Tuesday, February 24, 2009

minimalist ambient punk

Okay, so I got to asking myself recently: what does ambient music and punk (new wave) have in common that I keep listening to them and drawing enjoyment and inspiration from them both? Other than the fact that Brian Eno was there at the birthing of both of them, midwife to one, father to the other.

Let me provide some examples to make this clear. How is it that I can thoroughly enjoy listening (and watching) something like this:

And then turn around and also thoroughly enjoy listening (and watching) something like this.

(BTW: The Ting Tings and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are my current fave punk / new wave bands. The YYYs are a bit dark and/or 'inappropriate' at times. But, nevertheless they have this ebullience that I am talking about below and that I find really attractive.)

Eno once said about his shift from rock music to ambient music that rock and roll was essentially an adolescent kind of music. He had grown out of it, so to speak. He was ready to do something more adult, mature, beautiful. I basically want to agree with this. And all that I dislike about a rock song, when I dislike a rock song, can usually be summed up by saying something along the lines of "O my, that is just so adolescent." I am not in high school anymore. Thank God. And I never want to go back.

For all this I find the joy I take in these seemingly disparate forms of music to actually be quite similar in the end, if not in their respective means. What I mean is that dance/pop punk (new wave) and ambient music are both, for me, about the positive release of positive energy. And by positive energy I do not mean "happy happy." I just mean that the emotion is real, authentic, and builds up, rather than tears away at, reality. In the end, with either genera, I wind up feeling happy and relaxed. But with one, that state comes through a kind of ebullient and energetic release of energy (new wave), the other through a more relaxed meditation.

Okay, brief aside: why do I keep calling this stuff "punk" and putting "new wave" in parentheses. Well, I would just call this stuff straightforwardly "New Wave," but when you say that people start thinking that you are talking about something that includes, mainly, groups like Human League or Naked Eyes instead of something that originally was wide enough to encompass groups like Tom Petty's Heartbreakers or the Pretenders, as well as, of course, the Talking Heads, Ramones and Blondie. By New Wave I do not mean "synth pop" (which usually bugs me: "so adolescent"). So when I talk to folks about what rock I like, rather than explain the shared but divergent history of Punk and New Wave, proper, I just say: I like fun, non-political punk music. Good enough.

Now, back to my commentary: So, in the end, I feel as though I have encountered and released positive energy when I engage these two kinds of music. And, as different as they seem in means, I see some similarities. They both adhere to a kind of minimalist philosophy of music. They both latch on to simplicity and accessibility. Ambient may use modes, but they are tonal. New Wave punk may use distortion, but we can all sing along with the chorus when it comes back round. New Wave and Punk both call for a return to a more simple, "any body can do this and have fun" philosophy of Rock music. Ambient music calls for quieting down, slowing down, and listening to the beauty in the tonality of what surrounds us.

They both adhere to a kind of DIY philosophy: anybody can pick up a guitar and slam out some fun punk; anybody can do some field recordings and send it through an effects processor. Eno is always glorying in the "fact" (questionable) that he is "not really a musician." Hmph. I sure wish I were as good of a "not real musician" as Eno! Well, anyway, we get the point.

I keep coming back to ambient music, and keep trying to create my own, because of its adult, mature, honest simplicity. If rock music is "three chords, a red guitar and the truth," then ambient music is (I just made this up, tell me what you think, or give me your better version): "three modes a colorful formant and a sense of beauty."

When I turn to new wave and punk, I don't find myself attracted (anymore) to the aggression in some of it, nor the overtly anarchist politics of others. I avoid that stuff now. That is the stuff that reminds me of all that I remember hating about being a teenager. I keep coming back to the new wave and punk stuff that is fun, almost "pre-adolescent:" an ebullience for life that says "dance," "jump up and down," release this energy, have fun, and help others feel good too.

It is, however, hard, as a guy with a "hobby" project studio to make dance punk at home. I guess I better buy a pickup for my acoustic guitar! Next, I think I need to post about why I dig the minimalist aesthetic, whether in rock or in other electronic forms of music, like ambient music.

Here is the question I'll have to ask myself: am I a minimalist out of some kind of legitimate philosophical position? or just because I lack virtuoso musical skills and I'm just Pollyanna?! Thanks for reading, and thanks for the support.

Monday, February 23, 2009

meditative knot tying

As we are coming up on Lent here, I felt like sharing this little video I came across the other day.

So here is some respect to the folks at Trinity Cathedral who really put a lot of energy into their media and communications. I know that the music is a little on the cheese side of "ambient" or meditative music. But, if we leave snobbery aside, it is not a bad piece as a setting for the meditative practice of tying knots.

Here is a whole lot of respect out there to this deep Eastern Christian tradition. Prayer ropes, knot tying, and the "Jesus Prayer" ("O, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner," said with one breath, both on the inhalation and exhalation), are all a part of the Hesychastic tradition of mysticism that is so essential to the Eastern way, and often so foreign to Western Christians.

In this web log, I meditate (among other things) upon how human creativity participates in the divine act of creation itself; and I share the creative things that other people, or, in this case, other traditions do, that inspire me. Hope you find it inspirational as well.

Blessed Lent.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My first icon

Last Summer (2008) I took an iconography class with Austin-local iconographer Irene Pérez-Omar. It was an amazing experience. I finally took it back to her, long after it had fully dried, in order for her to put on the final sealing coat of linseed oil. Now that it is finished, I've taken this totally non-professional photo to post on my avocational web log. And I am introducing a new "locus," on my web log for such projects: "ikon."

I think, in some ways, "writing" this icon was more difficult than writing my dissertation. I love re-engaging a folk-art tradition in my post-modern condition. I love the spiritual depth of meaning in each line and layer. I love that an icon is highlighted, and never shaded - the iconographer always works his or her way out of darkness into the light. I love how working on an icon reflects one's spiritual journey - and the troubles you have in writing your icon reflect your own spiritual state. Needless to say, I learned a lot about myself. As I meditate on this icon, I continue to learn more.

There is no signature. Iconographers do not "sign" their work, they "channel" it: both in the sense of passing down a tradition bigger than they are, but also in the sense that the icon enables contact with the transcendent realities it images. Stretta recently embedded a video where a famous author reminds us of the ancient conception of creativity as something only enabled by the divine, by something that transcends merely quotidian human existence. Iconography, as a liturgical art, is, to me, the key example of divinely inspired creativity. It is "sub-creation," under the Creator: to whom be glory.

I plan further posts in this web log locus with regards to why I took iconography, future hopes and projects, and some of the theology and philosophy behind it. Please let me know what you think.

Thanks for following, and thanks for the encouragement.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meditations in tintinnabulation

meditation in tintinnabulation from Tetramorph on Vimeo.

Back in November (2008) I wrote some words of respect about Arvo Pärt and his compositional technique of "tintinnabulation." At the conclusion of that post I proposed a possible application for the monome that would be based directly upon that technique. I started a discussion about it in the monome community forum. Stretta responded and put together "tintinnabulome" in max/msp - without even having his monome with him. So this post is also a brief word of respect to Stretta: Thanks for all that you give so freely of your own creativity.

Now, as you may recall, occular gave us a beautiful Christmas carol last season with Stretta's realization of my brainstorm.

Since then dadek has done a couple of really beautiful meditations with tintinnabulome:

And also:
I find these truly beautiful. So I worked on my own tintinnabular meditation, some results of which are found in the video embedded at the top of the post. Although not as beautiful as dadek's, I am happy with it, and with the joy I had in producing it. Never mind that my dog is barking at the end. We can't all have meditative experiences at the same time, I suppose!

I hope it is meditative for you as well. Please share with me what you think. Thanks for reading, and thanks for the encouragement.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

DIY monome case

Okay, so here is how I carry my monome about town: in my satchel / brief case wrapped in an old pillow case. Fancy, I know. That is about the extent of my DIY capabilities.

I thought this slideshow would be a fun little gift to the monome community. There has been some recent activity in the monome community regarding how to store or carry one's monome - and it seems to be a recurring theme. So, here's to you, monome community!

I gave up on this little musical track that I used as music for the slideshow a while back. This project was the result of my Apple Store One to One sessions. I grew tired of it, but it was really instructional for me; so I don't regret it. It turned out to be a perfect sound track for how to turn an old pillow case into a brand new monome case. Enjoy.