The rising tide of a new year

So, as folks are wont to do this time year, when they’re feeling reflective about the months, days and minutes of their lives that have passed, never to return, one can start to feel contemplative, even nostalgic, about their life’s trajectory. With my near constant companion, Soma FM’s Drone Zone playing in the background, I’m taking to writing down some thoughts for this year and next.

This has been an exciting year on many creative fronts, with the first real Borghi | Teager tour, and the release of two recordings, the live recording from 2013’s Star’s End performance called Awaken the Electric Air and then our second studio recording nine months later, Shades of Bending Light. This year also marked the 40th episode of my Ambient Soundbath podcast and its two year anniversary. While the episodes are numbered and the years stack up, much to my concern (sometimes), they appear erratically; so it goes… as it’s an initiative fueled entirely by inspiration which has had many other focuses this year. Creatively and artistically, it couldn’t have been a better year.

With Borghi | Teager playing dozens of shows between Chicago and the east coast, it’s safe to say that Michael and I have had a really great year. We ended 2013 with a nice feature and podcast on Echoes and started the year with Music from the Hearts of Space dedicating nearly three quarters of their hour to a program called Saxophonic… to be put in the same hour of Jan Garbarek is pretty satisfying. I only hope that Manfred Eicher was listening and hopes to put the next Borghi | Teager studio recording out on ECM… What! I can’t dream! That’s the stuff of life lists right there… to say nothing of being included in a catalog of artists that have in no small way made me the artist and creative entity that I am… I do hope this does come to fruition one day, much like an EU and Scandinavian tour where we could interact with some of the same venues that many of those artists have… Speaking of life lists, though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our super exciting performance in Manhattan during the fall tour; truly a highlight. A life goal of playing in the Village was fulfilled and not only that we were well-received and invited back… Soon, Manhattan, soon!!!

Borghi | Teager is my creative focal point and the news couldn’t be better.

There is kind of a sad aspect to the Borghi | Teager story, though and that’s the forthcoming divestiture (or maybe full-on dumping is better way to characterize it) of (SCENE) Metrospace in East Lansing. Personally, I’ve played at (SCENE) many, many, many times… Mike Teager and I played there just a couple weeks ago, as a farewell to the space, and while we were setting up I was reminded that (SCENE) Metrospace was the scene (all puns intended) of our very first performance together for an art opening on 9/11/09 (link to audio from performance). This performance saw the beginning of what would eventually become Borghi | Teager, the jambient juggernaut that we are today… jambient juggernaut…? Too much? I’m going with it. Seriously, though, (SCENE) Metrospace has been a thriving space for mid-Michigan arts since its inception with Leslie Donaldson (the first Director) through Emma Kruch, Peter Richards and finally Tim Lane, who has done a fantastic job with the space and bringing arts and culture into the community.

The dumping of (SCENE) Metrsospace is a sad state of affairs and indicative of the tough times that the state of Michigan is facing overall with budget issues, reduced property taxes and the general departure of so many residents to go somewhere they can actually get a job. The initial rumors of (SCENE) being dumped prompted me to pursue getting on the East Lansing Arts Commission with the hope of, maybe, saving (SCENE), but also if we did lose it, which was and still is all but a foregone conclusion, that we would be able to focus on getting more music performance and performance venues in general going in East Lansing. That’s to be determined…

To be fair (SCENE) Metrospace isn’t closing, but it might as well be as it’s being commandeered by the Michigan State University Arts Department and being privatized for all intents and purposes, while also being given to the University rent-free. The performance space side of it will be gutted and it will be an art gallery only.

So (SCENE) goes away and with it ten years of excellent arts advocacy and programming… (SCENE) has touched thousands over the years and any working artists who, through their inclusive approach, have added a bullet to their CV because (SCENE) gave them a chance, should be outraged, but I’ve seen little outrage… Instead, mostly, I’ve just scene the constant and unrelenting apathy that has proliferated throughout mid-Michigan, creatively, in the last ten years… Sure, some will dispute this, and argue that ‘things are better than ever’, but mostly I would say they weren’t here then… and surely the ‘brain drain’ of the last decade has left those that could hang on in good stead, but its marginalized more than its helped. The creativity and culture, which I took for granted when I made mid-Michigan my home fourteen years ago, has all but dissipated into oblivion along with publications and any kind of community that might have fostered its development… Symbiosis is just that, so without one, you can’t have the other. Buh-bye…

For those of us that have continued to live here and have refused to be marginalized by the status quo we’ve taken an ‘anywhere but here’ approach to getting our work exposure… that’s why Borghi | Teager is frequently out east, in Chicago or looking to the horizon for opportunities, because opportunities in mid-Michigan have dried up. (SCENE) was one of the last holdouts and while they will continue operate under the auspices of the MSU Arts Department, just like the Broad Art Museum that was built across the street, it will likely be exclusive rather than inclusive arrangement.

I apologize to anybody that’s made it this far. A (SCENE) tirade wasn’t my intention, but the loss of this space and what its meant to the community weighs heavy on my mind as an artist and a citizen. I stop myself there, though, and think: If it did mean something to the community then hopefully when this crummy deal makes its way to the East Lansing City Council those that care will show up en force… or maybe it’s just not that important.

I consider the other side when I think about the fact that every venue that I’ve ever played in mid-Michigan except two, Mac’s Bar and The Loft, only one of which is more than five years old, have ceased to exist. Also, this year nearly a dozen radio programs that cater to ambient music stopped broadcasting. This paints a glum picture, to be sure, but it also presents an interesting perspective because more artists than ever want to play live and they don’t have places to do it. Those artists need exposure, print and web journalistic media outlets have been dwindling for years and in the ambient genre there’s not much left, but there was radio, well now radio dwindles… of course there are new and changing mediums out there like streaming services, podcasts, the possibilities with mobile apps and social media (which is of questionable value at present, especially as new models for ad sales are being pushed vigorously in an attempt to make social businesses, well, that… businesses that make money and pay shareholders or fuel IPOs) but everything is so fragmented that there’s no one go-to spot to learn more about any genre, and so there are hundreds of slice and diced genres with a thousand or less fans, of which maybe only 10% are the super fans that helped artists exist.

It’s a changing world and the change isn’t complete, not by a long-shot. I don’t know where things are going, but I can tell you that it is challenging to try and keep up. Sometimes, I just want to pack it in and work on my letterpress or take up writing full-time… sometimes I think that it might be simpler if I was just a busker on a street corner flatly howling out old time folk tunes… all of which are still, very much, open options… and the street corner may be the only feasible option as even the margins for the marginalized are diminishing.

The year ahead is less defined than when I sat in this chair last year at this time. Borghi | Teager have one very exciting show lined up for February 21, 2015 at The Block in Muskegon, Michigan. It will be a multimedia and interactive event of sorts, as we’ll be doing a performance, but also talking about our process. It will be exciting and a one-of-a-kind opportunity. For me, the folks at The Block have been absolute professionals and should be a case study on how to do event and performance management correctly, professionally and fairly. I’m excited for this. Things slow down after that. We have a variety of irons in the fire, but nothing solid. As was stated above, venues continue to diminish. We’ll likely not be playing a gig in mid-Michigan for a very long time to come… I do hope that I’m wrong, but things are pretty bleak on that front.

Our Block performance is one that is done in partnership with the West Michigan Symphony, a fact that brings up a curious change that I’ve been seeing with live “ambient” music over the last couple years, but really seemed to crystallize with new recordings and performances by Winged Victory for the Sullen (but started with Stars of the Lid and Dustin O’Halloran), Bing & Ruth, and well, Borghi | Teager. The change is that this music, usually, of means of electronic treatment, or at least some electro-acoustic components is being welcomed more and more into the concert hall and the classical (with a lowercase c) scene. I know for me, when looking for bookings, I’m just as likely to look at a place frequented by chamber ensembles as I would look at a cafe or art space whereas a bar would have been one of only a handful of options a few short years ago. This is good news. I like this news. It excites me. I’ve always said that for me, I identify with Debussy, Mahler and Vaughan-Williams more than I identified with Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream or Robert Fripp… nevertheless, that was the category that we were schlepped into… whereas the concert hall is and always should have been the appropriate forum for the music.

Additionally, I’m glad that a new breed of venue is starting to open up, the listening room. There aren’t many yet, and they seem to be an outcropping of living room concerts, common with the folk and acoustic set, but this intimate performance arrangement is perfect for this music.

It’s not all bad, news… Thankfully…

I’m not setting a new year’s resolution, because I do find new year’s resolutions an empty chance to fail, but I am going to try and publish something of substance here once per week. Saying that, here, publically, all but confirms that almost certainly that I won’t publish here again for 6-8 months, but what the heck, I’ll cast my fate to the wind and hope for the best. I’ve wanted to write more and in fact, I have been writing more, for the last six months, but I’ve been trying to write fiction, and that’s kind of out of place here… so I hope that there’s something here for you in the months to come.

Memory doesn’t bother

Music is ephemeral, throw away,
fleeting.
It’s always been that way.
Before recordings some song were worth remembering,
some others…
Where do I fall here?
Have I created anything worth remembering?
No lyrics.
No recognizable melody.
Just textures.
Textures and sentiments.
Textures are comforting while they last,
but like sentiments, they don’t last long.

Memory doesn’t bother.
Memory doesn’t stand a chance.
There’s nothing to hold on to.

So we start again.

Music is ephemeral, throw away,
fleeting.
Here and then gone.
A single drop of water into the well.
Soon, that wholly unique and discrete entity
is lost;
No way to discern the part from the whole.

The composition nothing more
than added noise to the drone
of our ceaseless, clumsy world.

Borghi | Teager – Second Studio Release – Shades of Bending Light Out Now

Borghi Teager Shades of Bending LIght

Shades of Bending Light is Matt Borghi & Michael Teager‘s second studio recording and the follow-up to 2013′s critically acclaimed Convocation. Recorded in one take without overdubs, Shades… shows the synthesized guitar and saxophone duo venturing deeper into their “jambient” style which brings together improvised ambient soundscapes from musical ideas created on the spot. Building upon the momentum and trajectory of Convocation and Awaken…, this album features more involved melodic and rhythmic interplay between Borghi & Teager. Fans of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, Vangellis’s Blade Runner soundtrack, Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, and Tortoise will immediately recognize these influences on Shades of Bending Light.

Purchase digitally via iTunesAmazon, and eMusic, or physically via Kunaki or at live performances.

Critical Praise for Shades of Bending Light

“Combining the intellectual heft of Jazz and Ambient Music with the appeal of New Age/Contemporary Instrumental Borghi & Teager highlight a range of different tonal modes and musical moods… Their genre strives to lift our inner lives, and [they] are right up there among the best.” – From Chuck van Zyl at Star’s Endfull article here.

Borghi | Teager Fall 2014 Tour

We’re bringing the soundscapes back eastward this October! Come check us out if we’re in your area. Info and links below:

10.08.14 – Baltimore, MD - The Windup Space w. Jason Sloan, 9:00 PM

10.09.14 – Manhattan (Greenwich Village), NY - Cafe Nadery – Manhattan, 9:00 PM 

10.10.14 – Pre-Recorded Show for Live Constructions on WKCR, Columbia University Radio

10.10.14 – Brooklyn, NY - Goodbye Blue Monday, Time: TBA

10.11.14 – Princeton, NJ – Live performance on Music With Space on WPRB 103.3 FM, 12:00 AM (midnight) 

10.11.14 – Philadelphia, PA - The Gatherings Concert Series w. Jeff Pearce, 8:00 PM (info: http://www.thegatherings.org/104gather.html

10.12.14 – Philadelphia, PA – Live performance on Star’s End Radio on WXPN, 2:00 AM

Who’s Fostering New Music for the Future?

I’m doing exactly what every professional blogger says you shouldn’t do, which is writing from the gut, right now, and not letting it sit. But then I’m not a professional blogger, I’m just a guy with a website and the question that I’m thinking about feels quite urgent to me.

That question is: Who’s fostering new music for the future?

Though, the question could be, what does the future look like for new music? New music is a term that I first started seeing referenced in books and articles published around the mid-1970s, before that it was usually referred to as Avant Garde, experimental, or some variation. New music, as I understand it, was a reference to a music that had it’s origins in the western classical tradition. This music included everything from John Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes to Alban Berg’s Wozzeck right on through Philip Glass’ minimalist piano works and Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa. 

I believe that I have to answer the question of what “new music” is before I can begin asking the question about the future fostering of new music. Micah Kimo Johnson does a pretty good job of that in this essay, but for the sake of brevity, let’s just grab a line from the essay itself:

New Music is music that pushes boundaries and challenges the system of labels. Without an obvious label, the music is called “new” and once there is enough similar music, a new and more descriptive label is coined.

I definitely agree with this and I wonder if we haven’t reached a place where the need for the term “new music” hasn’t, indeed, died and is no longer necessary. Between web search keywords, categorizations and micro-genres that might only consist of a handful of artists, is there a need for such a broad categorization such as “new music”.

I think so.

I think that there is a need for a broad new music genre, maybe now, more than ever, because the term “new music” alludes to something greater than a mish-mash of words. I think of John Schaeffer’s long running WNYC program New Sounds, which, on some level, is one of only, well… honestly, I can’t think of another program like New Sounds, that truly encapsulates what New Music is and what it can be. New Music can be many things, but more often than not, it’s a hybrid music, it’s a sophisticated music, and when it’s not it’s often done in response to sophistication in music. It’s an interesting music, both evocative and provocative. New Music is usually, in fact, new sounds and or old musical ideas done in new ways.

The tools to make and distribute new music are more readily available than ever before, while the promotion and general findability of this music is abysmal. Whether due to mis-categorization, bad keyworking, micro-genres, or possibly just obscurity, new music is hard to come by. This is what leads to me ask the question of who’s fostering new music for the future.

People like John Schaeffer, John Diliberto from Echoes, Stephen Hill from Music from the Hearts of Space, Manfred Eichner from ECM Recordings, and writer Alex Ross are just a few of those folks who’ve done much to foster new music, but all but Ross, are Baby Boomers, who are getting older and while living longer, it’s not inconceivable to believe that they’ll retire one day, or just not be around forever and then who’s the keeper of the flame?  I was struck by this question as I sat and listened to New Sounds… who is going to be doing New Sounds in 20 or 30 years? Who’s going to be doing Echoes or Music from the Hearts of Space or running ECM? Naturally, one is led to think that the  younger upstarts that are out there will take the reigns, but who are those people?

I’ve looked at record labels, I’ve looked at what’s left of publishing, both web & print, both periodicals and books. I’ve looked at all of the various radio programs, both public and community radio… Commercial radio gave up decades ago… Labels, only very rarely, foster/curate artists like ECM, or Windham Hill, or even Blue Note. Anybody can have a label these days, but the value proposition seems such that the majority is done by folks most eager to push their own work rather than assemble the work of others for folks to hear. Publishing, for music and what would be known now, as musicological literature is either academic or almost not at all, whereas it wasn’t always that way… Periodicals…? What periodicals? Public radio has a few programs sprinkled here and there, but with syndication, there’s very little local that could one day blossom into the next Echoes or Music from the Hearts of Space and bring a greater awareness to music, especially with the bad precedent set of syndicating a retired program like Car Talk ad infinitum… Why take a chance on anything new when the same drivel can be pumped out for years to come… It worked for Happy Days, right?

So, who are these new upstarts? Who are these younger folks eager to get a foothold and make a name for themselves as the next great curator and voice of new music? Are they doing a podcast somewhere? Are they doing reviews on YouTube or writing micro-reviews on Twitter? Are they publishing at all? Is there even a forum for them to get started if they wanted to? Probably not much of one, any way…

As a working artist I assemble and maintain many spreadsheets on who’s doing reviews, what radio shows are still going, who might do an interview and publications they work for, if any, because it’s much easier to start your own blog than it is to go through the process of writing for someone and having to bend to their editorial discretion. I can tell you that since I started promoting music in 1999 there’s been a palpable decline in folks using the musical content I create. Admittedly, I might be on the fringe of what could be considered new music, but it’s still a circle that I can navigate with a fair amount of acceptance.

My beginnings as a composer truly parallel the growth of the web and subsequently creates an interesting case study:

As it became easier to publish content online, print magazines started to go into decline… Not surprising, but here’s what’s very surprising, every webzine that was out there and catered to new music in 1999, about forty-five, based on old spreadsheets, has since gone away or been abandoned. Out of nearly 150 radio shows that could, conceptually, broadcast a new music, less than twenty remain. As the means to disseminate the work has gotten easier those disseminating the work has declined. Live performance numbers are harder to come by because certainly in a pre-Internet world if you wanted to hear live music you had to go out and see it live, now you can stream it. Not that I believe a lot of people do that, but for a would-be venue owner isn’t easier to play CD or Mp3s than it is to go through the work of managing bands, artists, etc… unless you’re really committed to it? If you don’t know, let me assure you, it is… Live music is A LOT of work to manage and maintain.

In the last two months alone, two decades-running programs have contacted me because they’re on the brink of having their programs cancelled.

I’m coming full circle now with my question. Who’s fostering the new music of the future? Does it matter? Does anybody care? Are folks helpless to the machine? Economic principles would say that with an abundance of means of production, the production would increase, but instead, it’s diminished? Is it a matter of categorization? Is it a matter of pitching for a ruling lowest common denominator? In a world where Google rules is seeking out obscure peripheral music the bastion of the extreme specialist who has to tunnel around conventional means to get to the good stuff, but after the work of the hunt isn’t interested in sharing the work? Could be. I don’t know.  Or maybe they’re just a solo collector and don’t want folks knowing about what they’ve found… Collectors can be weird like that.

I guess what I’m concerned about is that there won’t be anybody around to foster the new music of the future? If it’s too radical for Pitchfork then it’s just too radical to be covered at all. At the same time, maybe folks with larger exposure have given up on trying to be the cool kids with the cutting edge content and a stake in expanding people’s minds and instead they’ve chosen 100 words on the latest, safe, Philip Glass piece than talk about the oddball composer who makes sophisticated music with sticks and tin cans in Iowa. Philip Glass is an institution and is safe, the weirdo composer is ephemeral, throw-away.

Is new music ephemeral and throw-away?

 

 

Musician | Producer | Writer