I did this acapella cover about a year ago just after Whitney Houston died.
I did this acapella cover about a year ago just after Whitney Houston died.
February has been a productive month. I went into it with one big objective: to work on my follow-up to my pop opera The Little Death: Vol. 1, the cleverly-titled The Little Death: Vol. 2. The MATA Festival has afforded me with a nice deadline to work against – I’ll be performing selections from TLDV2 at Roulette on April 19th – but, to be honest, going into February this is all had planned:
A primary challenge was going to be working in a style, both in terms of the music and the method, that I’ve largely grown away from. The Little Death is a project that goes back as early as 2006, very soon after I wrote some of my first ever through-composed pieces of music. It’s written almost entirely in Ableton Live and involves no written-out music – except in the few cases when I have someone else record a part (though Mellissa did without music more often than not!). Creatively, I hadn’t touched anything Little Death since the end of the TLDV1 mastering process, late 2009. It’s now over two years later, and I found myself in that familiar, yet utterly-unproductive, place of utter speculation.
Now if there’s one thing I’ve learned from successfully writing music over the last 6-7 years (successful as in actually getting it done) is that early speculation about a new piece is about 0.1% of the work you should do (speaking personally, others may have different processes). The more the piece resides in the aether of speculation, the more that speculative challenges and threats will arise, and the more chance there’ll be that the reality of the work will never be able to match that celestial work of art in your imagination. Long story short: I speculated way too fucking long on this bitch, and it came time to lock myself in my studio and see what came out.
What came out, based on my two-point plan:
I decided that most of it sucked. Or, to be more forgiving of myself, most of it wasn’t worth spending any more time on. I planned to keep some of the themes in mind, but try and start fresh. Biggest fear: I wouldn’t be able to create new music that matched the vibe of TLDV1.
This went unexpectedly well. I decided to work mostly in Ableton Live (though with a bit more Sibelius thrown into the mix than last time). Most of the music began as melodies I sang and recorded on the spot. Then I’d listen over and over and add what I’d hear in my head, rinse and repeat. A very simple process, and very similar to how I worked on TLDV1. The vibe of the music is little different – I’m a better singer now, so there’s quite a bit more vocals being used as harmony and texture whereas before I would use samples and synths – but the spirit is very similar. Blindly diving into the writing process also helped solve some lingering plot holes and issues that I couldn’t for the life of me think my way through. Funny how my brain keeps insisting that logically problem-solving my way through these challenges is the way to go, even after he’s been proven wrong time after time.
So it’s now the end of February and I have four new songs (totaling almost 20 minutes) that are very likely to appear on TLDV2 – though still firmly in the “demo” stage – and one other I’m currently working on, but I think is going to work.
Here are some tantalizing facts about what TLDV2 is going to feature, based on my work in February:
Tantalizing? Hope so. Stay tuned for more TLDV2 updates (hopefully with some samples!).
Aw hell, I’ll just link here as well:
Here’s my recent Alarm Will Sound piece, about an suburban, in-the-closet, teenage Karen Carpenter impersonator (I play him):
A Song for Wade - 2011
Here are the wonderful lyrics by Royce Vavrek:
Dad’s office had a salary freeze. Mom’s pissed she has to work part-time. They get home and smoke cartons of cigarettes. Watch the Wednesday night CBS lineup. Cough in unison. Lost in a cloud of smoke. Someday they’ll asphyxiate.
Mommy hates Daddy. I hate ‘em both. Mommy and Daddy, and Sis. My sister loves my Daddy cuz he shells out lots of money. Sometimes the three of them watch QVC and then buy buy buy. Nobody knows where their money goes.
I met a man named Wade. By met, I mean we’ve been chatting online. “I think that I love you,” he emailed to me. He thinks I’m 19.
I told him I’d record him a song. This is not that song.
I think my sister’s boyfriend has a crush on me. He likes to walk around wearing only a towel. Pausing at my bedroom door, saying “Hey Dude!”, showing off his treasure trail. He’s nothing to write home about. But he’s more than my sister deserves.
“I love that you love me,” I emailed back. I think I could love him; but maybe I’ll hate him. Even more than Mommy hates Daddy.
I dream about my sister’s college drop-out, and the internet love of my life, who swears he’s divorcing his wife, I imagine them wrestling, with me as the prize. I gotta record a song for him, Wade… before he doesn’t love me anymore.
Next up is a piece from a recent opera-in-progress of mine, Mata Hari: The Great Imitator:
Mata Hari: The Eye of the Day, from Mata Hari: The Great Imitator – 2011
Jeff Gavett – Voice
Helen Yee – Violin
James Moore – Banjo
Red Wierenga – Keyboards
The lyrics, based on the writings of Captain Pierre Bouchardon, translated by Paul Peers, the director of the upcoming opera:
Mata Hari! “The Eye of the Day” in Javanese, according to the translation she gave me.
When she entered for the first time in my office – That was February 13th, 1917 – I saw a full-lipped woman with coppery skin, somewhat native-like with fake pearls in the ears.
She said her name was Margaret Geertrude Zelle – the ex-wife of the Major Rudolph MacLeod, she said in a haughty tone like a person of importance that had been improperly and unnecessarily disturbed.
Officer Priolet, who an hour earlier apprehended her while she slept in a hotel on the Champs-Elysées.
Then, believing being released from me, she changed her expression and gave me her most gracious smile.
Then she went to the door with swinging of her hips that did not fail to charm.
But she was no longer free, and the stairs leading to the cell were opened before her.
She looked at me, her eyes rolled back, in mute terror.
I [XX] - 2010
Lyrics, again by Royce Vavrek:
I tasted another woman in your mouth.
I don’t mind that you have other lovers.
All I ask is that you brush your teeth between engagements.
One of my favorite things about moving to Park Slope, Brooklyn has been our routine of wandering the streets every Saturday morning (and sometimes Sunday) looking for killer deals among the varied stoops of our brownstone-dominated neighborhood. I’ve built up a pretty decent (and quite nerdy) library, largely culled from these excursions, as well as the annual Park Slope book sale at the church on 6th Ave. and 8th St. We’ve also stocked our apartment with all manner of miscellanea we never would have imagined had we not stumbled upon them on the third step of some stranger’s reddish-brown stairway.
Today was a particularly good stoop sale’n’ day. Here is our booty:
Toys (mostly for Jackson…):
Toy Marimba (Nice, made of wood and everything!) – $5.00
Bakugan ball – $0.25
Harry Potter Wand – Free with other purchases
Backrest Pillow (Which Melly insists is called a “husband pillow”…) – $5.00
Dress for Melly, made by Ronen Chen (retails for $96.00, tags still on) – $10.00
Skirt for Melly, made by Gr. Dano (retails for $280.00, stags still on) – $10.00
Two T-shirts for Jackson (one Spiderman!) – $2.00
Vest by Hannah Anderson for Jackson – $0.50
Mittens for Jackson – $0.50
Chapterhouse: Dune – Frank Herbert – $0.50
God Emperor of Dune – Frank Herbert - $0.50
Heretics of Dune – Frank Herbert - $0.50
The Icewind Dale Trilogy – R.A. Salvatore – (3 Books) $2.00
Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook; Dungeon Master Guide; Monstrous Manual (all 2nd Edition) – $3.00 (GEEK ALERT!)
Drawing/Writing Journal for Jackson – $0.50
Comparable to a dinner for two at a decent restaurant. Not bad… :)
I recently did an episode of Nadia Sirota‘s radio show on Q2 about my music and the upcoming SONiC Festival, where I’ll be performing my new Alarm Will Sound piece, A Song for Wade (This is not that song). I play a teenage Karen Carpenter-impersonator, it’s going to be a blast.
You can listen here:
They also play several other recordings of my stuff, including music from The Little Death: Vol. 1, my Revolution 9 arrangement for Alarm Will Sound, my Live on WNYC remix of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and even a Birtwistle piece on which I play french horn.
The Alarm Will Sound show on the SONiC Festival is Friday, October 21st at Roulette in downtown Brooklyn. Be there or be square!
Check it out below. It was great to work with producers Irina Khokhlova and Jonathan Lief of Brooklyn Independent TV.
The video features me working on several pieces, including my Sunrise, Outside Remix I made for the Satan’s Pearl Horses Reel:My ukulele version of OMG I’m Shot:
So I’m having excerpts of a new song cycle performed on Friday, 3/25/11 at Music at First and Thursday, 4/7/11 on 21c Liederabend at The Kitchen. It’s a collaboration with lyricist Royce Vavrek entitled I [XX] and I thought I’d post some of the lyrics because they’re awesome.
In short, I [XX] is a series of snapshots into a woman’s sexual life. All of the songs are based on the simple grammatical formula I [verb p.t.]. It was written for, and is being performed by, Mellissa Hughes and the Brooklyn Brass Quintet.
I. I Didn’t
I didn’t. You thought I did. But I didn’t. You don’t know what you’re doing, you spend so much time down there completely missing the boat that I feel obliged to perform. Howling, sighing, grabbing at the sheets. You think you’ve conquered my genitals, I’m that good.
You finished. You did, but I didn’t. That’s why I sleep with the 18 year-old boy who delivers my Moo Shu Chicken. Five minutes and I don’t need to fake anything. And he considers it his tip.
II. I Tasted
I tasted another woman in your mouth. I don’t mind that you have other lovers, all I ask is that you brush your teeth between engagements.
III. I Pretended
I pretended you were handsome. I knew you’d be awkward as hell, but I pretended. I knew that you’d kiss me so softly I could barely feel it, that I’d find your moans annoying, that your hands would clumsily fondle my breasts, that you weren’t packing much heat. I knew that you imagining some girl from high school who never gave you the time of day. I waited for the accidental cry of her name.I knew the cab ride home would be longer than the time spent in your bed. I knew I’d bathe and wash you away extra hard, a whole bar of soap vanishing. I knew all this, but I pretended you thought I was sexy.
My post-Christian nihilist pop-opera, The Little Death: Vol. 1, received some end-of-the-year love over the last few days. Here are some of publications/sites that mentioned it on their “Best of” lists:
Daniel J. Kushner writes:
A post-Christian nihilist pop opera sounds like a strange, nearly impossible amalgam to synthesize. But for Brooklyn-based composer Matt Marks and his chief co-conspirator, vocalist Mellissa Hughes (both raised in the Southern Baptist tradition), The Little Death: Vol. 1–which Marks began writing in the summer of 2007–is the result of relentless “tinkering” and indiscriminately drawing from a reservoir of dizzying musical touchstones and the moods and emotions they engender.
And when the influences include the classic hymn “Morning Has Broken,” gospel mainstays “He Touched Me” and “When God Dips His Love in My Heart,” Japanese pop (or J-pop), Christian counterculture musicals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, techno, the Moral Majority-tinged contemporary Christian vocal stylings of Sandi Patty and 1990s Point of Grace, and hip-hop–all filtered through Marks’s preoccupations with the horror genre, the sexualization of Christian iconography, and what he refers to as fundamentalist, roots-based religion and music culture taken to this twisted pop culture extreme–well, that’s a recipe for cataclysmic drama.
Time Out New York included TDLV1 as one of the top ten best classical albums of 2010:
Steve Smith writes:
Teen spirit—in both the spiritual and earthy sense—animated this flamboyant electropop opera, exuberantly voiced by Marks and soprano Mellissa Hughes.
Seth Colter Walls, writer for Newsweek and The Awl, included TLDV1 as one of his top albums of 2010
Magiska writer TishTash featured TLDV1 as the #1 album of the year.
Alt-Classical.com featured TLDV1 as one of the top albums of the year
Endless Possibilities called TLDV1 the “biggest surprise of 2010″ and said “I wasn’t expecting to listen to an album that mentioned Jesus about 10,000 times on repeat, at all.”
Warm fuzzies. And as always, you can check out the dedicated website for the album/show here: The Little Death: Vol. 1
And you can purchase it here:
Happy New Year everybody! Here’s to some new dreams and realities! :)
I went into last night’s New York premier of Gravity Radio, a new multi-media song cycle by Mikel Rouse, with a pretty open mind. I had heard a lot about Mikel Rouse’s music, but I hadn’t actually listened to much, aside from a few clips he has on his website and on YouTube. Here’s what seemed clear to me going in: Rouse is a highly imaginative artist who is very interested in creating innovative music theater and his pieces tend to be large-scale, ambitious, and quite conceptual. I was both right and wrong. His music is very ambitious, maybe to a fault, but there is a core artistic honesty that is very attractive. It just seemed like he may not have enough faith in it.
Gravity Radio is a set of songs featuring Rouse himself on guitar and lead vocals, a string quartet, and two female/one male backing vocals. It’s a great ensemble and they sounded fantastic. Much of this is due to the utterly spectacular sound at the BAM Harvey Theater. Seriously, it was like a sixty-minute eargasm it was mixed so damn well. I was disappointed that the person running sound wasn’t listed in the program. I assume that means it was someone on staff at BAM, rather than someone with Rouse’s crew, but it’s still unfortunate because the sound was pure artistry. I suggest that anyone with an interest in live concert mixing attend the concert on that merit alone.
The music is decidedly different than what I was expecting: it’s largely influenced by folk and Austin City Limits-style country music (the kind that people who don’t live in the South tend to listen to). It’s a bit more complex than your standard folk fare, but not self-consciously so. Rouse’s guitar-picking was the foundation for every song, the rest of the ensemble forming around the relaxed grooves and building beautiful lush textures. The songs were pretty similar and somewhat formulaic, but oddly I found myself more tired of the formula by the third song in the set than I did by the seventh. I believe this has to do with the part of the piece I haven’t written of yet: the Concept.
Rouse’s description of Gravity Radio is thus:
Inspired by the work of physicist Raymond Chiao—known for his experiments with superconductors and gravity waves that exist only in conjecture, eluding detection—composer Mikel Rouse (The End Of Cinematics, 2006 Next Wave) unleashes the rollicking song cycleGravity Radio.
Acclaimed for his distinctly downtown operas, Rouse is hyper-alert to the bits and bytes that make us tick. Gravity Radio tunes in to the zeitgeist, mixing kaleidoscopic multichannel video with sounds from the AP News Wire, a string quartet, shortwave radio frequencies, and songs by Rouse’s band to create an otherworldly environment. Describing the culture we live in, Rouse communicates its complexity and, like the force of gravity that keeps us grounded, evokes its intangible mystery.
In addition to the ensemble I described there was an actress who played the part of an anonymous news anchor, reading contemporary news reports about Obama, Wikileaks, etc. interspersed with cryptic messages and poetry over a bed of glitchy radio static. These ‘reports’ were read at the beginning and ending of the piece, over ambient aleatoric string harmonies, and between every two songs or so. I have no idea, other than what I read, how this at all related to the Rouse’s songs and I’m pretty sure most of the audience didn’t either. They served as perplexing breaks between songs, in lieu of applause, and often provided moments of light, sardonic humor.
I spent the first three or four songs attempting to make sense of Rouse’s lofty themes, based on what I had read, and trying to understand the lyrics of the songs in relation to these news reports. I failed. Perhaps this is due to the limits of my own intellect, but it seems unlikely that the greater message was understood by the audience in general. What the addition of the reports and the video served to do was distract me from the modest beauty of Rouse’s songs and arrangements. Once I decided to let go and simply listen to the tunes I really enjoyed the performance. It wasn’t ground-breaking music, it was good music, and I love good music. The concept, themes, inspirations and everything else only distracted from what is a truly lovely collection of songs, many of which were love songs. Disallowing breaks for the audience to applaud also cut greatly the energy in the house, so that at the end of the piece the ensemble received a warm hearty applause, yet almost no vocal appreciation.
I can’t help but think that if Rouse would have eschewed the extramusical elements and simply presented a collection of good tunes, using breaks to talk to his audience, that it would have been an altogether more coherent and affecting concert work. Something tells me, though, that pitching a ‘multi-media song-cycle’ based on “experiments with superconductors and gravity waves that exist only in conjecture, eluding detection” is a lot more likely to get you a choice run at BAM than merely “a collection of good tunes”. This was a highly conceptual work ‘on paper’ but came off as a set of lovely, well-written folk songs to the audience. Despite this musical honesty, the conceptual baggage left the work seeming quite self-conscious. Why is it not enough to just write some good tunes?
You can listen to some of Gravity Radio via an ASCAP feature here.
Christina Jensen helpfully chimed in that the miracle sound guy was in fact Christopher Ericson. They actually did list him in the program, but I wrongly assumed his sound design was more along the lines of just dealing with the static and sound fx in the show. I’ve seen the term “sound designer” refer to everything from running the board to sound fx to a DJ. That’s why I like the German term “tönmeister”. And it’s hot. Thanks Christina!
Here’s a really kickass article on the sound Ericson did for the show, full of awesome audio engineering geekery.
So, I came across another article about ‘Shaking Up the World of Classical Music’. Actually, that’s the title of the article. It’s a well-meaning piece from a life-coach about preparing young composers for life out there in the big bad world. The author, Astrid Baumgardner makes a list of what’s necessary in order to “Shake up the World of Classical Music”.
Item Six is:
Le sigh… In my opinion, one of the main reasons the classical music world – or more specifically the contemporary music world – is insufficiently ‘shaken up’ is that “creating a new music vocabulary” has become mandatory for composers. Why on earth should every composer be required to invent a new musical language? What does this serve to do, aside from alienate audiences and make composers overly self-conscious?
I’ve been to a lot of new music concerts and I’ve participated in more student composer readings than I can remember. I can safely say there is no deficit of composers who are striving (or struggling) to write music in an unique voice. Composers who can effectively communicate their expression to an audience are a distinct rarity though.
This Promethean ideal as a default is a quaint relic of the 20th century and we should leave it the hell there. To cite an overused but-still-apt comparison, composers prior to the 20th century didn’t feel required to create radically new music vocabularies and many of them made very original music. I’m anything but a traditionalist but frankly I’m sick of hearing radically original music that isn’t very good. I’d rather hear composers work within a preexisting style, creating music that ends up being a more thorough – and unique in the long run – artistic expression.
Ok, if you’re a composer and your main interest lies in originality then go for it. But the burden of communicating that new language rests with you. Not all composers are radical sonic innovators though, and not all composers should be expected to be. They should be expected to create unique expressions, whether it’s in an existing vocabulary or a new one.
I don’t exactly know how this ‘mandatory originality’ idea is being perpetuated, whether it’s from composition teachers, grant panels, articles like this… I dunno, but it needs to die. Write the kind of music you want to hear. If it ends up sounding too unoriginal for your comfort, then work on making it a bit more you. If your starting point is an attempt to make a wholly-original piece that’s going to shake the foundations of the classical music world, chances are it’s going to fall short.
A composer’s goal should be creating a captivating experience for the listener, no more no less.