Friday, December 4, 2009

The Real (?) Me program

Here is the program from a concert I presented in Brooklyn. I am very excited about all the performances and I am looking forward to putting on the whole concert again on March 19th at Roulette. Click on the names of the pieces to watch complete performances or click here to watch the concert in its entirety.

November 15, 3pm Douglass Street Music Collective

“Be devoted to the unification of the diverse aspects of yourself.”
-Tom Waits


by Tom Swafford
Tom Swafford, violin
members of the audience

by Tom Swafford
to Suzanne Fiol
by Tom Swafford
String Power
violins:Anna Brathwaite, Mark Chung, Liz Hanley, Tom Swafford, Helen Yee, Jeff Young
violas:Megan Berson, Leanne Darling, Nicole Federici
cellos:Loren Dempster, Brian Sanders
bass:Peter Maness

Times Square Shuffle
by Tom Swafford
The Swizzy Winds
Erica Von Kleist, flute; Sally Wall, oboe; Mike McGinnis, clarinet;
Rachel Drehmann, horn; Sara Shoenbeck, bassoon

18 Germs
by Tom Swafford
1. Fanfare
2. Shitty Fugue
3. Shiny Turds
4. 70’s Car Chase
5. “Pass the God Damn Butter”
6. Crappy Canon
7. Groovy
8. Fuckin’ Fast
9. Doubles
10. Free, baby!
11. Austere, baby!
12. Gently, Delicately
14. Crappy Canon #2
(Proust in his first book
wrote about, wrote about)
15. Pass the God Damn Butter Pt.II (Pass the God Damn Peanut Butter)
16. A Simple Device
17. Awkward
John McDonald, piano

This is the Real Me
by Tom Swafford (with Gelsey Bell)
Gelsey Bell, voice

by The Ensemble
Tom Swafford, violin; John McDonald, piano; Loren Dempster, cello
Mike McGinnis, clarinet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon

Your (so called) 'Music'
by Tom Swafford
Lee Todd Lacks, voice
String Power

Interstate 81
by Lee Todd Lacks
Lee Todd Lacks, voice
Pete Maness, bass
Jeff Gretz, drums

Cracker Jim Crow
by Tom Swafford
lyrics by Andy Mullen
Andy Mullen, banjo and voice
String Power

Much of the text in Hecklepiece comes from comments made to me in various performing or composing situations. I am interested in the psychology of musical taste; what criteria people have for judging the value of a particular piece or genre of music. I am very aware of this while playing in the subway and looking at the expression in people’s faces as I play, for example, a fiddle tune vs. something classical. I’m especially intrigued by the rare instances when a person seems morally offended by my musical choice. The text in this piece also represents my own inner critic. I have recently come to the conclusion that I need to listen less to both inner and outer critics.

I formed String Power in May 2007, soon after arriving at New York. Inspired by my roommate Krista’s extensive CD collection, I first set out to write a set of music in various styles (funk, jazz, old time, thrash metal) and then realized I might learn something by transcribing the actual music. My goal was to showcase the many excellent NY string players and to demonstrate the often overlooked capacity strings have for textures besides pretty, lush backgrounds. Leanne Darling and I do the arranging and I also program my own compositions. Expectorant and Lozenge are influenced by the music we’ve played in String Power. I am dedicating this afternoon’s performance of Lozenge to Suzanne Fiol, the founder of Issue Project Room, who passed away last month.

I wrote Times Square Shuffle soon after arriving in NY and (not surprisingly) it represents my impressions of the atmosphere of midtown Manhattan. The honking of horns and yelling of angry drivers transforms into a original shuffle feel blues tune that becomes less and less hidden. I also quote a bit of Fugue 4 from book two of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. I think that the fugue texture works well to depict hectic pedestrian and vehicular traffic situations.

18 Germs was written in January 2009 for my composition teacher from Tufts and the guy who inspired me to do what I am doing, John McDonald; much of the piece is influenced by John’s playing and compositional style. The pieces can work as is or as jumping off points for compositions or improvisations. I had not written my own music in a while and I felt the need to re-establish my own compositional voice by forcing the music out as fast I could without worrying about quality. This is one reason for the irreverent titles. I am also in the process of working out my aesthetic and, at least for the moment, I am more concerned with broad, spontaneous gestures than carefully worked out music. This comes partly from my experience in free improvisation.

This is the Real Me is like no other piece I have written. It could be about many things and there is a lot of room for interpretation for both performer and audience. For me it is about figuring out who I am as an artist and as a person. The end of the piece is influenced by my experience playing with the folk-punk band Meisce. While I would not call myself punk, I like the joyful and at the same time aggressive energy of the punk culture.

It is this piece that inspired me to put on this concert and the process of working on it has opened up a new direction in my artistic thinking. I now feel like am starting to figure out what I want to say with music. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to Gelsey for working on this piece with me. It would not exist if not for her. It is not the kind of piece that can be simply notated and handed to a performer. Her input and her enthusiasm for performing this piece have been invaluable.

John McDonald introduced me to free improvisation when I joined the Tufts University New Music Ensemble in 1991. Loren Dempster and I played in the Roosevelt High School Chamber Orchestra together from 1989-91 and from 1997-2001 we played together in the Bay Area in the free improvisation ensemble ø24c. I met Sara in Seattle several years ago and I met Mike last year in New York. All four of these people are some of my favorites. To me, free improvisation is more meaningful when you have a history with the people you are playing with. TOJOLO MISA is just my not so clever way of indicating the order I want people to enter and the groupings for the beginning of the piece.

Your (so called) 'Music' is a musical setting of an actual piece of hate mail I received after the last big concert I put on in Seattle in 2006. That concert featured the three improvisation groups I worked with: Doublends Vert, Cipher and The Golden Crackers as well as music inspired by my work with those ensembles. I was both proud and ashamed to receive such a vitriolic response. It does lend itself well to outlandish musical expression. I am very happy to have my good friend Lee Todd Lacks (who I met in 1993 when he joined the Tufts University New Music Ensemble) joining us on this piece, playing the part of the angry letter writer, Brad.

Lee Todd Lacks writes:
Interstate 81 is the title number from a performance piece that recounts my family’s experience of traveling from Cohasset, Massachusetts to New Orleans, Louisiana. This particular piece deals with a late night driving dilemma that occurred towards the end of our first day on the road. As I was writing what some might refer to as a rant, I was inspired by the unique vocal style of the B-52's lead singer, Fred Schneider, whose delivery freely alternates between speaking and singing.”

Cracker Jim Crow is written in the Old Time style. I was introduced to Old Time music while busking in Seattle. Soon after I joined his group Potbelly Gumbo, Andy Mullen turned me on to some great old time fiddlers like Bruce Molsky and I became very intrigued with all the rhythmic subtleties, particularly with the bow hand. I also started to believe there is something more healthy in old time players approach. In a memorable scene from the short film “My Old Fiddle,” legendary fiddler Tommy Jarrell is given a Stradivarius to try. He doesn’t like it. It is not the same as his own, beat-up fiddle that he has had all of is life.

I am finally realizing what most of us already know: I can write whatever I want! I can make my own aesthetic decisions without adhering to any one else’s concept of what is good or bad. What I am asking myself most lately is: What makes music meaningful to me? Why do I write music? What am I trying to communicate? It is not any one particular thing but more of an attitude towards music making that can be applied to any style. For me music is as much about sound as it is about all of the experiences I associate with making music and the people who I make music with.


Gelsey Bell is a vocalist who regularly performs with new music ensemble thingNY and moonlights around with various other music, theatre, and dance groups in the city. She is also a singer-songwriter (and will be releasing her second album In Place of Arms sometime this spring), a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies at NYU, and the Managing Editor of TDR: TheDrama Review. She wants to thank Tom for the opportunity to work on developing this piece with him: it's been a joy!

Hatched from a 1967 Dodge Dart, Lee Todd Lacks came into this world at a time when music was changing forever. During his formative years, Lee Todd spent many hours riding in the back seat of the Dodge listening to his mother’s favorite tunes on the radio. Recognizing her divine obligation to foster the genius of her first-born offspring, Mama Lacks exposed him to only the most aesthetically-stimulating repertoire of The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, Rose Royce, and The Bee Gees. When he reached the age of first awareness, Grandma Alice and Grandpa Dick showed Lee Todd the Way of the Coupe Deville. Under grandma and grandpa’s loving tutelage, Lee Todd flourished, and many years later, he was admitted to Tufts University with the intention of pursuing a masters in ethnomusicology. However, while at Tufts, he fell under the influence of some rather extraordinary characters, who subsequently encouraged his penchant for self talk and clarinet squawk. As a member of the New Music Ensemble at Tufts, Lee Todd began to develop a modest reputation as a performance artist and has since performed at venues in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and now, Brooklyn! He currently resides in South Portland, Maine, with his wife, Heather, and their two dogs, Henry and Eliot. After a long hiatus from the stage, Lee Todd is eager to resume his peculiar practice of speak and music. Lee Todd’s retrospective album, Reassembled, will be released later this fall.

John McDonald was recently promoted to Professor of Music at Tufts University, where he is Director of Graduate Music Studies. He is a composer who tries to play the piano and a pianist who tries to compose. McDonald was named the 2007 MTNA—Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year by the Music Teachers National Association, and received the 2009 Lillian and Joseph Leibner Award for Distinguished Teaching and Advising from Tufts University. His recordings appear on the Albany, Archetype, Boston, Bridge, Capstone, Neuma, New Ariel, and New World labels, and he has concertized widely as composer and pianist. New releases include pianist Andrew Rangell’s performance of McDonald’s Meditation Before A Sonata: Dew Cloth, Dream Drapery, on Bridge Records. Recent performances at the Goethe Institut of Boston and at Tufts have been highly acclaimed. McDonald is a member of The Mockingbird Trio, directs the Tufts Composers Concert Series, and serves on the boards of several performance organizations in New England.

Tom Swafford performs with Emanuel and the Fear and Potbelly Gumbo, freelances with artists in a wide variety of styles and busks in the NYC subways. Current composition projects include Anthropomorphic: The Musical with book and lyrics by Timmy Young presented by The Puppetry Arts Theatre (December 12, 13 at Court Street Regal Cinemas). Tom grew up in Seattle where his musical parents encouraged him to start violin and piano at an early age. He played in orchestras, jazz and rock bands in middle and high school. He attended Tufts University where he majored in music and clinical psychology and studied composition with John McDonald. He received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley where his principal teacher was Olly Wilson. He then studied in Amsterdam for a year with Louis Andriessen. He returned to Seattle in 2002 where he soon joined up with Seattle’s vibrant experimental music community. He also began busking at Pike Place Market and joined the Irish punk band Meisce. He moved to New York in March 2007. Tom received a Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001 and an Eisner Prize (1998) and Hertz Traveling Fellowship (2001) from the University of California Berkeley. He has received grants and awards from 4Culture, Jack Straw Foundation and CityArtist. This is about the 8th full length composition concert Tom has presented since his first at Tufts University (with the encouragement of John McDonald) in 1993.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Real (?) Me

Today in the subway as I was packing up a guy gave me a $20 and wanted change. As I was fumbling around trying to give him a big wad of ones he asked me what everyone always asks me "where do you study?" I suppose to most people I look like a young music school student. Then I explained that I attended Tufts University and the University of California at Berkeley. I don't usually go into too much detail about the fact that I studied composition and not violin performance or the fact that I am actually way older than I look or that I have had a wide range of musical experiences outside of the school setting. Lately I have felt a bit adrift playing and writing in such a vast and often contradictory set of genres- country, rock, musical theater, experimental, classical, etc. Many of us wear these multiple musical hats. But I have been feeling the need to narrow it down and decide which musics (because it could be more than one) are my true voice. So I am presenting a concert of my own music called The Real (?) Me. See my myspace site for a slideshow of the very talented Gelsey Bell rehearsing the centerpiece of the show: This is the Real Me. I like the fact that this slide show appears in the "About Tom Swafford" section. The reality is I'm not sure how much the piece is about me, or if it is about Gelsey, if it is about everybody or if it's about nothing. It will mean different things to different people. I did a workshop performance of it in August and in that situation it was definitely about me. As I looked at the pictures of Gelsey I thought "Do I actually do any of these gestures?" I think there may be a few that I do. The piece consists of musical material (various styles of singing, extended techniques like grunting, etc.) and mime, gestures, facial expressions and audience participation. All of these are indicated in the score, although I have made it less and less specific realizing that it works far better to give the performer a general indication and have her run with it.

We all form opinions of people based on what we see. And everyone has different sides of them that they show in different situations. In every musical situation I'm in - playing pop string arrangements, playing in a bluegrass band, playing in a rowdy Irish punk band, busking, playing at a wedding, writing a musical, playing free improv- part of me wants to show the sides that people aren't seeing. This concert will provide me with the opportunity to show the sides of my musical self that I most want to show. It will be what is, at least for now, closest to my true musical/artistic soul.

Go to for more information about the concert, including links to some of the other performers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

letter received by Tom in February 2006

Here is a marvelous letter I received in February 2006 in response to a concert I presented in Seattle. The concert featured three improvisation ensembles I had worked with over the previous 3 years: Doublends Vert, Cipher and The Golden Crackers; and two compositions inspired by my work with these groups. I hope you enjoy...

Below the letter are some thoughts about the things this letter brings up.


At first, after listening to your (so called) ‘music’ on the 19th at Consolidated Works I was upset that I’d wasted the time and the $15.00. But then I realized the value of hearing the worst example of composing (so called) (or improv or whatever) that I could imagine, because at least it makes me better appreciate actual/real composing. It was embarrassing to sit through it though and see people think they were actually listening to something and applauding. And it was also painful to see otherwise probably very good musicians being gullible enough to waste their time and respect (or dignity etc.) playing it.

Other than sitting through a Junior High Concert once, that was the Absolute Worst music (so called)experience of my LIFE.

Do yourself and other people a favor and do something else with your time.

Otherwise all you are doing is degrading people’s music sensibility.


I had gone to the concert there on the 12th with Karen Pollick (& Sokolov) and thought I’d discovered a sort of Gold Mine to hear (great!) music, but now I somewhat doubt I’ll ever go there again. The guy on the phone who gave me your address asked me if I’d heard the part with the drums and violin. I left before that. (I just couldn’t stand it anymore).

But so what if that drums and violin part was good.

It was probably nothing compared to the dullest part of the previous week’s concert,

and no matter how it was, it would not have compensated for the previous hour of drudgery and ridiculousness.
What was especially aggravating was the droning on and on of notes – such as that 1st thing with the accordion, flute, violin, bassoon and/or oboe etc. I was thinking

“OK, so this first piece of ____ is a drag, I’m sure things will get more interesting.”
But then the next ‘piece’ is the same droning and droning (and also a lot of the clarinet and piano at the start of the 2nd half when I finally just left).

Actually I think that’s sort of an arrogant thing to do to an audience – as if you’re some sort of Buddah (sic.) forcing everyone to endure this boring droning – as if it is somehow ‘meaningful’-
I don’t care how much of an audience might be duped into thinking it is. But even the fast stuff was not that interesting, at least not for me.

(This letter is not about your own personal violin playing. For all I know
you might be a very good violin player when playing actual/real music. And I
didn’t stay to hear the drum/violin ‘piece’)


This letter brings up a lot of issues that a lot of us in the contemporary music world consider from time to time.

At the moment I'm particularly interest in Brad's comment: " if it is somehow ‘meaningful’- AND IT IS NOT." I am thinking a lot about what makes music meaningful.

Brad is not lying. This drone music that we were playing I'm sure had no meaning for him because he had nothing to relate it to. Without some way in to this kind of music (or any art really) it will not have meaning for people. For Brad to assume that because it meant nothing to him it was devoid of meaning from an objective point of view is of course very arrogant and ignorant on his part.

One thing I learned in my undergraduate intro to Ethnomusicology class is that music is not a universal language. A friend of mine at Berkeley told me that her father enjoyed Chinese Opera but hated Puccini.

One of my goals as a music educator is to give people a reference point so that all music can become meaningful.

The "droning" music on this concert was in fact, in my humble and subjective opinion, very beautiful. The trio Doublends Vert (myself with Annie Lewandowski, accordion and Adam Diller, clarinet) had been working together for three years and release two CD's. A self titled CD on Present Sounds records and one on Line called Cistern which was recorded in the empty 2 million gallon reservoir with 43 second reverberation at Ft. Worden. We had developed a way of blending our timbres and creating very slowly developing and subtle music. I had never thought that deeply and carefully about sound until playing with that group.

I hate to admit it but I think that Brad's letter was part of the reason that, when I moved to NY a year after this concert, I decided to form a group to play pop, jazz and folk music arrangements and I decided also to try my hand at writing Broadway style musicals. I wanted to create some music that people didn't hate.

I am proud of Brad's letter, however. I feel honored to have provoked this strong of a reaction. I had a feeling that Brad had been introduced to contemporary music the week before in what was probably a slightly more conventional concert with notated music and probably no drones.

Another interesting thing about Brad's response is, although the concert was rather drone heavy (in addition to Doublends Vert, the Lake Washington Woodwind Quintet performed my arrangement of a recorded Doublends Vert improv) the other improv group, Cipher (me with Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin and Greg Sinibaldi and Jesse Canterbury, clarinets) played some very active non-drone music. And Beth Fleenor, clarinet, and Tiffany Lin, piano, played my composition Dubious Diversions which is very driving rhythmically although, OK I admit, the end was slow.

And Matt Crane (drums) and I of course played no drones but Brad missed that part.

In addition to educating people so that they can gain meaning from contemporary music I am interested in composing music that will have meaning even for people outside the contemporary music community. I believe that every sound is potentially full of significance for any listener. I am not interested in pure sound but in sounds that have associations. They may suggest other music or extra-musical sounds. I like the idea of composing with this in mind.

Of course all music has meaning for the person creating it or what would be the point of creating it? I think about that too though. I want to really write music that is full of meaning for me personally. It's easy to just think of an instrument and start to write a bunch of notes for it. I am understanding more now why my professors had me listen to (for example) every oboe piece I could before I wrote an oboe piece. Every time you write for an instrument you are in some way relating to every sound that instrument has ever made.

I like to write with specific people in mind too. This helps me a great deal to know something about the personality of the person I am writing for.

I remember in my lessons with Andriessen he said he is more interested in ideas than in talking about notes. I would just plop down my scores in front of him and wait for him to start talking. Only now am I beginning to understand the concept of writing music about ideas.

I think as I start to discover my own musical identity I will write more and more pieces with a certain idea I am trying to convey. It might be an image, an experience, a processing of some life event, etc.

I wrote a little piece based on this letter. It's a silly piece but found it very therapeutic both to write and perform. And I think it (like the letter) brings up some issues that are worth considering for composers, performers and audience.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Here is a blog I wrote a few months ago but never published. Who writes drafts of their blogs? Well I do. I don't know who the heck is ever going to read this. But anyway here's what I was thinking back in February:

Last October I took part in a festival at Tufts University (my alma mater) honoring composer T. J. Anderson. Anderson was on the faculty for many years and retired just before I studied there. I performed Anderson’s trio Ivesiana with fellow alum Jason Coleman on cello and my composition teacher from Tufts, John McDonald on piano. The parts are independent so we each had a lot of freedom- it was a piece I could really sink my teeth into. The whole weekend was inspiring. There was a seminar on African American composers during which my main teacher from Berkeley, Olly Wilson, spoke as well as many others. I especially liked what Wilson had to say about his experiences as a composer. Someone asked about racism and Wilson said he and all the other African-American composers (including Anderson) working in the 50’s and 60’s had a “fire in their eyes.” They had to prove that they were just as valid as white composers in an environment considerably more racist than today’s. The act of composing music had an added meaning for them at that time. And of course it wasn’t only in composing but in everything that they did. And, as Trevor Weston (one of my fellow Berkeley graduate students) mentioned, this is something that continues to be an issue.

Wilson mentioned something that resonated with me. He said that the reason he writes music is to express his life experiences through sound. He uses music to communicate something about his life. I have been thinking a lot about how I can write more personal music; music that is true to me. Not every composer considers music so personally. Every composer’s music reflects something about the composer’s personality; but not every composer views music as a form of personal communication. For some composers music is more about ideas, or the structuring of sound.

I am always asking myself: “Why do I write music?” What is the point? What am I trying to accomplish by creating music? I believe my goals are the same as Wilson’s- to communicate something about my life. I have heard that the average person needs to say a certain number of words every day. If they don’t, they can feel blocked up and they may have trouble sleeping at night. I would like to say much more than I say, in an average day. I am fairly quiet most of the time. So I think that music is a way for me to get out what I can’t seem to get out in normal every day conversation. But I have realized that creating music is not the same as speaking and, no matter how much music I have made in a particular day, if I haven’t gotten words out I may still feel unsatisfied.

But creating music does fulfill a need, even if it is independent of the need to speak a certain number of words in a day.

I have written a lot of music that is not really me. I’ve written a tango, quite a few pop string arrangements and I’m working on a musical. I like all of that music but I don’t think it reflects who I really am. Many composers have their public and private musical styles. At some point, all composers have to write for someone else, whether it is a school assignment, a film score or a commission. The trick is to fulfill the obligation while at the same time being true to your self. How do you really know if you are writing what you truly want or writing what someone else wants? Maybe a sign of a mature composer is that he or she is really writing only for him or herself. I used to think you have to consider your audience but maybe I’ll only feel like a real composer when I forget completely about who I am writing for (musicians or audience) and follow only my own musical path. But I hate the idea of alienating an audience. If my goal is to communicate something about my life I want the thing that I am communicating to be clear.

But instrumental music is always abstract. It is difficult to communicate specific ideas through sound. It is of course easy to communicate feelings. It sounds to trite to say that I want to write music about my feelings. Music expresses_________? You can write music about music. you can write music about world events, you can write music about politics, you can write music about ideas, music can be a cultural expression. Music is always a cultural expression- but whose culture? Is it your culture? it a culture that you have appropriated? Is it really you? Is your music really you or are you acting? Are you just playing the role of the composer? What do YOU want? I ask myself that all the time- what is it that I want to write? What kinds of sounds do I want to make?

I got a little write-up in one the Seattle papers that said “Tom Swafford, avant-violinist.” And that’s the majority of what I did in Seattle- play avant violin. But is it who I am? I play a bit of fiddle, a bit of this, a bit of that- but I haven’t delved in to anything deeply enough to call myself a bluegrass fiddler. I can play in the style and sound fairly authentic- although to discerning ears it still will sound like a classical violinist playing fiddle. I have to work to avoid sounding like a classical violinist.
I remember when ø24c (the improvisation group that I played in when I went to Berkeley) performed at Mills College one of the Mills students described our music as “EGO MUSIC.” That was collective improv- but we did all have our own voices and we showed off- it was extroverted at times. There were solos.

I write EGO music.

Boulez says: “Too great a knowledge of things inspires respect in us and prohibits spontaneous usage” So do I have enough knowledge of these styles of music to appropriate them? Or maybe I have too much respect now and my usage of them will not be spontaneous…

While busking- angry lady says “play something else!” I say “what?” “stop playing these silly little songs and play something else!” I was playing Ashokan Farewell. Before that I think I was playing some bluegrassy type of thing.

What she doesn’t understand is that real composers appreciate the simple- in folk music, in popular music- they don’t look down on other forms of music as inferior. What causes this distorted, delusional thinking in people? This disgusting, repulsive flaw in logic that would cause such a ridiculous, absurd reaction to a piece of music? That someone would actually be offended by a piece of music. That any piece of music could actual anger someone is beyond me. But even more so is this idea of taking offense- who is this woman to be offended by “silly little songs”? It’s a form of prejudice- admittedly not as serious as racism but still in the same category. One example maybe the association of something that sounds like fiddle music with hillbillies- backward country bumpkins who are inferior to other people…. something like that….

At Tufts freshman year in discussions with my friend Ulysses I realized that there is no such thing as good, bad, better or best- no such thing. we’re all the same. No one is superior or inferior. But then I went back to Ayn Rand- my dad wrote “trash but provocative” on a collection of her writings… she says there are indeed good and bad quality people. So are there objective criteria for good and bad music? That’s the big question, isn’t it… I say no, it’s all subjective.

LIVING it--- I call playing with Meisce (the folk/punk band I played with in Seattle) and even these other rock bands and all this other music—that’s living it, being in it, being part of it, being an active participant in the culture, in the fabric, even playing on the subway, much better than sitting in a room studying – maybe it comes into the music

I wouldn’t write a piece and say it’s based on Gangsta rap – or some other music that isn’t part of me

that concept I like a lot- taking the essence, one gesture, one element of one gesture, one nuance- what is it about this music that identifies it as this particular genre? what is meaningful? what are people connecting to most- a certain bend of the note makes it country music- something like that- I think about that all the time

also I like DECAY- slowly, naturally, organically, something changes, disappears- but the patterns that this makes, pieces missing, changing, being changed
I like the subway posters that people have defaced too
and I’ve always liked ruins, and what’s called urban decay too
and mold,

part of this natural process- does this make it authentic?

also intuition- letting it out, letting it be what it is

like my friend artist Guido van der Werve’s talk today- the chess players who just look at the pieces, and intuit what to do- based on the visual experience, and based on their feeling- something beyond thought-

and also I liked what Guido said about being direct- simple- simple ideas. without making them complicated and therefore art can become obscure

his ideas, like walking in front of the ice breaker, or his film “the day I didn’t turn with the world” where he stood at the north pole for 24 hours and turned exactly opposite to the way the earth was turning on it’s axis. very powerful- someone could write a lot about the power of this gesture- this act. but it’s the act itself (and it’s documentation) that guido is concerned with.

My friend studied Kurtag as a musicologist. She asked him for permission to write about his music and he said “do whatever you want. I won’t read it. I despise academics.” and so she quit musicology and became a singer instead.

authentic – how can you be authentic- what is real? what is really you?

any time any situation when are you acting and when are you being your true self? or do you have a lot of selves? we all wear a lot of masks- different personas we take on.

but what about music- when is music real?

Some composers are criticized for writing “film music.” What is film music? What makes music film music? These critics are not talking literally about music written for films- they are referring to a style.

Is it impersonal? Written for some other purpose besides expression?

Other composers are praised for pushing the envelope of what music can be-

guess what? I am not interested in that either.

at the same time I am- but it is not what is most important.

I want to distill this authentic music. this bluegrass. this old time. this country. even Manu Chau’s Cladestino (a song I like a lot that I learned at a jam session)

it goes back to a personal expression. emotional. real. authentic.

I am expressing both my own experience and the experience of others in my culture- but what is MY culture? I’m not a member of any culture particularly, especially being a white male. Which is why I want to go to my family reunion in Tennessee. I was disappointed to see that a Swafford was on the committee to discredit Obama’s presidency b/c he submitted a photocopy of his birth certificate- making it doubtful he was even born in the USA and therefore ineligible to become president. But he is president now.

who am i? what group am I part of? what music is really mine? what music do I have a right to appropriate? how can I make authentic music? how can I reflect the multiple musical experiences I have and continue to have in my music? Will it come naturally if I just let it? Is it something that I really need to think about?

and can I write about these things without seeming like an egotistical asshole?

every composer believes they have the potential to write the greatest music ever- they might not have written it yet- but at least the potential. so do I- what I’m trying to do is write music that I like. That I really really like- better than anything I’ve ever heard- because it’s a distillation of all the elements of all the music I’ve ever heard- combined- taking all the elements of all the music I like. But reducing it- not taking a particular motive, or rhythm, or timbre- but reducing it further to the nuance. to the very specific, microscopic thing that makes it what it is. and that thing- that thing is what moves me as a listener.

I’m writing for me. I want to write music that, even if I didn’t’ write it, I would think- gosh I love that. It’s my tastes.

I don’t want to write or play music that I wouldn’t want to listen to.

It is an unattainable goal. Just like Guido’s movie about unattainable goals, like playing every possible chess game. or counting every star, or tuning a piano perfectly (these are the three sections of a movie) and somehow tuning a piano is supposed to relate to building a house on a fault line – darn I should have thought of asking that at the talk- then I would have seemed really smart.