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.