February Album Writing Month – an annual songwriting challenge to write 14 songs in 28 days (14.5 this leap year, I guess?) – is something I try to do as often as I can, as it often seems to coincide with me having some sort of writer’s block. I also use it as an excuse to experiment in styles unfamiliar to me. Whilst in previous years that would mean writing on my sitar (which is still in Australia), this year I was more looking at different compositional methods. I’ve been studying Mark Levine’s The Jazz Theory Book in order to get a better appreciation for music theory (having never been formally taught music) and modal playing, and this provided the backbone for many of the 17 songs I ended up writing or collaborating on this February. Elsewhere, I also employed Eno & Schmidt’s ‘Oblique Strategies’, 12-tone serialism and generative music. Plus, my usual addiction to odd time signatures and tritones.
You can download the compilation of my favourite tracks from this February here, and they are also available streaming below with some words on each piece.
Track #1: Not Necessarily True
I spoke to Chris Harris (@headfirst only on FAWM) before FAWM began and he mentioned being interested in collaborating in some King Crimson-esque music. So I woke up on February 1st around 9am, picked up my guitar and started writing as much Fripp-esque stuff as my head could come up with. I sent this over to Chris who plays some excellent Chapman Stick, drums and extra Fripptronic guitars. It might not be particularly original, but it’s fun.
You can check out Chris’ various musical exploits here.
Track #2: Oblique Turnaround
I had written a rather nice chord progression, but was stumped for what to do next. I turn to the ‘Oblique Strategies’, which promptly tell me “Change nothing and with immaculate consistency”. That was not exactly what I was looking for, but I end up hanging on the turnaround chords for the lengthy ending. Including here as I particularly like my soloing.
Track #5: Knots
‘Oblique Strategies’ strike again with the instruction: “Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities.” I decided that playing with 12-tone music might be the best way (in that no single note has dominance over the other, hence the lack of specifics). I start with some Frippy angular guitar and then try and play some rather odd chord sequences that don’t repeat any of the same notes to each other.
Track #8: Space Viking Funeral
This is here because I like it. Originally, the focus was going to be me soloing in the Lydian mode, but instead I slowly build some loops and let the chords take over. A few people have said that I sound like Mike Oldfield, which is certainly not a direct influence as I haven’t heard much of him, but I’ll take it!
Track #9: Nectarine Slumber
I’ve never felt particularly confident in my ability to write polyrhythms, but this turned out not too bad! The first section features 5 over 7, the second section 4 over 7. The title comes from the piece reminding me of the Tangerine Dream song “Force Majeure”.
Track #10: Fuzzy Ants
The intro and end are experiments with chords and modal soloing, learnt from Levine’s Jazz Theory Book, whilst the middle is just some 7/8 prog riffage. I dig it.
Track #13: Binary Singularity
This one was cool. Using the detector sound of the newly discovered gravitational waves as a loop, I wrote some heavy riffage and weird noises. I then got in touch with Peter Watkinson (@sapient on FAWM) to add some drums and guitars. This is as appropriately heavy, spacey and all-consuming as a track inspired by the gravitational waves created by two black holes colliding could be!
Check out Peter’s own music here.
Track #15: Stumbling Ballerina
I’ve always been interested in writing some generative music, but the results have never really appealed. Here I write some music using FractMUS by choosing what key and mode the three pianos are in, their note lengths and then what algorithmic model will decide on which note to play. An odd but interesting experiment!
Track #16: Denouement
This is probably my favourite piece as I really tried incorporating all my experimentations in composition in one song. The first section is both partly generative (using the above program from ‘Stumbling Ballerina’) and partly me writing using the 12-tone method (as heard in ‘Knots’). The time signatures also continually change, and over the course of the track you hear 4/4, 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8 and 13/8! There’s a lot here I enjoy.
You can listen to the highlights of last year’s FAWM attempt here.