In recent days I have discovered a novel and chilling experience: listening to portions of Wagner's Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen) in otherwise ordinary situations. Like while driving to the downtown Los Angeles YMCA as highly affected, operatic voices soar over the unconcerned Google maps voice suggesting "in 600 feet, make a right". Or, while sitting outside a Whole Foods on a bench next to the parking lot, eating an overpriced box of prepared salads while various leitmotifs evoke a rapturous panoply of characters. I notice the late afternoon sun setting a touch more inescapably than the day before.
To absorb music that is so emphatically active, in terms of dynamics, register and harmonic development, feels like a splash of cold water on the face. Or like a hard stare that I can't be sure is going to give way to attraction, laughter or disgust.
There's also the fact that Wagner's Ring Cycle sounds like "empire": no surprise given its thematic content, and that it's been referenced, quoted, and deeply woven into the fabric of film score tradition. "Ride of the Valkyries" has become synonymous with cinematic representations of militaristic glory, domination and violence. John Williams quoted the Siegfried leitmotif for the "Force" theme in the Star Wars saga. Of course, Wagner himself was a virulent anti-Semitic polemicist, and was later championed by Nazis. These sonics of ‘triumph’ take on such an unnerving feel, despite their catchiness or inherent compositional fitness.
It feels uncomfortable but necessary to engage with this music and its historical legacy. Not just to have a better sense of where I am at present, but to reflect on how cultural memory, at least in the States, can be indebted to the legacy of filmmaking: how values, echoes and impressions can be instilled in generations of viewers just by passively enjoying Wagner’s compositional tools in their favorite films.
Even so, I don’t think we are doomed to a mise en abyme of Wagnerian tradition. I think of the filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasekathul judiciously employing sounds of insects, barely perceptible drones, and diegetic electronic hums in his films. Perhaps to actively reject the heroic individual and their surrounding myth (or stereotype) - perhaps this employment of sound design helps contextualize individuals into a greater existential whole.
On the note of production, I'd like to share a few updates. The first is that over 2021 and 2022 I finished two records and am currently finalizing artwork and mastering. If you have ever considered becoming a paid supporter, know that your contribution would help support the release of this new music. I'm thrilled to finally share these sounds with you very soon!
If you enjoyed this post or want to support my work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. I am in the process of releasing two records, and am trying to raise funds to make this possible. Thank you!
The second update is I contributed vocals, synthesizer and additional production to the title track of John Cale's new album, Mercy, out now on Domino. I had the pleasure of performing in concert with John Cale back in 2015 alongside Lisa Gerrard, and afterwards he kindly invited me to be part of the album process. The song is beautiful, go have a listen!
Finally, I recorded a track for a new 2xLP & publication by multimedia sculptor Kevin Beasley, called A View of a Landscape. It is published by Chicago's Renaissance Society and out in March!
Awe is something you feel when confronted with forces beyond your control: nature, the cosmos, chaos, human error, hallucinations.
Awe has a new timeslot, and will return on Thursday, February 2nd at 1 PM PST / 9 PM BST / 10 PM CET. Listen back to the last two episodes here:
Awe w/ Christina Vantzou & John Also Bennett - 12 December 2022
Awe w/ Laurel Halo & Aya - 16 November 2022
Regarding performances, I'd like to share that I've signed on with Carin at Outer Agency for EU/world live and DJ bookings. Please get at her for summer 2023 and beyond!
Finally, I’ve got a brief DJ tour in the US coming up with the one and only Marie Davidson. I cannot wait (first US gigs since 2019) and hope to see you there!
24.02 → Washington, D.C. → Hast du Feuer (w/ Marie Davidson & Beautiful Swimmers)
25.02 → New York City, NY → Elsewhere (w/ Marie Davidson, DJ Wawa & Príncipe Discos)
03.03 → Detroit, MI → Marble Bar x Texture (w/Marie Davidson)
04.03 → Miami, FL → The Ground (w/ Marie Davidson)
31.03 → San Francisco, CA → Monarch (w/ Marie Davidson)
01.04 → Los Angeles, CA → Into The Woods (w/ Marie Davidson)
It feels a bit surreal still, but I’m happy to share that as of this month I’ve joined the faculty of the Composition and Experimental Sound Practices Department at the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts!
The next few months will be a somewhat intense shift away from the studio and production, and towards research and course preparation. This semester I've started teaching a class on film music history and analysis, with a focus on international and experimental cinema.
In the past I have found teaching to be satisfying in terms of intellectual stimulation and unpredictable moments of inspiration. I’m excited to learn, and to share time with the CalArts community!
(photo credit Larissa Hofmann)
I have so many thoughts on the consonances and dissonances of this change - being back in the States after having lived in Europe for the past ten years - having my studio time more limited - but it's still soaking in and therefore hard to comment. I miss friends, walking on a regular basis, and sitting around making up harmonies. But I am excited for what's next, and will be back in the EU and studio action soon enough. It feels like I've been living in a subdominant chord (or, a floating sense of being unsettled) since 2020 and hope I find a sense of place here in the not-too-distant future.
Finally, a congratulations to my friend Victor Szabo who just published a great historical survey of ambient, titled Turn On, Tune In, Drift Off: Ambient Music's Psychedelic Past, published by Oxford University Press. I remember half-dozing in musicology class at 8:30 AM in Ann Arbor in 2005 with Victor somehow learning about European operatic tradition, but it’s all coming back to me now. Now he’s an accomplished musicology professor and author, yay Vic!
Thanks for reading, and for your consideration, as always.