Holiday gift guide for the aspiring musician/home recording artist (a.k.a. “Music gear that doesn’t suck”)

A client who knows I’m also a musician just asked me about gift ideas for his son who has started playing guitar, and is interested in home recording. I immediately went nuts with the ideas for him, and it occurred to me that maybe it would be good to collect some of these ideas here!

There’s a lot of crap out there, especially on the “student” end of the price continuum. What I’m going to recommend here will not exactly be “cheap,” but I think it will be “reasonable,” and most importantly, it’s not crap. This is all stuff I use, or variants of what I use, and I’ve learned the hard way over many years of trial and error.

Most of the product links in this post go to Sweetwater, an online/mail-order musical instrument retailer based in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. They are my go-to shop for their excellent customer service (and once you have a sales rep, you may want to contact them directly to negotiate the price on more expensive gear — they will give you a deal), but I also encourage you to shop local as much as possible!

Computer Hardware and Software

Since we’re thinking here about recording music, and since this client I was talking with is a graphic designer who I know lives in the Apple universe, let’s first start with the working assumption that you already have a Mac, which means that you also already have GarageBand (free on every Mac). But they also make GarageBand for iOS devices, and there are plenty of other software options out there as well. But I really like GarageBand for its ubiquity, its easy of use, and its great built-in software instruments.

Recording Interfaces

There are two things to think about here: recording real instruments, and “recording” software instruments. Software instruments are what musicians of a certain age might think of as “synth patches.” They’re prepared samples or digitally modeled sounds of instruments, manipulated using MIDI. GarageBand and other DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) can manipulate both “real” audio and MIDI data tracks.

To access the software instruments built into GarageBand, you need a USB MIDI controller keyboard. These may look like a “Casio” type keyboard, but they don’t have any of the sounds or a speaker built-in. They are literally controllers, like your computer keyboard or a video game controller. They plug into the computer and take your input, in the form of key presses, and convert them into MIDI “events” that the software instrument interprets to generate notes.

A great thing about this arrangement is, it is way cheaper than buying a keyboard with all of those sounds built in. GarageBand is free, and it has all of the sounds. All you need is the USB MIDI controller keyboard, which can run as low as $100 or so. You may want one with full-size keys, but my preference is the Akai Professional MPK Mini MK III 25-key Keyboard Controller ($119), which has two octaves of mini keys, plus drum pads and various other control dials, and has about the same desktop footprint as my laptop… which means it fits easily in a backpack, so you can always have it with you wherever you go.

As for recording real instruments, well, if you’re trying to record a guitar, you may have noticed that there are no 1/4-inch input jacks on a laptop. For that, you need a USB audio interface, and for that I recommend the Focusrite Scarlett line. They go from the single-input Solo to the massive 18i20, with 18 line inputs and 20 outputs. I think a good place to start is the step-up Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface, with 2 in, 2 out.

If you’re recording with an iOS device and not a Mac, USB is not the way you want to go. I don’t have any experience with these, but there are plenty of iOS interfaces out there!

Microphones

If you’re just recording MIDI instruments, or electric guitar/bass, you won’t need any microphones. But if you’re also interested in recording vocals or acoustic instruments (acoustic guitar, horns, etc.) you have to have a way to get that sound into your computer!

As I told my client, I own a couple of Shure-manufactured Radio Shack microphones I bought 20 years ago… you know, when Radio Shack was a thing. The go-to mic for many applications is the Shure SM58.

Of course, that will need to be plugged into an interface like the Focusrite Scarlett. If you want something all-in-one, there are also great USB microphones you can plug straight into your computer. For that I go with the Blue Yeti line, which starts with the Blue Microphones Yeti Nano USB Condenser Microphone

Instruments (Mostly Guitars and Basses)

Are you ready to rock? I said, are you ready to rock?!!

Wait, are kids even into rock anymore? Some must be, because the factories still keep cranking them out! (Guitars and basses, that is. I think we’re still a few decades away from a kid factory dystopia.)

There are a ton of guitar brands out there and most guitarists and bassists are fiercely loyal to one brand. Fender and Gibson have the largest and most rabid followings. Personally, I love Fender, and I think Gibson is over-rated garbage, at least in the modern era. But with any of these brands, there are different tiers of quality. The most expensive and best quality guitars and basses tend to be made in the USA. Fender has another factory in Mexico where its mid-grade instruments are produced, and for entry level, there’s its Squier subsidiary, which itself produces two tiers of instruments: step-up models in Indonesia, and true entry-level instruments in China.

But here’s the thing: I’ve tried a lot of them, and I find that Squier’s Indonesian-made instruments are actually quite good, and are much more consistent than the “MIM” (Made in Mexico) Fender models that cost twice as much.

I don’t have a lot of experience with the entry-level Squiers, designated by the “Affinity Series” and “Bullet” brands, and I would probably avoid them. But I would heartily recommend the Squier “Classic Vibe” or “Vintage Modified” lines to any beginning or intermediate guitarist or bassist. Here are some great options. All retail for $400.

Squier Guitars and Basses

Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster Guitar
Great for: country, Americana

Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Stratocaster Guitar
Great for: rock, blues, funk

Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass
Great for: rock, funk, jazz (of course)

Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Precision Bass
Great for: punk, just about anything

Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass
Great for: new wave, rock, punk, smaller players who still want a huge sound!

The Mustang, with its shorter scale (30″ vs. 34″ for a Jazz or Precision Bass) is an excellent choice for bassists with smaller hands. After decades of playing long-scale basses, I’ve recently switched to a Mustang myself, and I may not go back!

One very important thing to know about these instruments is that they do not come with a case of any kind. That’s part of how they keep prices down. (Don’t worry… they are very securely packaged for shipping, but it’s plastic, styrofoam and cardboard.) So you’ll want to look at a gig bag, at the least, and I recommend Gator as a good, inexpensive brand. You may also want to think about a guitar stand, which come in many shapes and sizes. Just be aware that with all of their different designs, some may not be the best choice for the type of instrument you have. (For instance, the Mustang Bass has a very small body and slips right through a lot of the stands with bottom arms.)

Not into Fender? Want an alternative to Gibson? Might I suggest checking out Schecter? Their mass-produced guitars and basses are manufactured in South Korea, and they are very good. My electric guitar is a Schecter, and I love it. Their prices are comparable to Fender’s MIM midline instruments (roughly $700 to $1000), but the quality is notably superior.

Amplifiers & Effects

First things first: If you’re mainly going to be doing home recording with some of the gear I listed above, you don’t need an amp or effects pedals at all! GarageBand and other DAWs have tons of great modeled amps and pedal effects built-in that you can experiment with for free. And a really important thing to consider with this is that those are applied after recording, in a non-destructive way. Which means, you can record in a direct, clean signal, and then play around with applying different effects and amp models to your heart’s content, tweaking and tuning in your exact sound without ever having to re-record your parts. If you record with physical amps and pedals, those are going to affect the original recorded sound, meaning you can never get rid of them if you want to change the sound, without re-recording from scratch.

But of course, there are reasons to own an amp. Such as, you know, performing in front of people.

I love Fender for their amplifiers too. (Fender made amps before they made guitars!) Start small… until you’re out playing gigs (remember when those existed?), a practice amp will suffice. For guitars I’d go with the Champion 20. It has a bunch of built-in effects (that actually sound pretty decent!) so there’s no need to throw money at a bunch of effects pedals. Speaking of which… do not be tempted by cheap effects pedals such as the ones from Behringer. They are garbage! Poorly made and guaranteed to fail within a few weeks… if you’re lucky. Good pedals tend to be over $100 each, which means you shouldn’t get any until you understand what they do, and a great way to get an introduction is with built-in effects in an amp.

And for bass, it’s the Rumble series. Depending on the style of music you’re playing and the types of venues you’ll be playing in, you may never need more than the Rumble 40. That’s what I have. It’s worked great in practice, and it’s also worked great for small bar gigs with my jazz group. If I were playing in a louder rock context, I’d want at least a 100-watt amp, but the killer thing about the Rumble 40 is its size and weight. It’s a great-sounding bass amp that I can literally lift with one finger (not easily, mind you, but I can do it), which makes schlepping your gear around much more tolerable.

Other Instruments

OK, so there are a lot of other types of instruments out there. But speaking as a woodwind player who has several thousands of dollars sunk into various clarinets and saxophones, that’s a little outside of the scope of this post.

Let’s talk keyboards though. As noted above, I really encourage starting with a USB MIDI controller keyboard. They are so much cheaper than a full-function keyboard, and the sounds built into GarageBand are often much better — and a lot easier to work with — than the ones baked into a regular synth. But if you really want an all-in-one keyboard you can just, you know, play, I am a huge fan of the Yamaha Reface series. They are compact, with the same mini-sized keys as the MIDI keyboard I mentioned above, but they have a three-octave keyboard (with an octave lever giving them a full 7-octave range), and they are loads of fun because each of the four units is tailored to a particular “classic keyboard” style. They only have a few built-in sounds, but they are incredibly faithful recreations of classic electric pianos, organs, and synthesizers, with simple, tactile controls that recreate the experience of playing those keyboards. I think the best place to start is the Reface CP, which recreates the sounds of Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, the Hohner Clavinet (think “electric harpsichord” — Stevie Wonder used it to very funky effect), the Yamaha CP-80 piano that was used a ton in the early ’80s by the likes of Genesis and Hall and Oates, and more.

Drums are their own thing as well, of course. I am not a drummer, although I am somewhat of a wannabe percussionist. Bottom line: I cannot recommend a good drum set. I would caution about electronic drum sets in general though. They’re great for being quieter and taking up less space than a traditional drum set, but even now, they don’t sound or feel quite like the real thing, so don’t consider them a perfect substitute. That said, in many circumstances they would be an excellent choice!

One thing I am going to throw out there though for anyone who’s looking to add a little live percussion to their overall sound: check out a cajon! There are many different kinds, they are incredibly versatile, and they’re a lot cheaper than many other types of percussion instruments. Here are the two that I own (neither of which is a “traditional” cajon, the kind you sit on):

LP Bongo Cajon
Who knew a good set of bongos were so expensive? This is a great alternative.

Meinl Slaptop Cajon
Instead of sitting on this, you rest it between your legs. The center gives a bass drum sound if you strike it with the heel of your hand, and more of a tenor drum/tom sound if you use your fingers. The two sides have snares inside to produce a nice crisp snare drum snap.

Headphones, Cables, Adapters & Miscellany

Headphones

BEATS SUCK. Sorry, I just had to get that out of the way.

OK, now then. You can kind of go in one of three directions with this:

1. Use what you already have. One potential issue is that you may be buying a piece of gear that has a 1/4-inch headphone jack, like the Focusrite Scarlett, but your headphones have an 1/8-inch plug. Adapters to the rescue! Just be sure you’re getting the right male/female ends, and also pay attention to the number of black bands on the plug. Those are… uh… the… uh… “sound lines.” (Yeah, I don’t know what they’re called.) If a plug has two of them, it’s stereo. If it only has one, it’s mono. For anything headphone-related, you want two. There are also some that have three bands, in which case one is for microphone input. But don’t go with those unless you’re sure what you need, as not all jacks support the input.

2. Go cheap. I’ve avoided Bluetooth headphones because they’re expensive and Bluetooth still sucks. I am personally highly partial to Panasonic ErgoFit HJE120 earbuds. They’re under $10, they come in a bunch of cool colors, they sound surprisingly good, and the silicone tips (three sizes included) provide a nice seal that both a) improves bass response and b) effectively blocks out external noise in ways that, to me, beat all of Apple’s expensive technology crammed into hard plastic AirPods that are uncomfortable and fall out of your ears! Seriously, I always have several pairs of these Panasonic earbuds in rotation. I use them with my phone (unfortunately with Apple’s Lightning adapter that costs as much as they do!) and with my laptop at my desk. Buy them by the dozen! Give them out as party favors! You won’t be disappointed! (The link above goes to Amazon because Sweetwater doesn’t carry them.)

3. Get the good stuff (a.k.a. BEATS SUCK). For me, nothing beats Sennheiser headphones. When you’re talking about over-the-ear headphones, there are two main types: “closed can” and “open can.” The difference is, the closed ones are, well, closed, blocking out most external noise, whereas the open ones have a sort of “grate” opening, allowing outside air (and sound) in. You almost have to try both to see what your personal preference is, although one thing to consider is that open cans don’t keep the sound in as well as closed cans, meaning with open cans, others around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to (a little bit), and it also means your microphone might pick up some of the sound when you’re recording. That said, I actually do prefer open cans, even for recording, and my go-to pair is the Sennheiser HD 439, which, sadly, has been discontinued. I’m going to guess that the closest comparable model out now is the Sennheiser HD 559.

Cables

Most guitar cables you can buy today are pretty decent, so I wouldn’t be super picky about this. Personally, I like braided nylon cables because I think they look cool and they don’t tangle easily. I also think it’s important to have a right angle plug on one end, but that depends a lot on your model of guitar or bass: if the jack comes straight out on the front, the right angle plug is critical; if the jack is on the bottom edge of the instrument, or if it comes out at an angle like on a Stratocaster, then a straight cable is probably the better choice.

My go-to cable right now is a Fender tweed 10-foot with right angle plug.

Guitar Picks

Guitarists tend to be… well… picky about their guitar picks. They also go through a lot of them, so it’s good to have a bunch on hand. For me, nothing beats Jim Dunlop Tortex picks. I prefer the orange picks for guitar and the green ones for bass. (It’s not just aesthetic — the different thicknesses are color-coded!)

One More Thing…

Part of being a musician is… well, looking cool. Or, at least, looking unique. A great way for guitar and bass players to look unique is with an interesting strap. And let’s face it, guitar straps could be a lot more interesting than most of them are. I love the unique salvaged materials and retro vibe of Couch Guitar Straps. They buy up quantities of unused vintage car upholstery, seat belts, etc. and make guitar straps (and other accessories!) out of them. Very cool stuff. Not only do I have several seat belt guitar straps in lively colors, I have a “vegan” vinyl belt and a wallet made from material originally intended to be trunk liner for late ’60s Pontiac GTOs.

All the Albums of 2019

It’s been an annual tradition here on Underdog of Perfection: Around the end of November, I post a list of all of the albums I’ve purchased that year, and then a couple weeks later, I rank my top 5.

Well… I skipped it altogether last year, because I hadn’t been paying much attention to new music. The trend has only accelerated this year. It’s partly because I’ve been delving deeply into jazz from the ’60s and ’70s, but it’s more because… man, pop music really sucks these days, and I just haven’t been too interested in the more obscure new stuff either.

And of course, who “buys albums” anymore?

So, here then is my complete list of all the new albums I purchased in 2019. Ones I think are especially good are in bold.

Christopher Willits — Sunset
The Claypool Lennon Delirium — South of Reality
Com Truise — Persuasion System
John Coltrane — Blue World*
JV’s Boogaloo Squad — Going to Market
Lizzo — Cuz I Love You
Mario Alberto Silva — Pan-American Sonata
Steve Hauschildt — Nonlin
The Bad Plus – Activate Infinity
The Bird and the Bee — Interpreting the Masters, Volume 2: A Tribute to Van Halen
TOOL — Fear Inoculum
32nd Street Jazz — self-title**

* Technically a new release!

** OK, I didn’t buy this… I made it, along with my bandmates. But hey, it’s a real release… we even got a ton of airplay on Jazz 88 in August and September! (And yes, it is one of my favorite albums of the year.)

And while I’m at it, here’s my complete (and considerably longer, but still short) list of all the new albums I purchased in 2018, favorites in bold.

Aphex Twin — Collapse EP
The Bad Plus — Never Stop II
Brad Mehldau Trip — Seymour Reads the Constitution!
Christian McBride — Christian McBride’s New Jawn
Courtney Barnett — Tell Me How You Really Feel
The Decemberists — I’ll Be Your Girl
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio — Live at KEXP!
Elvis Costello & The Impostors — Look Now
Geotic — Traversa
Halloween, Alaska — Le Centre
Helios — Veriditas
Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade — Still Dreaming
Justin Timberlake — Man of the Woods
Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth
King Crimson — Meltdown (Live in Mexico 2017)
Myriad3 — Vera
OMEGA Danzer — FUTURA the Album
Optiganally Yours — O.Y. in Hi-Fi
Steve Hauschildt — Dissolvi
X-Altera — self-title
Yellowjackets — Raising Our Voice
Yes — Fly From Here (Return Trip)

A detailed look at my “Frankenstein” fretless Fender Jazz Bass

I got my first bass — a black Fender Standard (MIM) Jazz Bass — when I was in high school. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great starter bass. And even though I didn’t really like the black body — I’ve always found black and sunburst to be the most boring and overused guitar finishes — I loved that bass until I could afford to buy a better one, ten years later.

But I always felt like that bass was flawed because of something that was my own fault. I was a curious kid, and one night I decided to take the bass apart. I mean, absolutely as far apart as I could. I removed the strings, the neck, the pickguard, the control plate, the pickups, the bridge… I think I even removed the tuning machines and bridge saddles. And then I put it all back together again.

But I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know that the pickup height should be adjusted for optimal volume balance, so I just cranked them all the way down. I didn’t know that the bridge saddles needed to be adjusted in two dimensions for optimal tuning and playability, so it was out of tune and had terrible action. I didn’t know that the neck tension rod should be adjusted so there was just the slightest concave curve to the neck, so I had fret buzz.

Basically, I just thought it was a mediocre instrument, when in fact I had made it that way.

The lesson I learned was that I should not make any adjustments to my instruments, and it took me decades to get over that.


Fast forward to 2019. I’ve been playing bass in a jazz quartet for a couple of years now, and I’ve been buying new basses! For the past decade I’d owned a really nice Fender Jaguar Bass (MIJ) — red with matching headstock and block inlays — and a kind-of-crappy 5-string MIM Jazz Bass. I decided since I was playing jazz, I needed a fretless, so I went for a minimal expenditure and bought a Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass.

I couldn’t believe how good the Squier was for the price! Better than my MIM Fender! So I decided to sell the 5-string. I was hardly playing it anyway. I was curious about short-scale basses, so I bought a MIM Fender Mustang. But I hated it. The quality was crap. I don’t know what’s going on in Fender’s Ensenada factory these days, but I’m not impressed.

For those who don’t know, Squier is Fender’s entry-level sub-brand. Originally a mid-level line made in Japan, then for many years they were very poorly made in China. These days, I’ve since learned, they’re mostly made in Indonesia, using mostly CNC robots (rather than overworked and mistreated human laborers) to keep costs low but consistency and quality much higher than their reputation would lead one to believe.

I also realized short scale was a bad choice if I was simultaneously trying to regain my feel for fretless, so I returned the Mustang and bought… a Squier Vintage Modified 5-string Jazz Bass. It’s also surprisingly great!

Then earlier this year I sold the Jaguar and upgraded to my first ever Precision Bass, an American Professional. It looks just like the bass I learned on that I borrowed from my high school, before I got that first black Jazz Bass. I love it!

But that got me thinking… now that I have a nice solid American Professional instrument, I wanted to tinker a bit with another bass.

As good as the Squier fretless was, I hated two things about it: the synthetic fingerboard material (it just didn’t give enough of a “woody” sound), and the boring sunburst finish. (See above.) By now I’m comfortable adjusting the neck tension, action, tuning, and pickup height, so the idea of doing some customizations (just not to my expensive American Professional!) is not intimidating anymore.

For 2019 Fender introduced a new “Classic Vibe” Squier series, and there I saw the bass of my dreams… a “Daphne blue” Jazz Bass. But it only came in fretted. So I decided this would become the basis for my Frankenstein monster!


Fast forward a few more months, and now the monster is complete. Pretty much the only parts of it that are still the original Squier are the blue body, the tortoise shell pickguard, and the control plate. Everything else is new, with the exception of the tuning machines, which I stole off the Squier fretless (I’ll get to that).

I just love that look of the Daphne blue body paint with the tortoise shell pickguard. That was the inspiration to make all of this happen!

Yes, there’s a bit of headstock vanity, as much as I’m ashamed to admit it… gotta have that Fender logo! But the main reason I wanted this Fender neck, instead of just sticking the Squier fretless neck I already had onto this (which I did, initially), was to get that nice rosewood fingerboard.

Funny thing… when you buy a stock neck from Fender, they really just send you the neck. It just has 4 holes in it for the tuning machines, but you have to supply those yourself. I could have bought a set, but I figured I’d just use the ones from the old Squier fretless neck that I didn’t need anymore. Of course, the screw holes didn’t line up quite right, so I had to drill new ones.

Nuts. The other thing about the stock neck is that the string grooves in the nut aren’t really there… just little pilot notches. You’re supposed to file it down yourself. But a set of nut files is like $80! I considered buying some, but then I learned that this synthetic nut material is soft enough that you can actually “file” it with a set of roundwound strings… so that’s what I did! (I play the fretless with flatwounds.) It’s not totally perfect, but it worked surprisingly well and didn’t cost a thing!

Seriously? Did I really need to swap out the neck mounting plate? Well, yes and no. No, of course I didn’t. But I kind of wanted to, to get rid of any traces of “Squier.” But there was actually a good, practical reason for this. I wasn’t 100% sure the screw holes for mounting the neck would line up properly between a Squier body and a Fender neck. I was pretty sure they would. But not positive. This was an inexpensive (about $15) way to confirm that it would work, before spending a couple hundred bucks on a neck. It worked!

A Fender hi-mass bridge. The stock Squier bridge was perfectly fine, but I didn’t care much for the changes they made to the bridge saddles with the Classic Vibe series. Initially I swapped in the saddles from the Vintage Modified fretless, but a hi-mass bridge is not a huge investment and it does improve sustain… plus it just looks better.

DiMarzio noiseless pickups. Without a doubt this was the best upgrade across the board. The stock pickups just had kind of a weak and undefined sound… it was impossible to get that classic Jazz Bass “twang” from the bridge pickup. Plus you could never really solo one pickup because the 60 Hz hum was awful! These pickups are a lot hotter than the stock ones and give a very distinctive tone. But most importantly, they’re wired as split coils so there’s absolutely zero hum with one pickup soloed!

Of course, there’s always something. These pickups are taller than the stock ones, and they couldn’t be seated low enough to have the proper distance from the strings. I needed to rout out the body cavities deeper for them. But I don’t own a router, or a drill press, or anything that you should probably have to do this job right. But I was determined to handle this the way I’ve handled everything else on this project: fast, cheap and out of control. I found the most suitable bit I had on hand for my hand drill, and set to work removing wood. The end result was pretty ugly (and honestly, still not quite deep enough), but it’s hidden, and now things look and sound great!

Top 5 Albums of 2017: The Contenders

And so it is time once again for my annual ritual, in which I engage with consistently less enthusiasm than the year before.

2017 sucked. I mean, I thought 2016 sucked. But 2017 redefined just how much a year can suck. That didn’t, directly, have anything to do with the music produced this year, but the music didn’t help much.

Anyway, despite my generally negative attitude towards everything this year represents, I have nonetheless purchased some music that I have enjoyed. Here’s the list. As usual, I’ve put the most likely contenders for the final Top 5 List in bold. (Yes, I’ve only highlighted four. I can’t decide on the fifth.)

Beck: Colors
Com Truise: Iteration
Foo Fighters: Concrete and Gold
Gizmodrome: Gizmodrome
Hampshire & Foat: Galaxies Like Grains of Sand
Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference
Lorde: Melodrama
Lusine: Sensorimotor
Mux Mool: Implied Lines
Phoenix: Ti Amo
St. Vincent: Masseduction*
Steven Wilson: To the Bone
Thundercat: Drunk
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: The Vietnam War
Various Artists: The Bob’s Burgers Music Album
Vermont: II

* I haven’t actually purchased/listened to this album yet but I intend to and expect it to be good.

Stravinsky on that chord

Up to now I’ve only really been documenting it on Facebook (for some reason), but over the past 3 months I’ve been working on one of my most ambitious music projects yet, a prog/post-rock interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s been an interesting exercise that has helped me to get very (very) familiar with the piece, and encouraged me to research more about its origins.

Today I discovered this delightful video of Stravinsky humorously recounting the early history of the piece. Specifically, demonstrating the chord at the beginning of “Augurs of Spring” to Sergei Diaghilev, the ballet producer who had commissioned the work.

I like very much this chord. It was a rather new chord, you know? An 8-note chord. But the accents were even more new. And the accents were really the foundation of the whole thing.

When I finished composing The Rite of Spring, I played it for Diaghilev, and I started to play him this chord. Fifty-nine times the same chord. Diaghilev was a little bit surprised. He didn’t want to offend me. He asked me only one thing, which was very offending. He asked me, “Will it last very long time this way?” And I said, “’Til the end, my dear.”

And he was silent. Because he understood that the answer was serious.

What is that chord? I think just to mess with us, Stravinsky notated it rather absurdly with F♭s and C♭s. From the bottom up, the notes are: F♭ A♭ C♭ F♭ G B♭ D♭ E♭. So, that’s… um… well, if it were written as E instead of F♭, with ♯s instead of ♭s, it works out to an Emaj7/♯9/♯11/13 chord. Another way to look at it is an E (F♭) major chord with an E♭7 (in first inversion) stacked on top of it. Since Stravinsky was exploring bitonality, this is the most likely explanation, but really there’s no good way to notate it. Over a hundred years later, this is still difficult to grasp.