Performance art role models vs. celebrity “culture”

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I’m at a career crossroads. I’m done with tech (finally), corporate tech in particular, and despite the warhead-sized crater that the global economy tanking left in my performance gigs a few years back, and in my freelance writing/editing/production gigs as well, I’m still here and moving on.

The problem is that what constitutes popular live performance – and the income that comes with it – seems to have shifted once again.

In specific: my music/performance art role models have been and continue to be experimental performance artists, skilled musicians or people/groups that are both. A short list, by means of example:

  • Laurie Anderson
  • Grimes
  • Marina Abramović
  • Grace Jones
  • George Clinton
  • Sun Ra
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago
  • M.I.A. (without the anti-blackness, because wth, M.I.A.)
  • Frank Zappa
  • Tom Waits

In addition, there’s some overlap into singer-songwriters, such as Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and Leonard Cohen. So far, so good.

What I see happening these days is that songwriters are in a position of being an emotive vessel on stage, typically in ways that look transformative – and sometimes, are exactly that – but more commonly, are repackaging vulnerability (or social justice) in ways that reinforce both the status quo and the fourth wall. In ways that the artists above – and myself – primarily don’t. It’s like everybody is supposed to be “the voice of a generation” now – which means that seriously overworked bad concept has gone viral and spread. They’re channeling a lot of emotion into their performances – which is good, obviously – but it’s getting commodified in ways both on the stage and off that make me sort of uneasy.

It’s a corruption of the original concept of being “the generational voice” (which has many flaws, including the assumption that a single person or musical group can represent a generation), as well as moving in on the “artist are weird” territory that makes it harder to compete with, or whatever “The process of making a living as a more-or-less experimental artist in 2017” qualifies as. It’s hard to “sell” “I’m a weirdo, and I’m good at it. Ask me about hegemonic capitalism” up against “I uphold neoliberal tropes via appearing to bear my soul on every song – I am the bloodletting that changed a nation, to enrich my corporate benefactors, en route to my product placement and tie-in deals. Talk to my agent for details.” Deliberately or not, it’s a commericalization of the the risk-taking and openness that has been around in experimental performance for decades. Which tbh, bugs me. Selling my work *at all* bugs me, but that’s another topic.

Performers – like most artists – are decidedly *NOT* special, by any terms upheld within the social mainstream of the U.S. We’re flawed, complex and in a lot of ways, not-normal. Which is good! That state of being is what I want to celebrate and uphold in my work, not being some sort of pressure valve for the status quo – weird, but not *too* weird. (My life goals: 1500% weird, at all times.) Asserting to the contrary gets into the realm of artists-as-celebrities, which frankly, is a norm that I want to dismantle, if not destroy. Including in my work.

What many of the artists I listed have in common is critiquing that position, if not working to dismantle artist-as-celebrity as a concept and practice itself. Sometimes through criticism of mass media (Frank Zappa), through ritualizing performance in a way that is unapologetically pro-black (Art Ensemble, Sun Ra, George Clinton), or feminist (Marina Abramović, Laurie Anderson, Grimes), or by turning the nature of celebrity on its head and making the artist’s elevated position one of performance, if not satire, itself – rather than an assumed position of celebritized status and superiority (Grimes, George Clinton, Frank Zappa).

Then there’s making money. The norm in this corner of arts and entertainment is to either a) figure out standard “The Business of Music” protocols and stick to them while not selling out in a way that tanks both your work and your credibility, b) figure out the grant world, or c) become an academic. c) gets sort of close for me (I love to teach), but academia, especially in the U.S. is in a protracted labor crisis, as well as a crisis of affordability. Which leaves d) crowdfunding, which is possible, but can be and frequently is a crap shoot.

I don’t know what to do, other than to keep trying and see what happens. Which sucks, but at least I’m not going under water, so I feel some sort of desire, if not responsibility, to continue. It’s a work in progress, as is life itself. Here’s to moving forward, and seeing where this leads me, once again.

What I would’ve said in tech interviews, if it was ok to be honest

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Don’t hire me unless you’re good with someone who works part-time, 100% offsite and independently, while getting paid a living wage in the region where I live. Don’t lie about being OK with honoring that agreement when you’re not, or your bosses are not, either.

I’m skilled, experienced labor. (I’m also well over 30, which is its own issue.) My work will probably make your bosses happy — as in, they get to capitalize on my skill set in a way that’s profitable, gets the job done efficiently or both — but I’m one serious INFP anti-authoritarian nerd. (Can I have some coffee? Thanks.) I wouldn’t even be looking if I could make real money for what I do creatively — which is still on the table, and will remain so as long as I’m still on this earth.

I’m likely more queer than anybody you’ve ever met (as best you know), and I refuse to stop reclaiming a word that people fought and died for. I’m also probably more leftist/anarchist/anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist than anybody you’ve met as well. As best you know.

Where do I see myself in five years? Breathing, hopefully.

I don’t think your sexist jokes are funny, and I’m the one who threw your MAGA cap into the trash, or burned it — but not to the point that you couldn’t make out what it was, then left it at the step of your cubicle.

I’ll make friends with the janitors and cafeteria staff, even if you turn your heads when I do so.

I’ll wear Dead Prez t-shirts on casual day, and probably forget to shower as well.

If you misgender me, I promise to get even. If you hit on me, I promise to get even.

If you push me until I break, I’ll break. Openly. I won’t try to cover it up.

Still with me? There is a way forward that can serve as a “Well, have you considered detente” compromise — which is what I led with at the start. I also know most employers are about worker compliance as much as anything, and my terms are typically counter to that. Even when it’s potentially profitable to come to an agreement — this isn’t about profit, it’s about the threat that workers asserting their ability to think and act independently potentially represents to profit. In other words, it’s a rock-solid labor issue, that gets couched in neoliberal non-solutions such as life-work balance. If life is something that counter-balances work, then what is work itself?

Lastly: I’ll steal all the snacks from the break room, even if you’re looking while I do it.

New focus

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This blog is about music and mass media now, music in particular. I plan to focus on both experimental and popular forms of music, both critically and practically. Enjoy <3

Rompler keyboards, live performance and capitalism

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I give to you: a box full of sampled sounds, with a keyboard attached, and a synthesizer that would not be missed if it disappeared from the next iteration, after the grumbling about it online ceased: $800. I also present to you this humble offering: another box full of sampled sounds with a keyboard – of the same size and type – attached, a synthesizer that would not be missed if it disappeared from the next iteration, after the grumbling about it online ceased, and that includes a bunch of knobs that do things of a hopefully musical nature: $4,500.

They serve an identical primary purpose: making a variety of sounds when someone’s fingers strike its keys in a coordinated fashion, or when struck randomly, if that’s to your liking. The rumor is they both contain a computer inside, in case you want to add your own operating system and play Solitaire (or run an illicit media server on the darknet), viewed through a screen that’s smaller than a deck of cards, while voiding your warranty in the process.

So why the difference in price? There’s no inherent reason that an instrument that is mostly a much-adulated rompler should cost $4,500, while another one with a more down-and-out reputation, but that holds largely similar specifications, is perfectly functional, and that gets used by many professional musicians – ones that aren’t high profile enough to have to worry about such things as brand credibility down to the level of what they happen to be playing live, or pretending to play live, for that matter – costs $800.

Even if the more expensive one provides additional features, such as the ability to add your own sounds (which it does), and an arguably nicer-sounding (although also limited) synthesizer – what is it about said features that adds up to a $3,700 difference in value? Is the more expensive keyboard 5.625 times larger than the other? Does it have 495 keys? Can it play 1,440 notes at once? For that much money, it should be able to overthrow capitalism, not enable it.

As an aside: the $800 keyboard likely shouldn’t cost that much either, even under capitalism, but welcome to economic leverage – the cheaper of the two has a corner on the “low end” market – inasmuch as anything that costs several hundred dollars can be considered low-end – most likely due to the greed of their competitors, and possibly, because of economies of scale, resulting in mass-manufacturing of $800 keyboards being more viable than reduced-cost boutique ones.

How much said economies of scale holds true in relation to the price differential, and how much it’s due to people hyping up the definitely-over-inflated-by-whatever-means brand over another, is unknown (both appear to be trade secrets), but both are factors. Thankfully, this doesn’t result in something that is so shoddy to be unplayable – far from it – although that happens as well.

Also, many keyboards are most likely built with the same exploited labor as computers and cell phones. Same goes for guitars, and a host of other things. That shiny smart toaster you got as a gift? Shady. That “Does everything but import the beans” espresso machine you fancy so much? Sketchy. (None of your most beloved devices are free of sin, sadly.)

Given the nature of much of modern pop and dance music, it’s debatable that musical keyboards are even necessary – who needs individual notes when everything is made up of loops, or if you’re fancy, arpeggiators – yet they persist. Keyboards serve a functional purpose for all kinds of musicians, one that is tethered both to studio use and live performance. They’re hands-on in a way that making music with nothing but a computer frequently is not, they represent the bulk of the sonic range of western music in a relatively easy-to-grasp way (if they have 88 keys, that is), and for many of us trained musical types, their physical nature speaks to our tactile sense. They can even be used as a control surface to bang out drum parts! They remain useful things, overall.

Also, some keyboards are red. Which clearly is worth an additional $3,700, as opposed to a more mundane white or off-teal finish.

In terms of technology, music is at a strange crossroads. In theory, there’s no reason to create much of anything outside of a computer when in the studio; increasingly, there’s not much of a need for keyboards on the stage, either. (Devices that play backing tracks to support solo performers, or to make up for missing band members, is a different story.) With a few exceptions, everything that is generated “ITB” (in the box, for you non-producer types) sounds close enough to “real instruments” that they pass muster, and further, people are used to listening to music that makes heavy use of samples. Via compressed audio streams, on earbuds. So there’s not much of point in having an argument about fidelity: it clearly is for nerds. Given the way some keyboards sound, it’s arguably not for people who spend $4,500 on one, either. Did I mention that it comes in red?

“Ah,” you say, “but then there’s live performance. Red is clearly more important during live performance. Your notes will sparkle and shine much more than with the off-teal model.” Given digital media technology, is there a need for live performance at all? I’d argue that there is, but the way the industry works now, performance is less about the needs of the general population (the masses, if you will) – socializing, being able to dance, drink (or partake of other substances) and unwind, enjoying the sound and spontaneity of live music itself – and more about addressing the needs and wants of the small percentage of people who have the time, money and energy to go out. Listening to music live – in venues in particular – is frequently an expensive affair.

Also, much of the human needs that popular music used to address is handled by DJs these days. So live musical performance as a popular medium is not quite as, well, popular as it used to be. Resurgent, perhaps – but accessible to all, and with an affordable ticket price? Not so much.

In addition, media technology has advanced over the past several decades; it’s possible to make, distribute and promote an album without having to go on the road. From an artistic perspective – and to no small degree, a listener perspective – it’s an open question whether or not an audience needs to be at a club or venue at all. Listener-supported YouTube channels prove that the musical aspects of live music’s social value can be addressed online. In reality, even non-profits such as KEXP are tethered to the ways the music industry works, where touring is required for working artists. It’s similar to the ways that the music industry has worked for decades (make of that what you will), the wrench that digital media threw into the industry’s machinations notwithstanding.

That’s not a slag on KEXP, by the way. It is what it is, the industry is what it is. I happen to think “what it is” in the case of the industry as a whole is bad, if not evil. But that’s clearly not KEXP’s express-if-not-sole doing, either.

As a live performer, I wrestle with all this, and as a leftist/anarchist, I wrestle with it double. What is the social purpose of my labor? Does it even have a purpose? Is there some other set of things to do that would be of greater benefit? What about creative acts of resistance, such as producing works based entirely on pirated media? These are real questions, amplified by the present-day socioeconomic dynamics of music making, by the commodification of mass culture, and by the music industry itself, then and now.

Nevertheless, musical labor *IS LABOR*, and is of social relevance and importance, my own worries and soul-searching notwithstanding. Please don’t respond with your hot take on how playing music isn’t actual work – it is. There’s nothing worse than when someone goes on at length about how your work is suspect – typically while not holding a mirror up to their own labor – when you’re just trying to get paid. So thanks in advance for keeping that to yourself. Triple especially if you’re a software developer by trade.

PS: My first draft contained multiple technical and aesthetic explanations as to how this all works. If you’re muttering to yourself “Thank you for not going into all that”, you’re welcome.

Game Design Overview

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A quick note: I make no claims to the sensitivity or awareness of the authors – some are fantastic, some could use some work, and all points between. All of these books have been quite helpful in my quest to understand more about the illusive discipline called game design. Enjoy. sdc

Core:

Fundamentals of Game Design, 3rd Edition, Ernest Adams
An Architectural Approach To Level Design, Christopher W. Trotten
Level Design: Concept, Theory and Practice, Rudolf Kremers
Game Narrative Toolbox, Tobias Heussner, Toiya Kristen Finley, Jennifer Brandes Hepler, Ann Lemay
Players Making Decisions, Zack Hiwiller
Beyond Game Design, Chris Bateman (editor)

Theory:

Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost
Unit Operations, Ian Bogost
Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost
Extra Lives, Tom Bissell
Half-Real, Jasper Juul
How Games Move Us, Katherine Isbister

Industry/Culture:

Indie Game: The Movie (film), James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Indie Game: Life After (film), James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy
The State of Play, Linus Larsson and Daniel Goldberg (editors)
Embed with Games, Cara Ellison
Developer’s Dilemma, Casey O’Donnell
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Whitney Phillips

History:

What Is Your Quest?, Anastasia Salter
Dungeons and Dreamers, Brad King and John Borland
Replay, Tristan Donovan

Coding:

No Bullshit Math and Physics, Ivan Savov
3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, Fletcher Dunn and Ian Parberry
Game Programming Algorithms and Techniques, Sanjay Madhav
Game Coding Complete, 4th Edition, Mike McShaffry and David “Rez” Graham
Game Engine Architecture, Jason Gregory

Platforms:

Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine, Melissa Ford
Unity in Action, Joseph Hocking

Music:

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips

The Music Industry and the Death of Cowboy Economics

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Yesterday, I was back to working my way out of the cold-that-wouldn’t-die, so I took the night off and watched this documentary about Jared Leto’s band (yes I know) 30 Seconds to Mars, and the fight they had with their label a while back. If you can stomach yet another rock band documentary, there’s useful information in the film about how the economics of the music industry works, both historically and in the present climate.

When I woke up this morning, the cold was better, which means “yay writing”, so here I am, butt in the chair, typing. What came to me today is how much the challenge facing musicians in general, and bands in particular, centers around how to not have our desires exploited by money-grubbing parasites, while also not succumbing to an ineffectual suppression of our needs to have an audience, to make a sustainable living from our work, to create. I don’t mean to criticize Leto’s decisions here — if anything, the impression that I got from the documentary was that he did the best he could, given the enormously shitty situation he and his bandmates found himself in — but my long-term goal for years now has been sustainability, not global superstardom, the occasional fantasy notwithstanding. If that means not having a career in any significant way, I’d rather go that route and do the best I can, rather than find myself entangled or back-shelved (or worse) for years in the likely-fleeting hope that I can eventually do international tours and such.

Meanwhile, the Eye-of-Sauron-like hold the increasingly-less-major labels have over a slowly diminishing land of would-be rock stars carries on. (If I recall, there was a segment in the doc where someone from OK Go referred to the labels as a cyclops, casting its amalgamated singular eye in the direction of anybody who is trying to Make It.) While most of us indie types are working to figure out fair and sustainable ways to collaborate with listeners and audiences, the music industry is doubling down on their already-shady practices through things such as 360 deals. (If the old model was pure Nixon-era quasi-neoliberalism, the new one is pure plutocratic mercantilist Dubya.) Given this, cowboy economics dominate still. EMI gets bought out, nearly tanks during the last crash, gets swallowed up by Citibank, gets sold again. Companies such as Amazon and Uber force (or attempt to force) their way to the top, frequently through shady dealings of their own. The afore-mentioned 360 deal is viewed critically if not despised outright, save for the people profiting from it. The clear answer seems to be to put your own work out there independently — but to do so successfully means that you have to have people working on promotion and marketing to such a degree that your project, in effect if not literally, becomes a corporation in order to stay afloat. Which means being a boss, which means, well, meh. Back in the day, my long-term goal was to eventually start something like Righteous Babe, and work hard to turn it into a co-op, if not starting it that way from the beginning. Things have changed a lot in the indie music world since then, but on the other hand, Ani’s still around, which given the nature of the music business, is no small thing. In a way, such an enterprise is still my goal, but like I said, things continue to change, and it’s not clear to me that single-minded clarity of intent is necessarily my friend here, in a climate where things are changing daily. “Embrace chaos” seems to be the norm, and much more in an “or else” sort of way than the typical TED talk one.

Regardless, the old economic models of the culture industry are dying, and new ones have yet to coalesce to the degree that they become viable. What is clear is that the industry practices that exploited consumers and creators alike are on their last legs; what emerges to replace that remains to be seen. It’s my “hope” that a more radical economics can flourish, not only in a deepening of mass economic power, but also, via approaches that empower creators to have sustainable relationships to their endeavors, both as working artists and as working people in general. Loosely-formed networks, and more tightly-joined collectives come to mind, as well as forms of mutual listening and engagement that view creators and consumers as partners, rather than potential adversaries being jointly exploited by typically faceless corporate entities, casting a pallor over the land called creativity, while most of us just want to get by.

That all said, workers within the culture industry are not without our critics, both from the right and the left. I don’t care one bit about what the right thinks regarding how I practice my craft. I do care about what the left thinks, though; given my years of work within a variety of movements in the U.S., at times I care a bit too much, but so it goes. Artists in general have a complicated relationship with mainstream mores and values — sometimes criticizing them, sometimes having complicated relationships with them, sometimes upholding them. If getting signed (or the equivalent) represents being part of the petit bourgeoisie within the culture industry, it comes with economic restriction so byzantine that discussing participation in the industry in doctrinaire Marxist terms becomes pointless, in the vast majority of cases. Not to mention that most musicians aren’t signed, and even if they are, signing with a major can represent the start of massive problems, not the ending of them, as the situation with 30 Seconds to Mars clearly shows. Dismissing the cultural industry as a whole as being elitist not only misses the point, it glosses over an entire range of labor practices and cultural realities that are critical to understanding the world we live in. How do you measure class standing — and by definition, revolutionary potential, or the lack thereof — within an economic structure that trades massive contractual debt in exchange for what are fairly fundamental needs for creative professionals? It’s my view that all too often, assertions from the radical left about the backward-if-not-collaborationist nature of making art as a living suffer from a lack of analysis of how the culture industry works, and to be blunt, the heavy lifting around all that from Adorno onwards is on the ones doing the asserting, regardless of ideology.

Media Creation as Research

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First things first: I’m a musician, a writer, an interdisciplinary artist. As much as my head wants to be a full-time street activist yet again (read: typically broke, frequently in jail, almost always at risk, positives notwithstanding), the reality is that the process of making art across multiple disciplines as a critically engaged practice is more than enough, both in the “real world” and within the confines of academia alike.

Some of the things on my mind of late:

  • What does it mean to make art in a serious fashion anymore?
  • What does a liberated definition of cultural ownership (aka intellectual property) look like?
  • Why is it so incredibly difficult to find a range of texts exploring this in a contemporary fashion?
  • Why is it that some of the best books on the subject were written decades ago?
  • In terms of privilege, why is it that when someone contemporary does get work published in this regard, they’re frequently white?
  • Who are my contemporaries who are taking the process of making art as a form of research seriously? Do they teach? Do they not teach? If so, where? If so, why? What obstacles and forms of institutional support and encouragement are they encountering? Do they work independently of performance-based programs and/or practitioners?
  • Should I ditch the entire idea, and live in a van full time? While I have seriously thought about this – free to cheaper rent, the ability to be anywhere, perform anywhere, teach anywhere – the package as a whole is not quite as tempting as I originally thought it might be, fond-and-sometimes-contentious memories of touring notwithstanding.

Books that are presently helping me through this process:

  • The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy
  • Decomposition: A Music Manifesto, Andrew Durkin
  • Creative Life, Bob Ostertag
  • Writings on Music, 1965 – 2000, Steve Reich

In the “to read” queue:

  • Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker
  • Meta/Data, Mark Amerika
  • The Most Radical Gesture, Sadie Plant
  • Art and Technics, Lewis Mumford
  • Dialectics of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno

People whose work is providing inspiration:

  • Don DeLillo
  • Anna Deavere Smith
  • Steve Reich
  • Bob Ostertag
  • Tuxedo Moon
  • Janelle Monae
  • Matmos
  • Kathy Acker
  • Julio Cortazar

Books and essays that have helped me in the past:

  • Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Empire, Gregory Sholette
  • A Room of One’s Own (essay), Virginia Woolf
  • Theory of the Dérive (essay), Guy Debord
  • The Waves, Virginia Woolf
  • Sleeping with the Dictionary, Harryette Mullen
  • Mercurochrome, Wanda Coleman
  • The California Poem, Eleni Sikelianos
  • Iduna, kari edwards
  • The Sonnets, Ted Berrigan
  • Kindred, Octavia Butler

“Living the artist’s life” books (for insights regarding my creative process and workflow):

  • The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp
  • The Renaissance Soul, Margaret Lobenstine
  • Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd

More thoughts and such as I process this through a bit more. <3 and shout-out to @codemesh, @librarianshipwreck and @tinyfist for thoughts, recommendations and support.

The Interactive Multimedia That Was (Where I’m At, Part 2)

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The re-emergence of new media — as an art form and an industry, via whatever name is being floated around at the moment (Transmedia, Creative Coding, so on) seems to be upon us. While I’m increasingly excited about this, I also remember the rather bizarre Silicon-Valley-Meets-Blockbuster-Filmmaking sorts of Big Ideas that were afoot back in the mid-to-late 1990s. I checked out around the time Apple reps started singing the praises of Disney (ironically enough), and shortly thereafter, wound up doing writing and performance art for several years. Prior to that, my scrappy-activist-since-my-preteens self was quite serious about making a go of it, along the lines of Voyager; while the suits and marketing types typically cast blank smiles full of super-white teeth (or just scoffed outright) at the idea of doing socially conscious media, it was a thing. Until the zero-billion-dollar-industry-that-could decided to cash in on the zero part of that formula and die a quick death thereafter, I was determined that it become my thing as well.

Now, though? I’m hopeful, to be honest. Hollywood is widely viewed as the way NOT to go, and overall, there’s a healthier degree of skepticism about the more egregious forms of monopolistic capitalism….sort of. Still, the possibilities surrounding doing cross-discipline work are better now than ever, and the tools continue to get cheaper overall. Further, the media-as-liberation sentiments that drove many of us back in the day are still quite active (obviously), if not expanding on them in ways both significant and unanticipated. Not to mention that the practice of multidisciplinary work is frequently assumed as part of internet-based content creation, at least in part; the idea of naming these sorts of practices beyond “I make things on/for the internet” is somewhat past-rooted in and of itself. So, we’ll see.

Where I’m at, late 2014 edition

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Note: I wrote this mostly for my own head, as well as those close to me and/or involved in my ongoing projects. Enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving/Thanks-For-Nothing/Buy-Nothing-Ferguson-Day eve. It’s that dreadful-as-in-dread-filled time of the year again, but I’m coping, close to happy, even.

Save for Twitter, my budding firebrand-as-public-persona self has been on hiatus for a while now. The last time I was on tour was spring of 2010. (Note the stylish use of scarf, and the ample side-eye at life in general.) At the end of the tour, I realized after talking it over with my tour mates that I needed to up my music producing skills. I had things in my head, my hands, my heart, and while I could make all those things real, they weren’t quite cooked. This, while the global economy was in triage, no less.

Further, on a day-to-day level, I was beginning to realize the very cheap apartment I scored was coming with a price to the tune of gentrifying neighbors (who somehow couldn’t understand why running their car near my front door to the point of near-asphyxiation was a bad idea) and deleterious fuckery overall. So I moved. All well, all good. A slow process, but I was putting together the pieces.

Then in 2012? My mom died.

Somehow, I managed to transmute the expected year-of-flaming-incoherent-grief into something useful, beyond the required process that grief itself entails. I found a school to learn music technology at, without moving to NYC or LA and shelling out ten grand for a certificate whose main utility is teaching things I was teaching myself + industry connections. Which as always, means “maybe, industry connections” which means being the usual oblong peg in the obtuse hole I always am, so, erm, fuck it. I’ll just balance self-learning, public college learning, and being a grieving emotional train wreck the way I do, thank you very much. I completed the bulk of the core curriculum work in my program (enough to get myself an AA degree if I needed it, which I don’t at this point in my life, thankfully). I got a new place, focused on the work, slowly worked my way through the process, and settled in.

Which brings things to the present. Contemporary music production makes sense now, and in keeping, I remastered some tracks I did in 2013, and re-released them for free. I’m still in a toxic (and much more expensive) apartment counties away from my old neighborhood, but I can at least regulate the toxicity – the creeping black stuff is just in the drain, see? it’s no longer bubbling up at random in the kitchen sink, clean it out, and we’re good – and writing is coming along nicely. So, what’s next?

I need to figure out if grad school (again) is an option. I got my MFA in writing back in 2005, and everything that’s available seems like a major-yet-temporary step backwards into undergraduate work (English, Performance Studies, Music Composition), or a somewhat far afield step forwards (same + Music Improvisation + very expensive private MFA programs). It does feel like there’s some sort of there there though, so I’m persisting in shopping around. Graduate work in Music Technology is a possibility, but I’m working to stay focused on creative and theoretical work, more than slogging through production-level work yet again. The better I get at all of this, the more uncomfortable multitasking through someone else’s ideas on multiple deadlines becomes. #nerdproblems Also, Technocultural Studies is starting to emerge as a discipline, and things going well, may work its way into graduate programs. So, work-in-progress.

Creatively, I’m closing in on what the proper balance between music, writing and performance is for me. Songwriting has been getting the short shrift for a while now, but is slowly coming into focus. Page-based poetry appears to be working towards prose, although it remains to be seen how much of that translates into writing novels and short stories (again), or how much of it is part of writing free verse in the 21st century. As a musician, I seem to have a decent balance going, although I’m working my way through understanding how much my work is around being a producer, how much it’s around being a composer, and if those sorts of distinctions are even relevant to what I do anymore.

There’s also my ongoing complicated relationship with technology. I worked as a tech writer for years, and burned out on that. Looked into interactive multimedia, then the entire industry collapsed in on itself. Walked on tech overall after the dot-com bust, performed, lived, shared, got by. Was making headway with becoming a tech editor, then the economy tanked — again. Eventually managed to get a gig doing ePub technical production, which I hated, mostly because of the deadline pressures and the Mad Men-like culture around some corners of the publishing industry. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the industry and myself aren’t a fit — and yet, the desire to design things with code keeps coming up. I think where I’m at with tech is that I’m a creative sort of nerd – give me a problem that’s artistic in nature, and what were mind-numbing, soul-deadening problems around programming and development suddenly become balanced and workable. Unfortunately, creative coding is barely even an industry at present, but that is changing. Slow, patient progress on this front, but progress nonetheless.

Last but not least, there’s activism. Throughout most of the last decade, I juggled (and frequently combined) performance work, writing and street activism in a number of ways. As non-profits moved into that sphere, doing that work started to become less of a fit, in the same ways that working with the ACLU wasn’t a fit. I’m not a mainstream, polite resistance sort of girl; the only reason I was able to persist in the corporate tech world for as long as I did is that I made myself indispensable, or at the very least, the most profitable hire on the list. (I can’t honestly say I’m proud of this, but I did what I could, and after a lot of angst, got out.) If I’m ever going to do that sort of thing again, my place is in the streets. No more collective houses though, they damp my vibe.

All in all, it’s still a time of transition, but it appears to be coming to a collective point of resolution. Here’s to 2015, and whatever it may bring. Onward.