4/03/2014

A musical confession and the beginning of a new era

I first began recording things when I was a little kid growing up in Lynchburg. My friend Jeffry Cudlin and I made comedy tapes and radio parodies on a little cassette recorder. This may have been sparked by listening to radio dramas that were on NPR at the time, including Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars, and the Lord of the Rings. For Jeffry, he was doing parodies of easy listening stations.

As we grew older, this converted into making music together. Jeffry was in charge of the music, and sang whatever I could off the top of my head. His talents are infinite compared to mine, and I showed no aptitude to learn a single instrument. At one point he gave me lyrics to sing, but we ended up going to different colleges and I stopped being able to learn easily from him. 

And, that's where I am at today. With others, Jeffry and I ended up making a lot of music together in 1998 when I moved to Arlington for that purpose. Of course, this never took the form of actual practice for me because by then I was 25 and I was well on my way to putting work before any other use of my time. So, what we ended up with is a lot of energy, but I never learned to harness any of it.

But, here's a sample of what we made in March 1999, fifteen years ago, at a place on the western bank of the Northern Neck near Tappahannock. (I apologize for the size of this photo)

To The Moon

I will confess now that nothing in the above music was rehearsed. That song is 100 percent improvisational with no prepared lyrics. There are mistakes in it, yes, but everything I sang and everything my band-mates played here, including Jeffry, is something that was so powerful in the moment.

Of course, this style meant I wasn't very consistent. We tried to rehearse, but I didn't seem capable of the discipline required. We played two live shows, and they were both abysmal experiences.

For whatever reason, I could not commit myself to believing that music was something I could actually do. I came closest in the wake of leaving Arlington for Alberta in 1999, when I was armed with all of these tapes of the recordings we'd made. In a year and half we made at least ten hours of material. Jeffry and I did a lot of experimental stuff, too. I used time working at WVTF Public Radio that summer to digitize as much as I could of the material. They had just transitioned to a digital platform, so I was easily able to convert much of the material.

From there, I began to think about making electronic music. I downloaded a program called Fruity Loops and began making experimental compositions and learned how to make noise that wasn't entirely improvised. I learned a lot about musical structure and tried to take the same pulse I feel when I sing off of the top of my head come across in a short do-it-yourself pulse of sounds. I spent a lot of my downtime living in Calgary making music, experimenting as much as I could.

Unfortunately, I didn't use my voice very much. I couldn't figure out a way to work that into the process as I was creating sounds in a very different way.

However, when I got back to the United States in 2000, I used the same production skills I had learned making my music to create public radio for WVTF again. I had become quite agile at manipulating different sources of audio to create pieces that would be listened to by thousands of people. I scripted out words for me to read, and this form of production occupied my professional life for a while. On the side, I also kept manipulating sounds, and participated in a few side projects with Jeffry, but it wasn't until 2004 that I began to sing again.

I will be writing about this more. I don't understand why I make music, to be honest. I just know that what I'm doing right now musically is perhaps the most important thing I'll ever do in my life. That's a bold statement, I know, and I'll ask that you bear with me while I try to explain it. All I know is that for whatever reason, I'm supposed to sing.

For now, I close this post by adding a link to a little podcast I did in 2006. A lot of the material was contributed by Jeffry, but this is something I did to sort of stitch together a way to begin offering all of the material I'd made over the years. I regret that I stopped making this podcast, but maybe it's time to start again.

I think it's sort of bold to put yourself out there. I'm not a musician by trade, but creating sounds brings me enormous pleasure. I like knowing that I live in an age where I can upload something and it's available. Long ago, I chose to be a journalist, a kind of life that eats up time that would otherwise go to rehearsing and perfecting a song.

But, as a preview of future posts, I'll just say that embracing the way I create music is one of the most empowering feelings I'll ever know. I hope that eventually I can find a way to connect to people in this manner.

For now, I bring you the Notes That Were. At the end of the post, you can listen to the whole thing, but skip to 10:00 to get to a 1999 improv in which I sing about loving that I'm getting to sing, but then I quickly say how much I am not happy with the direction of my life. As always, the words just happened as a result of me being in the moment.

The title of this post refers to the beginning of a new era. By that, I mean I am going to begin putting more things out there, from the past and the present. This edition of the Notes that Were indicate that if I can tap into all of the way I can create, improv and structure, I can have a bright future again.

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