Autodidactic Asphyxiation

Autodidactic Asphyxiation

New: A seasonal piece of anatomical theater. I put it on Medium, but it’s here in its entirety, too. I will be handing it out to the urchins who knock on my door thinking I might give them my Crunch bars. They never learn. Happy Halloween. Autodidactic Asphyxiation A terminal diagnosis The Anatomical Theater of the Archiginnasio at the University of Bologna. The room is an elegant Renaissance box: varnished spruce floors, walls, and ceiling, with rows of straight-backed benches, now empty of students and spectators. Statues of men stripped of skin stand sinewed and elemental on either side of a central, empty throne. Overhead, wooden angels gift thighbones to allegories of truth and beauty. A peep door near the rafters is provided for the clergy to inspect the autopsies for religious impropriety. The door is shut. In the center of the theater, a white-coated doctor and doctor’s assistant stand over a marble slab, upon which lays a cadaver so dissembled it’s barely recognizable as human. It looks more like an oozing pile of body parts. The doctor’s assistant, also in a white coat, holds a clipboard with a facing page that reads: Initial diagnosis: Autodidactic asphyxiation. DOCTOR: There’s no piecing the examined life together. ASSISTANT (unnerved): Doctor? DOCTOR: Perhaps the unexamined life is the more ‘lived’ because whoever lived it never lathered him or herself up enough to arrive at the futility of post-examination findings. ASSISTANT: What are the findings, doctor? You have dismembered the patient, and so what are your conclusions? DOCTOR: Life is a mess. ASSISTANT (flips nervously through the papers clamped to the clipboard): I’m sorry, doctor? DOCTOR: Life...
Special Thanks: Producers Ben Mink and Michael Beinhorn

Special Thanks: Producers Ben Mink and Michael Beinhorn

Thanks to Ben Mink and Michael Beinhorn, brilliant producers who came to my class at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute to discuss their creative roles in the recording process. Michael told us how he had to send Soundgarden home to write more songs, pushing them to a career high with Superunkown. Ben played us traditional klezmer music, which influenced him early on, and drew a direct line to the chorus of kd lang’s hit, “Constant Craving,” which was then co-opted by the Rolling Stones in their song, “Anybody Seen My Baby?” It pained me to tell them we were out of time. Ben Mink http://www.benmink.com Ben Mink’s wide range of recording collaborations includes Feist, k.d. lang, Rush, Alison Krauss, Daniel Lanois, Roy Orbison, Elton John, Heart, the Klezmatics, Wynona Judd, Method Man, and many more. He has been nominated for nine Grammies, winning twice for his work with k.d. lang. In 2007, he was co-nominated for his work on Feist’s 1234, which gained global popularity in the rollout campaign for the iPod Nano. In 2011, the TV series Glee used Ben’s composition “Constant Craving,” performed by Chris Colfer, Idina Menzel and Naya Rivera. Mink has lectured on such topics as “The Music Business vs. the Creative Process,” at the University of British Columbia, Western Washington University and Simon Fraser University. He has also worked with students as an associate of UBC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (robotics) and is an associate member of the Institute for Computing, Information & Cognitive Systems. Michael Beinhorn http://michaelbeinhorn.com/ Michael Beinhorn’s production has played a primary role in creating career-defining records for artists including Marilyn Manson,...
Yogi Berra Explains Jazz

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz

Don’t know if this is apocryphal, but I have heard parts of it quoted to me enough times that I’m willing to assume that most of it is 90% true. Yogi Berra Explains Jazz Interviewer: Can you explain jazz? Yogi: I can’t, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, its right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong. Interviewer: I don’t understand. Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it. Interviewer: Do you understand it? Yogi: No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it. Interviewer: Are there any great jazz players alive today? Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it. Interviewer: What is syncopation? Yogi: That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they’re the same as something different from...
Back To Songwriting School: NYU, Wesleyan, Yale

Back To Songwriting School: NYU, Wesleyan, Yale

(I’ll be teaching songwriting at NYU, and speaking about it at Wesleyan and Yale (so far) this semester. Here are some of the things I’ll be trying to get across.) Our classroom is tucked up into the third floor of an elegant red brick building with Ionic columns that make you feel smart even if you’re just looking for a place to nap. Fluorescent bulbs hang high in the ceiling and cold formica tables form a rectangle we’ll barely fit around. I’ve staked out the corner near the A/V controls—the projector, the volume knob on the speakers—but otherwise, the layout seems fairly democratic. It was hard to get into this class. Students sent songs and sketches and emailed pleas with logical reasons why it fit with their majors and how they envisioned their lives. I made cuts based on a 50-word petition and a link to a recording of theirs, hoping in each case that I’ve done the Future some service. They fill the room with stickered-up laptops and water bottles and news of dorm room switches and class cancellations. They pack themselves around the table, more comfortable with each other than I am with my own family at Thanksgiving. I will teach them about songwriting. I have no idea what that means. No one stops me. I don’t actually believe in pop songs, and it’s hindered my career as a songwriter. Pop songwriting is a calling, and though I’m touched by it, I never really got the call. Example: I have a friend, Chris, who saw Jesus walk out of his high school locker. They spoke. Now he’s...
In Praise of Bandcamp: An Oasis of Control in a World of Musical Chaos

In Praise of Bandcamp: An Oasis of Control in a World of Musical Chaos

While streaming services battle it out for the heart and mind of Taylor Swift, there’s a place where creators can post all their music, and whatever else they’ve made, quickly, directly and on their own terms. It’s Bandcamp. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s cheaper than iTunes (if you choose to set the prices that way); the downloads import into Spotify playlists; and you can get high-res versions just like Tidal. But most important, if you download something, Bandcamp lets creators know who you are so you can stay in touch, just like…well, none of them. I suppose you can argue that downloading is “antiquated,” or something, but having a connection between buyer and seller is not. Those big streaming services call that connection “Big Data,” and having that connection is what values them in the billions. That’s the very “not antiquated” element to a Bandcamp purchase. You know that’s why none of the other services help us stay in touch, right? Basically, they’re jealous. Yes. They’re insecure that if we know each other we’ll get together without them. And you know? We might! That’s the whole point of “discovery,” isn’t it? To let us discover a) what we like and b) who likes us back? Can you imagine if Tinder had been set up so you could swipe right on someone, but they’d never find out…ever? That’s what it’s like to be an artist on a streaming service. Could streaming services change that? Well, considering Taylor Swift sneezed and Apple changed its entire pricing structure, I’d say yes. Until then, consider this: Whichever streaming service doesn’t facilitate the...
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