Category Archives: a few words on


[words] rip, ric

under the cold and darkly sky / you trip the light and go…

[medium mirror]

the cars were my fav growing up. their records and lateral solo projects not only will come with me to any desert island, they are my desert island — if i had to choose one island.

ric ocasek catalysed my desire and urgency both to play the electric guitar and to write songs. all-lowercase, overdriven-jangle, and quirky-jerk, yet endearing, intelligent, and accessible, ocasek and the cars became my crash course in how to bring depth to “disposable” pop; how melody married to meaning could still court the coolest girl in class.

more importantly over the long-arc of my teenage daydreams, some of which linger to this day, the cars’ music spoked me out into innumerable adventures in sonic discovery. riding with the cars, i found (among many more) roxy music, david bowie, and t-rex in the backseat; robert fripp, steve reich, and john cage in the side-view; buddy holly, the byrds, and tom petty in the passenger seat; and new order, blondie, suicide, the cure, and eventually the ramones, the replacements, and much of what i’ve loved since in the way way back, crouched flat out of sight of the driver.

to an intelligent kid on the fringes of cool, ocasek and the cars said, “c’mon, man, the fringe is the cool. one foot in, one foot out — that fine line — that’s the place to be.”

i’m the american misfit kid / still wondering what i did / i’m on the inside, taking a fast ride…

throughout my songwriting life, co-opting ric’s icy reserve, black leather smirk, and reverence for poetic-yet-stuctured rock ’n roll let me embrace any style without care or ambition in my own music.

in a little structure we can find freedom. learning to break with structure comes later, and makes you comfortable as an iconoclast.

alienation is the craze…

ocasek’s passing on 15 Sep 2019 saddened me, though i never met him, never worked with him, never knew him outside of my own context of almost-lifelong innocent-obsession, deep-inspiration, and distant-admiration.

i’m careful not to cry out loud (or post stock pictures with sad-emoji captions) at the deaths of people I know, let alone people i don’t know, IRL. that said, that’s okay if it works for you. i’ll hit like buttons on my friends’ memorial postings, with no irony.

sometimes you can’t help get emotional, thinking of connections a passed artist’s work threaded into your life.

when the dance night flies / and the broadway screams / connect up with me…

in december 2016, we put our dog Sterling to sleep in our living room, to a david bowie mix on shuffle. bowie died in january that year, and it all seemed fitting. now, i can’t listen to absolute beginners, the track that randomly came on as Sterling drifted off, without losing my shit. i can’t even write about it here, can’t even think about that song, without a deep-breath pause to hold back tears.

but that melodic association’s about Sterling, not bowie.

you’re emotion in motion, my magical potion…

along the same lines now, with ocasek’s death came another spectral transition, of a similar, though more distant, cosmic force to Sterling that traveled astride me over time.

what’s left of them, fortunately, will never die.

in the ethereal afterglow of their spirits, i can still return to a state of all potential and no past, with a wide-eyed worldview that, for better or worse, believed life was malleable enough to coax in my direction from sheer will.

beneath the stars / all souls are lucky…

Luna, our current companion, btw, is the dog in these photos. she is a reluctant model, but as patient with me as Sterling was.

let the photos behold, let them show what they want…

on 16 september 2019, the day after ocasek died, i plugged in my guitar and mic for the first time in a month, and hit a record button for the first time in a year.

since returning to new york city last june from an extended california sojourn, i have made no recordings, written only two tracks, and found scant musical and literary inspiration in my immediate surroundings. life has curved sharp in 2019.

unexpected reckonings. fleeting-at-best, illusory-at-worst successes.

life is as living does.

i always claw out with creativity. this time, tho, seems harder. not sure why. could be this age. my age. age-old curses. could be the mirror never lies.

dancing ’neath the stars and the strife / going through the motions of life… the flowers of evil / will surely grow…

my new york city’s changed, too. it’s not the warholian bohemia that welcomed ocasek’s buoyant darkness when he decamped from boston to manhattan all those years ago. walking the city’s surface deterioration, surrounded by unrelenting collisions and widening gaps between manmade, systemic misery and negligent, indifferent opulence, you know new york will never be new york again.

then again, maybe it’s as it always mostly was, and i was just fortunate to live here for the last 20 years in an anomalous, halcyon blip of progressive serenity.

either way, while this city owns my tomorrow, it can’t touch my someday.

the good life is just a dream away…

thing is, tho, even after an “escape” or a “clean break,” nothing resolves. except pop song choruses (one reason i love to write pop songs). ric’s songs reveled in resolutions.

and IRL “codas” are a fade-out, however, most of the time. very few people go out for good in a fireball.

the passing of heroes always begs reflection that daydreams come with expiration dates, too. when dreams die before you, regrets are more than willing to fill the vacuum.

well i think of you when i dramatize / the things we never did / and i think of you when i’m flyin’ / or when I’m feelin’ just like a kid…

when i hit “record” the day after ocasek’s death, a mournful version of my best friend’s girl poured out. as i played, i tried to sort out an alien sense of loss welling up from the fretboard. like i said earlier, it’s rare for me to lament on (or revel in) anyone’s passing, let alone in public — and let let alone to grieve in public about a stranger.

in many ways, even just cutting a cars cover song the day after ric ocasek died felt as the musical equivalent of instagramming a stock photo of him with a sad emoji caption. sharing it now, which i’m about to do, feels a bit, well, silly. yet, still, feels necessary. can’t explain, other than i’m driven.

all catharsis is tinged with selfishness, anyway.

the dead don’t mourn. grief is a one way street.

you weep for you.

who’s gonna come around / when you break?…

there are four songwriters whose deaths, if i am lucky enough to outlive them all, will have thrown me into a cycle of self-reflective sadness. ocasek and tom petty are already gone. ray davies and paul westerberg are still around.

i strum their songs all the time to myself. to calm. to sleep. to salve the sense of time passing.

playing covers is also a means to repay artistic debts to an inspiration, as much as it might cast me as a wannabe.

at the same time, every musician starts out as a cover band.

yeah, you hang on tight / (and you’re running around / with your face in the ground) / like it was your last right…

through the years, i’ve recorded dozens of covers, but only released three: george harrison’s isn’t it a pity (on my 2007 release stay home vs. the love shoppings), the postal service’s such great heights (on my 2013 release :^D), and the psychedelic furs’ the ghost in you (as a spotify single in 2010).

harrison’s track cemented the message of a record that told stories of the struggle to find spiritual centering in a post-kindness world. i couldn’t imagine that record without that track now. the recording was a series of live full tracks laid over each other. in true lo-fi fashion, you can hear my apartment radiator knocking in the more quiet moments. i loved that.

the postal service track was one that me and a few friends got obssessed with on a road trip down the east coast in 2012. the fun i had on that trip — one of the best unadulterated adult good times i’ve had — comes through on the electrified version i coaxed out of my limited virtuosity, again layering a host of live run throughs to create the recording. also as with the harrison track, i can’t conceive of the record without its inclusion.

the furs’ track was a moment where i channeled an homage to my 1980s highwire days into 6 minutes of jangle-crash. i drew an awful rendering of john hughes for its cover that i now wish i could take back, but re-releasing on spotify is a pain in the ass, and i still think it stands as a decent rendition of a great song, and an encapsulation of everything i loved about my idyllic suburban new jersey teenage space.

mostly, though, i use cover recordings as a means to explore and mine processes and attitudes — to try to get inside the heads of artists and tracks i’ve admired. so except for the 3 above, they all sit on hard drives gathering digital dust. everything from the sonics’ you’ve got your head on backwards to kris kristofferson’s i may smoke too much to the cure’s just like heaven. at some point, maybe i’ll release the ones i secured rights for.

in many ways, i’d like to think it takes courage to play or record cover songs. you allow avenues of comparison to your own work, with work that most likely has reached further and deeper into wider audiences than your work ever will.

showing up to a party you’re not invited to is always a risk. if you’re selective and creative about what you cover, though, those performances can inform and refract on your own influences and development, as i hope the ones i’ve released do.

playing covers live is a bit different than recording them, too. with an audience, covers can complete circles in a performance, fill in narrative gaps with collective free association. as a performer, you can take people on a journey through their own memories so as to bring them back to you.

in early 2018, i played a cover of tom petty’s walls (circus version) at a local solo gig. a few months removed from petty’s passing, i pulled out a floaty arrangement i had played only to myself for years, never recorded. sharing it with a live crowd in that moment felt right. i needed no catharsis, just to inspire a moment of collective joy and memories of the good times that petty fueled.

recording covers, however, is a private conversation between you and the artist you’re covering. eventually, if you release it, a crowd gets to eavesdrop on that conversation.

my my best friend’s girl performance was not an interaction between me and an audience. only between me and ocasek, in my cluttered home office / studio, driven somewhat (in retrospect) by pure cathartic intention. no one told me to do it. but i had to do it.

jackie, what took you so long…

it always flipped me out a bit that my best friend’s girl was one of the last songs kurt cobain played live (in march 1994 nirvana opened their final concert with it). what did cobain see in his penultimate month of suicidal ideation inside ocasek’s jangled tale of lost love, blithe envy, and never-faded lust?

with where the song took me, i saw not only into ocasek’s head, but also a little bit into cobain’s head.

“she used to be mine.”

yeah, yeah, yeah

in many ways, ric’s world — the cars’ world — used to be mine, too.

RIP, ric.

i’m in touch with your world / and nobody’s gonna buy it / it’s such a lovely way to go.



[a few words on] Steely Dan

With the passing of Walter Becker, let’s resurrect a piece of mine on Steely Dan, for whom I had conflicting feelings but also heavy sentimental attachment, their inescapable songs stamped on many pivotal moments through my halcyon teenage daydream years. I didn’t choose to write about them – the piece was an assignment.

Back in 2013, I jumped into in a meme game, on a whim, against character and habit. That it was a Facebook meme made it even rarer for me, since I spend maybe 5 minutes a month in eff-space (another post for the future, perhaps). Courtesy of Scott Faulkner (http://www.vinylsaurus.com), the game was if you “liked” Scott’s Facebook post, he assigned you a band/act and you would write on them in the same format. The assignments would then cascade through every generation of likes. Marc Weidenbaum (https://disquiet.com) liked Scott’s post and was assigned The Residents. I, in turn, liked Marc’s post about The Residents, so he assigned me… drum roll… Steely Dan.

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[a few words on] Tuonela: Blue Mountain Ice Reflections

Tuonela (soundcloud, bandcamp), a sound artist and self-described “primitive musician” out of Katoomba, Australia makes sounds using “very basic software.” With no synthesizers and “no idea how Ableton works,” he produces and processes wonderful sounds, and for someone so prolific, his work still exhibits no sameness, jumping across modes and always somehow making the “epic” look, well, effortless. At the same time, Tuonela has a singular style, one that offers transcendence and earthiness all at once.

Tuonela created and yesterday alerted me to the remix posted above of my January 2015 Disquiet Junto ice challenge contribution, and as expected, he found hidden spaces and mysteries and narrative in my track that I never thought existed.

We connected a couple years ago through the Disquiet Junto, from whence have come many of my most interesting musical nodes these days. The sheer volume and unwavering quality of his output have become welcome additions to my feed. I can’t keep up, but that’s ok, because fate has intervened often enough to create a bond. Early on in our interactions, Tuonela’s heartfelt enthusiasm for my stock-and-trade rock ‘n roll was a catalyst for me to continue experimenting with the challenges in the Junto and exploring my nascent fluxus-driven ambitions.

No doubt his eschewing of Abelton and, for that matter, most of the emerging tools of sampling-era electronica, contribute to the accessibility of his work (at least to this 20th century relic author). Make no mistake, this is digital art, but of the type that peels itself back to reveal some of the human hand. No algorithms (or any number of monkeys at typewriters) left to their own devices would take us on his journeys or arrive us at his destinations.

Tuonela less writes “songs” and more creates “landscapes.” Valley Suite, a July 2014 release “sonically inspired by the majesty and mystery” of his Katoomba, Australia home and the surrounding Blue Mountain Range, is ancestral, modern, celebratory, cerebral and expansive all at once. The closing track, Megalong Morning, is 15-minutes of restrained and meditative drone, a wonderful reflection of the peace found at the summit of a rock climb, perhaps, or that sense of awe at the edge of your own land’s Grand Canyon:

The Valley Suite record falls in with my own predilection for Tuonela’s quieter side. His contribution to the Junto’s sonicvoid challenge to soundtrack a silent film was a highlight for me in that collection of contributions:

And the titles of his tracks are their own font of inspiration.

In any event, check out Tuonela here:
soundcloud
bandcamp


[a few words on] the disquiet.com junto

I started creating tracks for the Disquiet.com Junto in January 2012 upon the group’s founding by Marc Weidenbaum, a San Francisco music, technology and culture writer. A former editor of Tower RecordsPulse! magazine, he has written for Nature, Boing Boing, and The Atlantic online, and he also lectures on the role of sound in the media landscape. Marc is most recently the author of the 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II and since 1996, he runs the website Disquiet.com about the intersection of sound, art, and technology.

The Disquiet Junto is an online music community in which members respond to weekly composition prompts posted every Thursday devised and designed by Marc. Participants have just over four days to complete each project. As of this writing, ~460 musicians and sound artists from all over the world have joined in, creating over 3300 tracks that have been uploaded and shared via soundcloud.com. The playlist above has my contributions, and updates in real time with the most recent (an playlist unstuck from time in a post about Disquiet seemed appropriate).

Participation in the Junto for members is not compulsory, and artists jump in and out at will. The Junto makes it ok to take tremendous risks with creativity, though, so many of us keep coming back for more. As of this post, I’ve done ~50 of the 135 challenges, and a few of the resulting tracks ended up on my last two records, which are released under Creative Commons currently at Bandcamp and the Free Music Archive.

I followed Marc’s writing and blog for years. As a rock and pop songwriter, I was an outlier for the Junto, but always aspire to abstraction and harbor fascination with electronic music and sound manipulation. So after his initial call, I listened from the sidelines for few challenges, then conjured the courage to create a track.

Avant-garde and abstract expression are often low-hanging fruit for ridicule, tossed off as the butt of jokes while dismissed as misplaced fealty to impracticality. Explaining the Junto is not always easy. A couple people – people who should know better – have said “it sounds like a cult,” after I entreated them to check it out.

I told the last one, “Never mistake something cult for a cult. Anyway, what happened? You used to be so cool.”

:^D

The Junto reminds me that in writing music and “songs,” I also create sound(s). These sounds have texture and personality and interact in mathematical and metaphysical ways. I am way more aware of my compositional process now, and every week I mine Junto tracks for technique and marvel at the output. Even when not able or capable to participate in a given challenge, the assignments themselves are enough to spark lanterns otherwise unlit. I’ve also found friends. It’s made the internet not such a cold, commercial place.

Just when you think you couldn’t grow…


This video of Marc speaking in April 2014 at the SETI institute about the Junto is a definitive explanation of its intent and impact:


[a few words on] @jonchius: because panda

I don’t remember how jonchius [http://jonchius.com], a talented, wry and culturally literate web programmer and designer out of Toronto, CA, came into my streams, but as time has marched, we’ve made reciprocal infiltrations into all of our virtual circles and my life since has been infused (suffused?) with his adventures.

His twitter stream, a loosed consciousness romp that has nothing to do with programming but everything to do with coding, has connected me to a consortium of high and low philosophical provocateurs. Sometimes it’s the people hiding in plain sight who can speak the most relevant truth, because they are not only present, they are invisible to authorities (for now) and unfiltered by agenda.

jonchius changes handles and url’s on a dime to suit his mood and perspective (in the last couple months on twitter, he’s been neuer_panda, pandarchy, pandatje, pandamonium, panda-ebooks, and as of this writing, ionchivs).  I look forward to meeting him IRL one day, provided the Canadian-US border remains open. Pandas forever.

jonchius dot com
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[a few words on] an imaginal space: clouds and seas and black-eyed-dogs

This is my fav in a series of soundtracked “cloudscapes” by An Imaginal Space (a.k.a. Spook), a vivid, ethereal and shimmering-from-a-mountaintop-at-sunrise ambient guitarist out of Derby, UK. A wonderful presence in all of my social streams, he’s cloaked in a bit of mystery, but I ask no questions and nothing more of him than to continue his lovely (and enviable) prolific output.

via the you tube track description​:

I have been creating some timelapses of clouds outside of my work office window and thought I would combine these with some improvised ambient guitar.

His “Sunday Seascapes” series are improvised explorations of elegant refracted guitar lines over sweeping swells of effects, and capture perfect sonic snapshots of the ocean’s eeriness and majesty. My fav of the recent few was from 13 July 2014:

An Imaginal Space duets with a wide range of musicians, and his layered guitar is seamless. Most of the time he’s added his tracks well after the original recordings, but his additions often result in the definitive versions of those tracks, as if his work had been there all along. Case and point is this duet with Dirk Maassen, a world-class ambient pianist:

from the soundcloud track description:

I could not resist adding some ambient guitars to this wonderful piano composition by Dirk Maassen. Please check out more of his beautiful music @ascoltadi

So many wonderful moments from Spook, it is difficult to know how to even do justice to a curation. The moment that hooked me on him for good, however, came earlier this year when this wondrous instrumental cover of Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog” appeared in my soundcloud stream. It left me thinking of what Nick Drake would have done with the ambient and sound-manipulation tools we have today, but it also sent me backwards in time. The airy jazz-inflected drums and fixed rhythm of Spook’s playing recall Bryter Layter, and take the track out of the shadow of other, more well-known Pink Moon-era tracks. In the soundcloud notes, Spook says he feels his cover is “unfinished.” But in a way, this is the best way to leave a tribute to Nick Drake, the most glorious unfinished musician the world’s ever known:

More of An Imaginal Space (Spook):
music.animaginalspace.com
soundcloud.com/an-imaginal-space
twitter.com/animaginalspace


[a few words on] Bassling’s Visceral Frequencies



Australian multi-instrumentalist Bassling (née,Jason Richardson) describes himself as “exploring the nether regions of the frequency spectrum and delighting in their visceral response.” Well, his nether regions are our visceral pleasure, too. Through the years, he’s cast a wide and adroit musical net, moving with ease from slash-and-burn low-frequency smolder, to anti-slash-and-burn environmental activist field recordings, to flash-and-turn dance mixes. These modes, in BasslingWorld, interchange and interact, often balancing high-concept and poignancy, as on his record For 100 Years (above), created from a series of field recordings at playgrounds around his Oz town of Wagga Wagga (Leeton). Liner notes vía bandcamp:

Imagine the stories they could tell
if playgrounds talked
or maybe sang?

He remixed my track riding waves [disquiet0066-nonofi] for the 132nd junto challenge, which prompted this deep return to his catalog.

His virtuosity combined with entertaining, revelatory track descriptions at his blog (which take a tone of charming irascibility and often include kick-ass videos of his recording process) have resulted in some of my absolute fav junto pieces. His track for the 110th junto challenge, Of Leeton Yesterday Morn, sees Bassling celebrating the 100th birthday of William S. Burroughs in a “cut-up” track based on this story from his local newspaper, The Irrigator, about a series of botched break-ins:

And in Steady Boil, for the 131st junto challenge, Bassling conducted a tea kettle in a minimalist symphony that manages to be philosophical, mechanical and fun all at once:


Run around his cunning-as-a-dunny-rat universe at:
bassling
soundcloud
bandcamp
twitter


[a few words on] @mark_ward_: one moon appears everywhere

“Fine Art trained” guitarist Mark Ward lives in Sheffield, UK, and his ambient electronica connects listeners to the serenity that inhabits every pastoral dream of the English countryside. He layers guitar with keyboards, field recordings and percussive loops, then filters with a gentle hand through software. His wonderful EP, One Moon Appears Everywhere, moves us through landscapes and textures, coming in and out of the foreground while mingling with and enhancing any thoughts that pop into our heads. The track Contentment is 12 minutes of hypnogogic tranquility, floating on a drone made from a rusting piano frame in an overgrown English meadow. No separation, indeed.

From the liner notes:

…the moon has never not been there, the light has never disappeared – light and dark are as one, death and life have no separation.

His latest official single, E Minor Blues, expands on aspects of his earlier output. The deceptively simple timing manipulation of 3 chords leads listeners through a fascinating series of caresses and disruptions, almost as if the chords are sentient and on journeys of self-discovery. That description might be a bit too new-agey for you hardened cupcakes, but deal with it. Give in to it. Let it all go…

Mark Ward
mark-ward.org
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soundcloud
bandcamp
mixcloud
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[a few words on] @wrenarthur: benchmark



A close friend for years, Wren Arthur (no question one of my fav people ever), runs Olive Productions, the production company owned by Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci. Prior to this gig, she honed her production skills as a Producer for Robert Altman (yeah, that Altman) and remains a sought-after actress in the highwire world of independent NYC film and theater. And way before either of us were anything or even knew each other, Wren ran the day-to-day at Tortilla Flats on Washington Street, where she may or may not have kicked me out of the restaurant’s Elvis Room for not being “Borgnine enough.”

Her most current project, Park Bench, a “talking show” hosted by Buscemi, is absolute deep, true New York City in the best way, an entertaining street-side diversion on the surface with an undertow of sneaky subversion. Try balancing that on the end of a fork.

Episode #4: Benchmark with Rosanne Cash and Michael Shannon defines the semi-non-fictional genre Arthur and Buscemi set out to create. The episode’s disarming blithe extra-real universe will infiltrate your subconscious and a few days from viewing, you will flash back to one or two moments and smile, like you know a secret you’ll never spill. And then you’ll want to watch it again.

There is an arc, so watch the series from the beginning. Your only penalty will be having to watch the episode above twice.

Oh, and today the series was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Short-Format Non-Fiction. Nice to know that I’m not crazy for thinking it’s special. Or that I’m just as insane and out of touch as Academy members. Either way, good on you, Wren!

Wren Arthur:
imdb
twitter (disclaimer: the beautiful brunette with Wren in her avatar is my wife, Cat)
facebook
pinterest (like, 200K+ followers for fux sake)

Audio

[a few words on] shreddergost: thicket

shredderghost is a delaware ambient / noise / post rock / thoroughly modern music maker whom i met via the disquiet junto. he revels in cassette manipulation is never afraid to defy the laws of guitar pedal placement.

his tracks play in all types of guises. “thicket” off his 2013 record “strange growth” sits in my listening wheelhouse as one of his, well, softer efforts, full of dream-laden reverse guitar lines on a bed of gravity-free floatation. check out his latest (and way more provocative) work, too, at the links below.

shredderghost: 
http://soundcloud.com/shredderghost

http://shredderghost.bandcamp.com