I’m tired of scheming and trying to be clever. I’m neither of those things, mostly, but maybe each of those things occasionally. I used to think that I would have this great, content-rich and hyper-focused website where folks could come and learn about some thing or another, but I’ve given up on that. Just like my realization about the anti-marketing campaign in my post about music marketing and promotion I’m now taking a anti-editorialization approach. Surely, folks will think that my writing is haphazard and unfocused, two of the worst things that a writer can be kind of like a jazz musician being told: “that ain’t jazz…” damn… that stings, nothing hurts more, but I’m all over the place… with my interests, with my curiosities, with my desires, with my passions, with my creative work… I can’t be a monolith, even if, in my neurotic mind that’s all that I want to be… a firm pillar that stands for something rather than a gravelly road of pebbles and uneven stones that leads nowhere in particular, but then that road is a hell of a lot more like the road of life and if I construct that road aren’t I continuing to perpetuate the myth that things are clear, linear and make sense all the times. Very little makes sense all of the time and in fact, much makes little sense most of the time.
I’m pretty burnt out on music marketing and promotion. Too often, it feels like a fool’s errand and leaves me feeling depleted and frustrated. However, I stumbled upon something that should be obvious to me, but instead gave me pause:
It is actually a bit funny that producing and recording music have become so easy – while promoting and selling music today have become so hard.
- BT Fasmer, New Age Music Oddysey (Full Article Here…)
Producing high quality and high fidelity music has never been easier than it is today, but getting it to people feels like it’s never been harder. In particular, the latter half of 2013 and the first half of 2014 kind of took the creative wind out of me. I worked very hard and admittedly tried some gimmicky approaches to promoting Borghi | Teager, trying to build on the success we had, but at nearly every turn everything that I worked for fell out of reach. Now, I’m grateful for all of the folks that have heard our music and stayed with us, going to shows, etc, and I don’t take that for granted, but as an artist, if you believe your work brings something positive to the universe, then you want to get it out to as many people as possible and so I set goals to that end. Suffice it to say that not one of those goals were met.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the market. Maybe it’s just bad luck, but it’s been a challenge.
For the sake of full disclosure, a show that we did in May, in many ways, felt like the straw that broke this ambient bastard’s back… I worked that show for months, bloody months, on a variety of fronts, press releases, posters, social media, word-of-mouth, radio, the whole nine yards, a veritable case study in contemporary music marketing and promotions except for the part where attendance was abysmal, at least based on the amount of work that was done… Now, on the face of it, attendance was quite good, but I had emotionally invested myself in something greater and didn’t achieve that, so anything short of that was a bust… at least that’s how I framed it in my mind… Once I snapped out of it, I saw that it was pretty good, but the bad taste of music marketing and promotion was still left in my mouth.
I guess the moral of the story, as some stranger we met on the road in Chicago pointed out, is that the less we strive, the more success we achieve – counter-intuitive stuff, to be sure, but it’s a fact. We recorded without expectations and got a great recording. We released Convocation without expectations and it resonated with people. We went to Philly and the Gatherings without expectations and had some great shows, and I, personally, made a great new friend. I sent music to radio and press without expectations and people actually played and reviewed the stuff. I don’t know… It’s kind of like an anti-marketing and promotion plan, and my ego-self wants to fight it, but the reality is that the more I try to do the less that gets accomplished, whereas the less I try to do the more gets done. We have shows, new music, all kinds of things coming up and I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter in a month. I don’t see myself going back. Maybe, but not likely. If folks care maybe they’ll share and if not…
Mostly there’s so much to write about, all the time, particularly around creative ideas that I don’t write anything. That usually backfires on me and my creativity gets zapped when I’m getting the thoughts out there. I tend to spend a lot of time in my own head thinking about music and creative things. I’m always doing a lot with music even if there are many things that never see the light of day. Lately, though, the emphasis has been on Borghi | Teager and the work that Michael and I are doing together. Michael and I recorded about two solid hours of music for our next studio recording back in May, but we’ve been parsing and going back and forth a bit on that recorded work. It’s not that it’s not good, but it’s different. In fact, all told, I’ve probably assembled at least four solid hours of music for the release that is to be the follow up to Convocation, though most of that will probably not make the cut.
While working on the follow-up has been a focus, so, too has been making preparations for our second trip to Philadelphia this fall 2014 to play a Gathering. In addition, to that performance it’s looking like this is going to be a longer tour of sorts (possibly 7-10 days up and down the east coast, but we’ll have those dates out as soon as they’ve all been confirmed). While I did our last series of shows using a laptop and I’ve worked out laptop stuff for the last year through more than a dozen performance I’ve kind of abandoned all of that and now I’ll be going completely with hardware, no computers or software whatsoever… I must admit this is kind of exciting. I’ve almost never performed with hardware only and additionally, at least right now, it’s looking like I’ll be using one or more of my acoustic guitars rather than my electrics, a fact that brings me great satisfaction, as the acoustics are something I’ve always tried to work in, but couldn’t quite get them to work… until now.
Most of this is only relevant to the most interested of fans, but I do enjoy talking about the gear and the process. It’s possible that I enjoy talking about it all more than most like reading about it, but I believe that any artist who cares about their work is going to go through these thought processes to conceptualize and plan out their work. This kind of behind the scenes stuff has always been my favorite to read so maybe it will be fun for someone else to read. I hope so, as this is what I spent large parts of my days thinking about and conceiving..
One of the benefits to not actually doing work as a music journalist anymore is that I don’t have editors and I don’t have deadlines. Sure, the publication might be more limited, but on the web it’s an equal opportunity deal: Some will see this and some won’t, those that do, might be moved to share it… Either way, it gets the thoughts out of my brain and on the page.
Probably the biggest challenge of my music journalism days was that when you would get new releases you didn’t get time to be with the music, let it sink in… You had to get your write-up out to the various channels to coincide with release so that you’d continue to get releases… Lag behind, too much, and you’d find yourself removed from the cool kid PR lists… It’s a crummy system to be sure, but so it goes. Viva la Personal Blog! And that’s why I’m writing this now, today… I was just struck by Tycho’s Awake and my relationship to it.
Awake is Tycho’s 2014 release on Ghostly Recordings. Longtime readers, fans, whathaveyou will recall that yours truly had a release as part of his KOSIK project way back in 2003, as part of SMM Vol. 1, but our little duo seemed to lose their shit and make a bad relationship of the partnership that we were hoping to cultivate with the enthusiastic upstart that was Sam Valenti’s Ghostly Recordings, who in the ensuing years have become real tastemakers for electronic music. In any case, I haven’t revisited Ghostly’s catalog much in the years that have past, but this release just seemed to grab me from the start.
Back in Feb. 2014 or thereabouts I started hearing about Tycho. Apparently, the previous album, Dive, was pretty good to folks who make judgements on such things and I’ve heard bits of it on Soma FM’s Groove Salad station and it is pretty good. Anyway, one morning I saw that NPR was offering a First Listen of the new Tycho recording. I listened to it. Only once. The whole thing. It was good. Not great, but pretty darn good. Great is reserved for records like Grateful Dead’s American Beauty or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon… Great is quite an achievement. I didn’t mark my calendar for it’s release or anything, but I can’t say that I forgot it either. A few months followed and I thought about the sounds and timbres from time to time. I thought about what might have been programmed drums and what wasn’t . I watched a Morning Becomes Eclectic performance from the Dive tour and since I also make live electronic music, I started to think about Awake a bit more; I wanted to see him bring this work to life, live. Some more time passed. I listened to some John Scofield’s Uber Jam recordings and at times thought of Tycho while listening to them, but still didn’t buy the recording. I heard, what I recognized as Awake on the aforementioned Groove Salad streaming station, and still didn’t budge — I just wasn’t moved to purchase it just yet.
Was it because of what went down with Ghostly and me so many years ago? Was I really that petty? I couldn’t accept that about myself. Was it the pain of a lost opportunity? How come I wasn’t buying the music? Did I scrutinize everything this much? It was like ten bucks…
Finally, I bought it… I listened to it once, just after I bought it. Then another time a day later, then a few more times over the days that followed. It was different than I had remembered it. Not as good, somehow, for some reason? Why? Was it because I had finally bought it, invested in the endeavor and was now all-in? What was missing that I heard in the lower resolution First Listen on NPR that wasn’t here? Different mixes maybe? I went back to listen the original, but it’s long since been pulled down. Fine. Fair enough.
Tycho is the project of Scott Hansen, you can learn about him at the link. Awake is a curious album that definitely has some programmed beats, but also live drums, tracked, recorded live as a full band? I can’t say. However, the drum sitch something that stuck out to me — the mark of a great electronic music producer is that they reach a point where breaks and samples aren’t enough and they need real drums and a real drummer, whether it’s Beck, Air, Moby or Zero7, real drums set electronic music producers apart. For the record, I like breaks and samples and a real drummer, like any band member is a logistical pain in my ass that stifles my creative process, but nevertheless, this is a mark of many excellently produced electronic music recordings… and this fact of Tycho’s Awake caught me right away. At times this recording reminds me of The Cure, possibly it’s the echoey, chorusy Robert Smith-like guitar which if I was more of a fan I might say is much like the work of U2’s The Edge, but I’m only cursorily aware of his work and not always sure where his work begins and Brian Eno’s work as a producer ends. Awake is also really brought to life by the rolling quarter note basslines pulsating throughout the tunes — The music moves. Even when you’re in a chilled out passage the bass line keeps going and at times reminds me of Joy Division, not sure why, but there’s something about it’s timbral quality and its place in the music alike that speaks in that vocabulary to me. The bass lines are like a train rolling across a nighttime landscape with the freight being that of spacey sounds and chilled rhythms.
Omnipresent through this recording is the sound of the Minimoog synthesizer. This little workhorse from the bygone days of 1970s electronic music and jazz rock fusion, not least of all a staple with Kraftwerk’s finer albums and also an important part of their sound, drives Awake… The Minimoog is the primary carrier of melody with everything else really supporting it, rhythmically and only a little bit harmonically. There are other timbres and textures that also support it, but the Minimoog is the lead voice. With that said, I can’t say that melodies are super memorable, but more like supporting aural guides that let you know that it’s central to the tune. In a weird way, I was struck thinking that the synth line in Tycho’s music on Awake is what piano is to the tunes on Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, which, for many, may be a stretch, and it was a stretch for me until I started thinking about Awake as a truly ambient recording rather than an a downtempo or electronica recording. When removed from that context, to me, Awake, shines like a beautiful gem. Follow me, here…
Awake has nicely mixed binaural sounds, texture and timbres with recognizable and definable musical content, BUT it’s also a music that not out to take you on a wild ride. It’s calm and even keel, but it’s not uninteresting. There’s a space that you can sink into or remove yourself from, but it’s not vapid like some musical ephemera. It breathes and you can breath with it, let it move you and stir you and be this excellent soundtrack to your life and your activities, but it doesn’t smack the shit out of you while vying for your complete and undivided attention. Like ambient music, though, it’s a music that can be listened to as easily as ignored, but in either instance you’re going to be rewarded with a recording that strikes the balance between being engaging and interesting with background contemplation. At the end of the day, it was these paradoxes that made it so hard for me to get my mind around Awake. This was the reason it was so hard for me to buy it. I wasn’t sure about it. It didn’t fit in a category that I could understand. In my binary world, it wasn’t either or and because of that I struggled, but through the struggle comes understanding and I think that was why I felt inclined to write all of these lines, the likes of which I haven’t done in some time — to express my thoughts on this journey and to express that ten bucks is cheap for a recording that’s this well-produced and this satisfying of a listen.
I had stated early on that the music I purchased didn’t feel as good as the music I heard on NPR’s First Listen. I’ve listened to this recording many times now and I can only chock that up to a first impression. I still remember the first time I heard Pink Floyd’s Animals, and Metallica’s …And Justice for All, or Al Green’s Greatest Hits… those were recordings that are part of me now, recordings that I’ll never, ever hear again for the first time, with fresh ears, new ears and when I heard Tycho’s Awake I approached it with fresh ears, and then went on to learn a bit more in between making purchase. In that time, I developed a consciousness and desensitized myself to Tycho, the artist, enough to make that first listen and the impression it made on me, be one that I can’t get back. It’s something that I don’t need to get back. There are two versions of Awake to me now and there will be until I’m left with only that first impression and the artefact of that experience. As an artist, to make another feel deeply, is enough and Tycho has done that for me.