Category Archives: art and culture

Art Is Its Own Purpose

I am in the midst of a project right now that, I am certain, will be the purest artistically motivated thing I do. Not for me, mind you. I’m being motivated by the promptly paid invoices.

The artist at the center of this, however, is creating something based solely on his internal imperative. He has a concept, and he has arrived in his life at the fortunate place of being able to hire an army of people to construct that concept. I’ll share more with you later, but the lid is pretty tight on it until after the public debut.

Here’s the overall conception: he has become disgusted with the modern world’s relentless pursuit of easy and fast. In response, he is creating 35 different large-scale projects (and I do mean truly large) that are all inherently hard. Hard to design, hard to execute, and impossibly difficult to grasp and understand as an observer. They are projects that invite you to spend some time in the midst of them, knowing from the very beginning that there isn’t enough time in your life to even observe the entire project, let alone understand it.

Nothing is for sale. Nothing is entertaining, except incidentally. There is nothing in this project that does not begin and end with the artist’s aesthetic conception. It is, for better or worse, the purest piece of art that I’ve ever encountered.

I’ve been remembering this quote, that I think is from the introduction to Rimsky-Korsakov’s book on orchestration, but it’s also possible that I just made it up and have been attributing it to him.

“Art is its own purpose. If it assumes any other purpose, then it descends into mere politics and commerce.”

Hey Band Nerds!

All you squeakers and squawkers out there, reed, double-reed, no reed, brassheads and trash can bangers, looking for some help here. I’ve been asked to write a piece for symphonic band, which is a genre I haven’t touched since … let’s call it 20 years. So, here’s my question for you:

Is there a piece of literature for symphonic band that really, deeply moves you? Anything you’ve listened to that just left you breathless? The only one I can remember is Bukvich’s Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam, Dresden, 1945). Anything else that comes to mind?

The Swamp Effect

I have a horrible habit. At some point in every project, things start not sounding … right. Good. Emotional. Whatever. The train has jumped the track, and is off wandering through antique stores on State Street. I’ve lost my way.

At this point, I do the same thing, every time.

I do more. I do everything. I take every idea, and make it louder. I double it. I do it in octaves. I do it with a triplet backing rhythm. I add 3 string samples and 2 pads, on top of 3 more loops and a delay. I start putting out frantic midnight calls for friends to play overdub parts, stacked, with overdrive and double-stops.

I add piano, add flamenco guitar, add horn swells and swirly synths, a B3 solo, 6 passes of backing vocals, and a Taiko. With reverb. Then a reverse Taiko with even more reverb.

Then I put a limiter on the main bus, a 6:1 multi-band compressor, then another limiter. Then I turn my mains up. I turn on the sub, then add another low string sample.

The swamp effect takes hold, and whatever spark of inspiration birthed the process has been completely, utterly, horrifically buried in a morass of crap.

Save as.

Rename.

Delete.

Repeat.

Ender’s Game – Thesis Project

So, my Masters of Music thesis project is in full swing, and I thought I’d cross-post some of it here. I’m taking 4 books that haven’t been turned into films, and writing scores that would fit if they ever were turned into films.

The first book up is Ender’s Game, one of my all-time favorites. You can check out the work so far here:

Ender’s Game Thesis Project

Anthony Griffith: Best of Times, Worst of Times

I listen to a podcast on iTunes called “The Moth“, where people tell true stories to live audiences. It’s powerful, funny, very raw, and sometimes just incredible.

This morning as I was driving to work, I heard what has to be the most overwhelming 10 minutes of storytelling ever delivered. I was sobbing by the time I got here, and had to stay in the car in silence for about 20 minutes just pulling myself together.

It’s the story of Anthony working as a comic, performing on the Tonight Show, while his young daughter is dying of cancer. I think you should listen, but you should prepare yourself before you do.

Anthony Griffith: Best of Times, Worst of Times
(Note: this site will comply with all DMCA take-down notices. If you are the copyright holder for this audio, and do not want it posted here, please email me immediately. Thank you.)

It’s Friday, Friday

So, a few weeks ago, ARK music productions unleashed what is, unarguably, the worst pop song ever inflicted upon a listening public. That song is called “Friday”. It has been watched by 34 million people. 34 million.

What I offer here is a bit of musical sorbet, a palate cleanser if you will, to remove the fetid taste of bubblegum ice cream from your mouth. Here are the days of the week, as they deserve to be songified.

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

The Days of the Week

Happy New Year from the Stecklers!

Hey Roadies, thought I’d spread a little holiday cheer and whip up a little remix for your New Year’s Eve party mix. June was kind enough to add a little translation and of course, the obligatory pics of the kiddos. Enjoy! (If you want to download it, click the little down arrow in the Soundcloud player.)

Auld Lang Syne (Stickmix) by Brian Steckler


Do You Hear?

What time is it?

Do You Hear?

Awwwww yeah, it’s that time! This is the orchestral interlude to the epic Christmas opener for this year. The sound is straight out of Sibelius, so … be gracious. I’m including the score for those who wish to geek out. The section you hear starts on page 5, bar 48.

XMAS-OPENER_11x17_SCORE

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Working on the opener for the big APU Celebrate Christmas concert. It’s going to be a big epic choir & orchestra setting of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, building up into a new anthem that I just finished last night. I’m kind of loving this.

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Sing, ye Christmas Choirs
Ring, ye wild bells ring while darkness flees

Sing the Light of Heav’n
Sing of peace o’er all the earth while darkness flees,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

Ring out Christmas bells
Ring out songs of joy for God has come

O Son of Israel
O Zion’s Daughter, sing! our God has come

Brightest of Adam’s wandering sons
Joined with the light of the holy one,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

What’s That Stank? Oh, It’s Just This Christmas that I’m Laying Down

To me, my men and women of valor! To me, in my hour of need! To me, and aid me, so that I don’t have to do my own work!

I’m writing a big epic opener for the 2010 APU Christmas Concert, with soloists, handbells, orchestra, choirs, the whole shebang. The piece opens with “Do You Hear What I Hear” sung by antiphonal choirs, and then into the final verse of that song:

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The piece is not quite epic enough to sustain the energy through the end of the piece, so I’m looking to transition from the song “Do You See” to something else. This is the part where you help me out. Any suggestions?

Boudicca

For those of you who missed the 2010 New Music Concert at APU (and heavens, what else could you possibly have been doing that’s more important than driving 7 hours to hear a 6 minute piece I wrote?), here is the recording of the piece I wrote. You’ll have to excuse the quality of the recording, especially when the speech comes in.

Boudicca
by Michael A. Lee

And for those who want to totally geek out, here’s the score.
Boudicca – Score (this doesn’t include pencil edits made in the final rehearsal)

Week O’ Projects

This is the week of projects for me. Three things on the plate:

  1. Preaching on Sunday about The Prodigal Son, focusing on the feast at the end of the story. I think I may cook up some burgers on a little hibachi grill while I talk. Mmmmmm, feasty.
  2. I’m giving a presentation tomorrow night on the state of digital music distribution, with emphasis on the legal and commercial barriers between subscription services (like grooveshark and lala.com before it’s untimely death) and download services (amazon.com and itunes).
  3. Doing a critical analysis paper on  3 different pop-rock piano songs: Tiny Dancer, Piano Man, and Drops of Jupiter. My thesis is that Elton John established a piano ballad form that Billy Joel copied, and that Train sucks.

What are you folk up to?

Summer Reading List

It’s Summer! I mean, aside from the fact that it’s still hailing and raining and … is Nashville still flooded? Anyway, it’s almost Summer, and that means it’s time for the readership here at Addison Road to do their public good deeds, and generate The Worlds Best Summer Reading List.

I’m going to make this a little more organized this year. Leave your suggestions in the comments, along with your best one or two sentence pitch for why we should read it, and I’ll edit the post with an updated list so that we can quickly find them. Ready? Go!

THE DEFINITIVE LIST OF AWESOME SUMMER READING, 2010

  1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. (fiction) What if every god brought to America by waves of immigrants were still alive, still wandering through the cities and countryside as ordinary people trying to get by? This is a powerfully written book, with rich characters.
  2. Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity In Popular Music by Barker & Taylor. (non-fiction) This is an extension of the conversation on authenticity. If you like popular music, and like thinking about things, this will be a solid thinky read. I recommend loading up your iPod with the artists that the book talks about, and listing to their catalog while you read about them.

Musical Authenticity

Billie Holiday vs. Bing Crosby

Hank Williams vs. Garth Brooks

James Brown vs. Prince

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last few months thinking about musical authenticity (mostly in order to pass one of the classes in my master’s program). This topic has come up here at the Roadhouse before (1|2|3), but this is the first time I’ve done any real heavy lifting on the topic. So here, in very un-academicy format, are some of my thoughts on musical authenticity.

1 – Romanticism
Most people use the “Authentic” as a stand-in for the romantic notion that art should be unfiltered and un-crafted. Sophistication is the antithesis of authenticity. Niel Young is authentic because he gets falling-down drunk and then records songs on the first take without rehearsing the band. Never mind that the result sucks, it’s authentic. The idea of muse, inspiration, artist-as-bystander, these are the notions that get bound up in the term “authentic”.

2 – Historicity
Authentic is also a function of historical proximity to the musical nexus, when something changed into something new. When field songs became the blues, the first generation of artists were “authentic” by virtue of being close to the source. The Sex Pistols are more authentic than Green Day because they were part of the pivot. In some sense, anyone who tries to stand in an existing stream of music suffers comparison to how it was done by the first ones who did it, and even the flaws and cracks in how the first generation did it become codified as essential to the “authentic” sound.

3 – Pills and Powders
If you have liver damage, you are more authentic.

4 – Africa
This is a particularly American phenomenon, but authenticity in American music is often used as a way of quantifying the amount of “Africanism” in the music. American music emerged out of European and African streams – it’s not African, it’s not European, it’s American, something uniquely new emerging out of the tension and crossing influences of the two. In spite of this historical reality,  the controlling narrative of musical criticism is that White music stole and corrupted Black music. Against this backdrop, “authenticity” is a code phrase for music that is less “corrupted” by white influence, something that is “true to it’s African roots”. This narrative was already in full effect by the time John Lomax made his famous field recordings of the early blues, seeking out music he believed to be “untainted” by white influence (ignoring the fact that anything with a dominant 7th chord is already hopelessly entwined with European harmony). The commercial success of Lead Belly and other earth blues artists with white audiences was specifically because of this perceived authentic preservation of Africanism in their music. This controlling narrative emerged again and again, in the social commentary on Jazz, Be Bop, Motown, Funk, Hip-Hop …

It’s impossible to escape the blatant racism in this assumption, especially in light of point 1. The subtext of Africanism-as-authenticity is the appeal to lack of sophistication, the romantic notion that music emerges unfiltered and un-crafted. Clearly James Brown couldn’t have thought through the complex intricacies of how to form a funk groove – “those people” just have natural rhythm!

So, I’m interested in what you fine folk have to say. Here are a few questions:

  1. Is it possible to be authentic as a 2nd generation artist in a genre?
  2. How important is impact (who it influences, how long it endures) on authenticity?
  3. Does authenticity matter? I know we all get skittish about words like “better” or “important” when we talk about music, but let’s acknowledge for a minute that our experience grants us some expertise, and make a judgment call. When it comes time to load up humanity’s cultural artifacts in the space-ark, will authenticity be part of the criteria for preservation?
  4. Race. Not really a question, but go for it anyway.

I promise, you are not being drafted into my thesis paper homework. I just think this is a discussion worth having.