Zerx Records & Press



It has taken me years to understand how important forms are. Structures.
Musical forms like ballads, sonatas, 12-bar blues, various song forms, rhythm changes, etcetera. What we call "closed forms," and "through-compositions." That is, music that is read off the sheet and played straight through to the end, and no fucking around. And closed forms, are structured like say 32 measures of 4 beats, but you can fuck around a little bit, being mindful that you better meet up at the end, with the rest of the band. So you can all start over again. Cycles. Verse forms are cycles. You cycle back to the top.
Start over, play it again. Some music like gamelan has cycles within cycles. Very cool.
It always amazed me, that year I played gamelan music, how one little sheet of music could take upwards of ten minutes to complete. Mozart's clarinet quintet K.581 is 21 pages and takes half an hour, if you don't fuck around. Three verses and a repeating chorus of Hank Williams takes about three minutes, with plenty of wiggle room to, you know, fuck around. Of course, the masters of fucking around are the jazz musicians. They operate on such a high level of musicianship that wiggling around within the form is as easy as breathing air. Myself, like Hoagy Carmichael, I'm only a "half-educated man" when it comes to music. My identity is mostly tied up with being a writer, of words. I've played a lot of music over the years, because it's too much fun. Hard but fun. If I was better at it, it might not be so hard. But life ain't easy, is it? It doesnt have to be hard, either, so, let's just ride the banana boat downstream, okay?

Cycle back to the top. Let me explain that first sentence. What I dig about closed forms is that having to play over a grid allows you to build tension. Just those ever-so-slight deviations in note placement, one or two ticks off the beat in either direction. This leads to the phenomenon known as swing. (Not the big band dance music of the 30s & 40s of the same name.)
Swing as in propelled like a slingshot, like hold on to your hats, velocity, ignition, explosion, release. I'm of the belief that swing is the A-numero-uno most important innovation in music in centuries. (And you can thank the Black jazzman in America for this development.) When you're swinging you are literally messing with Time. You are a warp in the time space continuum. The melody is being jigger'd slightly backwards and forwards across Time, like a slide ruler.
Just be sure you all meet together at the end of the cycle.

Like that old saw about how Time was invented so we don't have to do everything all at once.

So. Playing hubcaps. There's nothing like getting into the middle of something to find out what's going on. And what parameters you are dealing with. The anthropologists call this sort of investigation: participatory consciousness.
I've been playing hubcaps for years. The 20th century is chuck full of modernistic percussion music.
Edgar Varese, Harry Partch [1], John Cage, Frank Zappa, Art Ensemble of Chicago, I grew up in the 60s in southern California when there was this huge sense of doing things new. Artists were caught up in re-inventing the wheel.
And though I'm perfectly certain that it was hearing the composer Henry Threadgill's[2] work with his hubkaphone that gave me the push, I'm having a hard time locating the recordings that exerted this influence upon me. If you asked me yesterday I would have said it was Joseph Jarman's second album, AS IF IT WERE THE SEASONS (June 1968), which I first heard in 1973. But, my memory is playing tricks because now I see that Henry and his hubcaps are nowhere to be found on that record.
Nor, are the hubcaps on any of the early AACM recordings. It is not until mid-70s that the hubcaps show up on albums by the trio Air [3]. Maybe I had only read about them and that was the spark?

Okay. So, you'd think that playing hubcaps is an opportunity for some major fucking around. Not so.
At first I resisted playing patterns. But when you're playing with someone else, it's kinda helpful if you set up some sort of pattern. And/or non-pattern, that has its own uniformity. Logic. Symmetry.
In writing, it's what's known as parallelism. You know, keeping all your tenses in the same barn. Grammar and syntax conforming to the same logic. All that. But, playing non-patterns is extremely difficult, at least, for me. Not that I'm any great shakes at patterns, either. The idea is to try building a logical improvisation outside of patterns, that has symmetry. (Yes, this begs the chaos theory suspicion that all is of a pattern.)[4]

What do hubcaps sounds like? They sound like the back end of the insane asylum where the orderlies have not ventured in years. They sound like all the garbage of the Industrial Revolution has come to collect on it's Faustian deal. The Devil is here to cash in your chips. Claim your soul. They sound like all Hell has broke loose. All the wheels have fell off. Asphalt perdition.
They sound wonderfully trashy. We've thought to put a spectrometer on them to see what sort of notes they each make but they're so over-blown with overtones & partials & buzzing that that is impossible.
Hubcap notes are what is known as "indeterminate." Indeterminate notes for gotterbeldungstrumm.

I've very rarely notated my hubcap pieces. Mostly, because they're spontaneous improvisations.
I might say to whoever I'm playing with, something like, "This'll be in 4," or, "This one will be four plus one," or "This one is busy," or "This one is haiku," or "This one is 3 plus 6." Etcetera.
Myself, I mostly play the pretty notes. I like the round, clean, ringing tones, that fade in a long decay.
That sound can be very introspective.

It's all a revelation, and reveals parts of yourself and how you think and how you go about making decisions.


1. Harry Partch went to Albuquerque High and lived at 208 S. High Street from 1913 - 1919. He is one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

2. Henry Threadgill is a composer, alto saxophonist, and founding member of Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) in Chicago in the early 1960s, along with Richard Muhal Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors, Fred Anderson, Lester Bowie, Leo Smith, AEC, Leroy Jenkins, Anthony Braxton. The ensemble Art Ensemble of Chicago exerted a monstrous influence upon me, and if you visit my house you'll see a triangular sticker on the front window that says AEC, that Joseph gave me years ago.

3. A cooperative trio of saxophone, bass, and drums, Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, Steve McCall.
Formed out of members of AACM.

4. All I'm trying to say in this paragraph is that non-patterns seem very haphazard but are not.

4B. Lisa (the editor) Gill, asked me to put a footnote explanation about chaos theory, but i'm not conversant in those sorts of things. I'm a house painter for gawd sakes, what do I know for chaos theory! I got all my info from PBS on tv.

mark weber