June 6th, 2017
I’m almost done with some new material. I started writing music back in January 2016 because I wanted to be in the midst of writing. I had no goals in mind. I wrote two small, quiet songs off the bat, both songs that were lyrically defensive. I had lots of other loose ends, ideas for different kinds of music kicking around. For one, I chewed on a progression of bass notes punctuated by putting your head underwater. It was a little tune I sang to myself while swimming laps. I wrote a song in April ’16 because I didn’t have a song handy to convey how angry I was at someone. It’s a song that works as a tool (specifically a lever). I wrote a decent country song, one with lots of chords that mimicked the chords from another (non-country) song I was bullish on. It was my third try writing a country song and this time it worked. I tried pushing through a song I’d had little ideas about for a while – this song was about how the song was a rip off of another song, and ascribed a certain conscious awareness of this fact to the song itself. After striking out in the method of writing via recording, I started notating this song and found something there for the first time.
In the midst of this, I wrote a couple new compositions for Reps, I band I’m 1/5 of that started back in early 2015. We had a nice bloom of new material in the second half of 2016 and I’m very excited about how we sound. Jeff, the bass player, has christened our work “Rock Instrument Music” – that is, music made on rock instruments, but not exactly rock music. There’s sheet music for most of it, it’s repetitive but sometimes complicated. I wouldn’t call it songs.
Around the same time I remounted a piece called The Gentleman Rests I wrote in late 2014/early 2015. I reorchestrated it a bit, and in the performance I conducted it, so I got inside the piece in that way you do when you’re responsible for nine players getting to the right spot together. To occupy my brain before shows each night, I would sing as many songs along with a guitar as I could remember. It was like getting ready for a test – not cramming, but preparing your brain. I never found cramming useful; either you already know it or you don’t. But get your brain feeling lithe and spry and you’ll be fine. Songs felt like the useful tool here, not pieces.
These focuses is not atypical in a year in my musical life (right now I’m also knee deep in Max/MSP for two upcoming installations). I’m looking at this pile of recorded material I’m assembling – the short, soft songs, the country song, the pool song, the rip off song, something that’s really more of a piece than a song (no words, no conventional song form). As I’m releasing it on my label, I’m putting on my label guy hat, and I’m thinking, christ, who’s gonna receive this record? It’s all over the place. Why can’t I just find a voice for 40 minutes of music?
I find two things: 1.) I’m pleased at my range 2.) It’s probably hard to find unless you’ve been around me a lot, but some threads are becoming apparent to me. There’s a kind of sprawling song-sort-of-thing, on the edge of being a song and being a piece, that’s becoming the clearest, most consistent form of expression I’ve got. Probably 5-9 min, probably not purely instrumental, but probably with only a sprinkling of words here and there. Repetitive in a particular way that feels functional, not idiomatic to, say, motoric minimalism or gamelan or sample-based music or anything else I’ve been involved with. But the repetitive part is pretty essential.
At age 34 I’m not now trying, nor have I at any time in the past 15 years, to focus on be exceptionally great at any one thing. But in spite of that it’s hard not to form an identity, in this case, a sonic imprint.
I’d liken it to when I was 20 and the way I looked changed a lot. In a short span, I cut off my long hair, grew & shaved numerous beards, had to stop wearing contact lenses, etc. One time I was in a dance studio wearing a green shirt I’d had for a while and some green sweat pants (I think maybe also tall green socks too) [I’m wearing this shirt & sweat pants today while convalescing from a hospital visit, it turns out]. I looked in the mirror, saw the green, and recognized it immediately. I didn’t recognize my own face, but the green was clearly me.
I figured out how to write a piece when I was 19, but it took me til age 25 to write a song. The idea of a piece worked more for my younger self – the rules are what you say they are. Form is what you want it to be. Most music I wrote before 25 didn’t really repeat much if at all. I went to grad school to write music when I was 26, and I produced a ton of material for the three years after that. Since then, it’s a slower flow, and what comes out is more likely to be repetitive and at least referencing some kind of known form. I think songs suit present-day me better. I also think about a personal forerunner like Bob Ashley, who called much of what he did “songs”, though that was unlikely to be the first word that came to other people’s minds about them. I like how gentle and friendly this designation is, what it opens up for pieces and songs alike. Songs in this context can last forever and include whatever music or non-music you like, but there’s gotta be a singer’s intention behind it of laying bare, of opening oneself.
Being in a position where as an artist you have to remake the world every single time you sit down is but one possibility. I still can do that, but I realize it’s one of several available modes. It was hard for me to accept at age 20 that drilling down deep and continually refining one thought, one idea, one style, was valid/cool/artistic. I was pretty cocky and emotionally detached.
I listen back to things I’ve done, and it feels like a historical thing mostly, but not an exercise in mirror looking. And then again there’s a kernel in some clips where the recognition is there. You stop what you’re doing and you marvel at finding yourself amidst all the creative silt, amongst all the hours of labor and compression of time past.
This album isn’t done yet, but already listening to it for mixing & such, it feels like me as I’m making it. So that’s a neat thing I wasn’t counting on.
May 24th, 2017
Scrap that old title. My solo album that’s gonna come out this fall is now called Qualms Rectified. Feeling better about that. It’s real close to being done, real close. Expect to see some more shows around that material.
In the meantime, Reps is back in June with an eye towards recording our treasures to share with you in your home or wherever. And having not spent much time making installations in the past, I’ll have two within one week in July – one with thingNY at Harvestworks and another with Abigail Levine at Fridman Gallery. Details are on the shows page!
February 8th, 2017
Feels like an awful long time ago, but last October, some great people joined me in putting up three shows of my piece The Gentleman Rests. You can see video of the final night here:
I’m working on a new solo album right now. It moves slowly, then all at once. It’ll be called Quad Rollin. Not sure why. And Reps is back at it again.
August 17th, 2016
Big news: my piece The Gentleman Rests is going to be performed at JACK in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn from Oct 27-29. More info is here & tickets are here. This is biggest piece I’ve ever undertaken and a particularly timely one at that. It concerns the final moments of the drawn out 2000 presidential election, when members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to raise objections about the many problems of how things played out in Florida, and Al Gore, presiding over a joint session of Congress, turned away these objections on procedural grounds, securing his own final defeat. Here’s a little taste of the piece from its original performance, this version will be similar but expanded a bit.
Before that, thingNY is hosting a party to celebrate the release of our first album in six years & first ever LP, minis/Trajectories. The party is on September 20th at HERE Arts and will be multiple buckets of fun. I promise.
March 10th, 2016
What else? I’ve started playing solo guitar & voice sets again. Something new to explore in the kind of slow & sparse direction. thingNY & Varispeed & Panoply Lab are teaming up to do a test run of a Kenneth Gaburo piece next month, more on that in 2017. Reps is playing April 3rd. Gold Bolus has some great stuff coming out this spring. Time & art move forward. Stay tuned.
October 2nd, 2015
Welcome to Octubre. September was the mammoth month of Varispeed’s Perfect Lives Jersey City and thingNY’s This Takes Place Close By. Funny how this year has been a year of fewer shows but much more effort put into each show. A different way to exist as a musician. It so happens that in this new paradigm, there’s very little on my future calendar. I can tell you documentation from this month’s stuff exists, but what’s in the offing?
Well, Reps, a repetitive guitar-bass-keys-cello-drums group with me on guitar, which has played only one set in March, is due to return in November with more material. thingNY is gonna release an album early next year, and separately I’m currently writing six short pieces for us to play. Varispeed is talking about getting into Kenneth Gaburo. The recording of Robert Ashley’s Crash, with me as one of the six voices, is due out in the soon time. And Gold Bolus Recordings is flush with new material this Fall, and this stream of gems will continue through the spring. Stay tuned, good people!
August 4th, 2015
After eight years of having a very low-tech site, I’ve taken the plunge and updated to this cleaner format. Most of the content from the old site is still here, but there’s been some winnowing.
One new things – some video evidence of my big piece The Gentleman Rests, presented at Roulette in March. More audio & video to come soon!