All posts by Dr Richard Worth

My PhD was entirely devoted to the process of composing music. Before academia I spent eleven years (from 1990) as a full time musician based in New York, working as both as a session player, and as the musical director of The Groove Collective, a band that combined Jazz, Latin, and Funk forms. This led to six albums and performances around the world including Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals, the Roskilde Festival, Red Rocks Amphitheater Colorado, and Filmore West. I have also performed in orchestras, and as a solo flutist, including a broadcast on BBC Radio Three.

Dance to the Drummer’s Beat (Part 2)

“Take the funky drummer give him back to james”

In my last post, I was looking at the convoluted relationships between DJ performance in the context of a ‘live’ Hip Hop party and the live musician’s role in the creation of the first Hip Hop records. It’s now time to follow the chronology of the story and deal with the development of digital sampling of the kind any producerw would recognise today. But just before that…..if you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know I have a penchant for Igor Stravinsky into the mix- well here he comes again: in a paper from 2005, (The story of ORCH5, or, the classical ghost in the hip-hop machine), Robert Fink has identified ORCH5, a pre-set on the Fairlight sampler. It is a cheesy full orchestral ‘hit’ which Fink convincingly argues was sampled from a recording of Stravinsky’s Firebird Ballet. To hear Stravinsky’s ‘hit’  in action in early Hip Hop you need go no further than Africa Bambaataa’s 1982 classic Planet Rock. Here it is on the invaluable whosampled.com website:

http://www.whosampled.com/sample/135683/Afrika-Bambaataa-Soulsnic-Force-Planet-Rock-David-Vorhaus-ORCH5/

Continue reading Dance to the Drummer’s Beat (Part 2)

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Dance to the drummer’s beat (PART 1)

This post is a quick look at the tangled the mix of live playing, sampling and DJ’ing in old School hip Hop. One of the great advantages of the blog format is the chance to lay in audio a youtube links, so the reader can actually hear what is being talked about.  I do, however ask you, dear reader, to be aware that this limits us to MP3 audio, and if you want to REALLY here some of this stuff, find it in a decent audio form.

My five year old daughter has some interesting books, courtesy of a cool mother in law. Along with a story built around Coltrane’s Giant Steps (I’ll lend it to you Zack), we have an illustrated children’s account of DJ KOOL HERC! When the Beat was Born gives a child friendly account of the origins of Hip Hop in the Bronx. Spurred on I went looking for more on the subject and a visit to  Edinburgh University library shows a good ten feet of academic literature on hip hop, much of it describing a world I know nothing – which is weird because I lived in new York for 11 years from 1990, and had some experience making music on the peripheries of Hip Hop.

Continue reading Dance to the drummer’s beat (PART 1)

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What sense can I make of improvisation?

Time for another instalment on improvisation – I’m going to try to absorb different accounts of what improvisation is and who does it… and there are questions that I don’t necessarily have answers for.

To begin with, two complaints against improvisation:

First from C.P.E. Bach, commenting sarcastically, in the preface to his Sonatas with Varied Repeats (1760). He goes on:

“It is indispensable, nowadays to alter repeats. One expects it of everybody.  A friend of mine goes to endless trouble to play a piece as it is written, flawlessly and in accordance with the rules of good performance; how can one not applaud him? Another, often pressed by necessity, makes up by his audacity in alteration for the lack of expression he shows in the performance of the written notes; the public nevertheless extols him above the former.”

He’s complaining about the prevalence of improvising, particularly the convention that on the second time through a melody, the performer would add variations;in fact some of them would start before they had finished the first time through – think of how a jazz player states the theme of a ballad for instance. Consequently Bach began composing the varied repeats himself, and also provided variations or embellishments (Auszierungen) for existing works. This makes us aware of the degree to which improvisation was the modus operandi of his day, and his complaint is the beginnings of a move away from it.

Now Scott Joplin, in a preface to a collection of his piano ragtime compositions:

“We wish to say here that the “Joplin ragtime” is destroyed by careless or imperfect rendering, and very often good players lose the effect entirely, by playing too fast. They are harmonised with the supposition that each note will be played as it is written, as it takes this, and also the proper time divisions to complete the sense intended.”

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A Whole Bag of ‘Parlour Tricks’

In response to Zack’s previous post, ‘Improvisation is a Parlour Trick: Anyone can do it…’ I’ve decided that I’m going to come clean, and do an autoethnographic analysis of my OWN soloing strategies; this means coming clean and I admitting to what I was really doing in the course of a so-called improvised solo for a paying session.  Also, I just noticed that in Gareth Dylan Smith’s recent post he also used the autoethnographic tag, and I think it’s the best way to look at a musical situation from the viewpoint of the main protagonist-ME. No one else is better qualified to say what is really going on here…. Continue reading A Whole Bag of ‘Parlour Tricks’

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Turn the Beat Around

In a previous post I talked about ‘keeping the beat’, while rhythmically shifting melodic motifs and accents.  One way of shifting  was to pre-ordain it through the process of pulse preserving polymeter, as exemplified by Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and Stavinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet. However, Stravinsky didn’t only use such prearranged processes to create rhythmic displacement; in fact more often he would also just do it.

Histoire du Soldat and Thelonious Monk:

Again, Histoire du Soldat provides some of the best examples of this, partly because, as Lambert said, all those marching band rhythms and pseudo polkas and rags make the pulse emphatically clear.

Here is one of my favourite examples from Histoire:
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Make ’em Clap to This: Tricks of rhythmic displacement as found in Stravinsky and Led Zeppelin

(NB The following is related to this post – you might want to have a look if you are interested in the subject of rhythmic ‘tricks’)

Writing in the early 1930’s, composer/critic Constant Lambert takes great delight in recounting the following incident at a Ballet Russes performance:

“Diaghilev included as a symphonic interlude Mozart’s Musical joke……no one saw the joke except Diaghilev himself. His entourage took the piece with perfect gravity as an example of classicism to be admired and imitated.”

(Lambert, p98)

I’m sure he exaggerates – he was, after all, decrying Stravinsky’s brand of neoclassicism (Lambert was more an admirer of the “barbarism” of The Rite of Spring and Les Noces, and caricatures Stravinsky’s move to neo-classicism as a “spectacular sinner” having a “spectacular conversion.”

“….they (the audience) craved more sensation- very well they should have it. Cold water and sermon for them…Stravinsky in his latest works has achieved a final triumph of fashion….a fashion for boredom”

(Lambert, p88)

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Metric Puns and Rhythmic Tricks: From Hancock to Haydn

Let me start this with an excerpt of the guitar work Melvin (Wah Wah Watson) Raglin, on Herbie Hancock’s Hang Up Your Hang Ups from the 1975 album, Manchild.
Continue reading Metric Puns and Rhythmic Tricks: From Hancock to Haydn

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From Debussy to Pharrell: How extended harmony ‘brightens up’ a pop landscape.

Continue reading From Debussy to Pharrell: How extended harmony ‘brightens up’ a pop landscape.

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