"Theatre of the absurd" is so final. Improbable is more like it. In Ionesco's "The Lesson," The Professor is a devoted teacher, in love with sharing his knowledge to the young students who come to his home. Ionesco wrote the play in 1950. Its characters exhibit the trauma and dissociation of a society that has fallen apart. I'm playing The Professor starting Feb. 16-25, 2018. Directed by Gama Valle at Teatro Latea in the LES. Tickets available here.
May 14, 2017
“Julian Schnabel, A Private Portrait” opened in NYC last week. It's a documentary film directed by Pappi Corsicato. Pappi interviewed me for the film a couple years ago. I hoped to describe my experiences or an understanding in a succinct way. That didn’t happen. My feelings about Julian and about myself were raw and my words were clumsy. I didn't feel that I'd described, except in that clumsiness, how embroiled I felt. I asked for a second session. Pappi came back, and I did pretty much the same thing. I wanted to say something that encapsulated and resolved our relationship. But I couldn't find words for the love and disappointment.
I arrive at the theatre and have a conversation with a woman sitting behind me who’d just recovered from an aneurysm. She’d been in a lengthy coma in which she dreamt extensively. She came out of a heavily sedated state remembering all her dreams which she said were very strange.
In the film's opening sequence Julian is speaking to his baby son. The feeling of it is unmistakable and unintended: Julian seems intensely detached from the child. He's speaking to something other than the little boy. It’s dark and painful. And then the film changes. That feeling is never addressed. The film becomes a display of Julian's virtuousic creative powers and his ability to make big things happen, which is all familiar and very close. I’d witnessed it as a studio assistant and in a series of successive, but essentially similar roles. I first appear in the film in black and white photos from the 80s, kneeling on a floor in a Soho gallery stretching a painting, on a beach in Amagansett holding a ladder. I push a wooden cross into the air in Seville. I’m there, unseen in St. Moritz, filming an exhibition of bronze sculptures on a snow-covered field from a helicopter.
Pappi had asked to use “She Is Dancing,” a song from my first album, which was part of the soundtrack of Julian’s film “Basquiat.” Julian pushed and helped me in any way he could to get that album done. Later I’m onscreen speaking about a moment in that film’s story. Watching that, and listening to the song I feel content. I used to feel lost and found in Julian’s example. Now I see that I wasn’t, except in my head. I’m there onscreen, clearly, my own person. Now that my life is not centered outside myself I'm able to be a spectator of this part of it. The film ends. I walk out onto the sidewalk into a crowd and feel the warmth of a family larger than I know or, remember.
“Julian Schnabel, A Private Portrait” is showing at the Quad Cinema in NYC.
Friends, House of Yes in Bushwick is screening Basquiat, directed by Julian Schnabel, on Tuesday, Feb. 2, as part of a David Bowie film series. I'm going to do a monologue about events involving Jean Michel and will play some songs including "She is Dancing" from the soundtrack of the film. Some of this will be simultaneous. House of Yes is within view of the Jefferson stop on the L train. Doors open at 7:30 pm. I'll be on around 8 pm. More info and tix available here. X, B
Irman Peck came by the other day to listen to some recordings that I'm working on. I'd pulled out a bunch of effects pedals. Irman saw an MXR dyna comp and suggested I use it. The next day he sent the following message, by text:
Plug your Dyna Comp into the wall-wart or stuff a fresh 9 volt into it.
Plug your bass into the Dyna Comp. Plug the Dyna Comp into "THE STUDIO BASS" and get a substantial volume level. Set the compression (or sustain) level on the effect to approximately 3/4 or 3 o'clock. While constantly plucking a low bass string and constantly switching the effect on and off, adjust the other (volume) knob so the volume with and without the effect is exactly the same. Select the split coil (precision bass) bridge pickup for the fattest sound.
With the compression turned on, try plucking the bass with both your fingers, and a pick. Both the sound and the feel should be noticeably altered. The sound should be more controllable. More tone. Less uncontrolled sound. The feel should be different. You should be able to dig in more, with better results. Less volume peaks. More consistent tone available to your fingers or pick. Experiment with the compression (or sustain) knob. My Dyna Comp pedal is very powerful. If I go beyond 3/4 it seems to saturate the effect and loses the result.
If you're not getting enough of the effect, turn compression up more.
Conversely, 3/4 May be too much. You may want to try 1 or 2 o'clock.
You just have to re-check the volume balance (of effect and no effect) every time you change the compression setting or the pedal will become this weird little line amp fucking with your levels.
If used correctly, you will be surprised how slick and professional it will make the bass sound.
The only reason I don't use it sometimes, is to have a more natural, raw and wild tone. Almost to sound acoustic. In a way, compression is my normal sound and straight is an effect I use occasionally. Pluck a bass note, let it sustain and you can hear the compressor work. As you pluck, the compressor slightly reduces the volume of the note. As the note slowly decays, the compressor slowly responds in kind by slowly returning the volume it removed.
The illusion is that there is a much longer sustain than is actually real.
If you're playing constantly, the amp can be turned up very loud as the compressor is constantly reducing the volume, the amps true volume only to be heard in places where you leaves spaces, sweet controlled amp feedback ensues. You can choose to let it feed back by pausing.
Overdrives, distortions and tube amps at high levels, as a by product, all naturally compress their signals. Loud electric guitarists have utilized this natural effect since the beginning (blue cheer, Hendrix). The compressor very effectively imitates this effect.
Once you get the feel of this thing with the bass, you should try a heavily compressed sound on the guitar. Use one of your small amps (Randall?) that has a pre amp gain knob you can turn all the way up while keeping the overall (main) volume relatively low. You should end up with a lot of sweet, wild but controllable feedback at a relatively low volume, turning your guitar into a monster, and you into a rock god (!) Knowing your sound, I can say that this could be new information for you and could be information that could conceivably turn you into a different kind of guitar player.
You should try overdrive and distortion pedals both before and after your compressor for not only explosive but extremely controllable results.
Have you ever played your guitar through the studio bass? Keep the tone controls where they are but turn any pre amp volume (channel volume, not main volume) all the way up.
Between the overdriven tubes, the ballsy bass tones, and the four smaller vintage speakers, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Every few weeks I meet with a group of people to discuss our experiences and feelings about race and racism. This is something I took away from our last discussion.
This is an attempt to get down something we discussed during this past Sunday's discussion. I've put it in the first person but only so that I could be speaking for myself and not others. I'd be interested in comments, suggestions, edits, etc:
Black, white, oppressed, privileged. Our discussions have helped me see that these words are labels which have the power to short-circuit my understanding and connection to other people. If I see a person with dark skin and think “black” or a person with light skin and think “white” I'm traveling away from them. The words come with assumptions about who this person is. They help me categorize, order and prepare myself for interaction but that process has meant that I see less of people around me. As I interact with people based on these assumptions I keep them fixed in a place in relation to me and I'm fixed in place too. Arrested development. This is what racism has been for me: constant, nearly involuntary, application of assumptions to people who appear to be other than me. The “me” I've perceived myself to be. After all, if even, unconsciously I'm obviously identifying the norm as white. By seeing and thinking: “He's black.”, “She's black.”, I'm seeing myself as 'white', I'm being white rather than simply another person. As an individual I can avoid the use of these words, wanting to avoid the assumptions they come with.
But I live in a country where those words have a lot of meaning. Being a black person or a white person has immeasurable impact on how people live and treat each other. Outside the range of love and compassion those words mean a lot. And it's easy to feel that my experience is nothing in the face of very large scale pervasive racist practices. But change begun in one person has an effect which is relayed and magnified by interactions. Change starts with individuals. If I can see past white & black that will show up in the course of each day. Each of us can be a catalyst. We have the ability as individuals to change the way we think and effect others through our interactions.
I would be prince of any kingdom that would have me. Prince of the compost heap. Prince of the diaper pail, the broken axe woodpile and just gully fulls of water
Nysheva - Starr met me at about 10:30 am. Herald Square. Police barriers everywhere controlling the crowds for the parade.
We stood at 33rd and 7th with signs: Racism - Fear of the Other, Ramarley / Sean / Amadou / Trayvon / Michael / Akai: Our Brothers, and Stand with Us. And two by two people joined us. Soon there were a dozen and then more standing in a row and often people stood behind us.
There was a whole family, Pakistani or possibly Afghans, with their kids. The father thanked us and said it was only right. Many people acknowledged the signs with smiles, nods, thumbs up, and some came over and asked questions - some wanted to hold the signs. Some were getting their pictures taken. Starr started encouraging people to join us. She improvised a few long sections about involvement, justice, being American, acceptance, "two hands up is the universal sign of I surrender so why the killing?"
We were there for a couple hours and a group of 30 or 40 marching up 7th joined us - we got swallowed up and headed towards 6th and then in a roundabout way to Times Square - this all felt more like Occupy. Larger group. More active but not welcoming or available to people. It was confrontational in volume and message as though the message was for those with power.
Standing in a small group and letting people come to us feels better to me. It did on Tuesday too. It's not just the smallness it's that I know that dozens of people - more, many more, were engaged for a moment - they made sure to let their opinion be known to us, whether it was "thanks" or "justice was done" (that from one guy who kept walking). When I left I wanted to gather the signs for the next time. People I didn't know were holding them. They were staying to protest in Times Square so I left the signs with them.
Welcome to the new site, folks. I'll be updating this area with music I'm listening to and things I'm reading and thinking about. If you're here to listen to my music, head over to ALBUMS to stream full versions of Each Day Blues and Receding Choir. Songs and film score work with Kevin Salem are under SCORES + SOUNDTRACKS. You'll find music videos (long and short) under the VIDEO tab, and original drafts of songwriting efforts are filed under LYRICS. Clips and performance dates for one of my current projects, The Story of You, can be found under MONOLOGUES. Hope you enjoy! X, Brian