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the making of misty

2 May

Joshua Tillman was a songwriter before he became the drummer for Fleet Foxes. Now he’s traded Seattle for Laurel Canyon and his birth name for Father John Misty.

“In January, Tillman left Fleet Foxes and, somewhere along the highway between Seattle and Laurel Canyon, became Father John Misty. Los Angeles and all its gritty, sexed-up, Big Tent attractions became the raw material that Tillman used to assemble songs that are less ruminative and more narrative, and as sharply poignant as Boogie Nights.”

Take a second to listen to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” 

Fear Fun is the “debut” by Father John Misty, aka Joshua Tillman, aka the Fleet Foxes drummer. Whether you like Foxes or not, don’t go into this thinking about that. That’s Seattle. This is LA.

the ‘goldilocks zone’

27 Feb

An illustration of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, by Arthur Rackham. Music writer Alva Noë says Adele's music lands in the "Goldilocks Zone."

Alva Noë provides the smartest and most sensible answer to the recurring “Why do we like Adele?” question:

“Music that occupies the Goldilocks Zone, a song like Adele’s “Someone Like You,” sets up the release of dopamine in reward circuitry in the brain. No doubt. But it would be a mistake to think this is why we like the music. Dopamine is released because we like the music. And our liking the music has everything to do with our perceptual sensitivity to the way it fits into, and plays against, a musical conversation, which is really to say, a whole musical culture.”

Read the rest on NPR.

learn to tell your story

22 Feb

A day in the life of Matthew and Timothy Schuler

On Monday I shared some thoughts about telling stories, pulled from Malcolm Gladwell’s conversation with behavioral economist Dan Ariely. In response, my wife, Allison, posted about the positive effects that a story can have on individuals suffering from PTSD. I thought it was worth reposting here:

“…Telling your own story also rewires your brain completely. Dan Siegel, a neuroscientist, found that this was one of the best predictors of health. Individuals with post-traumatic stress syndrome often cannot tell their stories coherently at first, but with work, they eventually understand their own narrative, and this can often rewire and heal their brains.”

Learn to tell your own story. You might be healing past injuries as you do. Or at least understanding yourself a little bit better.

As for the photo above, I could tell a hundred stories about the characters, creatures, and inanimate objects I became as a little kid. But I’ll save those for another day.

getting glad

20 Feb

It’s dark out this morning when I wake up, as it has been every morning since October. There’s something pleasantly surreal about being up before the sun. Maybe it fulfills some romantic desire to work on a farm like my parents. Or maybe it’s just my version of solitude. With a single lamp and the shades drawn, I begin my day hours before I need to shower, pack my lunch, and head to the Blue Line.

Work begins at 9:30. The train ride is twenty minutes, bookended by a five-minute bike ride and a ten-minute walk. If I wanted to, on any given morning I could watch an entire feature-length film and still make it to work on time. But I wake up wanting to move, think, plan, organize, and (when I have something good on the boards) write. This morning is no different, and if I was in the habit of keeping an activity log, today’s would read:

  • made coffee (too weak)
  • emptied dishwasher
  • mapped route from Chicago to the Carolinas (by way of Louisville, Kentucky)
  • read ten pages in The New Jim Crow
  • prepped vegetarian chili in slow cooker (sweet potato, bell pepper, fire-roasted tomatoes, two kinds of beans, and lots of cumin)
  • read Vanity Fair article about the influence of 1982’s Diner
  • made lunch (roast beef sandwich, cherry tomatoes, orange)

No matter what I’m doing, one part of my brain keeps trying to figure out what to say about Galactic’s new album, Carnivale Electricos. My review is due sometime today, but until I make it to the train and find that Presidents’ Day has emptied the Blue Line of its normal cast of commuters, I don’t have anything good to say about it. But never underestimate what getting a seat on a train will do for the imagination, for de-cluttering a head. I’ve noticed that I really can’t think straight until I’m in a situation where I’m a captive audience to myself.

I put on the album, starting with “Magalenha,” a remake of a song made famous by Brazilian composer Sergio Mendes. From there, I skip around, noting rhythms (rumba clave), instruments (saxophone), and references (Black Eyed Peas). I agree with Scott, my editor, that the best tracks are the ones without the guest artists, except for “Karate,” which features the KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band and brings it about has hard as Mucca Pazza, Chicago’s salvaged marching-band outfit. By the time the Clark/Lake station blurs into view, I’ve got a good start. Two-hundred words isn’t a lot anyway.

I’m at work early enough to devote some time to my Google Reader. Today, I’m surprised to see activity on the blog of a good friend. There are more than a few of us waiting for Derek Hamm to break his radio silence (at least consistently), so I hit that link first. It’s a quote from Malcolm Gladwell, not from Blink or The Tipping Point or any of his other sociological studies, but from a conversation he had with behavioral economist Dan Ariely:

“I’ve learned that if you tell your story properly, people are very, very open-minded—far more open-minded than I would’ve thought. Or to put it in a more sophisticated way: People are information-rich and theory-poor. If you can give them a way of organizing their experience, then their minds are wide open. Which I would not have not have necessarily thought. And if you can frame questions appropriately you can overcome all kinds of ideological—what you would have thought of—as ideological constraints. So I’ve been continuously surprised. I always thought my book, because I am a political liberal, that my books would have heavily liberal audiences. But in fact they don’t….”

He could’ve stopped at the first line. “…If you tell your story properly, people are very, very open-minded….” That’s a powerful truth we keep forgetting. It also hints at our big failure: our relegation of the story to a world of impractical art-making.

Our storytellers are not people of power. Yes, we’ve got folks like Graydon Carter or, well, Malcolm Gladwell, who wield the same kind of influence that politicians do. But others work their miracles from the periphery. Most accept it, maybe prefer it. But we’ve let things like voting records and rhetoric usurp story’s place in the way we learn about others and the type of people they are. Stories can be corrupted, obviously, but it’s a fairly straightforward medium. No one expects a story to say everything. Fortunately, it seems like there has been a resurgence of the idea that the stories we tell—both true and false—are not just important but completely inimitable. That nothing communicates the same way a story does.

A few minutes after the first quote, I’m reading Gladwell again. Liz Danzico apparently read the same conversation as Derek. She pulled out a different bit:

“To be a writer I think you’re kind of constitutionally disposed toward optimism.”

I haven’t read the whole interview, so I can’t say whether I agree or disagree, but my instinct is to lean toward the latter. I’m aware of the irony of it: An optimistic person would readily agree. But that wouldn’t necessarily prove Gladwell right, just that he and this hypothetical reader are both optimists. My skepticism about this exact statement notwithstanding, I am a fairly optimistic person, to the point of naivete at times. So I’m hoping that not only is Gladwell right, but that it’s reversible, that simple optimism begets a disposition toward writing good stories.

Now, the question remains: how to tell the story of Carnivale Electricos “properly?” And how to do it in 200 words?

chromatic on the millions

29 Jan

I was a contributor for Chromatic, a 400-page book on the intersection color and music, published by Alarm Press. Recently Buzz Poole gave it a generous review over at The Millions.

I’m really happy to report that The Millions posted a generous review of Chromatic, that book by Alarm Press I’ve been harping about for several months. The book’s almost 400 pages explore the intersection of music and sound—synesthesia, stage design, album art, symbolism—and Buzz Poole writes, “Chromatic is a first in the way it documents a segment of today’s music scene by favoring exciting and important visual examples that contribute to a sensory overload that better represents the music than words or notes ever could on their own.”

A spread from Chromatic, which includes 400 pages of stuff pretty much like this (with some normal words and pictures too).

It’s weird seeing my own name about halfway down—though it’s now an extinct pen name. Poole singled out the part of book devoted to Jónsi’s set design, though in my opinion there were far better sections (chapter seven and the second part of chapter two come to mind). But I’m grateful for the mention. Here’s what Poole writes:

Take for example Timothy S. Aames’s account of how the charred remains of the Deyrolle taxidermy shop in Paris connect to the set design for a tour by Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi. From a book of photographs to full-blown multimedia spectacle, Aames reveals how Jónsi and Fifty Nine Productions brought to fruition something neither party had imagined until collaborating on the presentation of a narrative arc built of music and color.

A rendering of Fifty Nine's plan for Jonsi's set design, which drew from images of a burnt-out taxidermy shop in Paris.

It’s been a long time since I interviewed Fifty Nine’s Mark Grimmer and Jónsi about all this, but this review and the recently posted online version made me revisit it. And I must say, I still really love the intro. I’ll leave you with that.

A year after On February 1, 2008, one of Paris’ most cherished stores burnt to the ground. When the sun rose, it shed verdant light onto the gray, smoldering shell of an oddity-filled taxidermy shop called Deyrolle. Inside were hundreds of animals, among them a zebra whose stripes dissolved into a black, charred mass and a lion whose disfigured snout gave it a dark, Victorian-era mask. The tragic beauty of the scene caught the attention of a photographer named Martin d’Orgeval, who got permission to shoot the now half-burnt curiosities that had awed generations of Parisians since the mid-1800s.

D’Orgeval published his photos in a book called Touché par le Feu (Touched by Fire), which was purchased as a Christmas present the following year for one Leo Warner, the director of a group called Fifty Nine Productions, which was rapidly altering the landscape of theatre and opera with its video and set-design work. Now the company was working on a new type of project — a music tour.

Read the rest here.

‘nostalgic for aesthetics’

22 Dec

James Reeves on Billie Holiday, the preservation of vinyl, and other topics dear to me:

Strange, listening to that voice through the filter of seventy-five years of American pop culture, a voice trapped in Woody Allen movies and PBS documentaries, a familiar shorthand for smoke-filled lounges and doomed genius.

Check it out.

the year in album art

13 Dec

Six of the year's best album covers, according to Paste Magazine

Paste Magazine‘s List of the Day yesterday was the year’s best album art. Scrolling through, I realized I’d seen a lot of the covers, even if I hadn’t heard the album, and I remembered being struck the first time I saw the art for Gloss Drop by Battles (No. 26) and Mastodon’s The Hunter (No. 6). Cut Copy’s Zonoscope was one I’d missed, but it definitely deserved its place at number five. And though King of Limbs lost its luster after a few listens, I did love its artwork, so I’m glad it made the list at seventeen.

The blue ribbon? Iron & Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean, an album and cover that didn’t mesmerize me. Assuming I was missing something, I searched for some information on who made it. Continue reading

newly occupied media

12 Dec

Newspapers for 99%, such as the Occupied Chicago Tribune, are sprouting up all over the country

Miles Kampf-Lassin tells the story of the Occupied Chicago Tribune:

“This week, the Occupied Chicago Tribune officially came to life. The first issue, printed Wednesday evening, will be distributed throughout the city—far beyond the Loop’s financial district, where Occupy protests have been held since late September—in the coming days. It includes a feature on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget cuts and their effects on Chicago’s poor, an interview with two seniors arrested protesting social service cuts, a timeline of the global Occupy movement, a look into why hundreds of thousands of people are moving their money out of predatory banks, commentary on the Occupy movement from Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges and more.

“As winter sets in and more Occupations transform their tactics while being evicted from their encampments, the role of independent media sources … will be increasingly important.”

Similar publications to the Occupied Chicago Tribune are springing up across the country, including the Boston OccupierOccupied Washington Times, and the soon-to-be-published Occupied Providence Journal.

As winter sets in and more Occupations transform their tactics while being evicted from their encampments, the role of independent media sources dedicated to honestly reporting on and informing the Occupy movement will be increasingly important. We are extremely excited for the part this newspaper can play in helping to advance the goals of the Occupation: Now is the time for a new kind of politics that puts the priorities of ordinary people above those of big business.”

Hopefully folks like Cornel West and Barbara Kingsolver will take a break from writing for Wall St.’s paper and lend their voices to our own struggling protests.

kubrik’s paper-bag camera

9 Dec

It’s Friday, a day on which I really only post fluff. Today’s topic: Stanley Kubrik’s photographic history.

Before he made 2001: A Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrik was a photojournalist for Look magazine, “their youngest staff photographer on record,” writes Caroline Stanley. “Kubrick’s striking black and white images of 1940s New York City—which were often shot on the sly, his camera concealed in a paper bag with a hole in it—hint at the dark beauty and psychological drama of his later creative output.”

A photo by Stanley Kubrik during his tenure as a photojournalist for Look magazine

Kubrik's work is largely cinematic, writes Caroline Stanley

More of Kubrik's photos can be seen at Flavorwire

via Kottke

4 Dec

Things You Can Learn From a Conversation Between Brian Eno and David Mitchell

:: :: ::

1. That Eno was first a painter and that it was another painter that pushed him toward minimalism.
BE: “I feel a lot more connection with painters than composers. Mondrian, for example, is a big star in my firmament. …  I’m sure that this feeling of “magic from limited means” has remained a meme for me, and why I’d call myself a minimalist.”

2. That it is, in fact, okay for you to listen to music that doesn’t do a whole lot.
BE:  “I wanted a music that simply ‘tinted’ the air around me.”

3. Why people started making such music.
BE: “Separated from performance, recorded sound had become a malleable material, like paint or clay. Music was being made like paintings were made, adding and subtracting, manipulating colors, built up over a period of time rather than performed in one sitting. And the results of this process were pointing toward a type of music that was less linear and more immersive: music you lived inside.” Continue reading