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Muzoracle for Musicians

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Playing a Muzoracle Casting on an Instrument

In order to make sense of the following, please first familiarize yourself with the Full-Layout. Some knowledge of scales is also suggested.

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In addition to hearing castings online via the the Casting Engine, the music of castings may also be experienced by interpreting them on a musical instrument. The Casting Engine allows each suit to be heard in its own voice: brass, strings, percussion, etc. This is obviously not possible on a single instrument, although one can, of course, score a casting for several instruments or sequence its parts via MIDI. Playing a casting live on a solo instrument, though, is quite effective; it brings a real intimacy to the experience, and adds another level of spontaneous creativity to the casting.

In my studio, the table upon which I do castings is adjacent to the piano. I keep a laptop handy to play back individual Harmony Cards, and may use the Casting Engine to play back a casting’s final result; I use the piano, though, to explore the relationships between positions, and to emphasize whatever musical qualities I find most pertinent to what’s at hand. I like to close a session by improvising freely, using the casting as a starting point. But that’s just me --interpreting a casting musically is a highly personal, in-the-moment kind of thing. How it’s done varies from player to player, and from casting to casting.

As a starting point, castings can be read like sheet music; below is how it’s done. The more one is fluent in all twelve keys, and the more familiar with solfège, the faster and easier it goes. (Click here for a quick solfege refresher.)

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Honing in on the Drone. When “reading” the music of a casting, we use its key center -- as determined by the Musician’s Die -- as a reference point, and play it as a drone throughout the duration of the casting.The positions are then played along with the drone, in succession, left to right.

If a casting is ascending -- if all the cards and Solfege Dice are above the Musician's Die -- its music initiates above the drone, pitch-wise. If a casting is descending -- if all the cards and Solfege Dice are below the Musician's Die -- its music initiates below the drone, pitchwise.

Which octave in which to play the drone is player's choice. If a casting is descending, a higher octave is usually chosen for the drone, so the music -- which initiates below the drone -- doesn't get too low and muddy. If a casting is ascending, a lower octave is usually chosen for the drone, so the music -- which initiates above the drone -- doesn't get too high.

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Playing the Scalepoints. Each position contains two elements: its scalepoint and its card. The scalepoint in each position is always played: above the drone if the casting is ascending; below the drone if the casting is descending.

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Playing the Cards. If the card in a position is a Compositional or Musician, it doesn't generate any additional music -- we just play the scalepoint for that position, as explained above. If the card in a position is a Harmony Card, however, we play the given harmony, using the scalepoint as its root. If the Solfege Die in that position is below the card, the harmony builds up from the scalepoint; if the Solfege Die in that position is above the card, the harmony builds down from the scalepoint.

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Recap.The easiest way to read a casting musically is to first check out its direction. If it's ascending, you're going to play all the scalepoints above the drone. If it's descending, you're going to play all the scalepoints below the drone. If there are Harmony Cards in any of the positions, they'll build up from the scalepoint if the solfege die is at the bottom of the card, and down from the scalepoint if the solfege die is at the top of the card.

All of this may sound a bit confusing at first, but it becomes second nature very quickly; the cards and dice visually telegraph the music to be played. Below are a couple of castings and the music they generate.

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Above is a casting in Bb Ascending; therefore all of its music will initiate above a Bb drone. The scalepoint in the first position is "mi" -- the scalepoint note, then, is D. The card in this position is a Harmony Card -- an octave. Because the card is above the die, the harmony builds upward; the total notes played for position one, then, are D above the Bb drone, and another D an octave above that.

The scalepoint in the second position is "me" -- the scalepoint note, then, is Db. There is no harmony in the second position -- the card is a Compositional -- so we simply play the one Db. (If there was a Harmony Card in this position, it would build down from "me".)

The third position is the axis of the casting, and is at the scalepoint of "la" -- the scalepoint note, then, is G. There are two harmony cards above the scalepoint here -- a Major 7th and a Perfect Fifth . Because they are above the dice, they both build upward from "la," from G. The Major 7th is G and F# ; the Perfect Fifth is G and D. The total notes for position three, then, would be G, D, and F# above the Bb drone. Below is how all of this looks on paper, assuming we start with a couple of bars of the drone by itself.

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Here's another example:

The casting above is in Db descending; therefore all of its music will initiate below a Db drone. The first position is the axis of the casting, and is at the scalepoint of "te" ; the scalepoint note, then, is the Cb just below the drone. Because the cards are above the dice, the harmony builds upward from that Cb. The only harmony in this position is the Major Third on the bottom card (the cross card is a Compositional). The total notes for position one, then, are the Cb below the drone and the Eb above that. (Note that although the harmony in this case initiates below the drone, the top note of the harmony is above the drone. Harmonies that "cross over" the drone are fairly commonplace.)

The second position is at scalepoint of "ti" -- the scalepoint note, then, is the C just below the drone. The card is a Major Triad Card. Major Triad Cards play major triads with their root based on the scalepoint of their position, and build upward or downward from the scalepoint as the position dictates. The triad building downward in this position, then, is a C Major Triad.

The third position in this casting is at the scalepoint of "re" -- its scalepoint note is the Eb below the drone. The card in this position is a Musician, so there is no harmony to be played -- we just play the Eb. The fourth position in the casting is at the scalepoint of "so" -- its scalepoint note is the Ab below the drone. Its card is a Compositional, so once again we just play the one note.

Here's what the above looks like on paper:

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The above “rules” are the ones followed by the Casting Engine software. In practice, all sorts of variations are possible; use your imagination.

On many instruments -- such as the piano -- a sustained drone is not possible. A way to mitigate this is to repeatedly strike the drone: every beat, every four beats, whatever works for you. This brings up the question of how to interpret a casting rhythmically. The Casting Engine software plays castings back at 120 beats per minute, in 4/4; the drone first plays by itself for two bars, then the positions come in over top of it, each of them playing for two bars. In interpreting castings for yourself, you can play them in whatever tempo and meter you like, and assign each position as many bars as you like.

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