Posted: Dec 29, 2015 3:56 pm
by John Platko
THWOTH wrote:This is all good for generating practice material, but that only offers a hint to the true heuristic for working in an improvised medium: practice, with the aim of developing a personal musical language that can be drawn on in context.

Very true. At this point I find what I've generated to be most useful for practice material. It helps me see variations, both in note order and places to put rests in ways that help me out of the ruts that I somehow find myself getting stuck in playing over and over again. It also helps me understand and get a better feel for subtle timing differences.

But beyond that, I find the process also helpful in bringing consciousness to what I'm going about doing when I make my attempts at playing the blues. It makes me think about what is a lick, and what is not, and if such a counterfactual actually is real. For example, I've come to the conclusion that a lick must be resolved enough, it must have a "period' on it of sorts to be a lick. And when I did some checking, all the licks I looked at did just that. There's a long list of things that an exercise like this forces me to think about in quantitative ways which give added insight to the metaphors that are more commonly used to help communicate about what is going on. For example, people often say that the blues is a mixture of sweet and sour, i.e. major and minor and that mixture in various combinations helps communicate feelings. But, what does that really mean? Is that even true? What is the difference between major and minor? Can we model that and quantify that? Which brings up other questions like: is that model just another mythology added on top of the sweet-sour metaphor or is it solidly based in physical reality and human physiology - not that I hope to resolve that question in this thread but diving deep into nuts and bolts of licks makes me more aware of questions like that. So beyond practice material- I'm developing a more detailed understanding of the nuts and bolts of licks in a way that is effective for me.

And as you say, I've only hinted at a heuristic so far - very true. This is a bottom up development approach and so far I've just been laying the ground work which I need as building blocks for a heuristic to develop a dictionary of blues licks. And I envision that dictionary itself, as just a set of building blocks, a vocabulary, for actual blues music. Now when I started the thread, creating dictionary of licks and showing the relationships of various licks to each other was the extent of my project but now that I'm getting close to being able to start working on heuristic for the dictionary I'm thinking the next step after that would be to pick licks from the dictionary to create blues solos. Which brings us to:

A improvisatory tradition like the blues cannot be naturalised into equations and quantities because it's not about the notes but about the in-the-moment choices of the musician, and how that makes them, and you, feel about the music.

I agree. I think that's what it is ultimately all about. At some point in my musical struggle I got that. But I'm hoping to shed some light on what's involved in those choices, or at least present another way of looking at those choices that may be helpful to someone like me who is a bit musically challenged and needs to use other skills to help overcome those deficiencies.

This seems like a good time to summarize what has been covered so far and to lay out a bit of road map of where I'm planning to go next.

Up to this point I've presented a very brief overview of blues music, with emphasis on blues licks. After that I've been building a software foundation that allows me to mutate or transform one set of licks into other sets of licks in subtle and less subtle ways. I've also presented some measuring techniques that can be used to help describe the qualities of different licks. i.e. how much information they contain - or their entropy. Are they more major or minor. How close are they to the note structure of a particular chord. Ways to think about their musical timing. And ways to create network graphs that allow us to look at characteristics of entire sets of licks.

At this point these low level functions have be demonstrated in isolation as they are being developed because I need them (and a few more) in place before I can use them in a meaningful way all together in some grand lick dictionary heuristic.

So before I start on the heuristic I must still cover:

1) different fret positions. So far I've been using the key of E and the part of the fret board near the nut so I need to talk a bit about what's involved in moving licks around the neck and what effect that may have.

2) I've covered cool and warm mutations but I need some hot or really out of the box mutations.

3) At this point I calculate pitch and rhythm entropy with rest notes part of the rhythm calculation but, for various reasons, I want a three dimensional entropy vector, pitch, rhythm, and harmony, where harmony describes the vertical complexity of the music. So I need to fix my entropy calculator.

4) I've mentioned I, IV, and V chord licks a bit but I need to introduce turn-around licks and deal with them as a separate class of licks.

5) I have some internal housekeeping work to do, in particular, I need an improved hashing mechanism so that some lick operations are more efficient.

6) I need to nail down the metric I want to use for major- minor and perhaps major - minor - dom classification.

And perhaps other things will come up along the way. But after that, I'll start getting into the actual heuristic for the evolution of licks. I have decided on the general direction I plan to go with this and I'm pretty excited about it because I'll be building off a concept which is new to me and I'm hoping that trying to use it will help me understand it. And perhaps others will find it interesting too. So for those who are bored with the minutia that I still have to deal with before getting into the more interesting stuff, here's a preview of where I'm going and an invitation to investigate this topic on your own.

I'll be using Constructor theory (as best I understand it) to provide the overall structure for my heuristic with simulated annealing sitting under that framework. I like the idea of using constructor theory because the general concept of using transformations along with describing what is impossible fits well with what I've been doing. The kind of mutations I've presented so far can be seen as transformations and the various metrics, entropy, major/minor, rhythm pattern, can be combined to define various universes where certain types of licks are possible or impossible. And simulated annealing will be used to distribute licks in those universes.

But perhaps it's best and far more pleasant to learn a bit about Constructor theory from Dr. Marletto.

Great comment THWOTH :cheers: