Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 62

2008 || 2009 : Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec |     Page : Previous | Next |
Most Recent - Next - Previous - Page 1 - Photos - Index - Topics - MP3s - Jazclass Links

Tuesday January 6, 2009 (diary)

At the Kröller Müller Museum, Holland It is a beautiful day today, blue sky with only a few scattered clouds, sunshine, warmth. The sea is clear and sparkling with big dumper waves that rush cascades of white foamy water towards the beach. I splash around in it and feel much refreshed as I get out.
At the Surf Club I watch the Sydney cricket test, now in its 4th day with the Aussies steadily gaining a clear advantage. Will they manage to win this one ? Tomorrow will be an exiting final day.
Back home I make a few more recordings on my keyboard, but am not happy with them. Nushi (the new young dog at ThreePonds) however has a wonderful time chewing on the recorder's power lead and I am not impressed.

Thinking back about last year's cultural events I suddenly realise that I actually did manage to go to six of them during 2008. Five of them where museums or exhibitions I went to in Europe (one in Cadaqués and four in Holland), plus the Cirque du Soleil which makes six.
Strangely enough I always much prefer exhibitions (especially of impressionist and modern artists) over plays, concerts, ballets, etc. This is, I believe, a clear reflection of me being very much a one to one person. At an exhibition you have a one to one intellectual encounter with the creative mind of the artist at your own pace and without the interference of anything or anyone.

The Weerribben, Holland I am almost inclined to add the wonderful day I had cruising through the Weerribben to my 2008 cultural events list. It was an intimate embrace with nature which left a deep emotional imprint on me equal to, if not stronger than, most cultural exposures. This is not so surprising, ever since I was a young boy nature has been the prominent, constant and most reliable guide throughout the emotional and spiritual development of my life.

Most Recent - Next - Previous - Top - Page 1 - Photos - Index - Topics - MP3s - Jazclass Links

Wednesday & Thursday January 7 & 8, 2009 (diary)

Snow in the Black Forest Two pleasant days, warm and generally sunny. Wednesday the Australian cricket team manages to win the Sydney test match against South Africa with just 10 balls to spare.
Thursday morning I manage to record good retakes of two songs I was not quite happy with. Sometimes I become so focused on the improvisation line that I block out (don't "hear") the backing and as a result my timing goes off. I also explore Erik Satie's Gymnopedie Nr.1, perhaps his most famous composition. I need to play it several times to decide just in which format I am going to record it. It is a song in 3/4 (waltz) time, but often performed in 4/4. I too prefer this latter time pulse and will record it as such.

We are having extensive rains in the NT and outback Queensland, and some of the roads to Mount Isa are washed away. It will take at least 6 weeks to repair these, but it is good to have finally a good drenching of rain in those areas.   In contrast Europe is having a cold winter and I am told that this year the traditional Elf stedentocht (ice skating race on Friesland's canals and lakes along 11 towns) is definitely on.

Most Recent - Next - Previous - Top - Page 1 - Photos - Index - Topics - MP3s - Jazclass Links

Friday January 9, 2009 (diary, art, music, Picardi triad)

Self portrait of Erik Satie When reading a book of say Thomas Hardy (the 19th Century English novelist) we may easily overlook the fact that he was writing at the cutting edge of the then prevailing social and moral issues and was heavily scrutinised and censored by the authorities.
With the French composer Erik Satie we are much less likely to make this mistake. Despite efforts of his good friend and colleague Claude Debussy to get him accepted by Paris society, Satie was very much anti-establishment (a sentiment I share with him since my early childhood) and deliberately went out off his way to annoy it by ignoring Centuries old musical customs and "rules". He wrote his Gnossiennes without inserting bar lines in the music, and when critics stated that his music "had no form" he immediately wrote a "Composition in the shape of a Pear" and a "Composition in the shape of a Dog".

A much more subtle act against established rules I suddenly spotted when working on his Gymnopédie 1 which I completed and uploaded online today. Let me explain.
It has been a Centuries old point of view in traditional Classical music that a minor chord was not really a suitable chord to end a piece of music on, as it was considered to be slightly dissonant. To overcome this problem for pieces in a minor key the appropriate truly consonant major chord was used as the final ending chord. In music theory this is called a Picardi triad (a triad is a 3-note chord like : C E G).

There certainly is some merit to this old fashioned musical notion. When a piece with a strong minor mood is ended on a major chord (especially a major 7th chord) it is as if at the end of a dark, gloomy overcast day suddenly the sun comes out, a very exhilarating and joyful moment. This ploy has been used by several popular composers like for example Victor Young in 'Stella by Starlight', Cole Porter in 'What is this Thing called Love' and others.

During Satie's time however (around 1900) the Picardi triad was still very much in vogue as part of the old musical esthetics. Predictably Satie went resolutely against this formal "rule", turning it back to front, notably in his famous Gymnopédie 1 which he wrote in the key of D major and ended on a D minor chord. I love you my friend.

The Picardi triad for musicians
The presence of minor chords in a melody does not mean that a song is in a minor key. Far from it. Most songs in major keys do have minor chords in their chord progression, simply because there are three minor scaletone chords in any major scale.
In the C major scale (C D E F G A B C) they are :

Dmin7 (DFAC), Emin7 (EGBD) and Amin7 (ACEG)

A typical major key sequence in C is :

Dmin7 (DFAC) - G7 (GBDF) - Cmaj7 (CEG)
IIm7 - V7 - Imaj7

Therefore in (Dmin7 - G7 - Cmaj) or in (Gmin7 - C7 - Fmaj)   the Cmaj and Fmaj chords are not Picardi triads.

Chords in a truly minor key progression are constructed from the harmonic minor scale.
In the key of C : C D Eb F G Ab B C. The tell tale sign for a minor key chord progression are a half diminished chord (ø) followed by a Dominant chord a 5th down.
In the key of C minor :

Dø (DFAbC) - G7 (GBDF) - Cmin (CEbG)
IIø - V7 - Imin

Therefore in (Dø - G7 - Cmaj) or in (Gø - C7 - Fmaj)   the Cmaj and Fmaj chords are Picardi triads.

Most Recent - Next - Previous - Top - Page 1 - Photos - Index - Topics - MP3s - Jazclass Links

Saturday January 10, 2009 (diary, quantum mechanics, music)

It is Babette's birthday today. In the morning two of her good friends, Naomi and Sandy visit, staying for several hours, and in the evening I take her and Doug out for dinner at the Thai Parnit Restaurant in Nambour. Both are also celebrating the fact that in the past 12 weeks of dieting they each lost 10 kg of weight.

If you have listened to some of my online MP3 recordings you may have wondered why I prefer fade outs for most of the songs rather than regular endings.   There are two reasons for that.
Firstly there are for each style (bossa, ballad, jazz, etc.) two preprogrammed endings on my electronic keyboard. They are quite good but of course may not always be in character with the way I play a song. In fact in most cases they are not.

Richard Feynman The second reason has a much deeper emotional and philosophical origin. I only realised this a few days ago when, most surprisingly, I was reading something in David Greene's 'The Fabric of the Cosmos' (Chapter 7, page 180). It makes a most interesting story I find. Here goes.

The Nobel laureate and brilliant 20th Century physicist Richard Feynman formulated a way of thinking about the uncertainty in quantum mechanics surrounding the properties and movements of the tiniest building blocks of our universe, which appear to be both particles and waves at the same time.

In his sum over histories principle Feynman states that "if there are alternative ways in which a given outcome can be achieved, then there is a sense in which the alternate histories all happen, and happen simultaneously."

Let me explain what this means. Imagine I am standing at the very Southern end of Mooloolaba beach, at the "Spit", the stone pier extending into the sea (just to the left of the four high rise buildings on the photo below).
I have had my swim, I am hungry and want to get back to the Surf Club (just to the right of the Life Savers watch tower in the right foreground of the photo) for lunch. There are four practical ways for me to get there :
Mooloolaba beach

  1. jump into the surf and swim back
  2. walk back along the beach
  3. take the walking trail through the dunes behind the beach
  4. or walk back on the main road farther inland

I decide to walk back along the beach and in due course arrive at the Surf Club, no problem.
But what if a tiny electron or a photon (light particle-wave) were to do the same thing ? Starting from the same point at the Spit where I walked back from it travels to the Surf Club in an instant (at the speed of light). But when it arrives it appears as if it has got there by using all four alternative paths : the surf, the beach, walking trail and main road (plus many other possible pathways) all at the same time *.   Weird ? Tell me about it ! But reality, as we are starting to discover now, is quite amazing, and very different from what we have always believed it to be.

Back to music. Strangely enough I see a clear parallel between Feynman's sum over histories and the creativity of Jazz improvisation.   A song generally consists of two components, a melody line and an underlying succession of chords (a socalled "chord progression") which give the song colour and mood. The melody and chords of course do not clash but are in harmony with one another.
Some composers start by writing the melody first, then construct an appropriate chord progression for it. Others (like me mostly) start with formulating a chord progression and then create a melody line over it. Whichever way it is created once a song exists it is its chord progression which represents the fundamental essence of the song.

Barry DugganOver a song's chord progression we can create an infinite number of other melodies, the only restraint being that a melody should not clash but be in harmony with the chord progression. This is exactly what the Jazz improvisor does. He creates an instant new melody over the given chord sequence, within the constraints of his musical knowledge and understanding, technical skills and creative imagination. Every performer will have his own unique approach to a song and over time, as his familiarity and emotional insight into the song increases, his improvisations will improve in terms of meaning and subtlety.
One of my teachers, the brilliant and absolute world class Australian saxophonist Barry Duggan told me once that it had taken him 10 years (!!) to come fully to grips with Duke Ellington's composition Satin Doll. Revealing a glimpse of Barry's depth of insight and emotional involvement in his music.

So like in Feynman's sum over histories principle, there are numerous improvised melodic pathways from a song's beginning to its end. But since we are no tiny electrons or photons but large clumsy human beings we cannot perform all possible pathways at the same time. Instead we must be content to play our improvised melodies one after the other.
But as there are an infinite number of possible improvisations over a song, a song never ever really ends. That is why I much prefer to fade out at the end creating for you, the listener, the illusion that the song continues to go on, and that only I, the performer, gradually move away into the distance and out of the range of your ears.


In a true life experiment the behavior of a wave-particle would of course be much more complex because of the various obstructions like trees, houses, etc. it would be blocked or deflected by on its various pathways, and because of the numerous other possible pathways a tiny wave-particle could travel to the Surf Club which a human body could not.
But my simplistic description gives you a good idea of the type of thing that is actually ocuring.

PS (15/8/09)
The nearest thing (in terms of musical performance) to the quantum sum over histories theory is probably the group improvisation by Trad Jazz bands (we called them "Dixieland bands" in Holland), where trumpet, trombone, clarinet, bas, drums, piano, banjo each follow there own unique path through the chord progression of a song, while all playing simultaneously.

Comments - Most Recent - Next Page - Previous - Top - Page 1 - Photos - Index - Topics - Jazclass Links

Copyright © 2009 Michael Furstner