Posts tagged ‘transcription’

Henry Threadgill, “To Undertake My Corners Open”, part 3

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

I’ve had a little more time now to study the structure of this piece.

First, I’ll lay out the form as I see it:

  • 0:00–0:13 (mm. 1–5): Intro figure
  • 0:13–0:28 (mm. 6–9): Guitar & bass cycle 1
  • 0:28–0:43 (mm. 10–15): Head
  • 0:43–0:48 (mm. 16–17): Bridging material (based on m. 2)
  • 0:48–3:31 (mm. 18–41, 42–65, 66–89): Trombone solo (based on mm. 3–4, 10–15)
  • 3:31–5:13 (mm. 90–94, 95–99, 100–104, 105–109, 110–114, 115–119, 120–124, 125–129): Guitar solo (based on mm. 183–185)
  • 5:13–7:04 (mm. 130–150, 151–171): Flute solo (based on mm. 193–213)
  • 7:04–7:21 (mm. 172–176): Guitar & bass cycle 1
  • 7:21–7:35 (mm. 177–182): Head
  • 7:35–7:59 (mm. 183–191): Guitar & bass cycle 2
  • 7:59–8:03 (m. 192): Coda intro measure
  • 8:03–8:27 (mm. 193–213): Coda
  • 8:27–8:35 (mm. 214–217): Ending tag

And here are what I could make of the harmonies of the solo sections. These were deduced by looking at both the actual comping performed during the solos and the source material that the solo structure comes from. There are some discrepancies, which is to be expected, although a few them turned out to be transcription errors, which is a good sign (for the model).

trombone solo structure


guitar solo structure


flute solo structure

Interestingly, I didn’t notice any regular correspondence between parts for the flute and trombone.

Some future steps:

  • Look for any rules governing the harmonic skeleton. For example, there often seem to be common intervals between one “chord” and the next.
  • Look for rules governing the flute and trombone solos; they seem to be much freer than the guitar solo.
  • See if I can find any way that the flute and trombone parts in the through-composed material (such as the head and coda) are reused or referred to. Currently only the guitar and bass parts seem to be structurally interesting.
  • Try to discover the function, if any, of the sections that I haven’t linked to any other sections yet, for example the coda intro measure (m. 192) and ending tag (mm. 214–217).

Henry Threadgill, “To Undertake My Corners Open”, part 2

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Over a year ago I started transcribing Henry Threadgill’s “To Undertake My Corners Open”. I got to the 90% point a long time ago, but as with many projects, it’s the last 10% that takes the most calendar time. One thing that slowed me down is that Threadgill’s flute is super sharp, especially in the high registers, approaching 50 cents by the end of the piece, playing havoc with my ability to match pitches as well as my motivation. I finally got out of that rut when I realized that he was consistently sharp and not just all over the place from one phrase to the next. Once again I could never have finished this project without the great software Transcribe!.

Here’s the PDF of the score; I won’t reproduce it here because it runs to 14 pages. Some analysis is coming up, but this has been so long in coming that I didn’t want to slow it down further by waiting until I had a complete essay written up about it. A few general points:

  • Each of the solo section has a different harmonic cycle. The trombone has 3 cycles of 95 beats, the guitar has 8 cycles of 22 beats, and the flute has 2 cycles of 96 beats. As far as I can tell they’re all completely independent.
  • The structure of each cycle definitely includes chords, or at least pitch collections, not just bass notes. They vary a bit each time around but in general the “changes” for each cycle are pretty consistent.
  • Just as the trombone cycle (mm. 18—41) is the head (mm. 1—15) slowed down,, the guitar cycle (mm. 90—95) is the little bit between the recap and coda (mm. 183—191) slowed down, and the flute cycle (mm. 130—150) is the coda (mm. 193—217) slowed down. I was particularly happy to discover this last one, since I was having trouble making sense of the coda before; I couldn’t even figure out how to bar it. If it seems a little over-barred now, it’s because I matched it to the meters of the flute cycle, and the rhythms don’t make any less sense than they would with any other barring.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the cycles get further out harmonically as the piece progresses. The trombone solo feels very tonal in a lot of places, the guitar solo is a bit less consonant, and the flute solo feels really abstract (although perhaps the fact that he is 40 cents sharp doesn’t help).

Still to do:

  • Write out the “harmonies” of each cycle.
  • See how those harmonies compare to their “source material”.
  • Look for more rules about how the melodies and harmonies are constructed.
  • Compare to other recorded performances of the same piece to see how much is kept consistent. For example, I assume that the entire coda is through-composed, but perhaps there’s some room for variation there.

All thoughts on the analysis and/or suggestions on the transcription itself are welcome.

Henry Threadgill, “To Undertake My Corners Open”, part 1

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Henry Threadgill’s Zooid group has made some really interesting recent music in an original musical language, but I’ve seen very little discussion of what the language is, and Threadgill himself doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming. The best description I’ve found comes from guitarist Liberty Ellman in a phone conversation with Nate Chinen, but there’s still not enough detail for me to reverse-engineer it. A diagram would probably clear it all up, but it’s hard to provide a diagram over the phone!

So I started transcribing a piece to see if I could start to make some sense of it. I chose “To Undertake My Corners Open” (YouTube link) from This Brings Us To, volume 1. It’s pretty gnarly stuff, so I’m pausing a couple of minutes in to report my findings so far. If I waited until I finished the whole thing, it would be a really long time before I wrote anything, plus I would have a novel’s worth of things to say about it; this way I can write as I go, and maybe even get some feedback.

I’ve transcribed the “head” as well as the first “chorus” of the trombone solo (his solo lasts just under three cycles of a repeating bass progression). The score so far is below but it’s probably handier to look at the PDF.


To Undertake My Corners Open, p. 1

To Undertake My Corners Open, p. 2

To Undertake My Corners Open, p. 3


Caveats: I have a pretty good ear, but this stuff is hard! It’s not particularly tonal and there are two “analog-pitch” instruments (trombone and bass). Meanwhile the guitar has nice discrete pitches but is hard to hear behind the other instruments.

The beat can be hard to identify; Threadgill tends to deliberately avoid obvious downbeats, aiming for a more homogenous pulse. I tried to switch meter only when I really had to.

I should mention that I use the fabulous Transcribe! program, and there’s no way I could have gotten remotely close to this amount of detail without it.

Does the opening phrase of the trombone remind any one else of the beginning of Berg’s Lyric Suite? Probably a coincidence, but I get the impression that Threadgill knows twelve-tone history.

I’ll come back to the head, which seems pretty through-composed, in a minute, but moving ahead to the trombone solo (the bass cycle starts at m. 18): one thing that surprised me when transcribing is that it’s a lot more normal than it sounds at first. The trombone is following the bass progression very faithfully, and even navigates it in a quite tonal manner, measures 21-27 being the clearest example. It’s mostly the guitar that colors the harmonies in an interesting and dissonant way. The thing I’m most interested to find out next is whether the guitar part’s structure is more vertical (choosing notes each measure from a harmony relative to the bass) or horizontal (charting an independent path that creates interesting harmonies by chance). Ellman’s comments give the impression that it might be the latter. Once I finish the next two choruses of this solo, I’ll have a better impression of what is consistent each time around, which will help illuminate the structure behind it.

Here’s the bass structure of the trombone solo. Like I said, it repeats three times, starting at m. 18. (I get the sense that it changes for the following guitar solo, but I haven’t listened closely yet.)


Trombone solo structure


I said I would get back to the head later, and here’s why: the structure of the head is basically exactly the same but twice as fast! Even the lead-in, not pictured above, corresponds: m. 2 is mm. 16-17 at double speed.

The intro goes through one of the two G♭-D♭-C-B♭-F cycles, skips the second one, takes a weird repeated 7/4 break that could be related to the 5/4 D♭-C measure, then meets up again with the E and corresponds perfectly the rest of the way. That’s the most interesting tidbit I’ve found so far, and something I never would have noticed without writing it all out.

Note by the way that the repeated guitar figure in that 7/4 section is almost palindromic.

That’s about all I have for now. Open questions:

  • What’s the structure behind the guitar lines underneath the trombone solo? Whatever it is, it seems to be changing at about the same rate as the bass progression.
  • Are there any particular harmonic or melodic rules behind the through-composed head? Nothing has leaped out at me so far, but I haven’t looked very hard.

More later, I hope.

Wayne Shorter: “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Another step in my continuing quest to learn more about jazz by transcribing recordings. I like Wayne Shorter’s 1960s albums a lot, and “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” (YouTube video) is my favorite tune from the most famous of them, Speak No Evil. The spur to do a Shorter tune came when Ethan Iverson transcribed his solo from Lee Morgan’s “Party Time” and I found that our conceptions of Shorter’s rhythm were pretty different, largely because he is so lazy (behind the beat). There’s a fine line between playing ahead or behind the beat and syncopating; in one case you’re turning a knob in an analog way and in the other the knob has turned so far that it’s reached the next “notch” and you’ve actually created a different rhythm. Shorter straddles that line really interestingly, playing in such a fluid way that even when he’s super late you can feel the “real” rhythm that he’s relating to, like the note is a balloon on a long string tied to the beat.

I did all the parts except for Herbie Hancock’s piano comping during other solos and Elvin Jones’ drumming, so the whole thing came out to 10 pages and I won’t dump it all here, but the PDF file is here. Some thoughts I had about the song while working with it:

Those piano chords at the beginning are really tasty. I haven’t the faintest idea how to analyze them from a jazz harmony theory viewpoint; from a classical perspective I’d say they serve the same sort of function as a I64, sitting on a dominant drone, setting up a real arrival on I (which, eight bars into the head, turns out to be B♭). I’m not certain about every note in every chord but it sounds pretty right to me when I play it on the piano.

The tune itself is really interesting. It starts out in a clear G minor; then the B♭ that the melody lands on basically turns into an A♯, creating a major-seventh dissonance in the bass, and resolves to the B♮ of G major, but the line still ends like a question, largely because it curves up to the fifth (D) rather than down to the root (G). The second four measures imitate the first four but end up in the parallel major, B♭, with the melody again landing on the fifth instead of the root as the underlying B♭7 harmony immediately moves us away towards E♭. The middle eight measures have a pretty simple implicit harmony from the bass (and the solos later refer to that harmony rather than what’s going on in the melody here), but the melody instruments do a cool parallel-fourths-and-tritones thing that adds some nice dissonance. A standard ii-V-I progression brings us back to a recap of the first eight measures, in which the melody finally lands triumphantly on B♭, but the bass refuses to follow suit, obstinately sitting on C♭/B♮, forming the exact same major-seventh dissonance that was the first hint of harmonic oddness back in the third measure.

Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet solo feels the most classical of the three in its rhythm and harmony. He plays most straightforwardly in the bluesy middle third, a pattern the other soloists will follow.

Wayne Shorter’s tenor sax solo is really rhapsodic by comparison. He takes two choruses and I’m glad he does. It’s not super virtuosic but he stretches and pulls the beat in really interesting ways. The simplest rhythms are the ones he massages the most, like the simple eighth-note riffs starting on measure 69; they’re so laggy it’s tempting to try to notate them differently, but they’re clearly really lazy eighth notes, not some crazy syncopation. I particularly like the syncopated three-note blasts starting at measure 93, especially the way that they gradually subside back into the A section rather than exploding as you might expect them to. After I finished it I discovered Kevin Sun’s transcription of the solo, and the comparison is really interesting. We agree 99% on the pitches (unfortunately for you, my transcription is at concert pitch and his is in B♭), but we often have big disagreements on the rhythm.

Herbie Hancock’s solo is the least lyrical, in the sense of sounding like a vocal line; it comes more in little bursts of riffs. The left-hand voicings are probably the component I’m least sure of in the whole transcription; I wouldn’t be surprised if I accidentally put in something unidiomatic there. The style is really interesting to me, since my instinct when I try to improvise is still play something that sounds like a sax plus harmony, rather than this more interesting collections of riffs and stabs. The rising pattern of four triplets as he finishes is really tasty.

I transcribed Ron Carter’s bass all the way through because I noticed that transcribing the bass is something that Ethan does, and I learned a lot from it that I’m sure will be useful for my left hand. It’s tough to hear the bass and sometimes he’s between pitches, so you may not agree with me about every note. In general I was impressed by how he was able to sustain interest but not distract from the soloing going on on top of him.

I’ll try to pick something more simple next time! Maybe something from the 50s. In the meantime, comments and proposed corrections are encouraged.

Cardiacs: “Odd Even”

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Six months ago I made some general comments about the musical vocabulary of Tim Smith (of Cardiacs). Here are some notes on “Odd Even”, a song that illustrates a lot of his standard tricks. The song is on YouTube here and my transcription is here (PDF file).

The form could not be simpler: three repetitions of verse (a 7-bar phrase repeated twice) and chorus (8 or 12 bars; in the second and third choruses the last 4 bars are repeated). The third verse is instrumental.

The introduction (which foreshadows the end of the verse phrase) is a straight-out “Smith cadence” (♭III–v–I in the key of E), which already renders it unclear whether we’re in the key of G major (starting on the tonic and repeatedly raising the tension) or E major (starting on the flat mediant and repeatedly resolving the tension). This ambiguity will persist throughout the song.

The start of the verse seems to resolve the question by claiming that we’re in G major, and could not refer more explicitly to the Lydian mode, with a C♯ over the G chord. Already this is a hint that we might be moving back to the sharp side soon. There’s an interesting clash between that C♯ of the melody and the C♮ of the C chord that arrives on the second bar. The harmony then moves through A and E back to G, apparently establishing that E is subordinate to G—but then immediately repeats the introductory Smith cadence twice, reestablishing the ambiguity.

The phrase rhythm of the first verse phrase is also quite interesting. From the melody alone it looks like a pretty straightforward [4+4]+4 beats, but the harmonic rhythm, as well as the way that the instruments enter during its first statement, implies 6+6.

The chorus starts by moving fairly strongly to the flat side of G, going all the way to E♭ before slowly relaxing back to G, and right through G all the way to Bm and E again. The feeling of resolution provided by G is lessened this time by it happening for only two beats on the second half of a bar, rather than lasting a whole measure as it did before. The melody here is really nice; a drone-like D is continually returned to on the bottom (it’s a common tone of all the scales passed through, including the E Mixolydian implied by the final destination of E) while the upper implied voice of the line descends from B♭to A to G, then returns up to B♮ and G♯ to both chromatically fill that third and also strongly establish the “surprising” E (not so surprising in reality since the G–Bm–E sequence has been repeating the whole song).

The chorus ends by following yet another path from G to E, this time by repeating the triple plagal cadence G–D–A–E and sitting on the final E for an additional bar. That relaxation of the harmonic tension certainly makes it seem like E was the final destination after all—but when the next verse starts up again, back in G, it feels like a return to the tonic rather than a jump away from it.

The instrumental verse suddenly triples the melodic speed, and it’s interesting to see such a relatively hyper solo in the middle of what is otherwise a fairly sedate song. I wouldn’t have thought of it when I first heard the song, but after listening to a lot of jazz in the last month, the solo has sort of a bebop feel to it, at least when you look at it on the page and imagine it being played by a saxophone rather than by a keyboard.

It looks complicated but it is largely doing the same things found elsewhere in this song or Smith’s work in general—emphasis on that Lydian C♯, liberal use of whole-tone scales, and near the end a gleeful insistence on B♭, a note dissonant against both G major and E major.

The song ends with a final chorus, repeating that G–D–A–E progression four times in a long exhalation and landing with relative finality on E. So maybe it was in E major all along? But I think the fight between the two potential tonics the whole time was a charade; the whole point is that both G and E are equally important, and to proclaim one of them superior to the other is to force one point of view on a song that is all about presenting two.

Bud Powell: “Cleopatra’s Dream”

Monday, October 11th, 2010

I’ve always liked the sound of jazz but have never been as interested in it as rock or classical. Recently my interest has flared up a bit, and I’ve been trying to make up for lost time by listening to more of it with active ears. The standard approved way to work on your analytical technique seems to be to make transcriptions of classical recorded solos, so I picked up the first random jazz CD that was at hand, Bud Powell’s The Scene Changes, and sat down to transcribe the first number, Cleopatra’s Dream. Unfortunately 1) it’s a very fast tune (quarter note = 240), 2) it’s in A flat minor (that’s seven flats), and 3) Bud Powell, like I suppose any good pianist, uses both hands. So maybe it was not the best song to transcribe first. Nonetheless I ended up with something that is at least moderately accurate, especially in the right hand, and it can be found here (PDF file).

I did learn a bit from this exercise about how Powell improvises, and it was good practice for my ears, so it was certainly a success on those fronts. If anyone has suggestions or corrections, especially actual jazz musicians who can tell me, for example, “this line you sketched out in the left hand is not what anyone would ever actually play, he must be doing this instead”, I’d love to hear them.

(By the way, I noted on Twitter that I hear this as being in Ab minor (7 flats), and not G# minor (5 sharps), which you’d think would be more “simple”, and I think I realized why. The leading tone is an important part of the scale, and the major dominant chord that contains it is an important chord; and it’s much easier to think about a V chord that’s an Eb major (Eb, G, Bb) than a D# major (D#, F##, A#). So I think I chose the right key after all.)