Scott August's Blog

Native American Music Award winner, and three time nominee, Scott August is a nationally acclaimed composer, producer, keyboardist and Native American flute player know for his forays into World Music. His music has been featured on the nationally syndicated radio shows “Hearts of Space” and “Echoes” as well as receiving airplay on the the digital networks XM, Sirius and DirecTV. Visit Scotts' website.


Cahuilla Flutes

2009 May 28
by Scott August

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Several years ago I had the pleasure to visit the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, here in southern California, with Marvin and Jonette Yazzi to look at five Cahuilla/Diegueno/Ipai rim blown flutes they have in their collection. I found out about these flutes from paydayloans16 Marvin and Jonette Yazzie and Ernest Siva, an elder of the Cahuilla/Serrano culture.

These flutes are part of the broader western rim-blown flute world which include examples from the Anasazi, Mojave, and southern California cultures.

Like the Anasazi flutes, many of these flutes are made of a elder wood, specifically elderberry. This is a common tree that grows wild in southern California. It blooms with yellow flowers in the spring. The inner core, or pith, of the wood, is soft and can be poked out with a hard stick for flute making. Three of the flutes in the Riverside museum were made of elderberry. The two other flutes were made of river cane. The majority of the flutes we saw that day were thought to have been made during the turn of the 20th century. All had four finger holes.

We took some photos and measurements of the flutes but were not able play them as they had been treated with a preservative that was toxic. I think it was formaldehyde. They also had to be handled with white gloves for this reason.

Measuring about 21″ in length with a 3/4″ bore, the elderberry flutes’ finger holes were evenly spaced in the middle of the flute. No information was known about the tuning or the traditional use of these instruments, although Ernest recalled that elders played this flute when he was a youngster growing up on the Morongo reservation in the San Gorgonio pass. The flutes in the Riverside museum were found in the Diegno/Ipai

The cane flutes were about 17″ in length with the top finger hole being about 8 1/2″ from the blown end, also known as the proximal end. From there three more finger holes descended toward the distal end.

The flutes all had some decorative markings. Hatch marks radiating from finger holes like sun rays and bands of triangles and wavy lines that were possibly burned on to the flutes.

Several weeks later the Yazzies made a few reproductions of the elderberry flutes. (Fig 1-A below) The pitch classification of the notes does not correspond to any western tuning and seemed to be random. Due to this lack of any tonal focus I never really put much effort to playing these flutes. That was a couple years ago.

About a month ago I dropped by the Yazzies and while there Jonette brought out some flutes that were based on the cane Cahuilla flutes with the finger holes grouped toward the distal end of the flute. When I played these there was a stronger tonal center than the elder berry ones. These were fun to play. (Fig-1 B-E)

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Figure 1

One of the better “tuned” ones was based on the note G (above middle C). The tones produced by a straight uncovering of the holes from the bottom up produce the notes G-B-C#-D-E with an overblown octave G. A cross fingering pattern will produce the notes G-B-C-D-E-(G 8va) (Fig 1-D)

Two of the flutes were based on E-G#-A-B-C with an overblown octave E. These flutes tends to wander a bit more between half steps depending on the players embouchure. (Fig 1-B/C)

The Yazzies also made a six hole version, but not based on any of the artifacts we saw. The pitches found in this flute are F-Ab-A-B-C-Db-Eb with an over blown note of E, a major seventh above the root. (Or a half step below the octave.) By not playing some of the notes I was able to come up with some scales, but nothing like the Anasazi, Mojave or NAF scales. (Fig 1-E)

These flutes have a very soft, intimate sound. What I would call sweet. They are not at all loud. Here is an example of flute D from Figure 1.

The Yazzies are making these flutes with their “grand father” tuning. I thought it would be fun to take some of them with me to the Zion Flute School (more on that in a later post) and before I even got them handed out they were spoken for. Luckily, I had one already.

You won’t find these flutes on their website, but if you contact them they can fill you in on the details.

© 2009 Cedar Mesa Music. All rights reserved.

Butch Hall Anasazi flute

2009 May 7
by Scott August

Just got my new Butch Hall Anasazi flute. Nice. LED Desk Lamps Smaller bore, straight finger holes, Bb. Modeled after the artifacts, this has no notch and requires a very tight embouchure. I’ll post more in the next few weeks once I’ve lived with it a bit.

Setting up a home recording studio

2009 April 27
by Scott August

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One of the questions I seem to get more than any other is from people wanting to know how to record their own flute playing. As I use fairly expensive, pro equipment and software for my recordings I’m never sure how to answer this as I assume that most people don’t intend to spend a lot of money.
So I called my friend Hal the person I buy most of my gear from at West LA Music and picked his brain a little. Hal gave me a few options for people wanting to put together a small, inexpensive set-up to record themselves and we’ll look at two different options in this post. At the bottom you’ll find contact info for Hal and I highly recommend you contact him before buying anything.

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WHAT IT ALL MEANS: Understanding the terms
Before we start let’s talk about a some of the components and what they do.

Microphones:
A Mic converts sound waves to electronic impulses. The better the Mic, the better the conversion, the better your recording sounds.

Audio Interfaces:
An audio interface (or I/O) converts the electronic impulses from a Mic into the 1s and 0s of digital code. The better the audio interface the better the conversion into digital code. Audio interfaces also convert the digital code back to electrical impulses that go to your Monitors (speakers). Again the better the audio interface the better the sound delivered to your speakers and thus your and your listeners ears.

FireWire and USB:
These are types of cables that carry the digital code between your computer and the audio interface very quickly.

Monitors:
Monitors are very refined speakers that ideally give you a flat response across the frequency spectrum. This means they don’t color the sound. Monitors are a lot like Mics in reverse.

Recording Software:
Recording Software is the application that displays and edits whatever you record to your computer. Think of it like a very powerful virtual studio. A Multitrack tape deck, mixing board and studio effects like echo, EQ and others all in your computer. Recording Software application also go by the accoynm DAW for Digital Audio Workstation.

Obviously you need a computer and for this article unless otherwise specified we’ll be talking about PCs and equipment and software that works with PCs. (Personally, I’m a Mac guy…)

OPTION #1: Studio in a Box
The first option that is out there is to buy everything you need in one box. There is a package
just like this put together by Røde Microphones called The Røde to Recording System. It includes:

1 Røde Microphone
2 Studio Monitors
1 Firewire Audio Interface
1 Steinberg Cubase LE (the recording software or DAW)
Cables, a setup manual and some other goodies.

This set up comes with a mic stand for table top use, but for recording a Native American flute you’ll need a full studio/stage mic stand. Usually these are not much money although you can certainly find expensive ones. The manufacture’s suggested price for the Rødes system is $1099.95 but you should be able to get it for about $750. Just like buying a car, you don’t pay the sticker price. That said retailer can only haggle so much before they lose their profit.

OPTION #2 Build it Yourself
This second option is to put together all the components yourself. This give you more control over each piece and could end up saving you money. The prices listed below for each component is a ballpark as to what the unit should cost, not the sticker price. The actual price may vary but not much.

M-Audio Mobliepre USB Audio Interface. $150.00
M-Audio StudioPro 3 Studio Monitors. $100.00
Audio-Technica AT 2020 Microphone. $100
Cakewalk Home Studio 4 Recording Software. $100

The total of these components adds up to $450.00. However you still need to purchase a Mic stand. Never-the-less you will most likely spend about $100 less than the Studio in a Box option.

The next step up is to move into Pro and Semi-Pro gear. I use MOTU’s Digital Performer (Mac only) and a couple of their audio interfaces and a fairly high quality Audio-Technica microphone. Each of these cost between $750 and $1000.00. I also use a stand alone a stand alone Aphex Tube Mic Pre-Amp, rather than the mic pre-amps in the I/Os.

SOME PERSPECTIVE:
I know that for many of you spending $500.00 might be a lot of money, especially in today economy, but to put this into perspective a top of the line iPod costs about $350 and all it does is play back music. Most studios spend thousand of dollars on their equipment and software. A single microphone can cost $3,000 and or more. So this relatively speaking, this is the best way to go.

SOUND CARDS
Many of you have asked me if the sound card on your computer will do the stuff that an Audio Interface does. As a Mac user I don’t really have a “true sound card”, but I do know that the process of crunching the digital numbers from your mic to your computer and back to your speakers takes a lot of computer power. If you have your sound card do all that work it takes power away from your computer’s built in processor and will slow things down like redrawing windows and can even cause digital audio clipping and distortion. Also most sound cards are not built for professional audio recording and are not made using the best and cleanest components. However, if you’re really on a tight budget you could use option #2 and not purchase the Audio Interface right away and use your sound card temporary. Trust me, you’ll want a better sounding I/0 sooner than later.

WHERE TO BUY:
Just like the flute makers listed on my site, I only recommend people or companies that I use and like dealing with. I buy 90% of my studio equipment from Hal Stevens at West LA Music. I find him to be straight forward and knowledgeable. While West LA Music does sell to the average Wannabe Rocker they also sell a lot to professional musicians like myself and understand our needs. Plus I think Hal is just a nice guy and easy to deal with. Don’t forget that out of state purchases don’t pay sales tax and West LA Music ships all over the world. Plus I just like dealing with a real person. He can be reached at (310) 477-1945 or at hals@westlamusic.com

You can also find gear at amazon.com but I would recommend that what your purchasing is actually sold by amazon.com and not one of their affiliates. There is also Musician’s Friend, which is owned by Guitar Center, with whom I’ve have mixed experiences, and Sweetwater who I never dealt with. There are any number of online outlets.

There is a lot more information about Native American flutes, recording them, playing them and their history on my website www.cedarmesa.com. If you’re not a member of my E-mailing list you can sign up there as well.

Understanding Pentatonic Scales

2009 April 8
by Scott August

What are pentatonic scales? How are they constructed? What makes them different than major and minor scales? Why are they the most common scale used in the world?

In this article we’re going to take a closer look at these very popular scales and explain them in an easy to understand nonacademic way.

Scales are one of the most important sbiancamento denti building blocks of music. Notes from scales, combined with rhythm, form the basis of melodies. A haunting, solo melody can be a rich and rewarding musical expression. Therefore a basic knowledge of scales is beneficial to anyone that wishes to make music, especially if they are creating their own tunes or just improvising (“playing from the heart”).

In the two previous articles we looked at diatonic major and minor scales and then the diatonic modes respectively. A good understanding of these principles will help you with the subject of this post exploring pentatonic scales. You might want to review them before diving into this article.

For anyone that plays the Native American flute the term pentatonic scale becomes a constant refrain in almost all conversations about this instrument. Yet very few people know very much beyond the fact that Pent is Greek for five. Even though this is the limit of most people’s knowledge, somehow a lot
of misinformation and incorrect terminology gets passed from player to player, maker to player, maker to maker and player to maker. This misinformation is completely invalid outside of the Native American flute world and for that matter is barely valid for the NAF. As if the Native American Flute world is it’s own little bubble, which it’s not.

If you want to be taken seriously by other musicians, and have the Native American flute taken seriously as well, it’s essential to be able to discuss music at a basic level using the correct terms that are recognized by the larger musical world.
Likewise it’s also good to avoid using terms that are not recognized by musicians, composers and music theorists.

Let’s start by looking at the most common pentatonic scales, the names they are known by and how they are constructed. Then we’ll talk about some of the incorrect terms and names given to them so you can avoid falling into the trap so many NAF players have fallen into.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

Potomac Festival notes

2009 April 4
by Scott August

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Potomac Festival notes

I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about last weeks Potomac flute festival. This was my first time performing on the east coast and it was a great experience. The week before I had flown into Raleigh, NC to do a workshop and performance for the Neuse River flute circle. I met some great people there, many of whom I now consider friends.

Raleigh

From the time I landed on Friday night right up till the following Monday morning I was on the go. Workshop Saturday afternoon, then rushing over to the small hall to set up, then perform, a late dinner, up early the next day to give some lessons…

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The workshop was on Intermediate/Advanced NAF playing and the level of the attendees, as with all workshops, varied greatly. There were some very good players and some very good flute makers.

Here are a couple photos from that workshop.

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In this one I’m showing how much weight my flute case can case support..

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Apparently I also demonstrated how to palm a basketball…

Setting up for the performance I encountered a lot of issues that I don’t normally have. The internal routing of my signal path got screwed up some how and it took a while to work through that. Then my small MIDI keyboard was not recognized by my gear. Never did figure out what happened there.

Regardless, once I took the stage I put all this out of my mind and focused on the performance. Without the keyboard I was forced to rearrange my set on the fly, but as I tend to not use a fixed “set” anyway this wasn’t a problem.

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Performing in Raleigh, NC

The Pit

After the performance a bunch of us went to The Pit for Carolina style BBQ. The master chef there is Ed Mitchell who is considered by many to be the premier chef of this style of cooking.
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Drinking a toast of Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon moonshine with Ed Mitchell.

Potomac

At Potomac the set up was flawless. Earlier that day I did a mock set up to find out where things had gone wrong in Raleigh and everything work exactly the way it was intended all along. The signal routing worked fine and the keyboard came online without a hitch. I always try to learn something from any problems and although I never did figure out quite what happened in Raleigh, I did learn more about how my internal routing worked and saved presets for several different configurations to use in the future.

During the performance I tried to played an equal percentage of Anasazi flutes to regular NAFs and debuted several new pieces.

The next day consisted of multiple lessons and an Anasazi workshop. The latter was interesting as everyone was at a different level of ability. Some were well along the Anasazi road, while others had just got their flute that day. A few just showed up to see what all the fuss was about. That made the workshop a challenge. Which level do you gear the class to? I tried to get a little bit of information for every level.

Flute Envy

In between all this I manged to buy flutes from Butch Hall and Colyn Peterson. I also got a flute from Leonard McGann tuned to a major scale and played a cool double by Brent Haines.

Here is the flute I purchased from Colyn and Kitty of Woodland Voices
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It’s made of Port Orford cedar with Katalox and is in the key of G# (minor pentatonic).

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I saw this flute with it’s crow/raven design and all weekend keep going back to it. Being at the table next to Colyn and Kitty didn’t help. (Big shout out of thanks to Kitty for all her help at my table while I was away giving lessons or my workshop.) At one point Jeff Ball came by and asked me to do an improv that he could film for the portal and this is the flute I picked up. Finally by Sunday morning I knew I had to have it and in fact have ordered a bass version of it.

I also got to try out a prototype of Butch Hall’s Anasazi flute. He is trying to base his on the original artifacts that were dug up and so they have a much smaller bore and no notch on the proximal end. They have a very gentle, intimate sound and I asked Butch to put me on the short list for getting one. (So Butch, if you’re reading this, don’t forget me!)

Set Up

Judging by the amount of questions I got about my stage set up I’ll take a moment to go over it here. I use an Apple MacBook Pro running MOTU’s Digital Performer and Reason by Propellerheads . The audio interface is a MOTU Traveler which handles all of my audio routing, including audio from the computer via FireWire.

The mic was plugged into this device and that signal was then routed to a TC Electronics Nova Delay for added delay. The output of the Nova Delay is returned to the Traveler. Then the mic/delay signal is bussed to an output to the hall’s main mixing board as a stereo pair, while my “minus” tracks are bussed to another output to the board. Again a stereo pair. This allows the person running the main sound mixer to blend my tracks, which frees me up from having to do any on the fly mixing. This is a luxury, normally I have to do this myself, while on stage, performing.

The keyboard was an old M-Audio Oxygen 8. Normally I use an Axiom 25, also made by M-Audio, but it was bigger than the box that I used to ship stuff back east. This was part of the issue that I encountered in Raleigh when the keyboard wouldn’t work. The Oxygen 8 is so old that my USB drivers don’t recognize it and I have to go through a MIDI interface. A real pain… The newer versions of all of these keyboards work just fine with a USB cable. The are class compliant

For my performances in both Maryland and North Carolina I played flutes by J.P. Gomez, (2 flutes) Geoffrey Ellis, and Pat Haran, (a double drone flute). As back up for watered out flutes, I carried one each by Geoffrey Ellis and Scott Loomis. For Anasazi I played flutes by Geoffrey Ellis and Michael Graham Allen. Lastly I also played a Michael Graham Allen Mojave flute.

Odds and Ends

This was a really well run festival. From my perspective things went very smoothly. The Saturday afternoon concert did go a little long and forced my Anasazi workshop to start a little later, but everyone was fine with that. There were great performances from Mark Holland and Jeff Ball, and I got to finally meet Geri LittleJohn! On Sunday night I hung out with Jeff, Margo Boone, Brent Haines and his wife, Leonard McGann and others. I also met Jeff’s new family dog “Hershey” and just had a nice relaxing time.

The only down side of the trip was that my sinuses were messed up the whole time I was on the east coast. I only mention this because when I told Jeff about the trouble I was having he answered, with one of the funniest things I heard while there, “Welcome to Maryland. If you don’t already have allergies, you’ll get them here!”

The flight home was long, going through Chicago, but from there we flew right over the Grand Canyon.

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Out my window seat I could clearly see and make out the buildings on the south rim. The red deserts a stark contrast to the rich greens of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

Back home in the deserts of LA my sinus problems are behind me, but I brought back new friends, long lasting memories and the hope I can return soon.

Mojave Flute

2009 March 31
by Scott August

During last July’s INAFA convention Michael Graham Allen played what he called a Mojave Flute. It had a sound very similar to an Anasazi flute but the scale was quite different. Michael didn’t have any to sell at that time but I put in an order and got my flute a few months later.

Surprisingly I didn’t mention to very many people that I had one iphone 5 remplacement écran but lately the largest number of emails I’ve gotten with flute questions have been about this flute. So instead of responding to each one, one at a time I thought I’d post a short article about them here.

These flutes are shorter than Anasazi flute being 24-3/4″ long with a proximal (the playing end) bore width of 7/8″. They also only have four holes instead of six.

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The “notch” on the mouthpiece is smaller, or less pronounced, than on a Anasazi flute. However given the shorter length they are a little easier to play than their bigger cousins.

Read the full post here

Scales and Modes part 1

2009 January 21
by Scott August

To get started I thought that I would post some older articles here first for those of you that might not have seen them. The post I’m going to choose should have a broad appeal and interest in the larger NAF world.

Scales and Modes are always a hot topic among NAF players,virtual reality glasses so I thought I would start there.

In harmony,
Scott August

Scales and Modes part 1

During my travels, workshops and performances I’m asked many times by Native American flute players and audience members about the scale of the Native American flute. Surprisingly, even among long time players and makers, there seems to be some confusion about the scale and the other modes that can be played on a NAF. Many people don’t know what the scale is and it is often mislabeled as a “native “scale which, in it’s most common form today, it is not.

History tells us that at one time the scales of the Native American flute varied greatly and that there was no standardized scale system. Today however, the NAF is most commonly tuned to the minor pentatonic scale, a western scale which like most, if not all, “western” scales can trace it’s roots back to ancient Greece.

But what makes a scale minor pentatonic? Or major pentatonic? Or major, the most common western scale? Is a scale the same as a key, and if not, how do they differ? To understand the the scale of the Native American flute it’s best to understand how scales are constructed. Not only will this give the player and maker a better understanding of the Native American flute, it will make them better musicians. For behind knowing about scales lies the secrets to what musical keys are all about, which different keyed flutes sound good together, what different modes sound good together and what is meant by terms such as Diatonic, Pentatonic, Major, Minor and Mode. These terms come up with increasing frequency during flute circles, online disscusion groups and between individual players and makers.

In this series of posts we’re going to try to answer these questions in a way that is simple for a non-musician to understand. Be warned however that this can not be done without getting into some theory. You will discover however that you already know much of this information intuitively. Personally I have always found theory to be fun. It’s like a puzzle. You start by working with a couple of pieces, then with whole sections and soon you have a complete image.

Don’t forget, it’s just music. It’s not brain surgery…

SCALES AND MODES:
WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW DO THEY WORK?

The most common scale on the Native American flute is the minor pentatonic. However with a little change of fingering other scales can be played. Since these scales will all relate to each other as they have some common notes they can be considered as “sub-scales” of a main, or parent scale. These sub-scales are better know as modes. Modes have been around for hundreds of years. The two most common modes are the Ionian, better known as the Major scale and the Aeolian better known as the Minor scale. As you can see the words scale and mode tend to be used to mean the same thing even though they’re not the same. They are related however. We’re not going to go into that here (if you want to get deep into this spend some time doing a Google search or poke around Wikipedia, there’s lots of information out there.) but for the purposes of making this easier to understand let’s try to simplify this down to the basics.

Let’s start with a major scale…

Read the full article

© 2008 Cedar Mesa Music – Scott August