Modos Equestres (Equestrian Modes)

By Fernie Canto

1. Spike (Mode 7)

2. Dash (Mode 4)

3. Flutter (Mode 1)

4. Twilight (Mode 2)

5. AJ (Mode 5)

6. Pinkie (Mode 3)

7. Rarity (Mode 6)

All pieces composed by Fernie Canto. Written and recorded between December 2018 and March 2019.

Cover image by Fernie Canto.

The Internet has massively transformed the way many topics are discussed, taught and explored by people; and music theory is no exception.

The ease with which people can produce and find articles and videos about the subject reveals much about how music is seen, heard and made. It also makes it clear that certain topics are much more popular and appealing to people; it seems much easier to find videos discussing scales and chord progression rather than videos about melody or rhythm. One of the most common topics among those are the diatonic modes.

The word "mode" can refer to different musical systems that happened in the West through history. In modern times, "mode" refers to a way of transforming a scale into another, by keeping the same notes and shifting the tonal centre, that is, the note that serves as the main reference point to all others. The major scale, or the diatonic scale (those words can be used interchangeably depending on context, though they're not the same) is the most fundamental scale in all Western music, and from that scale, one can produce its seven modes, which are commonly known by Greek names derived from the Medieval Church modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.

From my personal experience, there are two main reasons to explain why the diatonic modes are so popular: first, they're relatively simple to explain and demonstrate, and second, the Greek names make them feel exotic and sophisticated to intermediary musicians. This results in a fetishisation and mystification of those scales, to the point where people refer to them as "the modes", ignoring the fact that any scale will produce its own modes. But there's a big problem: working with new scales isn't as trivial and obvious as it may seem, and musicians can be confused and frustrated by not understanding the musical possibilities of these scales, focusing only on the pseudo-mathematical process of deriving them. Besides, when people try to talk about these scales in musical terms, instead of describing their sound and their characteristics, they simply attribute specific "emotions" to each scale, reducing them to bland stereotypes: Ionian is "happy", Aeolian is "sad", Lydian is "whimsical", Dorian is "mysterious", Phrygian is "scary", Mixolydian is "edgy", and Locrian is useless and terrible. In other words, the diatonic modes are the Seven Dwarves of music.

And, well, I happen to prefer ponies and dragons.

Modos Equestres, or Equestrian Modes, came from two different desires that happened to match: the first was to tackle the diatonic modes from a fully individual, personal approach, devoid of external associations and processes. Many other musicians have used modes in their own ways, but I wanted to develop my own. The second was to make music about ponies. And a young dragon. Never forget the dragon.

You may know that making music inspired by cartoons is not new to me. This is the origin of Big Robot, Little Robot and Builders of Worlds (and, to a lesser extend, Making Amends), and I felt I was ready to take inspiration from the characters of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The combination of both desires was perfect, not only because the number of main characters matched the number of diatonic modes, but the rich, nuanced nature of the characters would allow me to explore the modes without falling into shallow, obvious emotional associations. I would be obliged to find the musical and emotional possibilities of these scales on my own terms, using the seven characters as a frame of reference in terms of structure, texture, dynamics and overall feel. As with the albums previously mentioned, I didn't intend to create music that perfectly reproduces what these character are; after all, they represent different things to different people, so the music tries to reproduce what the characters represent to me personally. They're paintings, not photographs.

All compositions are written for solo piano--piece no. 6 is the only exception, being scored for piano and kazoo. Each composition is based on a different mode of the diatonic scale, using only the seven notes of its corresponding mode--piece no. 6 is the only exception, because it's Pinkie. These pieces were originally intended to be performed live by me, but none of these recordings are live performances; they were cobbled together from many takes and heavily altered and fixed via a MIDI editor. Piece no. 4, which is almost fully improvised, is the closest one to a live take, though it did require a few fixes. Also, the titles refer only to the numerical order of the diatonic modes instead of their Greek names, as a stance against the fetishist exploitation of this topic, and an attempt to shift the focus towards the characters they represent.

All pieces were written and recorded by Fernie Canto between December 2018 and March 2019. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and its characters are owned by Hasbro. This work is dedicated to everyone who works on the show, as well as its fans; it's also dedicated to all the aspiring musicians who are still scared of trusting their intuition and their ears.

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