Challenge #1 – Mugaritz Music

Let’s imagine that in a parallel universe we are one of the three Masterchef contestants. We are sent to Mugaritz and challenged to create a dish in keeping with Andoni Aduriz’ philosophy. However, in this alternate reality, the kitchen is not producing things to see, smell, feel and taste but is churning out sounds.

The final product will be recorded. I’ll book the players and studio in advance. This will guarantee the deadline is met.

Why am I doing this? What do I expect to get from it?

  • I want to get something DONE. ANYTHING.
  • I want to write much more. My writing periods are sporadic, infrequent.
  • I’m too ponderous when I write. My process is slow, laborious – probably because of ego, being too self-aware. In the past I’ve tried to be clever – to display technique for validation perhaps? Too much thinking goes on – too much letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would”.
  • This will force me to get something done within a strict time limit.
  • I want to know how it feels to have music pour out… to accept it, to not be apologetic, to not automatically reject material. I want to get used to that feeling.
  • I want the courage not just to shock but to present simple, even ‘raw’ things.
  • I want to get used to being out of my comfort zone.
  • Composing is intimidating because of the wealth of available choices. By setting up LIMITATIONS I’m making it unintimidating.

What are the Limitations/Rules? What is the essence of the Mugaritz philosophy?

  • Simplicity – 2 or 3 ‘ingredients’. How does this translate in our world of music? What IS simplicity? It HAS to be simple – therefore achievable, playable etc…
  • I must give myself SPACE to create. What does this mean? Time – I have to schedule fairly substantial writing sessions – 2-3 hours? (Smaller units of time i.e. 5-10 mins suit other appropriate practise; scales, patterns etc.) Surroundings – Mugaritz looks to Nature for inspiration. Get away for a few days? Failing that, long walks?
  • Collaboration – involve the band in the process on the day of the session. Give them space to create too. Think about what Pete Churchill says about writing for people: If you have the luxury of writing for specific players, don’t over-write – let them do THEIR THING. Don’t write bass parts for bass players, drum parts for drummers etc. because they’ll come up with something much better. Stick to ‘lead sheet’ format.
  • Trust your band. Don’t be too controlling with the written material. Enjoy seeing it taken in unplanned directions.
  • Be brave – if you feel uncomfortable about presenting ideas that seem too simple/pedestrian, you’re on the right track. Get used to that feeling.
  • Maybe include an unconventional element. Something disconcerting…even shocking. I want it to mess with people’s heads. I want it to be pretty and mental. Is there a contradiction here?! Can it still be said to be simple? If I try to shock, does that not go against the brief? It can’t be contrived. It must be natural. It must be a necessary component…
  • Ask what can be taken away. Notice that Andoni is always looking to strip things back; he removes the bread crisps from the squid and pepper meringue dish because “…this doesn’t add anything to it” – the delicate balance of the dish is disrupted by it. The taste of the bread dominates the subtle flavour of the main ingredients; likewise, he removes the pickled flowers from the tomato dish. The flowers look beautiful but without them the dish takes on a new level of boldness. Interestingly, Andoni says of the peach dish that “It is so beautiful, so outrageously beautiful that I wouldn’t do without any of it”. This is a ‘brave’ and ‘surprising’ dish because of its complex balance of strong flavours; green peppercorn, clove etc. It’s very much the odd one out of the the 3 dishes and yet Andoni says the philosophy of the restaurant has been “understood too well” in this instance. Complexity is fine as long as it’s essential.
  • FORGET EVERYTHING AND ENJOY. Easier said than done. How do we forget everything? What does this mean? Forget scales, modes, chords?

It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter. 


As a point of comparison, take a look at a tune I wrote a few years ago.


  • It’s a reharm. of the blues.
  • I was trying to be clever.
  • It’s difficult to play – there are lots of notes and wide intervals. I was treating it as a melodic and harmonic study.
  • I love the Brecker Bros. I was trying to emulate Randy Brecker’s composing style with lots of slash chords etc.

I don’t dislike it. I was trying to write or ‘wedge’ in the sounds I was learning about at the time – in this case, Lydian Augmented #9 (b. 9 + 20) from Harmonic Major. This is a powerful way to internalise harmonic colours: learning by doing/using.

For you harmony nerds…

Lydian Augmented #9/#2 – (#2, #4, #5)  is the 6th mode of the Harmonic Major Scale – (b6). (The alterations in brackets are the ‘alteration formulae’ i.e. how that particular scale/mode differs from the ‘Unaltered Scale’ or simply put, the Major Scale). It’s a brighter, more tense version of Lydian #9 (#2, #4), 6th mode of the Harmonic Minor Scale – (b3, b6). Both chords have Maj 3rds and Maj 7ths so we can use them as elaborations of Chord I Maj7. In my tune, S.T.I, I’m using it as a play on a common tritone ii-7b5 – V7alt device – sort of like a musical parody or pun. Our ear expects to hear G-7b5 before C7alt. DbMaj7#11 is a tritone away from G-7b5 (hence tritone substitution – it doesn’t just happen to V chords!). Therefore its root represents the b5 (of G-7b5), its Maj 3rd (F) = the min 7th and its #11 (G) = the root. You also get a splendid chromatic descent to the root of C7alt which is melodically pleasing. All I’m doing is twisting this cliche out of shape a bit by raising the 9th and the 5th. These alterations aren’t arbitrarily chosen (although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with altering anything one wishes at will – I should try this!)

Take the Lydian family of chords and arrange them in a ‘hierarchy of consonance’, as Pete Churchill calls it, with (what you perceive to be) the brightest, most consonant at the top of the list and the darkest, most dissonant at the bottom. In ‘Modal Jazz Composition & Harmony’ Ron Miller gives us a ‘Collated Order Of All Constructed Modes’ on p.122.

Make your own list.

Play down your list of chords and notice the colours change from light to dark. Do it in reverse – dark to light.

Choose the modal sound that suits your purpose.

If I’d wanted to go further ‘out’ I could have chosen, for example, Lydian Augmented #3 (#3, #4, #5) from the crazy Melodic Minor #5 scale (b3, #5) which would have given an ambiguous Chord V-ish type sound. Choices choices…

One might also view DbMaj7#11#9#5 as a tritone substitution of G-13b5 or Dorian b5 (Miller’s chosen label). It’s a ii-7b5 type chord and functions as a brighter version of Locrian Natural 9 (which features a tense b6). Because it’s functionally descriptive, I prefer to call it Locrian Nat. 9, Nat. 13.

Ron Miller says you might also hear DbMaj7#11#9#5 as a slash chord – FMaj7/Db, or a polychord – C|Db#5. See ‘Modal Jazz Composition & Harmony’ p 118.

It stands to reason that the more perspectives you can take on this material, the better your understanding will become.

There are other harmonic things I like in this tune. Traditionally we expect to hear Chord IV7 in bar 5 of the blues but I’ve gone to Chord V and changed its quality to Maj7 (bar 14). These next 3 bars should find us heading home to Chord I but I imply a whole other cadence with slash chords: we hear the D triad in the upper part of CMaj13#11 move to E triad in bar 15 which resolves up a 4th to A triad in bar 16 creating an illusory IV – V – I cadence over the C pedal. You’re torn in 3 directions; by the triads cadencing to A Maj, nailed to the spot with the pedal tone, and dragged willy-nilly to F by the expectation of your ear.

Chris Potter and the ‘E.S.P. ii-V7’

Chris Potter did a masterclass at the Royal Academy Of Music when I was in my third year and one of the many things he talked about was superimposing alternative changes over stated harmony with melodic lines . An example he gave was implying the ‘E.S.P. ii-V’. In the Wayne Shorter tune, E.S.P, the opening 2 bars of E7alt resolve to FMaj7 in bars 3 and 4. This is an unconventional yet subtle and satisfying cadence. Dark and tense (E7alt) dramatically turns to light (FMaj7) and yet modally speaking, there’s only one note difference between both chord-scales. E7alt derives from F Melodic Minor which in turn differs from F Major by featuring a b3. Therefore, Ab/G# becoming A is the crux.

It follows that this is a suitable candidate for substitution in place of the common perfect cadence: play E Alt over G-7 – C7.  

My thinking was to resolve to F7 instead of Maj7 – it’s a blues – (Intro) and precede E7alt with the logical chord ii-7, B-7 (bar 11).


I love this nerdy shit. This is how I think. However, it isn’t getting me where I want to be so it must be changed. This challenge is an experiment in behaviour change. It’s reactionary for a reason. Let’s see where it leads…







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