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Improvisations on The Ledge
40 minutes | 9 months ago
Remember the ThemeUsing jazz educator David Bloom's metaphor, musicians need to look in the rearview mirror and remember the theme if they wish to move forward. But when you look back, you are not just remembering what you played at the beginning of an improvisation—you're remembering all of that music that got you to the point of even being able to look back in the first place.FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: email@example.com
20 minutes | 9 months ago
Planned ChanceMy intent was to dive into Part 2 of my “End of Melody Episode,“ but by planned chance, I rolled the dice and came up with something completely different. Unplanned, but fated to be this way? Possibly.Almost all improvisation is built upon a kind of planned chance. You set up the parameters—this theme, these scales, those chords, etc.—then...go. Does this make it ultimately...deterministic, fated to be more or less a certain way? Yes, more or less.But also no.Composers and musicians have for years experimented with various approaches to leaving parts or all of a given piece of music to chance. Why? You could make the argument that it’s simply the only way to make music in realtime. At least for humans. If computers are doing the work, then you can certainly get the same exact performance of a piece of music.And of course, when we listen to any recorded piece of music, it’s pretty much the same every time—though even here there are variables related to the equipment you’re using for playback, the space you’re in, and, of course, you state of mind. Not to mention the fact that no two people hear the same piece of music exactly the same way.Recorded Music Will Always Be an Improvisational Listening ExperienceIn that case, every music listening experience, even if you’ve heard the piece a thousand times, is a new improvisation. You man know where the music is going, but you don’t necessarily know how it will affect you, how you’ll experience it. This is because time only moves forward and no moment is the same as any other moment.Big deal, you say. But the point is, improvisation is the natural state of experiencing music for both the musician and the listener. And it doesn't matter if the music is completely written, entirely left to chance, or the kind of planned chance that I play with in this episode.It all does and doesn't work out in the end.Music Performed:Completely Unplanned Improv 1Partially planned Improv 2, with two stipulated parametersSlightly more planned Improv 3, with more stipulated parametersImprov 4, combining Improv 2 and 3Music MentionedWiltold Lutoslawski, I recommend symphony 3 and Symphony #4Peter Saltzman and the Revolution Ensemble: Indeterminacy is, in fact, the title of this track and it provides an excellent example of what I talk about in the episode: planned chance, wherein within a larger design many elements are left to the discretion of the player (and that includes me, the composer.)In reference to the above, and question of the difference between improvisation and composition, please check out my track of the day blog post about another piece of music that incorporates both.FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
53 minutes | 10 months ago
The End of Melody, Part 1
Melody. As a creative musician, you’re either born with it or not. Or maybe everybody is born with it but some choose to suppress it. Why would anybody do that?Whatever the reason, non-melodic music almost always lacks narrative. This is true whether it’s a song with lyrics or instrumental music. Melody is the thing that drives musical stories.In this podcast, part one of two, I focus on the move away from melody in classical music. Ironically, it began, I posit, with Richard Wagner’s operas. Ironic because Wagner believed that by dispensing with the aria (song) he was creating a kind of “endless melody.” (His term.) But, as I demonstrate, using primarily themes from his opera Tristan und Isolde, the logical conclusion of endless melody is…then end of melody!Stay tuned for part 2 of the End of Melody, in which I explore how American music (jazz, pop, rock, hip-hop, etc.) has undergone the same (unfortunate) evolution.Music Performed:Prelude to Tristan und IsoldeImprovisations on Tristan themesOther improvisationsMusic MentionedTristan und Isolde, Richard WagnerBlue Train, John ColtraneBessie's Blues, John ColtraneFollow Me:Peter Saltzman WebsiteBandcamp PagePodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsPatreon PageTwitterFacebookContact: email@example.com
38 minutes | a year ago
The (Un)Quantifiable Mystery of Music
When you study music—learn an instrument, how to compose, improvise, etc.—you are essentially learning a kind of mathematical language of sound moving through time. It’s a system of ratios, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.We musicians may not think about this consciously, but on some level, we’re always processing the act of music-making through logical and mathematical principles. 5/8 time? We think 3+2 or 2+3. F7#9? We think of a chord based on a series of intervals that, when put together, “add” up to that chord. The chord itself can be derived from one or more scales that themselves consist of a series of intervals, which are in turn derived from acoustical ratios that make those scales (usually five or seven notes) add up. Even the way we figure out which fingers to use when playing the piano—a complex calculus that balances the physical layout of the keyboard, the relative strength and weakness of each finger, and the requirements of the music itself—involves high-level mathematical decision making.Is this too much cold, hard math for you, dear listener? Will this ruin your experience of, say, Sweet Caroline (in a way, I mean, that the overplaying of that Neil Diamond classic hasn’t already?) **Well, here’s the cold, hard truth: you also process music this way. You may not know you’re hearing 5/8 time or an F7#9, but a part of your brain is devoted to breaking down those sonic phenomena into to the very ratios that make them pleasing (or stressful, or sad, or elusive.)The point is, the emotional experience of music is fundamentally based on these ratios. To be sure, there are other factors—cultural, sentiment, memory—that contribute to our experience of music. But the underlying reality of music, like everything else in the universe, is a kind of math.That doesn't render the emotional experience of listening to music a dull exercise in logic. But it does remind us that there's a lot of "data" contributing to our experience. Some of the data we can come to understand through study. The deepest levels, like the ultimate nature of reality itself, however, will always remain elusive.Music Performed:Original ImprovisationImprovisation combining "Something" & Beethoven's 5th ThemesImprovisation combining "Knocking at Heaven's Door" & Beethoven's 5th ThemesImprov on Beethoven's 4th, ála ColtraneMusic MentionedSinatra cover of "Something": https://youtu.be/eI7HxkbY-9ABeethoven's 5th Symphony, Leonard BernsteinKnocking at Heaven's Door: https://youtu.be/rm9coqlk8fYGlenn Gould Bach: https://music.apple.com/us/album/bach-english-suites-bwv-806-811-french-suites-bwv-812/557250210FollowPeter Saltzman WebsitePodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterFacebookContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
35 minutes | a year ago
Maximal Minimalism: Me v. Philip Glass
In this episode, I do battle with Philip Glass and, by extension, the entire genre of minimalism. To my surprise, though, I found that even while I reject the aesthetic as a whole, there’s plenty I can take from it creatively—but only by adapting some of its techniques in ways never intended by its practitioners.Original Music In This Episode:(see "Breaking Glass" album for complete tracks and more.On The Possibility of SongFast ScalesEndlessly MelodyBreaking Glass 4Breaking Glass 2Breaking Glass 3Mimimally BluesyMusic Discussed in This Episode:Beethoven's 7th Sympony (Movement 1)Philip Glass, Einstein on the BeachJohn Coltrane, TunjiFollow Me:Peter Saltzman WebsiteBandcamp PagePodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsPatreon PageTwitterFacebookContact: email@example.com
24 minutes | a year ago
Everything's Related to Everything Else (Again)
After I finished recording this episode, I remembered that I had already done one early laster season on the same subject. Thus the "again". I didn't go back and listen to that because I gotta believe this one's completely different. Or is it? Follow Me:Peter Saltzman WebsiteBandcamp PagePodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsPatreon PageTwitterFacebookContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
16 minutes | a year ago
The Seinfeld Episode...Or How to Make Music Out of Nothing
I was watching Jerry Seinfeld's new standup release on Netflix the other night and it put me in the mind of nothing. Specifically, how we build music out of essentially meaningless sound events that end up adding up to...something?FollowPeter Saltzman WebsiteBandcamp PagePodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsPatreon PageTwitterFacebookContact: email@example.com
30 minutes | a year ago
S2-E1: CoVidious Improvisations on Covert Thoughts
Season Two is finally here but it’s not at all was I was planning. Befitting the title of the podcast, Improvisations on the Ledge, in fact, resists any serious planning. And yet, for this premiere episode of season two, I can’t avoid the elephant in the world-sized room: CoVid-19. The central theme of this episode, then, is how the crisis changes the way we go about making art—if at all.Music:CoVid Improvisation #1CoVid 19 SuitePreludeLock-InThe Wrong Kind of TimelessnessPostlude
2 minutes | a year ago
Season Two Trailer/Teaser
It's been a LONG wait, but season two is just about ready to launch. With an exciting new format and several new features, it will be well worth the wait! Coming April 15th...or thereabouts.
34 minutes | a year ago
#28: A Variation on Theme and Variations
Like the Sonata Allegro form I discussed in episode #26, the Theme and Variations form has a long history—and not just in classical music. In fact, having a theme, then varying it, is fundamental to the music-making process itself. And like the sonata-allegro form, the Theme and Variations form is, in some ways a primary way of creating music in larger structures.State a theme (usually, but not always in some song form)Improvise or compose multiple discrete variations on that theme By discrete, I mean that you, the listener, should be able to easily discern where one variation begins and ends. Each variation is, in a sense, its own little self-contained piece of music, and each will normally have a particular characteristic or characteristics that easily distinguishes it from the others. The attributes can include:TempoKey center and mode (major or minor)Groove and time signatureHarmonic styleAnd moreEnd with a variation that acts as a fitting conclusionOf course, how all of this unfolds depends on the era, the composer, and the context of the theme and variations itself. Often, as in the case of some Beethoven sonatas and symphonies (see the final movement of the Eroica), the form is used as a movement in a multi-movement piece.In my case, at least for IOTL, the theme and variations are improvised. That is the part of the context for how these variations unfold. The other part is that I decided to relate each variation to something that was going on in my day. Or perhaps to describe my day in the form of improvised musical notes. It doesn’t matter in the end: the music works or doesn’t work on its own merits.
74 minutes | a year ago
"#27: What Not to Think About When Improvising-Featuring Jean-Michel Pilc"
Show Notes:In this episode, the amazing pianist-composer Jean-Michel Pilc and I cover a wide range of topics connected to the improvisational process. How does it happen? Do we control it? Should we even try? Is there any real difference between improvisation and composition? Should there be? The podcast includes a segment with both of us improvising (at Jean-Michel’s request) with just two fingers, and concludes with selections from improvised sonatas.FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PageJean-Michel Pilc WebsitePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
40 minutes | a year ago
"#26: The Improvised Sonata"
As I mentioned in episode 22 (“Improvising Classical Music: Is That a Thing?”), I’ve long been fascinated by the improvisational wizardry of great composers like Bach and Beethoven. I also spoke about how their approaches to improvisation (though, of course, we have no direct evidence) inspired me in my own approach to improvisation.What I didn’t mention in that episode was that somewhere along the line, I decided that I should be able to improvise a full four-movement piano sonata like my hero, Beethoven. Crazy? Yes. Misguided? Absolutely!But crazy and misguided ideas can lead to something beautiful and cool. So with that in mind, I am launching the “Improvised Sonata Project” right here on Improvisations on the Ledge. I’ll release the actual improvised sonatas every so often in streaming digital music platforms. In the meantime, episode 26 is the first effort in this project and includes some background why I’m doing it, what a sonata even is, and why the form can still be relevant today.Enjoy!FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: email@example.com
6 minutes | 2 years ago
IOTL Short #7: Mid-Afternoon Nocturne
In the interests of busting yet another musical myth, I improvise a nocturne in the afternoon. At least it’s relatively dark in its sweetness.FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
9 minutes | 2 years ago
IOTL Short #6: And A Plane Flew By
A random musical thought occurs while parking the car, which circuitously leads me to a final chord at precisely the moment when a plane lfies by in the same exact key. I don’t make this stuff up. And yet I do.
37 minutes | 2 years ago
#25: "Improvisations with Play-by-Play Analysis"
Yes, that’s right, improvisations with sports-style play-by-play analysis—including instant replay!It may seem like a sacrilege of sorts to do an analysis of my own improvisations—robbing you of some supposedly idealize pure, unfettered musical bliss (e.g., blissful ignorance.) But a) I have no doubt that understanding something of what you’re listening to can only enhance the experience, and b) now you’ll know what it’s like to be in my head when I’m performing these free improvisations. Contrary to what you might imagine, the process is far from blissful, and invovles plenty of mundane and impure thoughts. Yay to that!---FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: email@example.com
36 minutes | 2 years ago
#24: Venting in Two-Part Inventions
I have a bad habit (for my health, but good for my art) of taking on challenges laid down by the greatest composers of all time. In this case, it's J.S. Bach, and his ability to write and improvise beautiful music with just two intertwining melodies. He called them Two-Part Inventions. I call them a problem. Bach laid down the gauntlet; I took him on, mostly because I don't know any better.FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: firstname.lastname@example.org
16 minutes | 2 years ago
IOTL Short #5: Just the Piano, Ma'am
FollowPodcast HomepageSubscribe on Apple PodcastsBandcamp PagePatreon PageTwitterPeter Saltzman WebsiteFacebookContact: email@example.com
5 minutes | 2 years ago
IOTL Short #4: Fake News!
This one, at least, contains a hint of what's to come in the next main episode. But only barely.
30 minutes | 2 years ago
#23: Originality vs. Perfection—Pick Your Poison
There are a lot of spectacularly accurate musicians out there—probably more than ever. These are the ones, regardless of genre, who play or sing everything to perfection. The next great classical child prodigy...the 13-year-old jazz whiz...the 9-year-old singing perfect renditions of Taylor Swift songs. Almost none of these wunderkinds will come up with an original note of music in their lives for a very simple reason. If you’re in the business of playing everything flawlessly, you probably aren’t in the business of creating something new. In this episode, I explore the difference between those two worlds. And as always, with a lot of music. Improvised music. Orignal improvised music! Follow Podcast Homepage Subscribe on Apple Podcasts Bandcamp Page Patreon Page Twitter Peter Saltzman Website Facebook Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
39 minutes | 2 years ago
"#22-Improvising Classical Music: Is That a Thing?"
When I was 17 and still in the throes of my love affair with jazz, I came upon a passage in a biography about J.S. Bach that really messed with my head. I read that, on-demand—from emperors, dukes, church officials and whoever else made demands of musicians in the 18th century— Bach could brilliantly improvise multi-voice fugues on the keyboard that rivaled or even surpassed his written works in that form. When I was 18, I read a biography about Beethoven, in which I learned that he could improvise multi-movement piano sonatas that rivaled or surpassed his written works in that form. Fugues. Sonatas. Fugues! These are among the most complex musical forms to craft, and you’re telling me these dudes could just make them up on the spot? Somewhere deep down, I decided that I wanted to be able to do that. Or something like it. Impressions As an impressionable young pianist/composer/jazzer/songwriter, I read the biographies of great musicians the way a religious fanatic reads the bible—absorbing everything, and worrying about how all of it applied to me. If I read that Charlie Parker, the great bebop saxophonist, was addicted to heroine, I wondered if my lack of drug use would be a problem in being a jazz musician. (Never got further than pot and booze.) I worried extensively about being a white kid playing black music. (Every white kid playing black music worries about that at some point.) Most of all, I worried about whether or not I’d ever be worthy of my heroes. Many of the musicians I jammed with, often twice my age, let me know in no uncertain terms that I would never reach those heights, that I should just settle for musical competency—like them. But even though what I read in these biographies worried me, it also inspired me in two important ways. One, unless they were hagiographies, they humanized my heroes—brought them down from the pedestals that insecure and mediocre artists and critics put them on in their need to make what they masters did unattainable. By making them flawed, showing how they struggled to scale the heights, I gradually came to understand that there was a path towards musical greatness, one that involved many tough choices along the way. Too often, with the greats, we assume they were just born that way. Not so. Quite the opposite. The truly great artists fight for every note for the simple reason that they’re not the notes everyone else is playing—that everyone else assumes are the notes you should be playing. Improvisation as Proof of Concept The other thing I learned was the importance of improvisation itself throughout musical history. Improvisation was not just a thing jazz musicians did, but a vital part of the creative process in all great musical traditions. In effect, what the great jazz improvisers did was bring it back—remind us that it was an integral part of the compositional process and that if your musical language couldn’t be improvised, then there was a problem. And there was a problem in the Western Art Music tradition when I was young. We were still under the sway of advanced serialism, a musical language so convoluted that it could only be appreciated by the “experts”—meaning the composers who meticulously created it and the small cadre of musicians who played it. In its purest (puritanical) form, It certainly could not be improvised by human musicians. You’d need a pretty powerful computer for that. (Interestingly, a significant advance in the musicality of serialism came when composers like Witold Lutoslawski figured out how to use it in an improvisational setting, what is called aleatoric, or chance, music.) All of which proves two things: one, improvisation is vital to the creative health of any musical tradition. And two, there is no one way or approach to improvising. For a long time, jazz musicians improvised around the tune, the chord changes of popular or jazz tunes. Many still do this in various forms. But there are other ways, including free improvisation (which itself has many subsets.) And then there are the ways I learned from reading about Bach and Beethoven’s improvisations mastery. A Third Way Bach, with his ability to improvise fugues, and Beethoven with his ability to improvise sonatas. What did this tell me? That there was a third or fourth way: not purely free improvisation, but not wholly married to a tune like in most jazz. You could improvise on themes—freely, but with the aim being some kind of structure that added up to a story. That’s what I wanted to do. Follow Podcast Homepage Episode Transcript Subscribe on Apple Podcasts Bandcamp Page Patreon Page Twitter Peter Saltzman Website Facebook Contact: email@example.com
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