five (click on title to listen)
full of it . . . love, that is
The “NYT” in the above title is an acronym for “New York Trilogy.” Paul Auster has already done a far better job with supplying content for that title than I ever will, but I was loathe to give it up. So I appended “My” in the hopes that I was making it clear that this was a personal take on the title alone and not on Auster’s great work. Just to give a little more flow, I abbreviated. These three pieces were the best I could do at expressing my experience(s) in New York City back in 2009. No, I did not grow up in New York. Yes, I wanted to. With all my heart I wanted to grow up in this place. And yet, when presented with the opportunity to move here, I turned it down. Twice. I could’ve gone here for college and I turned it down. I could’ve moved here after college, but I didn’t. I’m still not sure of the exact reasons, but I think what it came down to was that I was scared. Scared of the intensity of this place, scared that it wouldn’t be everything I hoped it would, scared it would embitter me . . . the list goes on forever. In the end, I finally got the chance to move here in 2004. And I moved here when it felt like there was literally nowhere else in the world I could be and have the things I wanted (like: music, my wife, other artists) but here. I am glad I moved here. New York City is far better and far worse than I ever could have imagined and it’s definitely changed me in unanticipated ways. “five,” “full of it . . . love, that is” and “starfuckers” are the emotional ventings of a hypersensitive self and I hope the melodrama of these pieces isn’t overbearing.
“five” is for the 5 boroughs of New York City
“five” is the first digit in the time signature of 5/8 . . . playing in odd-time signatures had been something i’d successfully avoided until I moved to New York and had to grow up
“five” is for the 5 cells in the opening bass clarinet line that are each composed of five notes
“five” has an audible illustration in the ‘B’ section of a game i used to play with prime numbers when i was a child
“five” is a beautiful number because it is so awkwardly prime
“five” is 3 improvised solo statements intersected by 2 composed statements and finished with a small composed epilogue
“five” is a track that took me and the engineer Andrew Felluss a loooong time to stitch together because none of us in the band (& most especially me) were able to get through the tune in a single take
“five” has really epic and awesome improvisations from both Mike Pride and Jonathan Goldberger
“five” is 6 minutes and 24 seconds in length.
“full of it . . . love, that is”
This was my best effort, at the time, to creatively deal with the frustration that comes from feeling overlooked. This is an especially hard feeling to deal with when you’re a New York City transplant because, by definition, you are someone who probably wants to be noticed. In particular, this song is about the feeling I’ve had of being overlooked by the avant-garde community. The avant community is prone to the same fixations, patterns, propensities as any other, and that’s always troubled me. Frankly, because I haven’t fit into this community’s unconscious needs. The particular need I’m speaking of is the one about proving one’s bona fides by filling all available sonic space with shudder-inducing sounds. I can make strangers shudder with the best of them, but I’ve never wanted to exclusively confine myself to that. And I haven’t. The upshot of this is that I’ve felt a palpable sense that I’m not ‘hard’ enough for the avant community. “full of it . . .” is my response to that. My sense is probably totally imagined and my own personal issue, but it’s weighed on me enough to produce this piece of music. But it was really important to me that this piece not simply come from a place of angry frustration. I really did want its foundation to be in a feeling of loving respect for the history of skronk. So it’s most immediate ancestor (that I’ve discerned) is probably this piece.
The form of this piece is very simple: head-solo-head. But the sonic details are worked over a bit more. First of all, I’m playing a ‘prepared’ saxophone. It’s something I experimented with several years. I stuffed a thunder tube into the bell and clapped on top of the bell a small, Chinese gong. I then clamped down 2/3 of the keys on the horn with the aid of these. This freed up one of my hands to raise and lower the gong, but also kept most of the tone holes closed so that the preparations made an audible difference. Essentially, I subverted the horn and created a machine that makes sounds I have no ability to predict. It also vastly limits what I can do on the instrument. And it’s a bitch to mic. So it was perfect for this piece.
In addition, I spent a lot of time moving the sonic textures of the blowing section inside the stereo field when I was mixing. That’s because the last thing I wanted to hear was another, run-of-the mill, “fire-in-the-pet-store.” It’s the single most overused trope in avant-garde music (outside of the start-quiet-get-loud-end-quiet trope) and it was the thing that most worried me about this piece. In a nutshell: once Coltrane recorded Ascension, no one could do that again. I mean, you can do it again, but it’s just not going to convey the shock of that initial happening. That moment is long gone and never to be repeated in that way again. But I wanted to use something like the form of Coltrane’s piece, with some added kineticism. Generally, when one hears a piece like this performed live, there can be all sorts of fascinating spatial interactions happening with the sounds. For example, as one sound gradually grows louder, it can literally emerge from the static field of noise one is observing. This is something that gets completely lost in a recording of this type of event and I wanted to induce this kind of depth in this recording. Frankly, because it’s often the only thing that can keep me interested in this type of music. So Andrew and I spent more time than we should have working this piece over. Me standing behind his shoulder and telling him when to make a particular instrument louder and then quieter, when to move a sound from left-to-right or vice versa and how quickly. It was . . . tough, but I’m really, really glad we did it.
A tender ballad with an obscene title. That really was the genesis of this song. Sophomoric? Sure. But it got the job done. That is, it was enough inducement for me to write this thing.
But I think that’s too glib. That’s not really what generated this bit. This piece is me attempting to do the impossible, to forgive. To forgive all the things that gnaw at me every day that i live here: the people who don’t return my calls or emails, the people who don’t come to my gigs, the people who wouldn’t check out this music the first half-dozen times i sent it out into the world, the people who hear me play and just don’t seem to care, the people who are never going to hear me play, the people who don’t give me a chance, the people that gave me a chance, but then gave up, the . . . It’s not what people do to each other that gets me so much as what they don’t do. And I can’t seem to get past that. So I was angry when I wrote this piece. Very angry actually. But I was also trying so damn hard to just let it go and let the anger pass. Even though I know I’m going to get angry again. About the same stupid shit again. And that’s what I figured out from this piece. I am, to the best of my ability, going to forgive things that happen to me every day. No matter if those things are real or imaginary. And then I’m going to go to sleep. And when I wake up, I’ll do it all over again. The forgiveness i mean. It’s going to be a daily, repeated activity. I’m not going to forgive something and then be done with it forever, I’m going to forgive something and that will tide me over until the next time it irritates me. I will forgive, but it doesn’t seem to be in my nature to forget, so I’m just going to have go on forgiving and get on with it . . .
And at this point, I have to ask you, the readers, to forgive me, but I simply can’t bring myself to explain any more of this piece. I want to leave a tiny amount of mystery in this album. Writing these essays has been . . . demanding. Primarily because I just never wanted to explain this music to anyone. I wanted to let every listener work things out on their own. But events seemed to ask otherwise.
If you’ve read even a few of these sentences or listened to a few seconds of this music, I want to thank you. You gave me your time and that stuff is more precious than ever these days. I’ll never know if you felt it was time well spent, but what I really hope for is that you remember something from all these . . . missives.