Using Turkish Usul with Midi

I came across a piece of Turkish notation that completely baffled me. I can’t remember where I got it (possibly Istanbul); it had no title or composer in the heading. What baffled me was the melody; it did not seem complete, as though it was a section from another longer piece. When I played the section, it also seemed incomplete, there was too many pauses (3rd line), as though the melody was following a lyric (there was none, it indicates it is an instrumental piece “Sazlarla”), or perhaps another instrument was complimenting the melody, a duet, or call and response?

Since Sanat music is generally monophonic, the only other instrument could be the percussive kudum or bendir. Turkish rhythms (usul) are complex and there are many beats to 1 bar (from 2 to 120). I felt that this melody was using the pauses, or possibly a syncopated rhythm, to let the usul come through. This dialogue between melody and usul is common and characteristic; both play “the spaces”.  In this instance the usul was called “Duyek” and 8/8 rhythm.

When I wrote my M.A. thesis I had to think up a way to notate Turkish Sanat music, the normal European way of writing music falls short. Turkish Ney is a non-pitched instrument; you can have any root note within a range of a semitone of what is written on the notation. So when I looked at this unknown piece of notation I felt I needed to look at it in a new way. To understand what it was sounding like, so I could “hear it” and therefore play it.

I could have used a metronome of course, but that did not allow for the usul being part of the music, a metronome did not have the accents and phrases; it was a duet after all. I thought about tapping the usul out on my bendir, recording it and then playing it back in a loop. But there are disadvantages with this method:

That might solve this particular piece of notation, but what of other difficult notations I came across in the future? What about tempo, what speed should I play at? What about mistakes? Do I trust myself to play the usul correctly, to use the different textures that are wanting from a bendir or kudum, otherwise it would sound bland. Learning the usul and bendir might be useful but it is also time consuming, having to learn complex multi-layered beats and play them correctly takes years of practise.

1 bar loops of different Turkish usul

I approached it from another angle. I would use a sampler! If this was 2003 then I would not of dreamed of doing this. But I have now achieved a happy balance between acoustic and electro-acoustic music. They do not have to be opposed to each other, they can complement each other, and I think in this case they can help gain an insight into a historical music (and as a foreigner trying to glimpse into a historical conversation, without the aid of a translator, I need all the help I can get).

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Reaper’s Sampler (right hand side)

I used the sampler that comes in my Reaper DAW. I used sounds from the kudum and bendir, and I allocated them keys on my keyboard.  Then I opened the midi editor and I decided how many bars I would use to indicate a: Dum2, Tek2, tek, dum, ke, ka…etc. which are the phonetic symbols that help memorize the beats of the usul.

Duyek usul. Midi notes

“Dum2” would be minim/crotchet, “dum” would be a crotchet/quaver, and “ke” would be a quaver/semi-quaver…etc depending on the time signature of the piece. The important thing was the equal distances I gave to each sound/beat. These beats I arranged in the midi editor, by typing in the values of the usul, or to look at it another way – I played the spaces.

3-4 minutes length of midi files, using different Usul

When the usul was correctly played into the sampler, and the sounds that were coming from the keyboard were actual textured bendir/kudum sounds, I could experiment with tempo, I could loop the midi, if it was too fast I could slow it down, when I got used to the melody I could speed it up. I could copy and paste the midi file to a given time, having it repeat for 3-4 minutes or how many bars that was in the notation. It became more versatile as an education tool, not just a fixed recording, as it would have been if I had recorded my playing. I could use this method to achieve a more versatile informative approach.

Vst “Mellotron” playing midi notes of the Sanat melody

I have tried doing this technique via Finale or Sibelius, music notation software’s, but the result was disappointing. I ended up with a cheap sounding electronic sound to listen too. Now with Reaper and the advance in Vst sounds I can also play the melody using more interesting sounds. By combing the usul and the melody I can hear the duet in full. By familiarizing myself with the melody (without the microtonal intervals) it also helps memorization and how the structure of the piece works together. The vst I chose is the Mellotron, a vst of the 60s synth.

Recorded, Midi usul & melody side by side

Vst sounds can be experimented with (different flute sounds for example) and an interesting combination can be achieved, taking the original acoustic feel and transforming it into a synthesis of sound textures. The piece is transformed, one level it is an educational exercise, but on another it is becoming something in its own right, not Sanat music (I no longer can call it so), it had become another genre.

I have tried teaching with the sampled usul with one of my students. I think it would work better if we were in the same room together, as then I could change the tempo to suit his ability. But as I am teaching via Zoom at the moment I have to keep it simple for now. Also the constraints of Zoom is another factor…but that is a different blog posting!

The Solway Band: “Ranting Rovin’ Robin”

I suggested doing the song “Ranting Rovin Robin” for the next Solway Band lockdown session. In previous sessions I had only contributed the music. I was listening to a lot of Robert Burns’ and watching a few documentaries on his life and this songs. I had heard the Battlefield band doing this version in the 1990s, I always loved their arrangement. There are 2 versions of the song and I wanted to try and do this melody version but with our arrangement.

Being in lockdown meant I was able to attend, on Zoom, a few lectures on Robert Burns and I was learning a lot of things I never knew before; and since I live not too far from Dumfries it had a “local” feel about doing the song.

It has been the first time I have mixed a song with data from other people. I was sent video and mp3s from the band members who had recorded their sections on different equipment, mainly smart phones. Extracting the audio did not work on Reaper, so I used Audition CC. Just a straight conversion from Mp4 to WAV files, I then inserted them into Reaper.

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The Layout of the original tracks in Reaper DAW

The editing, mixing and mastering music from other people was new to me, but as a project it was interesting to do. You have to sculpt from something you had no control over. This created challenges but also it turned the music into something that I could never have achieved. It is the beauty of playing with other people… not just doing a solo recording. The sound quality was all different, the original click track was only a metronome and a basic mandolin track, which the musician either sang or played against, and from that I had to piece everything together. The whole process/project lasted 1 week, from receiving the mp4 and mp3 tracks to arranging, mixing and mastering, to the final/finished render.

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The layout of the mixed track before Mastering

The final Mastered track was added to the video.

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Image of the final Mastered track

An mp3 version of the track is heard here:

Video

The video was created by my partner, Leila; we used all the people/instruments used in the audio recording. Leila, used Camtasia to make the video. She inserted the Mastered audio track into Camtasia and then by using the different video files that were sent, she made the video over 2 days. The arrangement is hers.

I certainly want to do more video work in the future, perhaps use it more creatively with more effects.

The Solway Band’s video of Ranting Rovin Robin

Turkish Ney Lessons (Audio Examples)

I decided to move my current audio site for my Turkish ney audio examples, that I give to my students for to learn basic melodies, to a new site. Soundcloud is causing problems! This is not the first time that this giant online companies have blocked me from my own material, but it will be the last, time to get rid of them once and for all. I chose Audiomack and it is a lot easier to use and to “get into”!

So I created a “new page” for the blog, and I intend to add to these recordings as I increase my ney notation usage.

I have been editing my Turkish research recently, collected between 1998-2005, there is a lot of it, and besides the editing and organization, there is a lot of creating too, creating lessons and Powerpoint presentations. The research gives me ideas, and this I can use in lesson plans.

Here is a pay-list of my ney recordings (for students), it is not made for listening, but for to get an idea how a melody goes…it is for beginners, but still the melodies are what you put into them, and you can make them as complicated as you wish.

Spring, Flowers, Music and Nature…

I have been taking photos of the surrounding area during lock-down! Not many people around so I could go out and photograph areas that are coming to life with the onset of Spring.
Sometimes I think that the old way of taking photos, with film, has something to recommend it. Then you had to develop with film and you had to be careful what you took, as it cost you money to get the film developed. Now it is click, click, click with our digital cameras, and we do not “see” what we are taking in the lens…most of the time (do we ever look at them afterwards?).
I also had these old recordings that was going to be for a CD, they have been sitting around for months now so I included in the video.
The melodies are of Scottish and English folk tunes. I wanted it to be only with mandolin and concertina. So I did the recording and I was not really happy with the mixing of it, so I let it collect dust… so I thought to combine the 2 together to see how they come out.
The first video is of Port Carlisle, and the harbour there. I often go there and I enjoy the peace of the area, the coastline and bird life. I was there recently and I was astounded by the beauty of the place in bright sun light, the air was so clear and there was a slight breeze cooling everything off. I took a video of the surroundings and then the yellow on the “broom” the yellow flowers, it was beautiful and it reminded me of the song “when yellow is on the broom” a Scottish song.
I decided to remove the wind and other audio sounds and add just the demo track of mandolin and concertina. Although it would of been nice to mix the wind and bird song with the melodies, in practice it never came out well.

The 2nd video shows an wooded area close to Port Carlisle. There is a walk adjacent to the sea, which is part of the Hadrian´s Wall Footpath, which in Spring is beautiful to do. It is a wooded area and with the sun and shadow it is a delightful stroll.

These photos are of bluebells, that come out in a wood at Crofton, every year in April. It is a small wooded area and every year it becomes are carpeted area of bluebells. I find it amazing something so close to where I live is not appreciated more. It is over looked, as far as I can tell, people do not linger or stop and admire. They are not appreciated, so much so that a local farmer wanted to plough it up to make a car park…he was looking for sponsors to do it, luckily he has not found any yet.
I thought just to take these photos of a memory, a record that they existed. I did not mean to make a video of them afterwards, but later I thought, why not?
Using Camtasia Software for the first time, to edit the video, was easy enough, I have used a few programmes to edit video and it sees to be getting easier as the years go on. I also like Camtasia for doing tutorials and screen savers, something i have recently started to do.

 

Annual Invitational Piping Competition 2020, (Glasgow Uist & Barra Association)

The day did not start too well. I went to the wrong venue! It was not at The Piping Centre, but it was at the College of Piping, Otago Street, Glasgow. I got there a bit wet and annoyed as I had asked directions from someone “where is Glasgow University” and he sent me in the opposite direction.

I mention all this as I got there late, so I missed the first 2 pipers of the day. My apologies to them.

In the morning from 9am to 1pm it was Pibroch. I find listening to Pibroch very meditative, and I often doze off during it, luckily I had my recorder to capture the players.
Piobaireachd/Pibroch.

(1. Sarah Muir – not recorded
2. Gordon McCready) – not recorded
3. Finlay Johnston
4. Glenn Brown
5. Alasdair Henderson
6. Roderick J. MacLeod
7. Angus D. MacColl
8. Sandy Cameron
9. Connor Sinclair
10. Iain Speirs
11. Niall Stewart

Names of Melodies:

pibroch

Pibroch Recordings:

 

The March, Strathspey and Reel, and Hornpipe and Jig competitions followed after lunch:

1. Pipe Major Ben Duncan
2. Alasdair Henderson
3. Niall Stewart
4. Angus D. MacColl
5. Iain Speirs
6. Glenn Brown
7. Sarah Muir
8. Gordon McCready
9. Finlay Johnston
10. Roderick J. MacLeod
11. Connor Sinclair

Names of Melodies:

MSR

Recordings of MSR, Hornpipes and Jigs:

 

The day ended with a pipe recital from Chloe Steele, who flew in from Uist for the performance.

During the tuning up for the MSR event, the piper played a song melody, on the back row there came a impromptu chorus of male voices, singing along.

 

The Facebook poster of the event.

Barra and Uist

World Championship Solo Drumming Competitions, Glasgow 2019.

These recordings are from the World Solo Drumming Competitions, which were held on Saturday 19th October 2019, at the Caledonian Univiersity, Glasgow, Scotland. It was an all day event, free of charge except for a small charge for the Finals in the late afternoon.

I was a bit hesitant at first as I am normally listening to the melody instrument, and I thought the drumming would be over powering, but not at all. The mix was just right and I came away with an appreciation of Highland drumming styles.

I include the recordings in reverse order, starting with the Finals, the ones that made it through the Heats. I do not know the names of the drummers, or the pipers, nor the tunes. My intention was to record the event, and for people to listen to it. I am sure those who were there can detect themselves (?) but I only wanted this to be a resource for drummers/players who were not able to attend, and for them to hear the technique and styles.

Finals

Semi Finals

The Heats took place all over the University, in many rooms, with many players of all ages. I mainly sat and recorded the participants in the Carnegie Suite in room M137.Heats, but also there were other events and some were young drummers.

Xmas Carols in Azuqueca de Henares

I went to listen to a selection of groups perform Christmas carols in a church in Azuqueca de Henares, Guadalajara. I knew Casa Asturias´s choir was singing there, but I was also surprised to see and hear ensembles representing the local Christmas carols in various regions of Spain: Extremadura and Andalusia, as well as Guadalajara. New and old songs, all different all incorporating elements of tradition and modernity.

I do not know the name of the bands, or where they came from exactly, so I have just titled them “band 1, Group 2” etc. Casa Asturias I know only.

I made note of some of the instruments used by each band:

Band 1
Bottles for scrapping, Cajon, accordion guitar, drum, (friction drum) zambomba, triangles, shakers, castanets.
Band 1

Band 2
Guitar, bandurria , drum, (friction drum) zambomba, bandurria rondalla, tambourine, Mortar and Pestle, various percussion instruments, castanets, a split bamboo percussive instrument used in Extremadura.Band 2

Casa Asturias (Alcala de Henares)
Guitar and Accordion.
Casa Asturias

Band 4
2 guitars and Ukuleles.
Group 4

Band 5
Guitars, violin, percussive instruments, bandurria rondalla. Group 5

Each Group played an average of 3 carols, and all the groups came together at the end to perform “Silent Night” in the Final piece.

The recordings

Concert: Newcastleton Folk Festival

I decided to have a theme for this year’s concert at Newcastle Folk Festival. Last year at the Friday night concert, I played a random set of tunes from the Peacock Manuscript. But this year I wanted to select different “variation” pieces of Northumbrian music played on the Northumbrian Small pipes.

These variation sets, are long pieces of music; similar to having 5 or 6 melodies added after each other. They are very characteristic of old Border Northumbrian melodies. There are suggestions why these variations came to be added after the main piece of music (the A and B sections of a melody). Some say they are for dancing, for the musician not to be bored; some say they are for listening, as in a concert environment and the player can express their virtuosity and skill.

Whatever the reason these variations can be simple or complex, often long in length sometimes having 25 sections; or as little as 2.

The old manuscripts have variation pieces in them: Dixon, Peacock, and Bewick are the manuscripts I chose to play from.

I started the concert with a reason why I chose to do the variation pieces. This was because 2 years ago I was sitting in a session listening to a friend of mine playing a variation piece on the Scottish Small pipes. As I was listening a man learned across to me and whispered in my ear “it goes on a bit”. He clearly did not like these long pieces of music. It is an expression I have heard before, especially from non-musicians. They do not understand why it is so long, or what the tune is trying to convey to the listener.

People have a short concentration span, 3 minutes on average, as long as a pop song; after that their mind goes onto other things. The variation piece needs concentration to listen and understand it properly; or the audience needs activity as in dancing. These melodies more makes sense when one is playing for a dance; it can get very boring to play the same melody over again, often 15 times while the dance is going on. It makes more sense to keep adding parts so the musician can keep an interest and therefore put some life into the playing.

The comment, made by the man in the session, kept in my mind for a while and I mused upon its reason and solution. “How could I make these traditional pieces of music more understandable and digestible for the listener?”.

In the concert at Newcastleton, I began with a very simple variation piece, Peacock’s “Highland Laddie”; mentioning that the 2nd part of the tune, is another melody called “Butter’d Peas” also from Peacock with the parts changed around. Instead of parts C and D, as in the Highland Laddie, they become parts A and B in Butter’d Peas.

With this example I began to mention my method for other variation pieces. I said “I began to chop up the variations into A and B parts, to make them more easily remembered, as well as giving them a life of their own, then when I had mastered the 2 parts, I joined them onto the variation piece once more”.

To demonstrate this I played Dixon’s “Highland Laddie” mentioning that I missed out the last 2 parts as I found it was “enough for me to play”. I wanted to say that musicians should play what feels comfortable to them, what they like and what they consider appropriate. There is no law that you must play all of the variations. Pick out the best parts and play those.

My next example was Bewick’s “Blackett O’Wylam” where I played all of the parts; followed by Peacock’s “Newmarket Races” where I only played the first 4 parts.
The next melody was Bewick’s “Sir John Fenwick’s” where I played all of the parts, and lastly I played Dixon’s “New Way to Bowden” where I played all the parts.

The concert was recorded and I will upload the recording at a later date.

The Millers (Galician) Daughter!

Here is a recording of a Northumbrian Small Pipe melody called “The Millers Daughter” from the Peacock manuscript from 1800. It is a melody I have played a lot on Small Pipes and Border Pipes over the years.

I am experimenting a lot these days, by playing various Small Pipe melodies on the Galician chanter. The reason why I am playing these tunes on a Spanish bagpipe is not for this blog right now, but there are certain Northumbrian tunes that go well with the Gaita (bagpipe) and certain tunes that do not feel ‘right’.

I bought this chanter, which is in the key of D. A high pitch sounding instrument, that is not that common in Spanish music. Normally you would hear a chanter in C or Bb. I chose D as I wanted it compatible with a lot of Northumbrian/Irish session instruments.

The pitch is a little high, so I made a bass drone in D and a tenor drone in A, but this did not sound right either, it did not suit the melodies too well, so I made another bass drone in D. 2 bass drones in D, give a deeper harmonic in relationship to the high-pitched D chanter (although this recording does not show it too well, this was only a demo).

 

Melody: Si Vas A La Romeria

This is a recording of a melody I did in 2015, in the UK. I was practicing an Asturian melody on the Galician chanter. The melody is called “Si Vas A La Romeria”; I learned it at Casa de Asturias, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. It is my own interpretation of the tune, and I guess I am putting a British “accent” on it… but I hope it is recognizable to the original!

Jinn & Tonik / The Flying Cats

I have been playing with Alba, a fiddle player from Madrid over the past few years. I put to gether a few mp3s connected with our rehearsals. We are called “Jinn & Tonik” and we are trying to mix Spanish and UK music with musical “accents”, how each of us look at each other’s music.
Jinn & Tonik

Another musical project was with a Alba and a singer called Isabel, we concentrated mainly on Scottish Songs, but with the phrasing and “accents” of Spain. We called ourselves “The Flying Cats” (the name was taken from Isabel’s cats who decided to jump from one side of the room to the other and land on our heads while we were reheasing).

The Flying Cats