bptm-morocco

Last week I opened up my blog by boasting about a Tinder date that I went on. I truly meant this only to be an attention grabber before I launched into an exploration of the decline of melody in music. Yet it appears that people were much more intrigued by my date than my musical musings. The overwhelming response to my blog post about the disappearance of melody in music was this: “how was the Tinder date though?” Well much like Fauzio, I aim to please, and so I’m going to indulge your thirst for a vicarious experience of NYC Tinder life and tell you about my date.

I had an incredibly pleasant time with a beautiful young Irish woman who was charming, upbeat, humorous, and delightfully outspoken. Our plan was to meet up at The MoMA, view some art, chat over coffee, and then part ways. Yet after the MoMA we had dinner together, and after dinner we went to a bar, and after the bar we went for a walk, and after the walk we met up with a friend of mine and chatted at a cafe, and after the cafe, we took the subway to my house and watched some Game of Thrones. And no, this was not a “Netflix and chill” kind of situation— get your mind out of the gutter people. It was just wonderful evening filled with really good conversation, laughter, and flirtation.

The truth is I’m not actually telling you all of that because I want to grant you your wish of peaking into my romantic life— (as usual) I have a larger point to make. Believe it or not, me going on that Tinder date, has everything to do with me fighting for the presence of melody in music. That’s right fools! I’m not abandoning my discussion of the decline of melody in music. Stay with me now…

What is melody? The technical definition of melody (per dictionary.com) is “The succession of single tones in musical compositions, as distinguished from harmony and rhythm.” But more generally what is melody? It is an active statement; it is the part you can sing; it is the part you remember. If you think of a musical composition as a story, as many composers throughout history have, melody is the dialogue and action that propels the plot. Harmony and Rhythm would be more like the setting and pace of the story. And yet if it is such an important part of the musical story, why then are more and more composers in jazz, film, and popular music abandoning clear melodies?

The simplest answer is that it is easier to not write a melody than to write a melody. While the simplest answer is often the correct one, I believe that there is also something more poisonous at play: on some level most everyone wants to be cool, and at some point melody became uncool. I can express this easier with a musical example. Listen to any or all of both of these pieces of instrumental music: Serenade no. 13 in G Major by Mozart and Lizard Point by Brian Eno. One has a very distinct memorable melody throughout, and the other doesn’t really have a melody. Which do you think is cooler (not better, just cooler)? Because it is much more mysterious and abstract I am going to guess that most people think that the Eno tune is cooler. A melody is a clear statement, and a clear statement is rarely going to be perceived as cooler than something more oblique.

We could think of it like this: a melody is like looking up and saying “I love how the sun beams through the trees in Central Park.” As nice and true as that statement may be, it is simply not as cool as just staring off at the trees, silent and expressionless as you smoke a cigarette. Certainly the latter is cooler, but is it better? No way. First of all, smoking is bad for your health. Secondly, you are not communicating anything to anyone else by staring off into space. You’re just living in your own cool, insular, lonely world. And yet we are all victims under the oppressive tyranny of the cool— nobody wants to be considered uncool, and yet nobody knows exactly what it is to be cool, thus many people simply avoid making statements (verbally or musically) for fear of being uncool.

So what the hell does going on a Tinder date have to do with writing a melody or being cool? Well, on Tinder I’m a perfectly cultivated cool guy. I have pictures of me holding a guitar, laying on a raft with sunglasses on, effortlessly posing with a real live butterfly on my shoulder, and an equally cool “about me” write-up to boot. Given the extra time to think up responses I’m also far more clever and witty in Tinder text message conversation than I am in real life. Thus, I could have contented myself to stay at home and just be a cool idea of a person, but I chose (as did she) to actually go meet up with someone and expose myself as a real, flawed human. In person, you hear my goofy laugh, you witness me fumble with words sometimes, and you sense my subtle nervousness and excitement about being on a date. I’m not as cool in person, but I am much more real— I’m someone you can actually connect to. It doesn’t matter how cool someone is on paper, the only thing that matters in romance is how well you connect with someone face to face, and the only way to do that is to get out of the house, go on a date, and put yourself at risk of being uncool. Thus, the acts of writing a melody and going on a Tinder date are both mini rebellions against the tyranny of the cool.

And even the coolest people can rebel against the tyranny of the cool. My friend Epiphany Morrow (musical artist, rapper, public speaker, philanthropist, and entrepreneur) is by all measures a very cool dude. This week Epiphany released his long awaited Legacy Project. Billed as the world’s first “living album,” The Legacy Project is a smartphone app offering an interactive music and video experience which draws users into a unique world of Piph’s creation. You most certainly should download it (just search “big piph” or “the legacy project” in your app store). Despite the fact that many would undoubtedly consider Epiphany a cool dude, the best part about him is that in The Legacy Project and in so many of his other endeavors he too routinely and unapologetically puts himself at risk of being uncool. For it is not because I think that he is cool that I respect and admire Piph (in fact I know him well enough to know that he is actually a closet-nerd)— no, I respect and admire him because he is incredibly genuine, disciplined, and creates art that has true perspective and substance behind it.

You may not see it, but I do: the acts of going on a date, releasing an app, and writing a melody are all important rebellions against the tyranny of the cool. Certainly nobody wants to be uncool, and yet the only actions or statements that have any meaning or weight behind them are those that do put us at risk of being uncool. And here’s the liberating truth: there is really no such thing as cool. When Miles Davis gave birth to the cool back in 1957— he gave birth to a phantom. Cool is simply a figment of our collective imagination. Love is real, beauty is real, laughter is real, and cool is not real. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we’ll being to really live.

OwnIDeas

Here’s your “no shit sherlock” statement of the day: the hardest part of creating something is figuring out what to do next. Sure, one or two lines of your song (or book, or poem) might come easy. Inspiration hits and you have a great idea: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” Ok Michael Jackson, great start, but what are you going to do now?— Oh I don’t know Lucas, perhaps I might write the most wholesomely uplifting pop song of all time! So truthfully it was Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard who wrote that song, but you don’t know who those people are so I pretended for a second it was actually Michael who wrote it. April fools. Regardless, for those of us who are not artistic savants, fleshing out an inspiring idea is an extremely difficult process, plagued constantly by the question: what do I do next?

It’s very easy to feel blocked or puzzled during the creative process. Yet I believe that this feeling most often is the result of thinking too much. I believe that creation is an action, not a thought. Repeat: Creation is an action, not a thought. My personal favorite tool for getting out of my head and into the act of creation is called Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.

You’ll remember Brian Eno as member of the early 70’s glam rock band Roxy Music, as a successful solo pop artist, as the most prominent pioneer of ambient music, as a producer of bands such as the Talking Heads, U2, and Devo, as the composer of the sounds for Windows 95, as an experimental visual artist, and from countless other projects and collaborations. There is a reason Eno has been so prolific and relevant throughout his decades long career. He (similar to Davids Byrne and Bowie) did not settle in to his original pop-star sound, but simply fell in love with the process of creation, leading him to diverse edges of the music and art world. His buddy Peter Schmidt is a modern artist, painter, and theoretician who met Brian Eno in the late 1960s. Together they created Oblique strategies, a deck of cards with cues and axioms that help you overcome artistic obstacles. Here is what Brian and Peter have to say about it:

(click pic to enlarge)

Explanation

Basically, if you’re working on a project and find yourself stuck, or simply desire a new approach, reach for a card and do what it says. For instance, I have no idea what I am going to write about for the rest of this blog post, so I’ll pick a couple of cards to jump-start this thing. Card 1:

GoOutside

Great idea, but I’m actually one step ahead of you Oblique Strategies. I’m sitting on Kavanaugh Boulevard outside of Starbucks sipping on a black coffee and trying to write this post. I’m writing in my classic black and white composition notebook while the Funkadelic song “Can You Get to That” (aka the greatest song ever) plays from the speaker above my head. This is a great strategy. While there are different flavors of “outside”— a quiet corner of the woods would be markedly different than this relatively simulating street corner— getting outside your stuffy old work space is certainly a good idea once in a while. Card 2:

BetterJudgement

So since I am the only person currently working on this post, I suppose I am the only person I could ask to work against my better judgement. So I guess I could tell a joke I made up— that could go over poorly. Oh yeah it’s also a Jewish joke, and I’m not Jewish— yep, this sounds like a really bad idea. Let’s do it!

Q. How far can a Jew throw a Ram’s horn?

A. Shofar

So you maybe need to say that one out loud (and know what a Shofar is) to get it. Anyway, that definitely went against my better judgement. But look at that— I squeezed like 250 words out of those two cards. I’m almost done with this blog post. Thanks Oblique Strategies!

Of course, there are many other methods that musicians and artists use to figure out what to do next. John Cage used the I-Ching, David Lynch uses transcendental meditation, and countless other artists have used a lot of drugs. Some of these methods are obviously more sustainable than others, but it is clear that there is no shame in using a little outside help to get the creative juices flowing. I chose to turn to Oblique Strategies to help me create the following song.

In fact I had a lot of help on this track beyond Oblique Strategies as well. As mentioned last week, the bass line was recorded by Bloomington, Indiana bass extraordinaire Brenton Carter during a jam session of ours— shout out to my man Noah McNair as well for laying down some slick keyboard lines that tragically went unrecorded during that session. Also the sax and flute parts were recorded by the great Matt Schatz, who, in the spirit of this blog post, was asked to draw an Oblique Strategies card for himself. His card read:

ImpliedDefinite

Thank you to Brian, Peter, Noah, Brenton, and Matt for all your help, and I hope everyone enjoys Opus 3.

This post is part of a nine month project in which I am releasing a new song and blog post every week. If you want to get caught up, here are the links to the previous entries:

Nine Months of New Music— Opus 1

That’s Masturbation— Opus 2