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Massive Creative Recharge From Captain Beefheart

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Captain Beefheart‘s music is not for everyone. That’s a good thing. I’ve seen this bit of his prose reprinted multiple times since his death, but I thought it would be useful to reprint it again. The advice isn’t for everyone, but it might be exactly what you need to hear at this exact moment. Don’t be put off because it says it’s about guitar playing. It isn’t. It’s a magic spell. It’s about whatever you’re doing right now.

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Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

1. Listen to the birds

That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar

Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush

Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil

Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out

If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone

Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key

That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument

You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place

When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine

Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

Taken from the Captain Beefheart Radar Station

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The Creative Power of Faking It

Today’s post is guest-written by Jay Hathaway an always entertaining writer and blogger! Why do it for real when you can fake it?

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Sometimes a fake is even better than the real thing. Before Ben Folds released his latest record, Way to Normal, he spent a day in the studio producing “fake” versions of his new songs to leak to the public. Although these recordings were initially meant as a joke, a fun way to kill a day in the studio, they contain moments of brilliance that match anything on the “real” album. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Folds said that the idea of making a fake album allowed him to create in a way he wasn’t totally used to: “The word ‘fake’ came up when we started doing it and it takes all the responsibility out. You can just be free to write and let it go.”

That goes a long way toward explaining how the leaked album, made in a single day, even came close to the official release. Trying to fake being yourself might actually generate something that feels completely authentic, not burdened by reputation and assumptions. The distinction between real and fake is important during the process of creation, but its power diminishes once the art is out in the wild. If you played Lovesick Diagnostician (a fake song) and Dr. Yang (the real track) for someone who knew nothing about Ben Folds, and asked that person whether they were real songs, the question wouldn’t make any sense.

Frank Portman hit on this idea in one of my favorite novels, King Dork. Tom Henderson, the titular dork, learns the following lesson during his life as a high school outcast: “Start a band. Or go around saying you’re in a band, which is, let’s face it, pretty much the same thing. The quality of your life can only improve.” To really be in a band, you have to make music. When you just say you’re in a band, you don’t necessarily have to make anything.

If you’ve ever made up fantasy band names and album titles, a game Tom Henderson and Sam Hellerman play throughout King Dork, you know that the identity often matters more than the music. The iconography you produce under the guise of your new band can take on a life independent of any music that has been or will ever be made anywhere in the world. There’s something tantalizing about titles of songs and records no one will ever hear and posters for shows nobody will ever play.

Some fake bands, like the ones Tom and Sam create in King Dork, eventually cross over into real band territory. They rehearse, they make recordings, and they play shows. Others have no intention of getting there at all. In fact, they make a point of never engaging in any musical activity whatsoever. My friend Evan Hamilton (who, it’s worth mentioning, is in a real band) told me about The Tree Brains, a “theoretical rock” band that started online (at The Sneeze). Here’s how The Tree Brains describe themselves:

The Tree Brains are an imaginary band that anyone can be a part of. No musical ability is required to join. The band will never play anywhere because it only exists in theory. There is no initiation into the band. If you want to be in it, you’re in it. You may lay claim to any instrument or job in the band you would like.

If you decide to join the Tree Brains, you’ll be able to go around saying you’re a part of the band, and there won’t be anything made up about it.

A concept like the Tree Brains seems fun, but not particularly practical. I think it can actually be put to great artistic use, though. Creating a band, or an alternate personality, takes the pressure off in the same way Ben Folds did when he labeled his work “fake.” If you feel too close to your work, like you’re risking too much, then try acting like it’s someone else’s. Invent a character (or a band) that comes from the part of you that doesn’t self-censor, and then write, draw, build or sing from there, too. The part of Ben Folds that writes whimsical, honest, borderline inappropriate lyrics made a damned good album.

Songwriting Ideas From Wikipedia – Black Francis Interview

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Black Francis, lead singer of the Pixies, and incredibly prolific solo artist as Frank Black, gave the Village Voice an interview on his creative process. A lot of it is very specific to songwriting, but I thought this snippet was universally valuable. Beware, if you view your creativity is a fragile flower with magical inspiration from another realm, his method might seem a little mechanical. All I can say is that I have used this exact method before and it works.

Sometimes, you have an idea in your head and it’s just looking for a connection to bring it into the real world. Looking at random things can help it to take shape and connect it to reality more quickly. Plus, you’ll get to surprise yourself.

 

In the case of Svn Fngrs I had no idea what I was going to write about, but I was really up to the gut to try to go above and beyond the call of duty. And so I was under the gun and I was like, ‘Okay, what the hell am I going to write about here? What am I going to write about?’ And I literally just started doing the random article search function on Wikipedia. And I did this for quite a long time late one evening in a very tired state, and somehow I stumbled upon the article for demigods. And I was like, ‘Oh, demigods.’ And then, of course, ‘Okay, well what is a demigod? And who was a demigod? What do they mean by demigod?’ And, of course, on something like Wikipedia one article has other links in it and suddenly you’re off, you know. So the Internet has become a really great resource for me because I’m not a deep researcher. I just want to have an impression. I just need to find out some facts. I’ve already got my little concept going. My little concept is already in place, but I just need some facts so when I rhyme “phone” with “zone” my couplet – well, hopefully it has some artistic merit on its own, regardless of what it’s about or if it’s about anything – but if it happens to be about something, it’d be nice if it was sort of backing up some cool fact about the subject. It’s satisfying, I think, for the listener and it’s satisfying for me.

 

David Byrne On Making Money From Music

Wired has just posted a fantastic article by David Byrne on the strategies of making and marketing music for emerging artists.

Touring is not just promotion. Live performances used to be seen as essentially a way to publicize a new release — a means to an end, not an end in itself. Bands would go into debt in order to tour, anticipating that they’d recover their losses later through increased record sales. This, to be blunt, is all wrong. It’s backward. Performing is a thing in itself, a distinct skill, different from making recordings. And for those who can do it, it’s a way to make a living.
So with all these changes, what happens to the labels? Some will survive. Nonesuch, where I’ve done several albums, has thrived under Warner Music Group ownership by operating with a lean staff of 12 and staying focused on talent. "Artists like Wilco, Philip Glass, k.d. lang, and others have sold more here than when they were at so-called major labels," Bob Hurwitz, president of Nonesuch, told me, "even during a time of decline."
But some labels will disappear, as the roles they used to play get chopped up and delivered by more thrifty services. In a recent conversation I had with Brian Eno (who is producing the next Coldplay album and writing with U2), he was enthusiastic about I Think Music — an online network of indie bands, fans, and stores — and pessimistic about the future of traditional labels. "Structurally, they’re much too large," Eno said. "And they’re entirely on the defensive now. The only idea they have is that they can give you a big advance — which is still attractive to a lot of young bands just starting out. But that’s all they represent now: capital."
So where do artists fit into this changing landscape? We find new options, new models.

Read the rest here

Theory Of Obscurity – Creating For Yourself

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The Residents may be the world’s most famous unknown band. No one knows who is actually in the band, they disguise their face with giant eyeballs or other disguises, and their music is not designed to appeal to everyone. In fact, it is purposely composed to appeal only to them. They developed their interesting way of looking at the world through the theories of (possibly fictional) Bavarian composer N. Senada. The theory, as stated in this Wired article, goes as follows.

According to this philosophy, artists do their purest work in obscurity, with minimum feedback from any kind of audience. The theory adds that with no audience to consider, artists are free to create work that is true to their own vision.

I bring this to your attention because it led The Residents to try an interesting exercise. They decided for this theory to truly operate, they would have to create music that was not intended to be heard by anyone. They recorded an album that there were going to lock away in a vault until they forgot about it. Eventually, during a dispute with their label, it was released under the name Not Available.

I remember a woman in a poetry class I took years ago. She was so
desperate for an audience and so fearful of a negative reaction, that
she would write poems, tear them out of her notebook and abandon them
on park benches and buses. She hoped that someone would find them and
be touched in some way. She would sit in class and cross out negative things in her poems because she was afraid people would like them less.

I was often left wondering what she actually thought, because all she wrote was what she thought I wanted to read.

Creating for no audience with the intention of locking something away may be just what you need to spur yourself onwards. If nothing else, forgetting an audience will let you push yourself into areas you might not be comfortable with. It will let you bring up ideas and thoughts that you not otherwise consider for fear of being judged.

Use the Theory of Obscurity in the spirit in which it is intended. It only matters while you are creating. Afterwards, if someone does see it, it doesn’t compromise the initial process.

The history of punk zines

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The Digital Fanzine Preservation Society has posted a huge archive of original punk zines online for free!

Not only do these magazines have obvious historical value, but the style and layout have been appropriated many times and it’s nice to go back to the angry, messy and difficult to read originals. No large company could ever match the offensive cheapness of the originals.

As a teenager I bought some of these at Monkey’s Retreat in Columbus, Ohio. They fascinated me and, I have to admit, scared me a little bit. Looking at them now, I just see the the cut and xerox, all text done with a typewriter and DIY simplicity. But, at the time, they seemed like they came from a tremendously cool alternate universe where the magazines looked like they were written and designed by people in an insane asylum.

You can also get a selection of old Maximum Rockndroll issues from their site.

Even more zines here!

Lost Art: The Corporate Musical

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Over on the WFMU Blog they have been chronicling a lost art form. The corporate musical! These were musicals created by large companies to help charge up their sales force during conventions. They hired professionals to do it and those professionals obviously have no passion for the subject. It’s a great example of overcoming obstacles and having to create without inspiration.

What would you do if you had to write an entire musical about bathroom fixtures? Probably something like The Bathrooms Are Coming. Not only does it contain the best (only?) song about bathroom fixture distributors ever written, but also the best song about how a woman feels about her bathroom.

My bathroom
Is a private kind of place
very special kind of place
the only place where I can stay
making faces at my face

How about a calculator company? Here’s the Monroe Calculator Company musical, It’s a Brand New Ball Game. Or JC Penny’s Spirit of 66! Which include the great song, How Would We Look Without Zippers? Or the most complicated corporate musical, General Electric’s Go Fly A Kite! It includes a trip to hell and the song Big Fat Wife and Make a Woman Out of Your Wife. This post is a potpourri of different companies, my favorite is the song from the point of view of a salesman’s wife called My VIP, a creepy appreciation from a neglected wife.

We’re those things called salesman’s wives
We gave up living when we chose our lives
But one truth stands, it will always be
We love those men, our VIPs.

Oh, and the Frito Twist.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes there is nothing more inspiring than something completely uninspired.

Tom Waits on songwriting

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The latest Mojo Magazine has an interview with Tom Waits about his songwriting process. I wanted to share a few quotes. The first is on the diversity of influences songwriters have. The basic point being that you draw from sources that are unlike your own.

We all have a feeling that songwriters are purist, that if you like folk music you only listen to folk music, but it’s not true. Like for example, Howlin’ Wolf loved Jimmie Rodgers and Muddy Waters loved Gene Autry. He didn’t sit around listening to blues all day. It’s like breathing your own oxygen. You’ve got to find some nutrients somewhere.

I love the thought of Muddy Waters sitting around listening to a Gene Autry album and digging it. Creators need a broad range of  sources to create new things. Limiting your consumption also limits your output. If you want to break new ground, you’re going to need every resource you can get.

He also compares hearing new and different music to “entering another world.”

I think everybody’s looking for something they’ve never seen before. You work on your songs, but your songs also work on you. So you absorb and you excrete and in some way you retain, and slowly you start to become some place that songs are passing through. I’d like to think that they enjoy blowing through you. There’s something electric about you, maybe, some kind of a force left behind by music that passes through you. Like everybody likes to be around someone who does something well and loves doing it, so songs would be no different, right? Like, ‘Let’s blow down and see that guy.

In other words, instead of trying to build the songs, make yourself into a person that attracts songs. You have to open all the windows in your house for a breeze to come through and you’ll have to open your mind to new resources for ideas to wander in.

What Is Beauty? An Experiment

Does context matter for beauty? Do people need to be told what is beautiful? Or, does beauty stand out no matter where it is?

The Washington Post did a simple experiment to try and answer this question. They got Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most famous violinists who can charge $1000 a minute for his services, to play in a crowded pedestrian area in Washington D.C. during rush hour. They had crowd control measures in place in case things got out of control and let him loose. He played for 43 minutes.

Any guesses as to the outcome?

The Post went to the director of the National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, and asked his prediction.

"Let’s assume," Slatkin said, "that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."

So, a crowd would gather?

"Oh, yes."

And how much will he make?

"About $150."

There was a shoeshine place nearby and the lady running it usually calls the police on musicians because they drive away her business. She didn’t call the police that day even though the music was far too loud for her liking because the musician was pretty good. A postal worker stops at the top of an escalator when he hears the music. He has to go back and find the source. He gave $5 and still didn’t recognize who Bell was even though he was a fan.

In total for that day he collected $32.17. Some people gave him pennies and he was recognized once. No crowd control was needed.

I think this just goes to show the importance of context for art. Also, it shows how much other people depend on experts and crowds to tell them what is good. Most people like what other people tell them to like. They don’t have time to find beauty on their own.

I’m betting if he played there for every single day for a year, by the end of the time he would have fans and crowds. Eventually the early adopters would find him and then the rest would follow.

Kind of sad to think of beauty as a commodity that needs to be marketed instead of beauty having its own appeal.

There are great videos taken of the experiment embedded in the article.

Read the article and watch the videos here

My iPod Is Smarter Than Your iPod

The internet is just loaded with ways to fill your iPod with smart stuff for free!

The best site for free audio smart stuff is LibriVox. This is a sister project to Project Gutenberg their mission is to supply mp3s of people reading books, articles and stories in the public domain. I have found the quality of the readers to be uneven, but I can’t complain because it’s all free.

What about free old time radio shows? Try Old Time Radio Fans. You can even get the original broadcast of War of the Worlds for free.

Even though it is incomplete, if you want some free Shakespeare audio students at Los Medanos college have a podcast where they are working their way through all of Shakespeare’s work. What they have done already is available on their site. Shakespearecast.

Finally, Stanford University offers free audio of faculty lectures on many different topics. This is an amazing service. They have three courses that they are offering all lectures completely free of charge.

 

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