Rigidity, Formality, and The Book of Tea

Dusting off my old copy of Okakura Kakuzo’s Book of Tea, which I haven’t read for more than a decade (before my time in Japan), I found this quote in Liza Dalby’s introduction, talking about her training in Japanese tea ceremony:

American culture has traditionally stressed the Romantic notion that form and structure are things to be thrown off to discover the pure artistic soul beneath. In contrast, the idea that deep artistic freedom can lie within rigidly structured form is one of the most important lessons I have learned in my life, and I am grateful that I found it at an early age, in tea.

A wonderful quote that I completely understand. Though, instead of tea, this statement beautifully described why it took me learning the shamisen and shakuhachi in Japan to really appreciate the music of J.S. Bach.

…and why I love these guys so much:

Playing the Long Game

I love this two-part mini-documentary by Adam Westbrook that I found on Vimeo:

The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo DaVinci was no genius from Delve on Vimeo.

(Part 2 here)

It’s a wonderful reminder to us as artists that, first, we need to think about long-term success not immediate gratification, and, second, that the myths around “genius” and “talent” can be detrimental to young artists in understanding that our effort will be what defines the quality of our work over our lifetimes.

from Toothpaste for Dinner

On a related note, check out this infographic about how various artists through history reportedly spent their time:

creative routines

March Concerts

March is shaping up to be a busy month of concerts and premieres.

I’m thrilled, especially since this is the first time in a while this has happened, likely because much of my compositional efforts for the last few years have been focused on a particularly big project, followed by a move to a new job, both of which were very positive life events, of course, but it’s satisfying to be a feet-on-the-ground composer again.

First, the Post-Haste Duo is back on the road again, and will be performing my piece bioMechanics in Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.


Second, my surrealist piece, inspired by the art of Rene Magritte, Sixteen September, for alto saxophone, clarinet and electronics, will be premiered by next week before they take the piece to the North American Saxophone Alliance Conference in Illinois later on in the month.


Finally, Second Cycle, a new, new music group out of Chicago, will include my urban-legend-inspired piece, Polybius in their Free Play Concert, including works inspired by “8-bit music.” This show promises to be an exciting evening of music and nostalgia, not to be missed by any child of the 80s (or early 90s).


It’s exciting to have all of these performances by wonderfully skilled musicians, and I’m sure the concerts will not disappoint.

MELEe Performance Videos

I wanted to share a couple of videos of MELEe (the Mountain Electronic Laptop Ensemble), the University of Montana’s Electronic Ensemble, performing student compositions last semester.

It was a great experience to work with such a creative and dedicated group!

Erin Schneider and Will Richardson, “Moon Breath”

Jake Whitecar, “Resonance”

MELEe is:
Jake Whitecar
Erin Schneider
Will Richardson
Austin Slominski


For the past few days, I’ve enjoyed meeting other members of the “cult of Kyma” at the 2013 Kyma International Sound Symposium (KISS2013) in Brussels, Belgium.

The theme of the conference is interfaces (more precisely: “INTER faces”), and KISS2013 used for its symbol Belgium surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s “Les Amants” (“The Lovers”), an image of two people kissing with cloth covering their faces:

Les Amants

This painting illustrates a the role of interfaces as borders, emphasizing the separation between the two lovers (a separation which exists between all people) even in this most intimate moment.

In the realm of electronic music, we most often use the term “interface” to talk about the point of human interaction with a machine, whether through typing on a keyboard, using a mouse, or even the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of a piece of software. The KISS conference’s choice of Magritte’s painting for its symbol, though, re-examines the interface as a border, a concept that Kyma creator Carla Scaletti was also quick to point out in her keynote speech (poorly paraphrased here): without these borders, we would just all be one mass of cells flowing everywhere.

Dr. Scaletti’s image here immediately reminded me of Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk manga and animated film Akira, specifically the scene where the character Tetsuo merges with the mechanical devices around him, and becomes and uncontrollable expanding mass of organic and inorganic matter.


While Akira’s level of human-machine bordlessness is, hopefully, metaphorical (at least for the time being), it seems that we are moving toward more and more transparent interfaces in our human-computer interactions.

Several workshops and pieces involved the Microsoft Kinect (including performances by fellow UO alums Jon Bellona and Chi Wang), an interfaces that understands an impressive amount of data about a person’s body position without requiring any physical contact.

A step further, though, were two piece presented where the performers did not interface with the computer physically, but instead through EEG neural headsets. The performers took the stage, then thought in front of an audience in order to create music. The EEGs then gathered data about the performers neural impulses, which was sonified by the computer.

Of course I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what they were thinking about…


(I think all of my EEG pieces might sound the same.)

Rather than seeking to erase the human-machine border, though, it seems that these new devices are designed to allow us to interact with machines on more human terms. Typing or using a joystick, for example, are actions we have learned for the sake of interacting with computers, whereas the Kinect offers a way of interfacing with a computer using actions that might hold referential meaning beyond human-machine interaction, as evidenced in Bellona’s “spell-casting” actions in Casting, and Wang’s conducting motions in SoundMotion.

Of course, in musical performance, we should remember that performers for centuries have practiced and learned how to physically interface with these instruments in a way that is not necessarily referential to motions outside music, so the transparency of an interface doesn’t not necessarily reflect on its effectiveness (or all musicians would just play the timpani, where one can see from across the room how the performer is playing the instrument).

An interesting question might be, though: does a novel interface, one that has never been seen before and whose performance we have not yet been acculturated to, benefit from a degree of clarity between the performers actions and the sonic results?


an image from Stock Photos of Violinists
Clearly this young woman is not acculturated to violin performance

Finally, here is one more image from Magritte, this time, the artist transgresses rather than emphasizes the interface. The title of the piece seemed rather serendipitous, “Sixteen September.”