sevens/glass island reel

Sevens/Glass Island Reel:

(two flutes, piano accordion, Garageband loops)

Sevens. I learned this Liz Carroll original from her 2000 album Lost In the Loop.  At first glance this tune does not seem flute friendly because too much of the drone melody sits on the lowest fiddle string (out of flute range).  But I found most of the low drones were still convincing when brought up an octave.

Glass Island. Ethan Hazzard-Watkins wrote this contemporary contra dance tune in 1997.  He’s writes that it was “never intended to be an Irish session tune.”  But someone else captured a session recording and started emailing it around.  I ran across that recording when local fiddler Joel Mesnikoff sent it to me in October this year.

Monday, February 28, 2011. Tags: , , , . flute, music, traditional music, Uncategorized. 1 comment.

prosthetic flute thumb in action

Got a UCL tear?  No use of your thumb?  Can’t stop playing traditional Irish flute because your need to do so is a compulsion bordering on addiction, the cessation of which would cause a debilitating self-identity crisis?  No problem!  At least not if you have the following:

1.  Access to a great hand specialist practice.  I highly recommend Lamont Cardon (MD) and Broheen Elias (PA) at Alta Bates.  Competent and accommodating, they respected my professional needs and supported my decision to continue playing flute during the healing process.

2.  A solid cast to protect the injured ligament, one with extra wiggle room for four fingers.

3.  Prosthetic materials/supplies:  plastic coat hanger, ace bandage, scotch tape roll, OTC wrist support brace, duct or teflon tape, hot glue, patience, a sense of humor.

4.   (and this is critical…)  Indomitability.

5.  Optional: bottle opener fixture and epoxy to adhere.  I decided this was important because what could be cooler than opening someone’s beer with your prosthetic flute thumb?


Remove layers of scotch tape until the outer diameter of the tape roll fits into the inner curve of your coat hanger hook.  Glue the scotch tape roll into the curve of the coat hanger.  Use duct or teflon tape adjust the inner diameter of the scotch tape roll — it should fit snugly onto the bore of your flute, right at the point of desired support.  Optionally, attach bottle opener to the distal coat hanger arm using epoxy.  Here’s what it should look like so far.

coat hanger with scotch tape roll attached

bottle opener

Now work out how you will put the coat hanger on in a way that is comfortable and stable.  I used a simple velcro wrist brace to support the distal end of the hanger, then an ace bandage to hold the hanger in place against the cast and keep it adjacent to my forefinger.

Now your thumb is on, and you are ready to hit the seisiún.  Attach flute.  I play a keyless split-body (four piece) Olwell and designed the scotch tape roll to fit at the proximal end of the third section, right up against the silver tenon ring.  Wherever you choose to attach the hanger, the instrument should be held firmly in place, just as if you were supporting it with your previously-functional thumb.

A scrappy plastic thumb that can open beer bottles is exciting, I know, as is playing again for the first time since your big injury.  But be mindful of the medical situation and your (dis)abilities.  Muscle fatigue was a problem for me, as were hand tremors and spasms.  Be gentle with yourself and play only to tolerance.  Long term healing is critical, so construct your project with safety in mind — run the basic design of your prosthetic by a hand specialist.  That’s one of the reasons you went to the trouble of hiring a hand specialist, right?  Utilize his/her expertise.

For longer performances, detach the flute from the hanger to take a break and socialize.  But I suggest leaving the prosthetic attached for the whole evening, partly for convenience, but also because it is a great conversation starter.

Over time, make flute body alignment and ace bandage wrap changes as necessary.  As your fingers grow stronger and the swelling goes down, you may need to make minor adjustments to get the instrument in the right place for your healing fingers.

coat hanger thumb in action at the starry plough

an earlier version (pre- scotch tape ring) where globs of hot glue supported the bore

Wednesday, February 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . flute, music, sculpture, traditional music. Leave a comment.

palm sunday

Palm Sunday:

(flute, accordion, Garageband loops, palm banging on Ikea bookshelf)

I’ve been playing games with meter and rhythmic emphasis.  Palm Sunday is a traditional double jig in 6/8, and here I follow it with a “reel-ified” version of itself.  At the metric transition (1:04) I keep the eighth note beat the same but force the tune into 3/4.  One musician friend calls it “a heinous and impossibly fast death waltz,” but I think of it more as a reel with 6 subdivisions per strong beat (as opposed to the usual 4 subdivisions per strong beat).

Parts of the original 6/8 tune resemble a slide instead of a jig, so it already has some atypical phrase shaping that makes the tune feel a bit “off,” and I distort those phrases even more with the additional melody notes in my 3/4 version.  Some traditional music practitioners find the 3/4 adaptation to be quite disturbing – they feel it goes too far beyond the form and thus isn’t stable enough.  I don’t know what I think yet.

Monday, December 20, 2010. Tags: , , , . flute, music, traditional music, Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

ms. hickory nut ponders songs and places

ms. hickory looks cleverly in her book

if a hickory nut faced woman were to study songs and their places of origin, what would that look like?

songs and places, the study of

• antique camera found on travels • photo of traditional irish musicians, one known one unknown • arm of an uncomfortable couch • hickory nut woman from Grandma Dot’s old shelves • afternoon light from generous living room window

Tuesday, August 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . music, photography, sculpture, song, traditional music. Leave a comment.

melancholy and rust (a composition for punch hole music box)

hans' twinkly music box

My long lost friend Hans Fex generously lent me this twinkly music box.  Use a special hole puncher to punch out individual notes on a strip of paper, then run the paper through the machine to hear the results.  The templates come printed with a grid so you can hit each note dead center.

paper strip with punch code for melancholy and rust

This composition for punch hole music box, Melancholy and Rust, is more than just a lovely tune.  Its melody and accompaniment are designed so that the piece can be run through the machine right side up, upside down, and backward-upside-down.  For you music geeks out there, that’s a shout out to the principles of 12-tone composition, here using prime, inversion, and retrograde inversion techniques.  Only instead of flipping staves upside down and backward, we are flipping a piece of paper.  This particular music box has a diatonic 1 octave+6th range (C to A), so if you use the full range of notes, A minor will invert to C major, and vice versa.

music box workspace

Oh, toss all that theoretical nonsense aside!  Begone academia!  The real delights here are the twinkly tone, the creaking and rattling of the mechanism, the astonishing power of the miniature resonating box.  And what about the delight of (mis)punching holes and surprising yourself with the results?  True, it tries my patience to meticulously scotch tape closed any mistaken punches, but it’s usually best to just integrate them the final product.  Best of all, musicians and non-musicians alike can punch-compose, perhaps using musical knowledge, visual patterns, random bites, blind inspiration, or other aesthetics.

Now, Melancholy and Rust, played in three different orientations.

Oh, twinkly music box. <sigh>

Friday, July 9, 2010. Tags: , , , . music, traditional music, Uncategorized. 6 comments.

flight of two biths and a hammerhead

in december i boarded an airplane

and bumped into two marvelous friends, co-creator-musicator-collaborators of the Star Wars Cantina Band Reborn

yes, a Bith and a Hammerhead were on my very own southwest flight to chicago

in my delight, i hastily scribbled a score, a duet for two Bith musical minds

little did i expect these friends, plus other beloved fellow space creature collaborators , to bring my creation to life.  blind composition turned quirky performance.  thank you so much jD (hammerhead), Logan (clarinet), Deb (flute), and David (filmmaker)!

Friday, June 18, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . music, traditional music. Leave a comment.

UC Berkeley undergraduate recital

this is what a table looks like when traditional music is happening

Last week I played in a small recital by the UC Berkeley Music Department undergraduates studying world music performance.  The concert featured Chinese erhu, traditional Indian singing, and traditional Irish flute.  I was, obviously, the one playing flute, and shared a spicy salad of traditional and neo-traditional tunes.  Joining me was local guitarist and fiddler Will Wheeler, whose keen chord choices were a real treat.  (Check out Will’s latest project – Golden Toad Music and Dance Camp – an upcoming festival that promises a week of sleepless musical bliss.)

Here are live recordings of our three-set performance.

Maids of Mitchelstown/I Buried My Wife/Cliffs of Moher:

Crow in the Sun:

Jim Donoghue’s/The Lilac/Sligo Creek:

This concert was a pleasure because its somewhat impromptu nature allowed for a casual approach to the music- a good reminder that playing ought to be fun!

Saturday, May 8, 2010. Tags: , , , . flute, music, traditional music. 1 comment.

self-duets from outer space

two tunes using artificially galactic instrument sounds.  space piano is created by adding a phaser effect.  space flute uses amp simulation and speech enhancer.

Piano improvisation/Price of My Pig:

Here the piano plays an A pedal as the downbeat of every measure. The remaining notes in each measure are natural minor fillers, keys where my fingers fell (often with eyes closed.)  Over this the flute is playing an altered version of a traditional double jig, Price of My Pig, omitting the tune’s usual F#s and stripping it of its dorian flavor.

Breton Dance:

Some years back I learned this tune from piper E.J. Jones at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.   My sweet and eager piano wished to be both accompanist and melody partner.  I could not say no.

When E.J. recorded it on his excellent album The Willow he included these brilliant liner notes about this tune —

“This is a dance tune often done at night festivals in Brittany.  It has words which tell a story of a ten year old boy who tries to impress all the pretty girls in the town with a song and a gift of the eels he caught. ‘Je n’avais pas dix ans que je pêchais l’anguille pour en faire un présent à toutes ces joiles filles. Assis de sur un banc, je leur parle d’amourettes et je les divertis avec mes chansonnettes’ “

Thursday, November 5, 2009. Tags: , , , . flute, music, traditional music. Leave a comment.

Star Wars Cantina Band Reborn: Our Humble Salute to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes

My light-and-gourd-adorned C whistle and I joined forces with other galactic instruments in an Earthen tribute to Figrin D’an and the gang.  On Halloween night we roamed the Mission and burst into restaurants and bars playing Modal Nodes classics.  And as if Bith masks and light up instruments weren’t fun enough on their own, we were accompanied by the groupie presence of many Lucas-like creatures and other unexpected assorted characters such as Giant Cockroach and Kenny G.

See other reports from Laughing Squid, Unnecessary Umlaut, and Arugula Designs.

Sunday, November 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . flute, music, traditional music. Leave a comment.

nordic backroads kalimba / incredibly happy

i wrote these two pieces for a party i’m going to tomorrow.  they are loop based and computer generated – no acoustic instruments or MIDI input.  i think i am falling in love with garageband again, especially the World Music Jam Pack.

nordic backroads kalimba:

incredibly happy:

Thursday, May 21, 2009. Tags: , . music. 2 comments.

Next Page »