A little while back, I received a very interesting package from my friend Patrick Borezo, an artist, musician and show promoter from Western Massachusetts. It contained a small, beautiful paperback book called Nonmusical Patterns and their Musical Uses, written by Chris Weisman, a guitarist who has recorded extensively for Greg Davis’ Autumn Records, and is also a member of Happy Birthday (Sub Pop Records). Patrick and his wife Amy printed and assembled the books, and are releasing it on their own Radical Readout Press.
It’s an interesting idea, to be sure… a collection of non-conventional scale patterns, chosen on their visual rather than their musical merits. I conducted the following email interview with Chris, to find out more about the project.
W&W : What inspired you to write the book?
In 2003, I started noticing more visual stuff happening on the fretboard, mostly when I was playing changes, playing over standards. Me and my buddy Bryan Bergeron-Killough (also a guitarist) used to have these long sessions every night when we both lived in Portland, Maine. I started getting interested in “scales” that would work visually (like the pattern is complete and strictly in the visual realm of dots on a grid, you don’t need to know anything about music at all to see them) but also be musically somewhat conservative in terms of pitch collections; the pitches in Nonmusical Patterns are the same as in conventional scales (or close) but due to this visual compass that’s also being respected, there are leaps all over the place. And the 2 octaves that fit roughly in a guitar position are different, usually when you play a scale it’s the same notes in every octave (and the scales don’t really look like anything). All this stuff is in the introduction. I started the book in the spring of ’05 and finished it 2 years later.
W&W : Were the 100 scales that you chose for the book the ones that you considered the most successful/applicable musically? Is this selection narrowed down from a greater pool of research? Which of your new scales do you consider particular favorites?
Well, anything where there was even one visual-side compromise to make the musical-side work I wouldn’t use, they had to all be visually perfect. I wouldn’t even allow stuff like: “well you could see that the pattern would complete itself this way if there were 2 more strings…”. I could draw 100 visual patterns on 100 chord charts in an hour but… finding ones that have the exact same pitches scattered as major, melodic minor, harmonic minor, blues, symmetrical diminished scales, etc. is a different story. And then the ones that are close but the added note/notes (subtracted notes are no problem) seem viable because of the context that scale is usually used in, that’s where a lot of weeding through happened. But because I am really comfortable with a standard-tuned fretboard I did most of the exploration just in my head when I used to drive a lot (now I don’t have a car). I had this Ford Escort that the stereo got ripped out of in New Haven, so I had a lot of space to dream on these long silent drives when my teaching gigs used to be spread out all across New England.
I’ve found amazing nonmusical patterns since the book has been done, really perfect ones, but I don’t think I’ll do a 2nd volume. I’m not trying to have this be my “one thing”, I’m more interested in just getting this idea started and seeing what people do with it.
I like NmP 73 on a blues, start the pattern a whole-step above the root on the low-E of whatever key you’re in.
W&W : What music theory background did you have before writing the book?
I have a BA in Music Theory, but my informal exploration began in middle school and has continued real heavy post-graduation, 11 years ago. A lot of musicians are superstitious about basic music literacy messing with their thing, but for me the way notes relate is a fucking awesome playground.
W&W : Can you supply any audio clips that I can stream from the website, and if so, indicate which scales they are representative of?
I don’t have any audio clips. You could make them! Honestly I am both a luddite and a technical moron, I have never made a digital recording or sent a file, my friends have to help me! As far as music I’ve made that would illustrate how they sound, I basically have this personal rule not to profit artistically from the Patterns, at least explicitly. There are solos and some melodies buried in my music (chrisweisman.com) but… I guess I think of the Patterns as more of a gift, kind of like basic research for the good of the field. My Dad is an organic chemist, with those kind of old-school ideals, and for me this book is my version of that.
W&W : How many copies are in this edition?
Right now we just feed the money we make back in to print more, I don’t think we have a set number where we’ll stop. For me, this is just so cool because the way the book looks – I guess that content/look thing is kinda going on on this other level too – Patrick and Amy [Borezo, Radical Readout Press] are just incredible artists.