About Me

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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Late night/early morning ramblings on the importance of comfort for efficiency...

Lately, I've been obsessed with organization, particularly of the space in which I work. In fact, I've taken a look at my space and realized that it alone is probably the largest detriment to my productivity and I've been neglecting it, trying to just get by the way it's set up now. For those of you who have not seen my bedroom/office let me describe it:

It's a 9 X 9 box that barely fits my bed, a bookshelf, my dresser and a desk chair. I've found that it's much easier to roll my yoga mat out in the living room and do my stretching out there in the mornings. On days when my cousin is home and watching TV though, I have to do upward facing dog with my face two inches from my dresser drawers. Not fun. The dresser itself is currently functioning as a desk with the computer taking up most of the five foot wide, 19 inch deep surface area. (CRT monitors may have great resolution but they aren't exactly a space saver...for crying out loud, my keyboard is resting on my half open sock drawer!). My guitar amp is crammed against a wall with my oscillating fan resting on top, rather precariously. My MIDI keyboard is slid underneath my bed and resting on top of some plastic drawers that I use to store office supplies and software CDs. One of the guitars and the mandolin are both shoved under the bed along with boxes of things I don't use that often, like old music scores, while the other guitar that I play most often is sitting on the floor in its case next to my chair. My laundry bin is close by along the opposite wall from the door, squeezed in between the radiator and the dresser, giving barely enough clearance for me to open my jeans drawer. I have installed shelving on the wall where my desk is which has added marginal storage space that I'm not even sure helps that much. The closet. My cat's litter box takes up the floor, my clothes barely fit and the top shelf is given over to a cat carrier that had to be disassembled to fit and a tent which I can't use because it has no tent poles (as I recently discovered).

The biggest problem here is that I don't have a comfortable and ergonomic place to sit at my computer and compose. Whenever I write using my MIDI keyboard, I have to pull it out from under the bed and put it on top of the bed, plug it in and sit in a chair that does not recline, swivel or properly support my back. Whenever I type, my hand is not parallel to the keyboard nor the mouse. And whenever I get papers or bills I have almost no space on my desktop to stack them and the pile gets overwhelming way too quickly.

I dream of the day when I can have a separate room to do all these things I do. Imagine what I could accomplish if it were actually comfortable for me to sit at my computer and if the space was a lot more functional then it is at present. In order to do this though, in my current space I need to somehow fit a desk and a dresser where only one seems to be able to fit currently.

It would also be nice to have a different room to work in, separate from my bedroom, so that I can have a place to escape my work at the end of the day. And really, honestly, when I think about it, I really do have two rooms worth of stuff crammed into one.

And floor space is important too. Not just for yoga but for giving the room an uncluttered feel. I stumbled across this article linked from this article linked from a fellow composer's blog. The site that the first two articles originated from is great and is actually most of the inspiration for this post.

These are things that have been on my mind for a while, but unfortunately, I don't have the extra money to make a real change in my living situation, and I don't have the option of moving to a new apartment with a second bedroom or office. As much as I value location when apartment hunting, I'm quite certain that the next place I move into will likely be a lot more spacious regardless of where I have to live.

At any rate, I can't do much about where I live at the moment but, while it's daunting to think about, I can change my space and I may not have to buy too many things to make it work...or let's hope anyway. I need a desk and dresser option that will work in that space and I need a comfy chair. This can't that huge an investment.

As I get to thinking about it though, I start to remember why I settled with things the way they are now. Cost and the hassle of getting rid of the old stuff and then physically moving everything intially led me to accept that my dresser does work as a desk and, in a pinch, it would have to do. If I can make this work now, maybe I can make it work just a little bit longer until the next time I move (potentially as long as a year from now). Then when I move I can make having a second room a priority. That way, oh man, the ideas of what I can do. Comfy reclining chair, desk that makes ergonomic sense and a computer that doesn't take up the whole damned work surface. Then perhaps a keyboard stand. And I can do yoga in my bedroom again!

But right now, my problem isn't solved. I think with the consideration of decluttering and perhaps another look at how my work area functions, I can probably get by. But it's nice to dream meanwhile.

Got a late night tonight and will think of some of this stuff tomorrow. I have to finish some editing tomorrow and possibly record some more takes for the dancer's piece and then I can send it out. Nearing the end there.

Saturday night, Peeper: A Sort of Love Story screened at Inivisble Dog Art Gallery in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn at 9pm. I was able to stop by and make an appearance before heading in to work (actually to cover the writer/director's shift who took off to have the screening in the first place). Only got part way into the movie before I had to bounce. But, it was great seeing everyone and meeting a few new people. The director and the lead actor were there and we were all introduced, including yours truly, to the audience before the film started. The director and writer always have really gracious things to say about my score and I always appreciate that. I wish I could have stuck around to see how the film was received by this audience. I even had to miss the Hoboken International Film Festival screening but I hear it went well.

I'll keep you up to date on how things progress as I work on finishing the dancer's music and as I work on some new electronic music.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer heat...

It is now hot. I still don't feel right complaining about humid weather here when the breezes are still nice and the humidity is not nearly as bad as "good ol' Nowth Cackalacky." Still. It's hot.

I just got in from an afternoon of roaming around the city thanks to having two appointments not so evenly spaced out throughout the day. The first was a nutritionist appointment at noon in Gramercy at the NYU Medical Center, at which I got very little advice I could use and only a few answers but enough to satisfy me that I probably do have Celiac disease and I am probably not going to die from it. In fact, all those symptoms are now finally starting to be manageable.

The second was a voice over coaching appointment at Edge Studio near FIT that wasn't until 3pm. So, naturally, I had to kill some time before that and managed to grab a couple slices of gluten free pizza at Mozzarelli's on 23rd Street and eat them in Madison Square Park before strolling around for a bit in Chelsea. I love that if you have all the time in the world and it's nice enough outside you can just about walk anywhere in the city (within a single borough of course). I've had days where I've meandered from Grand Central Station all the way over to the West Side Highway and down to the West Village, or wound my way all the way down Broadway from Madison Square Park to Chinatown and not felt tired at all. Just a little foot sore.

The voice over workshops and coaching sessions are going really well. This has been my third coaching session today and I feel myself really getting the idea of how to do this job. Plus, it's feeling more and more like something that I really want to do and that I can do well. Which is exciting. I think I've even found the perfect read for me: software video tutorials, particularly music software since I use a lot of it. My coach said I was doing really well today just naturally getting the read right and following all of her directions.

So that's exciting. I just spent the last few hours trying to sort out some issues with my phone and buying new linens in downtown Brooklyn. And now, I'm in and out of the heat and liking it. About to work on some musical ideas. Not the dance piece. I'm taking a little hiatus because I sent in some of my work to her yesterday night and she like it a lot. I feel like I deserve a bit of a break.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Prospect Park and Snug Harbor...

Fantastic weekend. A huge group of friends from the UU church were gathering in Prospect Park Saturday for a picnic to see off one of our friends who is leaving town to go grad school in Charlottesville, VA. I joined a little later because of not getting off work until 6, but after wandering for a bit, using a group of soccer players as my main landmark, I found the crowd near Nellie's Lawn, snacking on picnic food and passing around a book in which we were all writing recipes for our friend to take with her to VA. The idea of checking out the bandshell to see the music there had been considered but ultimately, as the crowd dwindled to about 8 of us, we all decided to go grab drinks in Prospect Heights at Soda. I had been here once before but had never seen the couch room and patio. Awesome vibe at this place and there were a couple of DJs that we got a laugh out of. Have you ever seen a DJ that doesn't move when he/she is spinning?

Anyway, I left around midnight because Sunday was Juneteenth and I had been roped into singing with the ensemble so I had to be up at 8am like usual. I had previously thought that the choir season was over but was okay with not sleeping in on Sunday...the guy who usually does music whenever our regular choir director isn't in is a really good guy who always picks good music to do. He's a composer as well and speaks French. It was a really fun service and we had some guests performing with us as well. One guy sang "What's Going on?" by Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan song as well which escapes me at the moments, another guy sang A Woody Guthrie song, "Deportee." The service itself related Juneteenth not just to the ensuing civil rights struggle after the emancipation of all the slaves, but to all civil rights struggles from women's rights to LGBT rights as well.

Afterward, there was a pot luck picnic out in the street and some of the same friends I had hung out with Saturday all stuck around. The friend who had the going away party was planning on going to go to Snug Harbor on Staten Island and invited a ton of us to join. Snug Harbor is a cultural center and botanical Garden a short bus ride away from the ferry terminal in Staten Island. I had only vaguely heard of it before so I was excited to take an impromptu trip, especially one that involved a boat ride and a borough I never go to. My Sunday nap was looming but as I turned the idea over in my head a few times, I became much less interested in sleeping and much more interested in adventure.

So, I agreed and joined the group, Stephanie, Koren (who is moving soon), Markus, Lisa and myself and we all walked to Siggy's to get liquid refreshment and/or caffeine and water for the trip. It's starting to get hot up here these days and an afternoon in the sun would probably have been a little dicey without water. Then we walked down to Borough Hall, grabbed the 4 train to Bowling Green which is a short walk to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and from there hitched the ferry to Staten Island. Waiting for the bus once there was a bit of a spectacle. There was a long line of people all trying to get on the bus when it pulled up and what started out as a perfectly peaceful bus riding adventure devolved into a shouting match between a much older gentleman and the bus driver probably about the fact that a lot of people who were further back in line boarded the bus first through the back door. We decided ultimately to take a few cabs to Snug Harbor instead of watching the debacle unfold and wondering when they were going to just let us all board the bus and get underway.

A much better idea, we arrived at Snug Harbor in a matter of minutes and, though the clouds that we had watched getting darker from the ferry threatened to burst, we set off into the park gravitating toward a particularly cozy looking garden and an ivy covered walkway. The park was quiet that day and felt far removed from the din of the city. The gardens themselves are well kept and diverse, and the grounds are scattered with old buildings, the current use of which I never made the effort to discover, wanting mainly to say outdoors despite the threat of rain. Strolling further on we wound up in a hedge enclosed grassy area with two benches, perfect for whiling away the time doing spontaneous yoga poses until the sun came out and started to scorch again. From that point we sat for a while at a cafe in the park and re-hydrated, munching on some leftover risotto that Markus happened to be carrying with him.

I had my eye on the time and kept calculating how long it would take to get home and if I'd have time to squeeze in a nap. But, of course, I wanted to enjoy my day so I made my best effort not to preoccupy myself with such worries. The park closed at 5pm allegedly so we found the bus stop and waited, debating whether or not to just walk to the ferry terminal. The bus was yet again overcrowded but we made it back to the ferry terminal just in time to miss the 6pm ferry. They run every half hour so we cooled off in the waiting area's air conditioning and subsequently piled onto the next ferry, where I almost fell asleep, pulling into Battery Park city about fifteen minutes later.

Now, it didn't take much convincing for me to step into the adjacent beer garden with my friends to cap off the night, especially since it was only 7pm and I only needed an hour to get ready and 45 minutes to commute to work. The ride home from Whitehall St. alone would have taken only 20 minutes on the R train. This particular beer garden had burgers on the grill so Markus and I both had one along with two pitchers of beer between the five of us. While there, we witnessed yet more animosity in the vain of our earlier encounter with the angry bus riders. Some guy threw a patio chair and upon watching the drama the unfolded before us we surmised that the bartender who served us our pitcher had found out her boyfriend or husband (the chair thrower) had been cheating on her. I think it was the screaming of the phrase, "Get out of my life!" that tipped us off.

Post scuffle, I finished my glass and the conversation we were having and parted from my friends to go get ready for work. Bummed that I had to because I read later via facebook posts that there was double the adventure after I left, the details of which are still vague to me. Something about trespassing in construction sites and narrowly avoiding arrest. Oh when will I get a normal job schedule?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Made up words and made up music...

A little blog-ulation for a Friday evening. I've been working on the dancer's piece this week a good bit. Experimenting mostly. First with recording scenarios, i.e. am I going to use the piano, am I going to get it tuned one more time, or am I going to use Native Instruments Akoustic Piano, a rather fine piece of software sampling that still doesn't quite match the sound of a live piano even though it's sample library includes samples of some of the best sounding pianos out there. Also, should I record the piano close-mic-ed? Or should I mic the room and capture everything that way?

Turns out the room sounds just fine with a little noise reduction and possibly some EQ and I didn't need to drag the computer itself out in the living room by just setting the mic up right outside my bedroom door. (Incidentally, this gave me a great idea for something to try when recording voice over stuff...shutting all the doors to the bedroom and bathroom and setting up the mic directly outside my door in order to cut down on room noise and to deaden the sound hang towels or some other kind of sound treatment from the doors...more on all this later.)

Another decision of mine, somewhat more difficult to make and that I'm somewhat closer to making after a week of trial and error, is whether or not to notate the entire piece and strictly adhere to the original improvisation and all the ideas therein or to simply use those ideas as guidelines for a new improvisation. Leaning toward the second one. I'm slightly worried that I might be cutting corners by not notating the piece but I'm not sure how much it would help me to have notation in front of me when I redo it. When I record it, after all, I'm not going to be sight reading the piece, I'm probably going to have most of my ideas memorized and will be focused on the more emotional aspects of the performance as opposed to be precise about what the notes I played before are.

This is the kind of piece that I want to have feel completely natural and not contrived. And in its original state, performed on the fly, straight out of my fingers is when it sounded the best. I admit that I'm not going to get that exact performance. It may be better in some respects, it may be worse in others. It might contain new elements, it may lack elements I had thought were awesome but it's all about how it's going to flow together.

I've even considered scoring it to the picture of the dance as that might make for some interesting gut responses and hopefully that would even come out out in my performance.

The other things is length...I just watched my latest take against the one video I have of the piece (volume of the temp track turned down, of course), and it's working except, it times out too soon.

At any rate, this has kept me busy but in my down times and when I need to stop thinking about it for a while, I've taken to composing little blurb type things using my sequencer and simultaneously getting some practice with it and my soft synths. It's been quite rewarding...maybe I'll even post a few tidbits.

It occurred to me, though, that these little "blurbs" could become tracks I could put up for licensing on some of the sites I've been researching. Plus, they could be forming the basis for my new electronic music project, still in the works.

In addition, to the music, as some of you may know and as I may have mentioned, I'm taking voice over coaching sessions at a studio in Midtown and am actually enjoying it quite a bit. Eventually, I'll be getting my business started there and picking up gigs on the side. I'm actually also planning on making it a component of my music business. A sort of one-stop shop for voice over and backing tracks. It's my idea, don't anybody steal it!

Anyway, I'd better get some rest. The perils of being the new(er) guy at work mean I have to do the swing shifts, night shifts, then morning shifts (earlier and earlier as the week progresses) and then overnight shifts and then a mediocre version of a weekend that really only lasts a day and a half. But at least I have time to write music. At least.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Norah Jones and Me...

There's a tent hanging up to dry in my bathroom...I can explain. Last night was the opening concert of the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival and Norah Jones was playing a free concert in Prospect Park. There was some debate as to whether or not we should even go due to the constant rain outside yesterday but in the end, half hoping that the concert would be less crowded on account of the rain, we decided to go. Karishma and I and a group consisting of her friends from school all converged on the park around 7:30 in the pouring rain. Since we'd all of us already been walking around in the rain for several hours our shoes and pants were pretty thoroughly despite our umbrellas. After a certain point being soaked to the bone stopped bothering us and we started to think about how badly we wanted to sit down and how woefully unprepared we were for the weather conditions. (Well, most of us were unprepared. One of Karishma's friends was sporting the coolest pink galoshes I've ever seen.) The conversation, then, eventually turned to our options in effecting a situation in which we could all sit down without soaking our bums. When discussions of trash bags elicited generally unenthusiastic responses, I blurted out that I had a tent sitting in my closet back at my apartment. A weak effort at drumming up support for the idea of going and getting said tent was attempted, but the idea fizzled out with talk of potentially missing the first half of the concert.

However, when my thoughts turned to the complete saturation of my shoes, socks and jacket, I reintroduced the idea of the tent minutes later and Karishma's friend with the pink galoshes volunteered, rather enthusiastically, to accompany me on my quick jaunt back to my pad. We managed some of the best train luck I've ever witnessed on both the outbound and return journeys (we had to catch both the F and the R, twice) and were back with the tent (and my fresh water-proofed boots and rain jacket...new socks too) within a half hour and had only missed three songs.

So we set about finding a flat place to set up the tent, giggling about our awesomeness only to realize, upon opening the carrying case, that we were missing a quite crucial piece...the tent poles. I haven't used this tent since I was married so I can venture a guess as to where they might be. Too bad. We sat on the tent for about five minutes, umbrellas open over our heads, until we noticed water pooling up on the canvas and decided it wasn't worth it.

At that point though, I looked up and saw the way the rain was steadily coming down over a sea of open umbrellas stretching out between us and the stage in one of the most beautiful wooded areas of Prospect Park. The whole scene was just beautiful and it didn't matter that we were soaked. What a great night! I'm not even that into Norah Jones but she played really well and her band was pretty tight. Some friends of mine even joined us. A friend that just moved here and her sister who was visiting. We later came back to my place to watch a movie and knock back a bottle of wine.

It's nights like these that I like to wax a little poetic about how, after a little over a year, I'm feeling like I finally am settled in here, comfortable. Last year, I was so far removed from the New York City experience, feeling like I couldn't really socialize or do anything fun without an hour long train ride and/or a lot of finagling with my few friends who were here in the city at that point. Now it's seems just a touch more effortless, as it should. I mean, twice in one night I was able to slip back to my apartment and then go back out and it didn't take half the night. That's one of the reasons I wanted to move to New York City (or less specifically, to an urban area put together as such). I like having everything I need including fun stuff close by and not having the hassle of a car. I feel like it makes one's life a lot less stressful if you can just walk a few blocks and meet people when you need to unwind from the day or be around friends.

Plus, this city just seems to have an infinite (and diverse) supply of fun things to do. Outdoor concerts are one thing but street festivals, art galleries, parks. The list goes on. And now I have my bike here...granted it's currently locked up outside and getting rained on but eventually, I'm going to take it out for a spin up to Prospect Park to do the loop there. There's even a bike ride that goes from the Brooklyn Bridge to Coney Island along an old greenway...about which I had no idea.

That having been said, I had to hang the tent up to dry in the shower all night and set my shoes in the window to dry. The subsequent cleanup this morning has kept me from doing anything productive, though I was actually quite a bit productive this weekend. Now, I can say with confidence that I have sorted my computer out to where I can make it work for me. Not to say it's perfect but at least I can record a seven minute take without it crapping its pants and giving up on me. And record a seven minute take I did.

But all this time away from actually working on the computer and recording has forced me to consider structure of the piece and instrumentation. As frustrating as those constant interruptions to my process have been, they've actually done me some good. I've started to appreciate the value of being able to get up from the computer and start thinking about things a little differently. Getting away from the problem was what spawned that 8 minute improvisation on which I'm going to be basing the piece now. Had I continued to troubleshoot my computer problems, hell bent as I was on fixing the computer, I might never have come up with that idea. At least not that exact idea. Might have been something far less inspired. Whatever comes out when I'm stressed, my head isn't clear and I'm pressured to produce something quickly to make up for lost time is generally the worst of my output.

Some of my best ideas, on the other hand, seem to come at the least likely times. I was on the train and had another creative brain wave about how to go about reworking the piece. I often think of things while sitting on the toilet (who doesn't?). In fact, almost every creative brain wave I've had about this particular piece has almost always been when my head was clear and I was essentially loafing. I guess the moral is to stop chasing it all the time.

The dilemma with recording an improvisation, and later trying to base a piece on it, is that it usually lacks structure and structure is the exact thing you are trying to impose upon it. However, if I like it enough to try to make it into an established piece, then it's probably true that I like it almost the way it is, so I'm compelled to find some structure inherent in the piece. So that becomes the bulk of the work. It's essential, then, I find, to break it down into parts first and then start notating it. At first I wasn't doing this. I was simply trying to relearn what I had played and then reproduce it from memory. This is essentially cutting corners and the one thing I've learned about cutting corners is that it never gets quicker results.

After having had so many distractions that made me get away from the computer and start thinking of things in a broader sense, I now see the separate pieces in my head and I know how to reassemble the piece. I was thinking of it originally as a minimalist piece and not simply a through-composed work. But my methods in attempting to reproduce a clean take would have made it seem otherwise. Now I'm going back to seeing it as a minimalist piece again and I see why it works.

A minimalist piece is typically characterized by a repeating pattern that is layered over time with new patterns in different parts. What I decided I need to do was find the patterns in my own piece and cut the piece up and start from there. Now, there are certain pieces that you can tell when listening to that a pattern is repeating, often because the pattern is short and simple. Though this can become boring after a while, minimalist pieces do generally become complex however when these new patterns are introduced. This is, in my opinion, how they work so well, despite seeming so simple. The complexity is not in contrasting sections but in the denseness of layers and the new ideas that can be created by putting two patterns on top of each other.

However, since I'm playing this piece on one instrument, there's little room for layering of patterns. So what I've decided to do is find the patterns that fit together and could go over top of one another and stretch them out end to end. That's, after all, how the improv worked so well. It consisted of patterns laid end to end, the tonality of which never changed throughout the piece. These patterns ended up being of roughly the same length and similar in their dynamic arc as well. So in that regard, it felt like some aspect of each pattern was repeated throughout the improv. This also gives me flexibility as well. Once I've found the patterns and set them apart from each other, I can try putting them together in different ways to see what I come up with.

I hope this hasn't sounded like the ramblings of a mad man. At any rate, hopefully, I'll push through and finish this within the week. Before I go, I'll tell you about another awesome brain wave that came out of my computer not doing what it was supposed to. I was trying to overdub a guitar part and then apply the processing to it afterward but for some reason I was having a latency issue again, so I just put the guitar down. Then in a stroke of genius, I applied the processing (which is meant for guitar being it a guitar amp simulator) to the original take of the piano and mixed the two, varying the volume of each one relative to the other throughout. It sounded awesome! I might not need to add a guitar part at all.