Wednesday, June 4


In the few days before I make a temporary but crossroads-marking departure from America, I'd like to puncture a bit of the celebratory graduation mood while reminding myself of all the god damned bull shit that sometimes happens and not to erase the failures from my memory of New York.

Here's a list of all the things I resolved to do during my undergraduate years which I failed to do, or have failed to do yet. Let me know if I've missed anything!

become a professional trumpet player
become a professional jazz musician
learn how to shred
migrate to ubuntu
live cheaply for my whole undergrad
start budgeting
sleep around
finish Angband
memorize one of the bach violin partitas
practice the piano consistently
develop good fashion sense
destroy the Church
become Good at Cooking
learn to drive
cook an artichoke
save money
maintain a cast iron pan
keep my knife sharp
write stories or poetry consistently
write songs consistently
help the poor
organize the revolution
stay fit
not acquire more than 1 guitar
learn to sing
become a hardened city goer
learn how to rap
build a hardware instrument
go on a road trip
learn polish
become good at League of Legends
learn how to mix
learn how to DJ
get on the scene
get on a scene
win an award of some sort

Wednesday, January 22

A long, drawn-out going away sale, like the pain of knowing that a long friendship is about to end, and having that loom over you for months, and there's nothing you can do about it. Buy my stuff!

This post will be updated periodically. There are some things that I would rather not have to bring around when I end up either going back to Singapore or going to some other part of America for my MA/MM. All prices are in USD and are negotiable.

So, I am selling:

$1000 - A REAL VINTAGE '79/80 Fender Stratocaster. With hard case, gig bag that smells a bit like cat pee, whammy bar. Has been repaired/set up by a professional (Fried guitars in downtown brooklyn). Playable, beautiful, heavy - I'd keep it myself if I wasn't so sure I'd destroy it with forks and power drills.

$250 - A Yamaha Electric Piano. Can't remember the model - it cost me about $500 new. 88 weighted keys, a small number of presets. Comes with a keyboard stand.

$950 - an AER Compact 60 guitar amplifier. It's a terrible price (you can get a new one for $1000) but I'm not sure I really want to sell this, unless I get a great offer. Negotiable! Dollar for dollar one of the best amps money can buy - if you want cleans. No distortion at all, but it has stunning frequency response all the way up into super highs and super lows - meaning it's wonderful for 7 and 8 string guitars as well as smaller instruments, as well as a general amp for electronic (non-guitar) work. 2 inputs, one of which accepts XLR cables. Built in DI, headphones output, effects send/return, tuner output. Basically everything you could possibly need in an amp.

Books! $6 each. Plato's Symposium. Montaigne's Essays. Marguerite de Navarre's The Heptameron. ah, fuck it. here's a picture. If you zoom in you can read the titles. THE UPPER SHELF IS NOT FOR SALE.


Intermediate Chinese 2 Textbook & Workbook (used) - $35 for both.


$72 - an Amazon Kindle Keyboard - one of the old black n white ones with the QWERTY keyboard. It's the model with internet access via Whispernet. 

$110 - Google Nexus 7 tablet, 1st gen. It's seen some use, but is in good, nay, great condition, and comes with a PVC case.
$80 - Nintendo DS lite. Comes with GTA: Chinatown Wars and N+.

$40 - Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard. Small, portable keyboard. Hard case that transforms into a tablet stand - perfect for iPads and other tablets. 

$12 - USB numpad. Useful, I guess. if you have no num pad, and need a num pad with burning ferocity. I used it to play Angband mostly.

Monday, January 13

Polyphony in Guitar Playing


This essay should be read as a work document. It is thinking-out-loud about how I play the guitar, and an experimental attempt to devise, through analysis, new ways to play the guitar. I came to understand my interest in polyphony when I realized that one of the things I loved best about music such as the Bach inventions, or the music of Derek Bailey or Eric Dolphy, was the delicious tension between the presence of multiple, distinct voices and the presence of a single, unique persona. I came to polyphony as an improviser on the guitar, which presents special technical challenges. The intent of this essay is to think about the different ways polyphony can be achieved on the guitar.

  1. Three Paradigms in Modern Guitar Playing

I call these technical approaches “paradigms” because they are illustrative of more than just a physical way of playing the instrument; each of them represents a different way of thinking about the sound possibilities of the guitar, and thus each of them is not just descriptive of a style of playing but is generative of many styles which share a similar relationship to the sound of the guitar.

  1. Monophonic
    This paradigm describes a lot of jazz guitar playing, and “lead” or solo playing in rock contexts, as well as in styles derived from or related to these genres. The sound produced by the guitar is agglomerated into a single “line”, and is understood by the player and audience as a stream of notes (or sounds) that is something analogous to a single voice, regardless of what string or technique is used to create the sound.
    A paradigmatic example of this kind of guitar playing would be the work of Charlie Christian or Grant Green, whose jazz solos were sometimes described as “horn-like” in their use of the logic of a monophonic instrument. They rarely played more than one note at a time, and if they did it was not to create an additional melody with the extra notes; rather, they served to emphasize an existing note in a monophonic stream of notes.

  1. Homophonic
    I use the same term that is used by musicologists to describe much of the music of the classical era, which was characterized by division between melody and harmony parts, and a more chordal (as opposed to contrapuntal) style of accompaniment.
    In contrast to monophonic playing, homophonic playing uses multiple sounds on multiple strings in parallel motion. Sometimes the highest note serves as a melody note, and other times the entire guitar part serves as accompaniment to another instrument.
    Jazz accompaniment is often homophonic, and this kind of playing was sometimes used in solo contexts by guitarists like Wes Montgomery or Jim Hall. Outside of the jazz world, a homophonic approach is used by any guitarist who strums the guitar – from country singers to the likes of Johnny Ramone.
    However, the important thing I want to emphasize about homophonic playing is not the sound of strumming, although that is a characteristic sound of much homophonic guitar playing. Rather, it is the logic of multiple strings acting in concert, having multiple sounds or voices that move in parallel, in the same rhythm.
  2. Polyphonic
This kind of guitar playing is characterized by the presence of counterpoint, or the co-existence of multiple, independent voices which do not move in parallel.
Most classical guitar literature makes extensive use of polyphonic playing; so do most idioms that emphasize fingerpicking technique – the independence of the fingers on the non-fretting hand allows the articulation of multiple voices. Some jazz guitarists – notably George van Eps and his students – have developed an extensive technique of improvising two or three parallel voices with one hand.

Polyphonic guitar playing can be classified, very roughly, in two ways. One approach – which I call “barre logic”, is similar to monophonic playing in that independent streams of sound are created. Each of these streams may move across strings, like a monophonic line – the sounds of different strings are thought of as a unique whole, each proceeding from the last. Due to the complexity of the lines, this approach requires agile barre technique and difficult-to- achieve strength and independence of the fingers. This approach is often used in classical pieces.
The other approach, which I call “string logic”, treats each string of the guitar as an independent voice. Complex lines are difficult to play on single strings without needing to shift often and quickly. Such shifting would make the independent movement of voices, and hence polyphony, impossible. Hence, this sort of playing tends to utilize many simple lines in interlocking rhythms, played in “open” position (close to the nut, and utilizing unfretted strings.) Chet Atkins and “Mississippi” John Hurt are paradigmatic examples. Additionally, many prepared guitar techniques, by placing objects on or under some strings and not others, tend to exaggerate the different timbres of different strings, encouraging similar thinking.

Of course, these categories are not well-defined, and most of my examples use both sorts of polyphony in some proportion. I make the distinction only to highlight that two different kinds of musical thinking are in play – one that tends to treat the guitar as a single, unified sound source, and one that treats the guitar as a collection of six (or seven) independent sound sources.

  1. Analyzing the different types of polyphony
It is immediately apparent to me that “barre logic” affords the most independence of voices, as free string-crossing allows voices to move in parallel, oblique or contrary motion at will. In contrast, “string logic” tends to result in oblique or parallel motion, as not every string can be fretted independently. It is also limited by the pitches of the open strings, which tend to be used often due to the fact that only four strings can be fretted at a time, in certain specific combinations.

On the other hand, “barre logic” is limited in its sonic vocabulary by the physical shape of the fretting hand. Only certain stretches and certain shapes are possible, and thus certain “licks” or predetermined phrases tend to dominate. “String logic”, while limited also, has more room for variation in the interaction between six voices.

All this theorizing cannot possibly outline the actual limits of technique. That is up to the imagination and perseverance of individual musicians; I only wish to note that different techniques are predisposed toward different sorts of music. This helps me to think about what I am interested in, and how I might go about doing it.

  1. Looking for a hybrid polyphony
For instance, I am less interested in intricate counterpoint than I am in the co-existence of multiple, interlocking and interrupting voices. But I am also interested in a certain amount of harmonic freedom, and the possibility of rapid movement and huge leaps within a single voice.

While prepared guitar traditions allow for a great variety of sound, many of them (as with guitarists like Keith Rowe) are more textural than rhythmic, whereas I am very much interested in rhythmic repetition and development. Additionally, the inharmonic spectra produced by most guitar preparations preclude harmonic playing.

Several solutions are possible. If I accept the limits of open-string tuning, I can play further up the neck, using open strings as additional “voices” while my other fingers play a more complex voice. Alternatively, I could give up on the notion of playing “voices” that use pitches, using muted strings as percussive attacks, while other strings play melodic fragments.

These are not wholly novel approaches – rather, they are extensions of the existing ways of making polyphony on the guitar. It is up to the practicing musician to find ways of using, contextualizing, and developing the sounds that result from this approach.

  1. New Polyphonies

One of the reasons this topic compels me to write has been the music of “Mississippi” John Hurt, who achieved fame in the folk blues revival of the '60s, having previously developed a distinctive style of solo guitar playing. Part of the joy of hearing his guitar is the clarity of the different articulated voices: bass, chords, melody. Whereas a player such as Chet Atkins would have left more space in his solo playing, John Hurt's guitar style is characterized by a constant stream of notes in different registers, interlocking to form the entire rhythm. I find it exceptionally beautiful to hear all of the voices weaving in and out – even the “chordal” voices that he plays on the middle two strings occasionally become prominent, articulating a short rhythm within the texture. This is polyphony in the spirit, if not the form, of Bach's fugues.

Understanding John Hurt's music as a species of polyphony is a fundamental starting point for me. I find that musicians as different as Derek Bailey and Eric Dolphy evoke a similar response in me, and I have learned to identify that response as pleasure taken in a sound that suggests multiple voices in playful interaction.

  1. Possible strategies

Instead of describing how I want to play, which I have found to be a futile exercise, I will suggest some practical experiments that might help me to develop new ways of creating polyphonic music with the guitar.

  • Keeping multiple voices going: Rather than muting a note as another is played on a different string, let each string ring (and meticulously avoid accidentally muting it, or unintentionally playing another note before it has died out.)
  • Memorize the pitches of the open strings, relative to what is being played.
  • Interlocking parts: No need to learn the country blues other than for repertory reasons /the sheer joy of it, but surely other kinds of music can be made with similar rhythmic principles: instead of long melodies, many interlocking parts with simple rhythms. Write some music down.
  • Register Changes: As in music like Eric Dolphy's and Roscoe Mitchell's, a single voice may suggest polyphony through dramatic changes in register. This could work well with open strings.

As mentioned, this is not a discursive or argumentative essay. I have tried to make clear the streams of thought that occur when I think about making music: how to play, what to play, and why it gives me satisfaction. If any over-generalizations or inaccuracies were committed, they were for the sake of generating new principles and ideas, and hopefully adding more voices to the many streams of music I have had the privilege of experiencing. 

Monday, December 9


drop in the rain
I want to lose again,
see what things are really there.

Drop out of reality,
the stars into consciousness
and the sand into the sky
and see what things are really there.

is another screen
for the projection of today
Go into that sweet sleep,
I will carry your wave into the future.

I will carry your wave into the past
two signals
converging on NOW
now bright,
now then,
soon we will remember
to see again.

Inside of me
dead like the sea,
better than aphrodisiac or pain
shrivel in sun
water gets between my toes,
salt, in the core of me and surrounding me.

I am an exclamation of Minerality,
I let salt go into the cycle that gives my molecules momentum
let go, let go,
the rivers flow to the sea
and remember salt, the basis of body
and their temporal inheritance.

when we're sitting by the TV,
stars explode,
burning solar systems
streaming neutrinos through our skulls
while we, unbeknownst, munch on

Cosmic wind, give the sight
that remembers how to pass
untrammeled through the universe,
stopping only to be born
and to die.

Someone asked if there was a teapot
floating around Mars - well, orbiting,
which is like falling on nothing.

Mr. Teapot:
I am sorry we left you there
There are comforts there -
the dim glow is Sol,
the red sky is a friend,
there will be a beginning,
a return to peace,
an end.

Friday, October 11

It's been a bad week. Things have begun piling on top of things, and thoughts on top of thoughts, until whole stretches of time seem to fold in on themselves like layer cake. Moist. Writing is a way of linearising, like extruding play-doh through a pipe. It lets things happen one after the other, which helps me think. Otherwise the parallel processing that makes me so good at almost everything I do starts to turn into voices.

I AM good at everything I do. I am a guitarist and improviser of uncommon clarity and brilliance. I have cultivated a stillness which I consider a healing presence in my music. I hope that it will someday be a healing presence for other people. The problem I have now is things that I cannot begin to do. I cannot convince people to help me. I cannot ask them for help. I cannot "hang out". I cannot become part of a social world. I'm not sure why this is, but believe me when I say I am not one of those people who thinks these skills are somehow uncool. I hope I am never that hip. If I could I would throw every ounce of effort I could muster at fitting in, being in a scene, hanging out, networking, making connections, friends and business associates, marketing, branding, advertising. I have in fact done that, and the only reason my complete and abject failure to achieve anything in this quadrant is surprising is because it stands in such stark contrast to my usual success rate. It irks me because I don't think it should be this difficult.

I usually ignore these problems with some success. Moving to Queens has helped. Grace and I have put up some walls. We make bread. But now that graduate school applications are bearing down on me I am daily face to face with the fact that someone is going to have to evaluate my work who isn't me. I am going to have to convince them that I am worth time and money. I have no idea how to do this.

So it's been a bad week, and my self-confidence is flagging not because I have begun to suspect that I'm not brilliant, which I certainly haven't, but because I'm staring failure of a different sort in the face every day. This constant inability to get with the program isn't just a professional impediment. It is a cause for serious loneliness, even though I have plenty of cause to be otherwise happy. I can't fix it the way I fix everything else.

Friday, July 19

The Improviser's Workbook

Clearly, I am not an authority on this, and this project in particular is founded on a solid base of skepticism towards any and all authorities.

But I have been thinking about the process of improvisation, and in my effort to become better at it, I have developed a collection of rules, statements, aphorisms, formulas and folk wisdoms. They are not truths but working heuristics for practice. The first principle is that heuristics are good enough for anything, except maybe rocket science. Here are the rest.

A melody exists in all its dimensions.
Improvisation is the rupture of skill.
I don't know if it matters if you know the theory.
But you gotta deal with what you DO know.
Concern with the importance of technique can impede listening.
Discard the illusion of self-contained moments.
All is process. Improvisation does not begin when you start playing and does not end when you finish.
It happens whether you want it to or not.
Discard the notion that it should feel good.
Improvisation is PROCESS. It is not feeling.
It may feel good.
You may dissolve. But if you don't, that is okay.
As long as consciousness does not fill up your senses.
Improvisation is a cyborg mode of being.

What purpose does practice serve?
Learning physical habits?
How have I achieved what I have achieved?
I have not learned to DO.
I have learned not to do.
That is the substance of practice.
Part of it.
Part of it is also learning to DO.
What is that? How does it work? What is learned? (it is peripheral;
we celebrate the peripheral,)

We watched the world torn apart by heroic sentiments, so we invented a music that is incapable of them.

It is small music for small people. There is no place here for greatness.

There is no place for greatness in the future.

Sunday, March 17

This is the food tumblr of the person of the blog. Bagels and Heidegger or somesuch -

Hashtag me, Keith Richards!

Blog Archive