Reflecting on Reflect and Release Pt. 2

In part 1 of this couplet of posts, I explored the very immediate emotional reality of the space of time in which I composed the piece. In this second part, I am going to talk about Indianapolis, why this all feels worth it, and how this effort was an outpouring of love and faith in the community of people I’ve found myself surrounded by in my time here.

I met Corey Denham shortly after I moved to Indianapolis while playing Terry Riley’s In C at the HiFi in Fountain Square with a rag-tag group of musicians of all stripes, most of whom would become my friends as time went on. Corey and I hit it off because of a shared love of percussion chamber music and the desire to see more of it happen in the city. One of the first times we hung out that summer, we ended up making a set of tuned pipes for his trio, 10-Can Percussion. Over the course of the years, Corey has become one of my closest friends, surviving my own intermittently chaotic way of working several times over, and forgiving a long period at the beginning of things where I failed to catch about 500 jokes thrown my way.

About a year later, I believe while in my second year of grad school, Eric Salazar arrived in Indianapolis with a monumental work ethic and, not only a desire to make more classical music happen in the city, but plans to make it happen. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we were all seeing each other on a regular basis, starting to put on more regular events, and Eric and Corey were forming the ensemble that would become Forward Motion. From the beginning, the ensemble was hugely exciting to me, as it represented a step forward for independent classical music in Indianapolis.

I think we all had plans to work together from the beginning, but I will never forget when it started to come together. We had a plan, I had a commission I didn’t need to travel for, and we were forming what would become in many ways our small community’s first at-bat making a professional piece intended to have a long life. Don’t get me wrong, we’re nowhere near the only game in town as far as experimental or new classical music goes, but for us everything seemed to be coalescing at the right time. In the two years since I initially finished Reflect and Release, that coalescence has continued and blossomed into a functioning community of musicians that are bringing music to the city in unexpected places and times. I’ve had the honor of writing for Fort Harrison State Park, consulting on a new classical magazine in the city, and have continued to work with a deeply talented and passionate base of talent here.

This impending video/ep release feels like tying a bow on what has been one of the most rewarding creative streams that has developed while in Indianapolis. It also makes me feel a little less weird for advocating for this kind of music in a city that doesn’t have it as part of its inherent identity.

In another sense, the release of this project is coming during one of the most creatively productive periods of my recent life, and almost feels par for the course. Not that I’m taking it for granted, but there is a certain feeling of cruise control that comes with having a lot of projects at various stages of completion, and some confidence that something is always coming down the pipe. It is really because of the period in which Reflect and Release was written, that I can even feel this way about my output. Growing with the other artists involved in the project and the community we’ve formed together has been a literal dream come true, and is one of the main launching points for getting to the version of my life that I want to build long term.

The music that follows could have only been written here in Indianapolis, with the original performers in mind, and with the love and understanding that comes not only in working with people I respect as artists, but that I have come to love as people in their own right. To Corey, Eric, and the rest of Forward Motion, Thank You. To everyone else, we are here, and we are building something that we hope will enrich the cultural and musical landscape of Indianapolis.

You can find more about Classical Music Indy, and organization that has been pivotal in helping the recent surge of projects and performances of classical music outside of traditional venues here.

*Author’s note: I originally drafted this post before the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 started to show how it would affect musical performances for the near future around the country. In a certain sense, it is nice to be able to show this work in a time where people will be unable to attend as many live performances as they would like. I hope that this small offering of music will offer a bit of solace in these trying times.

Fighting for Self Through Performance: WM V 6

At this point my life feels like a multidimensional struggle to actualize the version of myself that can look at almost any situation and handle it with a relatively low amount of metacognition about the meaning of things I’m doing or their long term implications. In other words, I am striving to be better in most practical respects and, more importantly, to be more present in my daily activities, art, and my relationships with others. For me, being present and getting out of my own head is a constant project that involves forcing myself repeatedly out of my comfort zone, which in turn usually expands the boundaries of said zone, which forces me to adopt greater discipline and venture further, and so on and so forth ad lassitudinem. It’s been a weird, intense way to live life recently, but it does have benefits. In the last nine months, I’ve lost fifty pounds, collaborated with some of my favorite musicians in Indianapolis on a bevy of projects, found new wells of intellectual and emotional growth from revived hobbies and interests, and am currently in the process of buying a house. This recent period of self-work was long-overdue, and at times life feels very much like I’m trying to catch up to myself.

I’ve also ground down any social anonymity in my neighborhood to a fine dust and often find myself paradoxically experiencing both deep loneliness and a strong desire for true solitude in the world. Don’t get me wrong, the community I’ve found myself in, from my roommates and outward into the neighborhood, is something I deeply cherish and count myself lucky to be part of. That doesn’t stop me from fantasizing about the possibilities of remote existence, in a yurt somewhere, perhaps.

For me, performance has become one of the few things that allows me to feel well and truly alone, present, and alive, even though it tends to happen in front of a bunch of people. In fact, it is that very aspect that I think separates performance from rehearsal in the sense that I get a built in buffer against the outside world, as well as a chunk of time that simply doesn’t have room for me to overthink things to death. I’ve made it part of my performance practice to leave almost every decision to the absolute last minute, everything from instrument choice to computer setup happens in the moment as much as possible.

Sunday night I played a concert in Chicago at Century Mallet, which is housed in the old Deagan factory. I brought a sl0ugh of instruments with me and no particular plan. Emotionally, I’ve been riding waves of indecision, cold feet in the face of my impending house purchase, and a general feeling of uneasiness with how much I’ve been asking of myself in all aspects of my life. (Honestly, if I was a more rational, understanding person in regards to myself, all of these areas of self improvement would have happened piecemeal over the course of many years, not all at once, but here I am, working on writing, a passion that laid dormant for the better part of a decade in the wake of the particular hangover that comes with studying philosophy.) In getting ready for the performance, I was struck by the fact that I hadn’t played to an audience in two months, and started to wonder whether or not I had anything left to say musically. (This was a profoundly stupid thought, but I think acknowledging these moments of insecurity is key to showing how I move through the world.)

And this brings us to Battle, Chicago. Aside from the sentiments above, the moments leading up to a performance often feels like preparing for a fight. In this case, having not performed for such a gap, the fight seemed to be to prove to myself that I know what the hell I’m doing. The first few moments of performance were definitely me getting my sea-legs back, but once the the boat was moving, I couldn’t help but to start captaining the damn thing. For me, the performance was a stark reminder of why I love performing at all, and brought about moments of discovery, recontextualization of certain instruments, and a feeling of peace that I can’t really find quite the same way anywhere else these days. The arc and language of the piece is suffused with the intense emotions I’ve been grappling with, and seems to me to be a slow push through areas of sonic discomfort.

The next few posts are going to get a little more granular about the instruments I’m using and a little less diary-adjacent. On this recording, though, is a music box, metal tongue drum, a clock coil box/kalimba, the stupid thing, and my trusty tuning forks.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.