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.


So where did you think you would end up? (WM V 5: Emergent Identity)

Ok, I’m going to keep this one brief! For this volume of Walking Music, I journeyed back to some of my musical roots, and came back to a space that has been a theme in my life as of late, namely continuity of identity. Making a conscious effort to be present in your life and embrace the barrage of change and challenge that comes with reconciling your current life against the life you want to live or, at times, the life you project to others, can be a daunting task. For me, as the weight of others’ expectations of me from youth has lightened, I feel more room to really look at myself and see how things are going from my own standards. Emergent Identity is a direct result of that in a musical sense.

The music below was composed and performed in the realm of the space between my ears, with relatively little expectation or ambition to how it will react in other situations. This is how I used to compose music before I shared it with other people, and is in some senses a report card to my former self. The piece itself follows a loose formula I used to exploit to death: long drone, intermittent events on top. There are several layers of a recording I made with a metal tongue drum as well as some vibraphone and synthesizer. The compositional methods employed involve using the same recording several times, time-stretched to different scales, and a gesture at the end that is simply a fancy way of presenting a slowly ascending scale over a drone, which is one of my favorites.

As for what my former self would have thought about this music, I imagine he would ask me lots of questions, which is a good thing.

Walking Music Volume 4: Music for Urban Stargazing

Five posts in, and I’ve already talked about death. This post is a little more directly about music, and one of the ways I make it. Let’s talk about tuning forks, and theft: shameless, encouraged, and documented.

A few years ago, (Look, the last few posts have been long, this one won’t be, just let me give you a little frame.) I found this video. If I recall correctly, I was actually looking at possible grad school destinations, but what ended up sticking with me were tuning forks and woodblocks. I didn’t immediately rush out and buy a set of tuning forks or anything, but it was firmly planted in the back of my mind.

Apparently, according to my Amazon history, the itch to play with tuning forks hit me again on Feb 11th, 2019, and I placed an order for a diatonic set. Thinking back, the reason I bought them was an ill-fated idea that involved using them as tuned triangle beaters. I say ill-fated because their acoustic volume could never compete with the volume of the triangles themselves. After that, I started using them to play isolated pitches into my clock coil boxes during performances, juxtaposing discernible pitches against the low end rumble of the coils themselves. Like most ideas in my performances, it stuck around in various forms until I had a moment where their potential would be adequately realized.

I had been avoiding using a simple woodblock and contact mic setup out of respect for the original inspiration of my foray into the territory. Over time though, I realized I had an infrastructure to make a totally different kind of music with this setup, especially when loops and a harmonizer were introduced. The resulting setup, namely a Line6 loop pedal and an EHX HOG2, allowed me to fit a whole performance setup in a backpack without involving a computer, and to extend the range of the set several octaves. As the early and mid months of 2019 crawled on, I found myself gravitating to the forks more often.

Music for Urban Stargazing is named half-jokingly for an activity that feels near-futile. This line of near-futility is what drove me to try to make long, layered music using the tuning forks.

The set of pieces below was recorded in a single session of improvisations that took place on July 7th, 2019. From a performative perspective, they sit squarely in this territory I like to occupy between intention and accident. Using a looper and being forced to perpetually react on each pass to build a convincing musical world and caused gestures I initially deemed to be mistakes to become cornerstones of certain movements. For example, in “In the Right Place Pt. 1”, I didn’t predict that the slight stickiness of the gaff tape on the woodblock would add another layer of unpitched sound that would help form the timbral character of the piece. The development of a performative language revolving around the tuning forks was part and parcel of my pursuit to think and perform fluidly in longer intervals of time. As I continue to build my vocabulary, several instruments, invented and otherwise, will get an extended solo treatment.


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.