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Paul F. Murphy: Playing Universally

By Published: April 28, 2010
AAJ: What was that concept?

PFM: I was able to give the feel and swing of bop without continuously using the 4/4 typical-designed ride cymbal, hi-hat, bass and snare patterns. I was able to create the same feel while shaping the space to my needs and patterns. It's weird; I'd been playing with that cat for like a year and a half. He never went, "Man, you can't play bop." He just said these are the cats you need to meet. They do what you do. He also told me, at that time, I was not ready for New York City. He said I needed to play on the West Coast. So I did, I moved to San Francisco.

AAJ: When or how did you begin developing that playing style?

PFM: It was something that I came upon or into while continuously playing with guitarist David Davenport. He was a very gifted and forward-thinking guitarist who's playing was a cross between Pat Martino

Pat Martino
Pat Martino
and Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
. I mean, Dave and I would do this thing where we would say we are going to play 64 measures at a slow tempo and stop on beat one of the 65th measure. There came a time where we were both stopping on one while playing totally free—while knowing where the original time was. We started off by going 12 measures. Then, when we got that, we tacked on another 12, then another and kept going.

AAJ: Is this something you just did without ever hearing the avant-garde players?

PFM: Umm, yes, but the more I listened to hard bop cats, the more I heard people playing "loose." So it wasn't like I thought that it was something we were pioneering.

AAJ: So, this playing style does not come from an uninformed point of view, which is clear from your years of study with Levitt, Krupa, Bug, Bellson and your playing experience spanning several types of music. What kind of theoretical applications are within the "free?"

PFM: In this environment, theory is applied more in a sphere than as points on a graph. Current music theory is all being based on an X and Y flat graph when because of current dissonances, re-modulations and synchronizations of the spreading of vibrating objects, the plot for coordinates is at least 3-dimensional. This 3-dimensional sphere is what I'm most concerned about exploring. As well as the possibility that a connection to a fourth dimension isn't sometimes made. This is something that I was aware of and different players were telling me that I was doing.

AAJ: Can you explain what the "sphere" is?

PFM: I believe the sphere is a miniature model of the universe. Everything here is flat—the floor, the wall, that house, the water. The sky gives some illusion as not flat. But, once again, when you look up, you see the planet Earth is just a big pool of space. Take all directions out from the Planet Earth and draw them in, you get a sphere—something that doesn't begin or end. There can be a top and there can be a bottom, but there doesn't have to be. In that sphere, the directions of motion and the alternatives to motion are endless. You can be moving and you can be stopped. You can be playing and you can be at rest. You can all be going forward. You can all be going in reverse or against each other or you can cut across. At the same time, as an ensemble, you can stop and create space or you can go in several other directions. As long as everybody is listening and contributing to the ensemble, you are creating a living, breathing organism, which not only affects the listener but also develops your understanding of sound, motion and rest. It all can be as one or simultaneously diverse. But it's all contained and exists within the sphere. The energy and thought process all exist within a 4-dimensional sphere.

AAJ: The "sphere" encompasses each component of the music as something that isn't necessarily as cut and dry as typical staffs, bar lines and theoretical ideas suggest?

PFM: The intersections of melody, harmony and rhythm within time and space sometimes create a sound or idea that had not been preconceived, played or intended by the artists. A very basic example of this was the discovery of two notes vibrating in dissonance, which created an audible third sound and was later termed "ring modulation."

Ring modulation is an example of a surprise discovery which led to extensive investigation by not only music composers but scientists, physicians and governments as well. Certain musicians took it upon themselves to learn how to produce linear patterns by using these center tones of ring modulation. Others incorporated circular breathing as well as the playing of more than one instrument to create the effect. The creation of the effect may be considered a discovery as well as a gift. It is certainly innovation. The linear exploration would be the creating of a concept and the use of that concept through composition would become a style.

As a result, you have the breaking or advancing of concept and style—the two things necessary for innovation. The tones produced by ring modulation created harmonies that had not been used or explored in any great detail. This same energy has now been used in all forms of music, throughout the sciences, as well as by technocrats and governments. Some examples of this are Stockhausen, sonar and the cloaking or stealth innovations.

For the first time, the blending of two sounds generating a third and the documenting of this phenomenon opened a study of energy and sound that has existed since man has occupied the earth—or even before. However, it hadn't been discovered until someone documented or harnessed it—even just a little bit. The point is, it has always existed—man's recognition and understanding of it took thousands of years.

For anyone to say that the study of energy has been nothing more than scratching or touching the surface is the same as saying that the depths of musical composition have all been discovered and explored. And, if the possibilities of composition have not all been discovered or explored, who's to say that they can all be contained or explained by current methods of music theory. However, a strong knowledge and comprehension of composition and theory should be obtained before any worthwhile results are to come through free improvisation.

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