Fallon Braddy

On the Love of Fear

This is a creative essay I wrote on September 12th, 2018 and have since revised a few times. I hope you enjoy a change of pace for the blog this week. All the art is thoroughly credited and linked, please follow and support the creators. Happy Halloween Month, everyone. -Fallon

I often think back in fondness to the days I feared the dark. Though it is not too far removed from the glory of anxiety we laud and proclaim from our public platforms, there was a certain magic to it, not unlike any other childhood fondness we carry.

Gazing into the patterns of the bedroom carpet, I was shocked at the sight of grotesque eyes that would materialize above slavering maws. Their glares, brimming with unknown malice, were always directed straight at me. I’d swipe away at the fibers to shoo the apparition and then, whether empowered by my triumph or compelled by nervous skepticism, I’d call it back by another inverse passing of my palm. With its return, I would reciprocate the gaze, wide-eyed and contemplative.

The dark.

My wandering mind finds a foothold could give this demonic rug rise to a tangible power. If the lights burnt out at that moment: my own room, which I had navigated many times with my eyes shut, would betray its own familiarity and give this malevolence permission to consume me. This realization would be what triggered the adrenaline in my growing brain to stir me off the floor in a panic, fleeing toward the safety of distraction. Later that evening, when it would be time to sleep, my synapses would alarm once again the memory of my apparition and I’d ask my mom if I could watch the TV to fall asleep.

I would then grow older with a case of Stockholm Syndrome toward spooky media of all sorts. Casper the Friendly Ghost acted as a liaison on behalf of Scooby Doo, the Addams Family, the ghost house levels in Super Mario World, and, the flagship of all things haunted and frightening, Halloween. Growing older I’d still find a wretched pit in my stomach coming across dimly lit halls or hearing unexplainable groans in the house, but overall it would seem I had made a treatise with the lowest levels of the unsettling forces at work in life. 

Image  by Chroma’s own Violeta Brodie ( @violetabrodie_art  on Instagram) for Inktober 2018.

Image by Chroma’s own Violeta Brodie (@violetabrodie_art on Instagram) for Inktober 2018.

Entering into my teenage years I would delve deeper into my alliance, now under pressure to impress horror-movie obsessed girls. With that, new affinities for disturbed things arose: the likes of Xenomorphs, zombies, Poe’s House of Usher, and how to combat the ever-present oppression of Hell in light of my newly discovered Christianity. I was constantly finding new contexts in which to bend these forces of fear into a posture of impotence.

Now as an adult, scars of a familiar panic might puff up in moments of 3AM paranoia, but they are quickly deflated by my understanding. The details of a semester-long psychology class have all fleeted, but the one remaining was by far the most practical. Tied to the study of evolutionary psychology, we can infer that fear is an instinctual response to stir up our longstanding natural defense mechanism known as “fight-or-flight.” My human ancestors can still be called that because they would search for eyes gleaming in the black of night, knowing that leaves shuffled nearby could mean certain death by a violent predator, or worse, fellow man. The mere possibility that something murderous could be out there would stimulate survivalist sensibilities and aide my ancient predecessors in making a stealthy escape or arming themselves for defense.

The further the existential camera pans back, it seems the threat of spiritual and primal fear shrinks exponentially with the passing of time and the gathering of knowledge. There is an awareness of a privileged life that sits with me; I have been faced with nightmarish violence, but have far less trauma than many who might say violence defines their reality. They need those elder brain instincts to push forth, often their only reprieve to tend to their bleeding or pay respects to a grave they never wanted to dig.

Image  by Chroma’s own Bradyn Sidwell ( @beedrawscomics  on Instagram) for Inktober 2019.

Image by Chroma’s own Bradyn Sidwell (@beedrawscomics on Instagram) for Inktober 2019.

A tower of anxiety looms at the crest of the long hill much of humanity has climbed in order to overcome “mere survival.” It is maddening to the unbraced mind, reinstating that previously harmless Stockholm Syndrome, making us compliant to the oppression of our limited perception. Now we find comfort and safety in the “tension-into-jump scare” routine during slasher films, as we ritually summon anxiety daily life as if surrounded by its hypnotic triggers. Anxiety is widely celebrated through Internet sarcasm, Friday night binge-drinking, all-day Saturday video streaming stasis. It is taught by frustrated, vindictive parents; cunning, gluttonous industries; the guillotine of success standards decreed by modern society. Survivalism is found once again but at another octave of quickening frequency.

Not unlike the steadfast striving for peace by gurus and saints, fear pervades and adapts throughout time. That is why I long for those hands. The ones that were surely reaching for my heels as I evaded the shadows from the curb, feverishly attempting to take out the kitchen garbage. When fear was theoretical its boundaries were somewhat arbitrary. I hardly ever considered how driving any highway, night or day, was much more dangerous than being alone in the house. There were colorful spirits that told corny jokes, rather than inner voices that devalue self-worth, convincing us that it’s fine to leave the house some other day. At the crux of mystical dread, exorcism was a tried and true defense; now faith is all we have against doubt. 

We may cling to hope, tendons tired, nails dug in deep. But we are still clinging.

Inktober and the Creative Challenge

Look. I know it’s still September. But if Wal-Mart gets to put up the spiderwebs and skeletons, then so do I. 

IT’S HALLOWEEN TIME EVERYONE.

Today’s visuals brought to you by Chroma’s own,  Bee !

Today’s visuals brought to you by Chroma’s own, Bee!

Over the last few years, I’ve come to celebrate October more and more. The leading source of inspiration for me isn’t as much the holiday as it is a creative event that has sprung up thanks to the internet called Inktober. For the uninitiated, Inktober is a month-long creative challenge for visual artists who are given a one-word prompt daily, from which they are to conceptualize and draw in physical ink. It’s a huge hit on Twitter and Instagram, with a near-endless stream of archived work you can find via #inktober on the web. 

As the challenge has gained greater participation each year, many visual artists have come to adapt it to their own styles by removing the ink-based restrictions and changing the name to “Drawtober,” even going as far as to create an entirely different set of prompts (I like how this pays a sort of unspoken homage to Inktober’s legacy). Thus, Inktober’s explosion has set off a chain reaction of art challenges that I think will only grow greater in the near future.

bee double.jpg

Last year as I anticipated voraciously scrolling, gawking, and bookmarking throughout the upcoming ARTtober season, I wanted to be a part of the fun despite my inability to make any sort of visual art (I don’t count editing and arranging my own album art). The idea to work within one of my own mediums occurred to me, then a name came to me like a bolt from the blue: Scrawltober. That month I did my best to follow the Inktober prompts with my abilities as a creative writer. I wrote short stories, haikus, letters, I re-told dreams, all totaling to around 22 pieces, where I fell off at the end. It was a thrill and a confidence booster to see that I was capable of writing even without a mystical encounter with inspiration. It planted the seed in me for what would become a drive toward understanding the perfection of craft, now a common theme for my blog writing. 

The dog toy lay, slain

I heat up some leftovers

He gets a treat, too


“Exhausted” Scrawltober 2018, Day 6

Creative challenges are fantastic. They encourage you to do the most effective thing possible when striving to become a more prolific artist: get your hands dirty and make something. Sometimes the works born of these challenges become full-fledged works that people sell (see Chroma’s own Bee and her fantastic 2018 Inktober journal zine), other times the pieces are left incomplete or as a flawed, essential stepping stone in your creative journey. Whatever the case may be, if this sort of creative movement inspires you, if it challenges you, go for it. No matter what your creative medium might be, ARTober is for everyone. If you need a cool name, use Scrawltober, Dronetober (music), Sculptober, Knitober, Photober… whatever inspires/terrifies you the most.

Savoring Secrecy

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Consider today’s topic, embracing the personal nature of art, as an extension of my last post, Immersion in the Micro.

What happens to the secondhand exercise equipment that's never sold off at thrift stores? There's a tragic narrative in there: an optimistic person who's financially well-off enough to decide they need to focus on their health; they buy exercise equipment, maybe give it a few tries, but distractions come by or their initial enthusiasm waned. Thus, the equipment is placed in storage for years before being relinquished to a donation center where our once-lauded tool to fight lethargy and poor health sits defeated and unwanted until it is deemed a nuisance even at an extreme discount. It is eventually turned over to humanity's mass grave of good intentions: a landfill.

Take this as analogous to artistic ideas and I think we have a dead-on fit for those ambitions which are devoid of any spine for the creative process itself. We might get an incessant itch for a concept album, an experimental piece, or the fated "something no one's ever done before," and in a flash, we are dreaming up crowds of onlookers and reviews of high-esteem. It's only natural to get excited about these sorts of things, since as independent artists we often feel stuck on the side of the onlooker and not the awe-inspiring creators we admire. Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and equally prone to being abandoned, forgotten, or short-lived.

How do we salvage our aspirations? Many ideas and desires arise within us without any attempt to foster them, sometimes to the point that we can feel burdened with having our dreams unfulfilled, or perhaps we feel guilty for being too lazy to bottle those lightning strikes. But like I said before, I think reaching for accomplishment in and of itself is where the trouble lies.

Look to the life of Emily Dickinson, who has forever shaped modern poetry not through a business-savvy spirit, but through dedication to her craft. Her work almost entirely composed in private, being shared only to a select few whom she trusted. Dickinson only ever published a couple poems and openly resented the process of piece submissions. She rejected conventional wisdom to seek mass approval and committed herself to writing the words she believed in.

Let us also take a look at Vincent Van Gogh's artistic journey in brief. A failed art dealer turned failed missionary who was afflicted heavily with mental and physical illness, Van Gogh was also an immensely prolific artist, producing over 2,000 pieces of art, only a few of which were received by the artistic community during his life. Like Dickinson, his work was posthumously discovered, and only then was it properly understood for the value it brought to humanity and the world of art.

Van Gogh died in sickness and poverty, and suffered a great deal more consequence for not selling his art when compared to Dickinson (who lived a quiet, secluded life through her family's wealth). For our purposes though, we can look to these artists and see that their great works and influence came not from chasing praise from the world or even from their somewhat extreme life circumstances, but from sincerity and dedication to their work.

I talk a lot about the creative process because I want people to focus on the actual act of creating; publicity, patron engagement, even performance comes later (with some exceptions regarding improvised art or performance art). Sometimes jokes do become successful artistic expression and sometimes entrepreneurial genius is a matter of capitalizing on a bolt from the blue, but we can't make that our foundation if we want our art to yield any depth of expression or substantial creative contribution to the lives of others.

You don't have to throw away your unsubstantiated ideas (I even suggest making a list to keep track of them), but be mindful of your attitude regarding them. When you actually try seeing one of your ideas through once in a while, relieve yourself the pressure of success/failure; see where it goes and enjoy it!

Immersion in the Micro

We have a short video to start off today’s class.

This goofy scene from the dark comedy Frank had me laughing to the point of tears the first time I saw it, but, oddly enough, I was also moved by it. There’s something genuine about the creative process tucked away in this parody of the clichéd “band makes an album at an isolated cabin in the woods” scenario. Throughout the film, you see the titular Frank character write narratives for the most minute, overlooked objects and instances within our world. That one liner about the door? There’s a music video for what came out of it (a deleted scene from the film, so minimal spoilers). If you listen intently, I think you’ll see how that inspiration comes through.

Creatives and patrons of art have a lot to gain from focusing on the intricate details of an art piece. I’ve written about being an intentional listener quite a bit here on the blog, but this type of observation is less focused on the intellectual close-reading of art (seeking depth and meaning) and more so on the intuitive, sensual, contemplative appreciation of minutiae in the world. We are often driven to the macro (completing a long hike, striking the big deal, harvesting food from the garden) and as a result, we gloss over the micro (the glimmering water droplets on a spider’s web, learning something new about a co-worker’s childhood, the delicate resilience of freshly sprouted shoots).


I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there ’s a pair of us—don’t tell!

They ’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

-Emily Dickinson, 260

The legendary poet Emily Dickinson embodies this dedication to micro over macro. If she sang songs, we would never know; of her paradigm-shifting catalog, only a handful of poems were ever explicitly intended to be shared with anyone other than one or two other people. She observed and explored the birds, bugs, flowers, death, and intimacy that she encountered. Poetry was the wondrous byproduct, not the intention.

In this age where so many humans are thrown into the digital public platforms of social media, the pressure to produce an enthralling image, profound idea, or captivating experience has never been greater. As we seek more and more to proselytize the mundane, we often overlook the truly profound nature of its being. Don’t rush into beauty; meet it with patience and curiosity. Instead of rushing to learn a song you can play at an open mic tomorrow, take your time over the week to feel out the heart of the song, its accents and tonal nuances, and come back the following week with a piece you’re deeply connected to and a journey of creative exploration worth sharing. 

I think Sun Baron says it best:

A meadow 

What are you talking about? 

I’ve got solace tonight 

And it was so hard to find 

All you do is talk and talk and talk all the time 

No it doesn’t seem right 

What are you doing here? 

Get it all off your chest 

Give your soul some rest 

Just learn to sit still 

And just root like the trees 

With the moss and the leaves 

You are golden now

-Fallon

Sun Baron and "How to Be"; an Interview with Justin Rose

We have a lot of hard-working creators on board the Chroma train (#noflex). To be prolific in your craft is not only to do something well, but to do it repeatedly, earnestly, whether it’s effortless or exhausting. As a huge fan of Justin Rose’s band Families for around 4 years, How to Be caught me by surprise (I mean, I didn’t even know who Sun Baron was supposed to be as I saw the name crop up on the Broken Light production list.) I was surprised not only for the album being an impressive new sound for Justin, but in showing me that even after hearing dozens of songs that he had some central part in writing that I can still be enlightened and inspired by my friend. Today’s interview dives deeper into the wonderful substance of this wonderful album.

Fallon: Without the posterity of dicing up genres here, I want to say I'm really in love How to Be's melodic emo song structure being partnered with minimal folk arrangements, making nods to artists like Julien Baker or Now, Now Every Children (once the bells come in on songs like "Honest.") I'm curious to hear about your process for crafting the sound of this record: how much of a role did musical references and influences play to form this gentle-yet-emotive record?

Justin: Honestly, I didn’t have any musical references in mind when creating the album, but one of my biggest influences has always been Red House Painters. I think they are a perfect example of what I am trying to do. With this album, though, I was more interested in figuring out how my writing style would translate to a “full band” sound. The writing process was very similar to the folk songs that I write, but I just recorded them on electric [guitar] and added drums. I listen to mostly indie rock and emo, but I write folk songs. I haven’t really listened to folk in many years.

F: How to Be makes arguments for a slower, more appreciative approach to life in spite of busyness and the passing of our short lives. What moves me most is in the message's taking root in humble environmental observations alongside vulnerable and personal life stories. The delivery is confident and these devices are often intertwined. Do you feel there to be an importance in associating the narrative of your life with your environment? How deliberate was your inclusion of these inspirations?

J: The connection between nature and my personal narrative was very intentional. First off, we are all products of our environments. This is in both positive and negative ways. Acknowledging and accepting that can lead to greater understanding and personal growth. Secondly, I was thinking a lot about when Jesus told the people that birds have everything they need and yet they don’t sow or reap and that flowers do not work yet they are clothed in splendor. Nature can teach us a lot about God’s faithfulness and how he is the Sustainer. Third, I wanted to learn to be still like an oak tree, learning how to exist well where I am, sending down deep roots. 

F: Those who are familiar with Sun Baron but not with who you are (being Justin Rose) might see the tag "writes too many songs" and be slightly underwhelmed at the 7 song tracklist; those familiar with you know you have more than 3 full-length albums and 3 splits recorded with your band Families, as well as another album coming up with Junia. What motivated you to begin writing songs under the Sun Baron moniker, as opposed to with Families or Junia? How has your creative process differed when it comes to Sun Baron?

J: Families songs are more stripped down, have folky arrangements, and are usually based on Bible stories. Junia is a pop-emocore band that is vaguely political. I found myself writing some songs that did not really fit the feel or content of my other bands, and so I decided to record a “solo” album. The writing process is a little different because no one else was involved in the orchestration or lyrics or feel. The process was also very different because I started writing songs with personal stories in them. Even though I’ve been writing songs for about 18 years, this is one of the first times that I am telling autobiographical stories (or at least partially autobiographical). It’s much harder for me to write songs about my own feelings or thoughts or memories than it is to tell someone else’s story. Also, there were a lot of songs that I decided not to record and put on the album. I thought that these seven songs summed up what I was feeling and thinking at the time.

F: Now that How to Be has had over a year to ruminate as a released project (and even longer as a project in your head), have your feelings on what you've shared developed or changed through the finality of release, or perhaps through feedback from listeners?

J: Some of these songs have been around for 6 or so years. I almost view this as a compilation of songs about learning to slow down and be in the moment. I like the album a lot more now than I did when I put it out, and I think that it really captures well what I was feeling and thinking. I was really against having “A Meadow” as the opening track, but I took the advice of a friend of mine and, of course, they were right; I think that song was the right one to start the album. I have been really encouraged and blessed with all of the positive feedback. Many people have told me that they have been learning similar things and are trying to slow down in order to see the people, blessings, and world around them.

F: Though everyone reading this BETTER have listened to How to Be prior to its one year celebration, if you had to recommend one song off the album to a new listener, which song would it be and how does it represent the album as a whole?

J: I think the song that best sums up the album is “Yellow House.” It’s about this house that I used to see all the time when I lived in Detroit. The roof was almost completely gone and there was a humongous tree growing through the middle. The tree must have been at least 40 years old. This song blends my story, what I’ve been learning, and nature imagery to stress the point of learning how to just… BE.

F: And not to contradict savoring the present moment, but as our last question here: what Sun Baron goodness do we have to look forward to, as well as any other projects you want to share both within and outside of Chroma?

J: Families hopes to record a new album sometime soon. We have about 16 songs to sift through to create an album called Mother, which consists of stories from the Bible about women. Junia has an album coming out soon called Everything’s a Canyon and is about the importance of understanding each other and collaboration. As for Sun Baron, I have been writing an album called Tender Shoot which is a bunch of stories from my life that all deal with different wants to understand the metaphor of a garden. Right now there are no plans to record, but I have played a few of the songs live.

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You can listen to Sun Baron’s How to Be on Spotify and the usual streaming places. Download the album for pay-what-you-want over on Bandcamp. And if you want to catch Sun Baron live, catch upcoming dates over on Facebook.

Why Do We Sing? Reasons for Art, Revisited.

I wanted to live, so I pretended to die.

I had to shut down cash out and get buried alive.

Out of the black and into the daylight

You had to dig me out, dust me off and pull me off the cross and

Break me back open, break me back open, look inside

Break me back open, break me back open, shine a light,

It's gonna be bright

Veruca Salt, “The Gospel According to Saint Me



I just got back from a trip to Sacramento, CA with my family to catch the reunion of one of our favorite bands, Anberlin. The Tooth & Nail alt/emo rock alumni had just wrapped up their “final tour” in 2014… T-shirts were $25 and PBRs were $6, marking a strong odor of “cashgrab,” but their performance was truly alive. The lead singer, Stephen Christian, was climbing into the crowd to sing with the sold out venue, pulling fans onstage and giving them a microphone, turning trivial banter from the crowd into heartfelt, irreplaceable moments. They played for two hours spanning their discography, rocking deep cuts and old songs alongside fan favorites and radio singles. 

At the one-hour point, Stephen spoke about how the break from Anberlin had given them a chance to rediscover their love for performing, for their families, and for their understanding of what it means to have a positive, impacting platform in a cruel, dying world. Personally refreshed and motivated to make a difference in the world however possible, Anberlin is here to stay.

This speech caused me to think deeply about the struggles musicians have against the “non-music” sides of being an artist, particularly as it pertains to developing and satisfying a projected ego. Take, for instance, Anberlin’s alumnus status as a Tooth & Nail band, which often garners assumptions from listeners that Anberlin is a “Christian” band; juxtapose that with the PBR statement I made and I can feel teenage, youth group Fallon judging the heck out of present day Fallon, not only for abandoning all those years of spouting Minor Threat lyrics incessantly at his friends, but for supporting a Christian band that would facilitate an environment of “drunkenness” or whatever. When playing music in social or spiritual climates of any sort, we both artist and listener, have been conditioned to take rigid sides on all sorts of issues. The ironic thing is that we’re all coming together for the same reason: the music.

Once the expression, contemplation, and enjoyment of art is given the backseat, both community and the art itself begin to destabilize, turning into something different entirely. I know from my own life as a touring musician that once I started cutting songs and rushing records to make a tour schedule, I compromised the core of my craft to maintain relevance in the eyes of other people. If my devolved (albeit, subconscious) motive were written on my sleeve, no one would have had a reason to continue supporting me, except maybe a pitied solidarity. None of us want any of that!

Everyone wishes to be seen a certain way, but being attentive to this desire over the creative process ultimately starts looking like something else entirely. What won me over with Anberlin wasn’t even the spoken intention from Stephen Christian’s monologue, it was the life in their art being overwhelmingly connected to the music itself (makes a better argument for their charity promotion than the $6 PBRs). In the same way, what makes my art better is that I put care and effort into each step of the creative process, not that I put CD cases on a merch table and then forget to put discs inside (yes, this actually happened and it was horribly embarrassing). There is nothing inherently wrong with being an artist and making money or working toward activism through it, but there is something wrong when that being a primary motive is snuck into your efforts to share your art. Popularity through manipulation seldom breeds a humanitarian result.

Being an artist in the age of tabloids, social media, fandoms, and analytics can often be nebulous; we are so easily distracted from the heart of our cause. It’s not a bad thing to be inspired by Green Day’s loving audience interviews in Bullet in a Bible, but chasing that isn’t how they got there. It’s healthy to periodically reevaluate your reasons for taking the actions you do in the name of art. Again, this applies to both artist and patron. Creators of art, consider what influences you to share your art. If you aren’t content keeping it to yourself, figure out why that is and ask yourself, “Is this really what I want to do? Is this what it can be?” (can>should) And appreciators of art, be deliberate in how your support manifests itself; how we do this determines the health and livelihood of how art is shared. If we’re sincere and intentional, we can build better art culture for all.


-Fallon

Friends of Chroma: Chris Bernstorf and "It's All Joy"


For this special episode of Chroma and Friends I had the opportunity to do an email interview with spoken word poet and my pal, Chris Bernstorf. Chris has been touring and performing poetry since 2010; since 2015 I’ve gotten to know him through various tours and festivals and conversations that lasted until sunrise. Today, Chris gives us a detailed look at his new album It’s All Joy and reflects on his experiences as a traveling artist, an advocate for meaningful spirituality, and a plain ‘ol human. Give it a listen, then come back here and read what he has to say.

———————

Fallon: Before we dive into your latest release, It’s All Joy, I wanted to highlight the “prologue” of sorts to your tour that you sent to your email list, an open letter called The Gazebo Matters. It brings the sort of attention to the value of creativity we here at Chroma really resonate with. In the letter, you lay out an argument for why people, regardless of their beliefs or circumstances, have a need for creativity, the conclusion being that it is a vessel for hope. Could you give an example of how art, either in its creation or appreciation, has impacted you and/or your community in such a way that it inspired this kind of hope?

Chris: Art has given me hope in so many ways.  I think two examples that come to mind right now are from Levi the Poet and Kevin Schlereth. Levi has so many lines that stick with me and inspire me. “I’d rather have You than all of my answers,” from his album Correspondence gave words to so many different feelings and longings I had churning in my spirit, feelings I couldn’t express but I could sense burning inside. It came as a relief to me, allowing me to finally understand and handle everything I could feel inside of me and also allowing me to express those feelings to others.  I have so often felt that, no matter what pain or confusion has come my way, no matter what difficult experience, somehow God is still there and still worth the suffering, and hearing that line from Levi allowed me to put that into words in a coherent, concise, clear way. That line has blessed me so much. Other lines from Levi, like “Three-in-One be the breathe in my lungs,” have worked their way into my prayer life and become the actual words that I speak to God because they seem to best express what my heart longs for. The first time I heard “Tables” from the band Kevin Schlereth, I was sitting on the floor in my friends’ kitchen. As Kevin and Jay were singing, I was nodding along, enjoying the new song as just a new piece of art my friends had made. When the chorus hit though, a simple refrain of “Jesus, it’s hard,” I wept. I was at a point in my life of working through a deep conflict with one of my best friends, a conflict that also seemed to threaten the beginning of my relationship with my now wife, and a massive implosion within my friend group in which many of the most important people in my life were tearing each other apart over a massively difficult issue. All of this combined with the normal growth and struggles with life and faith that I, like everyone, experience and work through. It created this huge, heavy weight in my heart, and hearing “Tables” acknowledge the hardship and give me words to express it (and also words to cry out to God from it) was such a relief and a catharsis. It felt like God saw me in my pain and reached out to acknowledge me, to commiserate, to hold me in it, and to give me and remind me of His hope and promises. I was so powerfully moved, and that song has continued to mean so much to me and I think so much to all of my friends who struggled in the situations we shared and also in their own ways. To be seen in the pain, to have someone agree with you that it’s hard down here (something the Church doesn’t always do a good job of), to have someone offer you a cry for and promise of hope that is visceral and real and knows this world’s pain in a real way, to have someone do all of that in a non-bullshit way that points to God’s very words, that isn’t just making up some nice platitude, means so, so much. I am so thankful for that song (and the whole Catechism record it comes from).

F: Let's start off talking about It's All Joy with a doozy of a question, one I’ve been wrestling with since first listening to your album. The most popular generalizations that surround poets often include characterizing them as elusive, codifying their every intention, brooding in quiet rage, pining for resolution they might never attain— but take a cursory glance at the music video for “Swing” and those generalizations are quickly challenged. Deeper still, the way that you operate as an artist places you in close proximity with fellow creatives and fans; it’s hard not to get to know you a little bit if someone follows your work. With the extremely personal nature of It’s All Joy in mind, how do you approach the communication of your identity through your poetry? Are there certain characteristics or ideas you try to project over others? Do you find yourself struggling with any sort of pressures to present yourself a certain way?

C: I don’t think poetry always gives me an issue with how I present myself but rather just living as a person. I’ve struggled a ton with insecurity over the course of my life, with wanting to be accepted and found to be “good enough” in whatever relationship or circumstance I find myself. Those struggles obviously work very directly against any sort of vulnerability, and vulnerability is one of the most crucial aspects of making art and of just living the way we were created (i.e. in healthy, joyful, growing relationship with God, ourselves, and each other). Learning to be vulnerable, learning to express everything I feel in Godly, healthy ways, has been a huge struggle and growth process over the course of my life. We joke often of the death of “posi-Chris” back in 2015. In the fall of that year, I did a giant tour with my friends in Kept On Hold (and a few others who hopped on at different points). Andrew from Kept On Hold and I were together for 120 days straight. He is one of my best friends, and that experience brought us even closer. Through it, he started to really work with me on expressing my emotions. Before then, I thought that feeling angry or bothered or upset or sad or hurt were “bad” and therefore sins. Andrew helped me learned to express everything I thought, even the hard stuff, and it really changed my whole entire life. Learning to be honest with God brought me so much closer to Him, brought me so much closer to friends and family, and I think just made me all around a better person, artist, and performer. I’ve also really learned a lot from my friend Kevin Schlereth about how faith works and that we as Christians shouldn’t be trying to “sell” anything. Faith isn’t a matter of convincing someone, of proving to God that you really believe or of proving that to others. The Bible says that God’s strength is made complete in our weakness and that we should rejoice in weakness and suffering and trial. I’ve learned so much the last few years about learning to just be exactly who I am, warts and all, as the phrase goes, and letting God be Himself in that. Radical honesty has led me to radical freedom and healing and love. I heard a Matt Chandler sermon back in 2015 where he said something akin to, “Hey, if you don’t believe God is good, that’s fine, but you need to tell Him, so He can heal you.” I remember sitting on my bed at 25 years old, long into this whole sharing Jesus through art thing, and telling God that I just didn’t believe He was good or had my best interests in mind. I told Him I knew that I should, but I just didn’t. As soon as I admitted that, I felt something inside my heart break and the Spirit just rush in, and I’ve known since (albeit, with your expected moments of doubt and uncertainty) in a very real way that God is good and does have my best interest in mind. But I didn’t find any healing until I told the truth about where I was at. I keep thinking about how the crippled guy on the mat doesn’t say to Jesus “What mat? I’m not paralyzed” when Jesus says pick up your mat and walk. He knows he’s crippled, and he knows he needs healing. This has transferred over a ton into my art because I’m just trying to tell the truth as best as I can and let God have the pieces fall where they may. The band Eight Days from December described themselves as an act of vulnerability in the hopes that others could be vulnerable with them. Reading that really changed me, and I think it puts into words what I’m working for in my art—the belief that the best art comes from vulnerability and honesty and, through offering that, the immense power of art as commiseration and vision-giver with can be extended to everyone who interacts with my art.

So, yes, I guess all of that to say, it’s hard and scary, but I’m trying more and more to just be vulnerable in my art and my life and to let the pieces fall where they may. I grew up in neon-Warped Tour music culture, so I considered giving my project a name when it began. However, under the influence of stuff like The Chariot and what I was learning about punk and hardcore, I realized the best thing I could be is raw and honest. No matter what I called this all, people would know it’s just some guy up there named Chris. They could know it and see it, and I knew it and could see it (obviously), so I decided to just admit it, call it out, and be myself. Sometimes, my poems have real separations between the speaker and myself as the poet, and often I do the V-for-Vendetta bit of “artists use lies to tell the truth”—like in “Move,” my parents didn’t have a basement for me to live in, but the sentiment of that is true for where I was in my life—but, ultimately, I just want to offer where I am and what I know as best and honestly as I can. The decision to incorporate really extra specific stuff in this album (stuff like my friends’ names and things like that) came from my friend Janelle Maree. She writes these intensely, intensely personal poems and, through doing so, achieves these universal experiences and truths. It’s really beautiful and incredible to experience and really inspired me to give it a try and push in even deeper to it than usual.

F: With 4 studio albums, a collection of b-sides, and a bunch of other ventures including a short film and an anthology of your poetry, you’ve had a lot of time and projects over which to develop your writing process. On the craft side of things, how did you approach creating the poems for It’s All Joy, from conception, putting them on paper, and bringing them into spoken word?

C: It’s All Joy has been coming together for over four years.  My general writing process essentially looks like “write whenever you can and just let it build up until it seems right to put something out.” Because Yellow is its own ep, I found that a lot of people saw my discography sort of in this dichotomy of love poems and not-love poems. I saw myself doing that a lot, too—honestly, I might have been the worst culprit at times. In my mind, all of them are the same—like, all of my poems always are doing the same thing—no matter what the topic, I hope they all are illuminating the truth of the human experience and pointing to God. For Christians, too, we seem to have this tendency to see life as doing stuff for God and then, “oh, also you fall in love,” but, in reality, Song of Songs is in the Bible—it’s not the separate sex book they hand you to figure that part of life out. It’s all there. It’s all one. So, I’ve dreamt of the love poems and not love poems all being together on one album, working very visibly together towards this one goal of illuminating the character of God and human experience. As I’ve grown in relationship with my wife, from expressing feelings to dating to engagement to marriage, the Bible’s promise that marriage is a metaphor for Christ’s love for His Church has proven so true and real, so being able to delve into that and put to words so much of what I’ve been experience and discovering in our relationship meant so much and was so cool for me. The idea of oneness, of the oneness of everything, all of experience pointing us to God and everything being a metaphor for something else and always pointing us to God, has been churning and cooking around in my heart for two or three years at least. “Swing” was almost on The Sidewalk Hymns, but I didn’t know what to do with it at the time, so I had just been sitting on it. The last song from the Spider Mansion ep finally helped me figure out what to do with it—I just didn’t get the poem. It just felt like this really fast “yell piece”, but I didn’t know how to contextualize it in my mind. That last song on the Spider Mansion ep is less than two minutes long I think, and most of the meat of the song is even shorter—it’s just this badass riff and then it’s kind of over. And that made me realize you can just put out art in whatever shape it takes (I probably should’ve known that sooner, but hey). So, I started viewing “Swing” as just this really sick, badass roar of a riff, and that let me keep it as a poem. When I went to put the album together and get it going this year, about half of it was written already over the last few years (“Doing This” dates back to college for me, so it’s like 6 or 8 years old) and then I had a ton of little drafts and pieces of stuff that I’d been working on and this idea of oneness and the physical circle metaphor churning in me for a couple years. It had just been baking and baking, and I’d been thinking and thinking and praying and talking to people about it. So the other half of the album came out of a ton of freewriting and piecing through all the different drafts and pieces of stuff and ideas I had. I’ve gotten a bit more lazy with page arrangement in the writing process because I do spoken word primarily, but I try to make every poem work on the page first and then learn it as a spoken word piece and figure out how to say it. The figuring out how to say it happens in practice and then also sometimes as we are recording them (I learned how I wanted “Geography” to go kind of as I was recording it).

F: The videos for “Swing” and “Facts” both have a surrealness to them that feels connected (to me, at least) despite the contrast of how silly “Swing” is and the focused, endearing nature of “Facts.” How did you go about choosing these two poems for videos? And what drew you toward the togetherness of these two themes as they continue a sort of partnership throughout It’s All Joy?

C: That’s really cool that you felt that way about the videos—I’m not sure we made a conscious tonal connection between the two—that’s God just doing something cool. We just tried to be as true to the tones and spirits of both poems as we could. I think the surrealness that you’re identifying though is a major theme on the album though, and one that’s come to mean a lot to me in the last few years. It started with “152.42” from The Sidewalk Hymns and has carried over for me. It’s just fucking incredible that we are here at all. What does it even mean to have consciousness? We are all just a bunch of tiny dots on some plane of existence (we don’t even really know what we are on—paint goes on canvas, cars go on roads, what is our essence as people on? What are we even standing on) that have some electricity zapping around in us and then we build and create and love and experience joy and emotion. What on earth? We are living in a constant, unfathomable, weird, fantastic miracle at every moment. No matter one’s world view, we absolutely must agree that it’s really fucking weird and insane and incredible and wonderful that we are here at all—whether there was some explosion or a sentient God speaking us into existence, whatever you believe, it’s insane that we are here. The awe and marvel at that miracle have really informed so much of my art and faith and life since I realized it was a miracle in the first place. I keep repeating to people at shows and to my wife the line from “Sci-fi”: “How could a miracle touch this place in the timeline and for me and not leave?” I really just can’t even fathom it—when I look at my wife, when I look at the life I get to lead, touring and living in close community and relationship with so many incredible people, when I think about even being here at all, when I think about God, it’s all too wonderful and amazing for me and I think the acknowledgement of the surrealness of life runs through the whole album and right out through my whole life and outlook.

Oh, and we chose those two poems because we loved them, have had them done and recorded for a while, and had very specific visions for both videos of what we wanted to do with them. We had the ideas and had the poems done, so it just seemed right. We actually shot “The Facts” video last summer, so we’ve been sitting on that one for a long while.

F: Any chance we can get the lore behind the mac n’ cheese bath?

C: The year is 2017, and Amanda (not my wife then, just my friend with whom I had a mutual set of feelings), myself, and our friends Hannah (of Formerly Bodies) and Ashley (of Amessa, rip) are on a trip to the northern part of Michigan to pick flowers for my upcoming poem “Unfold” (we pressed the flowers inside lathe cuts of the poem).  “Cherry Garcia” by Dingus is playing loud in the speakers, and we are driving in joy through the sunshine and warmth. I explained the idea of the poem “Swing,” and we all start to riff on the zaniest, most ridiculous, celebrate-life, head-first-in-joy, crazy shit that we could possibly do for the video (originally, the idea was to throw a 24-hour “do crazy stuff adventure” party and try to film and edit while it was happening and have it done in 24 hours). We brainstormed a ton of stuff, and the mac-n-cheese bath and hot sauce drink just sort of materialized from that, and we kept it.


F: The range of circumstances and themes on It's All Joy is quite broad, from your relationship with your wife Amanda to your parents to the rejection of hopelessness through faith. If you had to share with someone just one track from the album that captures the core of these topical intersections, which would it be?

C: I think “One” is the track. This is the most conceptually I’ve ever worked for an album I think. Yellow was love poems. All the other releases have been gathering together what I have and feel like I should put out, and seeing how they work together and finding a title that best encapsulates them. For this album, I really wanted to try to have the poems work together, to reference each other, and to be headed towards and end goal, and I think they all sort of wrap up together and reach their pinnacle in “One.” It pulls from all the themes and works them all together into the sort of final statement/culmination of all the ideas.

F: And finally, if you have anything in the works you want to share, now’s the chance! We know you’re on tour, but what else is in store for Chris Bernstorf?

C: Um, honestly, we aren’t really sure. Amanda and I just had a brainstorm session yesterday. We have a lot of ideas of stuff we want to do, and so we are just praying about what we should do next and when. We have a lot of tour plans—this release tour runs into a few more dates that aren’t currently on the flier. We have a small break and then we head to Germany and Austria for a short run of shows. We are then hoping to tour most of/a lot of the rest of the year and are just praying about what form that should take. We really, really love It’s All Joy, so I think we really want to push it and share it as much as we can. We loved the videos we did, so I think we are hoping to do some more videos, hopefully both performance-based ones and more “art-piece” kinds of ones. We are excited to experiment and explore with those—Amanda does all of the video work and has a real natural knack for it, so we are stoked to see what else we can figure out doing. We have a couple book ideas and a few other future release thoughts and dreams. For now, it’s a lot of praying and dreaming. I’m excited to see where God takes us next. We can’t believe all we’ve already gotten to do and how beautiful it all is. We feel like we are just sort of along for the ride and watching it all, too.

It’s All Joy, as well as all of my other releases, are available for free via Bandcamp and can also be streamed everywhere music is had.  My book So Far, and the smaller 152.42 book that is included within So Far, can be downloaded for free via my website (www.chrisbernstorf.com). We don’t think art belongs to us and are really thankful we get to share what we’ve been given.


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Be sure to follow those links to get more of Chris! Also, hear Chris and a ton of other awesome artists over on the Chroma and Friends Spotify playlist.

- Fallon

Friends of Chroma: Careful Gaze's Newest, You Too Will Rest

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“This is an album about extinguishing hatred.

This is an album about eliminating bigotry and unnecessary judgments / labels.

This is an album about including and loving those different than you.”

These declarations headline the foreword for Careful Gaze’s newest full-length album You Too Will Rest, a body of work extended as an invitation toward the challenge, solidarity, and encouragement found within. You Too Will Rest is a fast-moving, highly polished record that seamlessly blends poppy-rock hooks that fully embody their highly emotional content with intense, technical post-hardcore riffs and progressions. Songs often begin with a straightforward, honest lyric or catchy melody, then continually introduce layers of musical depth; whether you’re exploring that technical breakdown or hooked on a chorus, you’re coming back to these songs.

Careful Gaze thrives on this juxtaposition of ideas, whether contrasting complexity against simplicity, combining dark lyrical themes with an energy of excitement in the music, or pushing forth ideas of life’s ambiguity through an austere boldness that is equal parts personal and authoritative. Gabe Reasoner, the lead vocalist, bassist, and synth player for the band, puts his heart on his sleeve (for real, check out the commentary on You Too Will Rest), providing a sympathetic voice to those who struggle with personal and existential rejection, both internal and external. Several members of us here at Chroma are thankful to him and the band for being so enthusiastic in sharing this sincerity through shows and deliberate conversations (I remember when it was just Gabe screaming over a keyboard as Hunter Dumped Us Here; now here we are!).

You can listen to You Too Will Rest in its entirety over at carefulgaze.com. If nothing else, give the first track “Highways, Sideways” a chance over on the Chroma and Friends Spotify Playlist. Once it’s stuck in your head (like it always is in mine), you’ll need to hear it live at one of these shows as Careful Gaze heads out their album release tour.

-Fallon

An Interview with sailbear (Patrick Quigley); Holding Space Soundtrack's 1-Year Anniversary!

Patrick Quigley is perhaps one of the most prolific creative people I know. Not only do you know him as one of our resident Chroma bloggers, but he books and runs shows at The Well in South Bend, IN and is in at least half as many bands as Caleb Allan. Today, we have Patrick here for an interview to celebrate the (belated) 1-year anniversary of the Holding Space Soundtrack release. Holding Space is a multimedia project made in collaboration with Fischer Dance, Hannah Fischer, Corlanthum / Alyssa Neece, and Patrick’s solo project sailbear. The project features evocative, emotional choreography, cinematography, and music that need to be experienced to be truly appreciated alongside the creative insights we’ve received from Patrick here.

And hey, you’re in luck! You can watch Holding Space here and listen to the soundtrack by sailbear here.

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Fallon: The Holding Space Soundtrack is a fantastic experimental work that features equal parts experimental electronic and post-rock inspired ambient. It’s also the only collaboration you’ve done with Fischer Dance where the music was not performed live with the choreography, but rather it was produced as a series of short films. How did the collaboration of dance and electronic and (often arrhythmic) ambient music come together?

Patrick: Hannah and I have been working together for many years; she valued working with live musicians as a rare opportunity and I valued working with dancers as a rare opportunity. She introduced me to a neighboring world also within the realm of abstract art but whose medium was dance. Many of the same motivations, challenges, and techniques map in rough parallel between abstract dance and abstract music. The ambiance of it has just been a developed artistic decision by both of us to focus on creating an atmosphere or a space for the dance to exist in.

F: That leads perfectly into my next question: What kind of unique benefits or challenges do you find in writing music in conjunction with dance? Or perhaps more simply, how is it different from writing music for its own sake?

P: The overarching idea through our growth in collaboration with each other has been figuring out how to support and amplify the dance through music without getting in the way or being distracting. It's about creating atmosphere for the audience to experience the dance in, but also to build a platform on which the dancers, choreographer, and director can build from. Writing music alone takes on a more selfish angle; the goal is to be the thing that is paid attention to, the most interesting thing in the room. When writing music to support dance, the goal is to focus attention on the dance and to create a framework in which people can engage with the dance. What's so great about working in collaboration with dancers has been that there is a vast supply of motivation and concept to draw from and work to translate or convey. I love the process of learning and exploring another artist's vision and figuring out what that sounds like.

F: This is surely a model for collaboration people ought to take notes on. To my understanding, the collaborative shows with Fischer Dance, such as the ones for the debut sailbear soundtrack Take Me With You, are performed exclusively in South Bend, IN; could you describe what a typical live performance is like for those of us who haven't experienced one yet?

P: Fischer Dance has gone on the road a few times to perform in other places, but primary locations were always in South Bend. The previous director, Hannah Fischer, has moved out west to attend graduate school and I'm now working with the company in its re-branded form of New Industry under the direction of Chloe Ilene. Our performances are still largely exclusive to South Bend though we've talked about fostering a regional community of similar dance companies that can host performances for each other and start sharing the work geographically. To paint the picture, imagine an unused warehouse, old brick factory buildings that have sat boarded up since the past economic decline of our city. This is where most of our shows have taken place. The address is iffy, parking situation is bad, but the small crowd of people sipping La Croix and wine tells you that you're in the right place. Rows of folding chairs are set up to flank a stage that is just a scrubbed portion of the dirty cement floor. The lighting is simple but intentional, a combination of traditional theater lighting and home-made fixtures. The music comes from all corners of the room and the dancers are close enough that you can hear their heavy breathing, you can see the muscles in their feet tense and relax as they balance. Often these shows don't have a distinct narrative or storyline that you can follow, though it's easy to find identity in characters and relationships. Both dance and music flow freely from being traditionally recognizable to being abstract enough to ask “how is THIS music/dance?”. Shows run about an hour long and the audience is welcomed to stick around after the show for a talk-back where we can dialogue as a group about content of the show, reactions, concepts, and creative process.

F: That description is… stunning, to say the least. I no longer merely hope but eagerly desire to catch one of these performances someday.

It's pretty commonplace for soundtracks to release independently of film and video games, but many argue that it can be hard to understand a soundtrack without the work it was produced for. Do you feel the soundtrack does something different for the listener when it's released independently of its original context?

P: I always have reservations about releasing soundtracks separate from the shows they were developed with and for. The goal in the creative process is never for them to stand-alone, though I've found it's important for people who have come to see the shows to be able to listen later and use it as a tool to remember or recreate the experience in their minds. I think listening to the soundtrack completely separate from any experience of the show is a more abstract experience, it's like hearing half the story. Because the Holding Space project was specifically created in the studio, I'm very proud of the quality of the final pieces. I think if any of the soundtracks I've produced stand well on their own, it's Holding Space.

F: With that in mind, please, tell us about some of your creative inspirations for sailbear and the Holding Space Soundtrack in particular.

P: Finding and exploring inspiration with the dance company has been a large and important part of our process. Sometimes it looks like capturing a feeling and talking through associated thoughts, experiences, sounds, and movements. Sometimes the process is less idea-oriented and more location or physical experience driven. We've spent time considering what it's like to have lost something and not been able to find it despite all effort, like the word on the tip of your tongue that never is revealed. We've examined our bodies as machines. Physical and emotional ideas of support. We've been to the beach. We've searched for the spirit and life and new purpose of old abandoned buildings. Each piece in Holding Space stands on it's own and within the collection, the common theme throughout was consideration of our physical location and the space that we occupy.

F: The sounds you craft that reflect these themes have a such varied selection of textures, from lush pads and shimmering delay-drenched guitars to triumphant trumpets and otherworldly synthesizers; what's your process for crafting a sound library for any given piece?

P: On the outset of Holding Space I had this grand plan of working in collaboration with other musicians for each piece. I realized quickly how much work that was going to be and scaled back the collaborative effort a bit. It takes a lot of time and energy for a musician to get into the rhythm of collaborating with an artists outside the music world. I ended up collaborating with 4 other musicians on 4 pieces. The sound palette for those pieces are highly influenced by the instruments brought by those other artists. I'm sure you won't have a difficult time identifying guitar, vibraphone, and trumpet. As for the library that I worked to build for Holding Space, I try to work almost essentially with hardware instruments as opposed to computer-based software sound sources. This means that budget becomes a player as I'm constantly searching for instruments that help express what I'm trying to get out and are inspiring to play, but within a reasonable hobby budget. I spend a lot of time rotating active instruments in and out of my current setup, re-learning old friends and digging into older instruments deeper than I did the last time. Just before I started recording Holding Space I had purchased a Waldorf Blofeld synth which becomes one of the two primary voices in the collection. The other primary voice is my Korg SV-1 which is the most inspiriting instrument that I own. It just begs to be played. Moving forward into new projects, I'm playing around with the idea found instruments, objects not meant to be instruments but have some interesting voice to be coaxed out and amplified like kitchen sinks and panes of glass.

F: Budget instruments and working within constraints reminds me a lot of my days dabbling in chiptune. Guess its never too late to jump back in * runs off to the nearest garage sale. *

Ahem, uh— to round things off, I want to check with you about any projects in the works we should know about, sailbear or otherwise.

P: The newest sailbear project that's right in front of me is another evening length live show called Sensimotor. We're exploring instinctual or learned physical responses to different actions or impulses. We're spending time exploring silly questions about randomness and chaos. It's difficult for a computer to create something truly random. Similarly is there anything that a person can create that is truly random? It seems every reaction is a choice that follows some specific reason. That's the project where a lot of the found sound research is going to show up as well. I'll also be scoring a silent film this summer for a series that's popped up in South Bend and there's rumors that I'll be working with South Bend Civic Theater to score a production of theirs this coming fall/winter. Outside of sailbear, Lune is working on a new record. It's a slow burn gritty rock and roll project that I'm really excited to be working on. Dad Jokes is playing a bunch of fests this summer and hopefully writing new music as well.

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In case you haven’t yet, you can experience the Holding Space films right now for free on the Fischer Dance website. You listen to the Holding Space Soundtrack and explore Patrick’s other sailbear works on Bandcamp.

Building Better Bridges

Today I want to try something different for the blog, format-wise. Topically speaking, I think it’s great for our ongoing discussions on the creative process. The weird thing is that told in a sort of “story-essay”, which surfaced as the result of a stream-of-consciousness writing session that grew too long, too verbose, and too close to my deadline before I could try to rework it. It is also pretty long compared to our other posts. Like I said, no time to chop it down and no self-control when it came to how I started writing. Thanks for trying something somewhat dense and new. I hope it’s worth your time all the same!

I keep trying to use this phrase, “brain bridges”, though no one knows what it means. It’s something I suddenly started saying recently, though perhaps a professor slipped it into my vocabulary at some point. I often tell my artistic peers how, through my foray into becoming an English major, I’ve been introduced to the art of specificity in communication, but when I start dropping “brain bridges” into the conversation they are confused every single time.

In creative writing, particularly in fiction, fledgling writers are often guilty of creating descriptions or utilizing imagery that make an impassioned statement and is interpreted easily to them when they read it back, but when given over to the intended audience the imagery is confusing or falls flat. The issue at hand here is typically due to the portion of writing either being too vague in its use of language or tied too heavily to a speaker or perspective (which henceforth will be referred to as an “identity”) that has not been well established.

This is my biggest problem as a writer. It’s the same problem with throwing “brain bridges” into a conversation and expecting people to understand my meaning. Sure, you might get what I would mean if you picked it up from the context of a conversation, but that’s provided I have constructed a lingual path for you to gather that context up from. Anything less cohesive leaves you guessing, which is likely where you are still at with the phrase. I promise this is intentional!

I grew up madly in love with lyric booklets and songmeanings.com (now in obsolescence thanks to Genius), and because of this I started my creative writing journey aiming to convey my music and poetry in the honest, hard-hitting, heartfelt ways inspired by my favorite lyricists (anecdote: I was particularly obsessed with the lyrics written by Tim McIlrath from Rise Against, who, coincidentally, was an English major). I wrote lyrics, “abstract” poetry, and creative journal-essays all the way through high school, gaining a greater intuitive sense of my creative process and voice over the years. Because I became so comfortable and prolific in my ability to write in my own style, I always figured I was really good at writing and I just didn’t have the opportunity to share my work with the right people who’d care enough to see my abilities.

Now that I am regularly sharing my creative work in an academic, craft-oriented environment with studied experts and incredible minds all their own, I’ve come to realize just how limited my communication really is. I began to regularly receive “red ink” feedback all over the imagery I was so proud of. I was purely shocked to find there was something wrong with the voice I had spent years crafting in deliberation, without receiving almost any negative response (though I never cared to scrutinize the positive stuff either; there is definitely something to be said about knowing your audience).

“Brain bridges” is a phrase I use to describe a phenomenon that occurs when you see, hear, read, taste, or smell something and make a connection or association with it that is entirely unique to your understanding of that perception. This manifests in the form of triggering of a memory or emotion, or constructing a personal codex for an idea (like an allegory or symbol, but of your own personal association beyond that of what is explicit in the “text” of the stimulus, be it art, a quote, the 2AM drive home from a friend’s house). An example: a person at a bar starts crying out of nowhere hearing the song “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan because it reminds them of those genuinely sad pet abuse commercials; the person doesn’t know the lyrics, but once the melody is recognized and their focus recalls the helpless empathy they feel for neglected animals, the tears flow. The keyword here is “projection”; the person is projecting their experience onto the source of their emotional stimulus. This is different from a person crying at a bar while listening to the same song, only this time they cry because they heard the lyrics clearly and were moved by the song’s textual theme of longing for rescue out of a despairing situation. They are having an emotional response to something as the result of a text that is understood at face value, which is an important aspect of “close reading,” or textual analysis.

I believe it is natural and inevitable to form brain bridges. We live in a world rife with nuance, much of which we carry within ourselves; we often build attachments and relationships with those. Brain bridges give us snapshots of the world that inform what we find important. As a purely baseless speculation, I’d go as far as to say they inform us of our own identity, to some extent.

Brain bridges, however, become problematic when we are attempting to communicate with one another and we use them as a means of establishing a point of tangible or universal truth. The issue is that brain bridges are inherently subjective interpretations of something, almost totally removed from their purpose or origin of their source. We’ve talked about how review scores can be controversial due to how subjective material is often conveyed in an objective manner. Even simpler, some people never use emojis unless they’re flirting because that is how they were first introduced to emojis and therefore created a singular association they project onto the entirety of how they communicate (via text message or whatever). This is, more or less, why interpretation or communication from the basis of projection can be confusing or problematic.

As artists, we never shut up. It is of equal importance that we both say what we mean and say it well. In doing this, we give people space to have a personal connection with what is being said, which coexists with a personal relationship that is formed with that same information.

As patrons, in addition to also never shutting up, we never cease to listen. Not only do we share the same responsibility as artists in terms of how we talk about the things we love, but we also greatly benefit from refining our close reading skills to grow our appreciation for the numerous and powerful messages conveyed through art.

The power of what we say and how we interpret what is being said is only increased when our understanding grows alongside our capacity for personal connection, not only for ourselves but for those around us.

"Real revolution starts with learning. If you're not angry, then you're not paying attention." -Tim McIlrath.

-Fallon

New Release: Families/Kevin Schlereth Split

A narrative of a friendship 9 years in the making, born from a mutual love for music and people, has manifested itself with this 4-song split EP. Both dearly valued groups on the Chroma artist roster, Families leads off the split with two heartfelt, spaciously-arranged folk songs inspired by tales from the Bible. Tracks three and four have Kevin Schlereth implementing his signature post-folk songwiting to convey spiritual yearnings and interpersonal frustrations. The Kevin side of the split also features the collaborative efforts of Evan Kunze (Everett, Foxhollow, the upcoming Sacraments Project) providing the recording engineer work for both songs, as well as guest vocals for “Try Hard”.

You can listen to the Families/Kevin Schlereth Split right now on Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Google Play.

Friends of Chroma: OK O'Clock Releases a New Album

Today we want to do a little something new for the blog and bring attention to some new music not featured on the Chroma roster. Our friends in OK O'Clock released a new album just yesterday, titled Parental Guidance.

Parental Guidance is an electric display of punk-injected emo-rock, ruminating over the existential dilemmas at the intersection of growing up, moving on, letting go, and seeking hope. The full-length features a raw-yet-refined production filled with loud guitars and crooning vocals full of endearment by OK O’Clock’s frontman and main songwriter Lance Rutledge (it’s worth mentioning he engineered the whole thing in his basement, too). We appreciate Lance for his passion for creative expression that is meant to be shared with others; his encouraging presence in the Kansas City DIY scene backs that up.

You can listen to Parental Guidance here, and if you’re going to listen to any one song to get you hooked, my recommendation is particularly emotive and hook-laden “Lights”.

FFO: Pedro the Lion, Bright Eyes, Modest Mouse

Your Top Albums of 2018: The Reflection Challenge

We live in an era where, thanks to platforms like Spotify and last.fm, we can track stats on most of the music we listen to throughout an entire year. It might seem like an entertaining piece of personal trivia to receive this kind of insight, or perhaps it is useful as a bridge back to the memories made with the music you sought out; I’d like to push the envelope a bit further into something you can take action on. What if you took those stats and turned them into direct appreciation for the artists that impacted your year?

Let me give you the backdrop for this thought. Streaming services have made music extremely accessible for artists to share and listeners to enjoy, and in doing so, some artists have been able to recover revenue lost to the massive Internet piracy trend that was born out of the 2000s. With listeners only needing to pay $5-10 a month for all the music they can listen to, it seems like we could ask for nothing more. This has, however, come at the cost of the artist, as streaming services distribute payouts based on the number of songs streamed. This payout is dismally low, with the most popular streaming services paying less than a cent per song played. This means only the artists who can amass and sustain massive popularity can turn a profit, while less popular artists and artists with long songs essentially give their music away for the not only for benefit of listeners, but to the executives and upper threshold of artists. In 2017, the average artist on Spotify generated $6.09 per album. Total. Here’s the research.

The biggest streaming services pay less than $0.01 per track play.

The biggest streaming services pay less than $0.01 per track play.

Let me give a personal account of how disparaging this system can be. At the beginning of 2018, I took account of all the listening stats recorded on my last.fm account since 2011, which came out to 29,526 songs played across 2,160 artists and 2,253 albums. According to the 2017 payout data across all music streaming platforms, if I had exclusively streamed all that music I would have contributed $117-806 to those artists (not counting YouTube’s payout rate, which is $21.84, just so you know). And that’s split among each artist based on the individual frequency of my listening to them. Compare that to how much those albums might have cost if I bought them at $5-12 a piece, which comes out to about $11,265-27,036. Best case scenario, if I streamed all that music, artists didn’t even make 10% of that money, and when you consider that Spotify Premium only costs ~$10 monthly, if I had held that membership over the course of 84 months (7 years) that’s a lifetime contribution of $840, of which only $117 is distributed unevenly across 2,160 artists. Yes, this system is deeply problematic.

So listening to artists this way is, in general, hurting them financially. We’ve gotten a bit carried away with convenience and frugality, losing sight of the meaningful exchange and intentionality of a direct purchase. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point in which artists must either resolve to surrender this financial avenue and come up with other ways to make a return on their albums, or forsake the idea altogether. It is true that the cost of recording and widespread distribution, as well as other barriers-to-entry for these things, has lessened significantly. However, as the market for music becomes more deeply saturated with time, there’s less time and money to go around.

I’m not going to suggest or ask that people totally abandon music streaming. It’s better to listen to music for cheap/free than to not listen at all because things are crummy! I don’t think the average person who utilizes these services should feel guilty that the system is so messed up. There are so many economic and cultural reasons that gave a rise to this state of the music industry, and it wasn’t all sunshine and roses back when corporate record companies were in the top seat of influence either.

I want to bring us back to how cool it is that we have this incredible accessibility to music. We have the tools to be more connected to what we listen to now more than ever. In past posts we’ve talked a lot about how to be intentional listeners and supporters of artists, and in light of the New Year I want to put forth an idea inspired by something our pal Dave Mantel suggested on social media a couple years back. Take those artists in your top ten/five/three that you listened to in 2018 and ask yourself, “How did I support them?” Did you purchase any of those mind blowing new releases? Did you go to a show? Gush your feelings out in an embarrassing tweet you had half a mind to delete until they replied?

The specific challenge is this (but only if you can reasonably afford it and only if your conviction is not one of guilt, but a desire to engage. There are cheaper/free alternatives to this you can read about here, here, or here!): budget out your ability to purchase those top albums of 2018 you loved but never got around to buying. No, this won’t necessarily dismantle the capitalist machine or push your favorite albums onto the front page of Bandcamp. Not yet, anyhow. Artists and listeners exist for one another. We don’t owe or deserve a certain outcome from this relationship, but it flourishes when we make efforts to be an active part of it.

Chroma Artist Picks: January (by Fallon Braddy)

This month’s playlist is brought to you by Fallon, resident Chroma blogger and creativity nerd. You can start listening to the Spotify playlist right now, right HERE! Happy 2019!

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I’m sure someone with a particular intersection of knowledge between human psychology, culture, and music theory could explain why and how music is compelling. I have always been captivated by the mystical quality of how something as simple as a chord progression can make my heart race or my eyes well up. This playlist is aims to serve as a celebration of those moments in music that could change the mood of a room with a melody, dynamic, or texture. As a special challenge, I chose artists that either don’t sing or don’t use English in their lyrics. This is to convey the old idea of “absolute music”, or music to be experienced/interpreted by itself, without the context of a program, text, or explained meaning. I realize it might be contradictory to give my reasoning for each song on the list, but I’m merely describing my own experience and interpretation. If you find the idea of absolute music new or interesting, I encourage your first listen to be without reading along to my commentary!

Nothing Changes by Saxon Shore

Non-incidental instrumental music is what some might consider the purest form of absolute music (especially if its title lacks any sort of non-technical meaning). This song is a powerful early example of how melody and dynamics can evolve, leading the listener through the song in a deliberate way. All but the outro serves as a crescendo that is equal parts euphoric and melancholy. It’s also unique in that the actual volume of the song rises with the dynamics. I remember the first time I heard it I thought something was wrong with my headphones. Turns out I was just in for a surprise.

中途 (Midway) by Elephant Gym

I don’t mean to disregard the value of lyrics in this playlist, but rather shift the focus onto the power of musical elements alone. Even if you don’t speak Mandarin, this song commands a energetic lightness and swaying sensibility within seconds. Instant pick-me-up.

Untitled #1 - Vaka by Sigur Rós

Sigur Rós is well-known for their use of the “invented language” Hopelandic, which is deliberately used to convey sounds meant to be interpreted by the listener (the physical album booklet even gives blank pages where you are encouraged to write your interpretation within). It conveys to me the sense of a difficult truth delivered softly and with empathy. What about you?

City of Tears by Christopher Larkin

Hollow Knight is an independent game made largely by two lead developers and a composer. When they crafted the game’s world, including gameplay, design, art, and music, they did so without any particular story or message in mind. So despite this track coming from the soundtrack of a game which now has an adopted context, know that the foundation of its construction stems from a nameless inspiration. The result we hear now is one we can interchangeably experience.

Nautilus by Covet

Syncopated layers of pleasant melodies that sing their own tune, only to repeatedly unite under a single musical phrase. The ‘oooo’s, like a choir of ghosts that appear peacefully to elevate the extravagance through the contradiction of a simple melody. This song not only celebrates the glory of an elaborately constructed idea, but gives reverence to minimalism as well.

Goodnight, Boogaloo by Good Weather for an Airstrike

I cheated a bit here, introducing a song with a sample of people having a conversation in English. If you are able to gleam some sort of narrative influence from the nearly indiscernible dialogue behind the hypnotic, peaceful sounds, consider to what degree is that inspired by the words you make out and what might be harder to explain than it is to feel.

Heavy Rain by Boris

The power of contrast. Boris creates an rapid liftoff between a dark, whisper-level dirge and a crushing, expansive sonic lament. Meanwhile, the vocals hardly steer away from their somber debut, maintaining their sorrowful conjecture throughout. This song is oozing with bleakness that one cannot help but be enveloped by.

sekaiwotorikaeshiteokure by Haru Nemuri

Instant chills. Don’t think moodiness belongs to slow, atmospheric music alone! With the catchy, energetic nature of electronic pop music and the emotive, rapid-fire syllabary of Haru Nemuri’s vocal style, this song explodes with an intensity that whisks you away with it.

after school by tricot

Pausing from their math-rock sensibilities, tricot delivers a ballad that brings me to the edge of tears every time I hear. Without knowing the subject matter, the vocals create an easily accessible expression of troublesome difficulty that the listener can sympathize or empathize with effortlessly. Hearing the vulnerability and desperation at 2:24 I think to myself, “This is what music is about.”

Rain In C Minor by Disasterpeace

With a catalogue as stylistically diverse and dense as Disasterpeace I was hard-pressed to choose a single song. Rain In C Minor, however, is categorically fascinating in regards to our exploration of absolute music. It is the only song on this playlist that was built modularly, or in small pieces that were deliberately composed to be interchangeable at any point. When playing the game from which the pieces of the song was derived, The Floor is Jelly, you will hear something similar to Rain In C Minor, but the key, the motifs, and the fluttering, arrhythmic melodic percussion are all dispersed dynamically depending on how you play the game. As such, this is but one arrangement possible for such a moody and pleasant piece.

Fragile Forest by Timbre

Of all the artists on this list, Timbre is, by genre, perhaps the most well-acquainted with the traditional notion of absolute music. As the swirling, circular melodic ideas are introduced, develop, and vary, the tempo gradually ebbs and flows. Emotion seeps into each aspect of the song, from harmony to polyphony to rhythm to everything else. The kinetic nature of the piece is so captivating on so many levels I genuinely get a little woozy (in the best way possible) when I intently listen to this song.

Context by Balmorhea

Is this a song? Most of what you hear might technically be considered field recordings of some sort of building full of people and a chiming bell, but eventually an amalgam of different musical pieces and exercises being played and layered over one another is introduced, only to quickly vanish. It’s a bizarre piece full of noise and silence that could never be recreated, and the fact it challenges my understanding and relationship with music is why it has a spot on this playlist.

Process by Balmorhea

On the album Rivers Arms, this track is preceded by the one you just heard, Context. Despite lacking any explicit narrative or thematic context, here are two pieces that were made to flow from one into the other. A echo-y bass guitar littered with gorgeous drone and static. Whatever universe this piece was created in, I want to live there.

Serpent Mound by This Will Destroy You

The finale to this particular journey through absolute music, though it is but another step toward a deeper love for the mystery of why we make such meaningful connections and associations with sound devoid of a given meaning. I wanted to leave you with another piece that exemplifies contrast, this time from meditative to explosive. In both cases, the song is all-encompassing; it instills calm and comfort, then compels eyes to be wide open, with tears running and arms outstretched. Another key moment to breathe deep and think, “This is what music is about.”

Bonus Tracks

Waking Expectations by Rafael Anton Irisarri

A masterwork of moody, ethereal piano music interwoven with shimmering, yet gloomy soundscapes.
Guaranteed to evoke a pensive or bummer mood.

Food Is Still Hot by Karen O & the Kids

I’m pretty sure this is the first song I ever cried my eyes out to. I mean, just listen to it.

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Remember, you can follow THE PLAYLIST to get treated to more expertly curated playlists like this one every month from one of our artists! And if you want to hear more examples of that emotional, instrumental goodness that kept coming up here, be sure to check out Fallon’s post-rock band A Quiet Place, as well as Chroma’s own Analecta, NAAL, and Sailbear.

Taking Back Your Craft

“How did I come to dread the thing I once loved?”

No matter your motive for creative activity, it is a valuable aspect to your life. And yet, there are times when creating can be difficult or stressful. For many this can look like writer’s block, coming up short for a deadline, getting sick of a project, being dissatisfied with a final product, etc. My soapbox for today isn’t aiming to serve as cure-all advice for complex and situational dilemma, but to instead shift focus toward creating a healthy long-term attitudes toward creating, which may, in turn, free you up a bit from those times of frustration.

As children (before the era of tablets and Fortnite), we are often encouraged to draw or color when we get bored. The implication here is not necessarily to build a skill, but to have fun. When we get older and more practiced, we often trade enjoyment for other goals, citing this as the matured or more fulfilling progression of creative activity. Here’s my question:


both

It may be argued that the point of creating with productive intentions in mind makes our innate need for productivity also fun, but I think it’s an entirely separate goal that requires our attention and practice to accomplish.

The most effective way of injecting fun back into creativity is by making it a habit of enjoyment. If the only time you pick up a guitar or a paintbrush is to “do work” you’ll only be reinforcing the idea that your efforts are just work. This kind of mentality makes routine practice grueling and result-oriented, and more often than not, results fluctuate throughout long-term practice and mastery. Try incorporating subject matter you’re excited about into your practice (e.g. a cover song, fan art, a short story about your favorite mythology). It may even help to replace your time reserved for entertainment (don’t worry, social media will be there for you before you go to bed) and treat your practice time as if it were the thing to relax your mind. If you find it takes too much effort in your practice to replace that passive sort of entertainment, remember that as you change your habits it may take time to let your practice be something natural to you.

It’s also important that you specifically try, at first, to keep your relaxing/fun practice time separate from any practice which you’d typically consider “work.” Work will still be there for you when you come back to it (“We’re eating dinner, can we not talk about work?”). You’ve cleared out this time to not work, serving the end goal of having refreshing “play” interactions as opposed to that which is prone to burnout.

Let’s address the subject of productivity, which up to this point we’ve somewhat tried to forsake. Perhaps you’re not satisfied, particularly if you, like myself, are still seeking the union of work and play (or, more specifically, integrating as much productivity as you can into your every free moment). The benefits of dedicated time toward play is not only going to improve your relationship with creativity, but because it is something you intentionally engage with, you can be certain its contents will stick with you. Our very own Chroma blogger Patrick Quigley suggested the idea of a band who records their jam sessions returning to those sessions and picking out the moments that really shine amid the carefree experimentation. You can also look to most any inspiration found in a given work, like how Pendleton Ward integrated his experience with Dungeons & Dragons into the writing process of Adventure Time. Visual artists use their experience of drawing particular references repeatedly so that they can replicate that similar shape or subject in a new context. In this way, you hopefully might justify play to yourself as a vital part of your productivity spectrum.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build habits, and even longer to establish comfortability within your medium. If you’re already in a strong place regarding this subject, remember a balanced creative life is not a given to everyone. We all have our own reasons for creating, and with that comes a unique journey and creative process. If these ideas relieve or challenge you in some way, take them and start in on your new routine of play. Now, if you can!

Know Your Audience

Last week, Dave said something very poignant that settles the anxiety of seeking validation for one’s creative works. “Look, there's nothing wrong with making things and wanting people to like them. That's human nature. But that should never EVER be the primary reason you make something.

What subsequently sprang up in my mind is a two-part question: why and when does intended audience matter? For the purpose of today’s exploration, let’s presume the place we create from is healthy and self-confident, meaning we’d create even if it weren’t feasible to share or profit from it beyond satisfying the urge that we simply must create.

Goals. The #1 aspiration people peg for artists is to make a living doing it. While that may be true for plenty of hard-working creatives, it may not always be the case, and hardly ever is it the entire picture. What’s important is to define these goals for yourself before deciding the best way to share with others.

Do you want to make money doing it? Don’t worry about how right this second, just answer yes or no! Do you have an action-oriented purpose behind your work, like social justice or spiritual contemplation? Do you want to have fun? Do you plan to devote a half-hour every day to practice? Is this all just an excuse to meet people and make friends?

The list could go on forever, which is both overwhelming and exciting. As the artist, you get to determine these goals for yourself, which also means analyzing your capabilities and limitations. It is important to be realistic, but that shouldn’t mean forsaking your values if you can help it. Be patient with yourself and your collaborators so you can all grow and do your best!

Alright, so you’ve considered what you wish to accomplish. If none of those things involve sharing your creations with others, consider continuing along with the article so that you can assist others you know who value sharing their work.

It is typically expected of artists to share their work with as many people as possible (i.e. being “paid” in “exposure”, getting a label deal, playing festivals, etc.). Let’s consider the possibility that this may not be the most effective approach in accomplishing your goals, especially if you are not financially driven. There’s nothing wrong with increasing the accessibility of art, but let’s consider what it looks like when attention is sought in the wrong places.

Imagine showing a painting to everyone in your downtown area by carrying it around and sticking it in their face (a price tag, conveniently marked on the corner of the frame). While yes, you would be showing it to the greatest number of people you could in a short moment, they are probably going to be annoyed and without space to properly appreciate what you’re sharing. (There are lucky people who could probably get this to work for them, in which case I say more power to ya.)

The people you share your work with are going to have goals regarding what they engage with, including how they engage with it. Having a fundamental of respect for patron (viewers, listeners, attendees, etc.) needs and desires the only avenue to start a mutual creative discourse. Once you figure out the demographic you are creating for, that’s when you search for mediums and compromises to connect with them in. The hopeless, disgruntled kids in a basement want to hear from a voice who genuinely understands them; the critic wants to be shocked by the skill and creativity in a composition; grandma is happy hearing you tap out “Moonlight Sonata” note-by-note.

Whether you are a beginner or a lifetime creative, there is always room to grow in our consideration of others while also esteeming our personal values. We aren’t capable of perfect empathy, which is what makes art and interactions so interesting. So often are we challenged by the fresh perspective of people who share our biases in part. We will never have all the bases covered, and it is because of this we must be deliberate in conveying our passions. Be true to yourself and give people a chance to clearly see who that is.

Listen to Everything, Even Country and Rap

“Electronic music isn’t real music; there’s no skill involved.”

Someone actually said that to me in high school and no, they were not joking. I was learning how to write chiptunes on a Gameboy using relatively complex software on a physical cartridge and had just finished writing one of the few pieces I ever composed with the medium. My friend’s argument relied on an arbitrary point that specifically aimed to sustain their one-dimensional understanding of music. Instead of allowing space to, at the very least, observe what I was doing, their singular aim was to shut me out from all they considered to be “music”.

Thankfully, exposure to sounds and styles across countless different artists had successfully instilled an ideal in me to give most things a chance. I did not heed their discouragement and am still here writing about music.

There are many of compelling viewpoints to find in the developmental history of music genres (thanks, music history class); there’s much to be said for the cultural context music often finds itself in (shout outs to intersectionality). Those topics alone have books written about them; today I want simply want to encourage openness to the possibilities found in music. There are countless perspectives to be communicated, influences to shape sounds and lyrics, opportunities found in unpredictability; music genres should exist to help us dive deeper into what we already appreciate, not serve as a tool for dismissal.

Hopefully if you’re reading a music-oriented blog you’re aware when we talk about music it is often classified into genres. Genres identify commonalities in the music of various artists and provide a more unified language when discussing various musical elements, such as style, physical context, or creative intention. They provide grounding for conversations about music, this mysterious and often abstract thing humans have loved for thousands of years.

Since there are so many things to enjoy about music (sonic quality, social importance, personal connection, etc.) people often take the elements they are most passionate about and construct value hierarchies. While this might help a person or group of like-minded folks better hone in on their appreciation for certain kinds of music, these constructs can sometimes be communicated in a way that suggests entire styles of music are not worthy of consideration.

Here are some common criticisms that people use in rejecting entire styles and cultures of music:

Jazz: “It all sounds like elevator music.”

Country: “I don’t want to hear someone whine about their life.”

Rap: “All rappers talk about is money and ego.”

Metal: “I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

Ska: “Trumpets? No thanks.”

Now imagine that all those excuses to ignore each genre weren’t simply a matter of personal preference, but a learned response resulting from narrow experiences and bad first impressions. Each argument is easily deconstructed when you look closer and find you can hardly compare big band to smooth jazz, deathcore to hard rock, and so on. Humans are hardly ever so easy to write off, why would music be?

Part of the artist roster here at Chroma (cheap self-promotional plug) aims to lead by example when it comes to open-mindedness toward music genres. Currently we have a range including folk, soul, emo, worship, ambient, pop, and hardcore. Then consider how each artist is teeming with their own stylistic nuances, songwriting approach, and artistic intention; these are all elements which transcend information a genre-grouping can convey. Heck, since 2014 I’ve had no clue what to classify Every Day as (cheaper self-promo).

If you love music, then it’s all worth investigating. There are no “guilty-pleasure bands” because, as they say, “you like what you like” and you aren’t required to validate your taste to anyone. You do, however, owe it to yourself to explore the untouched worlds of sound and poetry. It’s a beautiful galaxy populated to infinity with cavernous, expansive, breath-taking planets. Grab some headphones, muster up some courage, and give something new a chance.

Music Reviews and Mindfulness

Band: “We’ve finally done it… We’ve passed the test. We’ve created the perfect album!”
Band Grandma: “What’s all this racket?”
Band: “But Grandma… They gave us a 10 out of 10. You don’t like it?”

It's pretty easy to establish that the enjoyment of music is subjective. There are cultural and personal influences (there may even be others, such as instinct and genetics) that shape and define what we enjoy and seek out from music. As social creatures, with friend groups, opinion-centric public platforms, and economic agendas, we find it relevant to listen and share what music we enjoy with others. Nothing problematic so far.

Consider how we communicate personal taste. There are technical descriptions, emotive expressions, lyrical dissections, contextual observations, and so on. In any descriptive case of a subjective matter, there are points that can be described objectively (e.g. notes that were played correctly, genre identifications), but elements of personal connection (let’s call it ‘bias’) color our perspective (e.g. relating to lyrical topics, valuing an artist’s moral stance). 

A general “X out of Y” score for an album cannot stand as an accurate account of the nuances of a reviewer’s opinion. Even if a following a clearly established rubric, subjective standards can easily be factored into whether or not a game receives a “positive” or “negative” score. Then consider the reader, how they are subject to various numerical grading standards across various review outlets only to decide that nothing less than an “80%” rating deserves their time. What’s worse is how easy it is to skip the heart of a review, the body text, in favor of the quick judgment made in reading a number.

So what can we do to get the most out of music reviews? 

On the writer/publisher side of things, some outlets, such as geek culture website Kotaku, fancy a review summary technique that gives a quick rundown of likes and dislikes, as well as the reviewer’s experience with the subject being reviewed. This not only encourages the reader to refer to the body text for greater detail, but it serves as a reminder that this is a human (not a robocorp) interpreting their own limited experience into words, which are also limited. This is not the only way to form a summation (some may even argue summations hurt reviews), but it is a step closer toward more clearly communicated opinions.

Some summary formats to consider:
Album likes & dislikes.
A general recommendation: "yes"; "no"; yes (but).
“For fans of” (commonly tagged at the bottom of a review “FFO: Qajaq, B.B. King, Slayer”)
“If you like X song from the album, you’ll probably enjoy the whole thing.”
No summary; emphasize processing body text of the reviewer’s opinion.

On the reader/listener side of things, the goal is mindfulness. Be aware that the review you read, listen to, or watch comes from the opinion of someone whom you may or may not agree with. Your own listening is similarly limited and uniquely valuable, so keep the compatibility of your biases in mind. Don’t forget to respect the opinions of others as well! The comments section is, too often, a dark place...

The music world/industry can be pretty tough as is. Then throw in the hinging of attention, reputation, and revenue on an arbitrary number and matters are all the more daunting. We can create a more patient and intentional attitude toward sharing new music by thinking critically about the endless wonders of music and the human lens we view it through.
 

A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky, Qajaq's Latest, Out Today!

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A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky. That which encapsulates all we know and experience. Qajaq has always held a fixation on the fabrics of existence: the things that drive us forward, hold us back, that which binds us together. Canopy, with its war cries, private contemplations, and interpersonal pleas, is an exploration of the intimate, yet esoteric infinity that we are all a part of.

It’s been 3 years since the release of The Light of Everything, Qajaq's debut full-length. Since then, they've taken to a busy tour schedule this last year, eventually incorporating new songs in their live shows. We’ve finally reached the day of satiated anticipation, as those new songs, such as “The Bad Year” and “Arrow in Flight”, make their recorded debut on Canopy. The release features production work that reflects a fresh musical vision, departing from the 5+ person indie band to wind a careful, solemn spaciousness throughout this collection of songs. But what’s striking is how each track is uniquely arranged, instrumentally, dynamically, atmospherically, conceptually. It’s as if they all took the responsibility to represent the heart of Canopy alone. This album is a glorious snapshot of the perpetually refining Qajaq we’ve come to know.

You can listen to and download A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp, as well as on all the other major streaming services. There’s physical merch, a CD and t-shirt, to accompany the release as well, which you can purchase through their website qajaqmusic.com.

And if somehow you’re still on the fence, sit down with the music videos for "The Bad Year," “Sun and Rain,” and "What They Could Give You, I Could Not Give You Better." Maybe you’ll change your mind.