Still Listening

Next week, I will be presenting a little bit of my research at this conference in memory of the great Pauline Oliveros.

Oliveros has left an enormous legacy behind for the improvising and experimental music worlds; in particular, her notion of Deep Listening is, in my opinion, fundamental for any serious engagement with improvisation.

I am beyond excited to be able to attend such a promising schedule of events, and for the opportunity to receive feedback from others working in/around/through/on improvisation.

Here is some more information, pasted from facebook:

Still Listening is a three-day conference of talks and concerts in memory of Pauline Oliveros, the experimental American composer who was a central figure in new forms of music improvisation.

She coined the term “Deep Listening”, an aesthetic that combined improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. An openly queer woman composer, Oliveros was a pioneer in many ways and a key figure in recent American music history.

Nearly all talks/conferences/workshops are free. Evening concerts are ticketed.

Full schedule of events:…/still-listening-pauline-oliveros-commemo…/

Facebook event link:


The One Percent at OSU

Last year I made this booklet to try to get the word out about the Institute for Policy Studies report that ranked Ohio State the #1 most unequal public university in the country. The report shows the clear connection between high student debt, low faculty wages, and the extreme increase in administrative pay (combined with the expansion of university facilities).

I am posting it here, simply because I have not done so until now.

I wrote this with the suspicion that many of the undergrads at OSU do not understand what’s going on–in other words, that it is not just a “fact of life” that college is expensive, but it is rather the direct result of a series of decisions designed to benefit administrators rather than teachers and students. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it is not in much of the world.

Unfortunately, my printing privileges only go so far, and I was not able to flood campus with these. If anyone is inclined, I would be appreciative if you could print and distribute as much as possible. Please also feel free to email me if you’d like to make changes to the text; perhaps if there is enough interest, I will make a general version that is not OSU specific.

(If you do want to print this, make sure to print on both sides, with the “flip short edge” option.)

M/Bake Yourself

People say that baking is scientific, but I don’t think that’s an accurate way to describe baking bread. Baking bread is improvisatory, in that it requires knowing the process well enough to be able to respond when circumstances change.

The state of your starter, the temperature outdoors and in, the time you have available, and other such variables set certain parameters within which to work. You can guess and do alright, but to really consistently perform the way you want to, you have to have practiced enough times so that your muscle memory and intuition can take over. How the dough looks, smells, and feels will tell you if it needs to ferment for a few more hours, or if you need to change the ambient temperature. Even though the process is a continuous, daily practice, it’s never quite the same from time to time.

One of the most significant reasons why I am attracted to activities like this is that they are impossible to do without developing a sustained relationship with the process. There is a kind of intimacy between one’s instrument and one’s self, where, after you’ve spent enough time with each other, you know what it is going to do before you hear it done (and it knows what you are going to do, as well). This is one of the places where our membranes as subjects is the thinnest, when we are most prepared to let things in, to blur the distinction between ourselves and the outside world, which is inside us as we are in it. People can cause this boundary crossing (is there really a boundary?), but so can objects: when you are playing music, you are yourself but also your instrument (as it, by sounding is partially you).

There is no such thing as a single unitary individual; we are incomprehensibly multiple, but there are at least some parts of us that we can know about and reflect on. Choosing what objects to use and what activities to perform with them–very much like choosing which people we spend time with–is a way to intentionally alter some of the multiples that constitute us as humans in the world. Even as I work on my future self by learning how to bake, I am partially becoming my past self each time I eat what I have baked and am made to remember this or that event, or any number of conversations where bread was present, tying itself to my mind.

Allowing other people to experience this as well is one reason to bake two loaves.

New Hands

A little while ago, Aaron asked me to write something for this guitar group. I did, and then they performed it.

I think it sounds really good. What do you think?

Here is the score.

Here is the recording:

From the program notes:

“New Hands is a continuation in a series of compositions experimenting with incorporating improvised elements into the form of the pieces themselves. The first movement is all about single pitches (which are not specified), and the exciting possibilities that can come about when nobody knows what the other performers will play. Limiting the improvisation to two factors (what note and what rhythm) maintains the possibility for melody and harmony (but does not guarantee them).

The second movement is a solo with strictly written pitches, but the guitar is detuned, again preventing advanced knowledge of the resulting sounds.

The third movement specifies only intervals and chord qualities; two parts are the mirror of each other, while the soloist improvises with noise.”

Many thanks to Aaron, Larry, Aditya, and Dennis for playing it.

Fall Happenings

Hi all.

For the past couple months, the TDQ has been hitting the Walrus on Sundays. It is a bit up in the air how much longer that might continue to happen, so don’t miss your chance to say hi (for free) with beer (and free parking) and beer. Also, thanks to everyone who has come so far; it’s been a really nice thing to look forward to each week.

Speaking of that band, the trio version will be playing outside tomorrow (it will be cool!) at this event. There will be food, and it is also free.

Small Songs is recording in a studio soon, so stay tooned.

More on Too and some writing projects very soon.

Pen and Paperweight

In addition to Not Quite (written for a previous gig), Pen and Paperweight are the two songs I wrote for the Mr. Tako set. Both of them are attempts to present one discrete idea in the written music, with the improvisational element stemming from that one idea.

For instance, in Paperweight (score, sound), the idea is about pacing: repetitive, improvised monads are balanced against periods of space in an attempt to establish a compositional balance between the two. For the guitar part, a big part of the piece involves keeping the repetitive ideas on the left side roughly equivalent to the space on the right side, treating both as equal parts of the improvised composition. The drum part is supposed to improvise throughout, responding to this. Finally, there is a written ending to bring a sense of balance to the alternating sections.

This piece combines two approaches to improvisation, each of which stem from the compositional idea of balance and form: in the song itself, the guitar is improvising both what monads to play on the left, and how long each section should be. The drums play a more open role that is both supportive and soloistic.

With Pen (score, sound), the one compositional idea is a relatively quick, flowing chord that is rhythmically interrupted by the dotted eighth notes. Finally, the interruption wins out, collapsing into a chord that sets the tone for a free improvisation. The opening material returns at the end, if it wants to. The improvisation, being open, is only informed by what has come before it.

Mr. Tako

Last week, Aaron Quinn put together a show at Kafe Kerouac with three sets: solo guitar, guitar/drum duo, and Alex’s band Small Songs.

I’m the other half of the drum and guitar band, which is called Mr. Tako. We think the recording came out pretty well, so we have put it on the internet.

The special thing about duo playing, for me, is that it is perhaps the setting that is most transparently improvisatory. What I mean is that there is nothing in standing in between the interaction of the two players, either in the music-making process or in how the audience hears the music. It is easier for the musicians themselves to interact (one is tempted to say ‘communicate’, but I dislike the connotation that there is a conversation happening when people improvise) and it is also easier for the audience to experience the twists and turns of improvised music since there is never really an overwhelming amount of auditory information; it’s just two instruments.

We wrote some music for this gig, three tunes each plus a free song to start. I’ll post a little bit about my charts later in the week. Hopefully, we’ll get to do this again soon.