Just over a year ago, I had my first solo art show, Study in Place, open at the Tube Factory Artspace, down the block from my house. It afforded me the opportunity to build some new instruments, and to present them in a way that drew on my experiences creating music and running the Rhythm Discovery Center for the better half of a decade. The show was also a means by which I could find a focal point in my work, and pivot to the next phase of creation and exploration. The show featured a variety of instruments and collaborative musical sculptures that all ended up networked into a central computer to form a larger instrument as a collective of objects. I like to explore cyclical development of ideas in my work, and having this set up was a way to make a lot of these ideas literal.
After two months of helping visitors play these instruments and dutifully fixing them through a variety of mishaps, I wanted to get in the driver seat for a bit. To this end, at the closing off the show’s run was a concert which was performed with my longtime friend and collaborator Eric Salazar. Eric had the presence of mind to push this idea from dream to reality, and it was a truly joyful experience. With everything networked, playing through a sound system that surrounded the audience, the performance one of my most immersive performances to date.
When Eric and I sat down to edit the record, we were delighted to find that we didn’t have to do much. For a record made with a couple of field recorders and an Ableton set, I’m proud of what we accomplished. Below I’ll talk a little about each piece, which you can see in the video shot and edited by Daniel Arthur Jacobson. It’s hard to express the depth of joy and gratitude that came with creating and documenting this project. As someone who has been staunchly DIY for much of my artistic life, it was humbling and moving to have some many people come together and support my work to make it shine in a way that I couldn’t have accomplished myself.
The first track on the record, Rumination, felt a bit like building in a sandbox, and gets at the heart of what I love about improvisation and play in music. Eric is playing his clarinet against the sculpture Automatic Wine Glass, which drones on a high note, and the instrument Singing Plates, which uses acrylic rods threaded into aluminum plates to create droning harmonics from the metal. Singing Plates, in particular is an imperfect instrument and behaves erratically, which forced me out of my comfort zone pretty much immediately. The resulting performance ended up setting the tone for the whole record and, counter to the name of the track, forced me to get out of my head and into the present moment.
In Renewal, I introduced the Gravity Harp to an audience for the first time. Modeled after folk door chimes I’d seen since my childhood, the instrument uses wooden balls to repeatedly strike brass strings. However, the entire instrument is on a movable axis, so I have control over the speed at which the balls struck the strings. The end result is a musical conversation between Eric and I that brings in elements of pushing and pulling both in terms of rhythm and density. In my mind it represents us looking up and out into the wider universe of musical possibilities and sets our journey on an upward trajectory. This piece is the single for the record and can be found at the bottom of this post.
Daydream is probably my favorite track on the record, and the content parallels the title in that everything seems to go according to plan. In this piece, Eric was playing my sculpture Music Box Library, which I was live processing and accompanying from the computer at the center of the exhibit. After working in the previous two pieces with unstable musical systems, moving to the music boxes, with which I have been working for the better part of a decade, seemed like getting behind the controls of a starship I built myself. The resulting musical flight begins with simple melodies, and ends up in the stratosphere surrounded by countless melodic meteors burning brightly in the surrounding sky.
The final piece of the concert, Reentry, brings us firmly back down to Earth. Beginning with a soliloquy on the Glass Organ, which oscillates between reverence and questioning that I hope reflects my ongoing journey for understanding and exploration that is at the core of my musical practice. A few minutes in, we are greeted by the firmament itself in the form of thundering bass clarinet from Eric, who remained hidden during this movement to give the audience a surprise for the end. The resulting soundscape is something akin to birds flying above a glacier, a conversation between movements slow and fast. At the end, I think all of what Eric I had to give was scattered among the wires running across the floor and filed out right along with the audience.