Michael Mull Octet

Michael Mull Octet

Monday, May 31, 2010

Quick update and a video

Happy Memorial Day everyone. I beat the traffic today and mostly relaxed at home aside from teaching a saxophone lesson (plus some frisbee and a great meal at home with my wife).

Just some short, no-particular-order items in the Mull section of your news:

I've got a new-used Bb clarinet on the way via ebay; I've had pretty good luck on there before with instruments, so let's keep our fingers crossed please! Been catching up on quite a few things this past week, so not a whole lot new for gigs or the trio album (currently deciding who to mix with). I've spent some time reviewing my trombone quartet, first performed on my graduate recital, and started some revisions; I am planning on working on this composition a great deal and expanding it to get some more detail and narrative out of the material. I'll be starting Rosetta Stone very soon to learn Japanese. Bela Bartok's second string quartet has been playing on my ipod a lot, as well as Dave Binney's "Cities and Desire" album (a personal favorite), and a newly discovered (for me) Sam Rivers album called "Contours" (Herbie Hancock sounds unbelievable on here!).

Lastly, I came across this video today; the tiniest bit sappy, but very sweet and an extremely cool idea very successfully communicated. It's called World Builder:

Enjoy the rest of the evening, and check back soon. Cheers and Kanpai!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Walk and Talk

From wikipedia.org:

"Walk and talk is a distinctive storytelling-technique used in film and television in which a number of characters have a conversation en route. The most basic form of walk and talk involves a walking character that is then joined by another character. On their way to their destinations, the two talk. Variations include interruptions from other characters and walk and talk relay races, in which new characters join the group and one of the original characters leaves the conversation, while the remaining characters continue the walking and talking."

I've been spending a lot of time thinking the past few days about different processes and/or means of composing for and playing with improvisational ensembles. An opportunity has arisen to start a new project with drummer Colin Woodford and bassist Emilio Terranova (and perhaps another horn or two?), and certain leanings of my good friend Colin toward the integration of language into music got me thinking: what if the driving force behind each composition and subsequent improvisation was generated by some manner of language? Pianist Jason Moran has produced some amazing work using pre-recorded voice in conjunction with his live trio (my favorite utilizes one side of a phone conversation), and Colin has put together several extremely entertaining "storytelling" pieces performed on his graduation recital this Spring at Calarts. My initial concept involves a little more distillation of the "language material", so that none of the original words or sound will actually overtly appear in the performance.

I've been toying with ideas of varied complexity: I would like most of the material to be concise in length and concept, to be developed mainly by the musicians in the group during performance. A piece could be written based upon something as simple as one word, or as complex as a paragraph from a novel or exerpt from a speech. Cool Hand Luke, anyone? For audio clips, the delivery will definitely be a focus in shaping a musical interpretation. For words written on a page, I am imagining creating grooves or textures based on the word choices, creating tone poems ("setting" the text without actually using it in performance), or a combination of both.

The wikipedia definition as it pertains to film and television shakes up some ideas as well; my flavor of improvisational music is definitely coming from a conversational place, and often times could be viewed as a "journey". Individual characters conversing as they travel through space and time to get from one place to another? Sounds like quite a concept to tackle in a musical arena, but the kind of challenge I could really wrap my brain around.

If anyone has ideas and suggestions, this early stage is a most welcome time to hear them. Additionally, I would love links to great quotes, passages, movie clips, etc. that make you feel something. Keep an eye/ear/(foot?) out for Walk and Talk stuff; I'll likely be using this blog as a notebook for ideas as well as a forum for suggestions, so pass this along to anyone who might be interested.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Well, that's it.

I received my Master of Fine Arts Degree from Calarts yesterday, and school's out for the summer...and then some. I had an incredible time these past two years, meeting some of the most inspiring musicians and people, getting to play with them, talk to them, share ideas and experiences. I formed my trio, soon to put out my debut album as a leader, with fellow students at Calarts. I played with and learned from musical legends like Charlie Haden, Wadada Leo Smith, Joe LaBarbera, Darek Oles, Swapan Chaudhuri and Morton Subotnick. While perhaps not as notorious as the aforementioned musicians, every faculty member at Calarts with whom I interacted had a distinct and positive impact on me, something I am sure very few schools could have accomplished. If you have an opportunity to spend some time at Calarts, please do so; it is a haven for the arts and there really is no other place like it.

I'm ready for a bit of rest and recovery after a harrowing but productive two years, but also excited to get to work immediately and dive into my career with complete focus. I began to realize today how much I have been waiting for this time, when I can push forward and dedicate all of my energy to my art, life, and career.

Thank you to all who have helped me up to this point, whether you know it or not. And, especially thank you to my wonderful wife Ami and my truly supportive family.

Well, that's it - for this chapter. Forward, onward, upward and all the other -wards that I can get my hands on. Good night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Debut Album in the Works!

Greetings friends,

I settled in for a long night in the Roy O. Disney Hall at CalArts on Monday to record what will soon become my debut album. It will feature all original compositions by yours truly and be brought to life by my fantastic trio buddies, Ben Shepherd on bass and Cameron Hicks on drums. The session went smoothly and with the help of engineer John Aspinall, we were able to lay down nine tunes in the space of about five-and-a-half hours. We've been playing much of this material for half a year or more, and Ben and Cameron catch on so quickly that eyelids weren't even batted at the newer tunes. There was a great energy throughout the night (despite the fact that we finished up around 4:30 am), and I feel confident that once I get back into the studio to start picking takes and mixing, I'll be hearing some beautiful moments.

I am also excited to announce that my long-time friend and artistic/musical co-conspirator Derek Schultz will be working on the album artwork! Derek is an incredible artist in every sense of the word, excelling in painting, drawing, multi-media, music and poetry as well as a host of other mind-numbing skills, and I have been continually inspired by his work since our elementary school days of drawing comic books together. Please check out his website, www.staralchemy.org, to get a small taste of what Derek is about.

On a side note, I had the unique opportunity and pleasure to have lunch with Wadada Leo Smith and Billy Childs today, two incomparable artists who are also warm, welcoming people. I was invited to tag along with a few other students after Billy Childs gave a brief but decidedly inspiring lecture at CalArts, and experience more of these artists in a different context. As Wadada put it, what happens at the lectures is "only part of it; the rest of it happens right here." If you are unfamiliar with the work of either of these men, I urge you to do a little listening and looking and you will undoubtedly find something new.

That's it for now; I've got to get some sleep! Still reeling from the session that lasted into the wee small hours. Please keep an eye on my blog to stay updated on the creation of my debut album, and get excited about music (or, stay excited about music)! There is so much beauty out there.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

SlumGum with Strings

Hi everyone,

Countdown to my graduation with a Master's degree from California Institute of the Arts! A week from tomorrow, and I'm quite excited and quite nervous. Trying to finish up a few projects, and start some new ones, as this semester draws to a close. But there's always time for some great live music:

I just got word of a show that will be taking place next Wednesday, May 19th that I would highly recommend. One of the most creative and interesting bands in Los Angeles, Slumgum, will be playing in collaboration with a string quartet comprised of Andrew Macintosh, Melinda Rice, Yvette Holzwarth, and Chris Votek. Every musician involved is a contributing composer as well, so expect variety of the most sublime variety.

Wednesday May 19th, 7:00-9:00pm
Pasadena Public Library
285 East Walnut St.
Pasadena, CA

View the event on facebook.com
Slumgum on myspace.com

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ligeti Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano

I have been a fan of all of Gyorgi Ligeti's music that I have heard thus far (which, admittedly has not been a lot), particularly his orchestral work Atmospheres that involves "micro-polyphony"; a hyper-intensified form of counterpoint that involves so many independent lines that an overall sound texture is acheived and the melody of the lines is practically lost. It was a life-changing experience to hear a recording of this piece for the first time; Ligeti created sounds I would have never imagined could come from an orchestra.

Fast-forward a few years to this afternoon. I don't remember how I came to think of it, but I felt the urge to look up some Ligeti on youtube, next remembering that my composition professor at Cal State Northridge, Liviu Marinescu, had mentioned Ligeti's horn trio as being "essential". I found an amazing recording of the four-movement piece on youtube. The most amazing horn playing I've ever heard, and an intriguing composition all around. I was particularly taken by the fragile and dynamic fourth movement, and the rhythmic "groove" of the second movement, though I would urge you to hear it in full. Links posted below.

Ligeti Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano: I. Andantino con tenerezz
Ligeti Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano: II. Vivacissimo molto ritmico
Ligeti Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano: III. Alla Marcia
Ligeti Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano: IV. Lamento-Adagio

Hearing music like this is lighting a fire beneath me to do a lot more listening in this area, along with some intense score study. I will be finishing my Master's Degree in a matter of weeks, but by no means will that mean my studies have come to an end; I mean to compose much more heavily in the area of chamber music in the coming years, and I am looking forward to learning much from Ligeti and others as I learn and refine my own craft of composition and orchestration.