“Bach in Wartime”, and New Song!

One thing Brian Eno points out, is that art should be an extension of an artist’s philosophy of all life. Some might say that the effect is similar to the observations of anthropologists who note that members of a culture are unable to accurately perceive their own culture. Many times this is done unintentionally; we don’t take time to self-reflect and parse the weeds to suss out a “life-philosophy”.

But we artists ARE communicating something.

What is that something?

Is it the same thing that I’d want to communicate?

It could be chaos and its descendants. Punk rock. Rock n roll deconstruction from nihilism made sound waves.

It could be the excruciating and exact reproduction of the image of a ship (like the Neo-classicists).

It could be transcendence through beauty. (Like the Existentialists/Romantics)


Maybe Dadism and Surrealism strikes your fancy? Letting anti-art wash over your mind, allowing neural pathways to try to create order where there is none.


So you can see where I’m going—philosophy influences style.
Shoenberg, Webern and Berg needed a way to communicate the heartbreaking horror of the Holocaust, and they settled into atonal 12-tone serialism.
In her fantastic collection of reflections Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle comments that folks love Bach in wartime because even tempos, fully functional harmony, and deliberate cadences gives us a sense of structure, rigidity, and security. In peacetime people can dance. They can experiment.


What other examples can you think of?
There’s a musician I’m familiar with that only uses modular synths from a certain era ALSO is a Quaker and tries to put the Quaker view of plainness and simplicity into all his work—something I found very interesting and to my point.
Limitations for a Creative System
As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the deep of tracking a new full length record, Precious Melodies Against Satan’s Devices, and it should be released by the fall! I’m very stoked on the new songs, and I discovered years ago that creative limitations help the whole thing go quicker. I generally make records by myself, and limitations help create the “voice” of other band members, dissidents, opposing view points from which to carom—without ever talking to a soul. I look at the “Fredkin Paradox principle—(your decisions take longer the more similar your options) which I’ve written about before, and I use the creative limitations to create riverbanks for my creative stream to flow through.
The last record (Unreliable Narrator) I had a few limitations:
  • No electric guitars (broke this one, but that’s ok)
  • Always choose the weird way – between two choices, I’d choose the one more elaborate, baroque, or rabbit-trailed
  • Drum programming over live drums
If you’ve listened to the previous record (Slingblades of Husbandry) you may notice an inverse relationship. Slingblades centers around electric guitars, economical pop songwriting, and live-band drum and room sounds. Many of the artistic/musical movements listed above are reactions to other movements on that list. In fact, ALL artistic movements are reacitons against other philosophies, trends, and movements.
Current Limitations for Precious Melodies Against Satan’s Devices
now I’m trying a few different things, I have a type of album-structure archetype that I like to follow, mostly dynamically and a “vibe” kind of thing. Maybe that’s a whole ‘nother blog for the future.
  • Thinking about a fictional band and sticking to a lower number of tracks for the arrangement.
  • Try to use more “live” instruments: MicroBrute, Juno, rather than in-the-box instruments. But if they sound better, then hey.
  • I wanted to use a Rickenbacker electric through a Vox AC-30 for the backbone of most tracks. I wasn’t able to get my hands on one (if you have one you’re looking to lend me or sell, hit me up!) so I’m borrowing an SG. I’ve been sticking to single-coils the last decade or so, especially my Jazzmaster.
I like fast ones, slow ones, that means really upbeat/driving, and at least one acoustic one thrown in there to really bring down the whole dynamic level. I actually tracked that one yesterday, and here is a link to an unfinished version, just for the followers of this site! It’s called “Shine for You”.


Watching: Orange Is The New Black – S3
Listening: Candy Butchers – Hang On Mike
Reading: Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
Playing: Alien Isolation (XBOX 360)
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Rube Goldberg Songwriting


As I’ve written about many times before, I like the idea of creative systems.
I think I first picked the idea up on my radar from Brian Eno and his work with Peter Schmidt on the Oblique Strategies card deck, and he’s spoken about the subject at length in his published journal A Year With Swollen Appendices. The late poetry professor Richard Hugo speaks about a this phenomenon in his essays on creative writing, The Triggering Town. For a poetry final exam, he gave his students a poem project with an insane amount of restrictions, and then says that, without fail,
Too many beginners have the idea that they know what they have to say–now if they can just find the words. Here, you give them the words, some of them anyway, and some technical problems to solve. Many of them will write their best poem of the term. It works, and I’ve seen it work again and again. While the student is concentrating on the problems of the exercise, the real problems go away fro a moment simply because they are ignored, and with the real problems gone the poet is free to say what he never expected and always wanted to say (pg. 31).
IMG_9035

This week, I also gave my students an assignment with an hearty number of restrictions. The idea is to put your inspiration through the system of your craft, rolling around the creative restrictions. Think of a Rube Goldberg Device (funny name, serious sandwich). I first saw one when I was a young lad on the opening to a moralistic show about a boy with a cartoon friend only he could see.


The assignment: Choose one of Kyle Thompson’s photos from his online gallery and stare at it–generating a large amount of unconscious inspiration. Start with your gut feeling and describe the emotion you are feeling. Keep the emotional content heightened for your chorus. Maybe take out another piece of paper and free-write words and other images evoked by the photo. Form: Must follow this order:
V1
V2
C
V3
C
1/2 VERSE
C2
Special instructions -Must include an instance of contrary motion between the melody moving against the opposite direction of the harmony. (i.e. There She Goes, by The La’s)
Must also include an internal rhyme in the penultimate chorus line, leading to the final title line. Ex. You thought it was fine/to take what was mine
But now you’re just — killing time

I liked this series NPR did called Music Project Song where they’d bring in songwriters—sometimes individually (as in the case with The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt), sometimes a team (Moby + Kelli Scarr), and sometimes a couple that have never even met before (Chris Walla (ex-Death Cab) and Jawbox’s J. Robbins). They’d let them choose from a series of pictures and a series of words, and then write an record the song in two days. The stuff of thrills.




Reading: The Voice of the Heart – Chip Dodd
Listening: Fugazi – The Argument