Good evening from lovely Woodside, California.
I had a bit of stuck-ness this week as I forged ahead on my first ever serious orchestra piece, and it's not just an orchestra piece. It's a viola concerto, and I'm writing it for my best friend for his birthday. So I had better not screw this up, right?
The endeavor is scary and the material is new. (But as Merce Cunningham says, "The only way to do it is to do it." And that's right! Like a total newbie, I've had to go back to some orchestration guides and do a lot of listening/score study but it's started to flow more and more easily.)
Lucky for me, I'm at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, so I am surrounded by brilliant creatives who are kind enough to hear me out. I ran my stuck-ness problem by a few of the writers, who were already discussing their own tactics to get un-stuck and keep workflow painless. I chimed in regarding my need to write pencil-to-paper so that I could spacially and gesturally navigate my pieces and easily see the big picture. That's when one resident, E. Dolores Johnson, told me about a tool that many writers use to organize their thoughts and ideas, especially in large form: storyboarding!
She let me visit her studio and study her own storyboard. She uses different colored index cards to indicate different characters (in her case, voices of real people: herself, her mother, and her daughter, along with different colored cards for explanation and speculation) and pace their stories and thoughts throughout her novel. She explained that the colors clearly show pacing and balance between the different people and illuminate places where more of a certain voice is needed.
I thought: that's what I need to help me organize my concerto! It's like a bird's eye view!
So I made my first composition "storyboard" and here is how it's coming so far:
So far the piece has expanded to be closer to 8 minutes (of a projected 10 minutes) but so far I think that this will be a great tool to use in the future! This is just one of the beautiful things about coexisting with artists of other mediums.
It's pretty cool to look at, but not as beautiful as the sunset was the night before.
There's no filter on this baby ^
Wow. Okay. I guess that makes sense. For every paper I've written in school, I've read books, watched videos, and done listening and analysis before even starting an outline. Why should composing be different?
Maybe I just needed to hear it from a writer.
After this stunning revelation, I forgave myself for what time I thought I had "wasted" during this amazing residency, and wrote a new list of what a good creative process should be (as I said, for me, at this time. Everyone is different).
For those who don't care to read my sloppy handwriting, here's the new list that I came up with:
6. stepping away
7. repeat steps 1 and 3
I realized after I composed this list that I hardly honor any of these steps. Especially not the dreaming or the celebrating parts (INTJ problems, surely). Stepping away is also a huge struggle for me. At most, I sleep on my work for "a night"--and I've realized that's not enough time to revisit it with a clear head.
I guess that's why some composers say they keep 2-4 pieces going at the same time, all in different stages (planning, writing, resting, finalizing/engraving/partmaking). And on top of all of that there's social media and promotion and doing stuff like this silly blog that we have to keep up with. Oof.
But anyway. Here's a picture of my face after a productive writing session at my studio a few days ago. I've been feeling a little ugly lately (probably comes as a side effect of feeling "unproductive" as I previously defined it, as beauty is linked to efficiency in my eyes), so I'm not sharing this in a narcissistic way, but maybe more as a symbol of making some changes and looking at life and sound work as positive and exciting things. Less judgment more art. Ya know?
How does your creative process look? How do you allocate your research/time/leisure? How do you treat yourself and celebrate after the completion of a piece?
No filter on this photo either ;) though I'm embarrassed that I'm wearing the same shirt as my last selfie...?
WE'RE IN THE WOODS, OKAY? NO JUDGMENT.
Love you all.
Well...I did it! I finished my first piece in a few months, probably because I had a great violist, Katherine Clarke, and a few dollars behind it.
The funk is real, and I've been feeling very funky lately. Not in that cool Robert-Glasper-Producing-Kendrick-Lamar way but with that wild voice of Resistance in my head. I have major Impostor Syndrome today and I want to discuss it and hear what you think.
In my most recent blog post, I mentioned that the people I'm surrounded by are amazing artists. They really are. They have been inspiring me to write and work harder than ever, especially given the gift of time. I'm working alongside a previous MacDowell Fellow, regularly commissioned artist, an amazingly provocative writer (with a new commission), award winning writer/actress, ex-Harvard Business School attendee turned nonfiction writer, amongst others.
My best friend just won two orchestral spots (which he deserves-it's been a long time coming). My partner is having his songs looked at by a legit-as-hell record producer.
So what am I doing? How can I fit into all this? Am I a worthy participant in this residency? Can I call myself a career Artist yet?
And yes, I was one of 7% of 968 applicants to this program, and after 6 years of applying I finally got in. But I was just waitlisted at another residency...which feels good...but not that good. It's better than a rejection, but it's certainly not an acceptance.
I feel so vulnerable; I'm in a position where I am absolutely the weakest link, which is a wonderful learning experience--and god, I'm growing artistically at a rapid rate... but Resistance is shouting at me, and more aggressively than ever.
I want to make art. Full time. For money. As a career. I am simply in the hustle and grind stage (what I am now calling "The Waitlist Stage")? I remember how this felt in my entertainment career, and I got where I wanted to be. I still see even further potential for my trajectory there. But to start over as an artist is a full time job. I'm ready to do it, but I'll need all the support I can get.
My next project is a viola concerto. After that, I want to continue my doodle exercises (see photo sample below) and work on a new multimedia project about sexual harassment in the workplace.
I'm sending lots of love to my readers; I know you are few but you are consistently kind and supportive toward me.
What do you do to pull yourself out of a rut? How do you combat resistance?
Til next time,
Greetings from the Djerassi Residency Program in Woodside, CA!
I've been here for nearly a week and I'm already feeling how powerful this place is and how it will inform my work. I've connected with 11 other brilliant and kind creatives who will, no doubt, teach me a lot while I'm here.
So far, I have spent most of my days combining a mix of hiking, writing art music, writing songs, journaling, doodling, and asking a lot of questions. The landscape is breathtaking, and there's a bit of a mandate here: you can create as much or as little as you'd like. There's no shame in resting for a month, but if you want to challenge how prolific you can be, we'll support you in that as well.
What a strange change from academia! And from my pop career...and truthfully, from my own expectations. I'll give a full report at the end of this month, but so far, I've found that I am more productive given a totally free schedule while I live in proximity to other artists.
So here's a question: what would you do in a space/time environment like this? How would you spend it?
More to follow...so much more. Everyday is a new adventure.
I'm -sort of- training for a half marathon right now. Hopefully these mountains make it a hell of a lot easier!
.Hello all! It's been quite awhile since I've posted anything but I am thrilled to report that not much is new, except that I've seen a few more dead bodies than I usually would.
I've always been fascinated by the dead. There's something sacred about the burial process--the remembrance process--the ritual of it all, and the feelings attached to it.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Let's backpedal. I spent the month of May on a cruise ship (as I did last year) and hit most of the same ports that I enjoyed last time: Barcelona, Naples, Civitavecchia, Florence (still haven't seen the leaning tower of Pisa though...), and Cannes. This year's itinerary substituted Marseilles, France, for Palma (island of Mallorca), Spain (which was an incredible upgrade).
All of that jumbled information to say, I had a lot less of an emotional/existential adventure and a lot more time to think, reflect, journal and heal. It was more of a spiritual adventure, if you will.
After countless hours alone, my trauma history was finally able to have a free playdate with itself and many of my other memories, uninhibited by impending tasks and a brutal schedule. I spent a good deal of time sifting through my narrative, and examining the narrative of my mother and grandmother as well. I am infatuated with the idea of inherited and amalgamated trauma, and my only new adventures involved paying homages to centuries of skeletons, gathered freely or forcibly (by Italians who were fascinated with the history...not by me, you sickos). This sparked a lot of questions in my mind about how our lives truly affect history--and of course, thereby, art.
The highlights of my trip can be seen in the following photos:
1. A catacomb of dead, rich people, buried in 3rd century C.E. who paid a LOT to have semblances painted around them, like it matters to us nowadays:
2. Here's a picture of me cracking up at the caverns where bodies were drained of fluids so that they could decompose more quickly...and so that the artist could immortalize them more quickly as well, of course.
3. Here's a couple of photos of a crazy monk's work: he collected 3700 monks' bodies and arranged them in artistic ways as an "homage" (or was he just as fascinated by death as I am?)!
4. Here are some photos of the cave which houses the bones of thousands of plague victims (mid 1700s--the plague took half of the population out, and a flood followed. People weren't able to track their loved ones, so they threw all of the leftover bones in a cave after the bodies fully decomposed) with no proper burial. People started a cult surrounding these "lost souls" in the 1960s and the pope shut the burial ground down until a few years ago.
Crazy, right? It puts mortality in perspective. So as I examined three generations of women who endured pain (I can only do three objectively, as I never knew my great grandmother), I wondered how it all adds up--does it matter?
I read a book by Amy Stacey Curtis called "Women, Trauma and Visual Expression" which finally codified gestures in my own work. It was as if truth goggles were tied around my head, and as I looked at my catalogue, I understood myself better.
I visited the Vatican as well, and even in a religious context, death leaves a lot of questions to be asked, but damn, in its absence, beauty seems to conquer. The aesthetic of the time seems to pervade. Whatever is culturally relevant is immortalized. What does that mean for our generation?
Though the trip itself was mostly lonely and frustrating artistically, I think I made a breakthrough on an emotional level in understanding my musical and artistic inclinations...and that can only mean that I am even better prepared to make more communicative art. Whether it's here, or in Europe, it's always good to self-explore and ask hard questions...even if that means visiting a ton of cemeteries.
Until next time...art on, my friends.
Good evening (morning) everyone!
I want to thank everyone who came out to the soft premiere of The Dried Tobacco Project at Mary's Attic, the second installment of Songs of Survival at the Awakenings Foundation and Gallery (see photo above), and the Student Composers Concert tonight at Roosevelt University.
I am spread as thin as cheese on a cracker, but there has been an issue at the forefront of my brain lately that I am itching to discuss. I intend to be disrespectfully honest in this post.
What is wrong with you people--yes, you people--who are "too broke" to attend events?
We no longer live in a world where rich old white dudes want to give young, aspiring artists tens-of-thousands-of-dollars to sit around and think/write. So of course, we hear about blah blah blah entrepreneurship, blah blah. That's all fine and well. Lots of us are entrepreneurial and creative and hard working! I look around at my peers all the time and I am blown away by the work ethic and talent that I see. That is not an issue, especially in a competitive city like Chicago.
The issue is that we will kill the arts if we don't support one another. I believe, firmly, without a doubt, that a majority of the money we will all make in our lives will come from peer admiration (and a smattering of rare grants). If we aren't going out, networking, attending concerts/performances/exhibition openings, who will? Young artists are essentially the face of interest in the arts. So if there's a meaningful, kickass concert with really REALLY good music and 10 people in the audience, what non-musician will see its validity?
Are you following me?
You can work your face off at home, but if you aren't dropping $5-20 on a ticket for your friend or colleague's performance (provided, of course, that you don't have a prior engagement), why should you expect them to show face at yours? If this is a system that truly perpetuates itself (which, I believe, it does...), then how shall we expect this generation of artists to
1) continue to connect and be moved/inspired by one another
2) build careers in a world where art music/dance/film/poetry/art is highly misunderstood and under-studied by people?
Let me pose a solution for some of you who may actually be Broke AF.
Talk to your contact for an event, or call the venue if you don't have a specific contact for a show (though, if we're talking about peer patronage, as I'm calling it, then I'm sure you do have a specific contact) and ask about discounted tickets, volunteer opportunities, or mutual exchanges (like bringing people to the next night). It works. Every. Time. I have never been to a show where these weren't options. I have never attended an art event where volunteers weren't needed, and who would be a better volunteer than a friend of the artist at hand? This person would be a champion of the artist and probably an artist themselves.
All I'm saying is this--arts patronage is changing. And sometimes we have to work for free--but if we don't need to, we shouldn't. Sometimes, we can't pay for a ticket, but we should still appear (with a friend or two to build an audience) to show our friends and colleagues that we are as invested in their art as we hope they are in ours. Sometimes, we have to take off work (as I have) or de-prioritize social events, but if you're hoping to build a career in this city, I want you making it to every concert and event that you can. If you're a foodie you frequent good restaurants. If you're a runner, you check out every trail that you can hit the pavement on. If you're an artist, you attend art events. No excuses. No questions asked.
I am working on building several major art projects in this city. These are projects that will open the door for some of you. If you attend my events, I will attend yours, even if it means moving my schedule around. I swear by this stuff, and I hope all of you do too.
Long live art! Chicago is overdue for an artistic facelift.
I want to thank you all for your attendance at Brunch Project Production's Premiere of The Dried Tobacco Project on Monday. Ian and I worked very hard on this for a long time and the turnout was better than we could have thought. We look forward to the future of BPP and my future gallery...revitalizing and revolutionizing the arts scene in Chicago is a huge undertaking, but it's long overdue, isn't it?
The people that we work with are amazing. All of the composers, performers, and audience members are essential to our growth. I had an interesting conversation with Jordan Jenkins earlier, when I said, "I feel bad for continuously charging people for concerts, even though I know it'll circulate back." His sarcastic response was perfect: "Oh! Of course! How dare you charge people to see a musical concert? We all know that music is just a HOBBY and why should composers and performers get PAID for it!?"
I know, with peers like this, that we can continue to build up independent artists' careers in the city of Chicago. After all, our economy is built off of the re-circulation of money from proprietor to proprietor. Why not do this in the arts? Once we can branch out and create a system of patronage between ourselves and our friends, we can build a network to build our future as artists.
That being said, please come out to my premiere tomorrow night at The Awakenings Foundation. The student tickets are $12 but it will be an important and moving night. In fact, the whole series is important and moving.
Musicians Who Brunch, first installation
Also, November 20th heralds a new Musicians Who Brunch concert at the Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park! Tickets are only $5 for that, and you can catch the brightest and best (...I only book the brightest and best) new composers and performers in the Chicago game.
Thank you, as always, for your continued support. I am so appreciative for all of my brilliant colleagues and friends.
Hello everyone! For those of you who take interest in my work, here are a few updates as we approach 2016.
My multi-movement work for piano and baritone, The Dried Tobacco Project, received the very first Student Seed Grant from Roosevelt University, and will most likely be additionally backed by individual donors. The Project focuses on the plight of oppressed LGBT youths and demands to end the tragedy of suicide in this demographic. The music features the poetry of Will Brooks (which can be purchased on Amazon!) and the vocal talent of Ian McGuffin. Please read more about The Dried Tobacco Project and its plans for a 2016 tour around the midwest here!
I am honored and excited to be premiering a new piece by my friend and colleague Adam Schumaker on January 15th of 2016. It features a Casio SK-1 alongside the piano, and is funded by the Kalamazoo Arts Development Initiative. We workshopped the piece today, participated in a very thorough interview and got some great preliminary recordings of a few movements. Learn about Adam and his concert here. (Seriously, go learn about him.)
Finally, I have been working diligently to put together a concert series which will showcase survivors of sexual abuse or assault. The first concert will take place on April 22nd, 2016, and has just recently received funding from a private donor. Our home base for this powerful and community-oriented series is the beautiful and inspiring Awakenings Gallery in Ravenswood! We hope that we can have two of these concerts a year, and are always taking applications! All ideas/proposals can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other news, I survived my first semester of grad school with only 2-3 major crying sessions a week, acquired a pet gecko and am anxiously awaiting the release of my latest film scoring project, Not a Superhero!
I hope you get a few days off over the holidays, and (shameless plug) if you're looking for a new, fun way to spend New Years, join me at the Tack Room at Thalia Hall for a night of piano bar singalong fun starting at 9:30 pm for that momentous occasion!
Have a warm, safe, musical, and restful winter! Sending love!
Here's the studio where Adam and I recorded selections from his new piece, Six Inspirations for Little Synth!
And here's my little baby warrior goddess leopard gecko, Athena. I have no shame.
For the last 7 years I have been a composer of music, a writer, an occasional late-night painter, a designer of movement and an artistic director of many projects. One question has been asked of me over and over by colleagues, friends and family members: why is my art so dark? Must it be so violent and disturbing? And the answer is always yes, though few have inquired as to why.
Let me take you on a brief journey through my creative endeavors. My first project was creating my high school’s musical when I was 17. It was a 90-minute project about a two young women, one of whom is emotionally tormented by her parents and kicked out of her home because her family discovers that she is a lesbian. The other struggles with her attachment to a physically abusive boyfriend. When the women befriend one another, they support each other and encourage each other to begin healthy lives away from their traumatic pasts.
When I arrived in college, I wrote many personal pieces about my struggles with anxiety and depression, including a set of 24 piano preludes, many of which alluded to feelings of abandonment and insufficiency in their titles. I used Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski as muses for several instrumental works. I created a 2-hour long ballet about women’s self-abuse and distorted self-perception in America. And I ended up my college experience with an entire program about rape. These aforementioned pieces are only a smattering of my entire catalogue.
Throughout my entire professional status as a composer, I have only written 2 or 3 “happy” pieces. And only one of my friends ever asked “why?”
There are many reasons to create. For some people, it is to chronicle certain events or feelings. For others, it is to construct a logical system; to give art an intellectual order. Some people have no idea why they create, and they are simply compelled to do so. For me, my art has always been a detoxification process. When I take my feelings and memories and manifest them in an abstractly communicative fashion to be shared communally, a part of them becomes more distant. It is as if the honesty and vulnerability gives me permission to let go. Though it seems contradictory, immortalizing specific experiences in my life keeps them at arms length. By laying every part of me out to be seen, it is as if I give myself permission to stop keeping secrets and repressing my aches and pains.
It is not entirely a selfish process, though. My hope is that by being as open as I can stand to be, others can feel less alone in their own struggles. I have found much solace in seeing that I have shared experiences with those around me, and by seeing that those people have moved beyond their trauma or are at least on a trajectory of healing. After all, that’s what group therapy facilitates, doesn’t it? My wish is for my work to be a healing opportunity for my community, for my friends and my family. After all, once the piece is over, I am still standing before you with more to give and aspirations for the future.
My most recent endeavor, on violence, was kindly supported by the Awakenings Gallery and Foundation in Chicago. It was a seven-movement confessional piece that utilized music, performance art, film, prepared recordings, movement and audience participation. I invited all attendees to a pre-show reception in the gallery where we provided wine, cheese and the opportunity to view the featured art pieces. The gallery is home to a plethora of art works by sexual assault and abuse survivors, so when most people arrived they were shocked by the volume of disturbing images surrounding them. After that initial experience, they were to then sit through a 50-minute long work which involved a barrage of horrifying sonic and visual aspects. The climax of the piece involved the singer beating herself with her own hands until the collapsed on the floor in agony. I asked audience members to bring items that reminded them of a violent incident in their lives and leave it on the fallen performer’s back.
Needless to say, by the end of both performances, most people were in tears or deeply upset. My parents (who had known for over two years what had happened to me) were so scarred that they refused to attend the second performance. Friends came from 6 different states, and I could see in their eyes that they had a new image of me and what I struggle with on a daily basis. I could see a new reality and a new compassion for assault survivors in every person who attended. It was truly a powerful experience for everyone involved.
Since this very dramatic piece, I have felt better than ever about my own trauma, and I feel grounded enough to be more open than every, offering aid and support to others who’ve experienced the same tragedy. I am a vocal activist and I share about my experience on social media with the hope to educate as many people as possible about how survivors live and what they deal with on a daily basis. My personal happiness has skyrocketed and I feel more confident when I am at work in a bar or walking alone. I cannot put my finger on exactly what changed within me, but I attribute most of it to having the opportunity to detoxify from this awful event, and what came out of me was this incredibly sickening and disturbing work of art.
I am at a point in my career where I am striving to create more positive products, but I know what puts my mind at ease with consistency. I am grateful to have this outlet, which doubles as my own form of activism and community-building. I am grateful for those who are brave enough to sit through my work and try to understand me better. Every concert or show that I put on reveals another layer of who I am. I am grateful to know others and to be known. Furthermore, I am grateful for the peace of mind I have achieved after many attempts to be honest with myself and others.