First Men on the Sun – s/t (1995, Southwest Audio Reproductions)

Established in the mid-80s, an L.A three piece dubbed the Abecedarians created a stir for ear-to-the-ground types who fancied mystique-laden post punk with temperate psychedelic inclinations, not unlike local contemporaries Red Temple Spirits and Psi-Com.  The band brewed a dreamy, disciplined alchemy on such arcane slabs of wax as Eureka and Resin.  While the Abecedarians handiwork was nothing less than satisfactory, the only drawback to their records was the potential of them to lull you to sleep if you were say, behind the wheel on a lengthy, straightaway road or highway.  By the Clinton-era two thirds of the group, Chris Manecke and John Blake reconfigured their trippy, atmospheric aplomb into a decidedly linear indie-rock slant for First Men on the Sun’s one-off 1995 album.   “Alternative” bandwagon jumping was hardly an option however, rather Manecke and Blake’s intent was considerably more substantive.  Sonically, there’s not much that you could term as wildly innovative here, but I’m honing in on traces of Love Battery, Rein Sanction, and to a lesser extent Screaming Trees.  These comparisons are likely more coincidental than anything, but just wanted to offer a measuring stick.  A solid record, and best of all, firsthand familiarity with Abecedarians isn’t a prerequisite (but doesn’t hurt either).

01. Cary Grant’s Hallucination
02. Sleeping on the Grill of the King
03. The Way Things Are
04. I Took a Bus
05. I Could Beg
06. Breathe In
07. Crawling Chaos
08. Chiddle

Articles Origin: First Men on the Sun – s/t (1995, Southwest Audio Reproductions)

Boo Radleys – Giant Steps demos (1992-93?)

As some of you may have surmised, I’m big on demos, if only for the fact that songs in their raw gestation period bear a certain spontaneity that doesn’t often translate in the often over-labored finished version.  This collection of prototypes for the third Boo Radleys’ platter Giant Steps does indeed convey said spontaneity and unpolished facets galore – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they supersede the more well known prime-time iterations.  In fact, I favor the official recordings over the working versions I’m presenting here.  You see, these are true blue demos – merely unfinished silhouettes and outlines that were designed to be used as a reference point for Sice and Co.’s professional studio endeavors in 1993.  There’s a lack of preciseness and finality to these recordings – more like, “let’s lay ’em down quick on tape before we forget the gist of the tune(s), boys.”

The Rad’s never had anything approaching a hit Stateside but in their native England, Giant Steps was their breakthrough and a veritable creative triumph which found the quartet making great strides in terms of inducing a solid dose of empathy into their handiwork, while simultaneously shying away from the dream-pop inclinations that was formally one of their most renown calling cards.  This is one of those situations where it really does benefit the listener to be acquainted with the finished album to appreciate these nascent and often unrepresentative early takes, so if you’re fresh to Giant Steps, check it on Spotify or otherwise before delving too deep into this.  My only legit complaint with the demos is that we’re deprived of the genesis of one of the record’s pinnacle moments, “Best Lose the Fear.”

01. I Hang Suspended
02. Upon 9th and Fairchild
03. Wish I Was Skinny
04. Leave and Sand
05. Butterfly McQueen
06. Rodney king
07. Thinking of Ways
087. Barney (…and Me)
09. Spun Around
10. If You Want It, Take It
11. Take the Time Around
12. Lazarus
13. One is For
14. Run My Way Runway
15. I’ve Lost the Reason
16. You’re Not to Blame
17. Peachy Keen

Articles Origin: Boo Radleys – Giant Steps demos (1992-93?)

How To Play The Multiple Bounce Roll

One of the essential drum rudiments for a drummer is the multiple bounce roll, and the fact that it is used in a variety of musical genres make it extremely attractive. Though the multiple bounce roll is associated with the sound of a marching band, various drummers belonging to different musical genres and having different playing styles utilize this rudiment in beats, drum fills, etc. to make their playing more enjoyable. The multiple bounce roll which is commonly known as a buzz roll resembles a single stroke roll when it is noted down in a manuscript but is completely different.

The following blog post is courtesy of

Articles Origin: How To Play The Multiple Bounce Roll

The Challenge of Writing For Percussion – Part 2

Picking up from Part 1, we’ll look at some examples of modern pieces for percussion. Again, it must be noted, that once you get beyond the standard snare, timpani, mallets, drum set scoring; writing for percussion can pretty much be a free for all. The main problem is that percussion can not only be just about any and everything that can make a sound, it can also be any number of those things. This can be from 1 drum up to a whole percussion section, played solo, as in Stockhausen’s famous, Zyklus

I could write a major dissertation on percussion notation because it’s so broad and varied. But for our purposes, I’ll keep it more general. Be aware that there are exceptions to every example I will present, as composers have a way of doing their own thing when it comes to percussion notation.

How do you notate all this crazy stuff?

The main thing is try to make your notations and intentions as clear as possible. Once we get beyond pitched percussion, we can dispense with clefs and having anything fixed. Composers often write for a group of objects, say 4, 5, or 6 of a specific item, like wood blocks, cowbells, toms, etc. While not pitched to specific notes, adhere to the standard format and place your highest sounding instrument on top, with the others following in pitch order beneath it.

A good example of this is Frederic Rzewski’s composition, To The Earth (4 measures shown below). This solo is written for spoken voice and 4 standard clay flower pots. You go to the local garden center with a stick or mallet, and pick out 4 pots that form a melodic scale. The actual pitch is unimportant. Rzewski used a 3-line staff with the highest note on top of the staff (see the example below), placing the notes on the spaces. He could’ve used the standard 5-line staff, but he chose 3 lines. Percussionists need to be ready for anything.

The beauty of this is, the score could be for 4 of anything: cowbells, opera gongs, pieces of steel pipe, etc. If you write for a group of 5 instruments, just add another staff line. For 6, use the standard 5-line staff. This is easy to read and play: 

If you add more pitches, ledger lines can be used, or note heads can be placed on the lines.

This type of notation could also work for 4/5/6 different percussion instruments, like 3 bells and 3 toms. You could use x note heads for the bells, and standard note heads for the toms. This makes it easy to differentiate the varied instruments:

The example above could also be 6 different instruments, like  a bell, cymbal and gong on top; and a snare, tom, bass drum on the bottom. While there are no hard and fast rules, it is generally accepted that metal and wood sounds are notated with x note heads. Drummers are used to that, so it makes sense to go with it. 

A deviation from that would be if the example above was for 3 bells and 3 blocks of wood. The blocks could use standard note heads in order to differentiate them from the bells. Again, the idea is to make it easy to read and not confusing. 

What if I have a lot more instruments, or groups of instruments?

If you are moving back and forth between a large assortment of instruments, then multiple staves are a must:

In the 3rd measure we can also see triangle shaped note heads used to differentiate another group of instruments. Of course, when we move from a single instrument, or a single group of instruments, we need to provide a key to designate what those instruments are. Below is a key for the above example:

For multiple percussion, it’s also advisable to provide a set up diagram to help the player navigate the score. Here is Stockhausen’s set up for Zyklus:

Reproduced for educational purposes only.

We are only scratching the surface here. If you are writing for percussion, it’s a good idea to refer to other percussion writing to see what’s out there in the world. 

In part 3, we’ll look at more specific notation and instructions for the player.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™

Articles Origin: The Challenge of Writing For Percussion – Part 2

Alternate Learning (aka ALRN) – ALRN ep (1979) and Painted Windows (1981)

I had a request for these two records that was simply too good to refuse, even if I don’t possess physical copies of either.  If you have any awareness whatsoever as to what Alternate Learning (ALRN for short) were about, you likely know they were the predecessor to the late Scott Miller’s more renown mid-80s combo, Game Theory.  I’m not privy to the impetus of the band’s moniker, but it’s safe to say that if you wish to have “alternate facts” it’s only logical that “alternate learning” has to come first, no?  And speaking of all things logical, their 1981 full length Painted Windows was a fittingly stylistic precursor to the first GT wax, Blaze of Glory.  Stunning, inspired slices of vaguely skewed collegiate juvenilia entailing the likes of “The New You” and “Beach State Rocking” make Painted… almost as rewarding an any given Theory offering.  You’ll no doubt suss out a more pronounced emphasis on synthesizers cropping up on ALRN tunes stacked up to GT, but in terms of song arrangements, Miller’s formula was baked into the cake when this dandy little LP was gestated way back when.  

The four song ALRN ep was dropped two years prior to Painted Windows, wielding a considerably more nascent, not to mention lo-fi approach.  An adolescent surge of punky guitars propels “What’s the Matter” in a manner that Miller never pursued in Game Theory, but even this early in the game (pun partially intended) “When She’s Alone” foreshadows his burgeoning pop acumen, and is in all ways a keeper.  Certain copies of this 7″ ep were accompanied with a spate of colorful inserts.

Special thanks to whomever ripped these scarce slabs of wax and provided the artwork. The 2014 reissue of the aforementioned debut Game Theory LP, Blaze of Glory includes a total of four songs from both ALRN records as bonus material in sterling CD quality.  Don’t cheat yourself, treat yourself here.

01. Green Card
02. What’s the Matter
03. Gumby’s in a Coma
04. When She’s Alone 

Painted Windows
01. Another Wasted Afternoon
02. Sex War
03. The New You
04. Dark Days
05. Occupation Unknown
06. Dresden
07. Beach State Rocking
08. Ulysses
09. Painted Windows
10. Let’s Not Wait 

ALRN ep:
Painted Windows:

Articles Origin: Alternate Learning (aka ALRN) – ALRN ep (1979) and Painted Windows (1981)

Aunt Helen – Nephews Were Never Like This ep (1980, Razor)

Noooo!   Skinny ties and facial hair should never mix!  Granted, you’ll have to download the record to see what I’m referring to on the back cover of Nephews…  I’m not sure what their point of origination is/was (Boston?) but the four-man Aunt Helen were about as scattershot as they come.  Something of a one-song-wonder, this record starts out with a genuine bang in the guise of “Psychology Today” and deescalates rapidly from there.   The keeper in question, “Psychology,” boasts the sass and savvy
of AH’s Midwest contemporaries Fools Face and Secrets, not to mention a dash of The A’s.  As you might have gleaned from the cover art, this was not a band that took themselves particularly seriously.  A sardonic, calypso reading of “Wild Thing” doesn’t impress, nor does much of Helen’s willfully cheeky approach on the remainder of Nephews.  Such goofball tactics are either charming and endearing or a fatal flaw.  I’ll let you be the judge.

01. Psychology Today
02. Wild Thing
03. It Just Isn’t Fair
04. Razor
05. Do the Nip
06. (If I Had An) Electric Guitar

Articles Origin: Aunt Helen – Nephews Were Never Like This ep (1980, Razor)