Mirror (2006)

linernotes

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Liner Notes:

Mirror is a collection of compositions which I began writing in the year 2000, focusing on a few ideas about rhythm, pulse, and the sonic perception of time. As time passed and I continued to revise and rework these ideas, they began to fit together into the larger work that is found on this record. After several years of slow progress, circumstances and schedules aligned to bring the project to completion. If you find the record enjoyable, credit is due to the wonderful musicians whose interpretations and artistry brought it to life, to whom I am much indebted.

My goal in writing the music for this album was to offer the listener a selection of rhythmic compositions that attempt to imitate the blending of formal order and organic beauty of form found in nature. This is of course an ancient idea, so this is not so much a “concept album” as my humble attempt to contribute to a very long tradition of thought. The beginnings and endings of each section of the record are loosely based references to John Coltrane and J.S. Bach, two towering figures in music who have explicitly taken this idea to the highest level.

Mirror was born out of a series of rhythmic investigations that I began some years ago which began taking the form of a group of rhythmic studies, disguised as tunes. In planning this recording, I wanted to create a highly structured piece of music that would have some sort of internal logic. I arrived at a large-scale structure of three “suites,” each beginning with a version of the “Theme” and progressing through four more compositions that relate to the direction of that theme. But at the same time, I am an improvising musician, and have to make material with some freedom for movement. Therefore, as the performance progresses the listener will find that all composed material is balanced by improvisational sections, although not always in a very traditional or expected order. In order to maintain variety for the listener, no two soloists ever solo over the same form, except in “Mirror I” and “Mirror II”, the bookends of the larger form. While I am a guitarist, this is not primarily a “guitar” record. The listener will find that the guitar guides the course of the record, but that the central focus is the sound of the ensemble.

Above all, I wanted to make a record that a listener would find approachable or even beautiful on a sonic level, without having to know any of this information. In this regard, I’ve taken great care with the production, recording quality, and pacing of the record. I’ve taken no care whatsoever as to style or genre – there are elements from many different types of music, usually buried or hidden beneath the texture of the ensemble. I sincerely hope you enjoy the music.

About the Compositions

(These notes are somewhat technical, but can be understood by non-musicians).

1. “Theme I”
is an introduction and statement of the theme. After the count-off (1,2,3,4 in various languages, featuring Izabella Okazaki, age 4), a guitar groove enters, followed by two bass clarinets, doubling the guitar. The theme, heard over the last cycle, is a four bar melody which is exactly symmetrical and is composed of 4 separate 12-tone rows made of interlocking pentatonic scales in major thirds. The pulse is played by the bass drum. An accelerating transition leads into “Spiral.”

2. “Spiral” is composed entirely from a rhythmic theme of 5 strokes, heard in the drums and percussion as “low low high high high.” This pulse is continuous throughout, but expands and contracts and moves through many variations. The basic expansion of 5 strokes into 6,7,8 and 9 is done by adding spaces in the pattern: 5=(x x x x x), 6=(x x – x x x), 7=(x – x – x x x), 8=(x x – x – x – x). 9=(x – x – x – x – x). The structure in the first section outlines the basic expansion of 5 strokes into 6,7,8 and 9 units, with three of each type followed by an ending (5,4,5,4,5). The structure on the bridge is inspired by a type of rhythmic composition found in South Indian music called “Korvai,” where an identical rhythmic composition is played in several speeds and is calculated to finish at the end of the rhythmic cycle, in this case 32 cycles of 4 beats. Here the rhythmic composition is 210 units long, which divides into 5,6, and 7 subdivisions per beat. The triple repetition of 5,6,7,8,9 is continued, and reduced to double, and then single before moving on to the next speed. It is followed by a short three-part ending. The structure of the ending is (7,7,6,6,5,5,2,2,2) in three descending speeds. The last speed serves as a rhythmic modulation, returning to the top of the form, slightly faster. The melody, played by soprano saxophone and guitar, outlines the basic structure of the rhythmic composition with five different types of phrases, corresponding to the five rhythmic expansions. The phrases get closer together and eventually join into a continuous line. The beginning of each phrase is accented by the crash cymbal. The constant underlying pulse in 4/4 can be heard in the backbeat played by the snare drum and electric guitar. The entire form could be endlessly repeated, accelerating each time through rhythmic modulation, as there is no real beginning or end. The harmony of the piece is closely related to “Mirror,” which follows.

3. “Mirror” continues with the rhythmic feel of “Spiral,” using a continuous cycle of 5,7,9. This makes the number 21, which is also three sevens or seven threes, or many other things, depending on the interpretation of the improvisors.

4. “Howl” approaches the idea of rhythmic expansion and contraction from another angle. The first section is a contracting cycle (8,7,6,5,4,5,6,7) and the second section expands (6,7,8,9,10,9,8,7). The numbers that these make in 8th notes (48 and 64) neatly fit into 4 bars of 12/8 and 8 bars of 4/4. The harmonies are symmetrical also, the first section composed of triads descending and ascending in the circle of fifths, and the second section rotating through minor tonalities separated by major thirds. The switch to electric bass and guitar signals a change in direction.

5. “Invention” is an exploration of the idea of rhythmic proportion. The length of each pair of sections (melody, guitar break) is based on the “Fibonacci series,” which builds on itself and approaches the golden ratio, a number found throughout natural phenomena. This can seen in the music by comparing the number of beats for each pair of sections, which progress through the series: 1:1, 2:1, 3:2, 5:3, 8:5, 13:8, 21:13, 34:21, 55:34 . . . etc. The final section, with layered melodic variations, shifts between two harmonic sections in the approximate golden ratio proportion of 89:55. The tabla solo is a composition unto itself, constrained within a single 144 beat section.

6. “Theme II” is the beginning of the second group of 5 compositions. The theme is played at medium and fast speed, linked by a rhythmic modulation in the guitar. The symmetrical nature of the theme is revealed when the track reverses and plays back to the beginning, yielding the same melody as before. This version of the theme introduces a drum groove which is symmetrical between the hands and feet (cymbals and bass drum), which is also evident when played backwards. Heard at the beginning and end, the complete harmonic series of the open strings of the guitar frames the track.

7. “Metamorphosis” is similar to “Spiral” in concept, with a more of a focus on melodic phrases. Drums and guitar play the main rhythmic structure, while the horns play a melody in counterpoint. There are three main melodic phrases played by the guitar and drums, which are reduced and expanded in a specific structure of modulating speeds and phrase lengths. The whole rhythmic structure is played in three increasing speeds, and finishes at the end of four 24-bar harmonic cycles in 4/4 time (one cycle is played as an introduction). The harmony is based on a small section of J.S. Bach’s Violin Partita in E major. The melody is inspired by a field recording from Camaroon called “Humming of the Bees.”

8. “Halfway” marks the midpoint of the recording. “Halfway” is in 4/4 time, with each measure divided into 48 subdivisions (12/8 in sextuplets). These 48 subdivisions are grouped into 7×4 and 5×4, creating the illusion of a shift between a slow and fast tempo in each bar. Guitar and drums outline the common time signature and the odd groupings simultaneously. In the bridge the rhythms become more complicated, using larger and smaller versions of the previous pattern. A simple diatonic melody ties anchors the song to the basic pulse.

9. “Momentum” explores various types of layered rhythmic cycles, in a bright swing feel. The bass and guitar repeat a short symmetrical cycle (4,3,4), while the horns play longer structures in a second layer. At regular intervals, one horn splits away from the melody and disappears, and then quickly reappears to take up the melody while the other horn follows the same pattern. This continues in a circular way, with the horns disappearing to the right and left like objects escaping from a spinning centrifuge (listen with headphones for the full effect). The short guitar solo foreshadows the melody to “Canon” and the solo on “Chorale.”

10. “Canon” is a groove in 49, divided in many different ways. First, two frame drums outline a “tehai” structure (17,17,15). Then a rapid melody builds through rhythmic expansion (1,3,5,7,9,11,13). Then a melody breaks the cycle up unevenly, over the rhythm section playing a different uneven structure (5)(4,7,5,4)(4)(4,7,5,4) and the end of the second solo arrives at a simple repetition of sevens (7×7). The melody is a version of a “Crab Canon,” a type of composition by J.S. Bach where the melody is played forward and then backward on top of itself to create symmetrical counterpoint. The challenge is to create a melody that agrees with the harmony going in either direction. The 49 beat rhythmic cycle as played in the bass is inspired by a recording called “Nasro Tombak” by Iranian percussionist Majid Khaladj.

11. “Theme III” is the beginning of the third group of 5 compositions. The symmetrical drum groove is featured, as the high bass clarinet doubles the bass drum and the low bass clarinet doubles the ride cymbal. The theme is played by the guitar, two octaves below the original version.

12. “Improvisation” is a freely improvised duet between guitar and tenor sax over the changes to John Coltrane’s “Countdown.” Drums have been added to the duet by orchestrating and programming drum samples to follow it (Bass drum, snare, and toms follow the guitar; cymbals, hi-hat, and rimshots follow the saxophone). The harmony, based on major thirds, echo the chords of “Theme,” which is based on the same relationships. At the climax of the duet, the symmetrical drum groove from “Theme” returns, along with a solo played on a machine created in the computer music program “pd,” still following the basic harmony of “Countdown.” The drums continue, played by another machine created for this song, through accelerating versions of the original groove to the conclusion, which returns to natural instruments. At high volume, a very low drone can be heard throughout, especially at the end. This drone and the ascending solo slip out of the high and low ranges of human hearing as the song ends.

13. “Volcano” is a cycle of three threes (3/2, 3/4, 3/8) which gradually builds to an explosive level of volume and density. The melody, played by guitar and bass clarinet, is a straightforward exploration of the theme of threes: first break (in 16th notes) 6 (3) 6×2 (3) 6×3, second break 12 (6) 12×2 (6) 12×3, third break 18 (9) 18×2 (9) 18×3. The guitar solo followed by the drum solo builds to the final section, where the melody returns in the guitar along with walls of sound from the horns and rapid ascending patterns played by electric guitar and a pattern generator built in “pd.” The entire song uses only pitches from the scale: e, f#, g#, a, b, c, d. The accelerating transition leads into the next composition, which has the same number of beats per cycle, arranged in a different way.

14. “Mirror II” is a variation of the earlier composition, at a slower tempo, with electric instruments and a different form. The pulse of 21/8 carries over from the “Volcano” and arrives at “Mirror” from an unusual angle. The new coda bring the composition full circle, with a major recapitulation of the original minor melody.

15. “Chorale” ends a section for the third time with a form inspired by J.S. Bach (see “Invention” and “Canon”), “Chorale” is a diatonic melody with chord inversions chosen in such a way as to make a nearly chromatic bassline. The guitar plays freely throughout, eventually bringing in the harmony and melody. The song ends on a D major triad, the same chord that began the record.

– Miles Okazaki, 2006, NYC

About the Artwork:

My first interest in life was drawing. My earliest memory was the eruption of Mount St. Helens in May of 1980, which covered the town in which I lived with a thick layer of ash. At that point, I became obsessed with volcanos, and drew them for a couple of years. When I moved near the ocean, I began a long period of drawing imaginary undersea worlds. I used so much paper that my parents (both visual artists) made me a desk that could hold a roll of butcher paper, allowing me to draw in a continuous scrolling style. Later, I became interested in more technical subjects, imaginary machines, geometric puzzles, mazes, optical illusions. I began learning guitar at the age of six, and by the age of ten or eleven I decided that I had to make a choice with my time, so I gave up drawing.

About a year ago, I decided to bring a sketchbook with me when I went on the road for gigs. I began drawing again after 20 years, just drafting objects from airports, hotels, dressing rooms, but somehow a completely different drawing style emerged, which was made completely of loose, scribbling lines. Perhaps it was the result of years of practice in improvisational music creeping into the visual medium. At the same time, I was writing, editing and compiling the music for this record. It all seemed to fit together, so I made drawings for the CD design. The old subjects from my childhood returned: an imaginary ocean world, a volcano, a labyrinth, an optical illusion, a geometric design.

The drawings for the CD were made freehand with a .2mm black ink pen on white paper, reversed into a negative image, and colored by hand on the computer. In order to have the images appear normal when they are reversed from positive to negative, they are drawn backwards, applying black lines for light instead of shadow:

Ink drawing / reversal / coloring

The cover is an image of the sea at night, with a small island in the distance. A tiny structure and hint of red in the center link it to the next illustrations.

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This image also contains an optical illusion called an “anamorphism,” which is a distorted image that can only be seen from a certain unusual angle. If you rotate the cover 180 degrees (so that the text is upside down) and turn the spine of the CD away while looking at the center of the image, you will see a small self-portrait appear in the water when the picture is seen from the edge (right edge of image below). In order to render this face, the drawing has to be made while looking at the paper from this sharp angle.
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The back cover features a labyrinth in the form of a spiral. This image appears in a few places (including the clouds in the same image), and is also a theme throughout the music. The labyrinth has a solution, which is not very difficult.

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The fiery mountain in the distance leads to the next image. The volcano is opposition to the ocean on panel 1. The volcano shoots out a web of patterns, which also appear in the surrounding clouds (this pattern is also on the last page of the score). The spiral at the tip of the smoke plume leads to the next drawing.

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The tip of the volcano’s plume, high in the air, is also a version of the cover image, seen in profile. There are now many identical faces, linked to one another as they grow smaller and disappear into the crest of the wave. The geometry of the drawing is based on golden proportions, and the spiral created by these proportions within a pentagon.

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