So I’m doing a small presentation on my upcoming post-Christian nihilist pop-opera, The Little Death, at a Live Arts Collaboration Salon – this coming Monday 11/30 at 7pm. I’m excited for a few reasons: A. I get to talk about myself (and what narcissistic artist doesn’t get off on that?); B. I’m going to perform some early versions of songs from the opera for voice and piano; and C. I’m going to play a newly mastered cut or two from the album. The main theme of my little talk is going to be the process of refinement and transformation in composition. I haven’t thought too intensely about the specifics of what I’m going to say, but I know the gist:
Once I stopped trying to have amazing ideas for compositions, and focused on the work, I made music that I felt was good.
Simple enough, yes?
I spent (in a more cynical mood I might say “wasted”) many years of my life with my only musical output being attempts to find a new voice, a new sound, one that would change things, add to the historical musical discourse. I sat at the piano attempting to write more clusters than anyone else, I imagined elaborate and shocking theatrical pieces, I made forty-minute noise tracks; basically I did everything but focus on craft. I spent more time thinking about what I would write than writing.
I’m a naturally lazy person – though I might prefer the term “relaxed”. I eventually came to realize that this tendency I had towards an over-reliance on ingenuity was actually just a desire for a shortcut to artistic achievement. Find (or wait for) a cool enough idea and achieve popular and critical acclaim!
We are at the point in history where almost anything that can be done artistically, in terms of uniqueness and audacity of the idea, has been done. Some artists lament and fear this, but I think it’s actually pretty wonderful. Perhaps art can stop being this pissing contest of ‘who did it first?’ and ‘how can I make this more novel than anything else?’ and become about the craft, the grueling challenge to oneself to deepen and improve upon an idea.
I came upon a major turning point when one day I sat at a piano and sang John Lennon’s final words – “Oh my God I’m shot – over and over while playing the piano. I ended up with a simple, sentimental song to which I felt a strong emotional connection. I left it as that for the time and repeated the process, but with different words and music, eventually coming up with the first piece I was ever truly proud of, a collection of five songs called: Five Little Songs. These songs formed the infrastructure for a project that has consumed my life for the past two years, The Little Death.
The songs are not particularly great, not very complex, and certainly not terribly original but I love them, and that love fueled literally thousands of hours of work developing them into something certainly complex, likely quite original, and hopefully great. I look back on myself from years past, idly attempting to think of novel and ingenious ideas, without even considering the elbow-grease I employ now – the obsessive revising, the harsh criticism, the abject self-indulgence – with a mixture of shame, scorn, and regret.
It is difficult not to think of that time as wasted, yet it is also difficult not to think of it as formative. Despite the decade or so poverty of output, I developed many of my current themes and inspirations: banality, bastardization of pop music, Christian music, sampling. I also learned my audio chops, but I didn’t really have anything to show for it. Once I realized a simple equation – a bit of music/sound I love + tons of work/self-indulgence = something I tend to be proud of – I began to think of myself as a composer.
Anyway, if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading this little piece of self-indulgence. And if any of this interests you, come check out my presentation at the LAC Salon on November 30th, 7pm!
Here’s the info:
LAC Artists Salon – 11/30 @ 7pm
The Performance Project @ University Settlement
184 Eldridge St. @ Rivington, 2nd Floor
Featuring choreographer Julie Bour, composer Matt Marks, combined media artist, David Kagan, performance artists and visual story-tellers, Hannah Wolfe and Devin Moriarity, and singer/songwriter, Miriam Aziz.