This is a rough, slow play (with my faltering piano skills), using the ideas from the theory document.

Sticking to the mode was difficult at first: it's the main reason I had the score in front of me, since I already know the melody. Rhythmically, the stress timing felt like it could work, but I wasn't as proscriptive of deviations as I could have been. I'm happy that it is musical (playing it on the piano - an instrument I'm not very good at - is a good test of that for me), and sounds open whilst being controlled.

Another aspect to the score is that it is multi-layered: without understanding the theory, the piece could be performed by a musician of almost any standard as long as they knew the notes. Understanding the rhythmic signs allows any musician to play the pieces regardless of instrument; and understanding the affective signs adds harmony. The notation is flexible enough to live with or without the rules.

At a friend's house I was discussing the work. I showed them the book, and they asked me what it sounded like, so I sang them without referring to the notation. The act of singing revealed a logic in the stress timing, and made it feel more natural. It also showed that most of them could be sung, with the exception of why we don't know why.

I think I will have to write some short exercises to develop speed at responding to the modes. An alternative would be to restructure how the modes work: currently they are in a form that is not easy to remember.


I have written a theory document to accompany the composition. #

Writing the theory document connects my project very strongly with medieval practice in organising improvisation: the music treatise was a principal method of developing idiomatic practice for counterpoint in the period, and was a main tool for memorisation.

I had initially composed the music based on my aesthetics, being interested only in the single melodic line and its phrasing. This aesthetic is similar to (but not related to or previously informed by) liturgical music from the medieval period. As I began playing and extemporising with the works, I was able to explore my own habits and thoughts on musical flow. As an improviser, it's been standard practice for me to allow others to manipulate my compositional work to their tastes, but with this work I did want to limit this in a fundamental way, not just through structure but the thinking behind the music itself. In that sense alone, this is very different from anything I have written before.


How did I learn his set? I took what he had written and then re-wrote it, but in my language.

My use of letter notation is older than my research into it. But my way of using it has developed since my research. I use letter notation almost exclusively to learn other people's music. My reading of Western standard notation has always been poor, and I have relied on my ears and memory to remember melodies. This has served me well over the years, and for the majority of the music I have had to play, it was enough.

My reading of numbers and words has always been good. Connecting letters with notes seemed natural to me. But I had no real referent for doing it until I started looking at the 10th and 11th centuries. Understanding that letter notation was used for instruction made me look at my previous processes and see them not as my "getting around not know how to read music", but as an efficient method for memorising material at short notice and in a compact form.

It has been important for me to hold on the idea of not making medieval music, even though the processes of that time (as far as I can research) are a core part of the project. In part, I am using medieval thinking to explain my own music: the rhythmic system is a good example of this. On other occasions I use medieval music theory to step forward in order to illuminate contemporary popular listening practice: the common perception of the power chord and its similarity to the trina harmoniae perfectio. But my thinking had to hold sway. So the stripping of melodic modes in favour of the chromatic and diatonic series; the introduction of tonal suggestion; and figuring pentachords using the hand are all centred on my practice.


A couple of years ago, electronica composer Aka Hige and I had had a chat and a pint before my gig about a sense of belonging. After that conversation, Aka Hige wrote to me to say he'd been re-thinking his frustrations with "old" black music and modern black musicians. I asked what those reflections were.

[they are] centred around my perception of soul/funk/RnB/jazz being abandoned in favour of far less satisfying hip hop/rap/pop. I'm wondering whether I harboured ideas that there's a lineage that's being turned down. I do still have expectations that Japanese folk are the primary maintainers of Gagaku for example, so {they are} still lineage ideas. But the context for black musicians is different now (than say 50 yrs ago). They can (and should) do anything.

By "do anything", I think Aka Hige was talking about permission and acceptance of black musicians doing any form of music. He concluded that "thoughts of lineage abandonment are more than tempered by an appreciation of greater openness and expressionistic freedom".

I picked up on the point about Gagaku: that music is tightly bound to a country's historic and cultural norms; and its spread is not (as) global as that of jazz. I also fully agree with Aka Hige's conclusion: I think it would be very difficult to reject that freedom in Western-based diaspora [e.g. Black Americans, Black British, et al.]: and yet that's exactly what I think occurs.

These tensions come through in Barbara Bush's essay on globalisation, particularly in thinking about the "Americanisation" of music, and the to-ing and fro-ing between homogenization and heterogenization in jazz. In this sense, jazz is a diasporic music: although its roots were in one place (the U.S.A.), its spread and proliferation to other areas of the globe mean that its original identity modifies and is assimilated into the surrounding culture, thus creating new forms of expression. But in the U.S.A., these "glocal" forms are seen as "jazz with a small j"; Jazz (with a capital j) as a concept is uniquely American, and is an expression of The American Way.

Another conversation with the guitarist Han-earl Park directed me to think about whether tradition/idiom/practice is something that is maintained. If jazz is a diaspora, then what are the common traits between each one and the supposed root? Why are they maintained? What is held in esteem, and what is discarded? As an example, listening to changes of soprano saxophone tone, we can hear that although Johnny Hodges' and Sidney Bechet's tones relate closer to the lower-sounding members of the saxophone family, John Coltrane's tone [to my ears] is moving closer to an oboe or shawm: and it is Coltrane's tone that has become a manner in which several soprano saxophonists play: an instrumental mode, so to speak. Coltrane is a maintained tradition, even though Hodges and Bechet were playing soprano before Coltrane.

By using certain traditional methods we can connect ourselves with that culture and can be seen as belonging to that culture. Not using those methods can create a confusion or contradiction, create a sense of "otherness". In the same way that some jazz musicians don't do gigs unless they look like someone from the 1940s, Duke Ellington's song title It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing is used as a maxim for Jazz.

I learned music through jam sessions, gigs, the radio and the library. Listening to Thelonious Monk was one sound-world: playing Monk with others was another. On Well You Needn't most people knew the Miles Davis version. I remember one Tomorrow's Warriors session where I was accused by a pianist of not being able to play because I knew the original harmonies to the song. And I remember feeling that what was being played [the Miles Davis chord changes] were not "genuine".

This memory and the ideas around imperialism started me thinking about the idea of desecration: in the sense of the choices a musician makes about older material; and specifically older material written by an agreed narrative, or even a musician choosing newer material that is outside an unspoken yet seemingly understood canon. But it isn't the musician who internally decides whether Jazz has been desecrated; it's those who experience his or her work. This sentiment is encapsulated in "that band ruined that song for me"; and I know I do it when I hear Monk played badly or wrong: two words that are almost meaningless in a music that thrives on change, but there they are.


Is all this mimicking? respecting? or a requirement – in short, is this imperialism? And where is the identity of the musician within these boundaries – is that important? In what ways does my research connect with a jazz practice, and does it matter if it doesn't?

There are certain things I know I don't think about when I'm playing. For example, I don't consciously project the fact that I'm a man when I play; but a listener might think a solo is talking about the male experience. I have no real control over this; my intention is deferred, even if a critic were to ask my opinion about my own work.

But in some areas, those choices are set for you before you've done anything. After reading Meyers' summary of feminist critique, I considered that the narrative of Jazz is bound both to the male black American experience and stereotypes of the black American male. It is telling that in one hundred pages of Jazz: A History of America's Music that only one woman is mentioned in light of her work as a musician, and it covers a single highlighted page. In Jazz, women sing, nuture Great Men, or play the piano: Great Men carve out the path to the new music, live a life of drugs, exist in poverty despite the greatness of their art. This echoes De Beauvoir's comment of the woman as The Other.

When looking at Great Men, there are mythologies presented as fact: and these mythologies affect how a creator of work is seen or made intelligible. For example, the mythology of Charlie Parker as a creator of bebop, or John Coltrane as a spiritual musician, precludes either man taking music lessons, even though there is clear evidence that both of them did: Parker had some lessons with Maury Deutsch, and Coltrane had theory lessons with Dennis Sandole. But in the creating of a story, or "narrativization" of their lives, these facts are almost always missed out: the creation of a historical narrative can shape a reality that is more intelligible for its audience. It is more important that these musicians are presented as always playing and destroyed by drugs than as enquiring artistic minds that developed through study and self-reflection.

Here, intelligibility is a persona: a mask. Anyone can apply this mask to an actor, here the jazz musician: when it is applied by the historian or critic, the mask takes the shape of narrativization. When applied by those conforming to Jazz, it could be called imperialism. The interaction between the actor and the mask – the acceptance of the mask, the identity of the actor – settles the level of intelligibility for the applicant. So, as a black British improvising musician, why am I focussing on European musical processes from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries? Is this a mask I am expected or allowed to wear? These are questions I must be aware of during the rehearsal and performance process of the work.


In 1964, the composer Earle Brown gave a lecture about notation in modern music in America and Europe. Brown argued that the contemporary approaches to "new" notation have analogues to the many methods and ideas before 1600; and that new notation has to have some measure of representing that which cannot be done using standard notation, or at least releases the performer from a usual practice. To a lesser or greater extent, all notations rely on the performer to make choices about how the interpretation of the notation. This is usually framed in terms of ambiguity: Brown notes this as a contemporary indication, but argues that the matter is not quite settled and requires more musicological analysis. He then speaks of the necessity of clarity from the notation in order to allow the performer to make musical choices. Boorman's discussion of the allusive aspects of notation highlights that notation is clarifying a zone beyond simple mechanical playing of an instrument, and towards performativity. But the clarity in medieval notation was more important for memorization, not sight reading: and I need to consider how (or whether) to aid recalling the compositions in an ensemble.

If a piece is collaboratively composed, who is the composer? Berger has theorised that medieval singers were capable of visualising whole compositions with counterpoint in the mind; also, they memorized formulae for spontaneously constructing counterpoint. This layering of idiomatic devices and distribution of authorship echoes Barthes' idea around a text being formed from a variety of other texts. In my proposal I had initially spoken of producing scores that retained the intention of the compositions as I perceive them, when I heard. But this is clearly impossible: even as the composer, my hearing of the piece cannot be a true hearing; any listener will create their own meaning from what they hear, regardless of my intentions. Who do I want to hear the music, and how do I want them to hear it? I had previously thought of my research as being more focussed on the technical aspects of the work; but my (non-)interaction with the pieces is just as important, I feel. Through this, I do have a sense of connection to a creative tradition of jazz: that of taking material and playing with it. Maybe there is an internal conflict between three things:

  1. informed play, where the musician has a deep understanding of the material and uses that information;
  2. exploratory play, where the musician doesn't know the material at all and is testing what can be done; and
  3. schooled play, where the musician has generalised rules on how to play and applies them to ANY material given.

My research project assumes a development of informed play; but why shouldn't exploratory play happen within the work? How would – and indeed, should – I mitigate schooled play, and (how) does this affect my status as creator of the work?