Promises

Winter, 2000.

I went into a Napster binge of sorts. My parents had their heads in real estate. We spent numerous hours driving throughout Northern California searching for a new collection of wood, carpet, and sheetrock that we would eventually call home. During these long rainy day drives, seeing several different iterations of my potential new room, I would have my collection of mix CD’s that featured my latest Napster acquisitions. The CD’s were sprinkled with major record released tracks and bootlegs of unreleased tracks from my favorite bands. Amongst them, Radiohead’s “I Promise” was a joyfully somber that now stands as a header for that moment in my life.

Late Spring, 2017.

The studio version of “I Promise” was released today as a 20th anniversary celebration of OK Computer. The track had the intent of being on the album, but never made it. Nevertheless, after 20 years the track was finally released on its own. I just heard it a handful of times in a row. I feel nostalgic, sure. Yet, if you excuse what may potentially be tacky, it made me think of promises that art work can make to its consumers. I’m not crazy. Art can make promises too. There’s a song about it. It’s called “I Promise”. You should listen to it sometime.

An artist (or band if you want) may knowingly/unknowingly make promises to their fan base. First, through the nostalgic quality of a song. No matter what, “Bohemian Rhapsody” will always remind someone of Wayne’s World. That’s a promise. Secondly, through the promise an artist holds. Fans will wait like salivating dogs during feeding time in anticipation for the next gig or record from an artist they enjoy. Prime example: the 22 year wait for My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless follow up, m.b.v. Tough an artist may never say “I promise”, fans will find a way to hear those words within their work (in the case of Radiohead, that’s not necessary).

After a 13 month hiatus from this blog, I’m back. Perhaps it’s a promise that I never directly said. What has changed since? The band now has a drummer, Paul Sakai. We also slightly changed our name to Pinbokeh. We have played some shows since forming as a trio last fall.

Pinbokeh will continue to play more shows and have more releases. In addition, as with what my intent has been with this blog, I will be posting musings about the creative process, progress on the band, and such related thoughts. I promise.

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Long Overdue Update!

First things first- here is what my inspiration has been feeding off of lately:

Mothers – It Hurts Until It Doesn’t
Chris Cerrone – Double Happiness
Broadcast – Winter Now
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon – Beautiful You
Slint – Don Aman

It has been since early November. Within the past nearly 5 months, life has had some unexpected turns, mostly involving doing more side work than I had anticipated. What kind of side work? Well here is what I’ve been up to:

Drift
Last October I met a videographer, Michal Garrigues, at a small concert hosted by the Center for New Music. In early January I was honored to find out that he wanted to do a collaboration with me on a short film. “Drift” is the name of the short film, for which I did some sound art and music composition for. The experience of fabricating sound effects and musical ornaments to accompany motion picture was nothing short of exciting. Since I have been exploring ideas of musique concrete with my own work beforehand, this was a natural transition. I was able to naturally collect recordings of street sounds and self made sounds that would be manipulated to fit the film. The production should be finished in the near future and I will definitely be posting about it once it is done!

A Note Before I Go
A month after I had started work on “Drift”, I was approached by some of my college classmates to arrange an opera that was composed by my friend, Josh Sanders. This was a very unique experience for me. I was initially given a piano score for the entire opera and I spent about four weeks adapting the work for a small orchestral ensemble to perform. Painting with the different timbral colors that I had at my disposal brought to light some creative things I can do with my own work (that hardly involves anything traditionally orchestral). The premiere of the work is tonight at UC Berkeley and I am excited to hear how the whole thing comes together!

Bokeh
The band. Something I honestly haven’t had as much time as I would like, mainly for putting well spent energy with the two aforementioned projects. One big update with Bokeh is that recently a good friend of mine, Josiah Branaman, has joined me in playing bass guitar amongst a few other things! We played a show this past Saturday at Studio Grand in Oakland- a four song set that lasted about 20 minutes. Short and sweet. The show was a good test run in playing with each other for the first time in public, try out some new songs, and get our toes dipped into the water before recording more music. In speaking of which, we have officially started the creative process of writing our first record! Yes, this does mean more regular updates on the blog! With other life things finally settling down, I am able to devote more time to Bokeh and where my heart resides, which is composing and performing original music. Often times I find that the music will eventually take care of itself, sometimes it is the logistical and pragmatic aspects of life that need more attention. The past five months have definitely been a testament to that, with a few items on the stovetop that still need some processing. However, I can confidently say that the Bokeh train is once again taking off and that the music has indeed taken care of itself.

So here’s to seeing what comes next. I promise the next update won’t be so belated!

Being Comfortable with Challenges

Playing in the office this week:
Erik Satie – Les trois valses distinguées du précieux dégouté, II
Alarm Will Sound performs Aphex Twin- Blue Calx
American Football- Stay Home
Dusan Bogdanovic- Mysterious Habitats
Beach House- One Thing
Ryuichi Sakamoto & Taylor Deupree- St. John’s Sessions x Boiler Room Live Set (last movement)

Last week had a couple of lessons to be learned. One lesson was about being comfortable with my own voice as an artist instead of growing tired of it and constantly trying to completely reinvent myself. Here is how that looks:

One afternoon shortly after I moved into my current room, I was playing some ambient sounds with my electric guitar. Apparently my next-door neighbor at the time asked my housemates, What’s that sound!? Seven years later, I’m still making similar sounds. Though after classically studying the guitar and formally analyzing music, there are some nuanced differences.

Yet, what remains a challenge for me is having the willingness to continue writing in this style. The premature critic in my head keeps being a persistent ass and says, Why do you keep making music that you were making several years ago?? Why do you find so much comfort in the ambient stuff? Can’t you just do something completely different? Don’t you know that people are tired of hearing the sleepy stuff and you need to make something that’s more relevant to those around you?? Thankfully this voice hasn’t been speaking up too much lately, but sometimes its howl can be so loud that its resonance numbs my hands from picking up my guitar. I believe this critic is a voice that artists are all too familiar with. It is a voice of perfection and a voice that is so far removed from reality that it has a stifling effect. In the context of the past few weeks, this critic has discouraged me from writing with a sound that is very comfortable for me. I have found that as a response I tend to write even more in this ambient style. That is not to say that I have no business in exploring other styles or sounds- that could be a very enriching experience. However, exploration does not need to come at the cost of abandoning the sound I have identified my voice with. The challenge that the inner critic wants to present me is one that calls to forget everything I have done in the past, crumble the paper so to speak, and start completely new again. A more rational challenge may be allowing my sounds and songs from the past to have a chance to interact with my current experiences and influences. That more rational and healthy avenue is exactly where I am trying to steer this boat.

Which leads me to revisiting old songs and writing new ones. Over the weekend, I was remembering how to play older pieces I wrote several years ago. The first few times around was spent simply regaining the muscle memory to perform a piece, then comparing it to the recordings I have made in the past, and finally experimenting to see if I could add anything new to it. From this process two new songs have popped up, working titles are “Open” and “First Rain.” They sound less like entirely new songs and more like extensions of what they stemmed from. My old pieces are becoming my new ones. This process of using my creativity to tweak something that already exists instead of creating something completely from scratch is a less familiar thing for me, but refreshing.

On Recording

As I promised on the last blog post. The way how I am deciding to record this album is through live recording. I was recently reading the liner notes for Amina’s The Lighthouse Project EP and found that the group recorded the album live. This means the group performed the songs live, as if they were playing a show in front of an audience, and recorded exactly that as the track that would end up on the EP. For me, this would look like sticking a microphone (I hope to get my hands on a binaural microphone!) in the middle of my room and performing in one take. I plan to do no overdubs, multi-tracking, and very little (if any) post recording effects/modifications. This means that this time around, recording does not come until the very end of the process, whereas normally I use recording as a part of the writing process. Things are getting old-fashioned!

Live recording for a solo artist like myself can be a bit tricky. The beauty of this method of recording is that the very nature of the medium keeps me honest. If I sing a pitch a little under, no overdubs. If I vary in tempo, no quantizing beats. Not even a metronome will be in use (I know I could get an in-ear metronome, but I am not looking to invest in one at the moment). Yet more than these restrictions is that I am limiting myself to what could only be played live. With multi-tracking I have the luxury of recording drums, bass, guitar, piano, and using the studio itself as an instrument. With live recording I will only have my guitar, piano, voice, and samplers at my disposal. Since I have always done multi-tracking recording in the past, this is new and frightening territory for me! Yet, this new method creates a working environment that is motivating and exciting.

So I take on this upcoming week with some challenges. Challenges of introducing the songs and sounds of the past with the influences of the present. Challenges of recording in a honest and simple way. These obstacles seem tall, but the discipline of ascending the ladder one step at a time is something I’m practicing right now.

I will be trying to update every Friday. Obviously, this is coming on a Monday, but I think for the sake of my own discipline I need to implement a weekly structure. I hope to have some sort of chart or diagram that would lay out all the songs I’m currently working on sometime this week, so I will aim to write about that next time around.

First

The creative process is at times, a balancing act of instilling control and allowing it to slip away. Wearing the lens of discernment to see how to balance the two forces is a practice that I feel I will probably spend the rest of my life refining. And so the story goes.

The second half of 2015 has been disorientating for me. I completed paradigm shifting senior concert in late April, graduated from an excellent music education in May, and performed at a concert that I produced in late August. Julia Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way how an “inner artist child” lives within an artist and how artists are to take care of that child. The intensity of these three events that happened within close proximity to each other have given my poor little artist child a nice roughing that I think was necessary for its growth. September was a great month to catch up on sleep and digest everything that had just happened.

Since, I’ve been left asking, Where the hell do I go from here?? Yes, playing more shows needs to happen. Yes, recording needs to happen too. And yes, exercising creativity needs to happen. Which leads me to the next step: writing and recording an album over the next few months.

Part of the reason for this blog’s existence is to document the creative process that I’m in the midst of and hopefully gather some interest around it. Normally I try to keep this part of the process as elusive as possible, making sure that the first mention of anything I have been working on is upon its release. Now I want to experiment. Not only with my creative process, but also with the mode under which I operate. I want to experiment with vulnerability. I want any insights or knots to be completely laid out on the table. So go ahead, make yourself at home, and be my guest.


One different approach I’m taking this time around in putting together an album is breathing life into some older songs of mine. I have this bad habit of completely disregarding the work I’ve done in the past. Oh, you didn’t fully dive into Stravinsky’s work or learn that Led Zeppelin song when you wrote this! How can this song possibly be representative of who you are now?? Yet, during the show I played in August, I performed a 5 year old song of mine. Performing the song, “Lullaby,” was like reading an old journal entry; I remembered the emotion and thought behind the song, but was also able to bring new experiences to it. This process of making something old new and exciting again allowed me to use creativity in a different way. I was no longer trying to create something from scratch, but rather I was taking something that had already existed and making it sound as if it was entirely new. When I met Steve Reich a few years ago at Stanford University, he told me to “write a piece of music, listen to it, figure out how it could be improved, fix it, then start writing your next piece.” Self pedagogy. Not the most comfortable or easiest practice to do.

It is unfair to not give my younger self a chance at laying down the foundations for a song that is worth revisiting. If I were to never dip my toes into the swimming pool of five years ago, how am I to tread through today’s river before me?

After this thought, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and make a tally mark of every song I have recorded since 2010 (with the exception of two songs from 2009). I tallied up a total of 105 songs recorded! Not to mention, songs that I probably never recorded and have forgotten about. Now I’m not saying that I will rewrite all 105 of these songs; some of them have little or no interest to me anymore. Nor am I saying that I refuse to write anything new. However, out of these 105 songs, there are at least 30 of them that are worth traveling to again, even if for one last trip.

The next step is to make an intentional list of older songs that I would be willing to learn and work on again. From there, I can get to know them more again and relearn why I wrote them in the first place.

I do have other thoughts about how I will be recording this album, which will be a bit unusual for today’s techy standards, but I’ll save that for the next post. Stay tuned, my friends!