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Modes of Limitless Inspiration
a Stickschrift for Emmett Chapman about his "Offset Modal System" by Sean Malone

To most of those who know of Emmett Chapman, "inventor" is the label most frequently ascribed to him. This is rightly so, since his achievements in developing The Stick are, and will forever be, a peerless contribution to the history of musical instruments. While this is no small feat, it is by no means the full extent of Emmett’s contributions to music. However, to think of Emmett only as an inventor does him a disservice: he is first and foremost a musician, with healthy doses of philosopher, theorist, and inventor mixed in.

Another of Emmett’s manifold interests is astrology. Admittedly a hobbyist, his imagination is sparked by the elegant geometry of nature rather than any of its superstitious implications. Inspired by this celestial framework, Emmett envisaged an elegant model of circular grids to describe his conception of modality in music, the "Offset Modal System" (OMS). Anyone who has seen the "charts" associated with the OMS intuitively grasps its geometric nature, however at first glance they do not immediately reveal their secrets. They conjure the kind of mystique generated when we are confronted with something that is seemingly ephemeral, while at the same time, decidedly intentional.

This article, presented in three installments, will explore the foundations, applications, and implications of the OMS, in long-overdue recognition of Emmett’s contributions as a musician, performer, and theorist. As you learn about the OMS and apply it to your composing and improvising, consider The Stick in a new light: it is not simply the result of an inventor’s ingenious design with which you can explore the patterns and permutations of music. Instead, consider The Stick as being the consequence of a musician’s desire to understand the geometry of music. In other words, The Stick is a manifestation of Emmett’s geometric conception of scale and mode, expressed both across, and within, a nascent grid of frets and strings.

Article Part 1 The harp at Nature’s advent strung
Has never ceased to play;
The song the stars of morning sung
Has never died away.

– John Whittier

Sean Malone is a performer and composer, and has recorded and performed with notable musicians such as Bill Bruford, Mike Portnoy, Steve Hackett, and Paul Gilbert. Sean has written four books published by the Hal Leonard Corporation, ranging in topics from music theory to transcriptions of performances by Jaco Pastorius. His website is www.seanmalone.net