A Personal Music Space

I’ve been listening to my minidisc player for the first time in a while… I used to listen to my mindisc player quite a bit, almost whereever I went I would have some music or another playing. I’m reminded of the experience of listening to music on headphones, listening within a very personal musical space, the sound very rich and enveloping, being able to hear the details of the sounds. That personal sound space, cut off from the rest of the world, yet, in other ways, opening it, flavoring it, allowing one to take a step back from being right where one was and instead of interacting with it, observing it.

That kind of perspective is refreshing, to be aware of all the details, to look at the world as an observer, to look at the world with fascination, listening to music that is altogether other worldly, if in just the fact that it is in its own time and space.

Modern Music Internet Radio

I’m a tremendous fan of internet radio stations as a way of encountering new music. Over the years some of my favorite stations have come and gone and others have persisted in providing wonderful music. One of my favorites I’ve rediscovered is Radio@Netscape‘s 20th Century station. Already today I’ve heard pieces I’ve been wanting to check out for some time (just finished listening to George Crumb’s “Unto the Hills”…) and other pieces by composers I simply never knew about.

Anyone else have favorite internet avant-garde/experimental/modern music stations they’d like to share?



to walk, truly, freely, how pleasant it is! moving freely, the mind wandering curiously, the thoughts from daily life at rest, attention simply on the moment at hand, all the time in the world to explore thoughts deeply, a peaceful ease, floating on along…

i used to walk more regularly than i do these days. i think it’s just that san francisco doesn’t require walking as much as new york did. i find i’m missing that time walking, thinking back to those days in new york going block to block, look up to see the buildings, thoughts adrift. ..

reminiscing about the walk up park avenue east from union square with that blue sky that one day, listening to debussy’s “la mer”… the walk from the hotel petrus to downtown krakow and back again that i took so many times, each so unique, the river, the sky, wawel in the distance… the walk after jumping in the river in geneva… the walk along the seine in paris at night with gypsies playing…


“Still Life” is something of a strange, contradictory term… I usuallly associate life as something active, moving, dynamic, and that which is still to be something passive, motionless. Yet, most still life can be dynamic and rich while motionless…

There’s a phrase from one of Michio Kushi’s Macrobiotic Cookbooks, dynamic homeostasis, which I read maybe six or seven years ago and is still with me today. That idea, of something being in balance, yet in motion, rich, alive, has been an ideal for me, something to pursue in life and in music.

The idea of stillness has been on my mind a lot lately as I’m contemplating the nature of the music I’m involved with. Not a music without motion within it, but rather a music that has the effect of motionlessness. That, regardless of what’s in the music, the experience is as John Cage once said, “to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences” …

Peace of Mind

It’s been quite some time since I finished a piece of music… it’s a thought that weighs heavily on me at times. In that time, however, I think a lot of life has been lived, so nothing lost. The pieces I’ve been working on the past year or so–I think I’m going to give them up. That was a very hard decision to come to, but I think it best.

These pieces, these fragments, have been sitting there, and I find myself hard pressed to continue with them. I’ve struggled very much, and in the end, I think it’s simply that these pieces aren’t me. I look back at my early inquiries into music and find them very much rich and full, something very pure about them.

These past pieces have had something in them too, something raw, pure, but of an energy and aesthetic I’m simply not about. So the time spent trying to find their paths were perhaps more about me finding my own, once again.

This time exploring these paths have not been for not, though. I find that they have very much enriched my views on what I believe I will be seeking once again. The techniques behind the ideas are still very much appealing, only perhaps the ideas themselves were not the ones to which to apply the techniques.

I feel a great sense of freedom in this decision, finding myself once again in territory more familiar and inspiring.

Last night I began meditating as I used to do back when I was very actively composing music; the calmness and serenity of it has helped make this decision so much easier, having cleared the way back to the life of living beautifully. Tonight’s T’ai-chi practice was as peaceful and focused as it’s ever been. And here I am, smiling away at the screen, curious to once again listen for where the sounds want to go.


Everbody Has a Mother

About a year and a half ago I took some time off and went to Krakow, Poland for a couple of months (a long held interest after reading a book on Henryk Gorecki). On the way there, riding LOT Polish Airlines, I was seated next to a very nice older lady. We began talking about interests of ours: she enjoyed yoga, I’m very much into tai-chi, which she was interested in as it was getting harder for her to do yoga. We also got to talking about travelling in general (the way she described Thailand made it sound amazingly serene and beautiful… If I should ever find time to end up there, it’s because she inspired it).

Well, we get around to talking about music, and strangely enough, she asks, “Do you listen to hip-hop?” Well, I thought to myself, yes, but why is she asking this? Then, she proceeds to ask an even stranger question, “Do you like Stretch Armstrong?”. Now, I had known about Stretch Armstrong, but I was thinking how could this 60+ year old Polish woman know of him, an underground hip-hop DJ?

Well, I told her “Yes, I like Stretch Armstrong. How do you know about him?” to which she replies, “I’m Stretch’s mother!”.

After more conversation, she was telling me about things Stretch was doing and the things she’s concerned about; it surprisingly reminded me of my own mother’s concerns about me.

So, after that, it dawned on me that everbody has a mother, and I got to thinking about all these famous people’s mothers, what they must be thinking about their children… (Are you eating well? Are you healthy? Why don’t you call more!?)


Steve Reich – Three Tales

I purchased Steve Reich’s Three Tales maybe a year ago, while visiting New York. I remember putting it on the stereo when I got back to San Francisco and not thinking much of it, so it rested in my collection without much attention.

This past December I had purchased another copy for Dr. Boulanger as I found out he was a bit of a Reich fan, and so we listened to the CD while travelling down the highway in his car. I think we were both pretty floored by the music.

I found the blending of live instruments and sampled/processed sounds to work really well, and the contrasts of the vocal harmonies with the rest of the musical texture to be very tasty. The things that really stood out for me was his harmonies, as well as his use of the English language in sung text.

I debated using text for some time a while back and I never found a way that seemed to work for me. Perhaps it’s just that I’m native speaker of English that it doesn’t usually work for me, but most uses of English in sung text always sounded somewhat Broadway-ish. However, I really think Reich does a great job with text. (I don’t think I’ll ever end up using text though, perhaps a limitation of my own…)

Last night I finally got around to watching the videos and found myself mesmerized. I found myself appreciating the movies very much, and the music more so now. Reading the reviews on Amazon I can see how some of the not so favorable opinions of the video work by Beryl Korot could be construed, but I found the work effective.

Maybe the more interesting question to come out of this is: how is it that sometimes in engaging with a new work I find it dismissable, when later approaching it I find it affecting? Since it’s happened a number of times to me, I think I’m more prone to give things another shot. Maybe it’s just a limitation on my own part, maybe tastes just change. Either way, I’m glad I spent time to take another look (and listen) to these pieces.

Slow Goin’

Earlier this week I had stayed up pretty late a couple of nights and felt pretty good about getting some personal work done, the first time in a while. The past couple of days have been mostly unmotivated though. Over the past few weeks I haven’t felt really focused on my personal work, at least, not as much as I normally feel I do.

Is it the light from the last few days? Maybe it’s the slight increase in caffeine lately that’s making my mood swing to and fro and contributing to my general lethargy. Maybe a bit of both. (They’re both such factors in mood I find.)

Hopefully will snap out of it tonight. ^_^

Qualities of Light and Mood

San Francisco tends to have two very different qualities of light, one very brilliant and almost overwhelming in its intensity, the other a muted, passive tone.

This week has been mostly of the brilliant quality, a feeling of activity in the air, a mood of lightness in everything. On days like these, the light has this way of making colors so very rich, the skies the deepest blues, the green of grass and leaves glowing.

Today I awoke to a world silently colored. Looking around, the colors show more what’s in common than what’s of themselves, more flavors of gray than the rich hues and tones of yesterday. In a quiet mood, a contemplative state, feeling a stillness in the air where activity once was.

These qualities of light, these moods, so rich in experience in their very own ways.

Merce Cunningham – Berkeley

I attended my first performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Ensemble a couple of years ago at the 50th anniversary celebration at Lincoln Center. Until that time, I had known very little of Merce Cunningham and his work, only some sidenotes in my investigations into the work of John Cage and the rest of the “New York School” of composition. Some time before the two performances, I had purchased Merce Cunningham: Dancing in Time and Space as well as Merce Cunningham – A Lifetime of Dance to get more acquainted with his work; in exploring these resources I became quite affected by his ideas and taste and was eager to view his work.

The two programs were each performed twice over four nights and I attended one of each program. The first program I found to be alright, but didn’t find myself so fully engaged. The second night’s program, on the other hand, was completely stunning—works so beautiful I didn’t have the capacity to think, so focused in with the experience at hand.

Since moving to California I’ve had the opportunity to attend two more performances of the Merce Cunningham Ensemble, once last year and once again tonight. Last year’s performance was unremarkable for me–something about the music and the pieces didn’t quite capture my attention. Tonight’s performance, though, was completely unreal.

The first piece, Underground Overlays, had wonderful music by Stuart Dempster (CD available here). I’ve enjoyed Stuart Dempster’s music and his work with Deep Listening Band for quite some time, and it was quite a treat to be able to hear this piece with him performing live.

The choreography of the piece was beautiful—I found at times wondering “What is Dance?”. I had a conversation a long while back with Josh Shaddock about dance and he told me he found a lot of modern dance to revert to something sexual or be laced with undertones of exploring human drama, and because of this mostly uninteresting. I think that’s why I liked the performances tonight so very much, as dance seemed to be something else.

What I saw in the tonight felt very pure (that word came to mind numerous times). Dance here was nothing more than what it was, and being that, it was sublime. In watching the performers I thought that the beauty of dance was the beauty of motion, the medium in this case simply being the bodies of the dancers, the canvas being the stage. I thought to myself, then, the study of dance is the study of motion, and that got me thinking a while about what is dance, and where does it exist. (I’ve often found myself looking at the leaves of trees when the wind is blowing, watching the gentle motion, and I wonder now about this dance…)

The second piece, Biped, was unbelievable. I was very much looking forward to seeing this piece as the very short excerpts that were on the DVD documentary were amazing. I first watched the documentary a couple of years ago, so I’ve been anticipating an opportunity to view the piece; I didn’t think I’d ever have a chance to see it live, but was so very fortunate to do so. It was better than I could have imagined.

The music by Gavin Bryars was quite nice, though I think I connected more with the Dempster piece. The staging of the piece was phenomenal, the lighted squares, the dancers, and the computer generated overlays on the scrim were just gorgeous in their motion and interactions. After the piece was over, I found myself appreciating how tasteful were these elements used, thinking a lesser person would have overdone everything.

I left the performance thinking to myself how lucky I was to have been there. At any point in time I could be anywhere doing anything, but for this night I chose to be here to attend this performance, and how rewarding it was. These types of experiences—art experiences—expand the boundaries of personal experience, explore unvisited parts of the human experience. The world always looks different after such an event, a little more rich, fascinating, beautiful.