Monday, December 7, 2015

John Lennon Imagine

I feel, as we near the thirty fifth anniversary since this great composer was taken away from us, that the message of this song, perhaps his non plus ultra, more than deserves being reinforced. From a post I made on this blog in October, 2013:
"To me, with this song John brought out the things that upon reflection make life worth living, those things that are beyond cultural or temporal aesthete in terms of archetypal beauty.

I myself truly believe that John's visions of a brotherhood of man, of everyone working together, feeding and sheltering and not unduly judging others can be made a reality. And if that makes me a hopeless romantic, an insufferable idealist, so be it.

The centuries have proven that man is capable of bringing what's inside out into the real world. The seemingly supernatural advances in technology are a great example of the formidable powers of men and women working together. I think we should all get together and work toward a common goal of no more wars, no more killing people, no more judging.

Reach within, everybody. It all starts with us...and our imaginations.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Final Thoughts on Guitar Hero-Syndrome and "Neo Classical" Rock/Metal

I keep being asked if I've heard (insert names of recent Rock and Metal releases) and feel compelled to answer in consummate fashion. I'm really not on the Rock/Metal guitar music page anymore. In fact, I don't care much about what guitarists and people of those genres do nowadays. Though I hear some cool stuff from the Dinosaur Rock Guitar forum (and like the latest Nile and Abbath),  I mostly listen to my favorite old stuff and that's it. It hasn't helped that I've heard one too many rerecordings of past glories, not to mention glorified cover bands (including the original bands that are essentially cover bands these days...hello, Black Sabbath).

Guitarists stopped being my musical heroes a couple of years ago when, after spending so many years studying composition, orchestration, production, and engineering techniques I realized that not one of my guitar heroes (or any guitarists, period) truly stand up anywhere near the great composers or even their Rock songwriting peers like the Beatles and Brian Wilson (in particular the latter's Pet Sounds/Smile era). My studies of the music of these guitarists led me to the inescapable conclusion that as composers, rock and metal guitarists play really good guitar or my personal creation: "It ain't BACH, baby!'.

 Of course, there's nothing wrong with playing really good guitar, but the "neoclassicists" (quotation marks meant facetiously) have been guilty one too many times of trying to make it seem they're the modern day Paganini and/or Bach and pardon me, that's hilariously preposterous. There isn't a single Rock guitarist in history with anywhere near the compositional knowledge (particuarly in terms of texture, counterpoint, harmony) of Bach, and most certainly not the virtuosity of Paganini. It's a ridiculous claim to anyone who's truly studied Bach. I mean, come on people let's get real. Besides the aforementioned Hendrix, who immortalized himself partly by creating the classic heavy rock/metal sound and its bastardized-rock songwriting template, and Edward Van Halen, who truly brought the shred style to the table (with repercussions lasting right into the modern day) rock guitar hero-dom is bereft of innovation (stealing sweep pick patterns and runs from fusion players doesn't count), most especially from a musical perspective. I saw how everyone besides kept running into that thick and frustratingly limited musical wall that the genre survives on (granted, many of the same embrace that template and are often more than satisfied with it, and that's perfectly fine).

The attempts at what is erroneously titled "Prog" rock and metal music only ups the masturbation factor among the musicians, who (even when they're serious) most often are just competing with made into a sport ceases to be worthwhile music, put it that way. Robotic pretenses.

I went decades being crazy over so many metal guitarists. Now the only musical heroes I have are Richard Wagner, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Bernard Herrmann, and Gustav Mahler, full stop. I left the guitar hero thing behind me, because it was ultimately barring my progress from getting deeper into music. And that's the big change I've had over the past few years. Guitar became just another instrument in the orchestra, and to be completely forthright, both the violin and cello (and arguably the piano) are better instruments, with far wider options for articulations and thus expression.

There it is. There's my definitive answer. "Neo-Classical" guitar hero stuff is good for a beginner (it could be likened to a gateway drug)...just don't try to argue the purely musical merits of  a guitar player (or band) with someone who's studied art music for decades, because in our eyes that player is just okay enough to sound and play like everyone else in the genre (that is to say,  basically like Hendrix and/or Van Halen... everyone else are just variations, and that includes the players even I like better). Period.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fran├žois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 and A Change of Heart

I watched this film because I love the Ray Bradbury book, plus I'm a huge fan of Bernard Herrmann's music. I gave it my usual two views, and came away greatly enchanted by the end scene (again, mostly for the music), and completely turned off (at times furious) about the rest of it. The bizarre, antiseptic feel to it, Julie Christie's hardly acceptable acting, the (imo) negative departures from the book...

then I watched it a third time. And a fourth. The movie progressively went from a weak two stars (the music was the whole movie for me at first) to five.

As intimated above, Fahrenheit 451 is one of those movies that unfolds its value upon repeated viewings. Upon my aforementioned fourth viewing, the whole plot device involving the public-sanctioned medications really hit home for me, today it almost seems prophetic. This day and age brings with it the era of seemingly any sort of admitted feelings of (perfectly natural and essential) angst being labelled as "clinical depression".

The sterile, hospital cleanliness of the film also started to make sense the more I watched. In a world that does all it can to exclude internal experience (vociferously campaigning to erase "unhappy", i.e. individual thought), the setting would ultimately end up being about as spotlessly clean and neat as certain areas of the world today (which I won't point out specifically due to political reasons that might colour this review negatively).

The masses are encouraged to watch television. A lot. And what's on tv is a lot of condescending talk that comes across as intentional dumbing down...and if you don't like it, there's something wrong with you. At one point Christie's character (the protagonist Montag's wife) engages in what appears to be a sort of pseudo-interactive tv show. The show's prefabbed seams show obviously, even to a pre-reading Montag. When Montag mentions the program's gimmick, Christie calls him mean for mentioning it ("oh dear, that means I have to think")...and turns to the tv once again.

In this world, savoring something is discouraged....Montag's wife can't even remember how they met (providing one of the most revealing scenes in the movie). Her cluelessness (and, judging by her actions it is an at least somewhat willed cluelessness) is just one of the things that starts to stand out and bother Montag once he's started reading.

The government portrayed wished to have children as its subjects, and through the use of media and drugs and long work hours they achieved it. Books (inward reflection) were subversive, why rock the boat?

Even Bradbury loved the film (and agreed with my own, oblivious judgement that Christie was the most glaring weak point).

The people at the end, repeating the books they love over and over, holding fast, at any cost, to relics of personal expression. Their own ability to express their inner experience was sparked through the eyes of another, leading to a fire of reflection, the sort that even the heaviest snowfall can't snuff .

Sartre (whom is mentioned specifically in the film) would have had a field day with this movie. And so will you.

If you just allow yourself to think about it.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lyraka Volume 2 Update

I am very grateful for all the Lyrakan interest and support, the people who like my music really seem to like it and are flatteringly loyal. There has been a huge show of faith, from more people than I can mention here. The most recent update is in bold toward the bottom of this article.

Lyraka Volume 2's release date remains up in the air; once we get more financially solvent then the album will be released. We are hoping it will be sooner than later, but life itself, along with some disappointingly unsatisfactory performance issues with certain participants (several of whom have been outright fired), plus (obviously) an unsatisfactory financial deficit seems to be getting in the way of the release of this album again and again. Since my artistic conscience will not let me release the album unless it's completed properly, and the financial situation that would be required to follow through with that goal would have to dramatically improve before work could recommence, it bears proclaiming, more than ever, that anyone who has already invested in the album, doesn't want to wait any longer, and wishes a refund can contact and we'll be more than happy to give your money back (all the while profoundly grateful for your having believed at all). To make it easier for people who are struggling to ask for a refund, please understand that we would rather give you your money back than to feel rushed to put an album out due to financial pressures (pressures that are very much ongoing). Please don't be worried about asking, we will not hold it against you in the slightest, besides, as intimated above, you might be doing us a favor.

As people who follow Lyraka already know, Chris Tsangarides has agreed to help put the finishing touches on my production job, plus mix and master the album. This requires mean, dreadfully-cold-yet-lovely cash. The same address given above to receive donation refunds serves a dual purpose as a Pay Pal address for donations. If you wish to stick things out and continue contributing, well that's about as wonderful a show of belief as I can imagine, and accept both my and Jasmine's profoundest gratitude right here and now. This album will most certainly be released, there is just simply no release date in sight, period...and there won't be until we can get together with the man who will help us finish it the right way. Chris is one of the precious few producers alive today with the scope of vision required to help me transubstantiate my own.

I have given, and am giving, everything of myself into this album. I think there are things that a lot of my friends and "Dinosaur Rock Guitar" soulmates will really like about the album: supernaturally great vocals from everybody, songs at turns catchy, labyrinthine, aleatoric, avante garde, "progressive" (without the puerile obfuscations and masturbational technique-mongering found on the majority of music bearing that term),  guitar solos straight from the heart. This album was started shortly after Volume 1 was released in 2010, and the extra time has benefitted it mightily; I've made huge strides forward in my compositional and orchestrational powers, have advanced greatly in my knowledge of music production, and have mastered one of (if not the) most important instruments of the past century, the synthesizer. All of these newfound abilities were woven into Lyraka Volume 2.

I also think it's only fair to warn that there are some things on the disc that are very dissonant, modularly constructed, heavily layered, and thus requiring mindful attention on the part of the listener; however, it must be stated that any effort one puts forth into appreciating the album will pay back in gold, and for years to come. Some might find it uneven, which is fine, as it more often than not eschews the Rock templates that were already worn out in the 70s (the same progressions and song structures that the Beatles took to their respective limits in the decade before).

To elucidate the last point, the album is most certainly not on cruise control, as only a handful of songs play through like typical Rock/Metal; in fact, much of the album is in movements and at times could be considered diffuse, thus requiring some forgiveness and conscientious, willed immersion from the listener. It's definitely not for everybody, however, as mentioned, the rewards are great for anyone who takes the time to grasp the concepts and complexity. Suffice to say, if you're looking for something to ape (whether unintentionally or not) Rainbow Rising or Sad Wings of Destiny for the course of an album, look elsewhere. At the risk of alienating and/or offending those who love those albums and their like above all (an attitude I at least partly sympathize with), Lyraka Volume 2 is beyond that. I put aside making a great "guitar" or "heavy rock/metal" album in favor of making music that stands up to anything out there, that will both rock with a vengeance and give you something to appreciate with each listen. I aimed for great music, period.

Once more on this album I incorporate different genres into the opera, to help delineate the different characters and situations. Things have become more advanced in terms of the way I layer out the different genres...much like a tapestry. I call a portion of it "Metal", but my definition of Metal is different from most, as I count Richard Wagner's operas and select other Romantic, Classical, and Atonal pieces as being just as "Metal" as Deep Purple, Manowar, or Slayer. I won't give my reasons, as other, much better writers have gone on at length concerning the subject. However, there are not only elements from the abovementioned music, but freeform jazz, country-western, blues, death metal, gospel, as well as electronic music, dubstep, black metal, a hefty, prevalent influence from the avante garde, film soundtracks, and assorted other,  synthesizer-oriented, musics. I imagine this might not make lovers of the aforementioned Classic Metal particularly happy (especially upon first listens), but again that's not why I made this music. However there are, assuredly, things on the album I'm positive will appease those rockin' folks (of whom I am most certainly one).

After recently reviewing my work of the past eleven years, I've come to realize that I'd quasi-inadvertently invented a form that I now call Serial Vignette. That type of writing was already evident on Lyraka Volume 1 ("Palace Guard", "Errandia", "Neires"), and since then I have refined its execution a great deal.

The album looks like this, trackwise:

1) Overture
   a) Act 1, Scene 1
   b) Pelagic Rapture

2) Volcano
   a) Treadmill
   b) Abyss I
   c) Futility
   d) Mechani-Errandians

3) Lilliput
   a) Lilliput's Desert Sun
   b) Proclamation
   c) Even a Queen can Doubt

4) Lyraka (On Dragon's Wings)

5) Vignette
   a) Fake
   b) Entropic Void

6) Entombed By Choice

7) Father
   a) Angst
   b) Semmonet 1
   c) Semmonet 2 (Oedifunk)
   d) Neires' Ocean Journey
   e) Meditation

8) Abyss
   a) Quasi-Canon for Choir and Strings
   b) Proclamation
   c) Depths
     1) Serial Suite
     2) Escalating Self-Questions
     3) Go ahead and jump! (Modular Elektra)
     4) Grand Canon
     5) Abyss in his true form
     7) Mermaid Wraiths
     8) Primal
   d) Sublation

9) Fidei Defensor
   a) Locke and Neires
   b) The desert queen's entrance
   c) Alone
   d) Semmonet's Closing Sentiments

10) Volcano Reprise (instrumental)

Lyraka Volume 2, to quell all the rumors, indeed will be a two-disc set. This music features serial, electronic, and hybrid compositions,  operatic vocals, plenty of traditional orchestra as well as modern Rock, Electronic, Avante-Garde, Romantic, Baroque, and 20th Century Serial Composition.

And that's mostly it I guess, there will be posters of the five Ken Kelly/Lyraka art pieces available and shipping to our patrons, I'm hoping to have a good sized booklet with a detailed essay regarding the story and the archtypes will be what it is, a masterpiece for the ages to come. And nothing without you, Lyraka friends.To quote our beloved Manowar: "In our eyes you're immortal, in our hearts you'll live forevermore!"

Most Recent Update 4/11/17: I have a habit of taking down the Lyraka facebook profiles every now and then, both because there won't be any musical news upcoming any time soon, unless our financial situation changes, and because I've found facebook to be the epitome of diminishing returns: it's too easy to waste time there, and I have music to continue honing, arranging, composing, and studying. My catalogue is large now, and I have a lot of post Lyraka Volume 2 material completed...but again, all this won't be made public until we are in a better place financially. Until then I will continue to master my craft, while being profoundly grateful to our fans for having put me in a situation where I can work unfettered, aiming at substantiating the personalities and actions of Jasmine's Lyraka characters into music.
I can't go without thanking my Uncle John, who's been there more than anybody, bar none.