Writing, recording, playing 

When you start getting the weird sensations you know you're on the right track. They're not always entirely pleasant. It's like FOMO but you know you're not missing out on anything. You've just pulled in your anchor and you're adrift, letting the visual snow of stars be your guide while creeping winds and currents from uninhabited worlds power your sails. You turned off your phone and have shunned all media, social or otherwise. You play piano for hours, free and without pressure, and the arpeggiated chords start to take weird mountainous shapes tinted in oddly maroon colours. In your waking mind everything possesses possibility like light shining through closed eyelids.

The itch to reconnect, to distract, to watch pornography, browse Youtube or send someone a GIF of a dancing dog comes and goes. That's an old world where nothing happens. You're never happy there but you always seek it. With itchy fingers and unfocused thoughts you seek what you don't want, baffled by your lack of self ownership. Always on edge, but with the illusion that more media will cushion the fall, even carry you away on its hot air balloon of empty narratives.

Skater kids & Bepop  

Discipline is losing out in these quarantined times. Business brain, or at least, "Ambitious Brain", is jumping on the opportunity to release as much music as possible while people are stuck in their homes. I even received a grant from the government to keep on recording and plugging away. But this self imposed production schedule has me shying away from doing what I love most: playing the piano. It feels like a job and therefore I don't want to do it. I sit down and press record and can't get a decent take. Then I try and edit the parts together, eliminate the bum notes, but it's more work than just playing the damn thing right.

So far I haven't been able to record a single take from beginning to end with the right vibe and the right accuracy. And I wrote the pieces myself! So instead of trying over and over again I pick up a book or watch a movie.

I believe it's okay to do this, even though for some damn reason I feel guilty. Like it's my job now. I'm getting paid to do it. So therefore, being my own boss, I'm very lenient...

Leniency = Guilt.

Is there any escape?

So I must remember the process. Reading, listening, consuming, skimming Youtube like a brain-dead zombie -- at what point do you impose discipline on yourself?

I watched Dogtown and Z-Boys last night. Californian surfer kids from the early 70s who went on to basically create the modern skateboarding style and aesthetic as we know it. Did those kids procrastinate from honing their craft? No. Their craft was their "procrastination" from the responsibilities of being poor and American. It was their vocation. Their "passion". Their calling. They just played. And in playing they revolutionised a national hobby and kickstarted a massive industry.

In 1940s New York, Thelonious Monk played piano for hours on end, just because he could. He'd meet up with his friends at Minton's Playhouse and they'd egg each other on, just like those Californian skater kids three decades later, and revolutionise a craft and kickstart an industry. Sure, he probably practised scales. Sure, they knew their music theory. But they applied it because it was fun. Because it became intuitive. Because they had each other to bounce off.

So I took that attitude back to my music. The old grainy footage of long-haired kids riding empty swimming pools in suburban LA oddly made me nostalgic for nineties suburban Canberra. I played music all day and rode my skateboard (badly) up at the local underpass. I didn't apply "discipline" to my playing but I'd play for hours on end. And I got good. Real good. And distinctive too.

But then you become an adult. You start to consciously try to apply the 10,000 hour rule in the hopes that deliberate practise will make you a genius and the world will applaud and help you pay the rent. You plot a series of albums and stylistic shifts and you learn scales and how to read music and for the cognitive challenge you commit to learning Rachmaninoff and Ravel. But after a while you don't even want to play anymore. Because it sucks. And you may as well just get a normal job (not that there's any going right now).

And you procrastinate your passion by walking out on the trails, racing thunderstorms down mountains, planning long distance hikes and watching Youtube videos about people who build remote cabins and live off the grid for decades...

And then you realise. Fuck it. Just play. Because it's fun. Like in the nineties when you had long hair and sang badly in front of the entire school.

Nobody wants to hear self-conscious disciplined exercise anyway. Just have a little faith in the magic. Be dumb. Switch off your brain. Hit the same note for hours or close your eyes and play until something interesting happens. Ride a concrete wave. Be Thelonious Monk. Be yourself.

 

 

Austin Kleon: "Show Your Work!!!" Me: "OKAYYY!!!" 

Artist marketing guru Austin Kleon advises artists to "show their work". In fact, the title of one of his books is "show your work." Which is great, because you get all the info you need in the title. This saves time & money. All arts marketing gurus should employ such declarative statements as book titles.

Anyway, I've taken his advice, assuming that's what his advice is, and am posting the demo of a piece I'm working on. Maybe it's close to finished. I'm not sure. I was going to bust out a whole album of piano pieces to put up on Bandcamp for their fee-waiving artist benefit on May 1, but I'd rather "officially" release work that I'm proud of, and don't feel confident that hurrying together a bunch of half arsed piano riffs in a few days would constitute much of an album. Not that I'm not proud of my sketches and squiggles, but I'd feel a bit lame trying to charge anybody money for them.

I've been fiddling around with these finger patterns for a few days. I pressed the record button and this is what happened. I even like the accidental chords that rose from my mistakes. The unexpected dissonance when I hit bum notes.

I post it here because this piece will never be the same again. I wouldn't try to replicate such insanity. I'd clean away the edges, or edge away the cleanness. Probably the latter. I don't know. Maybe it needs to just be sweet like a bee's last dance.

 

 

 

 

The Saga Continues For Everybody, INCLUDING ME! 

 

So in good news it wasn't Covid. In bad news -- albeit hopefully fake news -- unable to restrain my fingers from Googling every symptom, I've diagnosed myself with COPD, heart disease, asbestosis, cancer, silicosis...

Oh well. It was a nice life. I guess. I wish I did more things and didn't let anxiety / depression / fear put a dampener on so many good times. But ya know...

I'm going to a doctor tomorrow. I've somehow managed to get this far without having a GP. Maybe I'll like this doctor. We can become friends. The doctor will tell me it's just asthma from a chest cold and there are things I can do to manage it.

Health problems are boring. They really are.

I've been playing piano when I've felt up to it. I'm working on a bigger piece called Liquid Dreams.

It's been lonely and scary but my dreams have been nice. At least I wake up with a feeling like when you return from a holiday. So ya know. I assume they were good. And next post won't be about me at all. It'll be about the guy who was once referred to as "the Beethoven of America". Been reading some interesting stuff about the development of American composition in the 19th Century.

Fear, Ilness, New Piano Pieces 

 

So it's a shitty time to have a chest infection. I went and got tested for the Covid yesterday. I'm waiting for my phone to buzz with the verdict. Whatever's going on, my chest feels like shit, I'm not allowed to leave the house, and the news just seems to be all bad. There's silver linings in the cleaner air and the potential for a less wasteful society, but that's bigger picture stuff. Right now I'm in a room and my picture seems claustrophobically small. I would like to swap bodies with somebody who doesn't have asthma, who didn't drink too much and smoke too much and potentially ruin their ability to survive this shit. I would like to have a mind that doesn't fill me with constant dread no matter what's going on, and to be able to truly enjoy the good moments, without the awareness of that impending edge from which everything blows off into a horror shitstorm... 

I'm playing the piano a lot, tryna distill these thoughts & feelings into some kind of musical poignancy. 

The world could be ending, and all I give a shit about is not wanting to feel the fear anymore. The anxiety that grips every muscle, every artery constricting and the airways shutting up shop. It sucks. It's hard not to think about it when there's nothing to do. Usually I go on runs. Or get drunk. Or have sex. None of which would be a very good idea right now. And also, illegal (except for the drunk bit), until I get a negative result from the Covid people. The mysterious Covid people. 

All that can be done in the meantime is play piano, watch Better Call Saul, and keep on trucking. 

As my mum always says, "It is what it is," though I really wish I'd stop philosophising about everything and just exist. Like a sparrow or a kangaroo. It is what it is. Or it isn't. Maybe it's a dream of something else. Maybe it isn't anything at all. Urgh. Shut the fuck up, mind.

Where does creativity come from? 

to me, there are two consistent traits that lead to composing: it is the mistakes i make in execution, and my misunderstanding of a concept (i'll expand on the latter part in future posts). 

in this video i try to explain to a friend how to write a melody. 

i talk about picking a bunch of notes and then randomly trying different combinations over a chord change. even in my own demonstration of the concept, i make mistakes. for example, i play a melody one way, then i suggest, "why not play it backwards?" then i incorrectly play it backwards. 

but this doesn't matter. exercises like playing a melody backwards, or trying out different combinations, or changing the chord pattern underneath the melody, are not an end in themselves. they are simply paths taken to lead towards creativity. incorrectly playing the melody backwards led to a melody that led to a song. 

here, you're not winning points in how correctly you understand something. who cares if you can perfectly transcribe a melody from Ab to E? by fucking it up you might make something interesting. 

interesting. it's a word i use way too much. it's like an algebraic x for what i really want to say. i'll work on that.

A choice between two bad choices 

there's two bottles of wine and half a six pack of beer in the fridge. there's an infinite universe of hardcore pornography one click of the finger away. there's two valiums left and a big bathtub. there's a lot of empty space that doesn't need to be filled, but it's accustomed to overflowing the way a hoarder's house explodes with useless distractions.

instead there's a head on collision with my greatest enemy.

he stalks up and down the corridor and back and forth across the cat-stained rug. he could study more, or write a song, or play piano. or he could keep binge-watching a tv show that has already made him cry more times this evening than he has since he last got drunk. that was at his niece's seventh birthday party, and he got so shitfaced that he broke down as his stepdad sang elvis to his mother on the makeshift karaoke stage. i can't help falling in love with you. then he vomited in the car and spent two days with a fever and stomach cramps as he sweated out a lifetime of bullshit.

i can't help falling in love with you.

it's time i fell in love with him instead, as there's nobody else in this big empty space. and the choice between netflix and chilling with him instead of murdering him with wine, valium and porn, is the best choice between two bad choices.

it could always be a choice between kill or be killed, but we're not quite there yet.

he could always harden the fuck up and write something on the piano.

Pandemictivity 2: music theory  

my parents were against toy guns. they even had a sticker on the door saying: "santa doesn't buy war toys." they bought me a nylon string guitar when i was ten and since everybody else had a toy gun i used the guitar as a weapon and shot up the neighborhood. the local urchins & i reenacted scenes from platoon and other then fashionable vietnam war movies in the streets of waramanga. it was carnage. milo and weetbix for breakfast and then the genocides would begin. one time toby & i dug a trench in the front yard and we hit some kind of concrete bunker about a metre down. fearing punishment we filled in the hole, but i still wonder what was in that bunker.

so i didn't play guitar much, i just shot baddies. or goodies. it depended which side i was on, on any given day. then i wrote a protest song against culinary corporatism called 'macdonalds chuck' which i recorded on a dictaphone just using mouth percussion and raspberries and vomit sounds. the rest is history. as in that was my first song, and then i was hooked, and twenty-five years later i've probably written 2000 or more and i only started playing guitar to accompany my mouth noises (i thought of it as 'singing' at the time).

first show was at a school fete. the organiser congratulated me afterwards and i told him off because nobody listened. it was his job to shut the fuckers up, not mine. i was just a wee boy in a big indifferent world, but i didn't know it yet.

i had a guitar teacher for a while. he soon realised it was pointless teaching me about quavers, crotchets and time signatures because all i wanted to do was write songs. so he'd send me off with some new chords each week and i'd come back with some new songs. when i was fourteen i played him one called "hammer me", which actually transformed his features and at the end of it he seemed genuinely taken aback. i went on to play it with a little grunge band at my highschool assembly and my testicles dropped during the chorus and for the first time i got the vocal squeaks and one thousand teenagers pointed and laughed.

i didn't care. i was a rock star. i shot em with my guitar and those little cunts had my vocal squeaks in their pea-brains for at least the time it took to get from the gym to class.

fast forward 2019 and i read a thelonious monk biography and the rest is history. i buy an 88-key keyboard and start learning rachmaninoff's prelude in c sharp minor. i guess i worked backwards. i still didn't really know what anything meant but after a few months i could play the piece. now i'm back at square one.

i love playing the piano. i love the fact i can look at a score and almost hear it in my head now.

but i don't really write songs anymore. i can still hear those thousand children laughing and pointing at me and it makes boohoo in my panties.

just kidding.

everyone's dying and the world is forever changed. what is there to possibly write a three chord song about?

The Long Road 

i hired a car giving me five days travelling one way for $65. that's crazy cheap. it's obviously a crazy time. you could put that last sentence and apply to it any time since humans developed sentience but for a kid who grow up in the eighties and nineties getting thrills from watching apocalypse movies, 2020 seems pretty damn crazy, like maybe it's just a nineties movie, and i'll wake up a child again, in 1994, pretend that i'm sick so i can stay home and watch the telemovie of Stephen King's the stand, then ramble around the local mountain pretending i'm the leader of a clan of children after nuclear war destroys most of the planet, and now there's a battle between kids and teenagers, coz all the adults started the mess in the first place so with this common enemy we united and destroyed them, but now with no common enemy we draw new identity lines in the sand, clans and allegiances shift, new wars eventuate.

it's a long road. you get somewhere for a while and then you have to go some place else. with music, with geography, with accommodation and dreams. anxiety is a foreigner hitching a ride but i can't remember picking them up. who is this ghoul, making me run from one distraction to another. valium. alcohol. coffee to justify the shakes.

i give it all up. i surrender. so let go of my throat.

i don't care about the world ending, just let go of my throat. let me play the piano and float.

the long road.

Pandemictivy 1: Think too much, go crazy, run on hill, feel slightly better. 

i was born a hypochondriac. came out wondering what weird illness this was, this strange sensation of having sensations. i've been expecting personal, societal and environmental calamities ever since. instead, i got three and a half decades of relatively hazardless creative, sensual and philosophical exploration. i was one of the historical anomalies: young and male and not shot in the back by a general or else drawn and quartered and eaten by wolves or even gangbanged by horny succubi and then left to protect the remaining erections from repetitive strain complications resolved by depenestration.

i was lucky.

what did you expect? what did you get?

what do you expect next? what will you actually get?

when will covid-19 end? where is the voice of reassurance? where is God now He'd finally be of use? (or She or Them or however "God" self-identifies)

a photo of the dying on respirators makes my chest tight. i long to escape this small parcel of space generously allotted to me by a family who took me in when i happened to be half-homeless and half homewardly aspirational when the pandemic plonked itself upon us and WHAM-BAM 

i escape in a borrowed car with the windows up and find a lonely trail on a mountain and run until i can breathe again and then sit, weeping, watching the city of adelaide, longing for a hometown i always longed to leave, because it's familiar, and nothing is familiar anymore, but this view, of a strange but beautiful city silently trembling before a haze where the ocean disintegrates into the sky, this view... this view... it is something solid. not familiar, perhaps, but solid. it is where civilisation meets the apple tree man and i can breathe again. i weep. my nose runs. then i run. a hiker with a dog tells me there's a brown snake further along the trail. we keep at least a metre and a half distance between us. i run towards the snake. it does its expected thing and fucks off into the scrub. but imagine that? i think. a brown snake with no fear. it wouldn't go anywhere, just calmly watch me approaching like some haggard pandemic for which it has the perfect vaccine.

will our loved ones die? will the "boomer remover" kill god? will i be one of the unlucky young ones? will the plane crash? will a martyr with a bomb-vest board this bus? will every kid wearing a trench-coat listening to marilyn manson come into my classroom and shoot me in the head? will i be sodomised and eviscerated by ivan milat while i try to get some shut-eye in the van? will future me find present me via time travel and commit murder-suicide and yet somehow spare himself?

this has been such a weird life. but how could it be any different? what could possibly constitute normal?

when i arrived nobody told me the return date. but anyway. maybe for now we won't have to pay taxes.