Friday, August 06, 2004


Burning ears

Many thanks to my friend and fellow graduate student, Jason Kuznicki, for a very generous post about my blog, as well as to GreenGourd's Garden and No Fancy Name. I'm grateful to all of them for laying out a welcome mat on behalf of the blogosphere.

Jason points out that the title of my blog is somewhat "enigmatic." Actually, the title was selected in a fit of creative laziness. When I started to set up a Blogger account, I was not prepared with a name on hand. Feeling the pressure to be creative but also feeling uninspired, I had recourse to my jazz collection, a trusted source of sage advice. Scanning the titles of my CDs and hoping for a miracle, where should my eye chance to fall but on Joe Henderson's 1966 album, Mode for Joe? Eureka!

There you have the uneventful story of how this space became "Mode for Caleb." But maybe I can add some enigma, ex post facto. A "mode" is a musical term, often associated with modal jazz. I don't pretend to be fully informed on the technical details of the genre: my enthusiasm for jazz has never fully evolved into expertise. But in contrast to standard bebop tunes, in which a band more or less repeated predetermined chord progressions while soloists improvised on those chords, "modal" tunes are organized around a certain set of diatonic scales.

Modal jazz gives preference to melodic improvisation. It frees soloists to do more than to run through chords, and it frees accompanists to improvise by interacting more flexibly with the solos. A modal tune is the very definition of ariose: melodic without being recitative. Moreover, if bebop was often about a soloist's virtuosity, modal jazz is a thoroughly collective enterprise. It provides freedom to extemporize, but always with the musical responsibility to empathize. Soloists can break away from the scale and from the accompaniment to create momentary tension in a song, but without creating as much dissonance as this free improvisation would in the structure of a traditional bop tune. Some might say that because it places an emphasis on both melody and interaction, modal music exemplifies what jazz is all about.

But I've never been the kind of listener who thinks that words can do justice to the music: if you want to hear a paradigmatic example of "modes" at work, listen to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and discover all you need to know. The album, and the form of music, might as well serve as suggestions for the shape I hope this blog will take: improvisatory, unhurried, a solo without the solipsism.

Collective Improvisation:
It's funny: I had a surplus of names when I created my blog. I only chose Positive Liberty because it sounded like it was a) positive and b) something about liberty.

And you know, if "Cabaret Voltaire" hadn't been taken, I'd probably have stepped up and filled the void. I've always liked Voltaire, and cabarets.

Posted by Blogger Jason Kuznicki on 8/07/2004 12:02:00 AM : Permalink  

I had the same lazy fit. Thus, fancy name.

Posted by Blogger JM on 8/07/2004 12:29:00 AM : Permalink  

Caleb. Now that your said you liked my comment on Greg's discussion on atonement I am obligated to go to your site and meet you. You like me! You really really like me!

Ahhhh....kidding. Have we met? Do I know you? Are you from Oklahoma? Look forawrd to reading your stuff.

Posted by Blogger TimSean on 10/01/2004 12:25:00 PM : Permalink  

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