Room With A View – [A Brief Commentary]

Room With A View is the first of an ongoing series of sketches, which I hope to update and expand on periodically during my time living in Japan. The first is set to a personal video I took whilst visiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in the spring of 2019. It took 2 years to get around to it, but I’ve finally found a moment to set it to music.

At the time, my Japanese was limited to just a few short sentences – yet I was confronted by this expansive view of the city from the top of the government building. It was like staring at an overwhelming moment of opportunity, which, by my own fault, I was hopelessly prepared to take on at the time.

One of my first impressions of the video is the striking sense of humidity suggested by the reflections of sunlight on the glass. To capture that sense of warmth the track begins with low Amin7, Cmaj#7, Amin7, Cmaj#7+9 chords, which are looped using a warm synth pad preset. See. Fig. A below

[fig. A – introduction to Room With A View]

The 5th bar sees the introduction of the first core melody, played on the piano.  The part intentionally features with a wide gap between the left and right hands  [see fig. B below] with the right hand intervals narrowing towards the ends of each phrase – this is essentially a musical representation of observing the picture as a whole before focusing on its finer details. There’s quite a lot to see and the video slowly zooms during playback, so time is hopelessly limited – you’ll never take in everything.

[fig. B – bars 5 – 8]

The first half is rounded off with the introduction of the 2nd core melody, played on the Shakuhachi. The melody is performed at discretion of a vst instrument, given I don’t know any Shakuhachi players and the melody itself exceeds the limits of the instrument as can be seen in fig. C below.

[fig. C – Shakuhachi melody]

The 2nd half of the sketch essentially features a texture build with layered improvisations before a deconstruction of the texture and a concluding drop in tempo.

Any proceeds generously sent to my Buy Me Coffee profile will be used towards transport/ticket costs for future videos in this series. I already have footage from Hamamatsu’s Act Tower to work with but I hope to shoot future videos in Fuji, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Sapporo as soon as it is safe to travel between prefectures.

Home Liner – [a brief commentary]

Home Liner is the latter of three short sketches uploaded to YouTube during the first week of April 2021. The track concludes my theme of Japanese transportation, this time paying homage to a private rail service for commuters called ‘The Home Liner’.

The Home Liner is essentially a private commuter train, which charges a measly additional 300JPY (roughly £2/$3) ontop of the regular destination charge for JR customers. However, that additional price offers the passenger a usually near-empty train carriage, a guaranteed seat, ample leg room, limited stops and the chance to relax during a commute. It’s a tranquil and meditative contrast to the usually busy and uncomfortable carriages provided on the regular JR line.

Today’s track again references the previously mentioned Uehara, Inaizumi and Suzue but also touches on several surprising central European influences.

The opening segment (see fig A. below) repeats multiple times throughout the track and was heavily inspired by the meditative music of French Christian Taizé worship from the 1940s.

[fig. A – introductory bars to Home Liner]

Akin to Taizé music, my track achieves variety by building in texture (as can be seen with the introduction of keys, drums and bass in fig. B) however, I deviate from standard Taizé form by creating continuity through dissonance – in this case, by using a lot of chromatic movement which is easily noticeable in the bass line as well as the backing harmony. Overall, the music, by design, feels irresolute and necessitates a slow sense of movement, much like the slow and peaceful night train I was writing about.

[fig. B – building of textures from bars 5-8]

The majority of the upper line is improvised with the exception of the core melody, which is introduced in fig. C below. This core melody acts as an anchor at the beginning and also during an irresolute transition mid-way through the track, pulling the music on, like a train does its carriage.

[fig. C – introduction of core melody from bars 9 – 12]

Takushī! – [a brief commentary]

click here to listen to Takushī! – [redirects to YouTube in a separate window]

Takushī! Is the second of three short sketches uploaded to YouTube during the first week of April 2021. It continues the theme of Japanese transportation, this time alluding to the taxi drivers of Kakegawa city, near Hamamatsu.

As before, the music gives respectful nods to Uehara Hiromi, her group ‘Sonicbloom’, as well as the artist Inaizumi Lyn and producer Suzue Machiko. 

This time however, I altered the instrumentation slightly to afford a NI Komplete 11 Scarbee A200 keyboard solo, using the preset ‘Breakfast in America’ – thereby combining the Japanese influences with (at least) the keyboard sound of Supertramp(!) who I enjoy listening to on a regular basis.

Although the track itself in A Major, it is dissonant throughout to provoke continuation. For example, the music incorporates frequent use of flattened 6th and 7th degrees throughout the introduction as can be seen in fig. A below.

[fig. A – Introduction to Takushī!]

Takushi! also midly references Tokaido Time, in the sense that again there is harmonic substitution juxtaposed with a consistent pedal note in this case, G natural. Basically, each chord is similar but changes slightly! Afterall, not every Taxi you get into is exactly the same!

Bar 10 sees the introduction of the melody (see fig.B below) which was doubled in octaves for the recording. However, it could be played without doubling using just the right hand and the looped backing in the left hand if there were only 1 keyboard player in a live scenario.

[fig. B – piano melody, bars 10 – 17]

The backing loops again after the tune’s exposition and the texture reduces to a solitary piano improvisation ontop of the bass and drums. There is an exchange with the so-called ‘Breakfast in America’ Scarbee A200 which leads to a scalic bridge session and finally a recapitulation of the original theme. The Scarbee A200 rounds off the track with some warm chording. I deliberately close the track on the subdominant (D Major) to allude to the final movement, “Home Liner” which will be uploaded in the near future.

Tokaido Time – [a brief commentary]

Click here to listen to ‘Tokaido Time’ – [redirects to YouTube in a separate window]

‘Tokaido Time’ is the first in a series of three short sketches uploaded to YouTube in April 2021. It is loosely based on my experience of local railway line, the Tokaido line, which connects the city of Hamamatsu as far north as Atami.

The sketch nods heavily towards the works of Uehara Hiromi, an internationally renowned jazz pianist who originates from Hamamatsu city, where I currently live.

The sketch was also influenced by the work of Inaizumi Lyn and producer Suzue Machiko in their original soundtrack for the Atlus title “Persona 5”. Japanese rail travel, although not explicitly referenced in the soundtrack, remains an integral part of the project’s exposition and whenever I take public transport in this country, I fondly recall their music and feel as if I am immersed in that ‘world’.

In terms of the composition’s theory, Tokaido Time is an exercise in harmonic substitution around a consistent note. As can be seen in fig. A below, the harmony in the primary riff moves progressively from a C maj 7 chord, C # diminished minor 7, B minor (1st inversion) to E minor in root position. In short, the upper note from every chord (B natural) remains unchanged whilst everything else moves around it.

[fig. a – core harmonic progression for the primary riff]

I liken the harmonic substitution to taking a train on several different occasions – it’s never going to be exactly the same train or the same carriage or seat but there is going to be some kind of underlying similarity which ties it all together with your previous experience… Otherwise, your experience would be totally perplexing!

Fig B. is as far as I felt necessary in terms of writing score for the sketch. The central riff from bars 2-5 simply loop and on occasion transpose. The nice thing about writing a consistent note which the harmony substitutes around is that it affords greater freedom to the performer as to where you can transpose to. Theoretically I could jump to E minor or G major without much difficulty – I opted for a relatively comfortable jump to the relative minor.

[fig. b – introduction to Tokaido time]

In short, there are many directions a performer can take the harmony and many ways they can improvise over it. I’ve been extremely conservative in my own performance. If anyone finds this and wants to try, I hope you have fun!