This is Greg Howard. He plays the Chapman Stick. I have known about this guy for a really long time, and I am not sure why I have not posted on him before, but here it goes. Better late than never I suppose. Anyhow, if you have never heard a Chapman Stick before check it out. I think it is a pretty cool instrument.
Here are a couple of cool videos:
He has a bunch of stuff on YouTube - as well as other players playing the stick.
Tony Levin (the bass player for Peter Gabriel, among others) has taken to this instrument in the last few years, but Greg, I think was one of the first, and in my opinion the best.
it is a wonderful (and addicting) site full of interviews, analyzations, comments on current trends, perspectives on those composers who have passed, links to historical articles and so on and so on. But be warned, the addicting part is absolutely true, it is a procrastinators paradise.
Lately this gem of saved music history has been floating around the email and blog world. Other people have posted it, but I thought I would as well, just in case someone misses it, and happens upon this blog. I think it is not only poignant for musicians, but perhaps there is some life advice in the words as well.
Once again, I bring you Jim McAuley. This time in a fantastic smattering of duets with several other exquisite musicians. On this two-disc album Jim is paired up with the late violist/violist Leroy Jenkins, fellow guitarist Nels Cline, Bassist Ken Filiano, and percussionist Alex Cline. This album has some of the most hauntingly beautiful music I have heard in a very long time, if ever. In particular I really am drawn to those tracks done with Filiano, there is such a sonorous feel with these two that really excites me about what is going on. I highly recommend this album, you can buy it at The Jazz Loft, among other places.
Here is a pretty wicked video of Nels Cline and Alex Cline from YouTube:
Not to be outdone, here is a nice video of Ken Filiano with his group:
Recently this gentleman came to an art gallery near me and I was unable to go. But I was able to acquire an album and it is amazing. The first time I listened to it I had one of those rare moments in listening where you say to yourself "what in all that is holy was that... and how long before I get to listen to it again?"
I have since listened to it several times and if anyone happens to be passing by and reading this, I highly recommend checking Jim McAuley out. There are some nice videos of him playing on YouTube that I recommend giving a go.
It is some of the most amazing solo guitar work that I have ever heard and I am utterly disappointed that I was not able to see him play. If the physicality of his playing comes through on the record, I can only imagine what it is like live, especially in a more intimate setting like the venue where he played. I could site cliché comments such as "genre bending" and "non-classifiable" but who needs that stuff. Just listen and be blown away.
Thanks to Kris Tiner for bringing him here and even if I didn't get to hear him personally, I am sure it was a very educational exposure for those who did.
This has been such an exciting and even exhausting election. I am not one that has ever been overly political, but I found myself getting, not just caught up in all the excitement, but deeply concerned about what was happening and what was going to happen to me.
Dealing with our economy, war stuff, and all the other problems we face, and now our new president-elect faces, I found myself getting informed about what things meant, what they did and why it is the way it is. And by association, I felt it necessary to exercise my right to vote for one of the very few times I have ever done so. In fact, this is my first time ever voting for president. It was extremely exciting for so many reasons.
Obviously, it is amazing, and quite the statement that we have elected our first african-american president. And it was just exciting to be apart of that of course, but also, that it was the first time I didn't feel like a candidate was just feeding me political rhetoric and buzz phrases like "Maverick" and such garbage. It really was the first time I took this bizarre, interesting and unique process seriously. In the aftermath of the election I actually feel, not only relieved, but proud that I got involved, and did my part.
His acceptance speech was celebratory, and yet sober with an undertone of "ok, now that we have made this happen, now the hard work really begins." I think it showed that he is fully aware of how hard it will be to deal with and recover from our current state of being in this country. And there are so many things that are weighing heavy on our society it will truly be an uphill battle. But I feel that the right candidate came along at the right time, and was able to be victorious in the way that he should have been.
I am also not an overly patriotic fellow either, not that I am not patriotic, I just have a different idea of what that word means than most. But I feel, really for the first time in a decade, that I am not ashamed to be an american in the face of the rest of the world. Having dealt with a rootin'-tootin' Yosemite Sam for president the last eight years I have become very cynical about the whole thing. But I feel like I can change that outlook for the next four years, if not eight more years and I am looking forward to Obama's presidency.
I am sad that Prop 8 passed here in California, but I feel like that is the least of our problems at this time in our society and why we wasted so much time and money on this I don't understand.
Recently I have been in several conversations concerning art and aesthetics. This brought about an interesting thought to ponder.
The moment we apply meaning to something (e.g. That thing means or represents that), does it become art?
I know this is an age old question and has been debated since the caveman discovered cave art, but it is still a very interesting question.
I seem to go into the idea that art is a representation of something. It can be a philosophy, a process, a picture, a person or just a general idea. But it is something that has meaning, so we can say that piece of art represents or means that something. So in my mind, in that moment of applying meaning to a thing it becomes art.
One person made the comment that maybe it becomes art to that person. So this begs another question, does that make it not art? Or if something is art to even just one person, can we call that art?
I obviously don't have any answers, but perhaps this will spark an interesting conversation, if anyone ever happens to read this blog.
So, since it has been quite some time since I have written anything on here, I thought I would bring it back with a good vent.
For the last few months I have been doing a lot of research on various schools, looking into their doctorate programs as I am applying this year. My plan of action was basically to find the teachers whom I wanted to study with and apply to those schools. So I began with dozens of schools and slowly started forming a final list. Well, and here comes the beef, in my searching and listening to various teachers across the country I became very disappointed in what was out there. I always knew bad teachers and bad composers existed but I never knew to what extent.
For example, I noticed several times situations where major universities had some big name composers teaching there. And some younger guys teaching that got all three of their degrees at that school and sound exactly like their teachers. And on occasion, where they didn't sound like their teachers, they were just horrible composers. And this occurs all over the place and at some of the biggest name schools in the country. It was just ridiculous. I can't even explain the disappointment I felt in those programs and those teachers. Not that I was naive to these situations and that they existed, but I never thought it was to this extent at this level. Part of me thinks, "hey, if these guys can do it, why can't I?". But I also realize so much of this is a game and who you know and where you have been. At times it almost seems like it doesn't even matter if you have the skills to write on this level.
So this began another thought process that I have had a few times in my life. Simply, that I don't really know, or understand what is good. I hear so much music that people say is good, and I feel that it just isn't, and this covers many genres. And it goes vice versa. But in either case I suppose it doesn't matter, as if I don't like it, I don't have to listen to it and so forth. But it does beg the question to everyone, "How do you know what is good?" Not just what you like, but what is good. This also came up in a conversation about computer music and its merits and faults etc... but that is an entirely different post.
Due to a couple of very intriguing posts over here and a couple of interesting conversations on a few composition listservs that I belong to, I have been doing a lot of thinking about process, tension, art vs. entertainment, new territory and a plethora of other similar ideas.
Due to the recent passing of Robert Rauschenberg I have been looking at a lot of pictures of his work, and listening to various interviews etc... basically anything I can get my hands on (or eyes on) just to try and get a real perspective of this man's great work. Especially the later glass work, I knew a lot of his work from the 60's but never really looked at this newer work. Of course it is insanely interesting, but that is a post for another day.
Rauschenberg's ideas on process have intrigued me to a point where I find myself thinking about it almost constantly over the last few days. Which also brought me to reflecting on John Cage as well (specifically dealing with the white paintings, which came before 4' 33"), and reflecting on his ideas of process, tension and exploration. So I have been sitting at a piano (in my elementary school classroom, which I find just hilarious, Cage pieces being pounded out of an elementary school classroom, and I think Cage would find that delightful in its own way) playing various Cage pieces, to the best of my ability anyway. Both of these men dealt with an almost pure process related perspective. For Cage, at least on a generally speaking level, was more about how to go about writing a piece, or experimenting with sounds etc... than he was about the final product.
I was also recently listening to an interview from Chuck Close. He began talking about similar ideas about experimentation and process. The idea between tension and process goes like this:
as you go along you have artistic ideas, no matter what art form you particularly practice, you begin to establish processes, wether conscious or not. Basically you have ideas and you try to express them through your art. Now these ideas can be of all sorts, but for my purposes and how I am currently dealing with my work, these ideas are about the process itself. Close talks about continuing to introduce new challenging ideas to keep tension in your work and this allows you to progress as an artist. Otherwise you are just finding something that works for you, and then you stagnate until you die (and even after in some cases). The idea becomes that each "completed" work is simply a snapshot of a constantly evolving process.
Based on these thoughts I had this idea of introducing new ideas in my work, (at least new to me, or things I have never tried, no matter if they already have a place in history or not), and as soon as I get a piece done that I feel does a good job representing that process, to never write a piece like that again. Move on, find another method or change the process so much that it becomes something completely different. One person on a listserv said that eventually you will have to repeat because you will run out of things to try. Well, I think that is foolishly narrow in thinking that everything has been done, and there are only so many things one can do etc... Of course this was a part of a conversation about art vs. entertainment that I will discuss momentarily.
Kris Tiner talked about, in a comment to another post at another place, that when things seem to not be working it is because he has fallen into "some kind of groove". Which I heartily agree with and have had many experiences like that myself. Not to say that the work is necessarily bad, but the fact that it isn't working for you anymore should be blaring sirens that you need to move on from that process.
Which brings me to the point of art vs. entertainment. During the listserv conversation on this topic one gentleman composer actually stated that we have to remember that we, as composers, are not our target audience. This is such rubbish. We are absolutely are target audience. We are the first person to hear the piece, we are the person who decides to let it out into public or not and if we aren't continually intrigued and challenged by our work, then what is the point of working, we should just run off and become the next Yanni or Tesh or American Idol judge.
The conversation went on and on like this, and it surprised me that most of the people were wholeheartedly supportive of at least, to some degree, writing for a specific audience. It bothered me to a point where I had to discontinue my involvement in the conversation so I am not entirely sure how it ended, or if it even has. Not to say that there aren't specific audiences for whatever it is that people are doing, and the audience may be very specific depending on the genre of ones work, but the point is to not write for that specific audience, allow the audience to come to you if it so wishes, just like a good visual artist. Do the work, present it, and let people either come and stand and experience, or avoid, but allow them the option, and knowledge that there is no wrong answer. And if no one ever comes, then hope that they do after you die, and know that you have still done a good thing.
So this brought me to start thinking about how we deal with art vs. entertainment. Thinking about it from a visual art perspective, that world has done a much better job of getting a public to recognize and enjoy, or at least experience, modern art. With paintings, sculptures and the like, you walk in to wherever they are and you can't help but experience the piece. Good, bad, indifferent, doesn't matter, you have had the experience and when you feel satisfied you can walk away at any point. With modern music, perhaps there is more demand placed on the listener. You can just get up and walk out of a symphony hall or recital hall, I have seen it, and I have experienced people doing it on my work, (which makes me laugh), but you are considered rude to do so. I have experienced people liking my work, hating my work, indifferent, not even paying attention etc... so it got me thinking, is the modern musical world more demanding on the audience? We want them to sit in a chair for some period of time and take in whatever they are about to hear, which usually they have no idea what is about to occur. Whereas an artist hangs his work in a space and people can either gravitate toward it and have a very intimate experience with it, or they can avoid it based on a first glance, but either way they have experienced it in its completed form. Music cannot do this.
I don't know what the answer is, or even if this is true, but it has begun a thought path in my mind that I haven't quite figured out yet.
Recently I have come across a singer/songwriter/didgeridoo player from Australia. Xavier Rudd. Surprisingly enough my mother-in-law was the one who found him (I am not sure where) and really liked his voice. I have checked out several albums now and I find it to be quite alluring. There are a few songs here and there that are on the "so-so" side of my taste, but most of it is quite simple, lovely, and of course when that didgeridoo gets going... well that is just good times. So if you are in the mood for some new music on the side of a more popular idiom check him out, (he has some albums on Amazon, as well as Half.com) because sometimes you just have to put the John Cage to the side for a few days.
Here is a nice video of him in the studio from his first album To Let:
Lately I have been conversing with several people, and reading a lot about, music and what, if anything, it is suppose to express. And if it doesn't have any inherent expression, as Stravinsky would say, what is the purpose of writing music. Stravinsky was notorious about saying that music expresses nothing. I think that has been slightly skewed over the years from what he originally meant. I was recently reading his autobiography, which I rather enjoyed and recommend, and he explained it in a very different way. It wasn't that music doesn't have expression; it was more about music does not, or cannot, represent. You can't make music represent a waterfall on Tuesday in May, and he believed looking for such things is useless.
So I was thinking about his idea a lot and started to connect it to the idea of "The Original Experience". What I mean by this is the experience someone has with music. I call this original because it is a completely unique experience from person to person, and even from hearing to hearing. This is a pretty common idea, we all react to pieces of music differently, and we all understand that. I like to think about this in connection with the questions "What does that piece mean?" or "what were you saying with that music?". I find these questions incredibly difficult to deal with... not in an angry way (usually), but they are very difficult to questions, in fact I would say they are impossible to answer, at least fully anyhow.
You might ask "but program music has those expressions and so on". Do they really? Or do they simply say they represent something that is really quite unrepresentable to auditory sound. And do they represent those things, do people hear those things, because they really represent them, or because they are told they represent them. I could write a piece about nuclear winter and tell people it is about springtime and a good percentage of them will hear springtime. So why is the question "What does this piece mean?" impossible to answer? Because its full meaning is impossible to express, if it were, I would have written it or said it, and not written music for it. Of course we can all try and explain what a piece means, but it will never be entirely correct, and we shouldn't try, it is fruitless, lay your energies elsewhere.
This brings me back to this "original experience". It is simple really; each piece of music that exists (and those that don't yet) offers an original experience to each person, composer, performer and listener. Even on recordings, but especially on live performances. The experience I have, the meaning I get out of and the part of me I put into writing a piece is obviously going to be unique to myself, and quite different from the meaning the piece has for someone else. The part of themselves that a performer and listener give of themselves to experience/perform a piece is going to dictate their original experience and they cannot understand the pieces meaning as I see it, no more then I can understand their experience and meaning of a piece. Now this does not in any way mean that we should talk about pieces, but to try and explain them (outside of the technical aspects) is almost useless.
Going back to the example of Stravinsky, he very much disliked interpretation of his work. He would often berate people (usually privately) for putting in their own interpretations and their own "he meant this, and he is saying that" in the music. He claimed that the music said something very specific and it is on the page, nowhere else, and nothing else should enter into the performance (this is why he liked to conduct his own music so much, especially in recordings. He felt that this meant that it would be done right, and with recordings that other composers would have a model to go after, leaving his dubious skill as a conductor aside). A lot of me will agree with this (excepting when that interpretation, or freedom has been built into the piece, but this was not Stravinsky's style, obviously). I believe that when people try to say "that composer meant this" or "which emperor was Beethoven talking about in his 5th piano concerto?" that it ultimately doesn't matter. Who cares? Does that take from, or add to the piece in anyway? I would say no. Other then useless trivia knowledge. I feel that when a composer is prompted to speak or write about their music, their expression should be of what they believe about music and composition and subjects of this nature, not "this piece is about waterfalls and roses". These ideas bring nothing to the original experience, and in fact take that opportunity away from the listener or performer. This does, however, give the opportunity of some understanding of you as an artist. I don't believe ideas about pieces are what matters (other than to the composer). There was something about that subject that couldn't be expressed in words, so it was said through music and should be treated as such. Thus giving every opportunity to give everyone that original experience, including the composer.
My profile and link to my Dream Cycle thesis paper have been added to the musicological site of Frans Waltman, a very distinguished musicologist from the Netherlands. Check the site out, it is a really great site to get a bit of extra exposure and perhaps find some new folks to check out. He has profiles and interviews with dozens of young composers, ensembles and soloists. Definitely worth a gander.
Although this is quite late coming, I just found out about it. One of my favorite poets, Philip Booth, died last summer (July 2). He was a student of Robert Frost and was a witty and quirky poet. I set my favorite poem of his "Was A Man" some years ago, although maybe not an overly successful SATB setting, it was a delight maneuvering around his word play and sense of humor. He has several books of poetry that are well worth the investigation. He will be missed.
A few months ago this group came through town, thanks to Kris Tiner, and they were just fantastic. They came back through last night and were just as fantastic and I picked up another of their CDs. So I thought now that I have a soapbox to say things I would give them a shameless plug, as they deserve. I highly suggest picking up one, or all, of their CDs. Some really good stuff. (and they play lots of Piazzolla, and that makes me happy deep inside).
Recently I have made a few new discoveries (at least for me) of composers I was unfamiliar with and thought they were worth a listening.
John Luther Adams is a name I have been seeing for a long time in articles, CD racks etc... but for whatever reason I just hadn't ever given his music a listen. So I finally did and I must say I enjoyed it quite a bit.
I have only listened to the disc twice but it was a peaceful listening and I look forward to getting some more of his music.
Next on the list is Somei Satoh, a name I kept seeing creep up in several recent articles I have been reading. So I decided I should probably find out who this guy is and what his music is all about. I must admit some of his work (at least of the 4-5 pieces I have heard thus far) is a little on the "holy crap that is a lot of major" side of things but most of it is quite lovely and worth a meditative listening.
I recently was perusing my favorite blogs and came across this particular article about Phill Niblock and was intrigued. I had not heard of this grizzly looking gentleman but the moment I saw the words "sustained tones" I had to check it out (as I am a sucker for drones from time to time).
On any note, something to check out at least. (one track is all didjeridoos, how can you resist).
So these may not be new names to you guys, but they were to me, and if they are new to you check them out, I thought it was worth it. Enjoy!!