“It’s Taken Me My Whole Life…” — The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra

Around 2006 I began thinking about rests.

I forget who, when speaking of Thelonious Monk, said, “Monk plays rests,” but the quote struck me vividly. Miles plays rests, too. So does Kumar Gandharva in a totally different idiom.

How could I compose a piece of music in which the improvisational element inhered in the act of not playing something, or, more accurately, playing a silence. How could I minimize the creativity involved in note choice and melodic sequence, and maximize the creativity involved in leaving spaces?

The process of composition involved many false starts; lots of scribbled notes, lots of discarded pages.

Eventually I settled on the approach used in “It’s Taken Me My Whole Life…”, which employs three separate levels at which musical omissions are available to improvisors.

At the lowest (background) level, participating players are assigned a pulse speed (8th note; quarter-note; dotted-quarter; half-note) and a small pitch set. Each player receives a different number (n); their assignment is to make a simple repeated pattern of n notes from the pitches in the set. They’re also given a second number which designates the number of notes which they can choose to replace with silences over the course of many iterations.

For example:

46733 46733 46733 467_3 4__3_ 46733 4____ _6_3_ 4_7_3 _6733 etc.

At the second (middle-ground) level, participating players are assigned a “mantra,” which is a simple cantus-type melody written in whole notes. The melody is derived from the Hindustani raga Bhairav, but the interval structures could be changed easily without affecting any other aspect of the piece. Each player involved in the “mantra” is also given a number representing the number of notes which they can choose to omit in repetitions of the line. A group of melodic players presenting the “mantra” would probably omit different notes, creating a dispersed “collective” version of the melody.

At the top (solo) level, the improvising soloists have their melodic lines completely written out: these notes in this sequence. They are instructed to play through what is essentially a modally-organized tone row while focusing on the number and length of silences to be inserted.

At this 2012 concert, Luther Gray and Ryan Edwards (drums & percussion respectively) took the closing portion of the piece and stretched out with a beautifully evocative duet.


The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: Elegies and Recollections – In Memory of Dorothy Carter

In 2003 I received the news that my dear friend and early musical mentor Dorothy Carter had died. Almost immediately afterwards I was inspired to compose this long piece for jazz orchestra, which was eventually released on the JCAO’s “Celebration of the Spirit” CD on CIMP records.

Here is a 2005 concert version.

Dorothy’s music was ethereal and delicate, evoking mythical and ancient resonances. She taught me a lot about the integration of folk music into contemporary composition.

Mundai Malhar: Trombone Quartet

This piece was composed in India in 1987, and eventually premiered at a “New Ensemble Music” concert in 1990. The performers: Bob Pilkington, Jim Messbauer, and Andy Knepley on trombones; Leslie Havens on bass trombone.

It uses melodic motifs drawn from the Hindustani raga Mian Malhar, but morphs them into insolent squawking from the trombones. “Mundai” is the principal vegetable market in Pune, and a source of inspirational chaos for many of my “urban” compositions.

I dedicated this piece to my dear friend Tilmann Waldraff.

Year 4, Month 10, Day 31: I Contain Multitudes

The Miami Herald runs an AP story on how labor unions are trying to work with environmental groups:

PITTSBURGH — The nation’s largest labor unions are ready and willing to help fight global warming, but are cautioning environmentalists that workers need new clean-energy jobs before existing industries are shut down.

The four-day Power Shift conference in Pittsburgh is training young people to stop coal mining, fracking for oil and gas, and nuclear power, but organizers also want workers to join the battle against climate change.

Union leaders say their workers want to help build a new, green economy.

“Global warming is here, and we can work and get it fixed together,” United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard said in a Friday night address at Power Shift.

But other labor groups note that while they share the same long-term clean energy goals with environmentalists, there are challenges.

“It’s not just as simple as ‘No Fracking'” or other bans, said Tahir Duckett, an AFL/CIO representative who spoke at a Saturday Power Shift panel that sought to promote dialogue between environmentalists and workers.

Duckett said workers need new jobs to make a transition to clean energy, noting that shutting down industries such as coal “can turn entire communities into a ghost town. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend like people aren’t fighting for their very survival.”

This is an interesting conundrum. October 21:

When labor unions say that having new clean-energy occupations in place is a prerequisite for ending old dirty-energy jobs, they oversimplify complex economic realities — and overcomplicate simple environmental ones.

Our country’s economy is largely founded on the (ultimately false) notion that fossil-fuels are cheap energy sources. The extractive industries that bring us oil and coal are some of the most profitable in the world, and their corporate leaders among the planet’s most influential people. As such, they have striven to protect their own interests by blocking public sector investment in renewable energy sources. New “green jobs” are the harbingers of a different economic model built on sustainable principles, and while most of us think that’s desirable, there are powerful forces working against such a transformation; it’s going to take time.

On the other hand is the irrefutable fact that the planet is teetering on the brink of runaway climate change triggered by our civilization’s greenhouse emissions. If we can’t turn this around, our concerns about employment are going to be supplanted by far more elemental worries: surviving on an Earth turned chaotic and hostile. There is no time to spare.

To resolve this contradiction, we must recognize its existence.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 30: I’m Looking Through You

The Denver Post’s Vincent Carroll addresses the LA Times’ recent decision to exclude denialists’ letters:

Most skeptics of any sophistication recognize that global warming has occurred and appreciate that some or much of it in recent decades could be caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. But they tend to believe, for example, that there are more uncertainties in the science than generally conceded, that the relative dearth of warming over the past 15 or more years is a blow to the models and that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has demonstrated consistent bias in favor of alarmist interpretations.

Surely readers should be free to debate such points.

For that matter, are there really no properly credentialed experts who question whether humans are largely responsible for the warming since the 1970s, as the IPCC maintains? Of course there are — and it would be editorial arrogance to exclude their views.

Climatologist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville declares on his blog that “evidence from my group’s government-funded research … suggests global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution.”

Is that a factual inaccuracy or simply a minority view among climatologists?

Is it factually inaccurate to declare “we don’t know” how large the human contribution to warming is, as Judith Curry, professor of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told an NPR reporter in August?

I’ve criticized Republican candidates who dismiss the mainstream view of global warming as a hoax, and no doubt will again, but I’m also reluctant to shut down reader discussion on issues in which most scientists may share similar views.

Where would it end? What other debates raging among our readers do the arbiters of truth believe we should silence?

Mealy-mouthed. October 20:

Even the most lenient opinion page would be unlikely to print a letter on a medical topic from an advocate of the medieval theory of “humours,” and media outlets don’t feel obliged to allot space to arguments for such regressive or unscientific viewpoints as geocentric cosmology, a flat Earth, or the moral acceptability of slavery.

It’s in this context the the LA Times’ recent decision to reject letters denying the reality of anthropogenic global warming must be understood. While climatologists disagree about particular climate forcing mechanisms or the relative severity of specific effects, there’s no longer any scientific argument about the human causes of climate change. Outlying views will always exist, but this is no reason to treat single dissenters as worthy of equivalent airtime or column inches — especially since, in media handling of climate issues, these contrarian opinions invariably come from the same individuals (Spencer, Curry, and Lindzen).

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 29: Jump Like A Willys

The Palm Beach Daily News reports on Bill Koch, who is (surprise!) an asshole:

As someone who states that he has energy in his DNA, billionaire oil-and-gas mogul Bill Koch says those who think carbon is bad should get a reality check.

Koch addressed an audience of 600 on Thursday for the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at The Breakers, peppering his remarks with off-color jokes and self-deprecating humor.

“Eighty-four percent of the energy used in the world comes from carbon,” he said, explaining that decayed primeval forests below the Earth’s surface are the source of the coal, oil and gas that powers the global economy.

Those who call for taxes on carbon dioxide emissions are “on LSD,” Koch said, making the point that humans produce their share of carbon dioxide naturally and taxes aren’t levied on them. He suggested planting trees as the most efficient way to counter higher carbon levels.

The reliance on fossil fuels is not going away, he said, noting that coal is relatively low in price, that oil has been “pretty cheap” until recently and that there is an abundance of natural gas, available at a price almost competitive with coal.

Spoken like a man who’s never tripped. October 19:

When arch-conservative energy bazillionaire Bill Koch claims carbon-tax advocates are “on LSD,” he’s offering powerful evidence of his own detachment from reality. Yes, human beings produce CO2, and yes, planting more trees is an excellent policy. But the plain fact is that industrial civilization’s carbon dioxide emissions are accelerating, and unless we slow them down, all the trees we can possibly plant aren’t going to scrub our atmosphere rapidly enough to mitigate catastrophic global heating. The greenhouse effect is a scientifically demonstrated phenomenon discovered over 150 years ago and confirmed by countless studies; Mr. Koch’s sneering dismissal of climate science is based only on ideology and has no foundation in fact.

Fossil-fuel advocates like the Koch brothers ignore expensive “externalities” for which we (or our descendants) will eventually have to pay: pollution, health impacts, massive environmental cleanups, global climate change, and a great many expensive and pointless wars. If coal and oil are “cheap” forms of energy, then high-interest credit cards are a source of free money.

Bill Koch’s glib denialism demonstrates that vast quantities of money distort reality far more effectively than any drug.

Warren Senders

Dadar Concert, August 13, 2013

Ragas Purvi, Nayaki Kanada, Khamaj (Tappa-ang thumri), and a Sindhi lok-geet — all performed in what appeared to be the world’s largest shower stall. With Mukta Raste – tabla, and Ravindra Lomate – harmonium. Thanks to Nandu Dhaneshwar and Neela Bhagwat for arranging this program at Shivaji Park Nagarik Sangh.

Music videos are below the fold:

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Year 4, Month 10, Day 28: We’re Paying For You Like An Adult!

The Des Moines Register, on food and farming:

Farmers already see climate change: While a debate rages over the causes of climate change, farmers in South America and Africa are dealing with the realities of climate change.

The consequences of rising temperatures are more extreme weather events, including drought and floods, and changing growing conditions. Scientists and farmers there are struggling to deal with both.

On the science, some experts credit improved plant genetics, in large part, for the ability of farmers in the United States to harvest the eighth-largest corn crop last year, even in a year of record drought. Monsanto has developed a new drought-resistant variety of maize that is being tested in Africa, and it is working with private organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce it to farmers in Africa.

Of course, no debate actually rages, unless you count all the rage on one side. October 18:

While farmers all over the planet are facing increasingly unpredictable harvests due to the complex consequences of climate change, most of their customers continue to live in a state of denial. It’s easy and tempting to attribute this to the irresponsibility of our mass media and its near-pathological inability to address issues of major importance, but there is another factor: the overwhelming success of our large-scale agricultural system, which allows millions of people to eat well every day without putting in hours of work growing their own food. Paradoxically, industrialized farming may well turn out to be one of the first casualties of the accelerating greenhouse effect, as increasingly variable weather and fluctuating extremes make monocropping ever more vulnerable to catastrophic failures.

We cannot solve the problems of climate change without recognizing the reality of the crisis, which demands accurate environmental journalism and an end to “false equivalence” — and we will not last long as a species without a diverse and resilient food supply. For humanity to survive this slowly-unfolding crisis, both our minds and bodies need sustainable nourishment.

Warren Senders

Toronto Concert, July 20, 2013

Toronto, June 20, 2013. Ragas Kamod, Nayaki Kanada, Pahadi, Bhairavi. With Ravi Naimpally on tabla and Raya Bidaye on harmonium, performing under the auspices of Toronto’s Raga Mala society.

Music videos below the fold:

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Pune Concert, August 11, 2013

A mehfil at a private residence in Pune, with Chaitanya Kunte on harmonium and Milind Pote on tabla. A dream team of accompanists, and made more special by the presence in the audience of Rajeev, Medha, and Eeshan Devasthali. A lovely evening.

Here are ragas Chhayanat, Bihagada, Jayant Kanada, Khamaj, Gorakh Kalyan and Bhairavi. There are some other short items which I haven’t posted yet.

Music videos below the fold:

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