Not Holding My Breath

Haven’t blogged in a while. At least not here. Which kind of makes it harder.

Obviously, a lot has happened in the meantime. That full-time position discussed in the previous post has come and gone (amicably). My life has taken some interesting turns. And, just recently, these turns have started to lead me to a fitting place.

Which is my reason to blog, today. Been feeling a rather deep sense of calm. As though my life were complete.

Yes, it sounds like hyperbole. But the feeling is real. And it’s not just a fleeting moment of serenity. It’s something deeper. Related, in part, to an object.

Got a new musical instrument and it is, quite literally, a dream come true.

For quite a while, now, been (day/night)dreaming about a very expressive digital wind instrument.

Rather recently, this dreaming became the source of both “pie in the sky” and more practical projects. Part of my dabbling ways with different microcontrollers and microcomputers was oriented towards this dream of this highly expressive digital wind instrument. It almost became an obsession and may have sounded like one to people around me. Things were getting “crazy enough” that the Gear Acquisition Syndrome affecting many digital musickers was beginning to infect me. Wasn’t purchase that much “gear” and remained reasonable in terms of expenses, all things considered. But part of my mind was preoccupied with this notion of my ideal instrument.

Some of it came from my experiences with the Yamaha WX11 wind controller. Purchased that digital wind instrument in the mid-1990s but only appropriated it much more recently, thanks to some simple but key ideas about its affordances. For a sax player like me, a digital wind instrument always felt more appropriate than any kind of keyboard. It even made me think through the reigning pianoentrism of the electronic music sphere.

But the WX11 was limited, in many ways. For one thing, just like the type of acoustic wind instrument it uses as an influence (and, in many ways, tries to emulate: saxophone, clarinet, flute, trumpet, etc.), just about any digital wind instrument on the market is monophonic, playing only one note at a time. There are workarounds, including a very neat one used by Michael Brecker, the best-known practitioner of the type of instrument. But you can’t really use the WX11 to play multiple notes at a time in a very flexible way.

Enters my dream instrument. Not only is it a polyphonic wind instrument (like the harmonica, organ, melodica, accordion, etc.) but it allows one to apply very sensitive and very expressive control to each note. There’s an emerging standard for digital instruments achieving this kind of thing: Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression, based on MIDI (the main protocol for musical communication between digital instruments). Most devices using this emerging standards are very costly and, in some cases, rather cumbersome. To my knowledge, only one series of those instruments can fully integrate the key principles of a wind instrument: the Eigenharps from Eigenlabs.

And this one exceptional instrument is central to my current feeling of calm and completeness. By getting my hands on such an instrument, was able to get something like closure.

Which enables me to get in the next phase through my musicking ways.

Will possibly post about this phase. Don’t really have much music to share from that phase, yet, in part because a new instrument implies a new learning process. Received my Eigenharp Pico on Monday and been spending some quality time with it. It does feel remarkably similar to my first moments with a saxophone, over thirty years ago. But, obviously, the process of learning the instrument is much faster, in part because of my prior proficiency on the saxophone but also because of the way the instrument is designed.

At the beginning of this learning phase, playing a lot of scales and simple patterns. Thankfully, because the instrument can be played with headphones, flubbing my way through scales doesn’t really make me feel selfconscious since nobody else hears me. And while it could be perceived as boring, there’s something rather therapeutic about practicing instrumental technique, something which was really obvious to me during my years of intensive music training. So, part of my serenity may relate to the relaxing aspect of going through scale patterns.

Speaking of scales, something about the Eigenharp which was also part of my dream is support for alternative scales, including alternative tuning systems. Haven’t played that extensively with this but it already feels nice to have access to an instrument which can easily play outside of the (pianocentric) “twelve-tone equal temperament” (12TET/12-EDO) which dominates popular music genres in hyperindustrialized contexts. Given my training in ethnomusicology, there’s something very fitting and quite powerful in there.

All this to say that, on this Summer Solstice 2017, my key feeling is that there’s no need for me to hold my breath, anymore. Can finally breathe more easily. 

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