Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why are you such a coward? (Me too.)

Why are you such a coward?

I have a friend who tells me all about her ideas. Every couple months it’s a new one. And each time, I tell her, “Cool. That’s a really good idea.” I’m kind-of a bad friend for never mentioning that she does this every month, but I want to be supportive. I don’t want to be another person saying, “Yeah, that’s never gonna happen,”

…even if that’s what I’m thinking.

“I’m gonna start a comedy site,” she says. “I’ve been watching a lot of videos and there are so many bad sites out there. It can’t be that hard.”

And then she never does it.

Why haven’t you tried for something you desire until you can’t possibly try anymore?

What are you afraid of?

I’ve gotten to the point in my endeavors where I don’t worry about perfection, or how many people read it, or anything like that. At this point in my development, the most important part of anything I work on is doing the work. Getting it done. Every once in a while I will make something I think is good, but I’ve got to be consistent. And to be consistent, I’ve got to be persistent with the work, even through the periods of creation that aren’t at the level of expertise I want.

I might be your friend, and I might be polite about your plans, but I don’t really let those ideas stick in my head too much. It’s too easy to talk. I’m impressed by creations, even if they’re not the greatest thing in the world. I’m impressed by the gumption it takes to make something, claim it as your own, and then release it into the world for all to see.

Maybe you think that’s not something to be impressed by. If that’s the case, it’s probably been a while since you released a creation, if ever.


I've been working a lot on my music. Here are some highlights:

- Took a trip to Montreal (it was awesome)
- Footage from our first show here (it's not perfect)
- We finally have physical copies ready! You can order them online here

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beethoven: The Universal Composer (quotes)

I just finished reading Edmund Morris’s Beethoven: The Universal Composer. While there’s no doubt Beethoven was a musical genius, he was also kind-of a terrible person. Here are some quotes I took from that book:

The improvisations of a genius are of a different order, frightening in their proximity to madness: one has only to read about Nijinsky’s last dance, or watch films of Picasso at work. If the folly is not held at bay by structure, it can destroy.

The career of every artist is marked with great opportunities that for “various reasons” come to nothing.

In any case, Beethoven had much to learn from Haydn just by staying close and sharing the old composer’s professional life--browsing scores, discussing points of instrumentation, attending rehearsals, and exchanging the strange half-sung, half-mimed, almost wordless sentences that musicians alone understand.

To their watercolor notion of “composition” as something clear, pretty, and small scale, he was a dauber in oil, making slash strokes on canvases too big for the prince’s drawing room.

But the Revolution was now consummated, and to Beethoven’s more forward-looking listeners, especially young ones, the violence and bigness of his style matched the new aesthetics of force and “unbuttoned” emotion.

But the seeds of inspiration are planted in strange places, and flower, often after long delay, without conscious watering.

Courtliness and containment--the twin essential of High Classical style--were as much a part of Haydn’s musical personality as wildness was a part of Beethoven’s.

Writing them and suppressing them, he accepted loneliness as a precondition for the life of an artist.

The scholar-pianist Charles Rosen, who, with Lockwood, has done much in recent years to illuminate Beethoven’s standing in German intellectual history, quotes a remark by Friedrich von Schlegel to the effect that musicians tend to be more rational in their works than they are in their everyday lives.

Thus, Beethoven had been from the very start of his career a darling of the informed, the privilege, and the powerful. To claim, along with his mythifying biographers, that he simply punched his way up Parnassus is, in DeNora’s words, “to mystify genius” and to ignore the extent to which his success “was the product of social mediation.”

“O God! give me the strength to conquer myself, nothing at all must fetter me to life.”
“So all is illusion--friendship, kingdom, empire, all is just a mist which a breath of wind can disperse and shape again in a different way!!” Beethoven wrote on April 8. He was actually trying, in his clumsy way, to be jocular about quite another matter, but the notion that no reality, outside that of artistic truth, could be trusted was ingrained in him.

He made clear that “freedom”--imagination operating beyond constraints--and “progress”--a constant originality of achievement--were impossible without scholarship.

Ten years before, at the premiere of Der glorreiche Augenblick, Beethoven had been the toast of European royalty. He was now, in perhaps the strangest turn of his career, a hero of the people. The Ninth Symphony’s success was extraordinary...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Quotes from old Notebooks #1

...the real success of any creative act is that it transcended reality not by bypassing it but by going through it.
-The Last Psychiatrist

Source: Frenzzgoa

If he wants to work on himself, he must destroy his peace. To have them both is in no way possible. A man must make a choice. But when choosing the result is very often deceit, that is to say, a man tries to deceive himself. In words he chooses work but in reality he does not want to lose his peace.

Such submission is the most difficult thing there can be for a man who thinks that he is capable of deciding anything.

Have patience, Candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy soul’s gaze upon the star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being.

How are we to know that the mind has become concentrated? Because the idea of time will vanish. The more time passes unnoticed the more concentrated we are... all time will have the tendency to come and stand in the one present. So the definition is given, when the past and present come and stand in one, the mind is said to be concentrated.

All of a sudden the progress will stop one day, and you will find yourself, as it were, stranded. Persevere. All progress proceeds by such rise and fall.
-Ram Dass

Only, you see, everywhere in the world people are actuated by something else than truth.
-Basil Maine

So you have no reason to claim credit from anyone for those attentions, since you showed them not because you wanted someone else’s company but because you could not bear your own.

It would be superfluous to mention any more who, though seeming to others the happiest of mortals, themselves bore true witness against themselves by their expressed hatred of every action of their lives. Yet they did not change themselves or anyone else by these complaints, for after their explosion of words their feelings reverted to normal.

But learning how to live takes a whole life, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die. -Seneca
External goods are of trivial importance and without much influence in either direction: prosperity does not elevate the sage and adversity does not depress him. For he has always made the effort to rely as much as possible on himself and to derive all delight from himself.

That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in  an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.

Love is all right for those who can handle the psychic overload. It’s like trying to carry a full garbage can on your back over a rushing river of piss.

It was almost disappointing because it seemed when stress and madness were eliminated from my daily life there wasn’t much left you could depend on.

People with no morals often considered themselves more free, but mostly they lacked the ability to feel or to love. So they became swingers. The dead fucking the dead.

It’s the old question of “Yes life’s not real” but you see a beautiful woman or something you can’t get away from wanting because it is there in front of you.

Since beginningless time and into the never-ending future, men have loved women without telling them, and the lord has loved them without telling, and the void is not the void because there’s nothing to be empty of.

Monday, January 14, 2013

PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone: A Review

The biggest mistake one could make when listening to the new John Frusciante album would be to expect something that resembles his days with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There are no Jimi Hendrix type embellishments like the ones found on the Chili Peppers’ biggest hit “Under the Bridge” or guitar-hero-styled solos like those found throughout Stadium Arcadium, his last album with the Chilis’ (2006). But that should be expected. Why would he have left RHCP in 2009 had he wanted to continue playing the same style of music he played for the past ten years?

That said, PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone is one hundred percent John Frusciante. It is the result of his experimentation with electronic music--a sort of musical Frankenstein that combines electronic drums, synthesizers, Frusciante’s characteristic grimy guitar tone, a sampler of his varied vocal timbres, and a guest appearance by Killarmy MC, Kinetic 9. Intentions seem good, but the unintended horrors of creating a new beast occasionally appear making you wonder whether he should have tested these new boundaries. And, when that doubt creeps in, you might head for the stop button but, rest assured, Frusciante will draw you back in with his keen pop music sensibilities before actually reaching the cd player.

According to a post on his website, Frusciante considers this album “Progressive Synth Pop,” adding that this genre does not explain “what [the music] sounds like.” Before hearing the album I had no idea what this meant but, after the first listen, I understood. While many tracks travel to far-out, different worlds, underlying connective tissue exists in each track but not always in the same form. Paraphrasing Frusciante’s explanation, the songs progress through different stages, often introducing a new electronic sound at each level, but the layers rarely, if ever, go beyond the threshold of too much.
            The intro track to PBX seems like a confirmation that Frusciante knows he’s created musical Frankenstein. With eerie screams that, at one moment, come from the right field of sound but then reappear behind you, it seems as if the screams are running from what they’ve heard like a warning of what’s to come. Accompanying these screams is a quivering synth that resembles a fearful voice and atonal pounding at a keyboard. After about twenty five seconds of this hair-raising sound collage the noise evaporates into an electronic melody with other layers being introduced gradually. And this general model, the progressive adding of new elements while sometimes subtracting others, sets the stage for the rest of the album. In fact, only two of the nine tracks seem to not follow his established “Progressive Synthetic Pop” song arc: “Ratiug” and “Sum”. These two tracks, and possibly “Mistakes”, also appear to be his most accessible, or commercially viable, songs on the album.
            Ryan Bray mentions in his review that Frusciante has developed a strong following of dedicated fans that will “let him off the leash some”, but this concession, an attempt to explain away the album’s potential success, presents a general misunderstanding regarding fandom and a misunderstanding of the audience of a review. First off, anyone who claims to be a “true fan” would buy the album, regardless of whether critics say it’s a flop. That’s what fans do. If you don’t understand, go talk to a Buffalo Bills fan. This means that anyone reading your review, Ryan, is either reading for entertainment purposes, or is curious about the work of an ex Chili Pepper. Remember: the dedicated fans have already bought the album, they don’t care what you think about it. By stating Frusciante has enough “good faith” with these fans, you’re implying the album is a flop which is untrue. It would be more constructive to either refer your readers to a more commercial John Frusciante album, or provide fair warning that it’s not for everyone, because that it certainly is not.
           Track three, “Bike”, of PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone begins with a descending wah-guitar line which lands on a clean-toned octave divided by the tri-tone and some hand drums. For those of you unfamiliar with what a tri-tone is, this sound used to be forbidden by the church and had the nickname of “the devil in music” for its dissonance. (The tri-tone is a common interval used in metal as well.) Continuing the dissonant tone of the song, Frusciante moves the tritones up by minor thirds three times to outline a diminished seventh chord. Though diminished harmony has been used since the inception of chords, to use a diminished progression in a pop song creates a very unstable feeling that could potentially make listeners cringe. Not to worry, though, because Frusciante lets your ears relax by balancing the diminished verse section with the more orthodox C# minor bridge sections before returning to the original progression, each time presented by a different combination of instruments. It is important to remember that the use of diminished harmony in a verse section of “pop music” is uncommon because many people feel a sense of uneasiness and tension when employing such a dissonant chord as the foundation of a song. And this is why I generally agree with many reviews that this album is not for everyone. I believe that those willing enough to seek out new, different music could appreciate the album, but, at the same time, anyone going into this album, as well as any new album, should also approach the music with an open mind. And this is a prerequisite some reviewers seem to omit.

For example, both Sim Campbell and Ryan Bray describe the album as “challenging” (Campbell using this descriptor twice) but with the negative connotation that “challenging” somehow equals bad or poor quality, that challenging means “not worth listening to”. While I would agree that the album challenges its listeners to accept a new musical amalgamation, this does not necessarily mean the album falls flat. Instead, I’d argue its innovation warrants the album a bit more flexibility when making judgments. Many of the world’s best musical artists--from Bach to Beethoven to Debussy to Frank Zappa--have met criticism for their innovations. Yet time and again, many of these new styles and compositional techniques have stood the test of time while the critics continue to perish and disappear. Now, I don’t wish to compare the music of Frusciante to the previously mentioned composers. Instead, I aim to point out that to describe music as “challenging” is more a reflection of subjective musical tastes--maybe even a snapshot of that era’s preferences--rather than musical quality.
            Seeing as how you’re reading a review of this album, it’s safe to assume you have at least some interest in it or John Frusciante. So how to decide on whether the album is worth buying? Before we get to that, my recommendation hinges on the assumption that you a) know how to make your own decision and b) know how to operate Youtube. If you’re capable of these two criteria, then I would also like to divide my readers into those familiar with any of Frusciante’s past work (including the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and those unfamiliar with it.

(1) Mike Piscitelli
To those with any familiarity, some of the songs resemble styles found on earlier albums. For example, the final track, “Sum”, sounds like it could have been a b-side to The Empyrean (2009), his last album before PBX. Frusciante’s familiar falsetto is also present throughout many of the tracks and probably most noticeable on the previously mentioned “Bike”. Also, though less prevalent than some other albums, Frusciante supplies a hearty dose of guitar playing with his new axe of choice: a Yamaha SG. While “Sum” and “Bike” could provide some comfortable connections to his past work, I’d recommend the tracks “Uprane”, “Intro/Sabam”, and “Guitar” to get a full picture of Frusciante’s work with “Progressive synth pop”.

For those of you unfamiliar with anything from the realm of John Frusciante, you’ve been missing out. But that’s beside the point. I’d first recommend the track “Ratiug” simply because its the most traditionally structured song on the album. It doesn’t hurt that Kinetic 9 adds a verse on the track which could appeal to diehard fans of the Wu-tang Clan, or even anything old school rap related. (Kinetic 9 has guest appeared on a few of Rza’s solo projects and is a member of Killarmy, an affiliate of the Wu-tang Clan.) The second track I’d recommend is “Mistakes” because it begins with a bass tone and rhythms taken straight from the eighties. The sound is almost corny, but the song travels in a different direction quickly so don’t get too anxious if you don’t like the opening few seconds.

Overall, I’d say Frusciante has found a sweet spot between accessibility and experimentation. For anyone with an open mind that is looking for something new, give the album a listen on Youtube and then decide yourself whether you want to support the artist by buying his product. I don’t wish to quantify or rate the album, but I will close by saying that there is no one complete track I am completely dissatisfied with. All the traditional songs are enjoyable and the few tracks that have ugly spots change character quick enough into something enjoyable that I forget I started out not liking that particular song. So give it a listen and decide for yourself. I doubt you’ll regret it.

(1) This photo is used under a creative commons license

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Man from Mars: He's not so different.

“If there is something past infinity, what’s past the past?” Craig Snyder said, as we sat in the conference room overlooking CMAC. It wasn’t a question, but a hypothetical serving to illustrate his curiosity towards life. In the same vein, he began describing how he could picture what Canandaigua was like when only Native Americans lived here. I looked out the windows and imagined the old Canandaigua, wooded and without roads or CMAC or the pier or houses. “Perhaps there’s a longhouse,” he said, “but I can imagine it all.” Then, after establishing this historic vista, the scene crumbled as Snyder explained how people don’t care about that stuff; they’re not interested in it; they’d rather talk about Pawn Stars or Jersey Shore or—especially popular every four years—the election. Then he took a step back, as if to avoid offending others: “There’s nothing really wrong with that, I guess.”

I’ve been told he’s from Mars, and that his mind is always in outer space—confirmation that Craig’s aware of how others view him—but, really, he’s from a small industrial town in rural Pennsylvania. It’s the kind of town where the majority of people rely on a single factory to provide employment, “Like Kodak with Rochester,” Snyder said.

He recalled a story about how, as a boy, his music career was jeopardized by another kid. This specific kid (Craig didn’t give a name), jealous his brother wasn’t paying attention to him over the other boys, decided to squeeze a shotgun shell in a vice and then drive a nail into the top of it. Before anyone could stop him, the jealous boy was already in mid swing. Craig, reenacting the scene in front of me, turned his head and cupped his hands over his ears like a set of earmuffs. “I’m convinced to this day I would’ve had permanent hearing loss.”

This story piques my interest because when I ask him about the most important skills he possesses as a professional musician his ears are at the top of the list. During last spring’s faculty recital a group of professors played John Zorn’s In the Temple of Hadjarim. Snyder noticed that the triangle--an instrument used mostly to provide a different timbre--was a major seventh above the underlying harmony.

Many would argue Snyder has some of the best guitar chops in the region, perhaps further. This is true, but it would be an injustice to call him just a shredder. He’s a complete musician, interested in more than how many notes he can fit into an eight-bar solo. Search “Craig Snyder Guitar” on Youtube and witness his skills firsthand. You can see him cover some of his musical heroes--Jimi Hendrix and Steely Dan--or watch some of his originals. Either way, from his flashy solos to his softer melodic moments, you’ll notice it’s more than just notes.

He’s told me, twice now, about an article he was reading in a Jazz education magazine. In the article, a musician is speaking about one of his old professors and he says, “My professor always used to tell me, ‘Music isn’t about music. Music is about life.’” Craig especially likes this quote. He can relate in more than one way because, while he lives through music, Craig Snyder is also an educator.

During the school year he works at FLCC as a guitar instructor and ensemble director. He also teaches guitar and bass at the prestigious Hochstein School of Music and Dance. The time in between school, Snyder also gives private lessons, but summers are aimed primarily at refreshing his technique and gigging.

These are all details pertinent to his career, but these career-specifics didn’t incite much discussion. Craig seemed more interested in ideas rather than his own accomplishments. When we started talking about the atmosphere surrounding local music, Snyder had lots to say.

One main focus was the problems and areas surrounding music which could use improvement. I asked if he liked any local bands, he cited just two: The Moho Collective and Will O’Reilly. He said most local music is, “cookie-cutter” and “copycat” music.

“Is this a problem of demand--no one wants innovative music? Or is it the supply--musicians, for some reason, don’t want to create innovative music?” I asked.

Craig Snyder believes it’s both. First, he cites the most popular radio stations as dictators of musical taste. He believes when you scan through the radio stations, the one with the strongest signal, which translates to the loudest station, has the most influence on musical tastes in the region. Referring to a Frank Zappa quote, he said, “People don’t know what they like. They like what they know.”

We also spoke about the changing business model surrounding a career in music. At only fifteen Snyder realized music would be the way he made a living. Four years later he was on his own, supporting himself through the guitar, through music. Gigging paid the bills, and he had one almost every day of the week in his early career. This is a stark contrast with how things now work. Today, according to Snyder, the demand for live music has changed. People no longer want to listen to the band and enjoy the music, they want it there as background music. On top of that, the internet has developed a culture where everyone wants their music for free, and “venues want to pay the musicians in soup.”

Though venues and audience play a role in a musician’s career, Snyder believes many bands lack imagination when it comes to landing gigs and also cultivating a better musical culture in the Rochester area. “Kids always come up to me and say, ‘Hey Craig, man, how’d you get a gig there? I’ve never gotten a gig there!’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, did you ask? Did you have a promo package ready in case the manager wasn’t there?’” Leaving the question as a hypothetical, Snyder’s facial expression revealed how he doubted the eager-to-gig person had been prepared.

Re-focusing on the positive, Snyder mentioned how it’s important that musicians give back. He believes giving back would help motivate the community to return the favor when a musician is in need. As an example, Snyder mentioned Todd Tarantello, the owner of V-Pub, The Villager, and Pizano’s-- all on Main Street, Canandaigua. Over this past summer, Tarantello re-modeled the back room to the V-Pub, installing a new stage and began bringing in bands from the surrounding area--Roots Collider, Mosaic Foundation, Wonderland House Band to name a few. Tarantello also opened up the stage on most Thursday nights for anyone wanting to come down and jam, even supplying a drum kit, microphones, a bass amp, and some control over the new PA system.

In relation to this, Snyder mentioned it’d be a good idea for musicians to form a “musical coalition” that could provide, “mutual work between musicians and possible venues.” He described this relationship as a two-way street, where venues would pay without hassle, and musicians would be prepared and reliable. Craig had a curiosity as to why there weren’t any young people trying to establish this type of collaboration.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Snyder told me he enjoyed our discussion and was glad I asked to interview him. I thanked him and asked, “Anything else you want to add?” Looking out the window, remembering his historic description of Canandaigua, I wondered whether he would bring the conversation full circle. Then he answered.

“Human beings are going to die. Life is what you make it.” It’s a pretty down-to-earth statement, coming from a man of Mars.