Thursday, July 17, 2014

Step Aside


This is a detail from a piece with the working title "Removing Art."

I've been thinking about how religious subcultures relate to art. One way, one phase, is removing it. This is sad. It can be devastating. It can be small minded and stupid, and often is.

And. . . it can also clear space for something different, something new, like forest fires re-calibrate local ecosystems. Is there a place for book burning? Flag burning? Our most sacred personal, religious and national symbols deserve respect but also reexamination and challenge from time to time. Jesus kicks over the money changers' tables in the temple. Hooray say the artists while the business people scratch their heads or call their lawyers. But...

If I, as an artist, am unwilling to accept the possibility of (let me say it stronger -- if I don't expect and look for) times and places where removing art or music is the right thing to do (rather than making or promoting it), I may find myself in the same boat as the money changers who could not imagine that what God desired might require them to... step aside.

(Please excuse the Melvillian hack of a run on sentence.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Listening to Music Now (Part 3: Critics)

Who tells you what to listen to . . .  or guides you to places they've discovered?
I used to go to record store owners to find new music. One of them made the switch and now I listen to his Spotify playlists. It is now, however, a different experience. Fundamentally. Whereas before I'd save up to buy an album every month or so (or maybe sign up for BMG again and get the free cds), now it's all at my fingertips. An unfathomable amount of music, right there. The fact that our minds are not blown by the landscapes open to us now, the treasure hunting available, is stunning. Once we start to get it we will learn new things, recognize new patterns, invent new ways of describing what we see. This is probably already happening.

This new reality calls for a new type of critic -- one that helps people learn how to listen again, how to look, how to appreciate, how to swim in the ocean.  Before critics were expert guides to particular swimming holes, rivers, or lakes. Some were explorers who visited other lakes and rivers. Some found the sea, but most of us didn't care because we couldn't afford to travel there. Now, however, the ocean is open to many, many more of us, and it's hard to hear the old critics voices over the roar of the waves. But some of them are modifying their boats or buying seagoing vessels. . . and other, younger ones are growing up on the ocean, visitors to the lakes and rivers  that were homes to yesterdays critics. But salt water is different than fresh water -- some skills translate and some don't.

I have a friend in his twenties that I see two or three times a year when I go to Nashville. He's become one of my new music "dealers", a seagoing explorer who comes to shore and shows me what he found since I last talked to him. He sometimes begins with an apologetic, "Well I don't have much for you this time" and then goes on to introduce me to a brilliant singer, writer, song, or even sub-genre. I'm trying to get him to write about what he hears. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Maybe it will work, maybe not. At this point the important thing is that he's out of his boat looking. When he comes to shore he talks to his friends and they talk to their friends. People like him may end up writing... or not. Maybe they'll talk, or tweet, or host television shows -- or maybe (hopefully) there will be another way to introduce people to what they find in the sea, a method that does justice to the kind of change we are undergoing.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


And now, for a brief respite from my ruminations on listening to music! Here's an in-process collaborative piece I'm working at with Christa.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Listening to Music Now (Part 2)

Here's a few questions to get you thinking about how you listen to music now:

Where you listen: on the computer, on hi fi equipment at home, at work. At a music venue, at church.

When you listen: What is your physical and mental state when you listen? Certain kinds of music require mental energy, other types can catalyze movement, but if you only listen in one way you miss a lot.

How you listen: Do you pick it apart or encounter it as a whole? Do you feel it or think about it? Do you disappear into it or launch off of it?

Why you listen: What are you listening for? To reinforce something, stir you, or challenge your reality? Again, it's easy to get into ruts and miss the variety of worthwhile reasons to listen. I've talked to a number of people who don't really listen to music anymore. One of the reasons is that once they outgrew the high school reasons to listen they didn't find new ones. They do exist.

What you listen to: this is where the options have opened up in such a massive way that we really can not yet really understand the change that has occurred. Until fairly recently, unless you had a lot of money and free time your access to the massively varied music that exists was fairly limited. No longer. If you can spend $120/year you have access to more music than you'll ever be able to adequately explore. Genres and subgenres spanning decades, continents, philosophies, emotions. It's insane.