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David Fiuczynski: In the In Between

Daniel Lehner By

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The most recent compositional premiere by guitarist David Fiucyznski has a title that almost manages to sum up his entire sphere of influence. "Flam! Pan-Asian Microjam for J Dilla and Olivier Messiaen" premiered at Berklee College of Music in 2012 and was inspired by a geographically and temporally enormous range of styles. Fiuczynski describes the piece as a trinity of inspirations with respect to rhythm, harmony and melody.

"It's kind of a triangle between Pan-Asian music, Messiaen bird calls and having Dilla beats played either outright on drums or with more of an East Asian instrumentation," Fiuczynski explains. "I just thought it'd be kind of curious to see if you could combine Dilla's flam beats with some of the flam beats of East Asian music. There are lots of flams in the percussion in particular, like in Japanese court music [gagaku]. You also hear them in East European, Turkish, Arabic, Indian and all sorts of other musics. There are a lot of flams in the inflections; to use guitar-speak, there are pull-offs, hammer-ons, et cetera."

Fiuczynski's piece exploring commonalities was as much of an exploration as it was a receptacle of ideas. "I had been wondering if there was sort of a Silk Road continuum or if it's more of a trade-route thing or maybe a gypsy thing. There's a movie called Latcho Drom, which is all music, virtually no words, and it just follows the music of the gypsies starting in India, going through Eastern Europe and ending up in Spain. I noticed they all have similar inflections."

The incorporation of Messiaen makes the piece delve even deeper, drawing from several aspects of the French composer's oeuvre. "All of the melodies and motifs, of which there are about six or seven running throughout, are all bird calls," alluding to Messiaen's famous use of bird songs. "I also somewhat used his instrumentation, especially that of 'Sept Haïkaï,' which is somewhat inspired by Japanese percussion, bells and things, based off of seven haiku parts. I also drew from 'Oiseaux Exotiques,' which means 'the exotic birds,' which is another favorite of mine." For Fiuczynski, he mused on whether or not he and Messiaen could have possessed an even closer musical relationship. "I thought it was always interesting that he never used microtonality in his pieces, because birds obviously don't adhere to 12 notes per octave."

The non-adherence to the typical 12-note Western scale has been a defining characteristic for Fiuczynski ever since being exposed to famed microtonal legend Joe Maneri in Boston at New England Conservatory. Fiuczynski, now an educator at Berklee College of Music, has been a proponent of the music as well as an exhibitor. "Microtonality is not new. It's much older than our so-called tempered tuning; it goes back to the beginning of human beings. In regards to its age, you can go back to Delphic hymns, which were something like 128 years before Christ, or you could look at bone flutes, which have carbon dating that go back anywhere from 8,000 to 43,000 years old. And, really, microtonality is a Western construct; it's just a term for anything that's not 12 notes per octave. Considering that about 75-85% of the world's music is based on more notes per octave, to a certain extent, we're microtonal."

David Fiuczynski—Planet MicrojamFiuczynski has been a student of several different schools of microtonality, both in the realms of non-Western music and of the classical microtonality of composers like Alois Hába, Ivan Wyschnegradsky and Harry Partch, the latter of whom created systems using quarter tones, equal temperament and microtonal scales of differing notes per octave (such as 24, 33, 36, etc.). Fiuczynski's niche, however, has been trying to introduce these concepts into the realms of jazz and groove musics. "There's virtually nothing so far. There's Joe Maneri, who's been doing it since the '60s or '70s, and then there's little things here and there, like myself, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Lehman. Steve Coleman had done the Lucidarium project with microtonality. There's some very cool stuff that a musician named Sevish is doing in terms of electronica, but it's still virtually a wide-open field."

He's also interested in exploring what was previously thought to be exhausted. "What I'm finding is that—though I also want to branch out in other directions—is that my approach is sometimes not so much 'microtonal' as much as it's 'micro tonal.' There's a lot you can do with tonality. Remember tonality—that old dinosaur? You can come up with new harmonies in a tonal context, and I think that's exciting"

The effect of non-Western modalities has been a huge influence on Fiucyznski from a sonic standpoint as well as an emotional one. The sounds drew him in initially, but as a result of their vastness, his process of absorbing the multitudes of microtonal influences is limited to his emotional response and what he wants to do with his own music. "With me, it's more human limitations, knowing that I'll never be a Turkish or Indian or Chinese classical player. I just always knew I wanted these ingredients in my music. The unifying thing is that, yes, you need to know the theory, and maqam theory is fascinating; I could see how you could decide to just do that. That's a field you could do for the rest of your life, and there would still be things to work on. But a unifying thing for me is that, ultimately, even with all the theory, with all the notes-per-octave systems, for me I always just tune with my heart. I'll hear an Arabic call to prayer or a Turkish nay player or Indian inflections or Vietnamese inflections, and it just goes straight to my heart."

For Western jazz audiences, the seemingly foreign scale systems shouldn't be considered too far away from the core of the music: the blues. "Basically, they're blue notes. It affects me the same way as Buddy Guy or somebody. When you go to a great blues gig, you know what's going to happen. The language is infinite, but at the same time, you can break it down to major blues, minor blues, ballads, shuffles, et cetera. There's not much going on in that respect, but even within the limited material and information given, how one person can find something within a blue note that nobody else has done is the exciting thing, and it's the same with these non-Western traditions that are even older and often even more rigid.
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