Monday, October 27, 2008

How to compose

I've been neglectful of ye olde blog because I've been so enthralled in ye olde podcast. It's been an amazing experience and it just keeps getting better and better.

I hope this trend continues...

But I wanted to take a break from my audio work to pass along this piece of advice I was given.

I mentioned my composer's block -- as well as lack of desire to compose because of frustration with the medium for which my composition is going, but that's a story for another time -- to David Sherr and he had a simple piece of advice.


Take a piece of score paper and put a note on it and then think about another note that might sound good after it or above it or below it or even before it. Then think about another piece (by someone else) that has those same two notes, or similar ones and write something the same or something different. Don't be afraid to erase. Keep putting notes down until you start to see an idea. It may work.


Simplified, I read this as: Just sit down and do it and accept the fact that it might not work.

And now, we get back to things I've been told by Bill Kirchner, Kirk Nurock,, Sy Johnson, and David Zoffer alike -- among others: Don't be so afraid of failing. Everybody writes bad music; the key is making sure that bad music isn't the ONLY thing you write.

And now -- off to bed so I can wake up and write bad radio and bad music and bad essays and bad stories and bad blog entires so that I can make it to the good ones faster.

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tell Me Your Story

I just had a fascinating afternoon. No two ways to describe it.

I sat in Union Square Park from 11a to 2p with my recording equipment and a sign that said "Tell me your story." (A picture of the sign to come when I get home tonight, but I wanted to write about it while I had some free time.)

A lot of people came up to me and asked me what I was doing, or took my picture (if you stumbled upon this blog because you saw me in Union Square, say 'hi!' If you took a picture of me, send me a quick note; I'd love to see it.)

I got into Union Square around 10:55 am, upset at the fact that I forgot about the Farmers' Market and the fact that it took up most of the park. But that's okay; I adjusted and went to the picnic tables in the North West corner of the park, a set of tables at which I've eaten many-a-meal.

I set up my equipment and my sign and waited.

First let me tell you the point of this project:
It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, now. It's a stolen idea from Tony Kahn and WGBH morning stories. (Available here, scroll down to "you don't look Jewish" and play it.) I decided now was my chance, as I have a midterm projected called "Signs of our Times" and I decided that this was my chance to show that oral history still exists and that storytellers are not just confined to Children's Hour at the local library.

So yeah -- I waited.

I didn't have to wait long, as within 5 minutes, two men came up to me. One of them spoke quickly. He just wanted to get his plight off his chest of his girlfriend who used him. She was with him for 3 months, but only while her old boyfriend was in jail, it turns out...

It was short, but I was off to a good start. The mere fact that someone came up to me made me feel better about the project.

By noon, I'd had six people tell me their stories, and then one more came before 12:15.

From then until 2, I spoke with another 4 or 5 people, but only one on tape. A lot of people came up to me interested in what I was doing and telling me they thought it was fascinating, though they would not divulge their stories to me.

I don't blame them. It was a little strange to me asking for these people to do something I, myself, would likely not have done. But either way, it was a fascinating experiment and experience.

I will likely do this again Friday, and perhaps again over the weekend once or next week. This is something I could see myself gathering material for long after the project is completed and turned in.

And no, the themes were not confined to romance. In fact, there were nearly no common threads at all. There were two stories about traveling -- but very different. (One about explosive...well...stomach issues, and one about being chased by Egyptian children.) There were stories of strange things, stories of learning to read, and one woman who spoke about faith so beautifully, that I, once again, became jealous of those with it.

Perhaps my favorite story was the woman who came up with her dog and said, 'My dog has a story.' I was unsure what to do, so I said, 'I'd love to hear it!' The woman told the story of adopting her dog and finding out her breed.

I have not yet listened to the audio, I just hope the Park noise wasn't too much to overcome...

Snapshots of New York City

For my poetry class, I spent the last couple weeks working on a few very short "snapshots" of New York.

Most of these are actually based in things I've written about on this blog. I think I have more of these in me, too, but this is it for now. (Perhaps I'll annotate them later in the week if anyone wants links to the long stories that go with the short vignettes.)


World Peace! Can you spare some world peace?
He settles for a Hebrew National from the Pakistani vendor.


Waltzing with a silent partner
forcing my umbrella from my grip
to its final resting place on the curb


The happiest man on earth
the homeless man on 12th street
dancing, singing, and begging.
No money, no worries, no problems
just beer.


A sixth floor jazz club:
New York Skyline,
Kenny Barron,
Chocolate Cake,


Are you, by any chance, Jewish?
I hate the Mitzvah Mobile.
I've given up religion; let me go to class.


I eat dinner alone as she walks in
with him.
She could do better.
She chews with her mouth open.
He could do better.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Philosophy by SMS

I engaged in a philosophical discussion today that can only be described as "Philosophy by text: bettering your mind 160 characters at a time."

It started when someone in my class said something that sparked a beautifully poetic thought in my head. He brought in a piece of music he wrote (while collaborating with a poet). The teacher asked if his collaborator wrote the words, and he said, "no, he didn't write them; he just chose them from an essay..." I didn't hear the rest of the sentence or who wrote the essay or, well, any discussion of the piece of music before it happened. Instead, I pulled out my phone, and the following interaction happened throughout the course of the day between me and perhaps the only person I know who would engage in such conversation with me, by any medium.


Thought of the moment: you never write words, you merely select them.


hmm, but the selection of them creates meaning.


Undoubtedly. Much like we do not create new colors, but our choice of what to paint with speaks volumes.


yes. what about music then?


Stravinsky invented the last remaining harmonies. So yes, it is still true. All notes and chords exist, it's their placement we decide.


George Segal -- a sculptor -- said it took him years to realize it is man who makes art, not gods or demi-gods


Man turns the everyday (made by gods) into art.


oooh, watch out Segal

---end SMS conversation---

NB: I'm not sure about the Stravinsky statement, but I stand by that all notes and harmonies already exist, it is their placement. In fact, a rant about this is probably short-coming, explaining how I ended up writing music how I do and what shifted me about 3 years ago...

Anyway -- I just wanted to share.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Forced Reflection

Wednesday sundown to Thursday sundown was Yom Kippur, which means only one thing: Fasting. Okay -- it means two things: Fasting and long religious services.

Yom Kippur is the only holiday for which I truly feel anything spiritual -- and it has nothing to do with the themes of the day of repentance and forgiveness and the whole 'sealed in the book of life' whatnot. In fact, my feelings come nothing from religion. (For my mother, the end of Yom Kippur is the only service the entire year she feels anything for. I did not ask her reasoning, but we discussed why she no longer feels for the beginning -- which is, incidentally, the same reason for which I DO feel for the beginning...but that's for a post later in the week when I am still thinking about it and itching to've been warned.)

What Yom Kippur does for me it does because it forces me to reflect. I mean, what else is there to do? I'm standing for what feels like 75% of the time, in a room that's always too warm, wearing four layers, usually (undershirt, collared shirt, blazer, talis), with prayers that are either chanted by the clergymen or prayers that are chanted as a congregation which I do not actually believe in and therefore drift in and out of actual participation. For one day in the year, it is merely me and my thoughts...scary.

When battling depression, nothing scared me more than my own thoughts. (I've gotten over that fear, fortunately, but it still turns out that I'm better off when I'm not thinking too much.)

When standing among the congregation, being read to about my fate and faith -- neither of which I'm sure of -- my mind wanders to dreams I've had -- past and present. I think of relationships -- romantic and otherwise -- past and present; of the friends I no longer see and the ones I hope to spend more time with. I think of the music chanted around me -- a sensibility and sound that has undoubtedly shaped the music I make. I think of the music I have made, sometimes finding myself humming a piece of my own whose emotional context is too powerful to speak of and hopefully comes through in its execution.

But most of all, I think of my problems.

It's a day about the sins of the year past, and while some find it important to apologize to those around them and all of those whom they've wronged, I find myself having issue most of all apologizing to myself. My self-deprecation and lack of self esteem has forced me into being the stereotypical self-hating Jew, the struggling musician whose art is never good enough for himself -- let alone the world around him, the bitterly single curmudgeon with no confidence to pursue the girl of his dreams and the standards too high let himself wake up from his dream-world to find the perfect girl inside reality, the man who feels guilt every time he pulls out his credit card to treat himself to a nice meal, new clothing, or even entertainment -- the only known medicine to an ailing soul.

I owe myself an apology (or therapy), and I'm too stereotypical of the stubborn man to break down and give it, even though I know I'd accept the apology willingly.

The physical effects of Yom Kippur -- this damn hunger headache -- will undoubtedly be gone by the time I wake up in the morning (hell, it's subsided to a bearable point already), but the mental ones may take a few days.

And to think: this is the one holiday I actually care about...