reznor on his preferred instrument [ moog ]

trent reznor talks about the moog synthesize, how it is the instrument for creating his music. later he mentions fighting the temptation for quantized perfection while making ‘hesitation marks’ & his sense of overwhelm when first making soundtracks – –

bonus: soundtrack by the haxan cloak.

andy baio explains what’s actually happening with digital appropriation, remix culture, & creativity

Andy Baio’s amazing talk about appropriation and digital remix culture. Well-researched, he tells so much truth about creativity and creative process, the problem of copyright and the myth of the solo genius-artist.

Portland/CreativeMornings – Andy Baio from CreativeMornings/Portland on Vimeo.

Change for Chicago : West Side School for the Desperate Takes A Bow


Chicago’s West Side School for the Desperate, a poetry collective living and working together in Logan Square for the last 2 years, hosted their final show Saturday April 13.  Lease issues and the collective’s need to grow in new directions mean they’re closing up shop and moving on.

Its been amazing to watch the regularly-attending open-mic poets grow since I’ve been photographing (& occasionally reading) at the Bad News Bible Church monthly event … All performances at that show were energized by an audience willing to play ‘net’ for every new poetic acrobat – every poet, musician, lyricist, or other experiment here surfed the crowd, at least in spirit.



Creative community for the sake of community is a sacred space. WSSD gave Chicago this for 2 years. I don’t think anything’s gonna come along very soon to take its place.

Photo gallery for the last installment of Bad News Bible Church over here.

what to do when you’re stuck

In no particular order.

1) If working digitally, make a copy project. Mutilate the copy, mercilessly.

If the project has sat for too long, if you’ve stared at it too much, it has become fixed in your mind. you need to change it to make it flexible in your imagination, get it unstuck.

If working on a physical project, take photographs of it. Edit the photographs. Redraw, trace, change its context. Write about it. Get your thought process about it out of your head.

2) Take the thing you know you hate about the piece, and amplify it. I did this with a student recently – she has an acute sense of what she dislikes about her photography. Reviewing each photograph, I asked her what she really hated about each one. Together, we pushed that element – usually through cropping. The hated aspect, when transformed and amplified, made much stronger, clearer images that she loved.

3) Cut out the parts you love the most.

If you are attached to your beautiful children, save those snippets in an envelope or text file or something. Or photograph the thing before you do the removals.

Later, on an unrelated day when you believe in your own failure, look at those abandoned jewels. Remind yourself of your strength.

4) Remember, making the thing is not about you. It is about the thing. Take everything about you out of it. Your story about this thing has nothing to do with what other people will think about this thing you’ve made. Other people have their own stories they are projecting into the thing. Let the fuck go of controlling the audience’s reaction to the thing. Just make it.

5) From art school. This one’s so old they named a blog after it: can you make it big? If that doesn’t help, can you make it red? If that doesn’t work, can you make it shiny?

For musicians, I think this means: can you make it super-loud? Can you add an orchestra or chorus? How about a light show?

6) Translate it into some other form. Is it a painting? Can it become a drawing, a print, a photograph, a scan, an animation, a mobile, a short story, a bad poem?

7) Remove an arbitrary element. If its music, take out all the sixteenth notes. Writing? eliminate all punctuation, or all capital letters, or all participles, or all proper names. Painting – fuck with your palette.

8 ) Change the underlying structure. Music: the key – from major to minor. Or the meter – instead of 3/4, switch to 5/8. Anything switched to 5/8 will loosen the music to a ‘something else’ enough that it will allow you to work differently.

Painting is tougher depending on the particular medium. Instead of editing a particular work it may be a radical change in structural approach – start painting on unstretched canvas, or, do the more ‘religious’ priming and mounting approach. Or, change painting surface.

9) Find an analogue process, and learn that.

Today i taught someone who likes to make watercolors how to deconstruct digital photographs using a hex editor program on a computer. She was fascinated by the image results, with how the jpeg color pooled independently from the linear or shape-edge structure of the image. The data file alterations gave her results visually similar to watercolor painting.

10) Hack your own head: don’t sleep for 48 hours and then work on it. Or, sleep for 48 hours and then work on it. Or, get hammered and work on it. Or, hang out with mary jane and work on it (though i am not a fan of this approach since one of my students died of a drug overdose from something tougher in 2000, and drugs/alcoholism mostly turn creative people into parasitic assholes). Or, get hyper caffeinated and work on it.

11) What happens when you cut it into pieces and re-order it? Collage turned some of my worst paintings into awesome little drawings and prints in the past. Cutting up and re-organizing a score can do interesting things to music.

12) Can you loop it?

I mean, can you introduce repetition into the work in any way.

In poetry, its repeating the 3-word phrase at different positions in the lines in succeeding stanzas or paragraphs. The rhythm of that phrase falls in different locations of the poem, creating internal reference points, internal rhythm. Or, in poetry, its the repetition of a particular phoneme (two or three letter element of a word – not the whole word, just the ‘et’ from ‘repetition’ for example). that petulant repetition weaving a subtler poetic word-set, less with rhyme on the ends of lines . . .

In a painting, its the rhythm of brushstrokes. Van Gogh has that rhythm – starry night is the result of the looped gesture of dotting the canvas with a brush loaded with paint. The staccato brushstrokes gesture as looped physical hand gesture.

In film and video – can you loop the footage itself, or a symbol or element in the footage – an image that repeats in the film (accidentally or on purpose).

13) You are going to die.

The thing’s continued existence depends on forces beyond your control. It is incredibly unimportant that you make the thing.

However, our pleasure and amusement as human beings demands that we make things. This activity keeps us amused amidst the horror and destructiveness facilitated by the governments in charge of this theater in which our lives play out.

So make it. Make it for you and me right now. Make it with the respect for all of us that it gives us something excellent to consider, to talk about, to share with each other. Make it so we have something instead of the shit-for-news provided by the awful economy, ongoing war abroad and domestic violence at home, cardboard politicians, digital culture spying on us to sell us shit we don’t need, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Treat you and me with some respect. Give you and me something good, the best you can.

14) For durational media – by durational I mean it takes the audience a long time to experience the work – film of any kind, music, anything that is experienced in a sequence like reading a novel or story where information unfolds over time.

(This is as opposed to looking at a painting where an image arrives all at once, and the viewer can then optionally invest more time in looking – the painting may reward the viewer as the viewer spends more time with it – but the painting does not depend on a series of small actions related to listening or reading in order to be experienced, as does film or music or reading a book).

Anyway – for durational media – make a storyboard of the whole thing, out of ONLY PICTURES. Or ONLY WORDS. This works awesomely if you are making a film – do your storyboard as words only. writing a story? Storyboard it without words.

Taking it further – one adapted from Lucas McNelly which i really enjoy as a strategy for freeing up how you’re thinking about a narrative – write every shot, or extended moment, or action, or image, or gesture that are the links for the narrative on notecards. Lay them out on an end-table, the floor, or a desk. arrange them. Take pictures of your narrational arrangement. then rearrange them. Take another picture. then rearrange them. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

15) Ask questions for which you have no answer. Make things, or pictures, or stories, or artwork, or graffiti, or movies, or music, that are your answers to those questions.

Because questions that don’t have answers are the only questions worth asking. Questions that can’t be answered in words can usually be answered in music, or poignant artwork, or films that aren’t made of explosions and muscle.

16) Make a hundred of the thing. Or fifty. Or ten.

I am stalled in writing my first fugue – mostly its an issue of time, I work full-time and have some other priorities coming in first, so the fugue is waiting for me to come back to it and finish it. It is a 32 bar composition. It is not very good. I figure by the time I’ve written 18 or 20 of them, I may have written one decent one. I should probably write at least forty.

Novels might be tougher because they seem like really long things, and as such need a lot of time. But if you think of a novel as 15 short stories, it becomes easier. If you’re Chuck Palahniuk its really like 5 short stories, so it can’t be that much work.

It also seems easy to write a bad novel, mainly because I worked at barnes and nobel for 9 months in 2004 and saw an awful lot of crap on the shelves there. So you may as well do that once, just to find out. I don’t know, a friend of mine has written three and they’re amazing, each one better than the previous. Just make more of whatever it is. Don’t stop.

When you make more, you are free to fuck up the one you are making now, and let it go. It becomes unprecious. Paradoxically, its when you give up the idea of preciousness in your work that you make something breathtaking, almost as if by accident.

17) During dry spells, the pile of what you made during hot streaks can compost and become something else. Remember those cut fabulous bits? roll ’em back into the dough. Like sourdough starter.

18) Give the work a place to go, and it will arrive. Keep the tap open to keep the flow coming.

When I moved to chicago, the boxes of filled-up sketchbooks weighed more than all of my clothes. When I was living in Pittsburgh, I always had a sketchbook or notebook with me. Always. All those 15 minutes of scratch I made waiting for my friend to show up for coffee, poems written waiting for the bus have become thousands of pages of my own personal gold mine to work from if things get dry.

The church of inspiration is only open when you’ve got the making tools in hand. Show to the page, to the canvas, to the paper, to the editing suite, to the text editor, grab the camera, get the tools in hand and make the shit. All the depressing news of the world mentioned in 13 above will be there when you get back.

19) Can it be turned into playing cards?

20) Set an alarm clock to wake you up at 3 AM. Set a notepad and paper next to the alarm clock, and a light you can turn on quickly. As you’re going to sleep, consider the work. Think about what it is, and ask what you should do for it next. Expect the answer to be there when the alarm wakes you up. write everything down. Use that when you return to the task the next day.

21) Make one a day. stella untalan does this. I enjoy watching her commentary about the experience of making. It’s refreshing.

I do this in streaks, mostly for poetry (most of the forms i work with now take longer than a day to complete a ‘thing’ – poetry is my daily dose). It does something to you to submit to the process of making like that – it becomes about the process of making, and changes you as a maker, to have that kind of mindset.

22) Can it be turned inside out?

23) Consider the synaesthetic aspects of the thing : what happens if this artwork were on menu in a restaurant? What color is it, what flavor, is it bitter or tangy? What beverage would you serve with it – wine? Beer? What kind of wine, gallo? Or that bin whatever from Australia, that Penfolds? Or maybe Champagne? Champagne’s not wine, technically, but I think you get what I mean. Does the work need more salt? Is it deep-fried, can you buy it at a bar? A diner? A country club?

24) Solicit feedback from a total stranger who is uninvested in what you are doing.

Does the audience need a special education to appreciate the work? Is it coded in a secret language? Have you dived so deep into the process of making that you have accidentally made work that is incomprehensible to someone who stumbles upon it? Have you built up an echo-chamber of ‘you’re awesome’ people around you, people who don’t confirm your suspicions when something you’re working on is crap?

I found a twitter project today that was so incomprehensible I gave up trying to decipher it after ten minutes. Something about handing access to one’s twitter feed over to 10 other people. It was couched in all sorts of 25-cent words about ‘constructed identity’. It read like a schizophrenic twitter feed. Eleven people participated in this incomprehensibility.

Show the thing you’ve made to a complete stranger. Watch their reaction. That will tell you more than any words that come out of their mouth. Ask them what they think about it. Accept what they say. Remember, there is no ‘supposed to’ in another person’s experience. They’re just having an experience of something you’ve made. And that can tell you something about what you’re doing.

25) Turn the thing into a collaboration. Play ping-pong with ideas, pushing the thing to become something else. Let go of your attachment to ‘your’ idea so it can grow in someone else’s hands.

My friend Jack Wilson and I did this recently. I sent him a loop. He turned it into a spoken-word track. I made us a lil’ video for that track.

* * *

Thanks to my friend, working musician Jesse for pushing me to write this post.

Sometimes, you’re sitting looking at the thing, and you’re not happy with it, and it has sat for too long, and so have you, and you believe in this thing in front of your face, in its failed state, and you have to put that shit mindset down and make something, instead.

Enough! Or, too much. ~ William Blake

something about the importance of frank zappa

I might be movin’ to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss Raisin’ it up
Waxen it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown


I met him through his daughter, Moon Unit, who had a pop song that did really well in the early 80’s. I loved him for the kind of music that he made that was all squiggly (for the lack of a better word) that had lyrics like the ones to Montana, which run through this little essay.

Later he became Seriously Important. His testimony at the PMRC labeling hearings before Congress were aired on TV. His testimony declared creative freedom, defended personal liberty to create.


Part 1 – Frank Zappa at PMRC Senate Hearing on Rock Lyrics


Frank’s testimony provides astute insight into the gap between performer and audience. His description of audience as ‘consumers’ back then touches the contemporary audience identity of those who now get their music without paying for it.


Movin’ to Montana soon
Gonna be a Dental Floss tycoon
(yes I am)


Revisiting his testimony, I reflect on his discussion of ‘the music industry’. Record labels mediated the relationship between composer (Zappa’s language) and audience. Music was a product, to the audience. For the composer, music is an activity. The industry itself transformed music from activity to product. Congress was acting to regulate that – the way that music as a product was marketed to the audience. Zappa was testifying to how that regulation would affect the creator.


I’m ridin’ a small tiny hoss
(His name is MIGHTY LITTLE)
He’s a good hoss
Even though He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway


Zappa’s core message has been ignored. Why regulate music, declaring it good or bad? Why not provide music education in the public education systems funded by the government, so that people can decide for themselves what is good or bad? I mean, that’s the function of the constitution, right? To provide us with the liberty to enjoy our deciding of good and bad in our own lives.


He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway
Any way I’m pluckin’ the ol’ Dennil Floss
Even if you think it is a little silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks


His loopy, scribbly music. He talks about finding musical lines from the cadences of ordinary speech. Music as conversation. I’ve been learning how to write a fugue, more recently, with all of Bach’s etiquette. And here, in the fugue, is the process of conversation – a musical idea is passed back and forth between voices, evolving through slight shifts in notes and presentation. The vocabulary for the techniques of the fugue is a vocabulary of conversation.

Zappa takes that conversation from music theory to include the waveform. He talks about that in a wonderful documentary made after he was diagnosed with cancer.


Frank Zappa – Peefeeyatko


Peefeeyatko contains the transition from instrumental music to the computer as performance tool. Today’s software puts Zappa’s programmable synthesizer into ordinary computers anyone can walk into a store and buy. This is important, and overlooked, I think, in the fight over who gets to better identify our discontent.


Every other wrangler would say
I was mighty grand
By myself I wouldn’t
Have no boss
But I’d be raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss


Our culture struggle with the problem of music-as-product vs. music-as-experience. The form by which the audience purchases it is so easy. Click a virtual button, a virtual thing downloads to an imaginary space inside a computer. Keep track of one’s sonic possessions by looking at lines of text on a screen. Keep track of those virtual possessions using a tool that you use to write email, read the internet, and do other things. Listen to that data file by clicking on it using a virtual tool, a mouse or trackpad.

The audio file is an invisible body. LP records, 8 tracks, cassette tapes, CDs are things, they give music physical weight. Does the iPod get heavier when I sync my music to it? The experience of listening is easily forgotten. The appreciation of value provided by the listening experience? Often overlooked, for it is our experience. American culture teaches the art of dissatisfaction, in order to fuel ongoing consumption.

Its so easy it makes people forget, or never learn, that the act of creating music takes a lot of work. Work which I need to return to – I want to learn how to write a fugue by writing a fugue, and writing this essay is a little bit of a distraction from that (I’m about a third of the way through that process).

Technology makes many things very easy for us. Technology makes it easy to consume. Remember to value what comes from us, what the tools themselves can’t do – like create the music, like play or speak from the stage.


the artist posed as bully

“I hate this song and Eminem. His music is filled with misogyny.” she wrote in a comment.

Each of us makes something of what happens in our lives. We each put our excretions into the world – this is Sufi philosophy.

Eminem argues with himself, his experience, his hatred in public. To answer hate with hate is to dance with him on his terms. That’s a big part of his movie 8 mile – he learns to control his own behavior, chooses to define the terms of the dance in the world, instead of reacting to the other’s provocation.

Eminem seems to struggle with his own illusions of control, addiction, and issues of relational dominance. He makes from that struggle. He sorts through his own shit.

He voices violence against women in relationship to him. If we as women can’t face that down, can’t learn to redefine that dance as we face people like Eminem, what strength do we have in this world? I’m not saying to distract ourselves by arguing with bullies, I’m speaking to something larger …

I like the fight he has, his commitment to making his way.

There are many tricks in his lyrics. He may be tricking himself too. Don’t confuse the entertainer with the mask they are wearing … There are entertainers I know who preach peace but walk in the world with an incredible amount of violence/social dominance. You never know till you meet the person.



Its funny, the whole concept of failure is related to judgement coming from outside of the self, some consequence of rejection come from the other. And when it comes down to it, the evaluation of our work is not left to us. Even its value socially. Even this capitalist-materialist notion of social status or competition between artist is an incorrect notion of failure.

That’s not the function of art, it does not compete; rather, it speaks. Good art has voice.

We have to let go and trust that the spark that the universe has placed in our chest is fuelled by the process of making. Trust that the work will find its way into the right other person’s hands and coax more fire into their spirit, too.

Milton Glaser on Creativity and the Fear of Failure

Will Marion Cook’s advice to Duke Ellington

He [Duke Ellington] had begun to record and managed to sell some of his tunes to the publishers of Tin Pan Alley. But he was still not satisfied, and he confessed his unhappiness to his friend Will Marion Cook, a classically trained conductor and Broadway composer.

During long taxi rides through Central park, the two men talked about music. Cook urged Ellington to get formal training at a conservatory. Ellington didn’t feel he had time for that. “They’re not teaching what I want to learn,” he said.

“In that case,” Cook told him, “first find the logical way. And when you find it, avoid it. Let your inner self break through, and guide you. Don’t try to be anybody but yourself.”

It was advice Duke Ellington would follow all his life.

“Duke Ellington knew how to take what could be and make it what is. He understood what it took to make something invisible visible.”


From the second episode of Ken Burns’ monolithic documentary, Jazz.

thoughts on art and healing from satish kumar

From the Indian point of view, soul is inside you, and you are inside the soul of the world. It is not one or the other; it is not either-or.

When you are healing yourself, you are also healing anima mundi, because the anima mundi and the soul inside you are not two separate entities. You are part of the anima mundi and anima mundi is part of you.

I totally agree with Hillman’s proposition that psychotherapy has been too much engaged, almost obsessed, with the inner psyche, rather than seeing that you cannot heal the individual psyche unless you have a healing world outside you. So you can go on not only for a hundred years of psychotherapy, but you can have the next five hundred years of psychotherapy, and people will still be sick and ill, because the individual psyche cannot be separated from the communal, social, and universal psyche. That’s why art in India is also a healing of society … when we contribute something, it is not for our own ego-satisfaction, not for our ego-boost, but it is so that this great flow of art and architecture and poetry and music and paintings continues. Our contribution is in the flow of art started by many, many great artists …


Mr. Kumar was interviewed by Suzi Gablik. The interview was published in her collection, Conversations Before the End of Time : Thames & Hudson, 1995. Excerpted from pages 142 and 143.