'Jango in Bloomington, Indiana (Sep 4, 2011)

So last night I had the opportunity to perform with the Eastern Caravan Group in Bloomington, Indiana.  I was sent a handful of sheet music to work with just a couple days ago, but ironically I ended up using practically none of them.  I was initially just invited to perform whatever I was comfortable with from the music sent but as soon as I heard a tune announced that I knew (albeit, in a completely different key) I reached for my cello and looked at Shahyar Daneshgar (the de facto leader of the esnemble) and he just nodded and smiled.

So what was supposed to be a small guest appearance with the group by me ended up with me playing the whole evening (minus the first couple of tunes) with the group.  And it was an absolute blast.  The two or three tunes the group played that I did know were all in different key areas than I had learned or performed and the arrangements were completely different but that hardly mattered to me, apparently, as I seemed to have no problems transposing the melodies to the new tonal areas without much effort (which actually surprised me, even).  And as Shahyar Müellim had, in our initial correspondence, wanted me to play more in the bass range, I was also transposing down two octaves.

The whole evening was like that with the exception of a popular Azeri dance tune we played for one of my partners in Raks Makam who happened to be able to make the show.  I was alternating between playing bass function (when chordal harmonies were somewhat implied) and playing the melodies (by ear and in real time) down two or three octaves.  The gel holding the two alternating functions together were improvisational transitions or elaboration/ornamentation of the bass or melody line.

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SoundCloud and a new look for the blog

SoundCloud Logo

SoundCloud Logo

So as some of you have noticed, I switched themes for the blog.  I’m not entirely sold on this one, but I wante something with a bit more color but similar functionality to the previous theme.  This was about as close as I could get.  Some things are a bit more clear in this template, but I don’t particularly like that there’s so much space in the header above.  If I ever feel inclined I might go into the template and see if I can’t modify it some, but for now it will suffice.

And Ive been toying around with SoundCloud ever since I noticed it on Tony Woodcock’s recent blog post about Pushing Boundaries.  I’ve noticed it around some sites before but it wasn’t until listening to some of the tracks he had posted by New England Conservatory students (in particular Goodbye Ben Ali by Yasmine Azalez) that I realized how it works.

Basically the track itself becomes a social networking system by allowing folks (who have an account) to make comments at specific points on the track much like how Youtube allows comments to be embedded into the videos now.

The best thing is the ability to  embed the track onto websites individually which makes it much more useful (for me) than the more traditional artist audio sites out there right now.

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Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: Taksim

After spending nearly four hours on a post which I’m now leaving as a draft as it kept getting bigger and bigger as I continued to type (I guess I have lots to say, eh?) what I decided to post instead is the first of a new weekly blog series focusing on the cello as it’s used in non-Western contexts.  I almost began with one of my favorite non-Western cello figures, Mesut Cemil (son of the more famous Ottoman Classical musician Tanbûrî Cemil Bey), but decided I might end up writing a post that would be just as long and involved as the previous one.  So instead, I present to you some cello taksims in lieu of me getting long-winded.

A brief note about taksims

Taksims (the Arabic version is usually transliterated taqsim) are instrumental improvisations in Turkish Art Music.  Usually unmetered, the instrumentalist will play a taksim within a specific makam (Arabic transliteration: maqam) which, for lack of a better way to describe it, consists of a scale (dizi) and rules for melodic progression (seyir).

Notice the usage of a drone under the cello taksims below.  This is a technique attributed to Mesut Cemil (1902-1963) during a time he started to incorporate a number of revolutionary changes in Turkish Art Music around the time of the Congress of Cairo which he participate in around 1932.  Rather than fill this post with a long rambling historical text though, I present you with some beautiful cello taksims–enjoy!!

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