Art, Music/Book Reviews, Poetry/Prose

Start Again

Whatever it is. Whatever it was. It’s gone.

No pact or promise can hold it in place.

Not because you don’t deserve it, but because it’s always changing.

Appreciate it and let it go.

It will surely fly back to you if it wants to do–or into the sky, carrying a part of you to timeless heaven.

Eternally impressed–its memory will shift around your actions and change their meaning every day.

The minds-eye mirrorball–shifting light of reason as the hours, days, years, lifetimes pass.

We live in so many dimensions.

Let go and see it.

Let go and live into your next one.

Every day.

Look in the mirror first.

Say it to yourself first.

Start again.

Music/Book Reviews, Poetry/Prose, Yoga & Spiritual

We Will (Wear the Satin Jackets)

Seems to me that one of the greatest mistakes I’ve made so far is to assume that just because it feels and felt so good to be close to them, that any of the loves of my life provide me with answers.

On the contrary, upon their attractive entrance, they open new lines of inquiry: into myself, into life itself, into what it means to love, into my past, into my deepest fears, plunging me deeper and deeper, lifting me higher and higher, below and beyond an outdated recognition of self.

In fact, as we draw closer to anyone, we are pulled into the unconscious, the out-of-control part of ourselves. All our little secrets from ourselves, once anesthetized by comfortable solitude are awakened and name-tagged by a connection that precariously and paradoxically tempts us with our oneness and announces our division.

If we live in love, if we live bravely, we are always being stretched.

We can run away. We can cling too tightly when the lessons are done. Many do. I know I have, sometimes. Then comes a time when the soul gets hungry for what it needs, overrides the silly and pointless aversion of nature and all of her gracious, healing elements.

In this staying, with anyone, we realize that it’s the conscious gestures that are the rudder and the sails on our soul in a massive sea of self-and-other navigation–we learn through trials and pain to balance amidst the incessant stirring of these unconscious waters by relationship.

Essentially, the things we have conscious control over are the means to making what is inherently unpleasant–the tilling up of our most rigid personal soils–bearable and even enjoyable.

From the smallest, unseen, secret, subtle gestures to the most overt displays of affection–our conscious effort offsets what is natural with mechanisms termed civil … even, superficially, “loving.” Be they efforts toward the self or other, stuff that comes easy or changes that are tough, they are conscious.

In the end of the day, however, it is the submersion in this shadowy, unconscious sea, brave and ready for regular humiliation, that is the ultimate act of love in a universe held together by it.

I know today, who I am. But I’m ready, always ready, for you to change me, love. Because whether I surrender or not, you are doing this with every thought I think, every feeling I feel. Whether I want you to or not is irrelevant. Because you gave me life itself, we will.

Music/Book Reviews, Poetry/Prose, Yoga & Spiritual

‘On Being Spiritual’– transcript excerpt from Krishna Das workshop, April 25, 2014


Krishna Das (right) and his drummer, Arjun–what an honor to sit close to him for the afternoon

Audience member (AM): Hi.

Krishna Das (KD): Hello.

AM: My question is: Do you consider yourself as a spiritual person? Because, I would say that your sense of humor, seems to me quite cynical for a spiritual person.

[Audience breaks out in laughter]

KD: It’s me, it’s not you.

AM: I wouldn’t expect that …

KD: Would you define spiritual person since you don’t think I am one?

[More laughter from audience]

AM: A spiritual person in my mind …

KD: Wears white, talks very sweetly …

AM: … Yeah!

KD: Those are the people who wind up … [hesitates, looks down and smiles]

AM: … About unconditional love and …

KD: Those are the people who don’t have any shadows in their life, and they’re happy all the time, well then that’s wonderful, but that’s not me.

AM: Like, would you … uh … think of changing that in you? Or … like …

[Laughter resumes loudly throughout audience]

AM: … Some person to be spiritual.

KD: I’m not concerned with whether I’m spiritual, or worldly, or anything like that. There is no … those words mean nothing to me. I am looking for love. I am looking for unconditional love. Everything in my life is leading me toward that place of unconditional love that is God, that is the Guru. And that’s what my life is about. I don’t define it any other way … whether it’s spiritual or not.

I can say shit and fuck and all that stuff and still be perfectly happy. [Loud laughter from audience, especially me;)] My Guru said that as well … so.

AM: You seem to be too realistic.

KD: I don’t think you can be too realistic. If you don’t deal with reality, it’s going to deal with you. You need to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you are, and you can’t tell stories to yourself, because you have to live. And if your lying to yourself about who you are, what’s going to happen? So I try to deal with myself with as much honesty as I can.

Because lying to myself, why? Why would I do that? Who does that hurt besides me? It hurts everybody around me if I’m not honest with myself. So I try to be honest with myself and I lean toward the cynical side [big grin spreads across his face] for a little self protection. It keeps people a little further away, because they look at me and go ‘he’s not spiritual’ and then they go away, and I love that.

[Laughter and applause erupt from the crowd]

KD: My Guru never put us in any shape. He never made us wear white clothes and be good little boys and girls. The beauty was that he loved us as we are. That was so liberating and so wonderful, because he knew everything [whispers:], everything–and he loved us, just as we are. So that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to love myself as I am. Not some fantasy about what spiritual is or anything like that.

(I will post more bits from Krishna Das’ talk during the workshop over time and publish excerpt sound clips on YouTube.)

Music/Book Reviews

Summer Go-to Music

Hit on some solid stuff this summer and felt the need to share.

The top two selections are new music and the collections linked are 100 percent solid, IMO. Their genres push the edges of those existing. Here goes.


I stumbled on Scott Hansen’s masterwork when listening to another favorite of mine, Ulrich Schnauss … must say Hansen trumped what brought me to him. Indeed, this has colored my world. Every time I listen it drills me deeper into my feelings, so I use it carefully. I can’t say that it had me looking through a lens because this stuff pushes me deeper inside myself, to close my eyes and see beyond my wildest dreams. Sometimes I use Tycho even when it isn’t playing out loud—my mind will produce the tracks and I feel them massage my heart, connect me to a part of myself.

Hansen’s blog’s (ISO50) playlists have become a source of inspiration for me as well. I listen to them while I paint or mill around the house. He and his crew are either out on the edge or in the deepest cuts of artists like “Yes.” It’s really otherworldly. I recommend highly.

Toro y Moi—Anything in Return

I found this guy, Chaz Bundick, through the ISO50 blog, actually. He’s since medicated my summer. Bundick’s apparently the father of a new “Chill Wave” movement. I first heard the song “Say That,” off of the album “Anything in Return,” and was hooked. THEN, I watched the video—and I thought “this guy really gets it … WTF, he’s just awesome!!” Rose quartz then rung my neck and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Zero 7—Best Of (Emphasis on a couple of remixes)

Okay, this is hardly new or edgy. But something about this collection, with its experimental remixes, as a whole, rocked my socks this summer and continues to. Here are a few hints:

Finally, blast from the past …

INXS—Best Of

I realize every time I listen to this collection that:

A) I don’t get sick of any of the songs because B) the message inside each song is totally evolved and the music that goes with it supports this.

This music is timeless. It’s about enjoying life, and after all the yoga and meditation I’ve done, I find that it’s actually really evolved and consistently sophisticated and positive in its message.

Music/Book Reviews

What is the What by Dave Eggers (Review)


Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng

(2008) One important thing to note about this book is that it is closer to non-fiction than fiction. It’s tempting to dismiss it because of it’s classification but I went to watch Eggers talk about how he wrote it and it’s not really fiction. We can’t fall asleep to unspeakable things that have happened to many innocent Sudanese people (all detailed in the book), and we have to tell others this truth.

As I near the end of this book, the scenery and action becomes so much more intense and horrifying. Dozens of tiny story lines develope into surprise endings. The book engages me further, and I’ve already found myself crying several times and even breaking into a full-out sob.

It’s one of those sobs like I had about the Kenyan slum of Kibera when it first entered my mind as a real, vast, unsuitable dwelling place for unfortunate people…of course I couldn’t deny what was right across the street for 10 months.

It makes me think about how God, if you will, dwells inside of all of us yet can turn violently on him/her self because of greed and ego obsession.

Further, when you read this book ,you will know more about how the war came about and about the fact that it hasn’t been going on just for 2 or 3 years — it’s been going on for a decade and a half at least.

Music/Book Reviews

Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte (Review)


This is an amazing collection of information on garbage. And as best as one can, Royte has put a colorful, warm-blooded and entertaining spin on it. Still, it’s hard to deny that working through it is a task because it’s kind of depressing.

Nevertheless, I never realized how many processes go in to recycling materials and attempting to seal waste dumps. It is also a reminder that not everywhere in this country is a sanitary place to live. It’s really unfortunate that some people in some areas have to suffer from our trash.

It’s a bit of an Erin Brokovich flashback in a small respect. I recommend this if you want to become more aware of how waste is handled. It’s also a good way to get fired up about creating less of your own.

Music/Book Reviews

Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby (Review)


(2007) This is an interesting read if you want to get an idea of what the prominent Western classics are and how they are taught at Columbia college in New York.

Denby goes back to retake his classical literature courses and recounts conversations in class, reflections outside of class and his deeper relationship with the characters in the classics.

Throughout the work there is strung a theme of defense against those who call Western works courses elitist. I didn’t buy it and found that Denby talked in circles. It was clear to me that he hadn’t ever spent a significant amount of time living outside of the Western sphere of influence.

Having lived in Africa and having married a Turkish man and integrated partially into the Turkish-American community, I would say that it’s impossible to mount a defense against the mixture of Western and Eastern literature in higher institutions of education here in the US. People need exposure to the structure and thoughts shared by Eastern Literature. Now more than ever, we need to explore cultures that pull us out of our self-satisfied sense of human development.

I liked how Denby highlighted the over-indulgence in emotion by rape activists and people who live as victims. But I found this a strange branching off of the argument between those who want to expand the curriculum of great books to include Eastern thinkers and more females and those who believe that the Western classics explain everyone on earth’s motivations. Doesn’t the second part of that last sentence sound preposterous? It is and that’s why this book only gets 3 stars.

The stars it does get are for assembling so many different angles and pieces of information into a relatively tightly woven book–the writing is engaging as well. But if you’ve exposed yourself enough to the world, be prepared to be baffled by the arguments in this book.

Music/Book Reviews

The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley (Review)


This is a story for someone who may need to experience stress vicariously through someone else. Don’t laugh — we all need to do this once in a while. Especially if you are someone like me who needs a certain degree of ground beneath my feet (routine, apartment with things in place, a general sense of security, etc.) but who also craves a healthy amount of chaos and edginess in life. I need this fix at least once a year and Hartley gave me a fair share. Not to mention that I read this while living in Kenya, which brought the whole story more close to home.

This is a book about a journalist who, luck or fate would have it, is swept into the most tumultuous events of East Africa in the 90s. He experienced Somalia during the most heated of conflicts (Blackhawk Down tries to capture this), and he walked across the wet, green hills of Rwanda during what are arguably the most maddening 100 days in all of human history.

Admittedly, he writes Zanzibar chest as an attempt at catharsis. He wants to rid himself of the demons only a witness of such atrocities could harbor. The bonus for the reader is that you get this raw and well-written account of what it was like to be the witness. And it’s laced with Hartley’s family history as well — a British expat father who never did understand the point of colonizing other people’s land so much as getting to know and love the people themselves, and an uncle who marries into the Muslim religion only to come under threat of death by his colonizing comrads. 

It’s hard to imagine anyone weaving this all together coherently. And actually, I don’t think it’s a book with a story line so much as many story lines grabbing and tugging at your emotions and imagination until you begin to sense how someone could become as tortured as the author became, just by being a witness.

Music/Book Reviews

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler (Review)


This should be a required high school text. In other words, everyone needs to read this book. 

It’s not a guide to dieting or anything like it. Instead, it’s the well-crafted perspective of a former head of a branch of the FDA who details how food can be viewed for its contents in terms of their addictive properties. The food industry is built and thrives on combining contents in a way that overrides our ability to control our eating behavior. This in turn makes food a commodity.

The end is more of a practical strategies guide that incorporates psychological principles regarding addiction, highly relevant in this case.

Read this book if you want power over food.

Music/Book Reviews

The Source by Woodson Merrell (Review)


This book really makes you think about what you are putting in your body and how it is processed. It’s at this level of contemplation where change can really be planted as seeds that grow out of increased awareness. He’s conversational and enthusiastic in his style–an easy-going writer, which helps because it’s quite scientific at times.

And then, in the end, he really ties everything up in a bow with info on music, prayer and other spiritual and emotional practices that are seriously important to overall health. That last section alone won him a lot of bonus points with me, because that is what I witness in elderly people who have aged with grace–a sense of spirituality and an emotional resolve to be positive.


Music/Book Reviews

Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living by Donna Farhi (Review)


This book is incredible. As I approached the end, in fact, I was amazed that only one person wrote it and that she wasn’t 100 years old. The wisdom and the clarity with which Farhi writes is a true gift to take in. As a yoga teacher, I think this book is a must for all who take on this role.

Farhi makes highly-anecdotal references about practice and the whole process of finding one’s path through dedication. She published this in 2004 so it’s really a tapestry of modern insights on a tradition that dates back thousands of years.

Indeed, she shares parts of her own path that comfort and assure the reader. The only caveat to this raving review would be: If you are facing demons, engaging in destructive behaviors or dealing with emotional issues, this is truly the book, but be fully prepared to let it change you because it likely will (especially at that ‘seed in the consciousness level’ on patches of thought you will do best to water).

Music/Book Reviews

On Fear by J. Krishnamurti (Review)


First of all, anything this author writes is breathtaking. He is quite clean and deeply honest in his thinking and he doesn’t believe that people are spiritually ranked above one another so much as walking paths about the world together.

So when he talks about fear, he’s like a grandpa, trying and trying to explain the way he sees it. This is a good book to boil away verbiage and fantasy and get to the core of why fear can control us.

It is, in the end, a question of the level of consciousness and presence we choose to cultivate. And then again, it’s not, because those are just words … and feeling a thing is not enough, either.

This is about totally being.

Music/Book Reviews

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (Review)


Twas a sad, sad day to reach the end of this one. Let’s just say it didn’t win a Pulitzer for nothing. This book is written in a tone that is at once clear and refreshing, because Buck is bi-cultural and the viewpoint, sayings, mindsets she takes from China affect her writing in subtle yet important ways.

One gets a solid sense of the way people lived and reasoned in China about 100 years ago–with the male preference for bound feet, the reverence of family, the disconnect between country and city, the immensity of the land that segregates townships in times of plenty and in times of dirt-eating hardship.

Buck takes us primarily into the mind and aspirations of male protagonist Wang Lung, and we feel the momentum of his success as he makes many sound decisions … while life around him proves test after test, and those around him bicker, back stab and whine. That is, with the exception of Olan, Pear Blossom and his ‘poor fool.’ The heart of the author, and thus of this book, is that of every character within–it is profoundly real and one of the most honest and raw I’ve ever experienced as a reader.

While the heart of the protagonist and his first wife are sincere and weep-worthy, the hearts of the supporting characters and the heart of society at that time are fickle, ruthless, passive, anxious, angry and as real as the dirt under your nails in the garden.

Music/Book Reviews

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell Translation (Review)

This, by far, is my favorite book of all time. No matter what is happening, I can turn to this book and somehow life makes sense. Of course it was origionally written by Lao Tzu but the translation makes all the difference in how his message will penetrate your mind, and Mitchell’s is widely acclaimed as the best.

Before embarking on the translation, Mitchell was a monk for seven years. He then looked at all the translations ever done and paired with precision the message from each verse. You can read, in this version, his commentary on all of the passages and his description of the process. It’s worth it to read every juicy section of this translation if you fall in love with the text, because you will find yourself assured. You will find that your feelings were right; the book indeed is a work of the heart and a skilled mind.

I’m not going to pull verses, you can look them up on google. Instead, I just encourage you to get a copy and sit down with it asap, on a flight or on the beach or something. Reading it is an experience itself. It’s a chance to go deep inside of yourself and find treasure.

It’s one of the few books that reminds you very clearly that words have a frequency and an energy. They enter the mind and cause this vibrational reaction of associations and imaginations. In this case, the verses are like drops in a pool. The feeling, over many verses, brings you into the center of a gently-rippling circle of experience, moving out, further and further.

The message here is to find the center and return to it whenever you can. What goes up, comes down. In sadness is happiness, in happiness, sadness. Embrace everything. Okay, I’m off it–read this book!

Music/Book Reviews

Experience Freedom in Sound


This is a music appreciation moment brought to you by the 80s–but the sound is timeless. Try to suspend judgment when you find out who the artist is. Maybe give it a chance to be something more.

Every time I hear this song, I put it on repeat, until I have to get out of the car or leave the house for an obligation. The construction of it is unlike any I’ve ever heard–it transcends words, induces feelings with accuracy without the need to define anything. It provides the essence of liberation–something that frees me from concerns of any moment. It’s a cover, but that is of no matter because it is a holistic, single work that builds steadily into its unique effect.

You can access the song here–but please, PLEASE avoid watching the video at first … I mean, it basically feeds you one very narrow idea of what the piece could be about. It’s disabling, the imagery, unless you are into narrow thinking around music or prefer someone spoon feeding you how it’s supposed to make you feel. I am strong in my opinion of this because music can actually deepen your perceptions of your own feelings and expand your thinking around reality … but this is often killed by bad videos, and this case will be no exception if you don’t take matters into your own hands and own the sounds alone, right off the bat.

The song is about a man stuck in traffic on a highway in Los Angeles. The sky, the air, everything starts to blur as he slips into a sleep. Let it be about you, stuck in traffic, stuck in the loop of a concern, a worry, anything narrow, stuck. You can connect with that feeling of being trapped, the cello signals a haunting sense of surrender into a place in the mind that transcends a traffic jam. You identify with him sitting in a ‘gleeming metal tube along Santa Monica Blvd,’ for it could be any Blvd, anywhere in the world, it could be a thought, a feeling, anything gripping you, trapping you as you start to go limp, like a fish hooked in the mouth.

The shift from trapped to free begins at 3 mins, ‘this is the story of his dream.’

A hand has grabbed you and pulled the hook from your mouth, you wriggle as the drum beats. You actually feel yourself slip into a fantasy land of water if you only let go. The video, the original title of the piece, they all allude to conquest but that is such a narrow definition. The song is a chance to feel a dream and get the sense of yourself as a flower opening, a butterfly stretching its wings a fish darting jubilently through the open water, leaping out into the air, knifing below the surface again and exploring an expanse. The flute implies air, flight, ascension.The tempo and climbing strings imply pushing upward, through water. All of nature, the blood flowing through the channels of the body–pumping, breathing, lifting, living, again.

Until the quiver of strings signals the inevitable. Yes, 5:31 is pushing it for a pop track–but you can always repeat it.

Music/Book Reviews

Intro to Figaro, For Anyone Who Wanted to Know

Just felt like revisiting something from my college days. This is really telling about how much you get to bask in the brain juices while dwelling in academia land. In my case, the obsession is obvious, yet directed in forward patterns of logic.

An Analysis of David Lewin’s Figaro’s Mistakes by Emily Laughnan (May 13, 2005)

For Context: Lewin, David. “Figaro’s Mistakes,” Current Musicology 45-60, (57) 1995

My understanding of this material is limited by 3 months of composition study, period. I tried here to incorporate my understanding of keys, counterpoint, harmony and tendency tones into the argument as they pertain to Lewin’s. I simultaneously tried to open consideration beyond the pointed interest of Freud-loving psychologists of the world. The specific arguments weave later into the paper, starting on page 4, as opposed to by section.

In his presentation to a panel of psychologists, David Lewin extends the idea of tension and resolution as expressed through musical composition and performance. This tension and resolution, he argues, is precise and premeditated based on the tenets of musical melodies as two, Susanna’s and Figaro’s, are sung simultaneously and as one is sung against the orchestra: a repeating baseline, the pitch, etc. He weave’s the characters’ circumstances and the relevant text into the argument with success given the Freudian frame used. Yet many more subtle notation realities work here to introduce social context understood by circles wider than those containing Freud connoisseurs.

The interaction of the two melodies, Lewin argues, illustrates a “hypocritically helpful, manipulative and truly helpful (Lewin, 52)” pattern of intentions on Susanna’s part. The interaction of Figaro’s melody with a three-time repeating baseline of music further highlights what Lewin argues is his attempt to defy the key and tonic, and use a dominant key to rise above the flow of the music and perhaps distract Susanna and surely himself from his immediate circumstances. As he stands apart from the music, he creates an awkward separation from it, an air of business and importance – a need to be left to his work – given his arguable insecurities as proposed by Lewin (even exercising authority over the tonic and creating a context for it to become dominant as set up in example 1c of Lewin’s presentation).

Indeed, Lewin is good at focusing on immediate circumstances from one angle – and he only has enough time to do so – but it’s only one step away from this actual argument, and into the direction of common sense about relationships, to note that the party most dependant on the relationship for future happiness sometimes injects strategy into the present tense to achieve future objectives given a wider range of circumstances. So Susanna, because of her circumstances, may have many, many measures in mind as she must plan to pull him into a different patch of the bigger G major picture, which includes her needs.

Throughout the introduction, Lewin shows the two melodies as a series of interacting tones in the context of their beat placement. He reinforces his argument by pulling out every instance of immediate relationships between downbeats and subsequent and preceding notes, melody amidst melody, and sung word, or number, between the tones associated with those expressions. He reinforces his argument continuously using the subtleties of these relationships.

From here, we can either become enthralled and walk away with his argument as conclusive evidence that this was the intent of the composer and writer of the operatic version of the Marriage of Figaro, or we can look closely at the evidence as it is based on the tenets of music and then offer alternative perspectives on the notation and the interaction of melodies.

This is an interesting presentation because, as instructor David Dies said during a group study session in a teacher’s lounge, Lewin relies on solid evidence in notation, subtle contrapuntal ideas and the music as it acts above a three-time repeating baseline. He also relies on the circumstances of the characters to reinforce the motivations behind their “use” of notes to impress each other with ideas. We are supposed to experience the resulting tensions, resolutions and Freudian mistakes as proposed by Lewin. I argue further that if we open the floor to contemporary common sense in relationships and so too to the continuous struggle of an individual to express their own circumstances and needs within a larger realm of reality, we further awaken to Mozart’s breadth of genius.

Lewin introduces his argument with a fleeting contrast between Beaumarchais play, Le Marriage de Figaro, and the opera at hand. The play lacks tension or any kind of manipulative connotations on the part of either character; indeed they support one another immediately. This furthers his idea that the element of specific musical intonation works in this case to magnify the drama of their circumstances as expressed in the introduction of the opera.

That said, I don’t think Lewin is arguing against any kind of established theory of this part of the opera so much as arguing that by taking a closer, deeply-contextual look at what is going on here, we can see the tripping, Freudian psychology given Figaro’s circumstances and resultant insecurity and Susanna’s motivations given her circumstances and need to pull him out of his absorption and into a new absorption in her. Lewin looks at the numbers used by Figaro in measuring the bed with a measuring instrument that widens from increments of a 5th to a 6th and then a 7th that collapses, with the music.

He sets up a tension around the later part of his measurements with an extended dissonance that sets, as Lewin implies, a stage for him turning the melody away from the tonic and toward his preferred dominant tone. When the leap to the 7th is supposed to occur, Figaro makes it but returns to a 3rd chord and this is where Lewin argues that the premise, the dominant D, is lost. Furthermore, this, in Lewin’s argument, is supposed to illustrate Figaro’s waning sense of manhood (Lewin, 48 P2) even within his own construct of dominance. This is also Susanna’s chance to come in and save him from the construction he is kind of trapped in and she is not helped by.

Lewin already set up the idea of Figaro converting the G as tonic to the D as dominant for his own use, and this is further demonstrated by Susanna’s pulling him out of it by meeting him at D and reverting to G as the guidepost for the key. She, according to Lewin’s argument – where her motivations are framed as “hypocritically helpful, manipulative and truly helpful (Lewin, 52)” – uses the realities of the more “socially acceptable” or familiar notation in the music, in other, partly Lewin’s, words, to her advantage to create a smoother transition between his bumbling around in insecurity to her need of him in the real context of the music and opera in general, a larger world than his created insecurities.

Beginning on page 47, Lewin argues that 36 and 43 indicate Figaro’s meandering into disjointed melodic and, as symbolized, personal territory. See figure 3 on page 47. The 5th interval leap from Figaro’s created key of D in the 1st “cinque,” the 6th interval leap in the 2nd unit of measurement “dieci,” and the 7th interval leap in the measurement “venti,” Lewin argues, builds the listener up to expect what is not met in a consistently dominant way, because the structure breaks down, or deflates, on F# instead of returning to the D (Lewin, 1 a. P49).

In a way, it is as if his line of reason is breaking down, succumbing to the G major key itself, the greater reality of the opera. The measurement phase occurs in three repetitive increments. The 1st is strictly orchestral. I perceive this as a way for the listener to enter the mind of Figaro as it operates independently of the G major key, in a D key. D is considered a more dominant key in circles wider than characters in the opera, but still does not fit with the established key of the opera and is thus slightly unstable almost like an outlaw mindset. He has not actually expressed himself in this dominant D in pass zero; instead, the orchestra sets us up to expect it by playing a melody around this key as a dominant digression from G major. We only rehearse these ideas with him as we enter his mind through the experience of pass zero.

One specific perspective on pass zero involves tendency tones: Since the proper musical key is G major, Figaro’s chosen D is a 5th scale degree and, according to Tendency Tones, the Tonic Triad, and What it Means to be “In Key,” a handout from class, this is one of the most stable scale degrees in a key. So while Lewin says this symbolizes an obsession with a five chord, another way to reason this is to note that Figaro’s melody is his effort to strike out without being noticed for his evasion of outside expectations. His 5th blends with the key.

This idea combines with those in counterpoint that strongly discourage the use of 5ths without proper discretion lest the individual melodies lose themselves in each other. So he proceeds without asserting too much independence or tendency toward resolution, or tension. Yet he is indeed thinking independently of his own situation. In other words, I interpret a stable scale degree as being one that, besides an overly-compliant octave, is the least noticeable way to shift out of the tonic (collective mindset) for an extended period of time (to get one’s own mental bearings) without creating too much tension. We experience this when we listen to the activity of the orchestral pass and feel it build into his expressions, which are examined soon.

Looking closely at pass zero as if the key were D, Figaro’s independent train of reason, we understand that Figaro forges into an independent melody that is not quite as stable as the key itself so there will always be a subtle tendency to return to the tonic. However, as Lewin suggests, D remains Figaro’s tonic for the 2nd pass of the measurement phase of the opening duet. Lewin’s respectable argument is further enhanced when you look at the tendency tones around both D and G in the same pass. In pass zero, illustrated in example 1a. (Lewin, 49), the orchestra prepares the listener for life based on a dominant 5th chord, D.

The leap, then, from D to A becomes a leap from 1 to 5 and back to 1. The 2nd leap from D to B becomes a leap from 1 to 6 and back to 1. The 3rd leap from D to C becomes a leap from 1 to 7. This is the most intense leap possible (Dies, handout) and in an already unstable key as established on a dominant chord, not a tonic. Evaluating this procession to intensity further – based on an already unstable, independently established D key – using tendency tones, we can see that the 1st leap from 1 to 5 to 1 is not so bold since the 5th chord is stable. The 2nd leap to 6 and back is a bit more risky; however, the tendency in a major key for a 6th chord to “want” to resolve is the weakest so we only start to sense, at this point, unresolved tension within the procession.

Finally, that leap from 1 to 7, as Lewin suggests (Lewin, Figure 3, 47) sounds almost nonsensical in the midst of the G major expectations of the baseline because it is so unstable on top of its foundation on an unstable key. It, the C, returns not to a 1 then but to a 3, F#, which does not resolve the tension but is enough of a resting spot if the key were D, yet all along, it has not been. Lewin argues that “in both text and music, the idea of expanding intervals, followed by a deflating collapse, is suggestive in connection with the phallic aspect of Figaro’s compulsive and unsuccessful measuring. (Lewin, 48)”

This statement makes sense, but without all of the reference to manhood and psychology, I see a melodic movement representing the thoughts of an individual character, who needed to go inside of his own mind and push the limits of his thinking about the situation at hand. We as the listeners enter his mind with the help of pass zero, which foretells the patterns he experiences before expressing them in word and action in pass one. These are his thoughts, which do not necessarily work so much as cause tension in the real world, as proven. However, they must be entertained, and are by the independent establishment of a temporary key.

This key is further emphasized after Figaro actually expresses his mental workings so that Susanna has a sense of his reality and more importantly an entry point as she attempts to pull Figaro out of the independent line of thinking and behaving and into the established key of the orchestra and opera at large. In pass one; we are used to the thought pattern because the orchestra foreshadowed it. In example 1b (Lewin, 49), Lewin shows that the orchestra returned, on a downbeat, to the tonic of the larger key just before Figaro enters into expressing his thought pattern. Lewin does not say this directly but rather illustrates it by saying that Figaro’s vocal entrance against the strong G downbeat, with an A, is defiant the G as a key but remains the 5th of the D and pulls us back slightly to what the orchestra already established, a more harmonious situation in which D is the key of his thought process and A is a suitable 5th above it. G to D is a 5th, D to A is a 5th. “Figaro’s entrance thus asserts both non-tonic and dominant,” Lewin says. (Lewin, 48) Lewin also says in example 1c that a suspension dissonance occurs when Figaro introduces his melody in A, an A that can only be resolved into major-triad harmony with the G if D is sung immediately after, how convenient that this is a basis for his whole thought process.

I also think this stacking of 5ths is more acceptable to our ears given our recent experience with pass zero and the establishment of D as dominant therein. Again, looking at Figaro’s actual entrance into the piece from a tendency-tone perspective, we see that his A, in his chord of D, is again a 5th that runs into a 4th that immediately resolves into a 3rd chord in Figaro’s D. At the same time the 4th is resolving, Figaro’s dominant tonic, D, a 1st chord, sounds and he pulls it back up into a 2nd chord, which creates the 2nd most intense leap in the context tendency tones in his major (Dies, handout), D key.

Then up again to a 3rd. This doesn’t appear smooth at all but I think it is more understandable in the context of G major as I will discuss in the paragraph after next. It is necessary now to look at these tendency tones as if they were occurring in G to really get a sense of the genius in this 2nd pass of measurement, pass 1.

Because when Figaro actually expresses his thought process, just like anyone, he must subconsciously respond to the outside world, a world that we are reminded of, with the strong, orchestral G downbeats just before Figaro’s voice enters, as Lewin notes, albeit not in the same exact context (Lewin, 48). In G, Figaro’s melody, in light of tendency tones, is not so intense. His vocal entrance is a 2nd chord that resolves back to the tonic G immediately with the orchestra, which then plays down to a 7th, which coincides with his sung 5th, a gentle movement as he acts of his own volition within the actual key, and along with an orchestra that is in the 7th chord of that key – so the orchestra actually sounds more unstable compared to his reasonable 5th.

Then the orchestra reaches up to a 6th, which is notoriously weak in its “need” to be resolved and then back to a 7th again and a resolution at one (Lewin, Figure 1b., 49, and the musical score). This all takes place in his 1st utterance “cinque,” but I think given a dissection of just that moment, we get a sense of all three realities, the reality of his mind, the reality of attempts to express his train of thought in melodic form and the local reality of the actual key of the music, G major.

Lewin then points out that as Figaro acts out his premeditated — as foreshadowed by the orchestra — measurements, 36 and 43, he extends the D as a dominant tone so that, I interject, he can maintain the key of his thoughts amidst what is going on around him, this is his independent experience within the D key, which is again and again an almost unnoticeable 5th away from immediate reality.

Honestly, I look at the score and see that Lewin selectively pulls the notes for figure 1b. If you look at the notes, as those exclusively sung by Figaro, I think a slightly different argument emerges, and I evaluate it in terms of tendency tones again. This is starting at his 1st utterance of 36. His 1st “trenta (score)” is in a D to B gesture. The D is a reminder of his key and the B is for all purposes a 6th chord in D, which then moves directly down to a tonic on his D without resolving but also without leaving much residual tension, 6 chord is not so upsetting when left unresolved (Dies, lecture and handout). He is still trying to assert his individual measurements on his dominant 5th in the larger context of G major.

He must try again to sing 36. This is where Lewin’s argument takes shape in this particular segment of the music because Figaro holds the D, as his train of thought, and then continues to sing “Trenta sei” with a sweeping G to F to A, all three notes of which, in the key of D, translate to a 4 chord resolving to 3 chord and sweeping back up to a relatively restful (socially reasonable and almost pleading) 5 chord. As I listen to the piece again and again, I reflect on his entire established D, 5th chord dominance, in only this moment, this sudden, hanging end of “sei.” It is here that we are almost stranded with him in his hesitation and it is here that I notice the most marked example of his instability in this contrived key (Classical Marriage of Figaro, act 1, scene 1 as sung by Judith Blegen and Geraint Evans.)

He lingers not and dives back in keeping this A, or 5 chord, through the beginning of “quaranta …” and then returns again to inculcate his dominance as D, or 1 on “tre.” This is where Lewin says he is collapsing. I’m not in full agreement but, again, respect his argument because it is based in a narrow Freudian context. Instead, I think that while he certainly stumbles, he is more influenced by the G major key and responding to this from A to G to F# again and from the F# back to his D, and Susanna takes this opportunity to meet him in D.

“Pass zero and pass one both present the Susanna theme as moving from Figaro’s dominant back to tonic, moving from Figaro’s D back go G, attempting to pull Figaro back from his fantasy to the exigencies of dramatic reality.” (Lewin 50) From a counterpoint perspective, Susanna’s theme is, as Lewin points out, eventually supported by Figaro’s … in fact the rule of counterpoint is broken to show an outright compromise of Susanna’s, and eventually Figaro’s, individual melody to overexert support. Susanna’s sacrifice is clearly shown in example 2, measures one and three. Specifically, we see that they both sing Ds as downbeats of second species on “que” in measure one, and they both sing Ds again on the second downbeat in measure three “ci.”

Lewin says this is Susanna’s attempt to meet Figaro in D, comfort him within his key before pulling him out into a new sense of individuality, within their melodic relationship. This breaking of counterpoint is a sacrifice of both of their, melodic and otherwise, identities to achieve some end, in which we later find that they can both sing independently in the same key. The deliberate breaking of the counterpoint rule sets up Susanna’s marked A to B in measure 4 and 5 of the same example.

She uses the A, as Lewin says, to say “hey, you know this is a fifth in your key,” to Figaro. Then she starts to move him with the B and he slowly – “Susanna leads Figaro by the nose to the note B at the right time, and Figaro echoes her ‘correct’ pitch a half-measure later” (Lewin, 52) — catches on and moves there, to B, as they breach yet another time the counterpoint rule landing on the same note on a downbeat. This time the identity of Figaro’s key is at stake and lost when he moves down skipping over his chance to land on A, his former 5th in his dominant D, to her G, a tonic over many measures.


Dies, David. Tendency Tones, the Tonic Triad and What it Means to be “In Key”

Lewin, David. “Figaro’s Mistakes,” Current Musicology 45-60, (57) 1995

Score: No.1 Cinque … dieci … seven … fourteen … Duettino Figaro and Susanna (no specific source available, although this is one of many identical copies bound in the complete score at the UW-Madison Music Library.)

Music/Book Reviews

Farina, Live at Nordic Lounge


Just as he can put fire under the heals of the catatonic, Mark Farina can sooth even the most neurotic soul with his down tempo sets. His live set at Nordic Lounge in Vancouver brings standard to the downtempo mixer genre. It’s in this 47 minutes that you sense the difference between a DJ who wings it and riffs off energy to”sell something to” people, and one who takes care to account for what the end user feels.

As is usual, it takes a few minutes to warm up to what Farina’s doing. I’ve learned to just put my finger at my lip and say “hmm, okay, and?” Until suddenly, the set opens up, as it does every time. I think he does this on purpose—he simply must—to build anticipation.

In this case, he hits the heart early, 4:00, with a track that features a Latino vocal that repeats and echoes and makes you feel at once like you are on a tropical island and in an igloo. I can’t explain beyond this, you just have to hear it.

At 6:50 he flips the tempo and you go into this magical forest of sound–what sound like nymphs, soothing you onward; a polite rap; some 70s trumpet–you’re nowhere you’ve ever been and you don’t, wanna, leave.

This goes on for about 10 mins. Hit 16 and you’re listening to a guy sing his soul out bout the ghetto. Chill minus fantasy.

I have to say I could do without 20 through 25:15. But I think it’s for some people. Anyway, so 25:15 introduces this a wicked, hopping, triangle-laden, shoulder-shakin track. And it all goes back up from here.

On to the next, you’re in the 1930s until about, well, 30. And again he whips the tempo, spinning you through another tunnel of feelings with some gaps of “Cali” … “Ca-ca-cali” bursting through and vanishing to forcast the “California Sunshine Makes Me High” bit that will soon take over the show, by storm–a welcome and swift transition through pure voice into, at 33:10, a sweet track of beats and melody.

Finally, 36:05 introduces one of my favorite tracks of all time. Totally cheesy but still makes me happy. I try so hard to find it but alas, I have it here if I want it. I know where it is. And now, so do you 🙂

Music/Book Reviews

Chillout Festival

During a wicked section of his set on Nasimi Beach, Dubai, April 15, 2010

So I booked a flight and packed a bag for one night in Dubai, just to see Mark Farina at the Chillout Festival—4th annual event sponsored shamelessly by Perrier (and apparently Nokia—sheesh!).

I wasn’t sure what to expect in the festival itself. It was one of those times when I thought “what the hell am I going to wear, will there be lockers, etc.?”

In the end, I went with my gut and over my swim suit put on some jean leggings, a long white michael stars top. Took a mini-purse with camera card and cash and called it go. Lucky, I fit in—the place was set up like a modern nomad’s respite—bean bag, ‘fatboy,’ chairs galore, a couple bars, nice stage setup with a couple screens and the hotel Atlantis in the background. The place reminds me of a Disney movie … it’s nuts driving there over the palm’s reclaimed majesty for the first time, at night. It’s just famous.

Anyway, so got there and settled in and sat down with some local kids who sat with some shisha and chatted with me about New York and Cali before I asked them about what they thought of Dubai these days. I mean, they grew up there so they must have been like “wow.”  They said they’re proud of the place, it’s amazing. And you know, it is.

They could barely stand the first act (Kamal Musallam Quartet)—neither could I, actually—and left. If it weren’t for Farina being last, I think most of the people would have left by the second act. I mean, one of the guys (Seiji) writes and mixes stuff for Roisin Murphy and was pretty good, and Cobblestone Jazz was alright although a hole in the head at times, but nothing touched Farina.

I went alone, which is a test. Had I been with trusted companions, the night would have been far more silky leading up to the act of choice. Nevertheless, it was fun because the kids left and were replaced by some Australians and I had a nice chat with a guy named Gus. Dreaded fellow who was in the process of moving to the UK from Australia with his girlfriend, who reminded me of a cat because she could barely hold her eyes open and was curled up in a fatboy chair sleeping 95 percent of the time I hung with the group.

Sweet people. Sat with them but felt myself pulled toward the stage because we were invited to drag our bags up there and when the man arrived, I wanted to be front and mostly center.

Tell you what, he got up there and my heart almost flew out of my chest. A bunch of us felt that way–we were screaming—“Farinaaaa—wheeeeew!” Suddenly the last puzzle piece snapped in and a bunch of us hit the sand–where there had just been three people huddled around smoking fags were now a couple dozen and Farina got it started. Many of us danced non-stop and pleaded him for more. I mean, typically, at the end of a concert, I join in the rah-rah just to be kind. No, not this time—this was desperation “pleeeeeeeeeeez! we all shouted.”

In his bio, in the festival booklet, his following is described as cult-like. True.

Honest to God, seeing him live brought a whole new dimension to hearing his stuff even now. He’s just so organized and yet sensitive to what’s going on—just tuned the f#$% in. He started out with a lot of stuff that was accompanied by bongos. Then worked deep for a bit. I barely remember, I was just so taken by all of it.

Like drugs only better.

Gotta find the set on soundcloud and post it.

The festival in general was sweet and will go next year even if Farina isn’t there, with friends/partner  because it’s just a cool scene and a lovely thing to do.

It’s not young punks getting pasted, it’s mature, child-like and felt just right.

Big Love=Big Peace.


PS: for a model Farina set, a solid example: click here

Music/Book Reviews

Mushroom Jazz 1

Okay, first of all, the more I listen to Mark Farina, the more I think “this is one sick genius.”

Mj 1 kicks off strong, building the layers smoothly, sweetly. Instant mental gratification.

The first prominent beat is tap-tap drum and wormy, outer-space contemporary jazz  waves lapping up against your ears.

Suddenly, you’ve swooped into the soulful voice of a female beckoning you “remember me … I’m the one who has your baby’s eyes.” Repeated, magnetically, hauntingly.

Provocative? Quite–something primal, social, desparate yet matter-of-fact.

The beat picks up to a jog. The voice to a ‘gang-ganga-gang-gang-gang-gang-gang.’ Before you know it, you’re singing out loud and wondering if anyone can see you through your car window.

Seriously–he’s got you locked into her pleads. and if you let go, expression is irrisistable and deeply satisfying.

To repeat what I said in 6’s review–Farina has an amazing way of blending the most disparate jazzical notions.

Interlude pulls you out of the passion and onto a light highway of flutes and horns–weaving through flowing traffic procured by the master himself.

Take the next exit–more soul, more voice, repetition of positive thoughts “pick me up, put me on, solid ground.” Okay, you’re there. And she’s back, the one with your baby’s eyes. But just for a second, just as a reminder.

The repitition is  a lot for some but never for me. He’s keen on when to change it up, when to remind, when to give a single layer or seven. And they play so nicely together. Not a care in the world.

At around 35 minutes, the collection takes a sweeping turn into mystical territory that was entirely unfamiliar to my ears but nevertheless comforting and absolutely lifting. How to describe? There’s an almost elevator-music quality to one, single strand … but that’s not how it ends up feeling because he blends it with female voices and dots it with flowery patches while supporting it with ocean-beat downtempo.

The rest, well, just listen to it … put it on at a party, when you’re reading, when you’re driving, when you want to have a good conversation or just get away from a day of confusion.

This collection just makes sense–brilliant musical beads strung along an inspiring, down-tempo necklace.

I jumped from volume 6 to volume 1 because I was so impressed that I decided to get the whole collection and start chronologically. MJ 1 has not disappointed. My allegience is only deepened.