Then, with the support of Larry Simpson, Roger Brown, and Matt Marvuglio, the more advanced students work on extra repertoire for concerts outside of Berklee. So far the Planet MicroJam Institute touring ensemble has performed at festivals in Italy, Lithuania, and the Republic of Georgia, as well as concerts in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Germany, and Austria. We’ve done clinics in France, Spain, and Switzerland where we encourage MicroJam students to answer questions and teach.
The next step is to offer a microtonal minor for undergrads in Fall 2015 and and a graduate level micro major in Fall 2016. The program will offer rigorous microtonal studies in a classical, jazz/groove/free-improv and a ”non-western” context. The goal is communication. Any student from any country, background, musical style, or preference will be able to explain precisely or perform a sequence of notes or chords that are outside the Western 12-note-per-octave system to any other student from a different background or style. I would like to remove the hurdle of not being able to work on music merely because it is outside of the Western 12 note system and, as Berklee President Roger Brown put it, “Create the conditions for miraculous music making.”
Future goals include just intonation writing and performing methods, more advanced harmony beyond quartertones, and the use of 21st century state of the art keyboards, which would greatly advance microtonal harmonic thinking and learning. The challenge though is to find a cost effective but also playable and useful keyboard. A universally used keyboard of the future may look like the Terpstra:
You can hear a few microJam examples like a traditional Turkish melody-inspired arrangement (featuring Kenwood Dennard), a microtonal original jazz composition (featuring Jack DeJohnette), a JDilla groove-inspired micro original, and an arrangement of a Sun Ra piece, and more.
Once students have microtonal skills under their belt, they are encouraged to bring in their own material and hopefully employ current or even better NEW rhythms in their writing. I’m noticing that microtonality needs new rhythmic contexts to thrive and Berklee has great potential for rhythmic innovation. To encourage this, I put on a rhythm innovation contest. The results were quite interesting. One student wrote music based on his heartbeat; one recorded a creaking old bridge; and another had different rhythms going on simultaneously.
Furthermore, there’s the unexpected development of students using the microJam concept to record, preserve and resurrect—or at least attempt to resurrect—musical traditions. This goes far beyond what I imagined for the microJam Institute. I’ve always pushed for innovation as we move forward in the 21st century. And I also can’t wait to see what the past will reveal!
Dywane “MonoNeon” Thomas
A sneak peak can be heard at www.torsos.com. The new SHT CD is another eclectic mix of rock, funk, soul, and experimental elements, but I would say it’s more song oriented. Maybe we’re older and wiser now? We can say the same thing with fewer notes and over-the-top playing. There is also some microtonalty on the new CD. On the track called “Fried Tongue,” the solo section has microtonal comping. We also do a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” that we play live. You can find different versions on YouTube (warning: of varying sound quality), but the solo section is arranged to be in a microtonal mode. This is my homage to a possible ‘‘living’’ Hendrix who retired in Morocco, occasionally jamz out in the old town of Marrakech and “rocks the Kasbah” with a mix of Rock and Middle Eastern modes! Ha-ha! You’re going to hear more of this, because there are so many possibilities!