In what environment were you when you first experienced the power of music?
Embryonic fluid… my mother’s heartbeat, if memory serves me, was an Adagietto misterioso in 6/9.
And after that, funny guy?
After that, I would have to say it was being in church with my family and hearing the sonorous sustains of the adult choir. I wasn’t raised in a Baptist congregation where music was rejoiced enthusiastically and a spiritually integral part of the fundamental religious experience, but I later realized reflecting back that we had a really talented choir director who was able to bring out some pretty incredible voices. And because of those experiences, I’m still very much attracted to two wildly different tempos: slow and heavy and quick and colorful.
Were either of your parents in that choir?
Actually they both were. My mother was more of a trained vocalist than my father was to the best of my knowledge. She had a delicately haunting falsetto and was usually the female soloist. It’s funny… I recall sitting in pews with my older brother or, an even more solidly embedded memory after he left to live on his own, by myself as both mother and father sat with the choir in a separate set of pews off to the side during the entire service.
Any other musicians in the family?
My mother’s father was a flutist and piccolo player in the Rhode Island Symphony Orchestra. My older brother was a trained jazz drummer. In fact, from the time I can remember until I was about 8 or 9 years old, my brother could be heard in his downstairs bedroom thumping away on practice pads on his trap set. He was good. He was really good actually. After he relocated from Virginia to San Diego and then to Atlanta where he currently lives, he ended up selling his kit. A sad day in my opinion. I’m sure he felt it was time, though.
So, what is it about music? Why do you feel it is such a powerful medium?
Music has the innate and unique ability to serve as the vessel for that which is fundamentally occurring at every given moment. It is, I believe, the language of existence. And when words are added to the equation and instrumental composition becomes song, the communication also furthers the ongoing story of the human narrative experience. I enjoy both worlds equally.
What music projects have you been involved in the past, and which are you currently involved in?
The first music project I was in that played live performances on a regular basis was Abstract. I was living in Norfolk, VA, and the band consisted of two acoustic guitars, a cello and a drummer/percussionist. It was formed around my compositions for guitar and voice. After moving to Seattle in 1998, I became a member of what is now known as The Charm & The Conspiracy, was a founding member of Lady Krishna’s Peppermint Lounge, a longtime member of ARKADE, a short time member of noise band Electric Chinese Orchestra, a touring member of Death By Doll featuring graphic novelist, musician and illustrator Dame Darcy, a live/non-recording member of Palodine and the artistic director, composer/musician, costume designer and lighting and environment designer in the award-winning art-theater group PB_TMOG with choreographer and movement artist, Paige Barnes. I am currently active in The Music of Grayface, The Antenna Project and 3844.
That last one, PB_TMOG, had you working with dance then?
Yeah… it was amazing. Paige is a great choreographer, very personal vocabulary she comes up with. Super interesting to watch and digest. Like I said, the project also had me exploring other disciplines such as costume, lighting and environment design in addition to music composition and live presentation, which I hadn’t really experienced since the early days of The Music of Grayface when it was simply known as Grayface… it featured the talents of Kate Kraay as the theater artist who would take the “scripts” I would create and interpret and present them as theater art meets performance art as I was presenting my songs. The on-stage combination was special. But, yes, being able to present songs in a live setting while movement art was occurring, very high quality movement art at that, was a remarkably beautiful experience.
Do you play more than one instrument?
I do actually. I feel comfortable on acoustic and electric guitar, electric fretted bass, drums of any kind, trumpet and cornet, piano, organ and voice. The 3844 project has me composing exclusively with a computer, all the sounds are from a 100% digital source.
Can you tell me anything else about 3844?
Nope. It’s a top secret project. Sorry. Hahaha! Yeah… absolutely. 3844 (pronounced ‘thirty-eight, forty-four’) is my outlet for the composition-based concepts that I’ve had floating in my head for many years. Some complex, some simple. But until I explored composition software applications, I didn’t have an artistically or technically viable means to manifest any of these concepts. The first result of this exploration was a concept album titled ‘The Planets’. This album features eight compositions, each based on my factually nebulous comprehension of each of the eight planets in our solar system, and took me just over 3 years to complete.
Factually nebulous comprehension?
Yes… as in “my ideas about each planet that seem as if they could be true, but either aren’t necessarily true or are purposely non-rational for the sake of dramatic effect”. Another way to maybe say that would be that the creative point-of-departure for each composition on ‘The Planets’ comes from my “knowledge” of each planet as it exists today… its historical baggage and contemporary mysteries included.
So, they’re your intuitive interpretations of the planets?
Yeah, sure, I would agree with that on a certain level, absolutely. But I would like to add that within “historical baggage” are facts… sizes and distances and such… that also served to inform each of the compositions. But I never actually looked into the precise numbers themselves… I let my vaguely accurate memory of them do the informing. And in that way even those facts are able to remain “factually nebulous”.
And the name? 3844? What’s the significance of that number, if there is any?
Well, originally, the project was going to be called ‘Jazz 3844’ in reference to another related idea to start a composition project whereby I created what I thought might be accepted as Jazz in the year 3844. Or, might be presented as Jazz, to be more precise. And not that 3844’s output, on some level, isn’t still inline with that ethos, but it doesn’t adhere to it strictly… I let that idea go for the time being so I could focus on the compositional concepts I’ve been wanting to externalize. So, I dropped Jazz from the project name so that those composition ideas wouldn’t have to find another home, so to speak.
Have you composed anything else for 3844?
I have not yet finished any other albums, per se. I have, though, been applying the principles of the project to my long-time interest in contextual activity-based audio scores.
So, you’ve finally matched Brian Eno by writing Music for Post Offices?
Hahaha! No, I wish! But speaking of the ‘Music for…’ template, I have been working on compositions for an on-going concept album titled ‘Music for Active Meditation’ that aims to non-invasively provide carefully crafted audio scores that in various ways would enhance someone’s personal active meditation experiences. And I’m also working on one more concept album titled ‘ROY G BIV’. Each of the seven compositions is inspired by one of the seven distinct bands in the color spectrum… all merely artifacts of our color vision, interestingly enough.
And ‘The Antenna Project’? What’s that about?
Oh, wow… The Antenna Project. Well, it’s an instrumental live-score (improvised context-specific audio composition) music project that was originally born out of my existential frustration with what I believe is a deep desire all composers and musicians inherently possess: we all create what we do because we enjoy listening to it. But the abysmally ironic aspect to this activity is that while we are able to enjoy the creation and regurgitation of these creations, we aren’t then able to enjoy their playback as would anyone else being a non-source listener.
So, The Antenna Project is in part my way of navigating this dilemma by way of attempting to fulfill all the roles of any music composition and presentation: creator, director and listener. And by employing speed-of-consciousness compositional elements and seemingly infinite layering made possible by subtly hacking the intended purpose of a digital delay effects pedal into an acutely organic composition device, I am able to create, enjoy the process of creating in real-time and then also upon recording and then revisiting them experience them very much how a non-source listener would.
And this phenomenon is possible because during each moment and each series of moments while I am live-scoring, my brain fails to accurately take a robust snap-shot of what I was doing… my exact actions lost in time… how I created those musical moments and series of moments never to be truly duplicated ever again. And it turns out that it is our memories, harshly reinforced by hours upon hours upon hours of rehearsing and presenting the same composition, that is to blame for the somewhat innate inability for us to enjoy that which we create.
Another way to look at it is like this: when we come to possess an intimate knowledge of something, we can say we orbit it tightly. When we do not possess an intimate knowledge of something, we can say we orbit it loosely. With one paradigm comes a more finely tuned perspective, with the other a more rough perspective. Not being able to enjoy something that we have created means we more than likely possess an intimate knowledge of it, a finely tuned perspective. And it is from this intimate perspective that we, as composers and musicians, aren’t able to truly enjoy that which we have created.
I take it that was the short answer?
Anything else you’d like to say about The Antenna Project?
Yep. There are two other layers to the project that are essential to its vitality. At first I chose the acoustic guitar because I felt that as one of the most ubiquitous modern folk instruments, it hadn’t really been all that explored acoustically. It is interacted with in more or less the same manner by more or less all who play it. So, I wanted to really understand its acoustic possibilities as a “music object” first, compositional tool second. The audio feedback issues became simply too much to consistently overcome, so I currently use an electric guitar, however, as well as a violin bow and the “live-jack” technique.
Also, the project’s audio output itself was always intended to be reserved exclusively for a live setting… illuminating an audio architecture as foundational as any interior space’s walls and floor. I never had nor do I have now any intentions of creating “albums” for this project. However, I recorded Sample comps as studio documents, and I did so for two reasons: 1) to have proof that I could enjoy that which I created as would a non-source listener… i.e., proof of concept, and 2) so that I could easily communicate to those who might want to hire The Antenna Project what they may reasonably expect as far as a range of input methods, textures, volumes, layering techniques, moods, etc. Also, in 2020 I launched the Chillout Nook Sessions as a way of manifesting meta-live-scores that are each derived from me thinking about specific things and allowing the live-score to emerge.