I call this banjo tuning the “So What” tuning since it produces the same voicing as the horn chords in the Miles Davis tune “So What”. (Bar all four strings at the second fret. Strum. Release. Strum. Whattya know! Modal jazz and mountain modal banjo tunings…same difference.)
I wrote most of the lyrics while pushing my son around in his stroller, wondering what would be worse: global warming or my first upstate New York winter in ten years.
The electronics part was originally all about a piercing drone that slowly oscillates between a and b-flat. The movement between the pitches is based on the gestures played by the banjo and would sometimes produce amazing microtonal difference tones. Listening back to my recordings I realized how painful the experience could be for the audience. With the encouragement and discerning ears of Troy Pohl I pushed the electronics far into the background.
Each month I’ll post another score for a piece on the album, until I’ve shared them all. The scores will be available as pdf files and as Lilypond files.
The scores are for acoustic, “unplugged” versions of the songs on the album. All the electronic gewgaws and interactive foofaraw have been left out; they wouldn’t make much sense unless you happen to have a sensor-encrusted banjo plugged into an arduino and a laptop. I think these songs are perfectly playable without the electronics, anyway. In fact, most of them existed that way just fine for 100+ years before I got my mitts on them.
Notes on Born in the Desert:
I think I got the four note motive that spans a minor 7th from a Bob Dylan tune.
I wrote most the lyrics while riding my bicycle.
I later tightened up the lyrics and squeezed them into a formal scheme where the second line of each pair of couplets becomes the first line of the following pair of couplets. (I’m sure some sainted English major can tell me the specific poetic form that I took the trouble to reinvent.)
The banjo is played using a two finger, thumb-lead style. Thanks to Vic Rawlings for teaching me the mechanics of this picking style.
There’s an extra bar added to the end of each section. The Carter Family recordings have these kind of extensions sprinkled throughout, but it’s just as likely I picked this up from Olivier Messiaen or Igor Stravinsky or Philip Glass or Joni Mitchell–all of whom I heard long before the Carter Family.
I chose to use Bandcamp for this release because they now support pay-what-you-wish pricing (including FREE!) along with sales of physical media. So far, I’ve been surprised by how many people are buying the physical CD over just the download. I’ve also been surprised by how few people are choosing to pay $0.00 for the album. (Go on…it’s OK!) Most people are sending some of their hard-earned $freedom$ my way in exchange for my music, and I appreciate it. Everything I earn supports the creation and sharing of more music. Bandcamp and PayPal get their share, and the rest goes toward that next imagined sound.
I recently finished sequencing the tracks for my upcoming Post and Beam CD. The hardest part was figuring out where to put the long form instrumental pieces like Telephone Temple and Spring Dissent (Bubbling) among the shorter, more song-based pieces. After auditioning countless combinations and creating crazy mind maps of relationships between pieces, I finally decided to jettison the instrumental pieces altogether.
I’m disappointed they didn’t make the cut partly because I wanted Post and Beam to represent a typical set of my current work for banjo and electronics. At the same time, I can’t deny that the album (Yes, I’m actually thinking of it like that; and yes, I do feel old sometimes.) works better without them.
The good news is that they’re not going away forever. I can easily imagine them as the foundation for my next CD, or as online bonus material. And the other good news is that with the sequencing done I can move along with mastering and sleeve design and … and …