The philosophical framework for the project that has eventually become Canvaskiller began with reading Franco 'Bifo' Berardi's book Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, a text which is much more than just a writing on the dystopian reality of mass murder, but also contains a myriad of passages dealing with extremes of alienation in semiocapitalism, perhaps even a new era of semioalienation, which is to say that alienation has leaked into all forms of existence. In my opinion, mass murder can be looked at as an extreme catharsis for a group of hopeless and rage filled nihilists and to label the modern spree shooter as simply mentally unstable, harks back to the scapegoating of Stultifera Navis. This has become a banal prefabricated argument for the compassionate liberal and conservative alike, that something must be done about mental illness, in regard to shootings, to drug addiction, to homelessness, and any other social problem.
In chapter 9, titled "Suicidal Wave", Berardi notes the occurrence of the hikikomori in Japan, which is a moniker glowingly embraced by various youth showing interest in video games and anime culture. The hikikomori choose to withdraw from society, with all the pressures to perform and outperform one another. At the end of the book Berardi calls for an embrace of 'dystopian irony', in fact the last two pages of Heroes contain passages that read almost like a scrambling of Zen koans (scroll to the end of this piece for a quote of the very ending of the book).
I read this work as I was discovering a renewed interest in electronic music production. I had extensively produced music with software sequencers and trackers, as well as hardware synths and samplers, from the age of 17 until I was about 31. I lost a number of music to a hard drive failure in 2014 and jokingly took that as a sign to focus on writing classical scores. Reading this book right before Christmas 2017, I began setting up hardware and recording. I was having fun, I was always alone, and I related to the experience of the hikikomori. Gradually, the production of this music became a sincere exercise in dystopian irony. By mid-March, I finished a number of tracks that now form the soundtrack to Canvaskiller.
I took the score recordings and began making a video album. I needed a form, a sort of experiential arc and structure to the work, so I created a storyboard, which is a term I use casually. What has resulted is that three tracks are set to original video art (not dissimilar to the videos I produced in the last year for CFOR and WURM), another three tracks document the act of creating mixed media panels (which is a return to video work I created in 2015 and 2016), and the last three tracks are derived from screen captures of creating glitch art pieces (these are thematically unique, cyberpunk sci-fi, horror films, and one for The Punisher).
My list of influences for Canvaskiller include:
As of this writing, the completed body of work for Canvaskiller includes 24 collage studies on paper, 8 mixed media studies on masonite, 1 study on canvas board, a number of digital works to be printed, and the video component. I intend to finish the large scale masonite pieces in the coming month.
"Do not belong. Distinguish your destiny from the destiny of those who want to belong and want to participate and to pay their debt. If they want war, be a deserter. If they are enslaved but you want to suffer like them, do not give in to their blackmail.
If you have to choose between death and slavery, don't be a slave. You have some chance to survive. If you accept slavery, you will die sooner or later anyway. As a slave.
You will die anyway; it is not particularly important when. What is important is how you live your life.
Remember that despair and joy are not incompatible. Despair is a consequence of understanding. Joy is a condition of the emotional mind. Despair is to acknowledge the truth of the present situation, but the skeptical mind knows that the only truth is shared imagination and shared projection. So not be frightened by despair. It does not delimit the potential for joy. And joy is a condition for proving intellectual despair wrong.
Finally, don't take me too seriously. Don't take too seriously my catastrophe premonitions. And in case it is difficult to follow these prescriptions, don't take too seriously my prescriptions.
Irony is about the independence of mind from knowledge; it is about the excessive nature of the imagination.
So, at the very end: don't believe (me). "
First and foremost, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize win is phenomenal to me, not only historically, but for spiritual and emotional reasons (I am referring to his capturing a certain spirit of our age, but also the emotional difficulties encountered while dealing with this era). I want to address the outrage expressed over his win, particularly the outrage of academic composers, and how this historical moment has completely changed me as a person and possibly altered my life’s direction.
Last year in 2017, when DAMN. was released, our current president, Donald Trump, was still in his first 100 days of office. The Dakota Access Pipeline had been constructed, which was a major blow to all Native Americans across the country, a gesture that said loud and clear, “You mean nothing. Your protests meant nothing. Your future means nothing.” I was personally devastated and suffering through a period of depression (I am type II bipolar). I was also wrapping up the music for Head Worship.
The day DAMN. was released, I pulled out my paints, swept the floor in my room, and tacked some duck cloth to the wall and listened through the album as I created an abstract. There were moments when paint was drying where I just let the album play and play and would replay entire tracks over and over, and particular sections would be repeated so I could catch the lyrics. This album conveyed how I was feeling perfectly. What was astonishing was how his lyrics attacked materialism and the pursuit of possessions; money; status symbols; guns; violence; celebrity image; racism; police brutality; and a myriad of problems that make America a complete dystopian nightmare.
In the coming year, his music served as the soundtrack to my experience as an Associate Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. I had applied as a composer and was exploring video art. I really do think I was incredibly selfish, refusing to leave the studio I setup in my bedroom to eat with the other artists, or to partake in pleasures like going to dinner, going to parties, or going to the beach. That summer of 2017, I listened to a lot of Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, and Kendrick Lamar. The majority of the other Associate Artists were female and LGBT, so I usually played his music with headphones, so as not to offend anybody, plus they all admitted they didn’t particularly care for rap music.
A very personal layer to Kendrick’s album revealed itself to me one night after a particularly harrowing experience with an artist who had been going through my things and stealing my spray paints, discharging them into the air so the community studio always smelled toxic through the day and it would always appear to be my fault (I actually had a strict policy of only using spray paint during the late hours of the night, specifically for the reason not to offend anyone). A friend of mine, a brilliant artist from Iran, Nulifar Farahmand, who I discovered had no chance of ever entering America due to the travel ban, was messaging me, and everything hit me all at once.
Now I hear it. Kendrick was rapping cathartically about experiences and feelings in his life that parallel mine, which is what great art does via craft, innovation, and authenticity. He was rapping to the type of idiot who would try to sabotage another artist. He was rapping about the kind of loser who needs a rigged system to win. The steroid users of the athletics world; the corporations who are dependent on lobbyists to get pipelines built; the men and women who use sex to extract money and attention from romantic partners; the people who spread gossip about business rivals; the fuckheads who use social media to exaggerate and as a platform for delusions of grandeur; the celebrity wannabes who are about image and lack substance in their craft; he was rapping to Americans about Americans. The album is pure genius.
I heard a lot of idiocy in regard to this Pulitzer prize win, specifically from the composers in the so-called New Music Community. The basic agreement amongst Kendrick’s detractors in academia is that his music was not well-crafted, relies too much on samples, there are no real musicians, no real drums, and he only got the award because he is black. I am not kidding, these people actually wrote these things and clicked like in agreement all over social media. I raised a question: Why has classical music failed us as a society? They gave the regurgitated nonsense about people not being educated enough to know about the music or understand it, which comes off as incredibly narcissistic coming from a group of music educators.
Late last night, I was working on this new series of mixed media collages and paintings and a composer who I have decided not to put on blast because gossip is petty, messaged me and called me a moron, an idiot, a dupe for supporting the #MeToo movement, and then a jackass for ignoring him. I was actually listening to DAMN. as I have been about something like 10-20% of the time I paint (those of you who know my tastes and listening habits, know that is an awful lot), and the song ELEMENT. came on. When the chorus hit, I cried a little bit, because I know exactly what type of people that song is about and also what that entire Pulitzer Prize winning album is about.
I replied to his 5 paragraph rant (not directly in message, but as a comment on one of his posts about the Pulitzer), “Listen to the song HUMBLE., then imagine Kendrick is rapping to you specifically, and be sure to listen very closely. Everything will be very crystal clear.”
Two minutes and fifty seven seconds later, he blocked me.
I plan on no longer basing my worth on the validation of academic composers, they don't know shit.
When I was about 21 years old, Skinny Puppy was one of the most influential bands for me. I saw them twice in 2004. Otto von Schirach opened for them.
Their music is relevant for brining together an eclectic batch of influences such as electronica, musique concrète, punk, and synth-pop. Their music was really sample heavy and this was incredibly influential. Their music sounded insane to me because it was so dissonant and so bizarre. If you strip out all elements and just listen to drums and bassline, they might sound like Depeche Mode or something of that style. Nivek Ogre’s vocals were heavily processed and reminiscent of cheesy 80s horror film creatures. Dwayne Goettel added a lot of heavily processed samples taken from so many sources. I recall bits of Charles Manson, cyberpunk sci-fi films, blasts of radio static, Gregorian chants, film trailers, recycled drum bits, classical music, and so many other sources.
Here is where Skinny Puppy was really important for me, they made mention of being heavily influenced by reggae and world music and saying this was the biggest influence for them. This was pretty important to hear because their aesthetic on a superficial level had no relation to reggae music and no resemblance to world music. After a bit of closer analysis, I could hear the way these influences had driven their seemingly chaotic drum arrangements. Cevin Key’s up-cycled oil barrel in the Ain’t It Dead Yet? VHS had ancestry in the regional music of many different cultures.
This is an important concept for me: synthesis and transposition. In my own musical compositions, as well as my artwork, I take various influences from various places. If I attempted to make a comprehensive list it might look something like this:
I am even wondering as I write this, if it might be a fruitful endeavor if I were to embark on a project where I attempt to bring all my influences into a singular creation. It would be incredibly ridiculous, but it would definitely have its roots in the strain of thought that Skinny Puppy sent me down for the last decade or so. God bless ‘em. lol
The playlist for this post is the set list from the last Skinny Puppy show I attended in Tucson, Halloween 2015. I had pizza, got drunk with a closeted Republican wannabe rockstar gun happy punk, enjoyed the show and then partied with a goth-girl and her fishnet clad boy-toy in an Airbnb until sunrise.
I can’t make something like that up.
I’ve been working with models. Well, I “worked” with one “model”. The rest are girls and women who have been messaging me about setting up shoots, and have failed to set up any shoots. The one who came through, managed to contact me, set up a shoot, show up, get drunk, pose, pop pills, and nearly crash her car in a matter of 24 hours.
I have to admit, the situation has left me disillusioned. I suppose it is the state I live in, or the fact that countless artists and photographers have disillusioned the talent by inviting them over to shoot and then trying to fuck them, rendering my efforts in vain. I could analyze the situation a thousand different ways but I don’t think it’s completely necessary to go over this fact again and again, the fact that I am disillusioned with the search for models for my art.
Making matters worse is the vague apocalyptic scenario that America finds itself in at the moment, the country certainly does seem on the verge of collapse and here I am, trying to build a fucking career! It’s a rather exciting time to be alive in a sense, but the fact is that the largest mass murder in American history was committed this year in Las Vegas (again, the largest was committed last year in 2016 in Orlando). The planet gets hotter and hotter and our violence grows in immensity with each passing year. The weather becomes tempestuous and erratic and our gunfire becomes stormy and chaotic. We are products of our destroyed environment.
What I do know is that right now, as an artist, as a member of the creative community, the modes of production are back in my hands. I can up-cycle materials to create paintings, to create installations, to create assemblage, and then photograph the work in my own home and endlessly share it online, even making adjustments in Photoshop to each reiteration (re: Baudrillard’s Evil Demon of Images). Can we even call this capitalism anymore? If one is willing to suffer and ignore that pain, one can assume all responsibility and treat objects as objects, material as material, and humans as obstacles and ultimately become one’s own boss. This isn’t a form of self-employment as an artist, this is a true embrace of minimalism.
I do not mean minimalism in a formal sense or aesthetic sense, but in terms of building something from nothing, building the biggest fucking buildings from absolutely nothing. We are in the middle of the beginning of the era when our own inventions and science are beginning to turn on us and devour us (guns, climate change, polluted water, our own inept lawmaking, etc.). For me, in this moment, the big question is how to earn enough money to pay my minimal overhead and afford me the luxury of hanging out on the weekends without ever answering to another boss, teacher, or mentor? Because fuck parents (re: authority figures). They left us with this accursed inheritance we call the future.
Here is the video I've completed to CFOR's track, Assume Formlessness.
This was one of those rare cases where I found something on Soundcloud and just had to do something with it. I contacted CFOR and he gave me the thumbs up and permission to post the video I made. I am honored!
Richard D. James released his album Drukqs in 2001 and then “retired”, “disappeared”, and basically “stopped releasing music.” There has been speculation on various messageboards that he has been behind numerous releases, among them titles by Steinvord, The Tuss (officially confirmed to be a project of his own), Smojphace, Jodey Kendrick, Syntheme, and pretty much anything else that is electronic and not obviously associated with a particular entity. He’s been known to drop disinformation in various media outlets, including a claim that his production kit included an MC-909 Limited Edition, a Quasimidi Van Helden and “all the Behringer effects that copy other things” (lulz). I think this a very clever PR tactic on his part. Certainly it must be incredibly entertaining if nothing else.
Like many other IDM heads, I made my first Aphex Twin download on Napster in 2000. I came across his name on a list of futuristic musicians. He was among other artists whom were shoe-horned onto this list such as DJ Spooky, Brian Eno, and Moby. In retrospect, Aphex Twin was the only artist to sincerely be peering into the possible future of what music could become. In fact, he was already performing live with a laptop as early as 1995!!
I credit Aphex with ultimately getting into electronic music production. He opened a world of possibilities for me. He’s also name-dropped artists who are still huge favorites (Tod Dockstader, Venetian Snares, and Holly Herndon). I imagine Aphex to be familiar with Jonty Harrison as well. He’s never really been easily categorized and he continues to make statements in long outdated styles (jungle, drum n’ bass, acid, etc.) and always with a plethora of rare analogue equipment. He is rumored to own a super-rare Yamaha GX-1. I imagine his synth collection, disklavier, and whatever else he has in his studios is worth millions. The guy has always struck me as a true businessman, never bragging about revenue but always on top of his earnings.
Today's blog post is about Alfred Schnittke. Before I start, I want to write a little bit about why I do these blogs and how they fit into my creative process. I treat all creative activity the same way one would approach physical exercise. I always begin with a warm-up of some type. This actually first came about when I began seriously practicing guitar. I would sit with my guitar plugged into a headphone amp and begin with something to get my fingers moving and to achieve a sort of suppleness in my hands (scales, chords, Slonimsky’s chromatic patterns, a brief improvisation, etc). The blogs often serve as a warm-up for various creative activities, I do not always post my warm-up journals, sketches, or improvisational recordings, but I do make a point of doing something before every session. These entries on composers and musicians are actually written rather quickly, with very little editing. This accounts for the content of these entries, the mixture of autobiographical memories and reflections on how the music has inspired me and influenced me throughout my life. They are important to my creative process. I think that the contemporary cross-disciplinary artist is blessed to live in an era where so much of one’s creative process can be laid out and exposed, the artist can be rendered vulnerable in a way that was not possible in previous generations. I express sincere gratitude for this luxury. I also intend to do a series on filmmakers, artists, and writers. I imagine this will be an ongoing process into the next decade of my life.
I would say I was about 15 years old when I first discovered Alfred Schnittke. I had thumbed past his work in the compact discs at Rare Bear for the past year while I was looking for works by Stravinsky and Shostakovich, both of whom I idolized and imitated to the best of my adolescent abilities. The first disc I purchased was a Naxos release, which contained Stille Musik and his Cello Sonata from 1978, which was written around the age of 44 or so. I had recently noticed that his releases suddenly contained his birth year but also his death year (1934 - 1998). Naturally, this intrigued me that he had died since I first noticed his name and Naxos releases were not significantly expensive, as I often left with as many as four at a time -I decided to purchase one of his discs, which did not include his death date.
When I returned home and listened to the recording, I was blown away! This was a different type of modernism from what I was familiar with, it was maybe even postmodernist in its own way, but Schnittke was living under Soviet rule and I imagine his exposure to culture outside of Soviet Russia was rather limited, which would limit the influences he was absorbing. The music was constantly shifting between extremes, between dichotomous textures and sounds (soft/loud, tonal/atonal, slow/fast, etc.) What was even more striking was that Schnittke seemed to favor rather slow tempo markings. In fact, between the Cello Sonata and Stille Musik, the tempo markings were Lento, Largo, Presto, and Largo!!
I had played this music for a girlfriend and she was really into death metal and punk music and I recall her response to the Agitato from his Second String Quartet as she brushed her faded-green mohawk out of her face, “Jesus. I thought my music was hardcore.” I think that just about says it all. She loved Dying Fetus and Cannibal Corpse! Schnittke achieved intensity without any electricity! His electricity was organic and achieved by utilizing elements of dissonance, volume, polyphonic density, and quick pacing. He was definitely a neo-classical composer in his own way, as he was working with sonatas and symphonic form, but he was also very much so a postmodernist, working with what he termed polystylism.
His work also encompassed film scoring and he worked with some legendary directors, including Shepitko and Askoldov among others. One can run through his catalog of work and find the influences of jazz music, Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Gregorian chant, Shostakovich, the Darmstadt serialists, and folk songs of various countries. He was entirely eclectic and eventually shed modernist pretensions of complexity in favor of a haunting and obsessive emotional content at the end of his life’s work, I almost get the sense that he was basically writing the same composition for the last 8 years of his life.
I have created a playlist that includes his Second String Quartet performed by the Kronos Quartet, and his work Stille Musik and the Cello Sonata from 1978, taken from the Naxos recording I purchased towards the end of 1998 and listened to when I was supposed to be at school that day.
Ornette Coleman’s music came to me in my freshman year of high school. I had this really bad habit of saving my lunch money up and ditching school every three days to purchase compact discs from a store called Rare Bear. It was right around the corner from the high school I attended.
I started my journey through Coleman’s catalogue with The Shape of Jazz to Come. I have to admit that I lost interest in his music once I started to explore his work that he released in the 70s and after, but his earlier work was highly influential on me. I also have this memory of being in a car with my cousin who was obsessed with punk rock music (Circle Jerks, Ramones, Dead Kennedys and the like, music which I do appreciate) and she had asked me to put on some of my favorite music. I had two cassette tapes in my bag, a cassette I had dubbed of Henryk Gorecki’s music for strings and an Ornette Coleman birthday tribute I had pulled off of the radio over spring break that year (Ornette’s birthday was March 9). I decided to put Ornette Coleman on as his music was considerably “heavier” than Gorecki’s 2nd String Quartet and also very rebellious in spirit. I will never forget the ignorant tone of her laughter when she heard Coleman’s music! Some things are forgivable, but I cannot forgive poor taste, while I won’t hold a grudge, it’s hard to forget that an individual has a limited knowledge of culture, regardless of whether that limited knowledge is of art, music, film, literature, critical theory, philosophy, or anything else, it just shows that an individual hasn’t really taken time to enjoy anything that isn’t placed in front of them by a teacher, a parent, a friend, the television, a movie, a magazine, social media, and so on. In other words, a limited knowledge of culture shows a lack of intelligence and free thinking and a shallow necessity to fit in and be accepted.
Which brings me to the importance of Ornette Coleman. His music is loved by the elitists in so-called “new music” and “improvised music.” However, I would not call him an elitist. He was famous for dropping the piano from jazz and completely ignoring the implied harmonies of the bass line when he improvised. He played a plastic saxophone. He released an album that lent its name to an entire genre, Free Jazz (a feat that was also accomplished by Venom with their album Black Metal). Another hero of mine, John Zorn, has recorded an entire album of hardcore covers of Ornette’s work, Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman. He made contributions to the soundtrack of David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of Burroughs’ controversial novel Naked Lunch.
The point is, at the age of 14, I was completely unaware how Ornette’s music would keep coming back to me as my interests developed and I would eventually become aware of the web of influence that connected Ornette to William S. Burroughs to David Cronenberg; or Ornette to John Zorn to Napalm Death; or Ornette to Weasel Walter and The Flying Luttenbachers to the sounds of No Wave (which could even be connected to Basquiat in a round about way). Ornette Coleman would eventually become this nexus point of the avant-garde for me. I cannot think of anything more cutting edge and more amazing than to be that influential on such a diverse assortment of progressive thinkers. His music epitomizes substance and quality and departure from tradition. Coleman was an iconoclast.
Coleman passed away June 11, 2015.
I also want to acknowledge my thoughts and prayers for the family of Chris Cornell. Soundgarden and Audioslave have been two of my favorite rock groups throughout my life and he was an incredible vocalist. RIP.
I've been reflecting on a conversation I recently had with artist Derek Chan.
Chan raised the notion of taking painting to another level and ideas about stretching canvas in non-rectangular shapes and canvas displayed on the floor in the manner of a rug were expressed. Our conversation also covered notions of knowing when a painting is finished and new directions for our work. This inspired some thinking about execution versus contemplation in my own work.
In my process, there are currently two activities in creation -contemplation (the planning, studying and actual thinking that go into any creation) and execution (the act of painting, performing, filming, and so on). For myself, I consider these to be two very separate activities. Cy Twombly, who is a primary influence of mine, has mentioned that he might think about a piece for several hours, but the execution is rather quick, maybe 15 minutes and everything is finished. I also strive for this separation of analysis and creation.
If I am too careful with something and it begins to take too long, it will be discarded. That always happens as a result of an overlap between contemplation and execution, where contemplation overpowers the execution of a piece. This applies to music as well as visual art. I might spend 15 hours contemplating a work via a combination of sketching, journaling, and reading. But when a piece takes me 15 hours to complete, it bores me to death and I move on to something else before it is finished. One of the alluring aspects of visual art over musical composition is that visual art has a potential to be incredibly direct and incredibly expressive, perhaps even more emotional than a lot of music can be, which often relies on clichés and preconceptions about emotion and expression (slow blues, love ballad, minor keys are associated with sorrow, etc.)
One of the major flaws in the human animal, is that of overthinking. I strive to be more machine-like, but not entirely mechanical -that is to say unstoppable in the directness of its executions, radically indifferent to its own creations, and a human being completely of its era. Chan said something about Gerhard Richter being the quintessential postmodernist and I admit that I strive to be the equivalent in our own hypermodernist era -an extension of my machinery rather than the master of my hardware and software. I want to be useless as an artist without the technology that makes it possible, an endeavor that will take years to achieve and that is taking things to the next level for me.
Before I begin today’s post about my influences, I am going to write briefly about love and relationships. People will always reveal their true selves. You have to have compassion for them. The truly troubled will do anything they can to hurt you, the key is to not react and let them fall to the wayside. Their downfall will be their tendency to hurt those who care about them. Ignore and ignite.
Now. . .let the end times roll.
One of my all time favorite 20th-century masterworks is Track 4 of the album I have shared above, a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Trio featuring Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax. The movement is built around a theme that is dark and macabre. The theme itself has a gypsy flavor and Shostakovich is said to have written this after learning that the Nazis had forced some Jews to play the violin on their graves before being executed at gunpoint.
Shostakovich is relevant because his music was about taking a muted stance against totalitarianism and Stalinism. Every time I hear his work, I can almost feel his anguish and frustration; and his overall anxiety about his own future and the fate of his friends and family. In fact, over the years I have come to identify with The Three Russian S composers over the usual Three B’s (Stravinsky, Shostakovich, & Schnittke as opposed to Bach, Beethoven, & Brahms; I never particularly enjoyed Brahms’ music). Furthermore, Shostakovich’s music contains a kernel of the polystylism we find in Schnittke’s work. This movement in particular contains not only the brooding violin them, but also ostinati that are reminiscent of popular music; a tonality that shifts center as abruptly as anything found in Schnittke’s work; romantic piano flourishes; and that characteristic sardonicism that only Dmitri Shostakovich was able to pull off in a dire way that made you take his humor very, very seriously.
There is not much else I can say about this piece, or should say about this piece. The work certainly speaks for itself, as all great masterworks tend to speak entirely for themselves. Shostakovich never had the luxury of playing public relations for himself in Stalinist Russia. Just listening to his work makes me feel ashamed of all the luxuries I personally take for granted -Facebook, Twitter, blogging, buying my own commodities, being able to self-release my own work, etc. His music is a reaffirmation of the freedoms we should be fighting for. His work is a reaffirmation of the future we should all be fighting for. To sit by quietly is suicide.
Abolish Fear. Establish Trust.