Reanimate it

“The guitarist was absolutely killing it last night!”

What a chauvinistic, machistic way to express our amazement at a beautiful or skilled performance. Sure, we who have previously used that phrase (myself included) have done so unthinkingly, but words reflect a culture, and those there reflect one of male dominance and power. As if a great performance somehow was the last word to be said about something! On the contrary: Art is the infinite game. A superb performance enables new feelings, new thought, new possibilities. It raises expectations in the best way possible, and so sets new standards. It adds life to something that was somehow less alive before it – a whole tradition sometimes, or even just one listener’s experience. But words can also change a culture, so if we have to give words to our awe, let them reflect that joy. I don’t have a really good substitute yet but until then, can’t the next genius just absolutely reanimate it, revive it, birth it?

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Composition Exercise #6

Compose a drum track with exactly

40 kick drum hits

30 snare hits and

100 hi hat hits.


Bonus: Create four more, each wildly different from the others.


[UPDATE April 26, 2016: Four musicians have sent in their results. You can listen to and read about them in this post.]

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On Working Enough

[Spanish translation]

One of the difficulties when working for yourself is knowing when is “enough”.

Over the first few weeks of the year I’ve had the pleasure of rehearsing, performing and recording music with great people. Then last week I suddenly spent a couple of days being very busy in a non-musical way. A lot of incremental progress happened on various projects that I needed to move forward, yet I didn’t immediately have much to show for it. Did I do enough? Was this a good work day? Was I lazy? I don’t know, because I don’t know anyone who’s doing a similar mix of activities – that’s almost by definition a part of being an artist: creating unique work happens by developing unique processes and then following where they lead. And that sometimes makes it hard to stop even though I’m exhausted. There’s always another small task I could get done so I’ll have a cleaner slate the next day, always another email to get back to, another file to prepare.

On the few occasions when I’ve had part-time work in corporate contexts it was easier to get a feel of how you were doing because you saw how others were advancing, when they were taking breaks, how they would feel about the quality and quantity of work they got done – even though a lot of that may have been just busywork. Fixed working hours obviously help, too: baring any emergencies, you left when time was over, not when a project was done.

Over the past few years I think I’ve become better at working solo, but I’m still learning to be kind with myself, and to not long for comparison or outside confirmation that much. As long as I make sure I’m working on the important stuff and not just the urgent (and that’s a ratio I’m aiming to improve), any amount of progress is worth being happy about.

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Composition Exercise #2

Take your instrument to a place where you’ll be alone. Tell no one.

Improvise. Performance, not practice.

No recording. No photographs.

Leave when you’re done. Tell no one.

Forget what you played.


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Bad Reviews

[Spanish translation]

Whenever I share a negative review of my work someone will usually ask me why I’d do this. Here’s why: When I promote a project I kindly ask for reviews, not compliments. I am grateful for every person who takes the time to listen, makes an effort to think and then finds the courage to write publicly about their thoughts and experiences. Granted, some reviews are more useful to us musicians than others in terms of what we can learn from them. Some are written with a deep concern for our art while others lack real engagement. But that goes for the good ones just like the bad. And even in the worst case, careless or aggressive negativity will reveal more about the reviewer than their subject.

The way I look at it, a review is an opportunity to begin a conversation: In the most simple way, where do you agree or disagree, and why? But more importantly, how can someone else’s critical reflection help you sharpen your own senses, broaden your perception and deepen your experiences?

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