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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. 

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.

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