Thursday, October 30, 2008

artistic honesty and the human condition

While I've always been a fairly introspective guy, I was never really able to put my temperament into words until I was introduced to my now favorite philosopher, William James. In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, James describes how different religions appeal in different ways to people of differing temperaments, and sets forth two general kinds of temeraments. He calls them the Healthy-Minded and The Sick Soul. These are admittedly general categories, as James is always the first one to admit that "individuality outruns all classification," but they are good general categories.

The Sick Soul

I've found that I fall into the latter of the the two. The Sick Soul is characterized by the view that "the evil* aspects of our life are of its very essence, and that the world's meaning most comes home to us when we lay them most to heart" (Varieties, 124). For the Sick Soul, the recognition and admission that evil is an elemental part of both our existence and our interpretation of the universe, is key to achieving any kind of peace or solace.

This is me to the letter. Yes, I'm a generally happy guy, but my thoughts and feelings are all underpinned by a general melancholia. My thoughts tend to center around what James claims to be the general observation of religion, which is that things are not as they ought to be. My optimism stems from what James says is the the general response of religion, which is that things can be made at least better than they are by unification with or reconciliation to something greater than us. For me, this is meliorism, the idea that "that the world tends to become better or may be made better by human effort."

But, despite all this purported optimism, the melancholy remains. No, I'm not saying that I'm clinically depressed or anything of that magnitude (in fact, I took a free screening on campus and they gave me clean bill of mental health!), but I'm saying that for me there is a certain amount of general melancholy that comes with being mortal, living in a mortal world. Despite my belief that the world can (and ultimately will) become a better place, I am ultimately aware that I suffer real pains, real mistakes and real losses.

Because there are different temperaments, there are different kinds of art and more specifically, different approaches to creating art. Among many of my musician peers, and many of those whose place it is to instruct me in the same, there is a popular ideology which says that for music to be "uplifting" its lyrics have to be "happy" and have to avoid negative topics. While I believe that art should uplift, I don't think this method is a particularly effective or honest approach to achieving that end. I unable to speak for other people, but I personally can't get to the point where a piece of art can edify me or provide me with solace if it casts a blind eye to the things that are causing my turmoil to begin with. For me, there is no catharsis until after the conflict. That's the way it is in my life, and art doesn't make sense to me if it isn't in some way a mirror of that. Even an idealistic piece can tip its hat to the fact that things are not as they are being portrayed.

Voicing the Voiceless

This is the paradox of tragedy. Aristotle wrote about it, Plato and pals argued about it. Why is it that we find joy in seeing a tragic film or play, or in hearing a sad song about the broken heart of a fornlorn lover. To make the paradox clearer: How is it that we somehow find joy in being sad? I think that sad songs speak to us because in order to be healed or to find peace, we must first find a voice for the grief we're up against. I'm convinced that we're incapable, by ourselves, of saying everything that we need to say in this life, and thus need others to help us say the rest. This, to me, is the role of tragic art. It is the voice we give to pain so that the pain can be understood and handled.

I watched the film "The Deer Hunter" this week. It was a Viet Nam Era piece starring Robert Deniro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep (to name a few), and was heartwrenching for me to watch. The majority of the time, I had a lump in my throat and was blinking back tears. The film depicted death, grief and the depletion of human will... yet I came out of it feeling profoundly uplifted. It did not have a happy ending by any obvious means, but I came away from it filled with an enriched view of the nature of loyalty and love, and with a hightened sense of . . . gratitude? Yes, it was gratitude, and this is a perfect example of "voicing the voiceless."

When I was in first grade, my father was shipped off to Saudia Arabia to fight in Operation Desert Storm. I missed him terribly, but for the most part, I handled it quite well. When you're that young, your mind has a pretty big buffer so that emotionally devastating things don't hurt your development as much. I remember being well aware that the news had just stated that the city my dad was in was being bombed and seeing the fear in my mother's eyes and sometimes hearing her crying softly in her bedroom, but my little six-year-old brain would never allow me to process any of it. So as a result, my heart and mind were aware that I should devastated, but filed the information away for later processing. Fast-forward to this week. Seeing the horrible depictions of war, and grief and worried families and loyalty to one's country depicted in The Deer Hunter, suddenly fills me with an incredibly heartwrenching sense of gratitude for my father's willingness to serve his country and his eventual safe return. For the first time in 19 years, the pain I felt had been given a voice. It was finally in a form that was comprehensible, and consequently healable.

The music that means the most to me and has the deepest emotional impact on me is the music that doesn't shy away from the sad things of the world. I am perpetually impressed by the lyrics of Sufjan Stevens who finds the beauty in those who we would ignore and the wisdom that can distil in times of sadness. Let me end with a line from one of his songs, called "For the Widows in Paradise," which stuck in my mind the first time I heard it and has stayed with me ever since:

"Even if I come back, even if I die
Is there some idea to replace my life? "

I hope that as a musician, there is at least one idea I can get across which will remain to take my place when I'm gone.

*To be clear, I use the term "evil" in the general philosophical sense, meaning anything that causes pain or sadness, which includes - but is not limited to - moral evil.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

nerdcore for life

So, there is a relatively new genre of music. Actually, it's a subgenre. It's called Nerdcore Hip-hop. My brother recently blogged about it, as there's a documentary being made about it right now. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Nerds rapping. The founder of nerdcore, qua official genre, by the pseudonym of MC Frontalot, describes it as hip-hop that doesn't require you to be cool. Nerdcore is hip-hop that feels totally comfortable discussing computers, science fiction and RPG's, and - as opposed to traditional rap - being incredibly self-deprecatory.
After this most recent* hip-hop project we did, Aaron and I decided it would be fun to do a whole album. I introduced Aaron to Nerdcore staples like MC Frontalot, Optimus Rhyme and MC Chris, and he said, "We have to do this." As the title of my blog denotes, I am all for embracing my nerdity, so we've embarked. Keep your ear to the ground, and check back on the blog regularly for updates and advance leaks.
Oh, and my nerdcore hip-hop name (or rather, my handle)? One and the same with this blog's name: Geek is the New Cool.

*Way back in 2006, Aaron and I made a 3-track hip-hop project, titled "Nimbus." To hear the tracks click here and go to the tracks that start with the word "Nimbus."

Monday, October 27, 2008

video games and recitals

So, I'm a composer / sound designer (as an independent contractor) for a video game company back in Seattle called Flowplay, Inc. It's the coolest job I've ever had. It's not only is it by far the funnest job I've ever had, it's the best paying as well. I don't work regular hours like I do at my other two jobs, but the experience alone is worth it.

Basically Flowplay makes one massively multiplayer online game (MMO, as it's called by geeks and those in the industry) for kids, which they continually add to. The game is called OurWorld, and can be played for free here. If you go in and play around, somewhere from about 1/4 to about 1/3 of the music and sound effects you hear were created by me. The big sidewalk keyboard on Electric Avenue, the instruments in the Garage, the 'levelling up' sound, the ding of the 'food's done!' bell at the Diner: all me. I'm really enjoying the experience, and loving the work. How weird is that? Loving work?!

Several samples of sound design work I've already done for them can be found here.

Recently, I've been working on a video for them. In a sense, I'm basically scoring a really, really, reeeally short film. We're talking like, one minute short. But still, I've always wanted to try my hand at it, and I've had a blast! More updates are forthcoming.

Also, as one of my two day jobs, I'm working as a recording technician on campus, recording recitals and concerts in the recital hall at the fine arts building. It's a pretty neat job, I think. I like the work and enjoy the music and get to use some classy-sounding tube leveling amplifiers. Mmmm... Here's my workstation at that job. (To see it with labels, click here.)

contest entry: 'Old Scratch'

My buddy Aaron and I are regular participants (he much more than I) on a remix contest website called Acid Planet. Recently he and I collaborated on an entry for a unique contest. As opposed to a traditional remix contest, the samples are to be extended into a song and then rapped over. Yeah, I know I'm white, but I can bust a pretty decent rhyme, and Aaron's production makes me sound pretty good.

The .zip file you download to get the contest samples was named "scratch," which I assume implies a "scratch track" or to the proverbial, manual turntable-shuttling procedure (i am such a dork). Either way, Jasinski had the idea of making it into a play on words and calling our track "Old Scratch," which (if you were unaware) is a nickname for the devil. Surprisingly enough, I think these are some of the best lyrics I've written in years.

Our entry can be heard HERE. Check it out!

(Also, for a point of reference, check out the provided contest track, and some of the other entries.)

my first mashup

I put together this track at the beginning of the summer and was literally laughing out loud (or as I like to say it LLOL-ing) as I did so. It was a buddy's idea, and was my first attempt at making a legitimate mashup. I think it turned out quite well. It's a mashup of "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails and "Hit Me Baby One more Time" by Britney Spears. I present to you,

"I Wanna Hit You Like an Animal (One More Time)"


i'm on YouTube!

I've had my YouTube account for a long while, but now it is working for the betterment of my music career. For a long time, I've seen that people upload music to youtube with just a picture of the song's album cover. I'd always wondered how they did that and figured it require a program that cost money. Much to my delight, it does not. Good ol' Windows Movie Maker (which I'd never once touched before this) does the job quite nicely. So my whole album (with the exception of track 7 which i couldn't get to work for some reason) is on youtube! Favorite it and give it 5 stars! Do a video response! Flame me! Whatevs!

an introduction

Hi, I'm Jake. I play, write, record, mix and consume music in mass quantities. Since my music has been disseminated to numerous websites and is for sale in numerous formats, I figured a blog would be the best way to consolidate and serve as a "central hub" for all of it.
To start off, let me introduce my album, Fragments in Abstract. This was my freshman release, and represents my somewhat recent (from Fall of 2004 onward) fascination with and love for electronic music. About four years ago I became acquainted with a guy who has been a close friend and mentor ever since. Aaron Jasinski (who is somewhat of an internet celebrity if you ever do a google search for his name), exposed me to the immensity number of the sub-genres of electronica and I've been hooked ever since. House, Trip-Hop, Ambient, Downtempo, Electrofunk; they all became like when you make a new friend and already feel like you've been hanging out for years.
So, over the course of the 2004-2008 period, I built up my project studio and created electro-pop music when the inspiration hit me. In 2007, I compiled songs I had been playing with, began mastering, and started getting the red tape ready to do a digital-only independent release. Fragments in Abstract came out in the late Spring / early summer of 2008 and I'm pretty pleased with it. Here it is in its entirety. If you dig it, it's only a $7 purchase:


It's available on iTunes, Amazon Mp3, and CD Baby (this is the one that pays me the highest percentage, as its my distributor), as well as Rhapsody, Napster, Verizon and pretty much any other place that people would purchase download-able music.

Check back on the blog regularly for updates, as I'm always doing something with music.