Friday, March 11, 2016

Should You Play Music, Write Poems or Make Art?

Comedian Jon Benjamin has put out an experimental jazz album where he plays piano backed by professional musicians.  At the time of recording Benjamin didn’t know how to play piano – at all!  He was completely making it up on the spot.  It sounds like free jazz.  In an interview with NPR Jon Benjamin admitted “It's a real insult to people who try.

I think this is hilarious and brilliant.  Of course on some level it is an insult to just start banging away on piano keys when there are people who have put in years of discipline and practice into their musical talent.  On the other hand I do believe that with the right attitude and approach someone who has never played an instrument before can pick it up and start making music from day one.  That’s basically what I’ve been doing for the last ten years, off and on.

There are elephants, chimpanzees and pigs who paint.  Their work is very avant-garde.  I happen to dig this kind of art.  Is this an insult to actual trained abstract artists?  Probably.
From around 2005-2008 I lived in a shitty house in the country where it didn’t matter if I spilled paint everywhere.  Somewhere during that time I decided I was going to start painting.  There were these old boards out in the shed and I would get paint very diluted and use non-conventional devices like spray bottles and toothbrushes to splatter paint onto these boards and then let gravity do the rest. 

Some paint would miss the boards entirely and either fall to the ground or vanish in the air.  Bon voyage.  The paint that did land on the board would become the painting.  This diluted paint would trickle down through cracks and crevices of the wood, eventually drying and leaving what was basically a discolored paint stain.  That would be the finished piece.  It was on par with elephant, chimpanzee, pig and worm art.  I might start doing this again.  Is this insulting to actual painters who rely upon skill?

I like to write in a ruled composition notebook three or four times a week.  I fill up the entire page – never more than one page per day – always stopping when the page is full.  I usually write in a linear top to bottom, left to right fashion but not always.  Days, weeks, months, or years later I look back at what I’ve written and make a “poem” out of it, usually retaining 80% or more of the original text.

That composition notebook process is completely freeform – almost like automatic writing – but I hesitate to call it prose poetry.  It’s more like improvisational journal entries.  I rarely have any idea what I’m writing about as I'm doing it; I just start with a blank mind/page and don’t stop until the page is full.  The whole process probably takes about ten minutes or less.  This format and these parameters work for me.  Is this insulting to actual poets?  Certainly writing in a diary is OK to do and that’s essentially what this is.

A few years after I had been playing tenor banjo I convinced my wife to start playing a baritone ukulele so I could have someone to play backup to my melody.  She never had any lessons other than what I could show her, but within days of her getting the uke and learning chords I had her record an “album” with me that we put on Bandcamp.  Is this an insult to actual musicians?  People post crappy YouTube videos of themselves playing music all the time!
I started this blog over five years ago to primarily write about music.  I enjoy writing and it comes easy to me but I am no expert.  I didn't get an English degree and I certainly don’t have a degree in musicology.  I’m not a performing musician and I am definitely not a music teacher with actual students, but this space gives me a place to share music tips and music theory theories as if I do know what I'm talking about.

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