Composition Exercise #9

This time, compose the way a spider does.

Set your anchor points across the space and find a way to bridge them. Provide just the bare necessities of scaffolding, then work your way in circles from the outside in. Make adjustments where necessary – be all over the place. Zoom in where it makes sense, zoom out when you need to see how one part fits the whole.

Your web will suffer damage – but cherish the bombardment! Through your patient, systematic, somnambulant work you’ve set yourself up for these lucky breaks. Entangle the bounty in your ever evolving mesh. Then, again, sit still at the center and watch what happens.


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Slide Guitar

William Gibson, around nine minutes into this interview at the New York Public Library, has a wonderful image for the way he felt when he discovered the writing of William Burroughs as a child. Living in a conservative small town in the early 60’s and reading every library book he could get his hands on, he describes reading Burroughs’ utterly unique style as “like discovering the one human being on earth who can play slide guitar”.

This resonates so much with me – how it felt when I first realized that in the arts, every supposedly fixed concept and every grid – be it frets on an instrument, a pulse or a meter on the time line – has spaces between the lines and nodes that can be explored for an infinite variety of timbres and micro-subdivisions. In my case this manifested in stuttering metronomes, molten timelines and new connections between disparate elements. Hearing Gibson makes me want to put on that metaphorical bottleneck and see what other concepts could do with some shaking up.


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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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