I’m thinking about the legacy of David Berman. That casual nineties indie-rock shagginess that I found so attractive on the surface masked some deep and careful craft. On a close listen, every line shines with quirky, personal humor and beauty.
I used to be fine using a metaphor I didn’t fully understand in a song lyric, just because it sounded right. No one really understands anything, I reasoned; who am I to say what this lyric does or does not mean? Perhaps meaning hides behind it, all the more powerful for being initially elusive. I am less and less willing to take this chance. I am more and more insistent that my music tell the truth. I am grappling with the fact that this might mean working slower and saying less.
I’m finding my way back to “pre-composition,” something I learned about in school and had to jettison for a while. I’m doing my own sort of planning and conceptualizing right now, waiting for things to click before the notes start to hit the page.
Here’s something I learned about in school that I haven’t yet managed to reclaim: editing. Particularly this idea from European composition of revising old pieces. Editing an old piece makes as much sense to me as proofreading old journal entries or photoshopping old pictures. This isn’t to say the music is simply autobiographical, but it does reflect what music meant to me at one specific moment—how I wanted it to be—perfect, in this way, as a record of aspiration and distance.
New from Two Labyrinths Records: 2LR 013, Kong Must Dead - Mashup.
"The mountains out there are beautiful, sure, but look a little closer. There are stories running in those creekbeds, songs buried in the hollows. Some are scary, some are funny, some will bring tears to your eyes without you even knowing why. That’s the risk you take going to the mountains: you might find something there.
There’s a guitar in the woods, but it isn’t tuned like any guitar you’ve heard lately. Around it are words, mostly. But also more guitars, and drums, and pedal steels, and even a few steel pans. A wash of color, a sweep of wily chord structures. And the faces of a few friends. Here is Ben Hjertmann’s latest edition of Kong Must Dead, a core trio instrumentation with a rotating cast of personnel surrounding. They are increasingly seen onstage in Asheville, North Carolina and thereabouts, sometimes in masks.
This is the fourth Kong Must Dead release, and each one has taken two steps forward and at least two steps out: more stylistic breadth, more ambition of songwriting, more virtuosity of composition. There are only six songs here, but don’t be fooled: they cover a lot of ground, and they interconnect in deep and surprising ways. Here are Ben’s latest songs. Come have a listen. You might find something there."
I went to Meijer Gardens, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is an impressive place.
Let me say that (1) it’s weird to be in a place emulating the public space of a museum or botanical garden that is not actually a public space but a monument to private wealth; also (2) if this is such a great country, and such a rich country, why can't we make all such spaces free for everyone? and (3) as though the art world isn’t elitist enough, it’s hard to imagine any medium more inaccessible and undemocratic than bronze sculpture.
With that out of the way, let me now admit that I loved, loved, the giant horse.
This must be some sort of transition point in my personal appreciation of art. For so long I’ve gravitated toward the abstract, the mysterious, the esoteric. Today I prefer a multi-story horse. Here is a piece of art that is not seeking to confuse anyone. This piece will tell you exactly what it’s about, and I admire that.
Still though, there are problems with accessibility and aims. Certainly it is a far cry from the avowedly non-commercial art I saw on the walls at the Grackle Gallery in Fort Worth.
Sometimes you think you want a little bit of silence, but that isn’t what you actually want. You don’t really want silence.
Evidently Louis Andriessen would tell his students not to measure a grand pause by seconds in notated ensemble music. Keep in time: metered rests only. This maintains the tension.
A pickup is not the same as a silence.
An inhalation is not the same as a silence.
Sometimes you think you’re hearing silence, only to be surprised by the disappearance of a very quiet texture you didn’t realize was there. Now, you think, now surely I am listening to silence. But you still aren’t.
I was delighted to participate in Infinite Futures, a two-cassette compilation out today on Full Spectrum Records. The releases celebrates the label’s tenth anniversary. It’s a lovely concatenation of weirdos, placed together in collaborative pairings. I played some piano with Shaun Sandor, aka Promute. We booked out Keller Hall on a Monday morning and he brought a prepared guitar, a bass, and a zither board. Full Spectrum is good music and it’s good people. Give it a listen next time you’re on a bus, train, or airplane.
I have climbed sixteen of Colorado’s fifty-some fourteeners. The first, in 2005, was Longs Peak. I had no idea what I was getting into. Since then I’ve only chosen easier, less technical summits. In spite of much increased experience, I haven’t attempted a climb of that difficulty again.
Even J.S. Bach and Joni Mitchell will one day be forgotten.
Say what you will about classical and experimental music; there are many things wrong with them. But at least they still foster an environment where the audience is actually listening.
The more you think about what music actually is, the less obvious the answer becomes.
In different writings, John Cage made a distinction between structure (“the division of the whole into parts”) and form (“the expressive content, the morphology of the continuity”). These being distinct again from method (“the note-to-note procedure”) and materials (“the sounds and silences of the composition”.
I’ve been listening to two solo viola recordings by Jessica Pavone: Silent Spills, In the Action. In one composition, pizz chords effluviate into plumes of sound, little clouds. In Cage’s Dream, a strict textural limitation, a single line, expands into sweeps of sound at careful moments.
Here are two reasons to use notation: (1) complexity of texture or technique; (2) complexity of form/structure. If you want to say something specific in either of those ways, you might use notation. If what you want to say is simple in both of those ways, you might be better off teaching the music by rote.
Once or twice lately I’ve been told that my music is “deceptively simple.” I suppose this is meant as a compliment, betraying an assumption that “simple” by itself is necessarily pejorative. I want to insist, though, that I seek to deceive no one.
One of my Chatter collaborators recently encouraged a musician to go onstage in jeans. “I don’t think you should have to wear special clothes to play classical music,” he said. At the time, my reaction was measured. I do like the performance ritual around classical music, and concert dress is part of that. But actually he was right, and I’m ready to go a step further: I don’t think you should have to be a special person to play classical music.
I have long hated the idea of “talent.” I remember hearing a pianist perform some flashy Chopin and seeing an audience member in front of me shaking her head, evidently in astonished disbelief at the abilities of the performer. I don’t want to be “impressed” by music. I don’t want music that makes me shake my head; I want music that makes me nod it. I don’t want to feel separation from the performer; I want to feel affinity, joy, recognition. I want communion.
My early antipathy to classical music exceptionalism was grounded in personal insecurity. I was not a prodigy, so I leaned toward philosophies that did not emphasize early or inborn talent. This was a survival strategy. I have also argued that talent does not exist, and I tend to stand by those arguments. But either way, the truth is that talent is boring. I’m interested in work. Talent tends toward safety and talent wants to be acknowledged. I care about what people do, not how they rate. Now my hatred of “talent” is political. We can no longer afford a musical culture based on invisible subjective hierarchies. I care about what people do. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It doesn’t matter who your teachers were or what they thought about you. Music belongs to all of us. Go out and do something.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues