Off the cuff

Let's see if I regularly update this thing. It's an experiment. Hopefully I don't just leave it here to rot after making like three posts or something.

The blog is titled off the cuff because it's off the cuff. It's not a god-damned academic paper. They are reflections I am having on what's going on in my life, what I am reading, what I am listening to, etc. Get it? Don't go crying to your mama (or me) if I say something controversial or if I happen to not cite thirty five articles substantiating a claim, or if my argument is not completely air tight. I might contradict myself one entry to the next. But, you are welcome to respectfully reach out to me if you'd like to engage in a discussion about something.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Got back to NYC on May 12, hung out with Elias, Kevin, Aliya upon my arrival. Was a good time. Nice to be back in Red Hook moving in my old channels. Very good to see friends. The next day I headed to Canada with Luke and Jason for two shows—Toronto and Ottawa. Toronto was very well attended, raging show. Sonically I had a little trouble hearing myself which made it challenging but the music still felt good. Made a new friend there—a fiddler named Keilan from Toronto (why are fiddler crabs called fiddler crabs, by the way? And why is the fiddle called the fiddle? Because you are fiddling with it?). My friend Karen, who set up the show, took us out to a club afterwards and we all danced til about 230am. The floor was slick with sweat and the ventilation was really poor but it was super fun. Next day we went onto Ottawa—audience was much smaller but the music was perhaps better. A lot of driving for just a two-day jaunt, but it was really great to get some time with Luke and Jason. We had a very sweet time. Now I have some more time in NYC, been getting back in the groove of practicing, running some errands I have to take care of here, trying to working a bit on German and French, etc. Three gigs coming up—May 21 solo opening for Pulverize the Sound, May 24 with Lele Dai and Bradley Eros at the Broadway in Brooklyn, and May 26 with Kevin Murray. Listening to John Cale’s Paris 1919 at the moment.

On May 31 I fly back to Germany and really hit the ground running there—something like 7 gigs in 11 days with 5 different groups. After that really looking forward to some down time, settling into Berlin, working on German, and practicing.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

I have been watching more films than normal, mostly French films for now. I started with two by Chris Marker—La Jetée and Sans Soleil. Then Le Double Vie de Veronique by Krysztof Kieslowski, and Masculin Feminin by Goddard. I am really a philistine when it comes to film but I am starting to see its charms and appreciate some of options. From my philistine perspective, both of Marker’s films are sort of genres of their own…I am not aware of any other work like this. He in particular has opened up my imagination. Both Marker’s films and Masculin Feminin have gotten me thinking about text too. Marker’s films both only have one narrator. La Jetée is also completely made up of stills except one very brief scene where the lover from the past’s eyes move slightly. My friend Carina also has been making short films the past few years—of her and her collaborators making sounds at particular sites around Berlin. On top of that, I have been talking with Katharina about her film every time I talk to her and have watched several versions of it in pieces and in whole. In this way I have been exposed to her process regularly from the time she was writing the screenplay all the way until now, when they are finally mastering the sound—it will be done in a couple of months, after like 3 years of work. All of this talk about and exposure to film has made me try to think of what I could make of it. The prospect of working with a medium I am completely naive about is appealing to me. I am also thinking about this blog, this journal. Maybe I can create something like a video journal with music as well. A written text with one narrator, sounds, images, stills and motion. I would want the text to be much more polished than these really rough journal entires but have a similar character of reflecting on things, maybe in this case inspired a bit by Sans Soleil. Ah, it all sounds very naive and abstract at the moment, but maybe this is what I like about it. Right now this interests me more than making an album. It’s exciting to plunge into something I really know nothing about. I literally don’t know what software to use to edit video.

Updates: I’m on the plane back to NYC now. Looking forward to it. I hardly slept last night, got some very late dinner with a friend after her concert at Sowieso, went to where I was staying, cleaned up and packed, and slept about an hour before getting the express train to the airport. Yesterday I moved most of my belongings (at least the ones in Berlin) into my new (somewhat permanent) place in Berlin that I will move into when I return in June. I am very excited to finally have a place to live long term. Well located in Kreuzberg, reasonably priced, big. Finally I feel a bit settled in Berlin and not completely nomadic (which I am getting a bit tired of). Tomorrow I go to Canada with Luke and Jason for a couple of shows. We will drive. It’s far.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

I’ve been thinking about time. It’s part of my regular practice when I meditate to reflect on time, especially our smallness in it, connection to the past and the future, and also how we are inextricably bound to the past and the future in a long line of cause. Well to think of things in terms of cause and effect is even sort of an expedience that isn’t fully true. It’s more like a totality that just exists. But anyway, I watched le jetée a film by Chris Marker the other day and one of the things that struck me about it was that the scientists needed to take special care about who they sent to the past and the future, because this would be too much of a shock for a normal person. They wouldn’t be able to psychologically comprehend or manage to live in a different time because it’s so drastically different. So they needed to pick someone with big imagination and also someone who had some vivid memories of the time they were going to send him back to. (By the way, they didn’t even send him back very far, just a few decades). Sure, in this film life has drastically changed in those few decades, there has been nuclear fallout, etc. But life is always changing quickly. I feel that ideologically, culturally, I wonder how many people living today, especially those under 40, could really handle zooming back 30 years. And yes, indeed, Marker is right, this is in large part due to an extreme lack of imagination. It takes imagination, empathy and tolerance to be transported and still be able to survive, to understand. The culture shock would be too much for most people. We are all in these cultural bubbles now, and people scarcely see beyond them, and as soon as they are confronted with something else they can’t handle it, even in the present time. This myopia is really a pity.

I also bought a watch recently; a mechanical one with hands. I have never been a watch person, but I’m trying to slowly subtract reasons for looking at my phone, so I thought it would be better to get the date and time from a watch rather than my phone. I like the fact that an analogue clock goes in circles rather than just changing numbers. Symbolically it’s pretty potent to think of time in nested cycles rather than linearly as a digital watch implies. A lot of older technology implied turning rather than moving in a line--the clock, the wax cylinder, vinyl, CDs, organ grinder, wind mills, wool spinning wheels, the wheel in general. It reminds me of the turning of the dharma wheel, the mandala. 

In other news, the solo album is really totally done, masters and artwork sent off to the label. I also finished up mastering some live recordings that I will do some little DL-only release of on bandcamp.

On Thursday I go to NYC/Canada for three weeks before coming back to Germany on June 1. I’m looking forward to seeing people and playing the shows, but I also will miss Berlin—I was just getting settled in here, and I finally found a permanent place to live in Kreuzeberg, that I will move into on June 1. Looking forward to that.

Been spinning John Cale a lot, especially Vintage Violence. Some nice jams on there—Gideon’s Bible, Big White Clouds, Charlemagne. He has a good way of writing songs, knows how to avoid repeating things too much, and how to build a climax melodically.

Thursday April 28, 2022

I got back from Paris a few days ago.  The rehearsals with Julien went well, despite my electronics not really working the way I predicted they would work. Feeling a bit down because of a failed Paris romance, but it was pretty much in its infancy so the roots hadn’t gone that deep yet. It has put me in a bit of a heavy reflective mood though.

The next couple weeks, despite one gig here in Berlin I am mostly just working at Sowieso, continuing to develop my new electronics setup, and preparing for the next chapter of my nomadic existence: NYC, Toronto, Montreal, NYC, Virginia, NYC, Berlin, Moers, Berlin. I leave on May 12, and won’t be settled back in Berlin til June 7. I still haven’t found a permanent place to live here, so I will need to start hustling again to find my next place.

Besides Bob Dylan who is pretty much a permanent fixture in my listening, I have been listening to Tidiana Thiam, a Senegalese guitarist, and also have been listening intentionally to the Beatles for the first time in my life, mostly because my friend was talking about how good they are, and I was telling her how much the suck. But I wanted to really see if I I remembered right that they suck. Well, they are less unpleasant to listen to than I remembered, but to me it doesn’t stand up to repeated listening. The lyrics are basically child’s play compared to Dylan, Cohen, or Mitchell. Oh, speaking of Joni Mitchell, I stumbled upon that video of her with Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Don Alias, etc.

Totally amazing.

Saturday April 16, 2022

Wow, OK, quite a lot has happened since I last wrote. I haven't written for a month because my suitcase was stolen en route from Paris to Bern. It was sitting over my head on the train, and when I arrived at the station, it was gone. I shan't bore you with the details of all of the drama that it caused, but my computer, zoom recorder, expensive headphones, and many other things were in there--altogether around 2k worth of stuff, excluding the suitcase itself. Thankfully, some generous souls/patrons/supporters and family stepped up to help me replace the items, as my finances are rather tight at the moment. Above all, the biggest loss was time--replacing everything took a while. Luckily, my work was mostly backed up, but the most recent blog entries (the ones I hadn't yet uploaded) were not, so here we are. Finally I have a new computer, new headphones, and so I can continue my work.

I have begun the build process of my new electronics setup with panning switches and polarity shifting. I used other peoples' schematics to make the panning switch ABY pedals, and that went smoothly. I thought doing a polarity switch was totally trivial, but apparently it's not. I know very little about building hardware electronics, but I thought I knew enough to do this. I just wired up a 2PDT switch and reversed the hot/cold wires when the switch is activated. It sort of works...except there's a terrible hum (must be a grounding issue) when the switch is depressed. I don't understand why, but will have to consult someone about it. I would buy a premade product if there was one, but there basically isn't. There are some expensive pedals that do a whole lot of other stuff and have a polarity switch on them, but I don't need all that, and I don't need to spend over 100 euros on something that should cost about 10 euros in parts.

In other news, I performed two nights ago at Sowieso with Emilio Gordoa and Antti Virtaranta, who inspire me a lot. We have played twice in the last 5 weeks, and I hope to play many more times with them. For the time being, this is the berlin-borne project I am most excited about.

My trip to Paris, Switzerland, and Austria was great. The show with Julien Desprez was great--almost effortless, almost too easy. I told him afterwards that we are so much in each others' minds that it's too obvious and easy to just play with one another and predict each others' moves. The more interesting thing is to against this grain. I will be in Paris again in a few days and he and I will start to develop something together. I am going back to Paris primarily to see someone I met there in February, but I'm also excited to work with Julien and attend some of the concerts of the umlaut festival, which seems interesting. New friend elvin brandhi is playing, and also some other people I know. I spent a lot of time in Paris in 2014/15 and didn't like it much, but I have totally fallen in love with it the last two times I have been there. There's something about it that reminds me of NYC. Paris--especially the 10th Arondissement, where I have been spending the most time--makes Berlin seem like a sleepy city.

The other day I remembered about a series of pieces I wrote in 2018, inspired by flocks of birds. The pieces operate in an imagined 1, 2, or 3 dimensional space, and the ensemble has to sort of feel which direction each other is going, and move together, without a leader across the space. Let's take something simple, like loud/soft as one dimension and short notes and long notes as another dimension. So this is a 2D space. The ensemble just starts playing, and tries to find each other and conform to a single point in that space, so they coagulate, say around short loud notes, but then slowly someone (anyone) might move in another direction, starts getting quieter, and with longer notes, so then the ensemble follows. But there is no leader decided upon, so the ensemble most sort of navigate as a single mind like a school of fish or flock of birds. I performed a few version of these pieces during a residency in Peru in 2018, but kind of forgot about them after, maybe because I went through a challenging time psychologically. Anyway, it might be something I explore further in the future. The concept gets more robust when the dimensions described are not aesthetic, but are conceptual. Like, for instance, what if one dimension is "togetherness." So one extreme is hyper-immitative playing and the other is chaos/noise/extreme counterpoint. Annnyway, I'll sign off now. More soon!

Wednesday March 11, 2022

On rotation: listening a lot to Bob Dylan's album Side Tracks, which includes a lot of outtakes and live recordings over nearly forty years. Not sure why it was released as a separate thing, rather than the ongoing bootlegs series, but anyway it includes some real gems I hadn't heard before, such as an outtake of You're a Big Girl Now that I hadn't yet heard. I believe it's also the only released version of the song Abandoned Love, which is one of my favorites (there's another live version up somewhere on youtube). Also been listening to some tracks from Scott Walker's Scott 4.

The second half of February and the first part of March has been very busy with performances. A ten-day respite comes in a few days, before I head off to Paris, Switzerland and Austria for some shows. April is basically empty though, which will finally give me a chance to begin building the electronic prosthetics I have dreamt up to create a multi-channel solo setup. The plan is to limit myself to a very simple series of passive switches controlling which microphone goes to which speaker. There will be three microphones--a stereo pair plus some sort of pickup on the saxophone. In addition to the switches controlling where the signal goes, each routing option will include a polarity switch, so I can create polarity effects and also optimize the sound when necessary. The inspiration for this project came from a few different places--first of all, the way I play the saxophone, especially when I'm covering the bell, the sound comes from different parts of the horn--i.e. it comes out of different keys depending on which key I open. So for me, with my head so close to the instrument, this creates a stereo effect. Of course for the audience, who are further from the instrument than I am, most of this stereo effect is lost. But if I diffuse it out to the speakers, it can be recaptured, potentially. Also, seeing Axel Dorner perform with his multichannel set-up (which is quite a bit more complex than the one I have dreamt up) has got me thinking more about this issue. Speaking of Axel, we had a great show the other night and a great hang afterwards with everyone. I look forward to doing more stuff with him in the future.

Monday February 28, 2022

Today I woke up in Pavia, Italy, and after playing music in the morning, headed with my friend Nicola to his family homestead 40 minutes south, in a tiny village. His mother lives there, in a former monestary, on top of a hill overlooking vineyards as far as the eye could see. Two tenth century castles were also visible in the surrounding hills. The monestary still has a little church inside of it with maybe four or five rows of pews and an alter. The building was constructed in 16th century. After getting a tour of the building and the grounds, and having a relaxed meal with his mother, we drove to Milan, where I caught an afternoon high-speed train to Paris, which takes 6.5 hours. On Friday, I performed in Florence at Limonaia di villa Strozzi as part of  Tempo Reale's series there. I performed there also in 2018 with Otomo Yoshihide. It was great to be back. This time I got the chance to walk through Florence and see the city a bit, since I got in early. It started pouring a couple hours before my performance, but a good audience still showed up, and the atmosphere was friendly and exhilerating. I also sat in with the band that followed me, which is called "Glitch Party" and included 5 electronics musicians and one harmonium player. On Saturday I headed to Novara to perform with the improvisation workshop group I was working with all week in Pavia. The performance was outstanding, but ended in a surprise. About two minutes before we would have finished, someone stepped on the powerstrip powering the mixed and the lights, so the amplification and lights went out suddenly. Then, after a moment of confusion, the sound came back on, the microphones fed back very loudly, and the audience applauded. Really, it was kind of fine, and I wasn't upset about it, but the sad thing was that the recording was ruined completely. Sunday I visited Milan. I went on a very long walk, with a stop at the Duomo. I sat on the roof for quite a while, overlooking a demonstration against the war in ukraine happening in the square below. I went down and participated in the demonstration, or at least stood amongst it for a while. Then I walked the thirty minutes to the central station and headed back to Pavia, where I was staying.

Reading: I began John Gibson Lockhart's "The History of Napoleon Bunaparte." I don't know if I'll read it all the way through. I got interested in the Napoleonic wars from reading War and Peace, but I don't know if my interest is great enough to make it through 400 pages of history on the man. So far it is interesting though, and obviously it contains information about the history of Europe from 1780-1820 in general, so maybe it's worth it. It sure is interesting reading about a time when Europe was in such a turbulent moment at the same time that war is breaking out in Europe for the first time in 70 years. Probably I'm not the only one who feels like we are on the edge of a vast unknown. Apart from maybe taking part in some demonstrations against the war, and helping the refugees how I can when they inevitably arrive in Germany, the situation is rather out of my control, so I am so far remaining calm and taking it one day at a time. Glad I am off social media at this moment when I'm sure there's a lot of hysteria, virtue signaling, unsolicited/uninformed opinions. You know, the usual.

Listening: Masayoshi Takanaka, Popol Vuh, Bob Dylan's Side Tracks.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

I finally finished War and Peace last weekend. My pace slowed significantly in the two epilogues, which are mostly about the philosophy of history, and have very little plot material. The second epilogue is entirely philosophical with no plot. Although Tolstoy is not the best philosophical writer, in my opinion, and his thoughts don't seem to be as crystalized as they could be, I find his observations to be quite on point. He centers the paradox of inevitability and free will as the central conflict in any serious philosophical investigation. It seems a bit far fetched that one issue like that could really be of so much importance in such a broad field of study, and including the philosophy of history, but I happen to agree with him. Throughout the end of high school and all of college I was fascinated with this conflict, and found it in practically every major work of literature and philosophy I read. You see it in the struggle of the fates and man in all of the major epics (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid and Paradise Lost) and some Greek drama (like Oedipus Rex). You also find it in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (especially in the closing paragraphs). It is central to much of Pre-Socratic philosophy as well. It's also a central principle of Buddhist thought. When Plato introduced dualism, the problem was kind of solved poorly, and in my (quite niche) opinion, it resulted in a really muddled understanding of the issue until some of the early modern philosophers, most notably Spinoza (especially in his Ethics). Newtonian physics introduced a materialistic explanation for the problem of inevitability, and modern physics, while introducing "chance" into the picture in a certain way, through quantum mechanics, still only holds one possible outcome as actual (and besides, quantum chance, even if it introduces some uncertainty, is certainly not a very good argument for free will). The idea of a truly free will, in the pure sense of a spontaneously determined decision that has no prior cause, is of course ridiculous, but we feel so strongly of its existence that it's basically impossible to dispense with. Tolstoy makes the argument that this is similar to the idea that the Earth is spinning through space and moving around the sun. Of course we all know this (unless there are some flat earthers reading this blog), but we absolutely do not think of this in our daily life. Anyway, this post is a bit unfocused and babbling, but I am happy to return to thoughts of an issue that I was seriously obsessed with in my school years, while studying classics and philosophy.

Tuesday February 22, 2022

I have been bad about updating this thing! I hope to be more consistent. I am in Pavia Italy, and as often happens when I travel and am actually able to stay more than one night, I am in love with the place. Coming from the US, it is always astonishing to be amongst such old buildings. The apartment I am staying in was built in the 17th century, and the basement/foundation it is built on was built in the 10th century. Of course buildings this old almost don't exist in the US, but here it is totally ordinary. The town is quite beautiful, with narrow cobblestone streets, old buildings and a river. The weather is much clearer and warmer than Berlin, although at night it still gets a bit cold. Here I am working with a group of musicians I originally taught in a workshop in Mulhouse in August 2021. One of the musicians in this workshop found us another residency, as part of Novara Jazz. So we are staying at his house in Pavia and rehearsing here for five days, then will perform on Saturday. On Friday the band has a day off from rehearsal, but I will travel to Florence to play a solo for Tempo Reale. It is really special to work so intensively--most professional musicians are so busy that you could never find this kind of time, but this group has been afforded the time to work really intensively twice. In Mulhouse we rehearsed 6 hours a day for five days; here we are rehearsing 3 hours a day for five evenings as a full group, plus rehearsing in smaller configurations during each day. Even if some of the musicians participating in this ensemble aren't quite as experienced as some of the other musicians I work with, I believe the intensive rehearsal pays off and we will make something interesting in the performance. The conversations in the rehearsal are very detailed discussions about how we interact with one another and how we can improve. The music is completely improvised, but we really work on it--something most working improvising musicians seem too cool or too "busy" to do. I think I am done with the studio part of my next solo alto saxophone album--I still will find some live tracks to include as "bonuses" on the CD and as a free DL in addition to the LP version. Meanwhile I have begun to develop a new solo concept which will utilise switches that will route the signals from several microphones (probably a stereo pair of condensors and a neck pickup) to different speakers. It will also be possible to switch polarity to create phasing effects in the room. I will begin building the switching matrix when I return to Berlin.

On my way to Italy I stopped in Cologne to see Katharina and do some work with her on her film. She will include two pieces from my album Carny Cant in the film, and also I did some voice for a radio program that is heard in it. We watched the whole 3.5 hour cut, which was nice to see after hearing about this work-in-progress for more than two years now.

Thursday February 10, 2022

Recent and future happenings: Two weeks since the last update. I'm sure so many people have been on the edges of their seats waiting! (just kidding. no one cared). Berlin has been a lot of fun. A new friend named freya, aka elvin brandhi aka a lot of other things came through town for two days on her way to Vilnius. On Tuesday we recorded some music and actually ended up playing a super last minute show we were able to squeeze in because of a COVID cancellation. Tomorrow I will travel to Hamburg to perform with John Hughes, a bassist friend of mine, and some others who I have not yet met. I have been doing all of the paperwork to get a freelance visa here in Germany, which has been a bit dreary, although I must grant that it's much simpler and cheaper than any europeans who want to get a similar visa in the US.

Thursday January 27, 2022

The work on the saxophone album continues. Due to the nature of the music on it, it's challenging to know what to include.There are these different takes that aren't takes of the same "piece" but rather each recording is looking at a particular idea from a slightly different angle. I feel the compulsion to include them all to display the whole picture of the idea, but at the same time including them all might be to the detriment of the whole, because each take includes something of the other, but also something unique to itself. I am experimenting with using editing to only include each piece of the aural image once, but this might present a feeling of artificiality.

I have also been working on this piece I wrote initially for organ in 2020. I have several iterations--one on pipe organ, one using some synth patches I programmed and one using just (slightly unstable) sine waves. This is gotten me thinking about how most avant garde music, improvised music, and contemporary classical music is highly instrument specific--that is, if you take the music and re-arrange it for completely different instruments it would likely lose much, if not all of its character. I have always been interested in music that can be rearranged for all sorts of instruments and still retain its character--although I haven't made all that much of this sort of music. This can be said of most classical music, at least to a degree, and most songs. Bach's keyboard music is an obvious example--that repertoire can be performed on practically any keyboard and still retain its character and beauty. Of course, historical performance people can argue all day about the importance of the instrument, but for me Glenn Gould's contention that if Bach were alive today he would use the piano, is the one that prevails for me (for various reasons). I have also been fascinated by Bob Dylan's endless re-arrangement of his songs. His interpretations of some of his early-60s repertoire in the 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour totally blew my mind when I first heard them. So vastly different, but yet something of the original is maintained--even though in some cases he even re-interpreted the melody of the pieces. (Check out his version of "It Ain't Me Babe, Bootleg Series Vol. 5, track two).

Playing right now: Masayoshi Takanaka's All of Me (1979)

Wednesday January 26, 2022

The last few days have been fairly focused, working on my next solo saxophone album and going on some walks in the neighborhood. It’s quite challenging to go through all of the solo saxophone I have recorded over the past few years and decide how to put it all together. I also discovered there’s a building in the back yard of this building that sounds pretty good and is quiet. I might record more solo saxophone in there, so then I’ll have even more stuff to sift through!

Reading: still quite absorbed by War and Peace. The second half of the book has had longer sections on the philosophy of history, which have captured my interest insofar as Tolstoy has endeavored to build a sound philosophy of history based on a sound metaphysics. I’m no scholar of Marx, but it does strike me that compared to Marx, whose historical materialism serves as a basis to make specific claims about how things have unfolded and how things will unfold in the future, Tolstoy’s philosophy of history tends to emphasize the MESSINESS of things, and the near impossibility of understanding all of the causes and effects that go into one event happening over another. At the same time, he is similar to Marx insofar as he acknowledges and emphasizes the network of causes that result in the effects. Only, for Tolstoy, the project is almost inherently doomed to fail, because any cause, is of course also an effect of other innumerable causes, and by limiting the window of one’s investigation—as one is forced to do in any inquiry—we are actually dooming ourselves to an incomplete and inadequate picture of what caused what. He invokes one of Zeno’s paradoxes (although interestingly he doesn’t ascribe it to Zeno—I wonder if they knew it was Zeno in 1867)—that of Achilles and the Tortoise—to show that seeing history as discrete individual events is inherently flawed. Interestingly enough, War and Peace and Marx’s Das Kapital were first published in the same year, 1867. I think I will go back and also read Hegel’s Philosophy of History, which I haven’t read since college, because presumably Tolstoy was also influenced by the work. Tolstoy’s examination of causes and effects also has its parallels in the teachings of the Buddha—that will be the subject of writing on another day I suppose.

From a structural point of view, the insertion of so much philosophy in a work of historical fiction caused Tolstoy to not regard War and Peace as a novel. I have a keen interest in all things that buck notions of genre, so this struck me. I have often had the somewhat absurd idea of writing musical works with texts that were philosophical. Like, set a philosophical work of my own writing to music. Some of Cage’s work comes close to this, because there is a very strong didactic element, but there are few other examples I can think of.

Music on Rotation: write now listening to a compilation of Bob Dylan called Side Tracks. Still listening to Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark regularly, also Scott Walker’s Scott 2 and Scott 3. I am really a songs guy! Too bad I can’t write a song worth a damn. I’ve tried.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

DEATH OF THICH NHAT HANH: My dad texted an article to me yesterday announcing the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who helped inspire me to get back into meditation in the past couple of years. I knew this would happen relatively soon--he was 95--but I am a bit sad to see this person who had such an incredibly positive influence on the world pass away. I went on a walk this morning through Friedrichshain in Berlin, and was thinking a little bit about Hanh, and for some reason one story he told stuck out in my head. During the Vietnam War he was leading a group of monks and lay-people who were doing humanitarian work for victims of the war. After a village was completely bombed and destroyed, he and his group rebuilt the village. Several months later the village was destroyed again. The group helped rebuild the village once again. This happened an additional two times. The village was destroyed four times over, and four times, Hanh and his group rebuilt the village. I thought this was an inspiring story of single-minded diligence and optimism now matter how bleak and dire the situation was. He also worked with US Vietnam war veterans who were struggling with PTSD. After several days of working with the veterans, one of them became comfortable enough with the group to tell a horrible story of how he intentionally poisoned several Vietnamese children, and watched their parents grieve as they died. The veteran wept, and sought advice on how to live with the knowledge that he committed so heinous an act. Thich told the veteran that there are many children in need--children that might die without his help, today. He encouraged him to help those children as a way of giving back. I encourage everyone to seek out Thich Nhat Hanh's lectures and guided meditations. His monastery, Plum Village, released an app with guided meditations and lectures. There are also many youtube videos of lectures by him and his followers.

BERLIN: I arrived to Berlin three days ago. I have already played a couple of nice shows. My sleeping schedule is really strange though. So far I have been sleeping three or four hours at night, waking up from about 5am til 10 or 11, then sleeping the rest of the morning and until the late afternoon. It has been nice to see the sunrise every day. This morning I went out for a walk as the sun came up. When I left it was still dark, and it was one of those typical misty Berlin nights, with the slippery wet little cobble stones on the sidewalks, reflecting the orange of the streetlights. I really have an affection for this kind of weather, which seems to occur every other night in Berlin. I am staying in my friend's room, which is in a building that was one of the administrative buildings of the Stasi. I think it was taken over and squatted in the early nineties, and eventually legalized. The Stasi museum is a couple buildings over. I read some placards with some historical information about the buildings and the secret police.

LAST DAYS OF BROOKLYN: I had some nice hangs in the three days before leaving Brooklyn. In particular I had a memorable hang into the early morning (as is our wont) with Bradley Eros, who is always an inspiration to me. In particular, I think Bradley shows by example how to be deeply critical, but at the same time positive, supportive, optimistic, loving, open, and (mostly) not bitter. This is, admittedly, a challenge for me. I frequently feel quite alienated, quite angry, especially at how people who pretend to be "radical" or "leftist" hypocritcally continue to reinforce illegitimate hierarchies through apologetic or self-serving action. At the same time, I paradoxically really feel deep connections to many people--even total strangers--even people who, the day before, I might have felt deeply alienated from. It can be very hard for me to know how to dissent and call out others for their hypocrisy and lack of integrity, and at the same time not become a completely angry, alienated, bitter, curmudgeon; and, also at the same time, recognize and celebrate the beauty of others and the deep connctions we have, despite our broad disagreement (and maybe even despite their habitual lack of integrity!).

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Reading: I am reading Tolstoy's War and Peace. I often get wrapped up in novels, but I find this one so riveting and I am so absorbed by it, that it starts to feel like a vice. I am reading for hours a day, sometimes when I should be doing other things. I get so invested in the characters, that when something embarrassing happens to them I get really upset, sometimes even for a while after I put the book down. War and Peace is fiction, but Tolstoy read every history in Russian and French on the Napoleanic wars, and interviewed many who lived through them, so it's well-researched historical fiction. He also fought in the Crimean War, so he had some experience with what it was like on the front lines. I am struck by the fact that many of the characters fighting against the French fight with such passion and valor for their country, but at the same time sometimes have a deep respect for their foe, Napolean (and also the soldiers and officers). This is something that's hard to relate to from the modern day. "I am fighting for my honor and interests; you are fighting for your honor; and I can see and respect why you would be fighting for your honor and interests." It's actually a deep acknowledgement of subjectivity. Whereas now, it seems wars are fought because one side feels they are really objectively, ideologically superior to the other--or at least that is the pretense, even though there are always secret or not so secret ulterior motives. It's no longer sufficient to acknowledge that one is really just fighting for ones selfish interests--but maybe that's better than claiming that one is fighting for liberty, when one is really just secretly for ones own interests. I dont know, just a thought I had. The other thing I noticed is that it almost seems that the characters are so much more three dimensional and dynamic than actual real people in my life today. I am going out on a limb here, but it's almost as if we have dumbed down and simplified the political and intellectual discourse today so much, that people themselves are forced into these archetypes, and they actually are only capable of living up to the incredibly shallow level of discourse, the incredibly pale and simplified picture of reality and of people that the dumbed-down discourse that social media allows for. What a sad an sorry state of affairs that the characters in a book can seem more three dimensional, complex, dynamic, than the people that surround me.

I am have also been reading John Powers' tome Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. I read it in college when I took a course on Tibetan Buddhism, but as I have now gotten interested in Buddhism again, I'm reading it again. I think that Tibet is something that the modern world, including modern liberalism desperately needs to learn from. The Tibetan Buddhists (and I think buddhists in general, but I know less about others) don't make the fatal mistake of modern liberalism that if you just structure society correctly, people will be reprogrammed, less selfish, happy, etc. According to Tibetan Buddhism, the illusion of the self has been reinforced for millions of generations (this is actually eerily similar to what evolution by natural selection tells us, something that the Buddha could not have known about). Undoing our selfish tendencies isn't a matter of just restructuring society, it is primarily a personal journey that that requires the abnegation of the self through practice and meditation. According to buddhists this is a process that often takes many many lifetimes (through reincarnation) of devotion to the practice. One of the Buddha's final speeches including a section about how we must be islands to ourselves. This is controversial, even among Buddhists, but...anyway, it is what it is. The idea that the human mind is a complete blank slate that is endlessly maleable and will simply be restructured as long as we are exposed to the right circumstances is not something that any honest neuroscientist or evolutionary biologist would agree with, either. We are animals, and have animal predilections that have been reinforced by millions of years of natural selection. To think otherwise is as anti-science as Creationists who think we came from Adam. It is true, we are probably, among all living things, uniquely capable of thinking our way out of this selfishness, and acting against those predelictions, but this requires serious dedication, daily work, intense introspection. Of course, a properly and justly structured society, with good education certainly goes a long way, but not nearly far enough to rid us of these problems. I also re-read the Communist Manifesto last week for the first time since college, and found that Marx actually makes this same mistake. He says "Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas, views, and conceptions, in one word, man's consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life." This is not totally untrue. Of course it changes. But exactly how much it can change is not at all qualified by Marx, and I think that what is implied here is that there isn't any limit to the ability society has to completely change the mind of an individual. Anyyywaayy...I just think that this is extremely naive, not supported by history or science. At the very least, there is a burden of proof there. One can't just simply claim that it's evident that a communist society will make a bunch of selfless high-minded beings of us. That's an absolutely enormous leap of faith, that my Socratic, intensely dialectic mind cannot accept.

Big changes:

Anyway, on Wednesday the 19th I go to live Berlin for a while. Not sure how long. Long enough that I am bringing a whole lot of stuff, sold and gave away a lot of my belongings, and am subletting my room in Brooklyn to my friend Elias indefinitely. Each day I alternate between being excited for the new chapter and being apprehensive.

Music on heavy rotation in the last week has been Weather Report's Black Market, Heavy Weather and Night Passage, Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, Steely Dan's the Royal Scam, Orthrelm (Mick Barr), a couple of tracks from Nico's Chelsea Girl. The week before I was listening a lot to John Fahey's I Remember Blind Joe Death.

Musical work: I have been working on putting together a new solo album. Last Wednesday I was in the studio recording some pieces. Other pieces that will be included will be from live recordings in Berlin and Florence most likely. I tend to have the attitude of putting something out in a bit of a fit of work, and then just moving onto the next thing. I am approaching this album with a lot more deliberation and care. It's supposed to be the definitive solo work of my life so far, rather than just something that happened that I like (which is kind of what my past solo albums have been). I feel like I have been mulling something over for years now, and I am ready to move onto something entirely different. So I feel the need to capture this language so I can move on.

I am also working on putting together an album of pieces that sort of more fit in the "chamber works" category. Mostly it will be works for ensembles/instruments I am not playing. I wrote a piece for organ a couple of years ago, two works for strings, and a wind quintet all at around the same time. The wind quintet was originally written for the amazing ensemble splinter reeds while I was at Wesleyan. They performed it again in August. I was happy about that but haven't heard the recording. I rearranged it for five alto saxophones, and I will record a version myself playing all five. It's quite an undertaking as it's very challenging music, but I am chipping away at it. Those splinter reeders are such amazing musicians for being able to play it. Truly astounding. It will take me like a month of consistent work to learn all the parts of this.