Saturday, December 13, 2014

A New Beginning

I am opening a private practice!  Starting in December of 2014, I will be taking new clients in Towson, MD.  It will be a general practice, conducting psychotherapy with folks with a wide range of concerns, but I will also be specializing in working with artists, musicians, and creative people of all kinds.  For more information on this focus, see my introductory web page.  My general practice is described here and here.  The link from my profile page will take you to the latest update on my professional blog.

My intention is to keep this blog as a personal creative outlet, so if you know someone who is interested in my professional work, please refer them to the above links. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Too Much Death Can Make You Cranky

My apartment building has 10 units and shares one washer and one dryer. This is usually not a problem.  One recent Saturday afternoon, I started a couple batches of laundry.  After I got the first one into the dryer and the second into the washer, I then unintentionally fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up -- at least 15 minutes after the dryer stopped, I'm sure -- I went down to the laundry room and found that someone had removed the my load from the washer, piled it into my basket the top of the dryer, and started their own load in the washer.

That's just rude, I thought to myself. Is your life really so important that you can't wait 15 or 20 minutes to do a load of laundry on a weekend? So, after tromping upstairs to get something to put the dry laundry in, coming back down, sorting it, loading the wet laundry into the dryer, and carrying the dry load upstairs, I wrote a little Post-It note and took it back down to put on the dryer door: "DO NOT REMOVE LAUNDRY." I also set myself a timer to go off when the dryer was done (45 minutes) so I wouldn't be late. Proud of myself for being such a good boy (by not being more provocative with my note and being more mindful of the dryer cycle), I sat down to work at my computer.

Forty-three minutes later, there is a loud knock at my door; I answer and a small, older woman is standing in the hall, looking impatient. She says, "The dryer is done. I'm waiting for it."

Now, I'm just pissed off. I'm thinking, What's her problem? Still, gotta get the laundry out before it wrinkles, so, keeping my thoughts to myself, down I go; she waits upstairs, also silent, facing out the front door of the building. As I sort my stuff from the dryer, I'm grumbling to myself, thinking about how one could bring such a pestilentially rude person around to the point of view that we all have to live together here and how it's much easier for everyone if we just have a little patience, when she comes down into the laundry room and starts pulling her stuff out of the washer.

I decide to try a softer approach and ask, "What's your name?" She tells me. "I'm David. Nice to meet you," I find myself saying. "You, too," she says. "I'm tired," she continues. "I just came from the fifth funeral I've been to in two months and now I come home and have to do laundry."

Did I hear that right? "That's a lot of funerals," I say. "Yeah. First my mother, then my sister two weeks later, then my niece two weeks after that, then my nephew two weeks after that, then today..." I didn't catch the last person; I was too stunned. "I've been rearranging the furniture so much my kids are yelling at me to leave it alone." "Well, we all cope with loss in our own way," I commented. Listening to my heart break for this woman, I decided it was okay by me if she was a little impatient.

It's a basic human pitfall to assume that "bad" behavior on another's part is due to a personality flaw -- like concluding that she's "a pestilentially rude person" -- rather than considering that they may be struggling with some difficulty. It's a mistake I made that day and I'm glad for the reminder of it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

September 1974

I watched "It Might Get Loud" tonight and was inspired by how these three excellent musicians described how they make their art and how they came to do it.  In particular, Jack White's talk with his nine-year-old self and his comments about how music is often taught in public schools provoked feelings in me about my 12-year-old self taking up viola and I wondered what I would tell myself then if I had the chance.

Of course, at age 12, I had no way of understanding most of what I was going to go through during the next 10 years -- musically or otherwise -- even if I could pass the wisdom of hindsight back to that version of me.  But I realized that I am still struggling with many of the same things 40 years along, so taking a moment to articulate that advice for myself seemed like a useful exercise.  If I am fortunate, I will be more capable of heeding it in my middle- and old-age than I was in my adolescence.

Sixteen Things I Would Tell My 12-Year-Old Self Taking up Viola
  1. This instrument has a beautiful voice.  Let yourself fall in love with it.
  2. To play certain kinds of music, you may need to follow some rules.  However, there aren’t actually any rules.  
  3. You can play anything on this instrument that your skill will allow.  (Go ahead; play Led Zeppelin if you want.)
  4. If you don't have the skill to play what you want, let that be the reason to practice. 
  5. Practice does not require suffering, but it does require effort.  Keep at it. 
  6. It’s okay to make practice fun.  It’s also okay for it to be intense.
  7. Listen for what wants to be played.  
  8. Letting yourself go may be scary, but taking risk is the only way to real satisfaction.  
  9. Make horrible noises.  
  10. Experiment.  Dangerously.  
  11. If you ever start to wonder why you’re doing this, stop what you’re doing and just play what feels good.  
  12. Learn to measure others' feedback against your own sense of what works.  Give yourself time for this. 
  13. Every teacher has something to offer you.  Listen especially closely to the ones that lead you to wonder.
  14. Be inspired.  
  15. Put your inspiration to use.  
  16. When in doubt, go with what feels true.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Maxed Out

Things have been changing around here quite a bit since my last post.  Along with goings on in my personal and professional lives, I've taken a bit of a left turn musically.  As a result of increasing frustration with the bugginess and other limitations of the Moog MMV, I looked into alternative softsynths that would give me greater power and flexibility.  While I was engaged in that search, I serendipitously ran across a reference made by Laurie Spiegel to Cycling74's Max/MSP as one of the only programs that allows for real musical invention, not limiting composers to established tonalities, rhythm structures, or even synthesis models.  Looking into it, I was at first intimidated by the learning curve (and second by the cost), but after playing around with it* during the 30 day free trial, I decided to take the leap.

I've been pleased with the results so far.  The learning curve is steep, but the program rewards jumping in and thrashing about.  Forum discussions are likely to contain basic questions answered by experienced programmers and there are some very excellent tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere for folks like me who learn best by observing.

I have made exactly zero music with it so far.  Part of this is that I have yet to figure out how to implement an idea I have that is especially well suited to Max; another part is that that project has fallen by the wayside as I have become entranced by another, more construction-oriented, project:  the additive synth.  Max's potential for additive synthesis is one of the big reasons why I decided to go with it:  the size and complexity of what one can build is limited only by the processing power of one's computer.  Plus, technically, additive synthesis is relatively simple, so it seemed like a good first project.  Below is a screenshot of the latest iteration (#8).

This version is based on adding sines in the overtone series.  The instrument allows full control over amplitude and phase of each overtone, along with exponential stretching the overtone series (partials are raised to an exponent ranging from 1 to 1.125) allowing the 8th partial to be stretched relative to the fundamental more than an octave.  The fundamental follows a MIDI tempered scale.  What I am enjoying about this project is the appreciation it is giving me of Fourier analysis:  how different aspects of how a sound is constructed change its timbre.  Although this has so far been primarily a learning project, I am now at the point where I can begin to make a more practical instrument out of it.

So what this means for my compositional productivity is that I'm probably not going to be producing much in the near future.  However, as I gain skill with this new program, I expect it will be easier (and faster) to make music with it, so in the long run, I expect it to facilitate my output.  In the medium-term, I have this idea and my work on the additive synth has helped me understand better how to implement it, so maybe soon.

In the meantime, please lend your attention to some very interesting work by a musician I ran across last fall.  All of his other work (that I've heard, anyway) is much closer to straight-ahead jazz, rock, even a little punkish, but this album is mostly about timbre -- and you know I'm all about that.

*PS:  For those who might be interested, there is an open source program that does essentially the same thing as Max:  it's called Pure Data.  I spent a fair amount of time considering it Pd, too, since, being open source, it's free.  I went with Max because it has better support for non-programmers like me, but for those who are unintimidated by geekspeak and open source forums, Pd is a great program. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Taking Flight

The trip home for the holidays this year was made much more pleasant by my (re-)discovery of GarageBand for iPad.  This was especially exciting because it has a few feature allowing the user to record from external iOS synth apps, in this case NLog Pro, an iPad-based synth that I particularly like.  I spent most of the 4 1/2 hour flight west tweaking sounds, building sequences, and recording tracks in GB:  I'm now convinced it's the only way to fly.  When I got home, the results became the basis for this new piece, named because of the sense of freedom and optimism it evoked in me -- and which, in turn, came from the bright anticipation of a week with family and friends.

This was a tremendously fun piece to write.  One of the things I love about NLog is its ability to create easily sounds with complex, scintillating layers of overtones, from shiny leads to rich basses to hypnotic pads.  It is also available for desktop (stand alone and plug-in) which, further, allows sounds created on the iPad to be transferred relatively easily to one's DAW of choice.  The new GB feature allowing input from NLog means that messing around I do that, in the past, would have gotten lost or forgotten now can get moved to my main work application (Logic Pro 9) and actually developed. 

Another iOS app I really like that I used here is Little MIDI Machine.  It's a throwback-style sequencer with great functionality; it is very stable, works well with other iOS synths, and is relatively intuitive.  It's great:  by setting it up to run in the background while controlling, in this case, NLog, I can switch back and forth to either work on sound design in the synth or the music in the sequencer, letting the evolution of each influence the other.

Although it was very fun, I'm a little self-conscious about this piece:  Despite three years of music school (30 years ago), my knowledge, understanding, and feel for harmony is very weak, and the vertical structure of Flight Song reflects this.  It's a very, very simple piece.  That said, sometimes happy feelings are pretty simple:  there was not much need to adulterate my joy with gravity's alloys.  I hope you find listening to it as fun as I did making it.

This work was composed using TempoRubato's NLog Pro, Synthetic Bits' Little MIDI Machine, Apple's GarageBand (all for iOS), Apple's Logic Pro 9 and its native synths, and NLog Polysynth for OSX.