Thoughts on Focus and the Experience of Composing

I’ve been thinking a lot about composing lately, specifically my working process and the importance of focus. I have been working on a larger piece for the past few months but had slowed down about a month ago, partially due to waiting to see what comes next but also just losing a sense of the piece as well as momentum. It also to some degree involves my own ability to focus while composing.

I had taken a week off from most of my other projects to focus on Distant Stars as I had a deadline approaching, something which always seems to make focusing easier. It was really an excellent experience to work on it as it was very focused and enjoyable to work. The constraints on time were worrying at first, as the past couple of pieces before I had spent a great deal of time listening to drafts as I worked, a process which I enjoy and use to make sure to myself that the work really has substance and not just initially something fresh which I liked at the moment. Working this way I have found that I enjoy the results of the work very much and continue to enjoy listening to these pieces long after finishing them.

However, sometimes when listening to drafts too much it can be too easy to lose focus. Other work and aspects of life can interrupt the focus, so a good amount of time is spent in just returning to the piece. Getting myself back to the experience of the piece is not alway easy. I have many thoughts about needing to bring the best of one’s self to the table when working on music which this relates to, and it’s not always easy to be at one’s most focused self when you happen to have time to compose. Focus and having a clear mind is just so incredibly important…

Having a limited time constraint to work on Distant Stars meant not having all too much time to review, but through the experience of composing I found that it also meant drawing upon intuition very strongly to make each compositional move and trusting the actions. This was a very rich experience and I find happens when one stops thinking about the piece and simply listens and acts.

I think it also happens as there are many different technical ideas I’ve experimented with over time that I know somewhat how they work, so that in the moment when I am working I can act intuitively from past experiences. This makes me think I should spend more time regularly sketching ideas and playing in realtime, getting these experiences, good or bad, to become deeply understood, so that I won’t have to think of them when I am working and can work more from intuition.

Also, I found that when I was slowly going through the larger piece and then switched focus to Distant Stars, it was really quite refreshing to work with differents sounds and in a different context. It makes me think back to my college days when I had a great amount of time and not so many responsibilities, that I often worked on more than one piece at a time, primarily focusing on one piece, but whenever I found myself exhausted and needing a break, would move over to another sketch or piece. Doing so often helped illuminate things going on in the first piece I was working on, and vice-versa. Already returning to listening to drafts of the larger piece was refreshing…

I find that there is a parallel to my recent composing experiences and my general programming experiences. When programming, I often find myself working on a project and when I find myself exhausted or at a stopping point I naturally move over to another programming project. I also find that with all the experience in programming I am often programming somewhat intuitively, as I have a lot of experience to draw on to simply know what to do for a large number of situations.

I had in mind to make Distant Stars a part of a larger project entitled “Explorer II”, based somewhat on ideas from my earlier “Explorer I” project. I think it will be a good thing for me to continue on with this series of smaller pieces while working on my larger piece. I have taken the past few days off after Distant Stars to take care of other non-music projects as well as some general music programming and sound exploring, and am looking forward now to returning to the larger piece. Looking at my recent experiences has been helpful to see where I am and evaluate how I’m working and I hope to take the lessons learned and apply them carrying forward.

AUX Collaborative Arts Event

Just a note that a good friend of mine is putting on an arts event tomorrow (Saturday) in Athens, GA from 4-10pm, entitled “Aux Collaborative Arts Event”. It’ll be at a venue called Athica.

More information about the event can be found here.

I have a piece being performed at this event and will make it available Sunday after the event. If you’re in or around Athens tomorrow I’m sure it’s going to be a wonderful event and would highly recommend going. If not, hopefully you’ll enjoy the piece I am releasing Sunday. (More thoughts on the piece to accompany the release).


Categorized as General

The New and the Familiar

Lisa’s friend sent a link to an NPR “All Things Considered” episode entitled “Does Age Squash Our Spirt of Adventure?“. It was fascinating to listen to this show about how that there seems to be a correspondence between age and our willingness to try new things. The show also brought up some interesting things regarding radio stations and how they look at their audiences in regards to age and taste.

It makes me wonder about myself and how I am approaching new things. I’d like to believe that I’m rather open to new experiences and will to give something a try, whether it’s new music, food, or any experience really. I think it’s healthy to give things a try, even if there’s a chance of a bad experience or failure, and to really try to approach the new experience with an open mind.

I remember when I first started to explore the world of modern art music.  At the time I was very interested with the group of composers that were classified as Minimalists but was starting to get exposed to a lot of the modernists from the earlier to mid part of the 20th century.  When I first listened to composers like Stockhausen, Xenakis, Cage, and many others, I really didn’t know what to make of it.  I didn’t find I had any connection with the music I was listening to, nor any idea why would one create music like that.

When I came to first hear this music I told myself that I would spend time to find out more about it before dismissing it. Afterall, I was new to it and knew very little about that world of music. I wanted to know that my experience of the work wasn’t superficial and that whatever I came to would be based on the pieces merits.
I spent a month, almost every day, going to the library and checking out records and CD’s, listening to a new composer or piece every day, reading the liner notes to discover a mention of a new composer and then try listening to that composer’s work.  I also spent time finding books and interviews with the composer I was listening to, trying to understand what it was they were after in their music. Looking back, I remember many times leaving the library exhausted by what I had heard, not really excited, but still curious. I also think back to it as a very exciting time, to have such a vast musical world to explore.
After a month of doing this I found my taste changed quite a deal.  I found that the initial experiences of listening to modern music  was somewhat of a reaction to something very new to me, something novel to my previous world.  After getting past the novelty of the sounds and really getting into the essence of the music, I realized that I really did find a connection with this world of music.

I was a bit younger then.  These days I am finding myself less involved with seeing what new experiences are out there but more interested in seeing what new experiences are in what I already am familiar with.  It seems to go in cycles though, sometimes with longer periods than others, of exploring things new and then contemplating the familiar with the new familiar from the explorations.

Perhaps then later then the reasons for exploring new things diminishes is that we simply have so much to explore in what is already familiar…

Deep Breathing and LifeTimer

Just wanted to make a note that I’ve updated my software Deep Breathing and have added a new software called LifeTimer.

DeepBreathing has been redesigned and has added more options for how to play back sounds. I am planning to do some more programming on it to have it save your settings and perhaps even to save your own presets, and perhaps will incorporate new sound options as well.
LifeTimer is a new program for timing various things in life. It includes a Timer (Stopwatch), an alarm where you can create different alarm presets (i.e. Green Tea, Black Tea, Nap) and when the alarm is finished it opens up a dialog and beeps, and a Work/Break Cycle that you set how long to work and how long of a break to take and it will repeatedly do each one until you turn it off, playing a sound at the beginning of each work and break period. It’s good for setting up regular breaks to avoid RSI as well as implementing the (10 + 2) * 5 Procrastination Hack from


Categorized as General

Around the City on a Holiday

Today is the Catholic holiday of the Assumption, and being in a country where church and state are not so different, I imagined it to be more of a somber affair, but I think my expectations were different than what I saw. We later found out it’s also a holiday in Warsaw to commemorate a defense of the city during WWII, which made things fall much more into place.

The day started with us going to meet Karen and friends on Chmielna. A gorgeous day, probably the prettiest I had seen since coming here: a deep blue sky, bright rays of sunlight, the colors rich and vibrant. We thought we’d ride the bus down but just a couple stops after we got on we were stuck waiting on the bus for first a parade to go by, then a procession of assorted tanks and armored vehicles. A very strange sight to see.

We eventually made it to Chmielna and had a nice lunch at Muza, then Karen, Lisa, and I made our own way afterwards towards the Palace of Fine Arts to see about a science exhibit. We arrived there but it seemed that the ticket cost also covered going to to the top, and since I didn’t have my camera with me, we opted to come back another day for those. (They also had the 48th European Team Bridge Championships there and as much as I had hoped to see Omar Shariff it wasn’t to happen. =) )

On our way out we saw that there was a free exhibit in a tent entitled “Tajne Fotografie Luftwaffe – Maj – Czerwiec 1944” (Secret Photography of the Luftwaffe – May-June 1944). We went in and saw many photos from ’44 as well as a narrated movie showing the state of Warsaw at that time: gutted buildings with the rooves destroyed, buildings missing altogether. The photos of the Ghetto were particularly disturbing as blocks and blocks of building were completely destroyed, in their place what seemed to be like dust.

It was erie and haunting to see such photos of the city as it seemed so familiar and yet altogether different. As we saw each photo we discussed all of the differences between what we were looking at and what we knew of the city today from our own experiences, noticing what buildings were no longer there, what new roads weren’t in the pictures, and so on.

Looking at the photos reminded me very much of some of the photos of Lebanon I had seen recently online comparing city photos from before and after the Israeli bombings. I thought to myself that like Warsaw it will be rebuilt, but cities are alive like human bodies and that although they heal, they’re never quite the same. I am sure that there must be similar images of destruction on the Israeli side and equally as sad to see.

We left the exhibition and decided to make our way to a coffee shop, but on the way we stopped by Prozna street which Karen told us is the last street from Jewish Ghetto still intact(Karen explained that it was in the small ghetto whose occupants were evacuated to the large ghetto which was later completely destroyed). The first building we saw there was quite beat up in terms of brickwork but all of the windows were new and seemed to have people living there. The next building was in quite worse shape, the windows old and missing glass, the building evacuated. We saw very old bullet holes in the walls outside…

A small walk across the street and we found the only Warsaw Synogogue to survive the war. It was closed but from the outside it seemed a rather beautiful building. The front exterior looked newly painted a nice yellow color that looked like it would be continued all around. Perhaps one day we’ll have a chance to look inside, but it always seemed like a strange thing to go into houses of worship like churches or synagogues to look around, so if not, I think that’d be alright.

We left the area and moved on to the park and returned to a more holiday setting. There in the park was a sort of small marching band standing in an arc and playing music with a color guard in front throwing batons. Seeing a tuba player and a sousaphone player there rekindled some urges to play the tuba. (I’m looking forward to December at my parent’s home to get to play my tuba…)

The rest of the park was setup with a sort of fair for children, though very different than any I was familiar with in my own experiences. People set up stands for people to play fooseball, pool, and even putt golf balls on those mini putting greens which I imagine executives purchasing for their offices. It seemed strange to me but at the same time the kids looked like they were enjoying themselves a good deal and I was happy to see that.

After the fair we finally made it to Antrakt, a very lovely coffee shop not too far away from where we live. A very neat space, I imagine that when it is colder that it would be a great place to read and work at.

We stayed a while and enjoyed good conversation then left and parted our own ways. It was a long, full day.

Categorized as General

Updates – Podcast, RSS Feeds

Hi All,

Regarding the website, I’ve just done a bit of work to make WordPress split entries with multiple enclosures to generate multiple entries with single enclosures, thus making it compliant with all Podcast software and RSS2 specifications.

I’ve also changed to use Feedburner for both the general RSS feed and Podcast feeds. The URL’s for those are:


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Every time I read Chuang-Tzu it is as refreshing as the very first time…

Recently I’ve been reading Chuang-Tzu again and have found within it a great deal. It seems as relevant today in my life as it has ever been. With yesterday’s attempted airplane bombings, many things within the book seem to resonate with the times regarding a world out of balance. Within my own life, I have found that contemplating Chuang-Tzu has helped me get back to focusing on things which are very important to me, especially in regards to my music.

Today it is gray outside and now it is raining with thunder in the distance. It is a quiet and thoughtful day, a day to work away in silence…

Categorized as General

Kazimierz Dolny

This weekend we went to Kazimierz Dolny, a city to the South-East of Warsaw near the Ukrainian border. We travelled via bus with Lisa’s friend Karen, Karen’s cousin, and her cousin’s husband for a very nice weekend out in this small town.

Lisa and Karen had been before but the rest of us didn’t really know what to expect. We got to the city around lunch time and had a nice meal, then decided to explore the downtown and sites to be seen nearby before heading over to the castle (more on this later). We saw a lovely old church from the 1600’s, hiked up to see the hill of three crosses and a fantastic view of the city and all along the river, then over to a ruined castle and a tower. A long day of walking and hiking around, we ended with a long walk to the ferry, went across the river, and then another long walk and small hike up to another ruined castle.

We had made reservations prior to coming and had split the group for accomodations: Carroll and David stayed at the Zamek (castle) and Lisa, myself, and Karen stayed at the Dwor (manor hourse) right nearby. Being tired from the day full walks and hikes, we were glad to finally put our things down in our rooms and to enjoy a nice evening meal and long conversation afterwards with deliciously cold beer. While we were drinking the staff left and we ended up being the only ones left in the ruined castle! Karen, Lisa, and I eventually took our leave of the castle and made our way through the pitch black night to the Dwor, then quickly were off to sleep.

The next day we awoke, showered, collected our things and went over to the Zamek for a delicious Polish breakfast (bread, butter, tomato and cucumber slices, and a giant pot of coffee!). Afterwards we checked out and took a look at the museum part outside of the Zamek showing old-time machines that the people used for farming and making clothes as well as old boats they once used. With that we hiked down a different (and shorter!) path back to the ferry and made our way down the long walk back to the center of Kazimierz Dolny.

At this point David and Carroll decided to take a boat ride down the river, while Karen, Lisa, and I went off to hike through a gorge. The walk was gorgeous as the branches of trees arc over the path we walked and the foliage a beautiful green, a ray of sun light occasionaly breaking through the canopy. We walked to the top of the gorge where it flattened out to a hilltop, then made our way back down to the city. Altogether again, we had a lovely meal at U Fryzera (which translates to a barber shop, which was a part of their theme I guess). We got to the bus just fine and on our way back to Warsaw managed to get lost (well there was an accident and the bus driver was told by another to go on a detour that got us lost and had the driver asking people passing by how to get to Warsaw) but ended up having not lost much time.

A very nice trip, wonderful company, and completely refereshing. It was nice to take a break from the computer for a couple days and to go exploring. Now back again, I am happy to return to my work with a fresh energy and a calm mind.

Categorized as General