Silence, Silence, Sound

Tonight I'm performing in a quintet with Shelly Blake-Plock and friends at The Red Room, and experimental music venue built inside Normal's Books. This is my third show at the Red Room, and it's one of my favorite venues to play. It sits at the deep and hidden heart of Baltimore's experimental music scene, which is quickly becoming the center of experimental music nation-wide. I'm always honored to play here, and especially with such a tremendously talented group of players who are associated with the famous High Zero Foundation, an international festival for experimental music.

Red Room reopens tomorrow (new and improved and full of surprises), Sat. June 26, with a performance by READERS (Shelly Blake-Plock, John Berndt, Rose Burt, Tom Boram, and Savanna Leigh), a film by Rachel Younghans, and a mystery performance by a duo of French/German wandering free improvisers. 8:30PM; $6.

For those of you who have never been, I STRONGLY urge you to head down to 31st Street and check out Normal's Books. Best used books and records in town. I can't describe it as well as What Weekly:

"In the seldom traveled nooks and crannies of every city across the world, there exist enclaves of lesser-known phenomena that may only reach those few locals who have found themselves in the know.

It’s here, between the mass produced and the homegrown, that the soul of the city can be shaped. There is roughly eight hundred Barnes & Noble’s Booksellers in the United States and most of them are exactly like the next one. There’s only one Normals Bookstore and it’s right here in Waverly. There’s no bookstore quite like it in the world.

The strange medley of books and albums reflects the curiousness and clear determination of its owners whose vision for the store has been honed for twenty years. They’ve grown a reputation as the place to find the obscure and often rare.

The Red Room at Normals has served as a space where performances are free to be explored without preconception by the players or prejudice by the audience. This venue has had an immense influence on the experimental music scene in Baltimore.

It’s in these spaces that the backdrop for the city’s story is erected. You can’t recreate the circumstances that would lead a group of young artists to start a bookstore and you can’t expedite the twenty years that shapes the personality of it. This is part of why Normals is a treasured fixture of our city."


If you're not already devouring the articles in What Weekly, you should. It's your one-stop-shop for everything you love in Baltimore, and their calendar is a GREAT way to figure out what's going on where when you need something to do. From the performers at HonFest to the Balkan dance parties at H&H, What Weekly's got you covered. It's like City Paper, only more plugged in.

See you tonight at the Red Room.

Shadows Through Glass

Taken from my Galactic Glass series, shot with my little point and shoot Fuji. Despite the camera quality, I'm quite pleased with these. One key light, one fill, on black felt. I'll re-shoot this later on with an SLR. These are all unedited- I gotta figure out how to do that soon.

I'm really happy with the abstraction- maybe the grainy picture quality works in its favor. I'm starting to see glass as a means to an end. I'm thinking of blowing shapes specifically for their shadows, which can be photographed, filmed, or incorporated into another media. I'm also interested in experimenting with projecting light onto/through blown glass. We shall see.

The Pale Blue Dot

"Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." ~Carl Sagan

Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home). The pale blue dot in the right-most band of color.

I am completely obsessed with space right now. I'm devouring every documentary I can find on quantum mechanics, space-time fabric, planetary life cycles, the LHC, dark matter, black holes, and everything in between. It's a shame that the lines between science and art cross so infrequently; I want to do something to change that. I'm not sure what yet, but hopefully my Galactic Glass series is a decent start. Maybe I'll turn my living room into a Tom Sachs set. Or maybe I'll just eat alot of freeze-dried food and stare at the stars.

I wonder if you're staring at them too

Printable Objects

This is some pretty cool technology. Make something on the computer, and print it out. I'm sure you know how to print a document, but did you know you can also print an object?

I made this quick test cube in Rhino and had it printed out. The point of this little cube was to experiment with the printer's capacity for detail and to test the strength of the material. 

My digital model in Rhino

The finished product, printed out in some special mixture of plaster.

3D printers create tangible objects from a digital .STL file by building the material up layer by layer, which is why my cube has that surface texture. This process is called "rapid prototyping," it's newly available to the public (more or less) and it's opening new frontiers in object design, production, and innovation. Check out Shapeways for printer outsourcing and information.

All my digital models and renderings can be seen in my portfolio, all built and rendered in Rhino.

To Swallow the Sun

Several months ago, I stumbled upon a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, the acclaimed author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” I began listening to this talk casually, thinking it would be a nice way to spend eighteen minutes- However as Gilbert's talk progressed, I began to feel the gravity of her words. They pressed down upon me deliberately and fearfully- I shook, I wept, and then there was a sort of calm; a peace in knowing that my own anxieties are shared by so many other creative minds. A peace in knowing that I can cast off my own perceived insanity to stand in illuminated solidarity with my struggling comrades. For the past several months, the words of this talk have haunted the cobwebs of my mind. They have settled there, they've taken root, and they are beginning to shape the way I see and think more than I could have imagined. 

I had no idea that eighteen minutes could change my life.

I don't want to imbue Elizabeth Gilbert with the sole responsibility of this metamorphosis; I do however credit her for so gracefully articulating the tempest of anxieties I've been battling through the entirety of my creative career. For the past several months I've been meditating on this talk- and now, out of necessity, I will feebly attempt to relate it to my own experience as a maker.

I am a maker. 

I'm sure this identity is something unheard of to you, my loyal readers, who are not in the business of being creative. A quick definition: A maker is someone who creates out of the desperate need to create, be it art, music, dance, or otherwise. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing at all wrong with being a non-maker. In a recent interview, I stated that “I'd much rather be a rich lawyer- I am an artist simply because I have to be. I have no choice.” So, I am infinitely jealous of you who can enjoy a stable job doing math and science and business. I am jealous of your inevitable comfort. I am jealous of your fearlessness.

In the words of Mrs. Gilbert, “When I first started telling people -- when I was a teenager -- that I wanted to be a writer, I was met with this same kind of, sort of fear-based reaction. And people would say, 'Aren't you afraid you're never going to have any success? Aren't you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you? Aren't you afraid that you're going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing's ever going to come of it and you're going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure?'...Yes... And I don't recall once in [my father's] 40 years of chemical engineering anybody asking him if he was afraid to be a chemical engineer.”

So what is it about creativity that we are so afraid of? Why do we stand alone before a room full of our peers to be voluntarily criticized for the work we have created? I'm sure you marketing majors have never cried after a failed pitch for an ad campaign. You see, the ad you have created may be filled with innovative brilliance, but it is not filled with your sweat and blood. It did not erupt from your core to take possession of your pen.

Makers are so personally tied to their work that there often ceases to be a distinction between the person and the piece. This is a historically deadly line to blur- makers have a dark history of violence and mental instability. The pressure placed on an artist by himself and by society is often unbearable, “like trying to swallow the sun,” and sometimes that artist simply breaks under the pressure. He goes on to cut off an ear or to reign a Third Reich. So, if we have no choice but to be an artist, what optimism is left in our profession?

 Mrs. Gilbert offers a buffer: 
“[In] ancient Greece and ancient Rome -- people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then...People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity "daemons." Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar. The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist's studio”

There it is. That's the thing that has been unexplainable to me for years. This is exactly what I need to function; this is a loose theology that I have since chosen to accept and personify. This is something I have spoken to very few people about, because it makes me feel crazy, inarticulate, and helpless to describe. So, for the first time, here goes.

It started in high school, when I was first graced by this paranormal thing Mrs. Gilbert calls genius. I don't mean that my work was particularly good, or that I think it was a sort of transcendent masterpiece; I mean that this was when I was first possessed by something uncontrollable. Not demonic, but rather brilliantly optimistic. I had been working on a tedious painting in my parents' basement, crying over some forgotten teenage woe, when it struck me. It felt like something swept through me from behind and breathed into my heart, inflating me with passion and understanding. With my hands I smeared paint across the drawing I had been so careful about. I created something entirely new, entirely outside of myself. Ever since then I have often been graced by the same indescribable force, that cock-eyed genius in my walls. Sometimes he stays with me for days- I know my friends can sense the difference in me. And I can always feel him coming, and I am never without a pen and paper exactly because of that. My room is filled with blank canvases waiting for his touch.

I realize this sounds like madness. In my fear of being called crazy or worse, I have kept the details of my perpetual possessions private until I heard Gilbert's talk. Since then, I have timidly admitted this to a select few of my most trusted and respected creative associates- and they have admitted to similar if not identical feelings. 

Mrs. Gilbert relates the words of American poet Ruth Stone, “When [Ruth] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, 'run like hell.' And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn't be fast enough, so she'd be running and running and running, and she wouldn't get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it 'for another poet.'”

That is my creative process to a tee. Later in the talk it is revealed that even Tom Waits shares a similar approach to creating. So, this possession, this uncontrollable need to create seems to both haunt and grace creative people across the spectrum. Call it talent, call it inspiration, call it daemon, call it God, call it genius. It has chosen us to be makers, and that is why we do what we do. We have no choice but to oblige.

My genius and I have grown to be quite familiar with each other. He tends to show up to work around 1am, which is rather inconvenient for me, but I manage to compromise. Some days, when I face an insurmountable wall of creative block, I call out to him. Sometimes he answers. Most times he won't bother. He loves to show up the night before something is due, light me on fire from within, and prevent me from sleeping while I create something spectacular and A+ worthy. Sometimes he won't show up at all and I am forced to submit some uninspired slop, “but I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

Yes, I realize the insanity of “basically fairies who follow people around rubbing fairy juice on their projects.” I don't believe in a specifically personified gnome who lives in the walls of my studio, but it is the best description I can give to something that I have been unable to put my finger on. I can simply laugh and shrug my shoulders, and accept the inspiration when it strikes me.