Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Let’s go back to the beginning

Let’s go back to the beginning, to some seven or eight days ago, when this whole composing thing started. Now. I have no illusions. And on a separate plain, I have no idea of the musical worth of what I am doing. Just as with my digital art  of which I had no idea had any king of merit – and look where I stand now, but that is separate matter and has no place in this post – so with my music. I have no idea whether it is worthy of human consumption. With a bit of fortune I will find one or more experts who will assess its merits and tell me to go home and come back when I have grown up. It may simply be dross, sawdust, with little appeal, and be too shallow, as with my poetry – nobody has said, “Oh you must publish this, Malcolm.” The one outlet I tried to have the work, the poetry, be accepted for publication said it did’t fit the style of poetry they publish. And I don’t doubt it. Look at Laughing Through Slaughter posted Wednesday 17 February, 2016, to see that.

Sticking to a temporal telling of the events occurring in the days that have followed, let’s begin with describing the piece as presently conceived.

The time structure, reflecting on what I said and need to correct in a previous post, In passing … my time signature in Piece de Musique Banale, the time signature is 20/4 at the beginning and closings chords of the work. The musical form is of a march, a slow aching one at that. This is why I refer to the work as a Post-Minimalist piece. It lacks the underlying pulse that is characteristic of all Minimalist compositions. Since the piece is a set of variations, the opening and closing chords are repeated at various stages in the work. I reckon the work to be of one hour to an hour and a half in its fully developed form. There are faster chords times, 3/4 or 6/4 where the march pace is faster, much faster, than the 20/4 sections.

There is a music motif, the piece has several of them, three or four, probably more, but one almost overwhelms the work. I refer to it for now as the Wandering motif. It falls down the scale in a series of semitones from different starting points, various keys, in both LH and RH. This motif breaks across the keys so that its basic form is broken in a variation like form.

The underlying accompaniment is of chords similar to those spoken of already. There is no need to go into greater detail. If you are able to follow what I am talking about then you get the idea. The chords themselves at any point in the piece are broken chords, that is to say they are not tonal, whether major or minor.

I doubt that I shall be putting up music in blog posts for copyright reasons. This is not a hobby. I am professional artist in whatever form that takes and do this for a living.

I have been writing out what I have given a synopsis of in long hand in my notebook. Music notation will follow as I recover my skills.

I needed to find somewhere where I could gather information on what I would need going forward. I have a disreputable Williams keyboard at home. It is heavier than a King’s Coffin. I bought it about a year and a half ago for $100. The seller wanted $150 but he was keen to get rid of it.

The animal, probably a dead one, does not have a USB connection, though I haven’t checked on the Web yet. Without such a connection it is worse that useless. I have a very sensitive touch on the piano. I can’t stand syntheses and the like. They have what I call sticky keys. These are plastic and have no response. How other musicians use them I have no idea. The piano is my favoured instrument. Guitars I have two of both Fender, acoustic and electric. I very much doubt I shall be playing them. The piano offer far more than any other instrument other than the organ and harpsichord.

From my experience and training in South Africa I know my preferred string keyboard is Kawai over Yamaha. The Steinway I cannot bear and Bluchers and their ilk; let’s not speak of them.

So … searching in mind my for what I might do next, I settled on going to Guitar Centre. We have at least two in Houston. One is on Wertheimer, a street I detest, and the other in the Heights. Given that Houston is a no zoning law town – I know, “how can you stand living there?” I can’t. It desperately offends my aesthetic sensibility. And it is flat. Boy, is it flat, the only hills here are the overpasses on the freeways (I get vertigo on two of them and grip highly as I drive the car over them, feeling that I am going to fall any moment, an utterly terrible experience. And since I don’t suffer seasickness or similar ailments, there has to be cause.).

The Heights then is a delight. It is a small community bounded by a railway line, Santa Fe, and a bayou I intend to photograph, White Oak Bayou, to the South, a freeway to its West and another to its North and Main Street to the East. Main Street. Don’t have me laugh. The main street of a town is usually something to be proud of. Houston’s a ramshackle affair which looks like a junkyard for most of its length. A disgrace to any self-respecting city. But not so Houston, ex-cow town. Houston, essentially a concrete raft sat atop an effluvial swamp abound in bayous. I don’t know why they are called bayous. They do not, assuredly rivers. Instead they are brown, sluggish things, usually course with naked, unsightly concrete slopes which are steep. These, the bayous turn treacherous during and after the frequent down-pourings which are a feature of the weather in this part of the world, sweeping away all in their path. They can rise to four or five times their normal height in really bad storms. Lives are lost, cars drowned and properties destroyed beyond repair. Storms frighten residents in this area due to their completely unpredictable nature. They sweep in from the Gulf of Mexico and may wreak havoc and devastation. One during my lifetime in the city took the city three weeks to repair in its aftermath. Bayous are also home of alligators which often make sport of small children, hidden as they are, their colour matching that of the brown of the bayous.

Washington Heights, where Guitar Centre is located is not strictly a part of the Heights proper, lying between the Santa Fe railroad and Washington – streets in America appear to only ever are referred to by their first name. It comes as a surprise to learn, for instance, that Richmond is actually Richmond Avenue, perhaps so named because it has a grass median for some of its length.

Every town and city in America is littered like trash after an open air rock concert with shopping strips and malls. The former come in two kinds, it doesn’t matter which, which are dreadful affairs and an offence to the human spirit never mind how they look. One kind are L shaped and the less said of these the better. The other has at its centre what is referred to as a flagship store. This acts as a magnet to draw shoppers to its midst. Shopping is America’s national sport. After 9/11, American were urged by President Bush, he who, when told of the event, was in a children’s nursery, caught live on television with his draw dropped and a sheep’s glaze in his eye. Talk about being prepared. Pearl Harbour all over again. Hence the US wanton destruction of countries held to be responsible. Not Saudi Arabia, of course, thought to those in the know to be the culprits. This spirit of blood thirsty revenge still runs its course to this day with the attendant misery and destitution to otherwise innocent populations. Ah, the humanity of spirit here!

The non L shaped strips have a flat concrete parking lot surrounding them which stretch as far as the eye can see and bake you like bargequed chick in the height of the summer when temperature reach 104degF or more – with a humidity you can walk on. The parking lots, which could swallow whole smaller countries, are quite unfilled even when on days when every man, woman and child in this great nation goes shopping on a National Holiday.

Malls on the other hand are large brontosauri. Let’s leave it that.

Washington Heights has two of the more, er-hem, human kind. Both keystoned by, in the larger that famous landmark of these United States of America, born of a certain Sam, not Uncle Sam, who to the best of my knowledge is mythical, who conceived on one dull night, Walmart as his reliquary and gift to the nation. Shopping experience has never been the same since.

At the heart of the other lies my destination, Guitar Centre. Here the staff is relaxed and knowledgable. This should come as no surprise as they are to a man, musicians – there are few women in this profession.

I have come to begin my profession as an erstwhile (dreadful word, excessively favoured by UK journalists) musician, if composers can be referred to as such.

The modern musical world required vast quantities of equipment which might match that of touring band where convoys of 18 wheelers are needed to carry equipment, the logistics of which would not shame the MATS part of the US Airforce.

This equipment is required of the digital age to match listeners’ demand for every complex mixing and layers of sound which are met through the production of DAW files. I know, I was quite unaware of the existence of the Gigabyte marvels until a few weeks ago when I started mugging up on all this stuff.

Having turned a disgusted eye at the Williams – they are popular apparently, some people just don’t have taste (or don’t know better, you pick which) in my jaundiced view. I looked longingly and fondled the keys of several Yamaha’s as I glanced at the prices knowing by them that they lie far out-with my present budget (we will leave aside the gory details as to why this is). The Yamaha’s are alright but somehow lacking what their stringed sisters and brothers have. They seem orphans, somehow. They are electric. which I suppose means they are driven by electric motors. No, actually this means electronics, this wonder of mankind developed in Britain, stolen by the Americans but mastered by the Japanese, the means by which they, the Japanese, won the Second World War (the Germans won it with quality, with a large Q).

I learn of interfaces and MIDI’s and software good enough to control NASA’s spaceships and the fly-by-wire needs of Airbus aircraft.

This is a dizzying Mount Everest to climb in my search to gain the knowledge required to join this august profession of which Beethoven and Bach are its leading members, tough competitors I can tell you. But I am in with a chance. I have the expertise of the guys at Guitar Centre who are knowledgable to a degree that astounds.

After several visits, my third, I discover an animal, with pseudo ivory white, teak black keys, lovingly branded branded as Privia – such curious names manufacturers choose to make their products differentiate from others which really are so similar that these improbable names are coined in order to fool you that X brand is DIFFERENT from Y’s product. Car makers are the past masters of this game. A fortune could be made of designing a board game employing them, the strangled versions of the English language. The names are probably coined by that knowledgeable breed of know it all marketers who pretend to know our tastes and we are foolish to swallow whole, though in the case of automobiles that might be difficult. The constipation as a result might be something to behold. The Privia is made by a company called Casio which I last knew to make calculators. Maybe they still do. In a visit to the back of the store I find one of these machines in a practice room during open day on Saturday – Guitar Centre sells music lessons and these have proven ti be hugely successful. This particular beast is much better to be better than the same model on the floor – it has a peculiar difference between LH which is loud and RH is soft – and better still than the Yamaha’s beside it. I have found my companion in composing. The Williams’ Coffin can be consigned to its grave when I have saved pennies enough in the penny jar to buy it.

I have several meaningful discussions with these musician cum store attendants – one tells me in deep confidential tones. as he shiftily looks around and over his shoulder as if guilty of some great crime, “We’re not supposed to tell you, we are on commission;” as if to confess, as if to a priest, himself of some great sin that these wonderful Guitar Centre people don’t have.

On Monday, day before last, I have a quiet conversation with the Store Customer Support Manager – all modern people facing businesses have. and would’t be seen dead without, who has people skills honed to perfection, but in his case sincere and heartfelt. He too has is a composer (don’t I have hubris?). We talk in a relaxed way despite the cacophony around us and at its conclusion I say to him, “is there a final remark you’d like to make.”

“Yes”, he says, “Malcolm, Let it loose.”

I leave the store and walk out to my white BMW, that High Priestess to German quality, with its black leather seats baking in the sun of this August in Houston, weeping, sobbing, “This is what I have wanted all my life. I love music so much.”

Malcolm D B Munro
Wednesday 9 August, 2017





Filed under: Current Events

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