Saturday, October 25, 2014

Roots Music Composition - Canadian Fiddler Gordon Stobbe and Mandolinist Matt Flinner on Writing A Tune A Day

I've always had to have a creative outlet.  Most of the time this pursuit has been in the form of writing.  I suppose this blog is one of them.  But, over the last few years my "artistic" focus has transitioned more into the learning of music.  Up until now, music playing has consisted of fairly rote tunebook versions of fiddle tunes, like the kind found in the Portland Collection books; sticking to the notes as someone else predetermined they should be...not really playing by ear, from the heart or improvising.

Simultaneous to the memorization of tunes I've also been cultivating a study of music theory.  Actually, way more music theory than most players of Irish and Appalachian tunes ever delve into.  I just find it interesting.  Sprinkle in a little bit of ear training and the lightbulb moments associated with learning how to learn, and voilà I'm ready to take the next step toward "writing" music.

Well, not really writing in the most original sense; I plan to start by attempting to transcribe snippets of melody from the bands that had a big impact on my life before I ever picked up an instrument, and/or bands that I want to be inspired by now.  Bands like Phish, Dr. Dog, STS9, Medeski Martin and Wood, Amiina, Bill Frisell, Tortoise, Tom Waits, Ween, Uakti, Laika and the Cosmonauts, and Cowboy Junkies to name a few.  Plus styles and rhythms like the music of South America, Latin America, France, the Caribbean, Africa, as well as more urban beats.

In addition, I want to formalize this process by setting a goal of "writing" at least one new piece of music every week for a year.  Perhaps a melody inspired by Dr. Dog, mixed with a lick from an STS9 song, then tweaked by being played over a Biguine rhythm from Martinique.  The painter Chuck Close said, "Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work."

So, to get to the point of this post, I've found some information on a couple unrelated musicians who have experience with writing a tune per day - Canadian Fiddler Gordon Stobbe and Mandolinist Matt Flinner.

In the current (Fall 2014) issue of Fiddler Magazine, Editor & Publisher Mary Larsen has an interview Gordon Stobbe where he mentions this:
Gordon Stobbe
"Maybe six years ago, I set myself a task of writing a tune a day.  From January 1 to the end of April I was able to stick to that.  There were about a hundred tunes that came out of that.  Out of those tunes, there were probably fifty good ideas; there were probably thirty well-developed and fulfilled ideas; and there are probably twelve or fifteen really good tunes.  I don't think it's really the right thing to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.  I think there's a lot more perspiration involved in this than inspiration. There are a lot of ways to get into that.  Sometimes a rhythmic groove will really inspire - whether that comes from a drum patch on Garage Band that kind of kicks you into some start, or you hear some kind of a rhythmic groove somewhere, that's a good way to start.  And once in a while little scraps of melody will pop into your head." (Gordon Stobbe, fiddler)

Matt Flinner
Matt Flinner does it a little bit differently.  Since 2006 the Matt Flinner Trio (Matt Flinner, mandolin; Ross Martin, guitar and Eric Thorin, bass) has been performing "Music du Jour" shows, where each member of the trio writes a new tune the day of the show, and all three new tunes are debuted as part of that night's concert.  They are writing these tunes on the road, often while driving between gigs, fine-tuning them right up until it is time to debut them on stage.

Imposing such a quick turnaround time definitely changes the way the tunes turn out, adding pressure that wouldn't otherwise be there.  In an interview Flinner mentions that the landscape can also have an effect.  For example, he said the wide open spaces of the West give songs written while on tour out there "an expansive, spacious" feel.

Flinner also said, "I've noticed that the overall style does seem to evolve over the course of the week.  All three of us seem to be writing partly in response to the previous night's show - or the last few nights'.  So we try not to get ourselves stuck in any stylistic rut, and we try to keep the variety flowing. Sometimes two of us will have tunes that are somewhat similar in character. We just separate those in the set list."

After reading about Flinner and Stobbe, I can only imagine how fun it must be to attempt to write a new tune per day (or week) on a self-imposed deadline.  Flinner even teaches workshops on Roots Music Composition.  That would be fun to attend, because even though I'm looking outside of roots music for inspiration, I still anticipate these tunes being roots-music oriented in structure, such as AA/BB melodies.

No comments:

Post a Comment