Thursday, January 28, 2010

Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. I lost sight of the path and yet I still managed to take a few steps forward; I just can't remember why it's important or what direction I'm going in. I think I've sufficiently come down off my high from the weekend, crashing back to earth.

I made very coherent pencil marks on a piece of staff paper, possibly a rough beginning to the orchestra piece. I've come to realize that I should allow myself to work on the smallest bits possible; it's easier to get, to get over inertia, and then it will be easier to put together.

And then Live crashed some more and made me sad. I finally sent a note off to the support crew who sent me an automatic message saying that they're really busy. Hopefully, I'll hear from them soon. It's disconcerting how depressing it is when it crashed. I see my vision of making this kind of music live crumble.

Reading Nietzsche at the bar, I realize that I'm not one of those people who doubts until it's proven; I'm one to believe until it's disproven. Something to remember. Fools rush in. Blah, blah, blah. Und so weiter.

The Jehovah's Witnesses dropped off one of their god-forsaken pamphlets on the doorstep; I'm not sure when and I'm not sure how. There were no footsteps in the snow, which means they either did it yesterday and it snowed a little over night, or they are the undead and leave no footsteps. I'll burn it in my next fire.

After the Roadhouse (bar) and a 10-dollar pork chop, I veged, flipping between 30 Rock and the "Dude". They made me smile, but not as much as this:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

closing the doors

I'm concretizing. I have a good mental image of what I am looking for, so now it's just a matter of figuring out a method to realize it. The process by which you create reveals itself in the final product, so to really invent something new, you have to invent a new process. My process has always been multi-faceted, and I like it that way: generally, a piece (a composed piece, not those improvised electronic tracks I've been laying down) is born through discovery - whether by improvisation, imagination, or concept - and then goes through an assembly process during which it goes through each of those stages and/or many more. However you generate and develop the ideas is not important; what matters is how you choose among them, separate the wheat from the chaff and then stitch it all together.

I've mostly been working on the orchestra piece, even making some marks on paper. I didn't get too far. I realized, through writing, that my mental image wasn't clear enough. Sometimes only by trying things out can you see that they're not what you want. I then tried improvising, just to get a sense of the first couple bars. That gave me some good ideas but still needs some polishing. I have a new concept, by the way. I've gone through several. I should know better than to talk about it before it's cemented. This one, I think, is a keeper, but just to be sure I'll keep it a secret till it gets more fleshed out.

I took a walk down to the lake. All the floating ice floes are gone, leaving only the two ice ridges. The lake looked soupy, thick.

I also went to the corner shops to pick up some food. My two friends Laura and Ashleigh combined influence led me to buy Chicken Bou-ya. Ashleigh put a couple cubes in with rice to make it tasty; Laura has a huge jug of it that so she can have soup broth whenever she wants. Now I have broth, and I put it in my dinner rice.

That's about all. I made some electronic loop music, but it's just ok. If you haven't heard the one with the guitar solo at the end, you should listen to it now.

Oh, and before I forget, I came to the conclusion that I should close some doors to the past - after an appropriate grieving, of course. So that's my personal goal this week. I wish I had real photos to burn now that I have a fireplace in which to burn them. Preparation for the future, I guess.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

blue train

I have a specific childhood memory of being bored. Of all things to remember. Alas, childhood memories don't always stick because they are significant. But I've been thinking about boredom recently, and then today there was a Times article about it. Quelle coïncidence. And the article said some of the things that I've been thinking and even gives me a new word to think with: microboredom. Microboredom is the unease you feel when you have to wait for 30 seconds in line to buy coffee. These days, instead of riding out the wave of ennui, we reach for our Apple-approved sMart pHone and check something - ANYTHING. It used to be that we could use those small moments to process moments of our life - distant memories, recent events - and tie them together. These days, we don't have time for that because there's so much information streaming in all of the time.

I've noticed this because I have nothing but time to do with as I see fit. And I developed a habit (upon getting myPhone) of feeling instantly bored and distracting myself with technology. But the unease is really so momentary and goes away as quickly as it starts. The article says that in moments of inactivity, our brains have better access to autobiographical information. Maybe that information is painful, so we gorge on new information to keep the old pain from coming back. Maybe if we take the time (and energy / and space) to come to terms with that pain head on, we can move beyond it. Maybe giving ourselves long periods of quietude will teach us what we need to overcome. It was nice that the article reinforced what I was already thinking.

Over the weekend, though, I was hardly bored. I went to Chicago on the train Friday night, then took a bus to Lincoln Park for some homemade pizza, then to cocktails (margaritas with chiles and cilantro?!), then to see Diana and the Dishes in a benefit for Médecins Sans Frontières. Saturday was walking and coffee shops, Guitar Center (for a much-needed guitar humidifier), and then to Wicker Park.

Saturday night was a salon in Hyde Park that I'd been planning on going to for a while. Hosted by Majel, one of the people behind Opera Cabal, it promised an eclectic of music and poetry hosted in a Kenwood mansion. Yes, two blocks from Obama's place, but I'd seen it so many times that it's nothing exciting. It was BYOB but there was a ton of food (deep-dish pizza) that we noshed on before the performances. The first performance took place on the third floor in a space that was almost like an attic-ballroom. Like a finished attic with 14-foot ceilings following the slope of the roof. A big enough room for the 40 some odd people to sit (on chairs or on the floor) and watch a slide show presentation detailing the history of the University of Chicago vis-a-vis architecture, the World's Fair, and modernism. It was setting the stage for the next new building at the U of C, the Arts building - the picture of which is below. There was a narration read by two people involved in the project and a soundtrack coordinated by a third. I was dying to ask the guy running the sound if he knew that you could adjust the sound on a Mac without it making that sound. If you didn't know, you can either turn that off in Preferences > Sound or hold down Shift while changing the volume. I, for one, hate hearing that noise in public, like in a coffee shop, and think that it's really unprofessional. After the presentation, being a mostly U of C crowd, there was the obligatory Q&A, which is all the more fun with academics. And by fun I mean tedious. One woman thought it was the right forum to complain about Jazz and dance being underrepresented. My friend Raynovich and I rolled our eyes at each other several times. Then there was a performance of solo violin pieces by a Lyric violinist. It was great for me to get to watch and get a better sense of how to write bowings. Then there was a lecture and preview of Opera Cabal's next performance in February. Devoted to avant-garde opera, unlike Chicago Opera Vangaurd which is devoted to new operas whatever their aesthetic, Opera Cabal commissioned a new opera from an Oberlin composer who acquiesced in spite of hating opera. So he stripped opera down to its essentials: music, drama, singing. The question of the evening was then "You call this opera?" This was tut-tutted by the U of C crowd, one person heckling "That's not a question." To which I would have said "That's not a question?" Turns out, it's an opera (according to the Cabal) replete with recitative parts (non-verbal, acted out, but moving the "plot" along - if there were one) and an aria (that was the harmony from a Wolf song, an English melody, and a text from F Scott Fitzgerald).

Overall, a good time at the salon, which then served as a preamble to the rest of the evening: breaking stuff at a party in Logan Square before going to some mushroom bar on North avenue for some Scotch with Laura and Nick. (Mushroom bar: they just pop up overnight and you feel compelled to try them even though you're pretty sure they'll make you sick.) Sunday was MusicNOW to see Pierre Boulez and his music - and two world premieres by foreign composers my age. A really good concert. Then met a friend I met through Twitter for coffee (she was at the concert with her boyf), before training it back to Wicker Park. Went to the Gallery for the dinner (watched Alan, who lives in my old place, play a couple songs at the open mic) and met Anna for a drink. Ended up sleeping on her couch after a fierce game of Scrabble.

Monday, I tried to get to work, still in Chicago. I taught a piano lesson at 6, stayed for dinner, picked up a brush I forgot at Laura's, and rode my bike to the train. The bike I picked up at my old place; it's an old Trek, but it'll do for winter. I was going to leave the bike at Bobby's (bike shop) but all the doors were locked. I ended up locking it with a cable at the end of the docks and running over to the train. Literally running. I had 13 minutes to go from Illinois and McClurg to Millennium Station. Google maps says it should take 18. So I ran, then walked, then ran; my legs got so tired, must be out of shape. Some guy tried to ask me for money, but I was out of breath and could barely squeak out "Sorry man, I don't have time for you." Made it to the train with two minutes to spare, just as they were starting to pack up.

Finally, after three nights on three different couches, made it back to Michigan. I'm getting better at being a nomad. I even got a travel/hiking towel and a mini-brush that will leave more space in my bag for clothes.

I'm feeling pretty good, healthy. I meant to do some planning this morning but got up late and spent most of the morning settling in. Tomorrow, I'm going to plan, continue working on the orchestra piece, and play a little with the loops if Ableton doesn't crash. I'm really close to sending their support team a message.

Sorry for the novella. Lots happened.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

app that

I'm sitting in Intelligentsia imagining. I had a sublime moment of confluence and wanted to blog about it but am in Chicago and left my laptop in Michigan. What to do? Answer: download a free app (using the wifi hotspot) and write a post. Everything is so amazing.

So they've been playing the beatles all morning. What goes through someone's mind when they put the entire beatles catalog on shuffle? Really? Aren't we sick of them yet? Or maybe a couple songs in a mix for the comedic kitsch familiartity factor. But for real, they're not backing down.

And I've been sketching for the orchestra piece. I think I came up with a working title: lim 8->1. But turn the 8 on its side so it's infinity. And the piece starts with a cloud of possibilities that gradually get more and more focused, finally landing on one note. From an infinity of possibilities we emerge and begin choosing one over the other every moment of every day, carving out a self. And suddenly, like coming out of a dream, I realized that Come Together was on. Perfect. The cloud coming together to form the one.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I amazed that I don't get sick of my computer. I spend most of the daylight hours working on music stuff in front of it, and then at night, I bring it into the living room to sit by the fire and relax. And these days, relaxing means surfing, blogging, twitter, facebook, whatever. Maybe reading. I've been reading Sartre and Thoreau - page by page. And sometimes South Park comes on and I get sucked in. Tonight, Superbad was on, and, just like last week when Borat was on, I tried to get into it but just found it so disappointing. Not funny, not interesting. Granted, I was coming in in the middle. Still.

OK. before you go any further. Click on this and listen in the background. Assuming you have speakers. I'll explain later.

Today, I didn't leave the house and didn't see any people face-to-face in the flesh. I talked to my mom on the phone (Happy Birthday again!) and sent an email. I got a really exciting call from a recorded voice in Spanish telling me that I won a million dollars and that I should press one. I'm such a skeptic. Like today, my cousin invited me to be a part of some Starbucks group on facebook and win a $25 gift certificate. I don't believe it. (And I don't care enough to risk wasting my time.)

I mostly worked on an electronic piece, practicing putting it together live with loops and synths. But this one file keeps crashing. It's not using too much cpu, and I've tried several fixes. It got me down. But then, I switched to working on another file and made it work. I still don't quite know what to do about the other one. Best not to think about it till morning. What you're listening to now is the piece that I did get to work. Playing it in Ableton uses 35% of my CPU power. That's as high as I've gotten so far.

In the between times, I ate some food - nothing special - and imagined my orchestra piece. I got into a discussion about composition a couple of weeks ago with my cohort Amos. His point was that composing at the piano - or the computer - limits your imagination to what you can play. My point is that relying only on your mind's ear limits your imagination to what you've heard before. My new process is to imagine the sounds - where they should be, what instruments, the overall gesture - and then draw them. Nothing specific, just shapes. I get sucked into details way too quickly and forget about things like structure and shape. Then I end up having to tweak all sorts of details in the final "revision" process, which feels more like rewriting. I've never been one to use an outline (as you can tell by this blog) but I think it's time to start learning how with music.

Lastly, thanks for the comments! Both on and off the blog. Sometimes I forget that people are actually reading it. I'm not sure why sometimes; it feels pretty self-indulgent. But every now and then I come up with something interesting.

So you're probably still listening. I'm fairly happy with it: it's not too interesting but not too boring. Good for repetition, good for background. If you haven't gotten to the guitar solo at the end, that's my favorite part.

If it's still going, read this article in the nytimes about people (mostly artists) who live in cold spaces, like 50 degrees or below. It caught my eye because I've been keeping the temp at 58 during the day and 56 at night. I actually tried 55 last night and was plenty warm. I've always had trouble choosing comfort over energy. I'd rather put on multiple layers than use more energy. Now I've got myself trained so that 60 feels warm. Last weekend when I stayed at Darick's, his place was like 75, and I started overheating as soon as I walked in.

wednesday as told by thursday morning

Wednesday really felt like a hump day this week, where Monday and Tuesday were the uphill climb and Wednesday hit a plateau, and now Thursday and Friday just seem like fun.

I am listening to all four Brahms symphonies this week. I found the scores on the music score version of the Project Gutenberg. And the mp3s I downloaded from iTunes for 12 bucks. Yes, all 4 symphonies, 12 bucks. eMusic had them on 4 separate CDs and was charging 48 tracks, which is more than I am allotted for the $15 monthly fee I pay. So I used the iTunes gift card my sister gave me for Christmas. It felt very fortuitous. It was my favorite gift card experience to date. In general, I find gift cards to be an obligation to go somewhere, do something, possibly even to spend a little more so that you don't have any money go to waste. Online gift cards seem less stressful so far.

Here's my favorite Brahms movement so far.

I'm also listening to Berg and Webern quite a bit. Laura lent me a copy of Lulu, and I made it half-way through last night. And I got to see the Violin Concerto last week at the CSO with David Robertson conducting. I first saw him conduct the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, and ever since then, there's been a special place in my heart for him. I also saw him conduct the New York Phil with Megan (the musicologist studying opera) and then met him afterwards. He also conducted the concert the next day, the Civic Orchestra playing mostly Webern and some Mahler. One thing that I love about Webern is that his entire catalog fits (mp3) on one CD. Quite the diminutive. Each piece is short, and there are only 30 or so opuses. How much better it is to see it live! On recording the delicate, pointillistic textures just get lost, the colors all fade and blend together. And the audience seemed to enjoy it, which is unusual. Boulez, in his pre-concert talk, said that he's been struggling to get this music accepted for over 50 years, and the music itself is almost a century old. New York had their own brush with Webern this year and had three different people speak about how to listen before the performance. Which sounds pedantic and condescending. But, especially for the older audiences, the blue-hairs, Webern is not the reason that they go to the symphony. And their fossilizing brains either have lost the capacity or the will to open their ears to new sounds. Let's throw some snide quotes: "new" sounds. And so I started my own Webern listening project with what I heard last week. I might throw in Mahler's 6th, since I have that recording already.

In personal news, I feel much better. I got new tires yesterday, and on the way back, on my brand-name smart phone, I got an email that I had been waiting for. But by then, I had stopped expecting it. See, for me, the Secret doesn't work; or maybe it does, but in reverse: as soon as you stop wanting something, you get it. Or maybe the Secret isn't about these mundane worldly concepts but about deeper things. Imagine yourself having spiritual awareness and, sooner or later, you will.

I went to the Red Arrow Roadhouse last night. They, along with several other local restaurants, have $10 specials during the week - because otherwise it would be deserted. The Roadhouse was fairly crowded, mostly the over-50 crowd, but a couple younger locals too. The $10 special applied to all of their entrées (except the ribs), normally priced $5-10 higher. So I got a steak on some bread with a salad and fries. And it wasn't half bad. Although it got dry by the end; I think the juices got sucked into the bread. It seemed like the perfect place to read Sartre, so I finally finished the introduction to Les Jeux Sont Faits and started in on it.

And then, finally, here's a thought from Thoreau: "I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Take Tiw

Tiw is apparently the English pagan god associated with Mars, the bringer of war. Which is also the name of one of the most influential pieces of history. Most people would probably not make that claim, but I would say that almost every war scene in every movie owes its music to Holst's classic.

I worked on more looping today and listened to Brahms' 4th Symphony. I love being able to download the score for free at the IMSLP but following the PDF version of the score is difficult on the computer. Either the notes are too small or you have to scroll.

It amazes me how little musical information it takes to make a repetitive, electronic piece sound interesting. I mean it's intended for background music, but still. There's an effect called "Auto-Filter" that filters out the high frequencies. Doing a sweep from high to low suddenly becomes a musical idea. And for each moment in the piece, I try to keep something (several things) repeating and something changing.

So back in the swing of things today. Sticking with the earlier metaphor, with the bottle opened, I got emotionally drunk and then had an emotional hangover. I'm still not quite as mindful as I was last week, but I'm back to working at it. It's a potential new habit if I can stick with it.

One last piece of exciting news: I discovered that I can drive to Michigan City, leave my car in the parking lot (at no cost) and take the train to Millennium Park. That's what I plan on doing the next few weekends.


Suddenly it's the morning - a grey one. I stayed in bed until I could remember a specific motivation to get up. Still working through fall-out from the wine incident, I realized that, no matter how much I pretend, I am still holding out hope for something meaningful with someone. And so I can either work to destroy that hope or work to realize it. What got me out of bed was the latter.

So many metaphors to mix; I'm excited. The French word for traffic jam is embouteillage, which means bottleneck, but also comes from embouteiller, which is to bottle up (wine). It's come up a lot in recent conversations about creativity. You can't be recklessly creative if you're blocked up about something - it's holding you back. Several people I know are in an unproductive, uncreative holding pattern, and the cause always seems to be some sort of personal crisis getting in the way of the flow. As for me, I think I've been creative recently, but maybe there are deeper depths to explore once I unbottle some of these traffic jams.

Tension / Release
My parents were apologetic, of course, not knowing about the wine. Like I said the other day, it's not about the object, the wine, whatever. That bottle didn't really contain wine, for me, but a year's worth of waiting, hoping, and disappointment. There was tension contained within that bubbled over Sunday night. That's the problem with bottling it up, creating tension; if you're in control of its release, great, but if not, then it's painful. It's like carrying gunpowder:you can either make some great fireworks or it explodes in your face. Ultimately, there was too much tension for its own good. Whoever it was meant for would have been overwhelmed by the significance, and so would I have been. It's like when I made pineapple mango pancakes for Cory. My sister had brought them back from her honeymoon in Hawaii, and I saved them for a year or two. So then I make them for breakfast and suddenly the whole thing becomes much more intense (for me). I'm an intensity junky.

And so, in conclusion, the things we keep we keep for our emotional attachment to them. In our Materialist culture, it's our' version of karma. See, really, in the East, in many of the religions, both good karma and bad karma carry a weight; the goal is not to accrue good karma (like points in some cosmic role-playing game) but to unburden yourself of all karma. ... Now that I say that, it sounds silly to say that Eastern religions have a goal. ... Well, for we in the West, to understand, let's stick with that and move on.

Monday, January 18, 2010

obligatory post

Got up late, got to work late, worked on some ideas that I had had. One, to set up Live sets for live electronic performance, turned out not so bad. After a few tweaks - and learning the rules of what makes it listenable or not - I was able to improvise the various bass, drums, and whatever else and bring it together. I'm practicing to be able to play live.
The other idea I had started off well but then the hazy vision I had for it got even cloudier. It's a mashup of two of my favorite orchestra pieces. You can listen to it on my tumblr site.

I had thought last night of gong to some cafe today - to get out of the house, maintain my connection with humanity - but it wasn't to be. Maybe tomorrow.

I'm watching Anikan fall to the dark side; he's such a whiny crybaby. It reminds me of someone I'm getting to know all too well.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

symbology of mine

I should probably start with an apology to my parents, to whom I just left the most irate answering machine message - yes, old fashioned, Seinfeld-era, landline answering machine. And now the explanation.

I was in Chicago for the weekend, arriving Saturday morning to feed a friend's cat, getting back to Michigan just minutes ago - around midnight Michigan time. Over the weekend, I went to a fun pot luck and the Symphony Saturday night, another symphony concert on Sunday, taught two piano lessons and had dinner that night with my good friend Laura. Leaving dinner on Sunday was difficult, but I couldn't figure out why. Once in the car, I realized that I wasn't quite ready to be alone for the week and started to feel lonely. But I also felt motivated and excited about the things that I could do this week. Last week really felt like work; this week is more open, so I can do more fun things that motivate me.

I'm planning on starting my orchestra piece - at least the research for it - this week. I got inspired by going to the Symphony twice, paying close attention to the string writing. Writing for winds is easy; brass, less so; strings even less. It's just harder to write "idiomatically" for them. Just like writing at the piano produces certain results, you don't want to just write piano music for strings. There's much more flexibility with dynamics, for instance, since you can have them sustain a note (forever) and then crescendo or decrescendo. There's also the issue of the bow and its direction: how many notes do you give them per bow? and so on.

And so when I got back to Michigan, feeling conflicted and confused but ultimately optimistic, I noticed that my parents had opened a bottle of my wine over the weekend. Ostensibly, no big deal. Ostensibly, it's just a thing, an object, practically immaterial. But in this case, it had become even larger as a symbol than as an object. This particular bottle, I had bought in Paris over a year ago and had been saving it for a special occasion. Somehow, there haven't been any - none that I've deemed worthy. Schade. So the bottle became an even larger symbol - one of the noticeable lack of special occasions. Which I find terribly depressing. And so now I'm finishing it off. And, you know what? It's not amazing. Pretty good, but I'd give it a B. The build up, the anticipation, the idea of the wine had gotten larger than its actual quality. Then again, for the 25 or so Euro I paid for it, I would have expected more. Either way, it's over, and in a way, I'm glad that I don't have this burden any more, this reminder of lack. It's become just the latest thing in a string of stuff - objects, facebook friends, whatever - that I've discarded (with or against my will) to lighten the load I carry.

So now the two original opposing emotions - that my optimism (naive idealism) had managed to subsume - have spawned a litter of half breeds running amok. I think there's a sailor's saying like: sad and lonely at night nothing to fright; sad and lonely in morning, friends and family take warning.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I usually post in the evenings after a long day of work, but yesterday I worked until 10pm (Michigan time) and then just wanted to sit back and relax. So no coherent thoughts. Just some late night tv (Conan's list of porn titles were so good - one after another, funnier and funnier) and a beer.

I am throwing together a piece that is actually turning out pretty well for an application that's due today (Friday) in 8 hours. It's all in one computer, but now I have to notate it and make it look pretty.

I'm slowly devising a new morality that makes it a sin to be anything less than totally aware of your existence and mortality. Empty clichés like "live each day to its fullest" and "be all that you can be" really suck the life out of life. Clichés are the devil's work; they numb our brains with empty truths that end up desensitizing us to life itself. And numb to the weight of our existence, we follow the path before us, walking step by step in the footsteps ahead. And then, in the last few moments of life, we catch a glimpse of its meaning. Finally. I'm trying to go past those words and really imagine what it would mean like to have this be my last thought, this be my last meal, this be my last piece.

So I'm working on some new maxims, soon to be clichés, at which point I'll invent some new ones.

* Live each moment as if it could get stuck in an infinite time loop
* Live each moment as if, when you die, they take a random, 15-minute sample of your waking life and use that to preserve your legacy to the universe
* All we have is our existence; all we know is our existence. Work to know death: it is real but unknowable.

The only universal truth that we have is that we exist. The freedom that we have is how to deal with that. I'm not one for believing in fairy tales: cheap, easy explanations. The reality is so much larger, and if you want to know the whole of things, you have to let go of the parts.

I took a great walk yesterday on the lake, almost out to the edge of the ice berg. Great footage; I'll show you later.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Woden's Day

I was way too old when I gleaned some of the etymology of the days and months. I love the fact that I was born in SEPT-ember which is really the ninth month, not the seventh and then OCT-ober, NOV-ember, and DEC-ember all follow suit. So it seems that July and August got in the way. I just learned, right now, today, where Wednesday came from: the English god Woden, who came from Odin, related, I'm sure, to Wotan but not to Wu-tang. I just realized how amazing it is that, despite all of Christianity's best efforts, the names of the gods (and Roman emperors) are still a part of our daily lives, woven into the very fabric of time.

First, here's a video. I took the images and assembled them on Tiw's Day but then finally made some decent music today:

I had lots of good thoughts today, and, what's better, I jotted them down lest I forget.

One came when I was taking a walk. The sun was shining and the snow on the streets was becoming muddy puddles with a hint of sand. I wanted to get out and enjoy it - must have been about mid-afternoon - so I took a quick 5-minute walk. Off to the side of the road, I found some footsteps from days before; turns out, they were mine. I even checked the sole patterns (you should always be able to recognize your soul, regardless of the shoes). And I got the silly idea to walk in them - walking in my own footsteps. I realized that it's a pretty good metaphor for what I'm doing up here. I've been absorbing all kinds of information, from academic to mundane to folk wisdom, so this is my chance to sort through all it. I came up with another maxim:
Everything you take in you'll have to process (sooner or later).
Two things: it's a good reason to limit how much we take in; it's a reminder that you can't just rush from activity to activity, from distraction to distraction, without some time to process. Else you'll be making decisions based on a tired, distracted mind.

So there I was, walking in my own footsteps, thinking about music. In a similar way, I have absorbed all sorts of music, but now is my opportunity to weave it together into a cohesive whole. And to do that, I should write the same thing over and over, while continually evolving it. I'll keep exploring new musical landscapes, but I am at a point where I have built up somewhat of a style, so I should explore this before moving on. But: Style is the absence of imagination. So by having a style, I'm giving up a little on imagination. That should be fine because genius is only 1% imagination, and I've already got plenty to work with for a while. Just like with music, I'm hoping to develop more of a cohesive self. Post-modernism may say our self is fractured, but that's only if we don't spend the time to make ourselves whole. [Not that we'll every really achieve it; it's a nice dream.]

Speaking of dreams, I had a strange dream last night where I got speared right through the gut. I was with my friends Corbett and Grace, and we were sitting around waiting for it to happen, like I was being executed or something. And then it happened, came and went; I don't even know who (or what) did it. And then we talked about how I was going to die and all that - no one seemed that concerned, not even me. In fact, maybe it was a dream test of my attachment to life, fear of death. It seemed like any other thing in the dream, nothing to fear, totally natural. At some point, though, I started to think that this didn't necessarily mean death; I mean, I just got a spear all the way through the middle, not much bleeding. I realized when I woke up that there was probably pretty bad internal bleeding. The weapon itself was probably actually a little bigger than a spear, maybe like a sharpened fence post or an atlatl.

In a way, a lot of ways, I'm somewhat of a monk up here - a hermit monk. Except that, whereas monks know exactly what rules they are to live by, I'm still writing mine. I'm content to have this flexibility, but it's still a lot of responsibility - responsibility, but not really more or less than what all conscious beings face. My mom gave me Walden, but I've also been reading "Les Jeux Sont Faits" by Sartre. (To be fair, I'm still in the introduction of the latter.) Walden, so far, is a bunch of self-righteous preaching; I'd expect more from a 19th-century New Englander. I'm holding out hope. It turns out, he also began his experiment at 30 - or just after. The Sartre, so far, has given me much more to think about. In the introduction, the editor emphasizes Sartre's strict atheism, which I've come to appreciate as a useful tool for thought experiments. I used to have such discussions with my old roommate who was a fundamentalist atheist. I know that sounds funny, but it's true. I don't quite understand how anyone can be so sure one way or the other; if there's one thing that we're all sure of, it's that we don't know the whole story. And anyone who thinks they do isn't necessarily wrong, but they're not seeing the *whole* picture. Anything that you can imagine, the Universe is larger and less knowable.

This is a long post; it might be a good idea to get more coffee.

I've also been trying to incorporate a new thought habit into my life: when I see people, I want to see them as the complex mystery of history and interrelationships and not as a 2-dimensional automaton. I think after years of being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of humanity that's out there, I have stopped looking beneath the surface of strangers I meet. It's too overwhelming to imagine the backstory to everyone, so I just don't. But every individual is a symbol of years of parenting, education, and societal effort; everyone is important to someone; everyone will find themselves at a funeral of a loved one, and everyone will find themselves at their own. Typically, I get more excited about ideas than people, but this is really just a new idea, a new framework, a new lens with which to see. I need some practice, but this time at the cottage gives me the time to solidify the framework before returning to the churning mass of people in Chicago.

I didn't quite finish on Sartre, but this is a good introduction. Throw in the word "responsibility" and "condemned to be free" and you're almost there.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

many days later

The lake is frozen as far as I can see. That's not exactly true. When on what used to be the beach--even when walking out over the ice ridges--there's no water to be seen. From up by the cliff, though, I think I can see what looks like liquid water. I walked out over the congealed ice balls over the ridge where I made the wave video last week and found a new ridge. The new one is much more dramatic, so I was going over the edge, not being certain I could make it back up. Throwing caution to the relatively calm wind, I went over the second ridge and wandered around in the vast desert of ice balls. Two amazing things: one, since I took the photo with my iPhone, iPhoto knows where I was when I took it and knows that I was out in the lake; two, my phone actually changed time zones back to Chicago/Indiana time while I was away from shore. I almost felt like an arctic explorer; it was a unique experience to explore this landscape, especially considering it is temporary and may never exist again. And yet, I was still tethered to reality by my phone.

I got to Michigan Monday afternoon after a crazy weekend. Saturday was my favorite, although it wore me out and I had to crash early. Sunday was nice but more calm and predictable. Saturday went like this: wake on a futon, drive friends to their i-Go car, make camp in a cafe, shower at a friends, get a text about dim sum, walk 4 blocks to dim sum, take train to coffee, meet someone for coffee, call up Laura, meet her and Joe at a cafe, then falafel at Sultan's, go to Myopic, almost buy Doctor Faustus, and then start to feel out of sorts. The Damen bus led me right back to Andersonville and I crashed on the couch watching South Park online. Wore me out. Sunday was coffee at the Coffee Studio, which has great coffee but is crowded so I stress about the seating situation, bagel with Amos to discuss music, coffee with Brian, food with Sarah, Gallery Cabaret for the open mic, denied (too many people had signed up, no room at the inn), then to a bar with Anna, Peter, and his French friend with whom he wanted me to talk French.

Discussions this weekend included: what makes an opera; how recordings are like pornography; how we have a crisis of imagination in this country; spectral music; my music needing contrasting themes; and so on.

That last one is interesting. In my music, I strive to create organic change. I start with the zygote and then grow it into a fetus and then birth it. Traditional Classical music has contrasting themes, acting as the thesis and antithesis, coming together to form a synthesis. Turns out I just start with the synthesis and work it out from there. A friend and fellow composer thinks I should start incorporating contrasting themes in my music. I'm not sure he's wrong; it's a good way to challenge myself. And a good time to rethink how I think about the world. I'm happy seeing the big picture, but it's helpful to break unities into their component dualities.

Friday, January 8, 2010

among the living

The snow is so beautiful, I had to document it. It's becoming an addiction that I'm going to have to break next week. I have impulses to share everything on the 'net. It started with Twitter, of course, but now spread to this blog (blessing/curse) which is getting me into youtube and such. I did have the thought that I would be open to making music for internet videos (assuming requisite artistic merit and creative liberty). I figure I'm mostly making the video as an accompaniment to music; I might as well focus on what I'm good at and leave the video part to someone who is more passionate about it.

So why is this compulsion to digitally share a detriment? Because instead of living the moment, I am prone to thinking: "how am I going to describe this later?" It's just a bad thought habit that is the opposite of my usual habit which is to live the moment and quickly forget it in order to live the next. It's finding the balance.

I am learning a lot about music the old fashioned way: aurally and through imitation. Today was mostly about preparing pieces to some day perform (such as at that open mic). I was going to do some crazy guitar shit with vocoders and loopers on Ableton, but I think I'm just going to play them on piano. Doesn't that make me sound like a burned out heavy metalhead when I say "crazy guitar shit"? It does. But I also came up with a great idea for a piano piece in the process. And I'm still toying around with the clarinet piece.

And then I had to pack up and leave. Per usual, I couldn't stop the music early enough to give myself enough time to really pack. Or clean. So I left an hour later than I wanted and tried to rush home for Grace's birthday party. But I couldn't rush because the highway in Michigan was covered in snow with no signs of plows. It started even before that when I had trouble getting out of our street on to the main street. The tire ruts led me almost all the way, but then at the "delta" the plows had created a snow dam that took a couple tries to get over. And then the on ramp was under an inch of fresh snow (with more underneath). Once on the highway, I quickly adapted to the new reality: stay in the tire tracks, follow the semi ahead with its blinkers on, go 40-45 mph. That was fine for about 2 miles, but then the cars behind caught up. And even though there were no signs of lane markers (the 3-lane highway was effectively down to 1) they felt like they should pass me--AT THE SAME TIME. One on the left, one on the right. I really don't know how they maintained traction. Their cars must have just been so heavy (yes, SUVs DO have a purpose in Michigan; I can still, however, call them stupid urban vehicles) that they didn't have to worry about going 55 on 2 inches of chewed-up snow. It was really bad only until Indiana where they either got less snow or have better plows. I was still on alert for ice until Chicago. OK, bridge, so I'm looking for ice; what would you have me do if I see it?

I was fairly tense driving, but I became aware of it and wondered why. Was the tension part and parcel of intense focus? Or could I be focused on driving without being tense. I decided a couple things. One, if this is the way I'm going to die, then I don't want to be anxious when it happens. Two, being uptight about dying in a horrible car wreck that never happens may actually bring on a "natural" death sooner. Three, breathe. My grandma told me once to breathe in a square: 4 in, 4 hold, 4 out, 4 wait, repeat. Dr. Andrew Weil said something similar but the numbers were different. Either way, it really does work to release tension--especially because I hold it in my gut (effectively cutting off the source of all truthiness).

So I made it to the party (almost 2 hrs late) but really made great time (considering). And here I sleep (at Corbett's and Grace's).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

talking guitars

This morning, while having my coffee, I came up with a vision for a piece that would get accepted by the Bang on a Can festival, the same festival I applied to last year. It happened because I was playing around with my software, learning its capabilities while covering stuff like Elliott Smith and Daft Punk. Why do I like that Daft Punk song so much? I can't quite figure it out--not that I've really tried. I probably shouldn't be admitting stuff like this, but, once again, I am not my preferences. I grew up on Nirvana (and Primus), getting into Beethoven in High School, playing classical piano, improvising, and playing drums in an indie rock band. So my tastes are confused, stuck in between. And yet, anything that tries to bridge the gap ultimately sounds cheesy and awkward. (Except Michael Gordon's Light is Calling, which only sounds somewhat cheesy.)

So today, I worked on a piece for clarinets that involves the good ole MacBook Pro. But that's hard work, so I practiced for the Gallery Cabaret open mic on Sunday: Elliott Smith (with computer accompaniment) and Daft Punk (with guitar through a vocoder). (A propos de rien, je devrais parler/écouter plus de français. Und auch Deutsch.)

I'll make some videos here soon. Most of the stuff I've done so far is mediocre--like I said, thrown together in a few minutes. I figure the more stuff I just throw up (regurgitate) the better it will get. On verra bien.

We've had a bit of snow up here. I ventured out to get new tires and had to traverse some fairly snowy streets--much worse than you get in Chicago. I've seen the dump-truck snow plows go by; they have their plows up and are going about 40 mph. I wonder if they just hope their sheer velocity will blow the snow off--or if there's some sort of brush underneath. They didn't have the right size tires but said it would cost $170 for two tires and installation. So I came back, telling them I'd call if I need them to order them. Then continued working.

Around 7pm, I walked to a nearby restaurant. Unfortunately, I didn't know exactly where it was and took a little tour of abandoned villas on the lakefront. And then it was closed. For the whole week. Which means they open tomorrow. So, on the way back, I passed by the corner market. I knew I wanted something decent, so the frozen pizzas were out. I settled on some homemade soup, which was frozen to within near absolute zero. After 15 minutes in the pot, it turned out not so bad.

While buying the soup, I asked the (clearly) local store clerk a simple question: "so is this much snow usual for up here?" Which turned into a 10-minute answer, more like a lecture, starting with global warming being b.s., saying that Al Gore is just in it to clamp down on industry (like he has nothing better to do), then touching on government conspiracies to withhold new technology from us, and finally ending with a recommendation that I "check out" Bob Lazar. He couldn't remember the website
name but said I could find it on Google. Well, according to Wikipedia, this Lazar guy is a total hoax, starting with the claim that "Greys" fly their spacecraft on Earth, and ending with him selling illegal hazardous materials. I wanted to ask this guy if he listens to Rush--shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Headed back to the big city tomorrow. Birthday parties and social fun. Hopefully the snow is worse here than there.

For Chicagoans who hate parking on the streets, you'll find this funny.
"If someone spends all that time digging their car out, do not drive into that spot. This is Chicago. Fair warning."
-Mayor Richard M. Daley

And finally, I think this is fantastic, but I will probably never cover it for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

taking the cure

My head screwed itself on straight today, and I had a pretty healthy amount of mental energy. Sometimes your brain just gets tired and then shuts down while it heals itself--like after a crazy new year's eve. [Yes, I'm still talking about it. One of my resolutions (before I found a better one) was to remember what I did this year all the way till next year. I still can't quite be sure what I did last year, but I think it was just something to fill up the night--I may even have been on my bike when '09 struck.] And then it just takes some time. The key is to avoid further damage when you're not strong enough to resist. It's like Silo says: "Do not oppose a great force. Retreat until it weakens, then advance with resolution." Sometimes you make your own great force in opposition to yourself.

Though I'm by myself, I'll have you all know that I'm not alone; there are a lot of people like me. Not that I ever really thought that I was that unique; I was always surprised at people's surprise when I told them what I was going to do. That's (apparently) part of my modus operandi: blazing my own trail. Even if someone else had the right answer, I wouldn't believe it until I found it myself. That's probably why organized religion never really stuck. Being an organization, its primary objective is to stay organized, and its secondary objective is to impart its "wisdom" on the people. The second objective typically supports the first, but still, its priorities are inherently flawed. That being said, one of the few churches that I've belonged to disbanded because "the experiment wasn't working." One could argue, if one were prone to psychoanalysis, that I felt abandoned, like a kid with a dead-beat dad, and that now I have trouble committing to churches. Which is really not true. I would say that I've never really felt a deep religious experience in a church or, indeed, with (a large group of) people. And now look at me alone in the woods; I saw and spoke to only one person today (the guy who fixed the shower that broke while I was showering).

I got up at a reasonable hour today, had a great cup of coffee and, while eating my oatmeal (which I yearn for as soon as I wake), I plotted the next three months--just like my resolution would have me do. I'm trying to be more structured with time, so plotting out dates, deadlines, goals, soirées, and whatnot is part of the plan. And so far so good. Bad news is I missed two deadlines, one of which was yesterday. Meh. Learn from your mistakes.

I decided that I am going to make an electronic album. I've got a lot of potential material; it's just a matter of organizing and polishing it. It started when a (facebook/bike) friend commented (on facebook) that he really dug (one g) a track that I did for Dubi's Bike Salute video. I had totally forgotten about it but after (re)listening, I decided it wasn't half bad. In fact, it was only a third bad and so needs some polishing but could actually be good. This random praise came at a time where I am working a lot on electronic sounding music and less on acoustic. I'm still really excited about combining them, but I've got some practicing to do with the computer first.

It's funny how I spend all day tweaking details and then the stuff I show you I made in like 10 minutes. This video is from a walk to the beach I took yesterday. After wading through a snow drift that was up over my knee, I got to what is usually the beach. This time of year, the beach is extended almost 50 feet by ice balls that have frozen together. I went all the way to the edge where the lake was violently turbulent. With the wind and waves, the sound was like a train with no whistle. The sound from the camera was unappealing (but probably pretty dramatic), so I made up something on the piano. It makes for a somewhat (opposite of) uplifting winter scene. Downpushing? Depressed? Either way, the mood that this induces is not how I'm feeling up here, the music just seemed to fit. At the end you see me get sprayed by a wave.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Little by little, I'm regaining consciousness. It only takes one night to lose but takes so long to get back. Tomorrow begins tonight, but tonight began this morning. It's a cycle, and you can either be on the spiral-track elevator going up or down.

I'm still adamant about having a clean space: having a clearer mind today, I had the mental energy to wrangle the space. I got up late (again) and drank my coffee with my oatmeal breakfast. There's something so pure and simple about oatmeal (even with the brown sugar, salt, walnuts, and curry that I add). After a weekend of some of the best food, my body is content with simplicity. So oatmeal, homemade bread, rice, and potatoes have been the main ingredients in my diet today. And a hot chocolate and a hot cinnamon milk. But in general, simple.

I did music things this morning but nothing really focused or productive. I am getting distracted by the idea of covering songs at the Gallery Cabaret open mic on Sunday nights. I would really like to be a better performer, but at the same time, I know it doesn't come as easily to me as to some. And so it's a question of whether or not it's worth it. Right now, I'm enjoying it, so I'm going to work up a couple songs and do them this Sunday. Probably the Elliott Smith song I posted yesterday and maybe another Nine Inch Nails song. The one I did last week seemed to go over well--or not at all.

And so I played the guitar a lot today and the fingers on my left hand are a little tender. They'll toughen up. And in the process of playing, I keep getting to know my software better. In a way, I can excuse whatever I do, no matter how tangential, as long as I learn more about the world of Ableton Live.

In fact, the last tangent of the day was making a quick cover of a Daft Punk song. You can hear it here.

I took a great walk to the beach today. Since my phone is dead, I charged up my digital camera. Turns out it can take movies. That will probably prove to be a better option for future youtube piano performances. But for now, I just have a couple images. I highly recommend spending time at the beach in the winter. Here, the beach has been extended about 50 feet by the ice. So far. We'll see how far it gets by February. It's not ice like you'd think, though. As you can see in the picture, it's like dirty ice balls that have been swimming in the lake that have frozen together. It was like walking on another planet. And intensely windy.

The last two nights, I got sucked in by the tv. Being weakened by the weekend, I was not strong enough to resist. And I rediscovered South Park. So funny. Tonight, I only watched one episode. Good thing we have cable; it's always on one of three channels.

All for now. I think tomorrow holds big things. Remind me to talk about time.

Oh yeah, read this.

Monday, January 4, 2010

full week ahead

As you saw from my last post, I had a pretty good New Year's Eve, the spirit of which seemed to continue the whole weekend as I traipsed about the city sleeping on various floors and couches. I managed to bring in the new year with the perfect amount of planning and surprise, leading from one brunch to another, from coffee to pot luck.

The pot luck was more than just random food: people were also supposed to bring random tidbits of good luck. I found out about it a little late and so didn't really get to meditate on this concept, but everyone else had one--I felt a little awkward. Turns out, having had time to think about it, I don't really believe in luck. Or, at least, I don't believe there's anything you can do about it; I'm not superstitious (or obsessive-compulsive). I wish I had realized that then so I could have excused myself from participating because of my belief system.

So then there was some more stuff management at the old apartment. It's getting there. I keep feeling lighter and clearer with each thing I dispose of, sell, or gift--even the stuff that I just store in boxes. If change is inevitable, then let's at least make progress.

So then, last night, under cover of darkness, I arrived at the cottage in record time. It was a Sunday night, and no one seemed to be driving anywhere. I think after a long weekend of ringing in the New Year people were ready for some sleep before starting work again in the morning.

When I got off the highway in Michigan, I could tell that the Lake-Effect Snow fairy had visited and that the authorities did not have the same obsessive-compulsive commitment to snow removal that you find in Chicago (thanks to the blizzard of '79). But I took it slow and made it safely to the house where there were 6-8 inches of fresh powder.

I slept a long, dark sleep that felt so good (but not enough). I foggily started setting up my space (and mind). Recall: "clean space, clean mind." I have since come to think that it goes both ways: a clean space leads to a clean mind, but it takes a clean mind to set up a clean space. Chicken, egg.

So I didn't get the space exactly how I want it, but close. I'll tackle it again tomorrow with a cleaner mind.

So I wasted away hours doing dumb things, took a walk to get milk and cream, got coffee at a corner market, and made bread. The market was cluttered, another obstacle to mental order.

Wasn't feeling up for anything big, so when I started music time (finally, at ~1), I just let the water flow down hill, instead of trying to push the river. Path of least resistance. For me, that means coming up with ideas. Then I managed to do some organizing of something I started last week. Nothing genius today, more just connecting the dots, shaping, tweaking.

And I didn't succeed at planning the future, remembering the past. That takes energy. After a good night sleep, I'll attack it tomorrow.

I think this blog would be more interesting if I didn't write at night. By now, I'm just trying to remember all the things I did, thoughts I had. Like a needle in the hay.

Oh yeah, I worked on learning this song, thinking about maybe arranging it some day.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

año nuevo

All of a sudden it's tomorrow or the day after, a new year or something better. In my absence from you )and myself( I've gotten older and wiser, cleansed and absolved, sameoldsameold but brand new.

The New Year came once I got back from Michigan. First, a finger-food smorgasbord in Pilsen: wine, champagne, and a mix of n'importe qui: people I still have never met, along with friends old, new and even newer. Then midnight: we ran around in the snow with sparklers, falling up and down. Second, a quick drive to River North for a late-night dance party at a spartan 46th-floor condo. (I did not drive as I was in no condition to. When we walked in (at 2:05) a half-dozen people sat in near silence and darkness. Suddenly, there was music and a steady trickle of dancers looking to swing. By 4, it was time (for my friends) to go, so I hitched another ride and slept (à la Bohème) on a floor back in Pilsen.

For those of you who don't know, Pilsen is a neighborhood in Chicago that is now a mix of hipsters and Mexicans, fixed-gear bicycles and elotes, high art and street art (after once having been the locus of Bohemian immigration). The hosts of the party had a Pitchfork-approved playlist on iTunes with turntables at the ready. River North is a soulless spread of touristy restaurants (Hard Rock, Rainforest) with condos for the nouveau riche. Is that East Egg or West Egg? I can never remember. What a great way for me to start the new year: a contrast of art and money, hip and chic. And for me, I'm not even on the continuum, but definitely somewhere in between either above or below.

Somehow, when I got back to Pilsen at 4am, I got into the apartment as everyone slept. [The door was open.] After 4 hours of sleep, I was wide awake and the world was spinning with possibility. And just spinning. Brunch was chorizo and egg with some of the best coffee I'd had all year. Then, just like the night before, I got dragged to a second brunch (at noon) in Wilmette. Suddenly, the spread was more cream cheese and lox, crème brulée french toast, mimosas, bloody marys, and more coffffffeeeeeeeeeeee. The children hogged the video games, so we had to wait till the end to play Rock Band. The best lines of the afternoon were exchanges with an 8-year-old.

kid: “Aw come on, let me play guitar. Thanks, now get out of my chair.” And:

kid: “Let me play drums, let me play drums, let me play drums.”
Me: “Listen, do you live here?”
kid: “No.”
Me: “Well do you live somewhere?”
kid: “Yes.”
Me: “Well, I don't.”

Then, after that, there was a pot luck. I think this is a sign that I will not go hungry this year. Maybe I'll put on some weight. I should adopt the opposite of most people's resolutions: gain weight, start smoking, learn magic.

My real resolution is to be more mindful of how I spend time. I usually think I do a good job of living in the moment, in the flow. But really, I sometimes wonder if I'm not just living in the very near future. And I want to think more consciously about the future and the past, tying them together with the present into a continuity. I have this image of the present being a valley and the future and the past being hills looming in front and behind. I want to see things as more flattened, connecting each action of the moment with its roots and repercussions.

Many more thoughts will have to wait. May this year be full of fulfillment.