On Avoiding Change in Appropriate Timescales: Walking Music Volume 2

In almost all aspects of my life, I am deeply troubled by and averse to change, especially when it comes to my personal life and the people and environments that I hold close to me. With this in mind, it struck me as deeply funny that slowing down changes is something I’ve had to consciously and deliberately work on in my music and performance over the last year. You would think that if the thought of moving addresses or adjusting my social environment is enough to keep me up at night, that I could apply that same anxiety usefully to delaying a chord change. Alas, life is not always so kind or intuitively coherent.

Speaking to this, after a particularly chaotic duo performance I played at the now defunct Pioneer one night in July, my friend John McCormick said to me, “You know, you could always not play.” And despite the immediate feeling of wanting to slug him in the arm, I ended up thinking about that comment for weeks afterwards. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a similar sentiment, but it hit me as a hard reminder of patience needed in music (and life for that matter).

I performed Music for a Public Square a couple months later, having taken some time to build in ways to really slow down and let ideas live without immediately trying to manipulate them. Being a solo performer using electronics, there is a compulsion to always be doing something on stage, to at least make a good faith effort at performance as a physical act, but time feels different to the one performing than it does for the audience. A short silence can feel like an eternity, and, by the same token, letting something repeat without adding a layer or changing it in some way can feel like a long time to stay passive in front of people.

In terms of this piece, rather than embrace silence as a literal way of not playing, I chose to work with some drones as a sort of safety net that could continue indefinitely without my intervention. Doing so allowed me the room to take stock of the arc of the piece in real time without having to actually take any action, and allowed me to find my normal baseline perception of time passing that can slip away during the excitement of improvising. Emotionally, this piece was directly tied to the time slot and venue in which I was performing, namely on my lunch break, in the middle of downtown, in a quiet corner of Lugar Plaza, which I had helped to start activating with arts events earlier in 2019. There is a sense of yearning in the pacing and timbral aspects of the piece that I think reflect the sense of undiscovered possibilities I have when thinking about that space. I also have to believe that the tone of the piece reflects some of the hopefulness I was feeling as the warm months were winding down. (This performance was in October, but it was still well over 70 degrees here at the time.)

I got a message today from my friend Jordan in California, and apparently I have won a rare endorsement from Nora the dog. You can see her testimonial below and find Music for a Public Square at the bottom of this page.

 

 

 

On Walking (Music) Pt. 1

This second post is about walking, music, and Walking Music.

According to my phone, in 2019 I averaged about 8.6 miles of walking a day, which, taken as canon (although almost certainly a little inaccurate), means that I walked about 3,030 miles over the course of the year. A love of long walks was something I developed, almost out of necessity (or perhaps under duress), while studying philosophy when I was younger. (Even as a kid I loved long hikes, but in my adult life I have never managed to keep up a steady stream of visits to the parks in my area.) Walking has been a way for me to work out problems and develop ideas in the abstract, away from their concrete media, and is a way for me to bodily step outside of the box, the box at times being a tricky musical question, a blank page, or a nerve-wracking deadline.

This past year, the routine of regular long walks was revived when having to make a decision about whether to pursue a doctorate in music composition, or stay in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future. The decision was not an easy or straightforward one, and forced me to reconcile the version of myself that I was against dreams I had always taken as foregone conclusions if offered as possibilities. I’ve had a long-running joke about getting a doctorate just to be able to get magazine subscriptions addressed to “Dr. Funkhouser”, but at the heart of the joke lies a hard truth that a lot of my life and how it was developing for several years were based around a hypothetical path through academia, and a concurrent departure from the community I found myself surrounded by. Giving up that path willingly, at least for the time being, was a heavy task, but also a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.

During this time, which was late April, a wise friend told me that if I was in any sense living provisionally, then I needed to root that out. That friend is a gentle and kind soul, and wouldn’t hurt a fly, but in the moment those words hit my ears, he might as well have dropped a sack of potatoes on my head. In framing the issue that way, he gave me the lens I needed to focus on the issues surrounding the feeling of inevitability regarding doctoral pursuits, and the ways in which I was putting distance between myself and the people around me. At the end of what felt like the longest week of my life, where I slept very little, talked even more than usual, and in which I averaged about 15 miles of walking a day, I ended up deciding to stay in Indianapolis and throw my lot in with the island of misfit toys that is the music and arts community here.

Making the decision to stay in Indianapolis, and replacing a hypothetical life with a very vibrant immediate one felt a lot like moving to a new place and finding that all of your friends have beat you there. It was a joy that was also tempered by the fact that I was now in a position to truly start working on things within myself and my art that had felt on hold pending some sort of realer life kicking in at any moment. The rest of the year, I walked and composed my way through a dizzying series of events (many of which I will reflect on later) and found my way back to long form ambient music and a sort of high-stakes improvisation practice.

Walking Music, as a whole, is largely populated by pieces that I think would be best used out on a walk or long reflective time, and will probably only work at very peculiar parties. The amount of material that is coming is probably irresponsible, and I really envision it as something to download, put in your back pocket, and break out when something new is needed to accompany an experience, rather than a series of records in the traditional sense of needing to be listened to linearly or with any sort of urgency.

Volume 1 in the series, A Long Time to Wake, is situated squarely in the middle of a phase of maturation in terms of my improvised performances. It is a direct recording of my set from a show at Square Cat Vinyl in October, and features a some fairly indulgent use of long reverbs and loops. The music itself was created using a set of tuning forks, a harmonizer pedal, a music box, for which I have punched a large body of melodies, and a woodblock. In time, I’ll go into more technical discussions of the tools I’ve been using lately, but for now, I’ll give you my thoughts leading up to the set:

The Resource Network, the band I followed the night the piece was recorded, ripped through one of the best, most energetic sets of music I had seen in a while. They were tight musically, performed their asses off on a stage that was probably a little higher than they were used to, and reminded me that music can and probably should be one of the single most fun things to do in the world. Seeing and hearing a band like that perform and having to follow it put me into a sort of fighting mood, pushing through thoughts of, “how the hell do you even follow that?” to “I’m going to make these tuning fork notes drop like pretty little bombs.” Right up to the last second, I was unsure how I was going to start the set, and was holding the music box when I started everything up. That first tuning fork note, struck against the brick behind the stage and amplified almost to the point of feedback through the popcorn tin that makes up the music box’s body was probably one of my single favorite musical decisions I managed to make last year. I think the rest went reasonably well, but you can find out yourself below.

2020, Searching for Meaning, Death to Intentional Amateurism, Walking

The first part of 2019, and, honestly, most of the two years before that drifted by in a blur of music and emotion that were characterized by steady output and, from my perspective, a distinct lack of feeling in terms of personal and artistic identity. That said, there was a lot of furious exploration during this time that led me to new instruments, and new ways of conceiving performance and composition. In recent months though, I found that I had stealthily revived an old habit of self-effacement in the face of direct examination of my work. In other words, I had picked up the quintessentially Midwestern habit of downplaying my own strengths when in the presence of my peers. This blog is squarely a reaction in the opposite direction.

Over the coming months, this outlet will serve as a way for me to unpack my current methods of working in and thinking about music, give some close-up examinations of some of the processes that lead to new works and performances, and, hopefully, give some insight into who I’m becoming as a person and artist. In tandem with the writing herein, I will be releasing a steady stream of music under the title Walking Music, the first three volumes of which you can find on the releases page. In the coming days, I’ll talk about these three volumes in more detail and give a brief overview of what to expect from the series as a whole.

While I have no high expectations for what the following effort might produce, it is my hope that someone will find something of value to apply to their own life or work.