The various kinds of songs I write, record and perform
Over the last six years I have been working on turning poems by two dozen fantastic American poets into indie-rock free-verse songs. The record that resulted from this project is called Pink Thunder. Happily and at long last, today is the official release date!
Pink Thunder comes in three flavors:
There’s a hardcover book version, which contains the CD of all the songs, along with with an introduction by Scott Pinkmountain, an artist’s statement by yours truly, and beautiful hand-lettered poems by Arrington de Dionyso. Published by Black Ocean Books. Here’s what it looks like (cover art by Tony Calzaretta):
There’s 12″ vinyl and digital from The Kora Records, and a pink vinyl 7″ from Howells Transmitter and Black Ocean.
And for those of you in the Bay Area, the record is also available in portmanteau form. Portmanteaus combine a found object display with a digital music player. I made them (Mark Allen-Piccolo designed the music-player circuit). The Curiosity Shoppe in San Francisco will be showing the Pink Thunder Portmanteaus from October 18th to November 18th. There an opening party on October 18th from 6-8 pm. Please come!
We are booking shows around the US over the next few months. We’ll be at the Mission Creek Music Festival in Iowa City in April, and in Boston in March to play at AWP. More shows to be announced soon!
In the meantime, the San Francisco release show is November 18, just after the closing party for the portmanteau art show at the Curiosity Shoppe, at Amnesia. That’s an early show, from 7-9pm.
If you want to know more, hear the music, see a video or some pictures:
You can see the video for “Florida” (poem by Travis Nichols) here
You can listen to Florida” here
You can listen to “Civics” (poem by David Berman) here
You can see some more pictures of the portmanteaus here
//WHERE TO GET IT//
If you want to buy the book, vinyl or digital:
You can buy the book from Black Ocean here (first 250 orders get the pink vinyl 7″!):
or from Amazon here.
Buy the music from The Kora Records here
or from iTunes here
You can buy the pink vinyl 7″ from Howells Transmitter here.
And you can see (and buy) the portmanteaus from 10/18-11/18 here. Here’s a picture from when I was putting in the installation:
Carrie St. George Comer
Brett Fletcher Lauer
Gene V. Baker
On Saturday I spent a few hours playing photographer. I wanted to make a light box to take some photos of the Pink Thunder portmanteaus, so I followed the directions on this blog post at Strobist to make one out of cardboard, tissue paper and posterboard.
It worked out pretty well. The photos still need to be edited, but if you’re curious, click on the photo below to take a look:
Test pressings for the four-song Pink Thunder 7″ arrived this week. This is the first music I’ve ever had pressed on vinyl, and I’m excited! These test pressings are black vinyl, but the real things will be pink.
I’m finding that evaluating test pressings is hard. You have to listen to every pressing and make a note of anything iffy that you hear (pops, surface noise, distortion etc). Then you have to compare that part of the music with all the others. If you hear the same flaw on all the pressings, then it might be a flaw in the original cutting. If that’s the case, that side will have to be re-cut. But, if you hear anything that might be a flaw, you have to repeat the process on someone else’s turntable and system just to make sure. It’s kind of like having Kurosawa’s Rashomon playing in my head constantly.
It’s fantastic to see and hold this first actual evidence that Pink Thunder will be available to the world at large soon. I started this project in the Fall of 2006!
Lots more news to come.
Until then, have fun!
This is from 2009. A lovely, long interview with Leonard Cohen in his house in Montreal. The whole thing is really good, and the very end is pretty great. After the official interview ends, Jian Ghomeshi confesses that he has an incredible fear of death. Leonard says that if the preliminaries aren’t too unpleasant, he looks forward to it.
All day today writing music and preparing for recording in January. It rained.
I’m writing lots of arrangements that have cross rhythms in them.
Here’s a little sample of the kind of stuff I’m talking about:
Q: Did Music Discover Emotion? And What Does that Have to Do with Song Lyrics?
A: “God Only Knows”
The Problem with Song Lyrics
As a songwriter, I think of song lyrics as a specialization within creative writing. Unlike other kinds of creative writing, song lyrics can be excellent even when the writing (taken on its own) isn’t particularly good. It’s a feel you have to have, it’s a sort of creative half-writing. It’s leaving things out. It’s a kind of writing which in some ways is more like conversation than literature.
This is pretty apparent when you take a lyric out of the context of its song. On the page or read out loud, a song lyric will rarely work. The music, too, generally depends on the presence of the lyric to have its full effect.
Separated from each other, the elements of a song usually fall shy of what we consider true literature or music.
Now obviously, I believe that songs are the equal of any other art form. I write them, after all. But exactly how such excellence is fashioned from such humble materials – the alchemical quality of songs – is hard to see. It is perhaps the central mystery and attraction of songwriting, and it is of perennial fascination to me.
It’s not essential to understand these things in order to do them well, and it’s surely not possible to ever fully understand them, but it can’t hurt to try; and yesterday I came across a quote that may just offer a missing piece of the puzzle. It’s from What is Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music,” by Philip Alperson, and it says:
“”emotion” can, in effect, be defined as what music articulates, much as “reality” can be best defined as that which the concepts and grammars of languages can capture.”
Emotion is “That Which Music Articulates”?
The idea is that, just as the discovery of a mathematical order in music led to larger ideas about a mathematically ordered universe; it was music that enabled us to discover, perceive, understand and differentiate our emotional states. At least in the beginning, music may have functioned as a kind of emotional mirror, reflecting back to us our feelings so we could see them more clearly. In the process, it allowed us to name those feelings.
This suggests that without music, we might not know the difference between, say, fondness and love, or anger and hatred. A radical notion, to say the least, and one with something to say about songs as well.
Song Lyrics Only Point the Way
Song lyrics may be free to be understated because the words don’t actually carry the emotions that they seem to. But this is seriously counterintuitive, because we identify so strongly with the singer and the words. It seems like that’s most of what most of us hear! How could that not be the expressive part of the song?
Well, if emotion really is shaped and understood through music, then the words in a song only have to function as pointers. They seem for all the world to express emotion (of course they express some), but perhaps they only indicate the names of the emotions that the music is expressing. That may be enough (and if they did more than that, wouldn’t they then would work just as well on the page as they do in the song?).
“God Only Knows”
How does this play out in the real world? Well my favorite example for this, and a lyric I think about frequently, is by the great Brian Wilson:
I may not always love you
but long as there are stars above you
you never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
As creative writing, this reads more like a Hallmark card than anything else; and yet it’s one of the best song lyrics I can think of. The melody, especially in the last line when he sings “SURE about it,” is so purely, fully expressive of the meaning of the words that it seems impossible to imagine how those words could be improved.
In fact, better writing, in the sense of writing that stands on its own, would probably divide the listener’s focus, and thus paradoxically actually be worse writing.
Put that in your sandbox and smoke it. And maybe listen to God Only Knows Radio while you do.