Everyone asks how to survive the winter in Chicago. The only way I've determined is by repeatedly fleeing it. I'm in the middle of a flurry of trips that has led to continual reinterpretation of my present home city and situation. None of that much helps an already unsettled guy who is juggling a horde of scenarios for mid-to-late 2012, most of which rely on decisions no longer in his hands. Life is confusing but remains agreeably unpredictable. I can flow with that.
On a far more interesting note, I met up with some Cottonwood Gulch friends in Albuquerque last weekend and drove to Cumbres Pass just over the Colorado border. Once there, amidst a developing snowstorm, we skiied four miles into the woods until we reached a nicely furnished yurt with a front-porch view down to Trujillo Meadows and the mountains across the valley. It dumped a foot or so of snow on us the first twenty-four hours; after that it was clear, sunny, and just generally spellbindingly beautiful. We spent two nights in the backcountry cooking and eating delicious food, drinking whiskey, playing a homemade version of Apples to Apples, and exploring the area on our skis. Winter is fine if you can get out and do something.
I found the yurt an excellent place to continue my rereading of Talking Music, William Duckworth's collection of composer interviews. As usual, John Cage says a bunch of awesome shit all the time; no big news flash there. I was particularly struck by Lou Harrison's description of his lessons with Arnold Schoenberg. Not surprisingly, they involved heavy counterpoint study. What I loved, though, was Schoenberg's advice to Harrison before the latter left for New York:
"You don't need to study with anyone now. Study only Mozart."
How about that, eh.
I could use a little more Mozart myself these days, a bit of immersion into melody. My listening/study diet has been particularly strange of late. (For the record, I had this in my head the whole weekend skiing.) After an expansive autumn of listening, composing, and playing that stretched me from Scelsi to the Microphones to Charlemagne Palestine and writing a big paper about a Kyle Gann disklavier study, I must say I've reined it in a bit. Since early December I'm pretty sure I haven't listened to anything but
1) Trout Mask Replica,
2) Pink Moon,
I guess it kind of makes sense. It's a winter frame of mind, retreating into a few familiar obsessions as the solstice nears. Now we're moving toward spring. As usual for late January, I'm restlessly awaiting the re-opening of things that's still weeks away, but I can't quite push myself to step on too much unfamiliar ground. So for now I guess I'll continue my musical hibernation until it's time to do some sowing.
Two big projects -- Yoakum and the next set of Golconda tunes -- are awaiting this spring. Some more cover songs will probably appear on the Golconda soundcloud page before long.
Here it is -- Lost Horse vol. 2, five previously unreleased songs from my time in Joshua Tree in the fall of 2009. Enjoy and happy new year!
••• Note about album length and the idea of "albums" in general •••
Apropos of the continuing conversation about modes of music distribution, classical concert ritual, solitude and leadership, etc. :
They're telling us it's all about short bursts of digital information these days; people have small attention spans, they tweet, they watch Youtube videos, and they download, if anything, tracks and not full albums.
First, one encouraging thing about my chosen distribution service, Bandcamp, is that albums outsell individual tracks there. Cool. Obviously they cater to listeners who are interested in the whole statement.
I'm one of those listeners, too. I love the idea of an "album," a collection of pieces that have some sort of thematic connection, explicit or not, sometimes emergent and highly personal to the listener.
Yes, we have to acknowledge that our current idea of "tracks" and "albums" is not a priori stone-tablet business, but arose from the physical facts of vinyl records. You'll notice that the songs on Lost Horse vol. 2 stick close to the normative 3:30 duration that's been with us since the 10-inch 78rpm record. We didn't have the "album" as an artistic category until the LP record came along, with its 20 minutes per side.
I grew up primarily in the era of CD-defined albums. CDs, of course, can hold about 80 minutes of music, twice as much as those LP records. I've always felt that this is a bit much for an album. Sufjan Stevens' albums that sit around 65-70 minutes are too much to take in. I prefer the 35ish-minute LP format that I find in older records.
However, while the reasonable length of the Beatles' Revolver, for example, made it a digestible listen when I first heard it, I didn't have the complete experience hearing it on CD. Even in that relatively compact "long form," we miss the psychological punctuation of changing sides. I love that this process involves volition; we have to physically acknowledge that we want to hear more by standing up, walking to the turntable, and flipping the record.
This is impossible to replicate in digital formats. It's been a pleasure to start buying vinyl records again recently and experience the feeling of a temporary pause after Side One followed by a new beginning on Side Two. I hear Nick Drake's Pink Moon so, so differently now that I know the relative length and complexity of "Things Behind the Sun" ends the first side and "Know," with its stark and simple material, opens the second. This punctuation is essential to understanding the construction of the composite piece. (And how much more meaningful is it when I hear the final strains of "From the Morning" and think "I want to hear all of that again" and find myself flipping the record back to Side One...?)
I hate concert intermissions, like many modern listeners. They're just kind of awkward. I can't believe people used to go out to the opera regularly and spend so many hours, subject themselves to so many intermissions. But wow, think of the formal possibilities there. I'm forced to admit that a degree of submission to the experience has been lost.
Anyway, I consider all of my Golconda releases so far to be "albums." Not "EPs" or "LPs"; those terms I consider outdated, but not the "album," which again is an artistic category as essential to my musical conception as the symphony was to composers of the European nineteenth century. So I'll keep using that term, and if my albums are a little shorter than what you're used to, it's not because I consider them any sort of miniature form, but because I'm presenting pieces of the size and dimensions I myself most enjoy--until, perhaps, I find the syntactical strategies to satisfactorily expand them (as I find it thematically necessary to do so).
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts