10/25/16

OSOM: October – “I Am A Ghost”

I worked at an after-school arts studio for several years where I taught music lessons.  One evening as we were closing up, a student was walking a cement parking block like a tightrope.  I said, “Hey, you’ve got great balance.”  She looked up quickly, her eyes meeting mine with equal parts surprise and annoyance, and replied, “I’m a ghost.  Don’t talk to me.”  Having no idea what I should say next, I obeyed and walked silently to my car.  I knew that was a lyric for a future song of mine, and now finally here it is.

I had the great pleasure of working with the talented John Read for the cover art this month.  All I had was a vague idea, and so I basically just asked him to put a one minute sample of audio into visual form.  Along with some modeling coaching from his wife, I managed to strike a pose, and John’s skills of lighting, composition, and post-production work did the rest.  It is a literal picture perfect counterpart to the song.  The two must go together for the month’s work to be complete, in my opinion.

This was my first month attempting to make alterations and effects to electronic drums.  I also experimented with layered vocals and delay plug-ins.

I hope it haunts you in the best of ways.

09/29/16

OSOM: September – “Brave”

My early high school years were heavily influenced by punk rock music.  I was the bassist and front man for the melodic punk trio Third Fury. (Note: All recordings were lost at sea, in a great fire, or otherwise destroyed for the sake of all parties involved, so just don’t even ask.)  I loved the raw emotion of the genre, and the blurred lines of creative polish and creative chaos.  I still do love it actually.  Even still today I can find my writing influenced by punk rock.  It’s a faint influence, to be sure, but punk rock is more than distortion and mohawks.

For this month, I wanted to give a subtle nod to that part of my journey.  It is tamed and shaped by my current creative aesthetics, but just enough to feel that edge and tonality.  I also got a kick out of writing most of it while sitting at my new corporate desk job – my way of “sticking it to the man” or something, I guess.  Lyrics, chords, melody, drum beats, all of it from my head to paper, and it actually worked (90%ish at least).

I stretched myself technically by using a four mic technique on drums, recorded on location at my church.  Also, I used a couple new electric guitar techniques which gave me good experience in an area I don’t go to much.

So here it is.  Hope you enjoy!

 

08/29/16

OSOM: August “Negative Space”

Kathleen Norris has helped me a great deal in my spiritual life.  While we are not always on the same page, we certainly speak the same language.  In one section of her book, The Cloister Walk, Norris explores what it means to be a person of faith – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen  (Heb. 11:1).  Her writing and thoughts are beautiful.  I say that because what I happen to be focusing on here are actually two quotes that she uses…but I promise all the stuff around them is great too!

Norris first quotes Anglican bishop John V. Taylor:

Imagination and faith are the same thing, “giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen.”  The whole Bible endorses this, and if believers talked about faith in these terms they would be more readily understood.

And perhaps more influential to me, she cites a term by the sculptor Edward Robinson who speaks of certain encounters as having “an unaccountable remainder…2 plus 2 equals 5 experiences.”

I have experienced that.  The kind of relationship or event or prayer or song or community that is greater than the sum of its contents.  And it is this idea that led me to write Negative Space.  It can be a thing that is daunting, frightening, and even quite depressing.  Absence, vacancy, void.  Those are not terms we find great comfort in.

Yet, as a Christian, I profess to be a believer in this constant negative space that hems me in from behind and before.  To be in communion with the Spirit, the “breath” or “wind” of God.  This negative space is somehow much different.  It is a constant unaccountable remainder.  Although, I might argue, it can indeed be accounted for.

Sonically, my hope was to juxtapose an intimate, up front feel in the verses with a wide, spacious feel in the choruses.  I also tried out several new recording and production techniques.  I varied the mics and their positions on two different acoustic guitars, sang farther back from the mic to get more of the room sound, and manipulated some virtual percussion sounds to create the “bass” and “snare/clap” sounds.

Having walked through this months experience, I feel myself almost swimming through the atmosphere around me.  I almost the air having to part itself to allow my body to move.  Space in the form of physical distance, silence, my sin of leaving things undone, are no longer the absence of something.  They are the presence of life happening between the lines.

I’ll leave you with Deuteronomy 30:11-14,

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

 

03/6/14

Sharing the Creative Process

In a book by Austin Kleon entitled Show Your Work! he contends that the idea of artistic mystery is complete bologna.  There are some that would say the artistic process is a private one, and that to show behind the scenes  is to tip your hand.  Some might say that if the work is explained, it automatically loses value and artistic integrity.  But Kleon argues otherwise.  He says it is that personal vulnerability that lends art a good chunk of its value and allure.

One convincing example, in short, is that when we see two identical works of art, then find out one is a forgery and one is the original, we automatically desire the original and dismiss the forgery.  Although they have the exact same colors, content, and brush strokes, we desire the one with the original person attached.  Because they are the one with the story, the idea, the process, the creativity.

Why else would we care about bonus footage and behind the scenes features on DVDs?  Why else would shows like VH1 Storytellers have been created, and artists agree to be on them?  Why do we get giddy and a sense of ownership over our favorite artists, especially when we get to meet them?  Why are there sites devoted to people talking about the meaning of song lyrics?  We are all searching, craving, longing for that personal connection.  We want to see the story behind the art, because that connects with us just as much (maybe even more so) than the art itself.

It has been a long time since I wrote about creativity or my writing process.  I basically gave up on writing blogs at all.  I doubted anyone would read them, and even if they did, doubted whether they would add anything positive to their lives.  But Kleon and others have convinced me that it’s worth sharing, because it’s really the only thing that truly matters.  So look for a blog soon on the background of the new album, I hope it will shed some new light on it.

08/21/13

Begin in Adoration

Existence is vastly beautiful, wonderfully good, majestically true.  We can only get off on the right foot by beginning in adoration.  All authentic anything has its beginning in a sense of wonder….  If we do not begin in adoration, we begin too small.  If we begin by formulating a problem, by identifying a need, by tackling a necessary job, by launching a program, we reduce the reality that is before us to what we can do or get others to do.

–Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality

I came across this quote while reading a book on Christian leadership by Marva Dawn called, The Sense of the Call.  (As an aside, I would recommend all of Marva Dawn’s work to you.)  The striking thing in this quote is that we are not told exactly what it is we are trying to “get off on the right foot” for.  Perhaps Peterson is more specific about that in the greater scope of the paragraph, chapter, and so forth.  But, with what Marva Dawn gave us, all we know is that it applies to “anything authentic.”  Authenticity is hugely important to me, not only as an artist, but also as a human being.  No one likes to be around people who aren’t genuine.  And when an artist is producing for the sake of anything other than the expression of their artistic selves and souls, it is evident that the passion and power is sucked out of it.  

As I continue in the making of my next album – the goal is the same – but the mindset is evolving.  To use creativity as a means to an end of anything other than authentic art is merely a waste of time.  If it isn’t real, if it doesn’t mean something, if your soul and being isn’t in it, then what is there?  Peterson is clear that the way to achieve this inspiration and direction is to start with adoration.  Perhaps it would be a great thing to begin each recording session or photo shoot or drawing session or dance class with a few minutes to just pause and step back in wonder at the beauty that we’ve been given.  God has blessed us with such a rich and vast array of creative, artistic awesomeness that we mustn’t pin ourselves in with tunnel vision, focusing only on our goals.  We are given the privilege to take part in the craft – and in some ways the duty – of authentic art.  

Would you join with me in the reclaiming of adoration as the necessary first step in the creation of authentic art?