I picked up an anthology of Twentieth-Century Music the other day, an inside was the short score to Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music”. I’ve been a fond of Reich’s music and recordings since my college days, and I first heard the piece on one of those ancient relics called a cd:


Clapping Music is a so called minimalist work for two percussionists centered upon one repeating 6/4 (or 12/8) rhythm. Performer one repeats the rhythm throughout and is the anchor of sorts. Performer two doubles the rhythm at first, and then at prescribed lengths, plays the repeating rhythm from a different starting point. In this case it’s displacing the rhythm by an 8th note for each variation.

It’s a fascinating study of how a simple rhythmic motif layered upon itself in different ways can produce a variety of different interlocking grooves. The interesting thing is that as a listener, you are not ‘forced’ into recognizing some abstract 20th century compositional process or intention. It actually sounds like music. This particular approach to composition is something Brian Eno called ‘systems’ and he himself was inspired by Steve Reich. One of Eno’s most famous works “Music For Airports” was created in a similar way but with looping sustained vocal and piano notes that overlapped each other. But that’s a story for another day.

In revisiting this piece, and having a drummer’s mind set, I thought about how one drummer could play both parts (left hand = player one, right hand = player two). It would be a good challenge, so I fired up google to see if anyone else had thought of this, and low and behold the lovely Evelyn Glennie had. She is so lovely and talented:

Soon I was reminded of a YouTube video I saw once where someone had created a version of clapping music with a repeated scene of Angie Dickinson slapping Lee Marvin. It really should be called Slapping Music. What’s interesting to note is that because the audio of the slapping version is looping layers of the same short audio recording, it becomes similar to Steve Reich’s famous tape loop recordings like “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out”:

Two of my favorite things: Great rhythms and things that make you think.


I once played 3 shows with microtonal artist Jon Catler from New York City. I’ve always been an enthusiast of new music (a convenient euphemism for words like “experimental”, “avant-garde”, or simply “weird”), so this was a great opportunity to perform some mind bending music especially with someone as established and talented as Jon. That downtown music scene in NYC has a rich history of new music which gained notoriety in the 1960s with Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, The Velvet Underground, and later with Elliott Sharp, Jon Zorn, Glenn Branca, Pauline Oliveros, and of course Jon.

All of the compositions that we performed were based upon just intonation tuning. A simple explanation is that these musical octaves are not based upon our normal ‘tempered’ scale of 12 notes. These octaves are more “pure” to the naturally occurring harmonic series, and so the notes (or microtones) that occur between say, a C and C# are used. To play these microtones, Jon designs his own guitars and his fret board is not for the faint of heart:

 Photo by Joe Rosen Photo by Joe Rosen

The guitar’s tuning system starts with the familiar 12-fret octave in place. Then it adds 12 more frets in between at the natural harmonic points. This now gives that same 12-tone octave the potential for 36 different pitches.

Jon flew out for the shows with his rest of his band (sans a drummer of course): Meredith Borden (vocals), Neville Green (bass), and David Beardsley (microtonal electric guitar). Everyone was great at their craft, so the music came together real quick.

There were actually two separate bands that performed. The first was the NYC Evolution Ensemble, and we played at UC Riverside and later a TRIBE gig hosted by David Raven. For these performances, we played one microtonal music composition by Jon entitled “EVOLUTION”. It’s an intense piece written in 4 movements and lasts about 45 minutes. At times the piece intimates John Cage, Phillip Glass, and other experimental and minimalist composers, but what sets Jon’s music apart from them is his depth of composition and, of course, his instrument: A microtonal electric guitar. Jon’s a master of his instrument and plays with such a command, such effortlessness, that you easily forget that he’s playing a strangely tuned, and strange looking guitar. From exquisite Robert Fripp-ish ambient sondscapes, to raw screaming Hendrix-esque leads, Jon evoked all kinds of textures and sounds.

The second ensemble that I performed with was called Swallow and it was comprised of the same musicians (except for David Beardsley). This band played loud, energetic rock tunes (kind of like if Jimmy Page started a band with Meredith Monk and was possessed by Diamanda Galas). The songs were built upon tribal rhythms replete with a few tempo changes and some metric modulations thrown in for good measure. We invaded a place called Highland Grounds which was typically a home for singer/songwriters and their emotional acoustic guitar based music, and not progressive art rock bands. Some of the audience looked a little shell shocked, but we did get plenty of applause.

Brian Eno once criticized experimental music for having no soul and that it could only be appreciated from the neck up. Well, I have a feeling Eno would like Jon’s compositions.

Visit Jon Catler at




On a quiet August afternoon, I was once an ambient music DJ. A group of massage therapists (and I as the aural relaxer) took part in a “massage-a-thon” to help raise funds for our friend Lyena Strelkoff. She had become paralyzed after a hiking accident, and the proceeds we raised went to help pay for her enormous medical bills.

I brought in a sound system, a turntable, cd player, and a pile of vinyl albums and cds and got to spin some of my favorite ambient music. I made a list as I went along.

First Light – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Through The Blue – Roger Eno
SIde 1 Track 1 – Igor Len
Balthus Bemused by Colour – Harold Budd
Madrigals Of The Rose Ange – Harold Budd
An Ending (Ascent) – Brian Eno
Night Again – Steve Tibbets
Asylum – Daniel Lanois
The Elephant and the Orchid – Jon Hassell
1/1 – Brian Eno
Quiet And Alone – Peter Gabriel
Ocean Motion – Michael Brook
Through The Hill – Harold Budd/Andy Partridge
Sansui – Stomu Yamashta
Thais – This Mortal Coil
Deep Blue Day – Brian Eno
The Experience of Swimming – Japan
Not Yet Remembered – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Prayer – The Durutti Column
Yodel 3 – Arcane
Experiment in Fifth – The Durutti Column
1/2 – Brian Eno
Side 1 Track 2 – Igor Len
Tension Block – Daniel Lanois
Slow Water – Peter Gabriel
Omni – Daniel Lanois
Experiences #1 – John Cage
Erratta – Divination
Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960 – Brian Eno
White Mustang – Daniel Lanois/Brian Eno
Side A from Ultra White Violet Light – Charles Curtis
The Lost Day – Brian Eno
Distant Village – Michael Brook
Juno – Harold Budd
An Arc Of Doves – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Track 2 Side 2 – Igor Len
1/1 – Brian Eno
Slow Marimbas – Peter Gabriel
Secret Place – Daniel Lanois
Experiment in Fifth – The Durutti Column
Jimmy Was – Daniel Lanois
Broken Chords Can Sing A Little – A Silver Mt. Zion
Yodel 3 – Arcane
Hybrid – Michael Brook
Thursday Afternoon – Brian Eno
Final Sunset – Brian Eno
Stars – Brian Eno
Little Dream in Turquise – Erik Wøllo
Agrippa – Divination
Evening Tango – Roger Eno
The Gunfighter – Harold Budd
Water Dance – Stomu Yamashta
Deep Blue Day – Brian Eno
Miracle Steps – Jon Hassell
Not Yet Remembered – Harold Budd/Brian Eno
Side 1 Track 2 – Igor Len
Lizard Point – Brian Eno
Under Lock & Key – Peter Gabriel
A Place In The Wilderness – Roger Eno
Prelude & Yodel – The Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Theme From Creation – Brian Eno
Aragon – Brian Eno
Jimmy Was – Daniel Lanois
Sansui – Stomu Yamashta
2/1 – Brian Eno
The Experience of Swimming – Japan
Tension Block – Daniel Lanois
Err – Michael Brook


Every time I hear the name Harold Budd, my mind starts playing the dreamy Major 7 themed song “The Plateaux Of Mirror” that he wrote and recorded with Brian Eno. That album (with the same name) remains an all time favorite. He sometimes gets lumped into the ‘new age’ category, but if pressed to use a category, I would suggest using ‘ambient’ or ‘landscape’ music.

Here’s a recent interview with Harold Budd where he claims “I’m So Minimal, I’m Not Even Minimalist!“:

harold budd

Exactly what I needed to read right now. As Brian Eno has said in a number of ways “The answer is not more options”


Click on the image or link below for the story at Fast Company:


Brian Eno once said “Every note obscures another”.

I was reminded of this the other day while working on a song with an artist in the recording studio. We were layering some rhythmic beds on a track which were initially sounding great. Then I noticed that the main drum groove suddenly felt lopsided, and something had gone wrong with the snare. Not good.

We realized that some of those new percussive notes were sounding at the same time as the snare drum. The result was that the snare lost all of its punch and was sounding weak.

It was a simple fix, as I simply edited out the notes that were landing on and choking the snare. Viola! The groove was back, and the smiles on our faces returned.

The phrase “Respect The Snare” came to mind, so I wrote it down and preserved it on Instagram: