• “Poets wear sombreros.” This search is a reference to a line in one of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems, “Six Significant Landscapes” (1916). The line–which actually reads “rationalists would wear sombreros”–appears at the end of the sixth and final stanza:
“Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses —
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon —
Rationalists would wear sombreros.”
I have written about music in Stevens’ poetry here.
• “Orchestras with pop singers.” This search could be about the practice of popular musicians (e.g. Peter Gabriel, Metallica) collaborating on orchestral arrangements of their music, which I describe in my post here.
• “Times Square ground.” This search could be about the underground sound art installation piece at the corner of 45th and Broadway. The piece is called “Times Square” and was created by (percussionist) Max Neuhaus (1939-2009). I wrote about the piece in my post here.
In my current work of performing music, perhaps the most useful “secret” for maintaining a high standard of playing is my ability to reset. In my life outside of music, there are very few occasions in need of resetting—at home, there’s pressing the small button on the kitchen thermometer, or unplugging the cable modem now and then so it can find the signal. The resetting I do at the show is similar to this, but a tad more involved. In a nutshell, when I reset I pretend—suspend disbelief—that this show is the first show. Even though I have memories of thousands of previous shows, this show is the first and last of its kind, and so worth paying close attention to. Paying close attention makes it more interesting because it makes it a game of noticing details. Phenomenologists might describe my stance using the term bracketing—a way of setting off the here and now of immediate experience from everything else that might be beckoning for my attention. To reset is to re-consider the details of this performance one more time without past experience getting in the way. To reset is to be a (trained) beginner (again).
I had this thought about reset just as I was picking up some mallets and standing there, waiting to play. I thought about how for the audience this was their first time at the performance and their first time encountering my sounds (somewhere in the overall mix of sounds and sights clamoring for their attention). I thought about how extraneous, non-musical claptrap that had gradually infiltrated my consciousness over the years—tiny stories about the music, gossip via and about fellow musicians, workplace politics (oh the drama!)—is of zero use in the moment of performance. Zero. I thought about how powerful it feels to have a “higher” gear I can kick into to silence that cognitive noise by resetting, over and over again. In that moment I don’t measure my experience by the number of shows I have already played (in the thousands, in any case), or by the lessons I have stowed away (few, in any case) that I can recycle and reapply. The cleanest way to (re)encounter the moment is to let go of my assumptions about it and attend to its unfolding, just like this, in this way, right now. When you keep things empty, they remain fresh and full of potential. And then the music started and I began to play.
• A collection of Arvo Pärt quotes.
“The artistic reflection of ideas, style, history etc. is indeed a form of game. Art, however, cannot be separated from it. Yet, I did not want to create art. I wanted to free and distance myself from making artificial art. Rather I wanted to combine two different issues; namely, art and life, art and being. This approach comes from a completely different perspective and has a different starting point. It doesn’t need to start from art.”
• An article about taste.
“Learning to see the quality instinct in other people’s space is also key to developing better judgment. Houses with strong aesthetics may come in every shape and size, but they too hold several teachable lessons. Chief among them: Thou shalt not copy. Parroting a magazine or someone else’s home seldom achieves a result worth much retrospection.”
• An article about algorithmic culture.
“Algorithms aren’t gods. We need not believe that they rule the world in order to admit that they influence it, sometimes profoundly. Let’s bring algorithms down to earth again. Let’s keep the computer around without fetishizing it, without bowing down to it or shrugging away its inevitable power over us, without melting everything down into it as a new name for fate. I don’t want an algorithmic culture, especially if that phrase just euphemizes a corporate, computational theocracy”.
(What do you want this blog to accomplish? I’m not sure it has any practical applications, but it has something to do with exploring creativity, cultivating risk-taking, and practicing the habit of sharing. Who is your audience? Not sure, though some of the followers I do know personally. Do you ‘own your product category’? That’s marketing speak! No, I probably don’t own a category. Is the blog about self-promotion? It could be, but that aspect hasn’t worked out so far. Besides, promotion strikes me as a conflict of interest between sharing the work of others and pushing my own. I usually chose others’ first. Do you read other blogs? A few sports and technology and cooking ones. Do you like music? Sometimes I love it, other times I would prefer not to hear it at all. I’m careful with how much I get. What are the main themes you’re pursuing through this blog? Invention, and discovering new connections and ideas with the hope that one day a bunch of the data points will connect and add up to something larger. Has that happened yet? No, but there have been accumulations. Advice for aspiring bloggers? Write about your own experiences, but also try disappear into your material.)
“You must try to remember whether even in childhood you felt a strong natural inclination to this art and whether you were deeply moved by the beauty of concords.”
– Johann Joseph Fux, The Study of Counterpoint (1725)
• An article about The Necks by one of my favorite writers on music, Geoff Dyer.
“Impatience prevents you from seeing—hearing—that what you are waiting for is already happening (not a bad test-definition of the avant-garde). But there is scope for anxiety on behalf of the participating listener, because the gathering intensity is underwritten by the potential for dissipation. And any given performance makes you wonder how any part of it could be different. This is the possibility that the performance has to raise on the way to becoming that which it was.”
• An article about how algorithms are transforming creativity. (His book is here.)
“Human creativity has always been a response to the immense strangeness of reality, and now its subject has evolved, as reality becomes increasingly codeterminate, and intermingled, with computation. If that statement seems extreme, consider the extent to which our fundamental perceptions of reality – from research in the physical sciences to finance to the little screens we constantly interject between ourselves in the world – have changed what it means to live, to feel, to know. As creators and appreciators of the arts, we would do well to remember all the things that Google does not know.”
• An article about our technologies and perception.
“He says his epiphany came a few years ago, when he noticed he was surrounded by technology that was inhibiting him from concentrating on the things he wanted to focus on. ‘It was that kind of individual, existential realisation: what’s going on?’ he says. ‘Isn’t technology supposed to be doing the complete opposite of this?’”
“Art is not a substitute religion: it is a religion (in the true sense of the word: ‘binding back’, ‘binding’ to the unknowable, transcending reason, transcendent being).”
– Notes, 1964-65
“Art is the highest form of hope.”
– Text for catalog of documents 7, Kassel, 1982
Question: And what is it that connects Vermeer, Palladio, Bach, Cage?
“It’s that same quality I’ve been talking about. It’s neither contrived, nor surprising and smart, not baffling, not witty, not interesting, not cynical, it can’t be planned and it probably can’t even be described. It’s just good.”
– I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It, Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicholas Serota, Spring 2011
(The system could put out 28,000 watts of sound. To learn more about it: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wnnayb/the-wall-of-sound).