Rituals Pt. 2

Tappers

So the ritual is this:

It is evening. I walk to Tappers. I order one beer that I will sip on for as long as the session lasts. Or, more accurately, I do not sip more than once or twice until the session ends.

I make my way to the Asteroids machine. It is the only game I actually care about. It is the perfect video game in some respects, brutal in its execution and subtle in its controls. The machine at Tappers is the real deal, it uses a vector display which predates the implementation of CRT monitors that most games use. The concept of hit boxes seems crude and unnecessary in the face of this display. You can turn that ship and avoid these space rocks and have them skate right past the window. It is a thing of beauty.

I put on my headphones and turn on Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony every single time. In some respects, the piece matches the game in its simple premise and elegant design, it is a conglomeration of square waves that are heard as a myriad of textures and tones.

I crack my knuckles (almost entirely for a sense of determined nostalgia, I have seen the movies), do a quick body scan, and RELAX. I lean my forehead against the lip of the machine, and at that point I am sufficiently immersed to blow some rocks to hell.

The irony of Asteroids is that the asteroids are very rarely the cause of death. The causes of death in Asteroids are hubris, inaccuracy, and those fucking little UFOs that want to kill you. UFOs aside, most of the time, you will see your death coming from a mile away. You can fire in four shot bursts, and if you just burned your quartet a second before one of those little bastards runs into you, its already over. Trigger discipline is everything.

I play the same way every time. I refuse to move until I absolutely have to. (This is almost certainly mappable to other dimensions of my life, but that’s for another day.) But, in all honesty, that first move is when the fun actually begins. Everything starts to click. That hunter part of my brain starts to actually fire. I have thoughts like: The reason game hunting is so unappealing from an intellectual perspective is that you don’t fucking MOVE. Once movement is happening in two dimensions, parts of the mind start to light up in a new way. All of those science fiction movies I watched as a kid start to kick in. I know what it’s like to thrust and drift. I was never destined to be an astronaut, but I’ll be damned if all those documentaries and books covering the mechanics of spacewalks and navigating zero-g is going to go to waste. Thrust and drift, thrust and drift.

Let’s talk about those fucking UFOs. So there are two types: 1) The big ones that are just asking to get destroyed and more or less shoot at random, just baiting you to panic. 2) These little bastards that use a totally different algorithm and can see your movements. In the case of the latter, the progress through the game becomes a zen experience. You have to be the person who stays calm while people are yelling in your face. Thrust and drift. Thrust and drift. You have to starve those little fuckers of data. If you try to decidedly evade them, they will fucking kill you every single time. What you do is tap the thruster and gently glide while frantically shooting everything you have at them. They can see you try to move in a direction but can’t tell which way you’re facing. Fuck those dudes. Their frequency, which is determined by some prankster demigod living in the machine, is often what determines the length of a run.

I don’t know how often the score gets reset on that particular machine, but I do know that I’m back up on the top ten for now. My score in a long term sense is weak sauce, but I did knock some dummy off the scoreboard tonight and I’m going to enjoy that for the moment.

High score.

Rituals Pt. 1

(So for this post, I’m going to begin talking about some routines I’ve picked up and how I experience daily life and how it folds into my mindset and artistic output.)

Morning

So the ritual is this:

I wake up, am usually in one of a few mental states: 1) Well slept and continuing thoughts that were forming as I was closing my eyes the night before. 2) Unrested, emotionally exhausted, unsure of how of which thoughts to listen to. 3) Hungover. Survival mode. Assuming thoughts will come.

Assuming I have woken up on time, I roll out of bed (literally, it’s fun and gives me some mechanical momentum that prevents the dreaded second sleep), pull some clothes out of the closet, walk down the hall and shower. Regardless of how late or early I am, I try to do this quickly, like an athlete before a game.

After the shower, I walk quickly or slowly downstairs, put on a jacket and possibly a heated vest, grab a boiled egg from the fridge, sling my bag on and exit the house at the briskest pace I can manage. I will listen to one of the following: my brother’s podcast, my latest project in progress, some new music, silence.

I begin walking to work, and stop at the first coffee shop on the way. I have been permitted to pour my own espresso. I drop my bag and, depending on the timing, my jacket and step behind the bar. I grind the coffee, start the shot pouring, turn to the register and pay while the shot is filling up. If I have done my job right, I can get everything into the POS system and turn around just in time to stop the pour. I do this partly because it’s fun, and partly to test my motor skills for the day. If everything goes smoothly, I know things are going to be fine the rest of the day. If not, I know I have another mile and a half to figure it out.

If the person working is having a bad day, I will usually leave a tip.

I leave the shop and turn northwest toward the center of town. I drink the espresso within one to three blocks, depending on how cold it is. Within the next mile, I dispose of the cup, and begin the process of peeling the boiled egg on the move without dropping shell everywhere. I’m getting good at it.

Eventually I get to work. The day starts.

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.

Enjoy!