Fallon Braddy

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!

Click here to skip the reading and listen now!

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.