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Wednesday 24 October 2007

Buying a Godin guitar in Montreal

Can somebody please explain to me how it is possible that neither of the guitar shops downtown Montreal have a Godin Multiac Steel SA in stock?

The Godin headquarters are like, 36km away? (yes I now, headquarters have nothing to do with instrument factoring and distribution, but still.)

Friday 19 October 2007

@-quartet CD review in eJazz News

A new review for the CD has just appeared on eJazzNews. Here it is, from George W. Carroll:

Talk about leaving an impression.....Didier Verna is a jazz guitarist dealing in melodic & harmonic invention. His Metheny-esque improvisational delivery is compromising, intellectual, non rigorous with a superb technique, connected with an extraordinary command of his music. In fact Verna's music is brilliantly interpreted & compelling in it's content. His music portrays images & sounds of his influences which have been by default...... Quiite positive!

@-quartet CD review on Contemporary Jazz

A new review for the CD @-quartet has just appeared on Contemporary Jazz. Here's the review by John Luciano:

@-Quartet (At Quartet) is a very promising debut recording from a part-time musician and self-professed UZEB fan. By day, Didier Verna is a computer researcher but he’s left the computers and synths at the office and has delivered a very accessible acoustic album. @-Quartet is a great example of what contemporary jazz should be. It’s certainly not smooth jazz. Although it’s acoustic, I have a hard time defining it as straight ahead and that’s the beauty of jazz, isn’t it? These nine compositions are fresh, melodically challenging and engaging. Upon first listen a number of guitarists on the scene came to mind, but Didier definitely has his own voice. Rather than fall into the comparison trap, I’d ask you to take a chance on this very talented musician and make your own comparisons. Two tracks that really stood out for me are "Les Maleties," which took me back to early Spyro Gyra, circa Morning Dance-Catching The Sun, for the guitar piano interplay, and "Paris-Nice" which has a nice aggressive feel to it.

Saturday 15 September 2007

@-quartet CD review in the Indie Music magazine

The @-quartet is featured as a "Spotlight CD Review" in current issue of the Indie Music magazine.

Here is the review by Darryl Gregory:

Didier Verna is in quartet mode with his new CD @-quartet. Verna steps out in front with his beautifully melodic guitar playing and leads his gang of four through nine tracks of seemingly effortless arrangements of original jazz. The difficulty lies in how to categorize his take on jazz. In the opening track, there is definitely a bossa feel, and yet we also have that feeling of West Coast smoothness in some tracks, and then there is the jumpy-intricate improvs of be-bop. Since I’m a big fan of eclecticism in art, I choose not to categorize, but for the sake of a review all I can say is get the CD and enjoy.

In true quartet fashion, the players each bring their unique voice to the group and something greater than the parts arises. Guillaume Naud’s piano playing is in the right places and complimentary to Verna’s melodic direction. Their interaction is evident throughout, but especially on track four, “Song for L." Gilles Naturel’s bass walks and sings, and his time is right in the pocket. A good jazz drummer always amazes me. David Georgelet definitely has that amazement factor down, not because he is fancy or intricate, but because he plays like a vocalist - he knows how to make the kit sing and follow not only the rhythmic structure, but the melody line as well.

Only a part time musician (Verna’s other gig is as a computer researcher) this CD definitely has a full time sound. You’d think that these guys have been on the road for years -- their sound is that tight and complimentary. Definitely a great addition to any jazz collection.

Monday 11 June 2007

Monday Morning

Sometimes, it's hard. You don't sell many CDs, you hardly get one 5 lines review out of dozens of requests. And then, a Monday Morning, you go check your cdbaby page, and you find this from the last customer ...

great CD of original straight ahead contemporary jazz

This is a very good CD (I gave it the highest rating). The songs are original and good, and the musicianship outstanding. It is not overplayed, it is not underplayed, everything fits together well. Verna has two of the songs available as mp3 files on his site, check them out (the rest of the CD, except for one or two songs, is similar in sound). The sound is modern but not too abstract, very listenable and flowing, it is more straight-ahead than fusion. The solos are terrific, Verna is an outstanding jazz guitarist. His tone/sound is more like Metheny than Scofield, but his lines are his own. I'm looking forward to his next CD.

... and then, you go happy again. I just wrote a new song called Monday Morning :-)

Monday 4 June 2007

Carbon guitars

Heard yesterday on TV, while browsing informations. A Ph.D. student in signal processing applied to music AFAICR. He was building carbon based guitars:

The problem with wood is that it's impossible to build two exactly identical guitars...

So, OK, I was zapping, this may be a bit out of context, but still. This guy had better work in biology instead. Because we have some more serious issues there. For instance, the problem with flesh is that it's impossible to build two exactly identical humans !

Tuesday 3 April 2007

Lisp, Jazz, Aïkido

What can computer science, music and martial arts possibly have in common ?

These are like "strange attractors" in my life: no matter how much distance I may have put between them and me in the past, I always ended up coming back to them, and I know this will remain the case in the future.

I can remember pretty well the excitement I felt when I discovered the Lisp language, when I was first introduced to Jazz and improvisation, and when I had my first Aïkido practice session. Different things, same emotion. And also the feeling that in some way, I was born to be a lisper, a jazzman and an aïkidoka. I just didn't know until then.

Recently I was talking about my half-scientific / half-musical life with an old teacher of mine, and he asked me if I had suddenly turned completely schizophrenic. He was right ! To ask, I mean... So I started thinking about it, and I tried to figure out what these three domains have in common and why they all adhere so well to my own philosophy of life.

But perhaps I should begin with explaining what's my philosophy of life, then. I guess it's basically described in three words: Beauty, Fun, Unification.

Beauty lies in being able to evolve comfortably within a set of constraints, limits or rules. Note that this begins with accepting the existence of these constraints, limits or rules in the first place. Fun, however, lies in breaking those rules at will, knowing how to get rid of them, and then get back to them, a bit like a cat jumping in any kind of direction and yet always falling back on his feet.

There's a corollary to these two points: real freedom is not to have no limit, but to know your limits so well that you can either evolve at will within them, or break them at will.

Unification means drawing bridges between apparently unrelated fields, starting to figure out what is the common essence of things. By the way, this is precisely what I am doing right now...

Why is Lisp beautiful, fun and unifying ?

  • There's beauty in writing code in any language (yes, there's even beauty in writing shell code). The beauty lies in your ability to adapt your concepts to the constraints of the language you're using, in other words, to make the best out of it, given its inherent limitations in expressiveness.
  • However, and this is where the fun lies, Lisp allows you to break the rules of traditional languages because you can adapt the language to your concepts as much as you need to adapt your concepts to the language. Lisp is known (or at least, it should be) as the "programmable programming language": thanks to the power of its macro system and the customizability of its reader for instance, you can create a completely new language (even with a completely new syntax, see the loop macro for instance) within Lisp and adapt it to your personal needs. This makes Lisp the language of choice for implementing a DSL (Domain Specific Language) for instance.

It is interesting to note that with some experience in Lisp, adapting the language to your needs becomes an integral part of the art of programming; a rule in itself. In this way, what you do is really pushing the limits farther away, making a rule of what was an exception before.

  • Lisp is also the language of unification. While it is mainly known to be a functional language (pure or impure, by the way), it is also imperative, procedural, object-oriented and even context-oriented if you want it to be. It is also declarative: look at the abundant literature on how easy it is to implement Prolog in Lisp. So Lisp really is any kind of language you want it to be: where a particular programming paradigm exists by construction in another language, it is usually implemented as a mere library in Lisp. Most recent (and fashionable) programming languages today are just re-discovering things that existed in Lisp since its invention in 1958.

Why is Jazz beautiful, fun and unifying ?

  • There's beauty in playing a song, in any kind of music. The beauty lies in your ability to adapt your personal musical ideas, your way of playing, in other words, your musical personality, to the constraints of the song. People often forget that a song is by definition (or, so to speak, by composition) limited in expressiveness, just as an average programming language is: it has a pitch, a tempo, a rhythmic style, a chord progression; all things actually specified by the score. In traditional music, you are expected to evolve within these limits.
  • However, and this is where the fun lies, Jazz (specifically improvisation) allows you to break the rules of traditional music by playing "out", both harmonically and rhythmically. Improvisation is by essence the musical practice that allows you to modify a score in real time: you can change the ambiance, the chords, the rhythm, you can temporarily escape from the song and then get back to it (remember the cat ?), even play "atonal" (roughly meaning using scales that do not correspond to the underlying chords). During this process, you are actually adapting the song to your musical concepts instead of adapting your musical concepts to the song. This is exactly like adapting Lisp to your programming needs instead of adapting your needs to the language. And when the other musicians follow you on this "song tweaking game", that's were the fun really begins !

It is interesting to note that with some experience in jazz, playing "out" becomes an integral part of the art of improvisation; a rule in itself. When Miles Davis started to mix major and minor harmony (for instance using a minor 3rd on a major chord), numerous conservator alligators wanted to burn the heretic alive. Now, all of this is well known, and you can learn actual techniques for chords substitution and atonal improvisation in Jazz schools. Again, in this way, what you do is really pushing the limits farther away, making a rule of what was an exception before.

  • Jazz is also the music of unification. A very narrow view of it is as a musical style: the ternary "chabada" drums pattern, the walking bass and so on. But Jazz is really not that. It is a philosophy, a way to envision all styles of music. Michel Petrucciani once said "Jazz is a music of thieves", and he was right ! A Jazz musician is fundamentally curious. He's interested in everything he can ear, and tries to appropriate all the ideas he's exposed to by adapting them to his own personality. This is a process that happens in composition as well as in improvisation, but improvisation is the key factor that unifies all musical styles in Jazz. So just like Lisp unifies all programming concepts into a philosophy of programming, Jazz unifies all music styles into a philosophy of music.

Why is Aïkido beautiful, fun and unifying ?

  • There's beauty in practicing any martial art (as long that it has not become just sports). The beauty lies in executing the techniques that define your martial art to the perfection. But one has to understand that as long as you are practicing only a set of techniques (which is a very narrow view of martial arts), you are evolving in a very limited environment, however beautiful (and Aïkido is aesthetically beautiful).
  • The fun begins when you start to understand the Budo which is behind martial arts, and especially behind Aïkido. The Budo is a philosophy, just as Jazz or Lisp are philosophies. By emphasizing on values such as personal cultivation, self-control and self-awareness, the Budo renders techniques unimportant, or at least secondary, because being able to react in any situation is more important than the way you react to them. Techniques are just tools to reach a greater goal. Aïkido masters are so far away beyond technique that you can't see them anymore in their movements. The rules are broken, the techniques are gone. What's left is a "purified" state; what's left is the Ki.

It is interesting to note that in Aïkido, breaking the rules, that is, avoiding being enslaved by technique is a constant preoccupation. For example, in Aïkido, there is no distinction between beginners and experienced practitioners. Mixing levels in practice is one of the ways of ensuring that you will constantly face new and unexpected situations. As such, breaking the rules has also become a rule in itself. The ultimate rule-breaking exercise in Aïkido is probably the Randori. When faced with 2 or 4 adversaries simultaneously, there is no room for rules or techniques, you just have to react. This is exactly like improvising in Jazz: in real time, there is no room for rules or harmony analysis, you just have to play.

  • Aïkido is also the martial art of unification. At least in two ways. On the technical plan, we know that Morihei Ueshiba, the father of Aïkido, was a master in several martial arts (both "soft", like ju-jutsu, and "hard", like ken-jutsu or jutte-jutsu) when he founded his own. As such, Aïkido unifies martial arts in general by incorporating techniques from many different sources. This is also pointed out by the fact that Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo, sent his best students to learn Aïkido. On a spiritual plan, O Senseï's interpretation of the Budo not only encompasses the traditional meaning of the term (notably including personal cultivation) but extends to such notions as love and protection of all things, respect for all lives (see his "revelation" in spring 1925), which are much more universal concerns.


Lisp, Jazz and Aïkido are more than kinds of programming, music, or martial arts. They are philosophies of programming, music and martial arts. More than that, they are actually different appearances of the same philosophy of life. There is much more to say about it. There are also links to establish with scientific research in general. But not in a blog... I'd like to write a proper essay about these things when I find the time... someday EDIT: it's done!

Monday 22 January 2007

Norah Jones

Throw her away !! ... from the Jazz shelf.

Her music is so pretty, so sugary that it sticks on you, so stereotyped, so appropriate, unsurprising, so dead.

Sooooooooo not Jazz.

Jazz is crossing outside the crosswalks, doing standing jumps right in the puddle pools. Jazz is alive, it moves, it changes.

I know I don't sound like it, but I have nothing against her music. The existence of any kind of music is justified as soon as there is one person to like it. But what makes me nuts is seeing her classified as Jazz. There are so many, much more interesting musicians that would deserve the room she has in the stores. What drives me crazy, also, is to see a Jazz record label dealing with her instead of taking care of the musicians that would really need it. And finally, what literally makes me freak out is to see that people start believing that they love Jazz, just because they love Norah Jones.

You'll have to excuse me, now. I gotta go puke (too much sugar). :-/

Sunday 14 January 2007

Michael Brecker

It was 1 in the morning in Paris when I eard the news, back from a party, on January the 14th 2007. I don't have the words to describe the sadness with which I went to bed that night. Michael Brecker went away at 57, too soon, too fast, that is not fair. He still had so much to say !

This saxophone giant belongs to the people that remain a bit mysterious to me: it has been 25 years since I can spend hours drinking his music, open-mouthed in emotion and admiration, and yet, I know that can only understand 10% of his discourse.

I think I just realized that for all this time, there hasn't been a day without his company, whether by listening to him, or by whistling one one his tunes...

Michael Brecker is present in my compositions and in my playing, I am sure of it. I know neither how, nore where, but I know, because it is not possible that he is not.

I also know that his music will keep me alive, for the decades to come.

Thursday 2 November 2006

The Bootstrap Problem

The "bootstrap" problem is well known in computer science. However, it seems that musicians suffer from it as well...

Here's an example: if you want to get gigs, you'd better make the club tender comfortable with you by being well known. But in order to be well known, you should have played before, so you should have some gigs behind you already... See what I mean ?

Here's another one: SoundExchange is a digital performance rights organization in the US. In order to claim for tax exemption on the royalties I might earn from them, I have to supply a W8-BEN form with my membership request. However, before being allowed to fill this form, the US embassy in France requires that I provide evidence that I'm earning royalties. So what they are actually asking me for, is a proof of my membership to SoundExchange. See what I mean again ?

Thank God I'm a computer scientist and I know how to break from infinite loops. Otherwise, I might have remained stuck in this forever and eventually died of starvation (like most of my fellow jazzmen anyway)...

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