Thursday, October 13, 2016

Things That Happened in 2016.

I resettled in Brooklyn.

I Took Trains.

Alright, get off at East Croyden. Shit, this West Croyden. It’s just me and one woman on this train, so I ask for her help.

 “Gatwick? Oh, it’s easy from here, I’m walking in the direction of the station,” she gestures, “It’s this way, you’ll have to take another train.”

She is a biology student. We talk about my visit to London, and Amsterdam before that. I bring up Brexit. She thinks it will be close, but thinks Stay will ultimately beat out Leave. She asks me what brought me to Amsterdam.

“Well, I guess travel, and I also gave a concert there”

“Oh, what do you play?”

“Guitar, but I didn’t play. I conducted.”

“You’re a conductor?”

“I wouldn’t call myself that, I’m terrible at it. I guess I’m a composer.”

I enter the B train, having sidestepped the car ahead of the one I’m in, due to the threat of a backbeat – a subway musician playing a djembe. Two sentences into a short story by Alice Munro, I hear the “chang” of a guitar chord. Oh. There is a musician in this car as well. "Don't worry, be happy" – I don’t like being told what to do. Being told to… clap, being told to… wave my hands. Being submissive in that way - it's innocuously fascist. The musician transitions into Three Little Birds "...’cause every little thing, gonna BE (sung on an E) alright...” I can’t help but sing along to the words in my head, it’s inescapable.

Alice Munro does not use commas often. She really means them, they feel musical to me. She lets you know when to take a second, gives you the rhythm of the sentence, forces you to slow down.  

A (sort-of) F# is stuck on the subway intercom. I used to have fever dreams as a child, in which F# was the pitch that signaled danger, death, the need to vomit. It's an intense note, with heavy connotations. In the infantile world of C Ionian, F# represents an escape. The easiest, most pleasant sound outside of its universe. It is volatile. When heard alone, I wonder where it will roam. It doesn't scare me in D major, or B minor, but in G major, it's the heart of the sound. G major is basically C major caught in the act of cheating (no other keys have this effect; I think it's because of the fetish to C major most of us have as children). In these fever dreams, I get scared that I will never be able to leave these keys. But really, it's just an F#, I should relax.


I once saw a blind man at a concert, and spent a good deal of it watching his face. I remember it was a concerto of some sort. Maybe Rachmaninoff? I could feel his connection to the music, reacting with a perfect delay. A diminished chord, the trumpets blaring, his face a mixture of pain and pleasure, eyebrows lifting with a deceptive resolution, a smile with a V6/4 pedal. The resolution to the tonic, a relaxation of the muscles. I remember this vividly and fondly. A visual representation of the tension and release in music - in discovery.

Another subway musician. “C’mon baby light my fire”. He ends with what I would maybe call a Picardy third; we were neither in major nor minor, so does it apply? He asks for tips as the doors close, but doesn't leave the train, and instead begins to play “Blackbird”. He plays a single line solo in the middle of his rendition, holding a pedal point in the harmonica. I’m willing to admit that I’ve never heard those two gestures mixed together in that way. Discovery, on the BE train.

I Composed.

There's a precision of the mind that happens when I revisit musical material in the morning; I feel reinvigorated with ideas for how to proceed with whatever composition I’m slogging away at - this feeling steadily declines throughout the day. Without fail, my epiphanies always occur during a morning’s first listen/playback of the music I’ve created the day before. It's like jumping into a pool. The first moment heightens your senses, radically changes the environment, the body and mind adjust quickly. Composing anything over 4 straight hours starts to feel like my skin is wrinkled from having spent too much time in the water. The water is no longer refreshing or cold, and I struggle to remember what that initial shock felt like. I lose excitement, and I lose clarity. There is most often a temporal dissonance in musical composition, in the time that the music will eventually occupy. As a composer, I can feel I've exhausted materials simply because it’s taken too much time to get them properly developed, and so I will look for an escape. The lasting relationship with materials is one that requires work, patience, and struggle. I wish this wasn't the case - I like to think that I am working hard at this, but there's a part of me that wishes I could be content to be lazy.


I pace around my boss's house. I have been arranging the music of Aaron Parks for big band for the last few months. With arranging, since the material has already been decided upon, the question skips the "What?"  phase and goes directly to "How?", and so I'm petting Roscoe (the cat) asking myself "How?" and feeling guilty that time is passing and that a great Nothing is being generated. The largest symptom of guilt is time passing. I wish I could have had a conversation with Rabbit Angstrom about this.

I a m  a   v  e  r  y     s   l   o   w      c    o    m    (p    o    s    e    r).

(Sometimes, tho, the “what” and the “how” get mixed up and inverted, and then it gets REAL weird.)

I Produced.

I have been producing other people’s recordings.

I Lived.

My iPhone smashed when I dropped it reading a terrible article while in the bathroom. I didn't need to read it, and I learned absolutely nothing. I haven’t replaced the iPhone. In Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation”, she brings up addiction and technology. Though she thinks that equating it to a drug addiction is not apt (drug or alcohol addictions are obviously more severe health-wise), I am finding myself going through a form of withdrawal. Unlearning the mental habits I’ve picked up in the last 5 years of iPhone use has been a comical challenge to me. I’ve had people tell me about their retreats without their phones, which I guess I commend, but the circumstances are much different when one is living out their daily routine without a smartphone. I am awkwardly finding out what a terror my own head is, without anything to distract me from my own thoughts. I always took pride in not being attached to my iPhone, but having truly gotten away from it, I now realize how it has altered the wiring of my brain.

So now, I find myself reading more, and listening more attentively when I'm being spoken to.

I will be premiering the Aaron Parks arrangements with Aaron as the soloist, and my favourite Japanese big band – Keio Light Music Society – in January of 2017. See you there.

I should write here more often.