"Parallel Galaxy" by Emmett Chapman

Transcription and discussion by Joe McCollam

Parallel Galaxy from the Hands Across the Board video

See also:
The Real Parallel Galaxy
Emmett's Essay on his "Offset Modal System" used in the song
December, 2004.

Wheel Charts and Offset Modal System
Emmett Chapman
September 10, 2001.

download transcription in PDF format

download MIDI file

MP3 of Emmett's recording with vocalist Josh Hannah "Parallel Galaxy"

PDF of Original Sheet Music for "Parallel Galaxy":

Parallel Galaxy, Emmett Chapman's recording from 1985 (recently remastered to CD) is way up there on my recommended listening list. I'm hard pressed to think of another recording with a similar blending of innovation and soul. The title track, Parallel Galaxy, is rich in these qualities, with a pervading sense of mystery made all the more intriguing when one learns of the connection between the tune and the album's cover art.

I transcribed Parallel Galaxy for the same reasons I transcribe lots of recorded Chapman Stick music; as a bonus I get a new, complete composition to practice and add to my list of tunes I can limp through. What I'm really after, however, is the "gems": the principles and techniques within the tune that I can "borrow", absorb, personalize, and use in my own work. Parallel Galaxy is full of these gems, and I'm sure Emmett won't mind us borrowing a few of them, so here goes:

The Key to this Parallel Galaxy is just that: the key of the tune, or rather, the mode of the tune. Emmett eschewed the standard "Greek" modes as well as the melodic minor modes so beloved by jazz players in favor of a system of modes he created in 1980, called the Double Offset Modal System. I won't go into the theoretical, logical (and mystical) process by which he came up with this; he has already provided a writeup which I highly recommend. But I will summarize (over-simplifying to a fault): Start with the Wheel chart on the album graphics, transpose all note names up a perfect 4th (e.g. A to D, as on Emmett's "Transposed Triple Wheel For Parallel Galaxy in D"), and collect all of the notes on the outer wheel and middle wheel combined into a scale starting with D: D, E, F#, G, A, Bb, C, C# (C on the middle wheel, C# on the outer wheel. Emmett likes to use both and refers to the C natural as the "x" tone). This is what Emmett refers to in the Wheel Chart as the "Paradise" mode (in this case, in D). This, then, is the "key" to (mode of) Parallel Galaxy.

Again, I'll leave it to Emmett's writeup to explain the implications and complexities of this mode, but to see what we've got here just play the scale: D, E, F#, G, A, Bb, C, C#, D. Hmm, basically major sounding: up, positive, but with poignancy in the flatted 6th and 7th degrees of the scale (Bb and C). Now what kind of chords can you get with this? Start with triads (no 7ths): D, Gm (instead of the G major you'd usually expect in the key of D), C, A or Am (that's interesting!), Bb augmented, E, F# and G diminished, also F# major. What about 7ths? Dmaj7 or D7, Am7 or A7 (lots of choices in this mode!), C7, Bbmaj7 (#5). So I see these three aspects: a. Basically major(ish). b. 6th is flatted, so you use Gm instead of G (major), and c. you have both C and C#, "allowing" you to use A or Am (7), C(7), and Dmaj7 or D7. So let's see what Emmett does with this in Parallel Galaxy.

The main theme (measures 13-20) starts with the chord progression Asusb9 (I've also heard this referred to as Phygian chord) resolving to A(7)b9, both acting as dominants in the key of D, followed by a subdominant Gm, followed by D. The A's and Gm have a Bb, the flatted 6th degree of the D scale (an added tone in the case of the A's), "announcing" that this is a new mode. (This ain't yer regular D major.) This statement is answered in measures 17-20 by F#susb9 to F#(7)b9 (with a passing Gm between them) to Em(b5) to D.

This theme is then repeated with one important difference. Emmett told me that he considers the dominant (A) chords to be potentially Asus or 7 b9#9, #9 being a C natural. In the first statement of the theme the C does not appear but in the second statement (measure 21) it shows up - in the bass! Weird. Though it is "allowed" by the combined outer wheel-middle wheel mode, I wouldn't have thought that would "work", but it sounds very cool.

Measure 29 starts the theme anew, this time transposed to Dsusb9 to D(7)b9 ... but wait. D bass going to C under the Dsusb9, but under the D(7)b9 is an F bass! Which makes the D(7)b9 actually an F13b9. So he's transforming to the dominant of Bb, and sure enough, in measure 31 - there's the Bb. The chord theme in D comes back in measure 33. The idea to take away here is that when repeating a theme, maybe you can put it over a different relative root, for example a passage over a C chord that you later repeat (same melody notes, no transposition) over an A minor or F maj7. Or transpose it to G and play it over Em or C instead of G.

The section starting at measure 41 forms a second theme. Emmett told me this theme epitomizes a "Starry Night" to him, which is what he originally titled Parallel Galaxy when he composed it in 1980. This makes use of the F# dim triad moving in parallel fashion to the G dim triad (both "allowed" in the mode, of course) all over a D bass, making it sound like D7 to Eb7, without an Eb. Then he takes the same theme to G, adding a heaver, funkier bass (measure 49), transitioning to a nifty "FingerSticking" 2-bar riff back to the original theme in D.

Then comes the improv section, which uses the mode in D until measure 81, where he diverges, returning back in measure 87. More about the improv later.

The intro (and "outro") also bear mentioning in the context of the mode. They cycle from a D root to an F#, to a Bb. Note this is a triangle on the transposed-up-a-perfect-fourth wheel chart (actually a V, since the Bb never "returns" to D), and that all of those tones are a major third apart. More about the "FingerSticking" technique behind the intro a little later.

So the first major gem in this piece is the mode. There's plenty of others, though. Read on...

Take another look at measures 41 through 45. The motif starts using tight closed position chords (the parallel diminished triads I referred to earlier), then it sort of explodes into wide open positions, still parallel, still diminished triads. Note that they are stacked major 6ths. A major 6th is an inverted minor 3rd, and stacked minor 3rds are the "recipe" for diminished chords. So here is another gem, contrasting closed position chords with open position chords, and you can make a nice open voicing for a diminished triad by stacking major 6ths. (It also makes a great 7th chord over the appropriate bass: e.g. F# dim triad over D is D7.) It fingers easily too: 1st - 3rd - 5th strings, frets 16 - 17 - 18, for example.

And as long as we're talking about parallelism, note how Emmett initially plays the melody in the bass strings (starting in measure 13), supported by melody-string block chords with parallel melody voicing on top.

Back to measures 41 through 55: Notice how the syncopation varies between the motif as stated in measures 41 and 42 and of measures 42 through 44. Same with measures 49 and 50 as opposed to 50 through 52. You can get variety out of the same pattern just by varying the timing a bit.

Looking again at the improv section, we see use of melodic patterns in the mode (measures 65 through 67, 70 through 73, and 79 through 81)), repeating rapid rhythmic patterns (measures 68-69, 73 through 75, and 89-90), and the use of his agile "4ths to infinity" licks in measures 76 through 78, taking him to different fingering positions via a quartal harmony "warp drive".

An important gem demonstrated in Parallel Galaxy is what Emmett refers to as "FingerSticking". This is basically arpeggios executed with both the right and left hands, fingering patterns interwoven. Emmett uses a left hand finger or 2 (often the pinky) to finger "melody" strings 3, 2, or 1 at the lower frets, thereby assisting the right hand, of course while holding down a bass tone (usually with his left index finger). He also uses the right hand thumb on strings 8, 9, and 10 (actually, on all of the bass strings in some of his playing) at the higher frets (~9 to 14) to assist the left hand. I've inserted notations in the transcription showing where the Left Pinky (L4) and the Right Thumb (RT) is used where this technique is featured: in the intro (measures 1 through 12) and the "outro" (measures 109 through the end), as well as shorter transitional passages between phrases (measures 31-32, 47, 55-56, 98, and 106-107). This is considered by many to be a "core" technique on the Stick, since the Stick's arrangement of strings on one fretboard provides so many possibilities for both hands. The idea here is that either or both hands can fret both melody and bass strings, providing unlimited possibilities.

Check out the lick in measures 37 through 39, it has a country-funky vibe that I like. It's easy to play - just a series of pull-offs on consecutive strings. The use of 3 strings in this lick gives an automatic syncopation when repeated. And under it ... I'm (nearly) sure that Emmett did not purposely quote from the Twilight Zone Theme in the left hand figure on the 10th string (cycling from C# to C to A), but ... there you have it. A cool country lick superimposed over the Twilight Zone. Welcome to Emmett's Galaxy. Reminds me of Charles Ives.

Transcribing this tune was very educational for me because of the above ideas and more. I hope you get as much out of it as I did. I tabbed it for standard tuning since it was recorded with a standard tuned Stick. You all know the drill for converting to Matched Reciprocal: Add 2 to all the fret numbers on strings 1 through 5.

My thanks to Emmett and Jim for finally publishing a detailed explanation of the Offset Modal System and including my analysis of one prime example of the System put to use.

By the way, Emmett has a new arrangement of Parallel Galaxy (this time on his Matched Reciprocal tuned Stick). He played me some highlights and it was too cool. But that's another story.

Joe McCollam [joemc@sbcglobal.net]
Sun 21/11/2004

See also:
Parallel Galaxy
Joe McCollam
November 21, 2004.

Wheel Charts and Offset Modal System
Emmett Chapman
September 10, 2001.

Getting started with the Offset Modal System
Emmett Chapman, Steve Gajdos, Ben Weber
November, 2010.