#FromtheVault: Charles Joseph Smith’s Musical Humor [TSM02]



April 2016

Musical Humor

by Charles Joseph Smith

absolute music — Music one loves to listen to.

allemande — Means ‘to the mandate!’

bass — Another word for ‘boss.’

boogie-woogie — The art of shaking.

downbeat — Being off-rhythm.

grand piano — A piano filled with 1,000 bucks inside.

half-note — A very short note; a postcard.

horn — A corn stalk that shouts.

ictus — The itch.

jazz — A sound of a yellow jacket dancing.

kazoo — A point where the magician disappears.

kettledrum — The sound of boiling tea.

note-value — The cost of a note.

organ — A musical liver.

percussion — Cursing with the use of spitting.

recap — Putting the cap on again.

tetrachord — Teetering on a line.

unison — A mnenomic for ‘You in sin.’

viola — A lively woman.

violin — Anything suave.

white key — An angel’s advice.

xenaxis — The center of music in any area, such as Paris.

y — The shape of an eighth-rest.

yodel — A model that is shaped like an ‘y’.

zither — Running swiftly hither.

Page 21 - Sasha drawing for charles musical humor

#FromTheVault: Kid Made Modern [TSM02]



April 2016

Interview w/ Kid Made Modern

Welcome to Kid Made Modern, welcome to radical reimagination. KMM is an ever-expanding Chicago hip-hop/R&B collective, first formed by Madison Scion [a.k.a. Daniel Kyri], Palma, Danny K, and Dobear in early 2015. Current core members are Mykele Deville, Madison Scion, Trig, Modaff, Palma, Jeff, and Dobear. RIP to members Danny K and Lo, who are not currently working in the collective but will always be KMM.

KMM is the indigenous sound of The Dojo, one of Pilsen’s prolific and always hustling DIY venues, but more importantly a home and haven for collaboration between musicians, artists, and activists building a new movement here in Chicago. In their words:

“The Dojo’s mission is to inspire social change by fostering and cultivating projects that connect the local community with musicians and artists from not only Chicago but all over the world. We seek to provide a safe, friendly, and creative space to engage with the music & arts scene. As a collective group we each value collaboration, self-expression, and communication. Everyone, including our guests, who enters the space has a responsibility to uphold these values.”

The following presents an interview with four members of the KMM family– Madison Scion (a.k.a. DK), Mykele, Palma, and Trig. The content mostly came from an almost 2-hour interview with the Sick Muse editors over Kirkland beers in the dimly lit kitchen of The Dojo. We had to heavily edit it down to fit the zine format, so you will see many “…”; nonetheless we hope to convey the brilliance, intensity, and sincerity that make up the backbone of KMM.

Mykele Deville performs onstage, with a mic in one hand and his other hand raised reverently. Behind him is a blue and purple screen and Emilie Modaff on keys
Mykele Deville performing with Kid Made Modern. Photo by Kalyn Jacobs

TSM: What does it mean to be in a musical ‘collective’ rather than a band? What is it that brings you together – collects you?

Mykele: For us, saying that we are a collective rather than a band lends to availability and collaboration with a ‘no pressure’ kind of air. We love mixing sounds and swirling all of our individual styles together. But we are all creatives to the highest level of the word. Which means we are busy people. So a collective mentality means that you don’t necessarily have to be locked in to a rigid schedule. You come in and add when you can. This leads to many fascinating iterations of our sound and style that continues to grow in interesting directions. Like a very weird plant. There are lots of people who do different things in KMM, from music, to composition, to video, to recording etc. We all get to explore and wear so many hats. And if someone needs to back off for a bit to focus on individual or other art, they can. We continue to move fluidly and accept more people to jam and meld. It’s really enticing as an artist to have project morph as much as KMM.

TSM: How does a Kid Made Modern song begin and develop? What is the process of songwriting?

Mykele: I think it differs depending on who’s leading. It’s a very organic collaboration. Sometimes it starts with the music, or a beat from the musicians which unfolds … The songwriters are all laying around and humming or tinkering with thoughts in their journals and someone speaks up. Maybe a rapper freestyles a bar or two or a singer belts a phrase or a chorus. We find intention instantaneously through something that sticks and everyone starts to deep dive on a presented subject until lyrics flow. The beat swells and we begin to get structure, then order, then we repeat until its fleshed with ideas and concepts we love. The final layer, which is sort of novel, is theatricality. Most of us have acting backgrounds so we are trying to find a way to bring that natural storytelling gene we all have to performance and even embed it into the song structure. We thrive on intersectionality. We try not to shy away from personal topics and intention either … When we do that, the more personal approach to storytelling, we end up creating very thought out cinematic pieces that speak to our individual outlook and we end up aligning the band to support that idea and its powerful. That’s how you get songs like ‘Asphalt’, ‘Hip Blossoms’, and ‘3 AM’. Other songs like ‘’94’, ‘Possibilities’, and ‘Origins’ are more like exercises in flow and collaboration with each other. It’s a cool dichotomy.

TSM: So why Chicago? What does it mean to be doing what you are doing here and now?

Mykele: I’ve been to NY, I’ve been to LA, I’ve been San Diego and all these places, but yeah I fantasize about Chicago. It has the Midwest heartland kinda comradery to it, and that doesn’t just apply to the manners of the midwest it applies to the artistic scene as well. Collaboration comes easy here; I always like to think that because we are called the 2nd city, but art exists in this city as much as it does in NY, we can afford to have this inferiority complex that actually benefits us where we don’t have to be as pretentious as saying we are the capital of art in the world. It’s a very in transition place … That heart that exists in Chicago—like I said I grew up on west side and been here all my life. Most of the time that makes people claustrophobic, it makes them kinda want to leave. But I’m 27 and constantly discovering new parts and things about Chicago still. The people here, the collaboration and connection, so it’s an ever expanding and constant canvas in Chicago… this untapped potential of respect, you can get respect in Chicago, you get respect in the DIY community, you get respect in a somebody’s basement, its goes way over money or stability, its something that can make you legendary in Chicago.

Madison: I see it a lot in art and a lot in the things that influence art. I believe that Chicago is a place of renaissance. I think that there is an artistic renaissance and awakening in the country, where Chicago is the center of it … I just feel like that is what’s happening and the DIY community right now is really strong. Look at what the reader and these papers are doing: these stories on DIY spaces and the DIY community, its because were setting trends, every fucking thing we do is seen and being looked at and people are experiencing it. The Dojo being on the list of the top 10 things to do in Pilsen, that type of shit.

Trig: To piggy back of what you [Madison] said about the fact that people are trying to figure out what’s going on in the DIY community … When people thing about Chicago music they think about the Drill movement and it’s a big movement: they think about Chief Keef, they think about Lil Durk, and Lil Reese and Montana and all these rappers who are making this music that’s basically talking about violence and the shit they went thru on the south side or west side of Chicago. And that’s all people hear about when they listen to Chicago music, but they don’t know about the underground positivity that’s going on, and luckily we do have people like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins and people of that nature who are also bringing back a different kinda vibe, a new wave of music. But there’s a lot of low key underground artists who are making big statements … and that’s why I’m happy that we are doing this in Chicago right now, is people are gonna see something different from the drill rap they hear all the fucking time. It’s gonna be a different kinda vibe and it’s gonna be different from what Chance brings.

TSM: Songs like ‘Possibilities’ and ‘Asphalt’ seem to deliver a message. What is unique to your music as a means to spread social / political messages?

Mykele: We believe fully in the responsibility of the artist in society. That being a point to inform, enlighten, and reveal. We live in a pivotal time where history is speaking through the artistic spirit. We have a duty to report and not placate. We don’t believe in hiding from speaking about politics, identity, racial divides, and culture through our lens. The entire point of KMM is to speak up. Talk about depression, anxiety, addiction, fear, current events etc. The fact that our group is so diverse in even just the way we look and how we identify, that places an obligation on us to speak on our perspectives.

I believe it would be downright cowardly not to address what it’s like to be a person of color in a world where there are so many misconceptions about that. Where black and brown bodies are slain in technological and public sight without repercussion … A song like ‘Possibilities’ is a song that shows two black men just having a good day, hanging, appreciating the broad spectrum of being alive and the endless amount of options laid bare to us by being positive: “Bro whatchu wanna do today? You wanna smoke some weed, go down to the park, you wanna chill man, dude you dope, I’m dope, I’m glad we can look up at the sky, sky’s the limit”. That’s radical. We live in a world where that kinda ideology is very radical. Its congratulatory and fun and that’s not an image that’s usually in the competitive beast of hip hop. We wanted to combat that in an active way.

‘Asphalt’ is also confrontational and a piece that is constantly being worked. Its not necessarily a protest song rather than an explanation from the side of the oppressed, what it seems the oppressor thinks, and the fallout of those two elements clashing. We didn’t want to cash in on any direct slogans. We wanted people to feel as exhausted as we are by the end of it so it’s a ballad. The messaging is clear and really direct. It hurts to to get that one out really, but we know its our responsibility, as people of color, as young men and women, as artists … no we don’t gotta bank in on slogans. We don’t gotta say black lives matter all the time, we do sometimes, but what ‘Asphalt’ is to me is a ballad just explaining from 3 different perspectives what it look like, what it is. Because some people don’t even fuckin’ know that this is what I see when I’m watching 20 people that look exactly like me and my little brother is watching with, these people dying and getting choked out on camera and stuff like that. And he asks me “Can this happen to you? You went to college.” And that doesn’t save me from shit, just cuz I can form a sentence that don’t mean anything. I look just like him. That’s your cousin, that’s your brother, that’s your dad; this is the history that I have to teach my little brother and little nephew. Does anyone else in America have to do that cuz I gotta.

Lyrics of “Asphalt” by Kid Made Modern, published April 2016 in TSM02

Madison: I do believe that there are certain responsibilities attached to the artists … and I say that responsibility is important to an artist because responsibility is inherently human; you occupy spaces in which there are other people. Every action that you make, every decision you make has potential to affect other people. So we have a responsibility as artists to talk about that, to talk about the harm, and talk about the good you can accomplish if x, y, z. And for me its crazy because it’s so many layers; I’m black, I’m queer identifying, I’m male bodied, I identify as male, the fragility of masculinity, the brutalization of black and brown bodies … I’m teaching myself how to move in it.

All I’ve been told my entire life as a black person, as a queer identifying individual, is that I’m not right, that I’m not enough, that I have to change, that I have to be this and I have to do that. As an actor I am not viewed as an actor, about 99.9% of the time I’m a black actor right so it means I’m constantly stereotyped. And it has been a detriment to me as a human to the point where I’m apologizing for everything I do, and in order to be a real growing always changing artist you have to learn how to stop fuckin’ saying you’re sorry for existing, how to stop saying that you’re sorry for this thing that you love to do that you’ve been told is unpractical, that you’ve been told makes no sense, that you’ve been told you never gonna get anywhere—these million negative things and having the courage to say fuck that I’m gonna do it anyway is what KMM is about, I’m not a trained singer, I don’t know much about music theory, I mean I’m figuring this shit out…A million people could probably pick apart a performance that I do and say you did that wrong, you did that wrong. I do that enough myself. I don’t give a fuck about what you have to say, because I’m gonna get up and if someone asks me to sing cuz they wanna hear me sing, I’m gonna do it anyway.

Palma: You don’t actually encounter that a lot with KMM, cuz you don’t really have to argue for it. Same with The Dojo in general. Because I’m working putting together this super collaborative event, where if you think about designing or creating something, or like I’m crafting this master piece, the idea isn’t that; its just getting everyone involved, and when you’re all there everyone’s entitled to their own space in contributing, no one’s in charge of a master picture of what it’s supposed to look like!

Mykele: And I think a lot of this rush, and ya’ll see us throwing a lot of events, is only because… look Wally’s world just closed, YC closed, we know how temporary these kind of spaces are. We gotta fight so hard in order to express with each other, in order to come together and create. It’s illegal to do that, so we fight hard here as constantly as we do so the idea itself can permeate outside of The Dojo

Palma: The fact that this could go at any point, so do it all now. PUSH!

Madison: Which is great cuz that’s how life works, realizing that this is not sustainable and our existence is not sustainable

Mykele: Creating safe space, trying to deescalate, trying to make it a venue where the greatest artists play and the best audience comes to support those people, all in the span of weeks, every week 2-3 shows.

TSM: In your interview on Pure Hype you talked about imagining a “more perfect world” both in your music and in your work running The Dojo. What does this world look like?

Madison: I call it ‘radical reimagination’ … I feel the last year especially I went on a very life changing artistic journey, the impetus of which was a lot of the protests and activism work that I was a part of toward the end of 2014 when all this stuff was happening with Mike Brown and you know Freddy Gray later on, and Treyvon Martin a couple years previous. There came a point where I got home from a protest or action or an open forum or something like that and on Facebook there were videos. There was a news report about a 12 year old kid named Tamir Rice, and I told myself I wasn’t going to watch the video, but I ended up watching it, and I ended up crying, just like weeping. I was in my room sobbing to the point where I was almost sick, and I think it was an experience that really broke my spirit…

In one of the open forums that my friend Kia hosted at Jane Addams Hull-House there was a term they used “radical reimagining of the world that we live in” and they had used it in a way that meant like abolishing police departments and the need for policemen. They taught a really rich history about how police were not always an existing law enforcing thing, and since its inception people have been afraid of this rampant militarization that you see going on with most police departments now. So anyway they were like “we want to radically reimagine the way we police ourselves”. There is not a very welcoming energy in the world outside and sometimes it can feel as if the energy which exists in the physical world that we occupy does not mean us well and actually means us harm. That got me thinking about what home is and what home means and how really when you go back home, that feeling of safety, you know what I’m saying? And for most people they kinda attach that emotional response of feeling secure with home. The Dojo is our home which we invite people into; we invite people from the outside world, from that menace, to a place where they can feel safe and feel comfortable. That to me is a reimagining of what home is. And home is supposed to be this private thing but for us we open it up to people to feel that safety and I think that’s an active reimagination of the idea of what home is.

TSM: So radical reimagination for you began as an approach to activism, but eventually it started to move into your music. What parts of the music making process in Chicago worked with your concept of radical reimagination?

Madison: Radical reimagination for me shows up in the music making process in a way where I have the freedom with my lyrics and my specific brand of story telling to take a struggle and/or a concept and turn it into relationships and what I mean by that is that I think If you’re listening to a couple of our songs on the surface level you would often assume that it was about a relationship between 2 people, and in a couple of places you would be right, but the reimagining comes in for me when I am able to take the construct of relationship and I use it to express my own encountering with other things. Like take the song “3am”; that song takes the idea and plays with it on different levels. A part of that song is about my relationship with my spirituality, how the time between 3am and 4am I always find myself doing some deep soul searching bullshit. My sophomore year of college, first semester, a few months after I had broken up with my ex (who “For Joshua” is about) and there were a series of events that had happened…with deaths in my family, racism that I experienced, homophobia that I experienced — things that had just piled up, and I remember I had a handle of Svedka and it was just one of those nights. And before I knew it I was halfway through this handle and there was broken glass, there were cuts all over my body, blood in my bed. A friend found me, it was probably one of the lowest moments of my life, and I was lamenting the love I had had with this person that I sacrificed because I wasn’t ready.

Because of the religion I had grown up with had told me that it wasn’t okay, the communities that I had grown up in on the Southside of Chicago told me that it wasn’t okay. I just wasn’t secure enough in my sexuality and spirituality to recognize that rhetoric as harmful to myself. On a lot of levels our song 3AM is about that point in my life, its about my relationship with my family, my relationship with religion, and the detrimental relationship that I had with alcohol and drugs for most of college experience. It was my relationship with all these toxic things that I had to let go of. And that’s one of the ways that I re-imagine things. We have very real, active relationships with things that are not people, that are not human… they manifest in these objects and they are our demons. That’s what 3am is about.

Mykele: I really love what he [Madison] is saying because I’m sitting here and I’m listening to some of the stuff he’s saying and I never even known some of this stuff and that’s the cool thing about KMM is that we find things that are very germane to each other that can vibe on the same song, but we have two different vantage points. We try to get it so close to each other lyrically and storytelling wise that it seems like the same subject matter, but we are completely different artists. The beautiful things about the band is we don’t all have to be writing about the exact same thing, about this umbrella term. We can find things very akin in our own writing and show human element in that That to me is reimagining the world, but like in the way we find the similarities as a vantage point in, and also the differences too. Wherever you find the differences, like I go up and he goes down you know what I mean?

Madison: Yeah here is inherent dissonance that is in our music

Mykele: Even the time measure changes in 3am from when Madison is singing it and then he changes the whole thing when I have to start rapping because it’s a completely different form.

Madison: And its great because it keeps us on our toes and there is a lot of room for organic discoveries

TSM: Okay so that covers a bit of what works well, but what parts the music making process worked AGAINST your concept of radical reimagination?

Palma: There’s political issues now that there is infrastructure. When you play here in our gallery or our basement it’s whatever, but now there’s pressure to keep doing bigger things. It’s just growin up. The areas in which the radical imagination doesn’t work (it’s a good thing when it doesn’t always work, that just goes to tell you it’s a new idea and that its not always going to work) is where… I’ll put it like this: a lot of what we do depends on our individual and collective instinct when we are writing together and working together the heights that we reach come from a genuine place of always being impressed with each other. And its not competitive; it’s a natural sharpening of our skills and what we bring to the table. This comes out in us until we try to force it

Mykele: Yeah we know it tryin’ to force we can smell it.

Madison: The moment that we stop going by our instinct and try to affect a thing, that’s when the work we do stops working, because then it becomes about making a comment on this thing we do, and I don’t think that’s ever what we want to do. So its getting to that place where instinct operates on a really base level in all humans. We have totally been conditioned by society not to follow those instincts, and I think its ultimately detrimental to our emotional, creative, mental, and spiritual health. I think there’s a fine line where you definitely have to have some restraint operating in the world we live in. but to be detached from your baser instinct, it’s detrimental to the creative process. And then you start overthinking and you start making judgments on your work and that’s where anxiety comes in, that’s where frustration comes in, and its like a vein that closes and everything shuts down. It shutters and it stops. We are still figuring out where those places exist and recognizing it in ourselves and each other, and were getting to a place where we are establishing language and a dialogue where we can say “hey maybe that doesn’t work, lets try it from a different attack”. You can’t be possessive or precious, as a collective over anything that you put out. by the nature of how we make music, I can probably confidently say that we have probably composed written and come up with two and a half albums worth of material and a lot of that has just been like, that doesn’t work that’s gone. And sometimes you get nostalgic about it and you miss the song or that thing, but it doesn’t work and we know it doesn’t work and that’s okay too because our next thing might work better.

Mykele: Like I rap but sometimes I rap very wordy and sometimes that may not be exactly what’s necessary to tell a very delicate love story

Madison: There’s been times where Mykele has been like “Madison, you could sing less right there.” And then I’m like “Mykele, if you just take out the ‘the’ and this ‘and’ and ‘of’ even.”

Mykele: And I can sit there and be hurt about that and be like “But that ‘the’ was very very powerful for me,” but nah, its very important to be that critical

Madison: And you just gotta learn as an artist to unburden yourself. Take the pressure off yourself because everything that we do is about the story and none of it is about you, you know what I’m saying? It’s about the other person, about what you’re telling them and about what they do or how they respond which causes a reaction in you that furthers your story telling…if you’re singing or playing, it’s about the other people. I’ve heard this said about us, I don’t know how true it is but I’m assuming that it is because people who are not us have said it: people feel like they are a part of KMM when we are performing because it feels like a family reunion and that’s because that energy of reacting does not end at the end of the stage. There are songs where I’m just looking at people looking at eyes and seeing the tiny things that people do when they are affected by something that I’ve done or that we’ve done. Recognizing that, acknowledging that, and I just think we just understand that pretty well. It’s inviting people in, it’s like home

Mykele: And at the end of the day that is more appreciated by the audience too I feel because they see we have that energy amongst us, and they get the feeling as well instead of just being at a concert listening to the words. They actually feel something. They feel that they are invited inside our home and listening to these stories that we telling and this sound known as KMM. ‘Possibilities’ is definitely the one that we have been really harking on that idea a lot and nostalgia tones and stuff of the 90s call and response and feel like you’re in it: “We high We fly We lovely” “Now you say it.” We always make a point to be not be afraid to talk to people

Madison: How many of us are bored with going to concert or whatever, and that odd disconnect the performer and audience.

Mykele: The space between the audience and stage, the little gap right there, formalities

Madison: That doesn’t need to exist. There doesn’t need to be a wall there. I think its just such a norm in performances sometimes and the shit is boring. Its like look at me I’m right here. I’m for real I think that shit is boring, its wack, and played out. Its like bring me into the story and you can do that in different ways, I don’t want to go to a thing and see that shit anymore.

TSM: I think that the word “safe” interests me because it’s a trending word used to talk about radical spaces, but often the way people use the phrase “safe space” can be questionable. KMM and The Dojo don’t hit people over the head with these words and the language you use is more about love family home celebration positivity. So, what is a safe space to you and why do you use the language that you use?

Madison: I’m going to say a couple things. Okay so the word home is a concept that I understand as a wide received ideal … working hard getting a home and establishing a family, that’s where happiness is etc. etc.—I’ve never been under that delusion my entire life. I came from an environment where sometimes home is not where I wanted to be. I came from a past where I always had to build my home and erect my own safety…That being said I’m gonna say something maybe people do not agree with. While I understand the impetus behind it, I personally don’t believe in trigger warnings…We don’t hit people over the head with the security or enforcing part of it because we do a lot of the work with the language that we use. I’m a broken record, “Language is important, language is important,” and it’s saying, “Hi, welcome to my home” at the door…that word establishing home totally hits on all those ideas I was talking about before, reminded people constantly that your entering someone’s home, yes it’s a space and a party but you’re still entering someone’s home, and that being the first thing you hear in some ways acts as a deterrent to their behaviors…

It’s very situational based thing, but I don’t really believe that you can have an authentic and true safe space without a few triggers along the way and I say that because without these things you wouldn’t need safe space in the firs place. In order to have a safe space you have to be able to express the full range of your emotions. You guys are using the words positivity, and its true a lot of what we do is packaged in positive way, because there is no reason not to be, its truly about being… We have live literature where people talk about racism or brutalization or gentrification and we’ve had art pieces, visual art, which does that same thing, but because its in a place where these things are allowed to live and breathe in a way that doesn’t attack you, that’s where the real safety is. To be in a place where you can I actually experience those things and have it move you without it hurting you. Because we have to be able to experience those things. It resonates. Its honest.

Mykele: The collective here, we know we probably done been through some horrific shit, but its okay okay to talk about it, its very much like, we’ll talk all fuckin day about the shit that we do, we talk all the time, its all about communication…if we can be that unapologetic with each other, we can be that unapologetic with our space, in the sense that say fuck it 230 people can come here for a punk show and guess what it can be safe, and they can look at me as a black cisgender male at the door saying I live here and I can be like hey whatsup my names Mykele, welcome to my home, you never been here before nah you haven’t, cool man welcome to it…

#FromTheVault: Music Theory: Live Burial in the Solar Anus [TSM01]



December 2016

Music Theory: Live Burial in the Solar Anus by Aaronsen P.T. Bell

I’m not a music critic. I don’t think that I’m qualified to be one. Mostly because I don’t know what the hell people mean when they say “music.” I don’t even know what I mean when I say “music.” I do say: Bounce a basketball once, and there’s your first symphony. If you’re not satisfied, get more basketballs. Maybe throw in (and throw downward) a medicine ball or a crystal ball.

I am a huge proponent of musicologist Christopher Small’s idea of musicking. Here’s what Small has to say about musicking, according to Wikipedia:

The act of musicking establishes in the place where it is happening a set of relationships, and it is in those relationships that the meaning of the act lies. They are to be found not only between those organized sounds which are conventionally thought of as being the stuff of musical meaning but also between the people who are taking part, in whatever capacity, in the performance; and they model, or stand as metaphor for, ideal relationships as the participants in the performance imagine them to be: relationships between person and person, between individual and society, between humanity and the natural world and even perhaps the supernatural world. 1

The makings of an act of musicking are chaotic, complex, extremely elusive. No two listeners agree on the significance of a composition and the fashion in which it is performed; no two listeners use the same language, or regard the same aspects of some musical event. But there tends to be a quiet agreement about importance, and about how a piece should or is intended to evoke some sensation, even in the absence of such a claim from the composer or performer.

But it’s still uncomfortable, and I am unwieldy with the musicking idea because:

1) It’s hard to say when an instance of musicking ends, if you’re into rigid definition–if you’re still fresh to the social sciences and generic theory and Marxism (!!!), that is. Carnegie Hall hasn’t collapsed yet, so why not say that the first instance of musicking about the first “piece of music” played there is still happening?

2) In talking about musicking, it becomes impossible to evade discussion about the political ramifications of a “piece of music” being performed. You have to take into account where it’s performed, how it’s presented, who capitalizes on it… who is excluded from experiencing it, on what grounds are they excluded. You have to think about who’s making the piece, who commissioned it (if anyone), who’s recording it, who’s distributing it, promoting, selling tickets to the performance of it, who built the venue, why the venue was chosen, what kind of neighborhood the venue is in, how much tickets cost, whether or not there’s an interpreter if there are lyrics being spoken or sung, if the joint is accessible to those who can’t walk, those who can’t see, on and on and on. Every thing, every event becomes exceptional through this view (within reason, within one’s perception).

3) Formal musical concerns, in and of themselves, dissolve under this sort of musicological lens. That is to say: I am not certain that there is any quality peculiar to any subset of pieces of Euro-American “art music” (example subsets: Baroque; Viennese Baroque; Viennese Late Baroque; Bach’s compositions; Bach’s Chaccone in D minor) that necessarily catalyzes or begets the reactions we have to elements of that subset, or sources the conventions around a performance of that piece.2 A Hindemuth sonata (which one, of the millions?) probably isn’t any more fitting for the gentry than the sound of Yamantaka Eye driving a backhoe through the venue wall… not for reasons beyond our own making, and beyond concerns with genre and precedent.

4) Rummaging through dated music theory texts through this lens leads to a redoubling of my belief that the limitations of one’s enjoyment of sound or sounds are defined only by belief and normativity. It seems that there comes a point where a piece isn’t bad for not conforming to some formal concern, but it is completely other, not even worth examination as it is not amenable to examination. I offer two examples:

a) In the mid-13th century, there was a music theorist who modern theorists know as Magister Lambertus. It’s not evident which person that name corresponds to, though–one prevalent theory is that he was a Frenchman who wrote one of the “five major theoretical works from the thirteenth century which deal with the music of Notre Dame.”3 Music historian Willi Apel was kind enough to translate some of Lambertus’ Tractatus de musica in his “Notation of Polyphonic Music”:

“[I]t appears that an imperfect longa [which is a long note] can be executed only in connection with a following or preceding brevis [a term that usually refers to a  note half the length of the longa], since a longa and a brevis… together always complete a perfection. Therefore, if someone were to ask whether a mode or a natural song can be formed by imperfect longae [that is, formed of the long note over and over] exclusively just in the same way as it can be formed by perfect longae, the approved answer is: no.”

In less heady terms: According to Lambert, a spokesman for the most visible music school in Europe in the 13th century, an all-quarter-notes melody in a 4/4 time signature was a musical oddity.4 Now, it’s rock’n’roll (and “classical” and blues and metal and polka and funk and and and…) bread’n’butter

b) Arnold Schoenberg is best recognized as the creator of 12-tone technique, the ordering of all 12 notes of the Western chromatic scale, so as to exhaust all 12 notes before repeating any.5 But there is more involved, a lot of shit you can do to such a procession of notes, but it’s a doozy to pack in here. So, if you haven’t heard Schoenberg’s work or read his theory books, check out his Verklarte Nacht, then check out anything he wrote way after he wrote Verklarte Nacht. Maybe read the theory book I’ll mention in a sec. I mention Nacht because it is another venue of musical impossibility. The 40-somethingth bar of this piece features a chord in fourth inversion: The diatonic note immediately above the root of the chord becomes the lowest note in this chord. So as to avoid getting into early music theory, let’s leave it at this: Dude flipped a tall chord upside-down, and it sounded like hot piss to other dudes with money and power and women. In Schoenberg’s “Harmonielehre,” his treatise on composition, he claims that “[i]t is self-evident: there is no such thing as an inversion of a ninth chord; therefore there is no such thing as a performance of it, for one cannot perform something that does not exist. So I had to wait for several years [for someone to perform the piece].” The jury presiding over the programming department of the venue at which his piece was to premiere rejected the piece on the grounds that nobody had thought to write that kind of chord, so nobody should allow that kind of chord to be performed, lest people get the idea that it was socially acceptable to write that kind of chord. Hmph.

In both of these cases, the impossible musical event could be performed mechanically speaking. But, ideologically, it could not. Thinking in terms of musicking, and reading shit like this, I can’t help but wonder what impermeable walls have been set up around me, so as to preclude me from forbidden musical practice, musical practice that I can’t capitalize on, that’s necessarily invisible.

That said, I still think about musical forms and events a lot, on a solely structural level. I tend to do it compulsively. Composition is what I do when I want to do something that I feel is so important that I simply can’t spare the tine to talk to loan officers or people I’ve wronged. So, a quick thought about esoteric structure, and then one more about criticism.


Macintosh HD:Users:jedijones:Desktop:Berg_lulu_palindrome_mirror_point.png

This is the first image that pops up, if you Google “musical palindrome.” I don’t know what the hell it’s from. Looks hard to make happen quickly.

Palindromic musical operations, passages that you can read forward and backward and still end up playing the same thing, those aren’t common. At least, I can’t recall having heard many. It’s hard to make them sound fresh, unless they unfold over a long period of time–and then, it’s hard to make them sound coherent with whatever rules one likely composes by (I have not encountered a great many for whom the only rules are “make some sounds” and “make those sounds backwards”). A composer named Olivier Messaien managed to pull off small-scale palindromic structure in the 1st and 6th movement of his Quatour pour la fin du temps. Igor Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum is very nearly palindromic, if you only listen to the 1st and 5th movement. I couldn’t find scores for to illustrate this fact succinctly, but give them a listen (at least at the beginnings and ends) and you’ll hear it. Fuck me, yeah?

Well, anyway, this palindrome thing… it depends on your frame of reference, the extent of its… palindromocity? Let’s say you hand the above passage to a 3-piece ensemble (piccolo, mini Moog, and muted tuba), and they manage to play it as written. Then, you tell them to play it backwards. They will almost certainly play the same thing, unless they chump a note. You could record the forward and backward performance at the same tempo, and the pitches and rhythms and general contour and texture of each would match up perfect (well… if you totally ignore the fermatas, the little moustache-and-goatee markings).

Something dawned on me a few months ago: A score might be palindromic, but the sound that results from it cannot be reversed and remain the same in some cases! If you take that first recording you made and just play it backwards, the pitches, the rhythms, they’ll still be in the same places. But the “attack,” the “hit,” the “start-sound” of each note (the “bwomp” of the tuba, the “hweeeow” of the Moog, the “fwhih” of the piccolo) will be in a totally different place, and the way the notes swell will change. In that sense, the physical sound, etched into the very fabric of time, is not a palindrome (unless you’re using only sine-wave generators as instruments, as they (ideally) produce no “hit” sound, no “start-sound”… but let’s discard that idea for the purposes of this dribbling).

Creating a “true” musical palindrome would require that the volume of a held note and that onset, that “start-sound,” be… uh… palindromed, as well. This is not a process that I think many performers are prepared to perform–it is a process that some might not be able to perform with their weapon of choice. I can’t conceive of a way in which a guitarist might produce a reverse-note without some serious (and seriously costly) electromagnetic manipulation. Drummers of the world! How the hell might you play a snare hit, in reverse!?

This relationship between that which is notated (in Western Standard notation, mind you) and that which sounds is vexing. It demonstrates, to me, that there’s something lacking, in terms of widely-understood representations of loudness and texture. A bunch of absolutely wacky folk have conceived of sorts of standardized loudness-and-texture notation–cats named Xenakis and Smalley come to mind, most immediately. I like Xenakis’ (check out his screen theory), but it doesn’t work so hot outside of the realm of computers. Computers are money. Money is violence.

Stockhausen is a composer who just sidestepped the whole damn issue of representation; many of his pieces call for a type of action to occur, and he trusted that the specificity with which he decided the type of action would limit the scope of sounds that might occur in light of that action. So, each performance of such a piece is entirely different physically, but is the same or similar experientially. Maybe.

I mention these things not because they’re profound ideas and I feel cool typing them (I’m pretty frustrated, actually, and I feel a bit incomprehensible; the feeling that bats words away; I don’t know how to make these ideas universally understood in only so much space). My hope is that my typing only serves to prompt you to call into question how one represents a musical event, in case you haven’t been exposed to gibberish like the gibberish above.

Some of you reading this swear by Western Standard notation, and mutations thereof. Some of you can’t sight-read worth a damn, and don’t give a damn. I suppose that I’m curious about collecting some perspectives on how people communicate musical ideas. And perspectives on musical structures! Is it sufficient that what is read bears the structural rigor, even if the sound etched in time does not? Jo! Noah! How might we collect some responses to these oh-so-pressing questions!?


I don’t think that any piece of music is Good or Bad, even if its performance causes me physical pain (though, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t listened to… felt? Felt enough persistent, high-power, ultrasonic acoustic emissions to know if I like them or not… does music have to be audible, anyway, man?).

A lotta folk I know tout originality as the sine qua non for Musical Goodness. Originality isn’t a great criterion for quality, to me. Imagine this:

Entity 1 plays what can be fairly called a Piece of Music, and we’ll call that Piece “Piece of Music.” Entity 1 plays “Piece of Music” for you.

Entity 2 plays for you something that you sense is roughly the same piece of music that Entity 1 played, well after Entity 1 did, and even goes so far as to say “I, Entity 2, thought this shit up, and I call it ‘Musical Piece.'”

Is “Musical Piece” worse than “Piece of Music”? In and of itself, I wouldn’t say so. Maybe Entity 2 is an asshole or a plagiarist, but the auditory result of plagiarism could be pretty alright.

So, when we talk about plagiarism, about unoriginality, I think we are talking about it in terms of remuneration, royalty checks, fame, merchandise, big fucking money. The piece that results from plagiarism is not bad; the fact that somebody might get some kind of capital (cultural, monetary) for plagiarism is bad.

This, of course, is a bit of an oversimplification–because there is a difference, in some cases (hip-hop music, hello!) where there’s a fine, fine goddamn line between a bad rip and a sick flip. If you don’t remember Frank Ocean’s “American Wedding,” check that piece out when you have a free moment…

…But I get the sense that I’m running out of space, and running out of steam…

I hope that something I typed here was food for thought. I hope I haven’t been preaching to the choir. I hope that enough people like this so that Jo and Noah and whoever else is involved asks me to do this again, and to really hammer out something gorgeous and concentrated. I guess this is sort of a trial run, to get back into essaying.

Let me know how you feel about it; drop me a line at aaronson.pt.bell@gmail.com.

#FromTheVault: ONO [TSM01]



December 2015

Interview w/ P. Michael of ONO

Words on the composition and inspirations informing ONO’s 5th studio album Spooks.

TSM: In a recent interview done after ONO’s performance for WHPK’s Pure Hype you were listing various inspirations for the album Spooks. I remember you mentioned Samuel Delany. What specifically do you find engaging about Samuel Delany’s writing and how was it used in Spooks?

P. Michael: I read Dhalgren in the ’80s and I think that it had such an impact on me that it has always had some sort of subconscious influence on what I do. The novel throws out all the rules of linear writing and did exactly what it wanted to do to tell a story, much like ONO does. Spooks has so much overlay of ideas, sort of classical Greek in style, the use of a harmonica all over, Billy the KID entrance into a god forsaken environment, the spooks art work – it’s all there.

TSM: ONO, especially in Spooks, feels a lot like story telling in musical form. How does ONO make this bridge between the formal elements of the music and the story told by its lyrics?

P. Michael: All ONO shows have a defined premise – that is Something Leads to Something (i.e. Avarice leads to Imperialism). ONO is a lyric focused band, meaning you must be able to hear the words clearly. The sounds we make emphasize the lyrics and bring forth a response or feeling from the listeners. There are pop/hip-hop samples running throughout our show for dramatic relief/release, to provide some happiness, or to allow us to set up for the next number and sometimes the samples are part of the story.

TSM: I have heard you say that you focus more on counterpoint than chord progression. Could you talk more about your conceptions of counter point? What are the “rules” or themes of counterpoint that Spooks makes use of? What have you learned during all these years with ONO about how to improvise counterpoint? What is difference between consonance and dissonance is?

P. Michael: Spooks was recorded with a 10-piece band all in the room at the same time. The night before the recording I wrote out instructions to keep the recording orderly. I divided the band in half and programmed two different drum samplers one for each band to follow. The bands were given headphones and each band hearing differing patterns with a different start and stop time they could only play when the pattern was playing. They were playing the same song or variations of it lead by Travis and myself who could hear what both bands were playing. They were playing in counterpoint of each other. This was the basically the first time I have deliberately used counterpoint with ONO, but ONO does make use of an overlay of sounds on a regular basis…ONO plays in multiple keys at the same time, which is our relationship with consonance and dissonance. Travis sings in the key of sort of D or C… all of Dawei’s guitars are in exotic tunings that sort of match the voice but not really. Rebecca’s keyboard playing is pretty standard and constantly searching to keep things normal but of course the rest of the band don’t make it easy for her… she might play in C but then we might start in C but move to B-flat or E-flat which brings about consonance and dissonance …soothing, can sound like it is in both a major and minor key at the same time. There are multiple samplers and 2 to 3 drum machines going on plus real drums as well.

Artwork by ONO’s travis

Announcing: The Sick Muse #11 Featured Essay + Poster Contest

We are excited to make a public call for two paid commissioned works for our upcoming 11th issue: one written, one visual. While we have commissioned work from individuals before, this is our first time making a public call for paid work, as we make strides to being able to pay all our contributors. Each selected artist/writer will receive $50.

  • Featured Essay (Creative Nonfiction Writing)

We are seeking to publish a thoughtful, creative, and original essay that explores in some way the theme of mass media: how do ideas propagate? How does art and knowledge move so that they can move us? How does power play into this? How does form play into this? The meaning of “mass media” is up for your interpretation. Anything Chicago-related is a plus.

Submissions could be in the form of cultural criticism, personal essays, social commentary, and narrative journalism, but we are also excited by writing that does not conform to form. For this featured essay competition, we are not accepting profiles of a single artist or collective, interviews, or short stories/fiction (but we welcome them in our general submission process!). The selected writer will work with an editor after selection, so the submitted piece can be a rough draft.

Please keep to approximately 1500 words max.

Deadline: December 15th

  • Centerfold Poster

Design a poster for the centerfold! The centerfold sheet of the issue will be a poster that readers can remove and hang on their walls. Posters should in some way explore the theme of mass media: how do ideas propagate? How does art and knowledge move so that they can move us? How does power play into this? How does form play into this? All styles and mediums welcome: the poster can be abstract, informational, aesthetic, or didactic. The poster will be part of a run of 5000 copies on newsprint.

Please submit a detailed sketch of the poster in the appropriate dimensions (see below). If available, include examples of past work or a link to your website/portfolio so we can get a sense of your style.

Deadline: December 15th

Dimension: Centerfold dimensions are 21” x 10”. The final version will be printed in full color (CMYK) on newsprint.

Send submissions and questions to sickmuse.chi@gmail.com

Call for Submissions to The Sick Muse #11!

Call for submissions!

Deadline: December 1st

Send to: sickmuse.chi@gmail.com

Dear loyal and disloyal readers,

We are now accepting submissions to The Sick Muse #11. This unique issue will be printed on newsprint and distributed for free to 5000 people! In the spirit of its newspaper format, the theme of the issue is mass media: how do ideas propagate? How does art and knowledge move so that they can move us? How does power play into this? How does form play into this?

As always, The Sick Muse is a platform for the expression of your experiences, feelings, philosophies related to music and art and how it happens in Chicago. Beyond the issue’s theme, we also accept anything that can be printed on a page that hovers around musicking and art-making in Chicago. This could include articles, lyrics, poetry, photography, essays, graphic art, stories, histories, dialogues, profiles, interviews, comics, and love notes.

We are also seeking two commissioned (paid) works. More info here.

In sickness and in health,