Category Archives: Music

Recordings + Charts from Ben/George/Martin/John/Chief

Yo.

A few weeks ago I did my second-to-last gig in the UK, for a change leading a project and so being able to choose some tunes I’d always wanted to play but hadn’t. It was lovely to have some great friends in the audience, and in the band. George Millard kindly came up from London, and he and Ben brought some nice songs along too. There were lots of contrafacts, lots of bop and a few lovely ballads. I’ve uploaded a selection to a Soundcloud set and am making the PDFs available too. I just zipped up the folder containing the charts but it’s pretty easy to see how they fit together. Hopefully they’ll save people having to transcribe some of the less well-known ones themselves. Do tell me if you end up using them, it’d be nice to know.

Charts

Final recital

I’ll shortly be moving away from Leeds (more about that in another post). It’s been a great place to spend the last 4 years in so many ways, none more so than in the wonderful people I’ve played music with here. It all started with the Leeds University Union Big Band, then local jam nights bumping into students and alumni of Leeds College of Music, and countless weekends driving between the weddings of people I don’t know, accompanied by the best musicians and nicest people I could hope to meet. Lots of love to everyone involved.

My last “public” gig in Leeds for quite a while is coming up this Saturday at the HEART venue in Headingley. It’s a project I’ve put together for a couple of one-off gigs. That gives me as a bassist the rare chance to choose and arrange a lot of the tunes, bringing back fond memories of leading the considerably bigger but no less enjoyable Uni Big Band. The band features some great friends and top players:

— Steve Hanley (drums)

— Martin Longhawn (piano)

Ben Lowman (sax)

— George Millard (sax)

We’ll be doing a selection broadly covering west coast, bop, hard bop, beautiful ballads and a few odds and ends. The idea is to focus on great melodies, in tunes that might even be reasonably well-known but for whatever reason aren’t performed very often. It’s involved lots of transcribing and lots of trying to recall the names of half-remembered lines. Konitz, Nelson, Powell, Corea, Vangelis, etc etc. It’s going to be great fun, pretty accessible and hopefully provide a lot of interest and variety for jazzers in the audience too. Tickets are available through HEART.

Lee Konitz transcription — “Two not one”

Here’s an amazing Lennie Tristano contrafact from the album “Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh”, based roughly on “Almost like being in love”. It’s one of those lovely tunes that starts on the subdominant — always good in my book — and is one of the nicest collections of mezzo forte quavers ever put together. Enjoy!

Lee Konitz – Two Not One

twonotone_concert

twonotone_alto

Earplugs

Like any musician, in almost any genre or setting, I’m sometimes in the presence of very high volumes. Over the years I’ve gone on and off earplugs and used various different types, but for the last few years have been consistently using some custom-moulded ones which have taken out all the worrying, annoyance, and inconvenience that can be associated with using or not using earplugs. This post is a quick mixture of passed-on hearing-related folk knowledge from my dad, who’s a medical doctor (though I make no claim as to the exact accuracy of any physiological details here..!), and physicsy insights related to why earplugs do or do not work well and why they’re needed.

Why?

Here are some compelling reasons to use earplugs, some of which most of us are aware of, and some that make you go ‘ahh’:

  • Hearing damage can result from loud sounds, obviously.
  • Hearing damage is permanent — temporary whistling or ringing is the sound of some cilia dying (tiny hairs which receive vibrations and pass the signal towards the brain).
  • Hearing attenuation can be temporary — exposure to loud sound causes muscles in the ear to adapt to it so that it “seems” less loud (imagine if the sensation you get when you initially walk into a noisy club remained all night! This is why it doesn’t). Damage is still being done though, so this isn’t a good thing
  • Higher frequency sounds are lost earlier when hearing is damaged. This makes things sound less clear, since the high frequencies provide e.g. the sibilance that helps us to distinguish consonants. Turning up the volume of a sound results in increased perceived presence (stronger high frequencies), so we turn up louder to get the same clarity => more damage.

Earplug problems

  • Earplugs come in all different types. In the simplest case, the principle is basically to stuff something solid into the ear to block sounds out to some extent.
  • Just in the same way as your neighbour’s wall reduces high frequencies but lets bass come through more (that’s why you can’t hear the voices on their TV well), simple earplugs reduce high frequencies more strongly than low ones. This is why earplugs can make things sound “unclear” and why musicians often hate using them.
  • An ill-fitting or one-size-fits-all earplug might actually be counterproductive — it reduces overall loudness but the tiny gaps and misfittings can allow (predominantly high frequency) sound to come through unaffected. The reduced loudness means the ear does less to “defend itself”, but the damaging high frequencies are still allowed through. This is also why wearing sunglasses without UV shielding is bad — the eye does not think it’s receiving bright light so the pupils don’t contract much, but the UV light is still getting through and doing its damage.

Custom-moulded earplugs

The breakthrough for me (and recently for a friend, the excellent guitarist Mike Chisnall) came with custom-moulded earplugs. These consist of a casing made of something like silicone, which is moulded to precisely fit into the ear. This is good already, because the little gaps which could allow high “hissing” sounds through don’t exist. The really good thing is that these moulds are made to act as housings for a specially-designed filter.

These filters come in a number of strengths and, most importantly, have an essentially “flat” attenuation — all the frequencies are affected equally, rather than the high frequencies being lost the most, as with simpler plugs. The effect is then more like just “turning down” the outside world, rather than sticking a cushion on your ear and muffling the sound. Especially for musicians, this is vitally important because it means the detail of what you’re hearing remains, and the temptation to remove the plugs disappears. The poor performance of cheap/free earplugs is damaging to our ears in more than one way: 1) We remove them. 2) We tar the whole category “earplugs” with this brush, and don’t bother investigating better options.

Something Mike and I both note about using the custom plugs is that you also feel somehow more calm while playing. Compare the feeling when you come offstage normally, with ringing in your ears and a background “hum” as blood rushes around the vessels near your ears. With good plugs, you end up playing better, being able to focus more on e.g. reading or song structures or technique, while still being aware of everything that’s going on. It’s very Zen.

Conclusion

One of the most disheartening things as a musician is to play with bad monitoring, so for many people, imposing this on yourself by stuffing some foam in your ear seems like madness. However, the sensible part of all of us knows that this can’t go on indefinitely. Even in jazz and classical settings, ear damage will result after a while if protection isn’t used. When you hear a snare drum being hit and it seems to hurt, but then later on or in the mix of the performance you don’t notice it, that’s not your ear winning, it’s just being beaten into submission.

The point of this post is to highlight the fact that a solution is available which preserves the clarity of sound that musicians want. A custom-moulded plug with even a weak filter will help considerably and delay the onset of volume-induced hearing loss, and will almost always retain more than enough detail for you to be able to play sensitively to the context and to enjoy your performance. Custom-moulded plugs are expensive, but for the average professional working musician, the cost is not more than a few gigs’ pay. And they’re a tax-deductible expense too.

Please, please, please try them — the most damaging false dichotomy a musician faces in respect of hearing is that it’s either horrible foam or rubber earplugs or nothing. That’s simply not true, and the benefits of finding out why are more than worth the cost.

Say, where can I get these incredible earplugs?

The custom-moulding aspect means it’s not just a matter of ordering online. Instead, you go to your local high-street audiologist shop (somewhere that sells hearing aids, basically) and enquire. They will do a hearing test and take the mould, and supply you with the filters to go into the earplugs once they’re made. The strengths available are normally 9dB15dB, and 25dB (lower number = less attenuation = more sound gets through). I got 25 initially but found it made things too quiet, so went down to 15 which allowed more detail through and was suitable for my usual gigs (jazz or loud-ish function/pop, but not really rock or metal). It’s a nice idea to get more than one pair or filters (say a 9 and a 15, for my purposes), since they last forever and can be easily swapped as needed. The actual moulds can gradually perish over very long times, but mine have lasted 5 years easily so far.

Also — the mouldings can also be used as housings for in-ear monitors. You just take out the filter and stick the monitor in.

How to stop the cable on 9-volt adaptors from breaking

Here’s a common problem for people who own small electronic devices, especially power adaptors for effects boxes.

This is an adaptor from my compressor; it outputs a special voltage, has a special plug on the end, and is expensive to replace. I found that out when, as with every other adaptor like this, the extremely thin cable eventually broke at the point where it joins the body of the adaptor. Even if you’re really careful, a few months or years of wear and tear is usually enough to break it because whenever tension is applied to the cable, it is applied to the same place — a join with only very weak stress relief. The cable bends and flexes in all directions, weakens, and after a while either the coating or the wire itself breaks.

When I got the replacement I came up with a nice way of preventing the same thing happening again. I took a cable tie, wrapped it around the body of the adaptor and loosely threaded the power cable in and out of the tie, following it once around the body. Then I tightened the cable tie and snipped it off, as shown in the picture below.

Threading the cable loosely through a tie wrapped round the body to relieve tension at the join.

This means that the join between the cable and body (the bit that always breaks) is never subject to tension and never moves, so it doesn’t break. Instead, pulling on the cable just smoothly induces a little bit of tension and only a slight bending at all the points where it crosses over the cable tie. The stress in any one part of the cable is never enough to break it, so it doesn’t break even if you grab the cable by the end and swing the adaptor around the place. And that’s magic.

Laurence Cottle transcription — ‘Quite Firm’

The stats on my site tell me a few things. One is that, particularly on Fridays, my visitors are predominantly Gardener’s World fans who have arrived here through the TV show’s ‘Community’ page on the BBC website, thanks to a pretty nothingy post I wrote about it one time. It has 33 comments.

Another thing is that quite a few people get here by searching for ‘Laurence Cottle transcription’ (brave souls), which is the kind of visit I’d prefer to encourage. So…

Here’s a transcription — the hideously fiddly yet actually quite listenable bass part from Laurence Cottle’s ‘Quite Firm’. There’s a few versions of the track on his website, a couple on the big band album and a small band one from ‘Live!’. I’ve used the Live! version as a template and transcribed the head. It’s really good writing, fits in brilliantly with the horn lines and in a perverse sort of way falls quite nicely under the fingers — definitely a bass player’s line. Here’s the PDF:

Quite Firm – Bass Guitar

And here’s a clip of me just about getting through the A and B sections (playing along to the ‘Bonus’ version from big band album, because the Live! one is out of tune with A=440Hz):

Vangelis ‘Memories of green’ small band arrangement

I recently re-watched the excellent Blade Runner, starring Indiana Jones (Han Solo, actually). It’s pretty brilliant and has an amazing soundtrack by Vangelis. My favourite tune in the soundtrack is Memories of green, which occurs in a scene where Rachael is realising she’s a replicant, not a human, and that all her childhood memories are just implanted.

It’s a very ambient and poignant piano piece in its original form, but when the main tune comes in at 1:10, there’s a brilliant B minor to D7 motif, and then a really nice tritone substitution a bit afterwards. Very jazz, so I decided to arrange it for small band.

I’ve put together a chart in Sibelius and stuck in some basic piano voicings, bass and cymbals. It’s about 4 minutes long, and only gets back to D major right at the end (having started in B minor and then spent a long time in D minor/F major), so I put an extra F#7 at the end to allow going back to letter A. Here’s an export of it: