Saturday, September 8, 2012

breathing room

one of the last lectures for the architecture class i completed at pratt was about creating my portfolio, which forms one of the most important parts of our application package when i look at applying to architecture schools in december.  as i had already created a portfolio for the fall 2011 application season (will post here soon), i found the session quite useful for confirming my prior intuitive approach to making a portfolio and also quite illuminating of some improvements i can make this year.

we talked about fonts, layout, theme, colors, words (to use and not to use), but the thing that still hangs on my brain about six weeks later is the concept of 'breathing room' in the portfolio.  this is simply the idea of leaving some white space now and again and using three words in place of seven.  or just allowing the brain to soak up one or two important ideas or concepts on a page rather then having to sift through six or eight to try to discern the important ones. 

i found myself fascinated by this simple, yet elegant, principle in the following way - breathing room should be nurtured and fostered in nearly all (if not all) aspects of our lives!  when i am in tune with myself, i find that i do this naturally. 

in music, i am drawn to compositions with a lot of space in the sound - things like a nice wide band of highs and lows without too much competition for emphasis across the instrumentation of a particular track.  in chamber music, for example, you typically hear a violin, a viola, a cello and a contra bass.  these instruments certainly have some overlap in their registers, but each shines the brightest in zones where they are not competing with one another (in my humble opinion, at least).  in music that one hears on the pop charts, one often finds a lot of competition for a relatively small register (maybe an octave and a half), which, for me, has the effect of invading my aural senses to the point of annoyance most of the time. 

a good example of this is the chorus and bridge of 'since u been gone' by kelly clarkson.  notice that it starts out with some nice separation...a catchy, simple beat in the low end and kelly's vocals toward the high end.  as it moves through the song, though, it becomes highly competitive in both the mid-range and the high end (from the doubling and even tripling of kelly's voice).  that's when i change the station or make some comment about how i prefer 'better' clockwork.

a contrasting example would be the beta band's hit, 'dry the rain,' which is featured in 'high fidelity' - one of the greatest john cusack films (which is basically a genre by now).  notice how this song starts off pretty crowded in the mid-range with the vocals and the guitars basically hanging out together for much of the beginning.  later, however, a proper low end is added with the drum beat and a smooth bass solo.  and even later, there is a nice addition toward the high end made by the horns.  also notice the pace of the song.  it's gentle.  layers are added in succession slowly and i would argue that they're easier to process than the abrupt changes in 'since u been gone.'  also the song builds to a climax in terms of diversity across the register and fades out at the top of this climax - think barry sanders v. brett favre in terms of retirement from the nfl.

in my life, i will often take a few breathing room days to unwind and / or rewind.  this can show up as me going 'off the grid' for a few days / weeks and being very difficult to reach by modern communications (i know this can be apologies).  or i'll sit down and write in my moleskine books for awhile, processing the inspirational ideas of the day.  or i'll take 6 weeks off of blogging!! 

my go-to is listening to records.  this is both a release and an active experience as there is a need to change the record every 20 minutes or so.  something new that i'm trying is drawing.  both out of necessity and out of the interest in a new creative medium.  as i get more share-able content ready, i think of putting a few drawings up in later posts.  stay tuned for that.  on vacations, one of the most luxurious versions of 'breathing room' is unstructured time.  no alarm clocks, no appointments, no deadlines...just blissful obligation-less existence.  you get the idea.

i'm currently in a state of breathing room at work.  i've just landed in auckland, new zealand on my way to perth, australia to deliver a presentation at a conference.  this is a breath in space, time, and activity.  i'm doing something i don't normally do in a place that have never been at a time that is completely reversed in terms of days and nights than i am used to.  maybe a bit on the extreme end of breathing room, sure, but i'm excited at the possibilities before me.  i have been saving up several blog posts over the last few weeks for a time when i could really focus on the content.  this may be that time!

wish me luck.  and i hope you're enjoying your weekend wherever you are.  i'm already 8 hours into sunday!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

we live in an 'experiential' economy

i can't say enough about this architecture course i'm taking at pratt institute.  it has become the most tangible reference point of the re-emergence of my interest and inquiry into architecture.  my life has been absolutely jam-packed for three weeks now with the more-than-a-full-time job plus twelve hours of class each week plus at least that many hours outside of class each week working on the assignments.  my apartment is a complete mess right now - it appears as though a small bomb filled with art supplies has gone off in my kitchen.  my bedroom features the college-esque pile of dirty clothes that moves from chair to bed and back to chair most days (everybody did that, right?).  most days i'm eating a combination of hard-boiled eggs and wheat bread with a healthy dose of filtered tap water.  sounds tasty, no?

even with all the self-sacrifice involved in making an investment like this at a time when i cannot only focus on one endeavor, i can honestly say that this particular moment in my life is very clearly a seminal one for me.

let's start with music.  one of my best good friends, phil, and i attended the inaugural firefly music festival in dover, delaware (dela-where?...exactly).  i've known phil for a dozen years now and we've been to probably half a dozen music festivals together.  averaging things out, we've probably seen up around 100 bands together.  a perennial favorite is sxsw, which is held in the spring in austin, texas each year (in mid-march, often coinciding with spring break for the students out there).  npr typically hosts a day party (read: free beer, often free food, six-plus free hours of live music over 5-10 acts depending on the venue dynamics), which is where i've seen the likes of vampire weekend (below), the dirty projectors and polica.

the great thing about sxsw is, of course, the experience.  sure, the ostensible reason that i go each year is to see live music and many years i get exposed to music - often by chance - that is otherwise hard to find.  however, the special thing about the festival is what it represents for many of these artists - their 'big chance' to become known or 'famous,' as it were. 

usually sets are only 30-50 minutes long for each band and there are approximately 30-40 venues running sets for 12+ hours a day over the course of four-and-a-half days.  doing the math...we get into the hundreds very quickly, in terms of the number of possible acts to see.  many bands do 4-5 sets over the course of the week scurrying around downtown austin.  as a member of the audience, it is very easy - and almost necessary - to judge whether you like a band within the first 10 minutes so that you can decide to stay and fully listen or move on to the next opportunity that you would otherwise miss.  this kind of competition can only be replicated by trying to get a good spot on the nyc subway during rush hour.  but as frenetic as it can be, it creates a unique festival atmosphere and experience for both performer and audience alike. 

and it becomes very likely that the rhythm of the festival will carry you to places you had never planned to go - much like the current of a strong river (you know, like the ones you get to go whitewater rafting down in the rocky mountains).  you may find yourself (see below) half-naked with your head sewn to the carpet of some strange hotel room or skinny dipping in barton springs with your new 'best friends' (at least for the day).  but this is what makes the festival 'worth it,' in my opinion.  the memories of your own personal journey through the festival gets associated with the music creating a much more powerful connection than your standard live music event.

as far as firefly goes, it was a successful festival.  the format was very different than sxsw - three days, outdoors, only four stages, very well-known headlining acts (the black keys, the killers, jack white in this case) and a supporting cast of about 40 bands.  music started each day around noon and ended by 10:30 in the evening.  we opted to camp instead of stay in a hotel and i highly recommend doing this if you decide to go in 2013 - again, for the full experience.  now our experiences were certainly not as scandalous as the potential that existed (are we getting old?), but they will certainly stick with me. 

we played several epic games of pitch and tried to get others involved with varying degrees of exceptional failure.  this is a game that is typically played to 11 or 15.  we started playing games to 31 or even up to 65.  my most memorable hand is the hand during which phil bid 'four and out' on the first hand in a game to 65.  i took one trick and set him, winning the game.  he didn't even have the jack in his hand (he was hoping that i would have it).  we had a bit of an 'in' with some of the media that were at the festival and they were also interested in our card game.

the phrase for the weekend ended up being 'suck the moonlight,' which has a certain impractical imagery to it.  we even adapted songs from bands to incorporate this soon-to-be-famous phrase.  we may need to contact bono of u2 to let him know that his song, 'with or without you,' will never be the same (that came out in 1987!  now i'm definitely feeling old).

one thing i was pondering while at the festival (and have been pondering for years now) is this dance between analog and digital media.  each offers its own advantages and disadvantages.  i tend to prefer analog experiences to digital ones (lp's instead of mp3's, live conversations instead of texts / facebook, film cameras instead of digital cameras, paperback books instead of kindle, etc.).  allen stone (one of my surprise finds of the festival) even writes a song about this struggle between being 'plugged-in' and connected to everything / everyone / everywhere around the world all the time versus being engaged and present in the here and now local reality (below).   

the interesting point here is that this festival had several cell phone charging stations around the grounds.  every morning before the festivities began, dozens of people would religiously congregate around these stations to get their daily digital fix down at the campgrounds, almost like a church service.  and during the festival, the 'recharge' tents were constantly packed about fifty-percent past my comfort zone (like the kitchen or bathroom hallway of a house party).  while maybe this is obvious to you, i found it interesting how much attention was paid to connecting to the digital 'outside' world in such a wonderful live, local world of a music festival (i'll admit that i made my trips to the chargers...what if i miss an important email or text?!?).

we also ate runny eggs (like you wouldn't believe), stole breaded chicken patties (pre-cooked but cold in the cooler), spent $5 each to take showers in what can only be described as a 'shower situation' (best $5 i spent all festival), drank more than our fair share of dogfish head brews, and invented a new rule where we had to buy a corndog everytime we passed a particular corndog stand as we traversed from the main stage to the jack daniel's truck to the other, lesser stages around the festival grounds.

through my architecture course, i recently went to a lecture at columbia university by the ceo and editor-in-chief of domus magazine.  as someone with an emerging interest in architecture, i'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that i have not come across this publication before this year.  however, i feel properly course-corrected to have it as part of my reality now.  while the lecture is worth its own blogpost in terms of how rich the content was, i will tie it in here as joseph grima was discussing the concept of an 'experiential' economy.  in the context of the lecture he was exploring the idea of print media becoming obsolete, essentially stating that the analog printed media are here to stay for the time being, anyway.

in the context of firefly, the experiences that phil and i had with our environment and neighbors are not replicable in any other context.  and as far as these festivals go, one finds oneself in a situation where one is captive to the festival economy.  i think we spent over $300 combined on alcohol, food, memorabilia and yes, showers which does not even factor in what we paid for tickets, travel, etc.  bottom line is that music festivals are expensive, especially when one does not plan well in advance with respect to food (i.e., stealing pre-cooked chicken patties versus making a nice quinoa salad and eating it over the course of the weekend).  these experiences, though, are worth it.  and they work economically.  i think the message here is almost too obvious to mention - if you're interested in kick-starting the economy, go to a music festival!

so, what were the best music experiences?  that's easy.  the heartless bastards were excellent on the first day.  as was the aforementioned jack white - he played lots off of blunderbuss.  my highpoint of the festival was polica on day two, especially her 'lay your cards out' track (below).  we were (ahem) in the right state of mind for that show, up close to the stage and the bass was so present that it felt like the entire environment was pulsating.  allen stone was goofy but started the first ever dance-off in the history of the firefly festival, which was an excellent experience on sunday.  the head and the heart performed a stellar set on the third day; the harmonies were dead-on.  ra ra riot also performed a very tight set on day two, but alex had been replaced with a lesser version of a cello player (adequate but not authentic), which was disappointing (i now see on their website that she left the band in february of this year).  girl talk's set was fun as well - properly timed in the evening as it was getting dark and just before the black keys went on.

and the worst?  even easier.  i love bob dylan and understand that it only makes sense to think that the apple must not fall far from the tree...but jakob dylan's wallflowers were mediocre at best.  they haven't really done anything worth noting since 'one headlight,' in my humble opinion.  michael franti and spearhead did not belong at this festival.  that was an embarassment.  all the songs sounded so similar that i could not tell that they played more than one song over the course of 45 minutes.  fitz and the tantrums just don't have 'it' in my opinion.  their version of soul comes off as a cheap afghani knock-off (this is my second time seeing them and having the same impression...starting to become a trend).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ten urban joints

i have recently started taking classes in the evenings to expand my inquiry into architecture.  having just arrived in new york, i decided to look into the pratt institute's summer offerings and came across a five-week architecture intensive course that meets four nights a week for three hours per night.  and then there are the assignments which request that we - a group of four students (three undergrads and me) - investigate an elegantly phrased question with nearly limitless possibility.

the first assignment was an ice project where we were investigating the decay of architecture and the concept of atmosphere's plurality of meanings - measure (as in atmospheric pressure), medium (as in the air we breathe), and mood (you know, like ambience).  i created an icosahedron that held exactly one liter of water, which required me to break out my geometry training in a somewhat powerful way.  the difficult part of the exercise for me was getting the model to hold water, but thankfully i had some help - a tip from my instructor, a proposed medium from a woman at the art supply store and a willing and able conspirator.

it all starts with one simple equilateral triangle...

and then you go crazy with triangles...well, really with your compass.

there's a magic step involving an x-acto knife, all natural rubber latex in liquid form (yes, you heard me correctly) as well as a healthy dose of rubber cement and you end up with a 3-dimensional expression of finite mathematics, or discrete mathematics.

the trick is getting that object to accept and commit to holding water, but i'll save that for another post as this post is about my new home and a slight callback to my history and interest in black and white photography.

the second assignment for the course was to explore the concept of urban joints (no, not the kind that get you into trouble with the authorities).  we were asked to find ten urban joints, or points of connection, in the city of new york (think of exposed structure in architecture or the way your wrist very functionally connects your hand to your forearm).  i think there are only about ten billion joints in new york so the real challenge of the project was to find a point of view that limited the possibilities somewhat.

for my expression, i chose to find ten urban joints that were all in my commute from my apartment in brooklyn near grand army plaza to my office in manhattan near union square.  after all, that is my reality and nobody else can possibly express these urban joints with the same degree of connection to them as i have.  i used a photographic filter in photoshop that gave me the feeling of an older technology called gum bichromate printing.  this process creates photographs that resemble paintings from about six feet away that begin to appear almost too real (but not quite hyperrealistic).

my first photo is a view from one of my bedroom windows.  i appreciate the way the bricks frame the window and meet the stone sill of the window - the primary joint in this photo.  and of course, i'll relish the fact that i have a strong dose of green leaves in my immediate reality every day until the fall comes.

as i begin my day, i like to include music that i love as a way of awakening my creative self.  and also easing my transition from the dream reality to the waking reality.  this morning i played some acoustic guitar and one side of van morrison's 'tupelo honey' record (side 2).

you'll notice three joints in the photo of the acoustic guitar - the bridge joining the strings to the body, the neck joined to the body at the end of the fretboard and the guitar joined to the wall in the extreme depth of field of the photo.

in the photo of my turntable, i see this concept of joining the information in the groove of the record to the needle of the turntable, which then connects to an amplifier that makes beautiful audible music to listen to and enjoy.  it is in this moment that i wish photos could capture audio information as well as video, but alas.  in any case, there is no better way to begin the day than to begin with music and i especially appreciate the analog experience after waking up.

i recently installed a shower rod in my bathroom because apparently one takes one's shower rod with them after vacating an apartment in new york (the kind of thing that makes you want to ask, 'seriously?').  in this photo documenting the way it joins to my slate tile wall, you can see all of the information captured in the photo also captured in the shower rod itself.  sort of a portrait of the photo within the photo itself, as if the shower rod were taunting my camera to say, 'anything you can do, i can do better.'

i can honestly say that i am getting to a place of caring for the space in which i inhabit.  i like my local park.  and my local grocery store.  and my local burrito bar.  i still, however, feel awkward in my staircase.  the lighting is quite limited and it just feels a bit ominous (and that's being generous).  it is an expression of a very practical urban joint, though, that connects my apartment to the outside world.  without these stairs, i would be forced to get very good at urban gymnastics and tree climbing (base jumping?).

on my walk to the subway, i always pass a public school at the end of my street with such an appealing entry.  it is made entirely of a red brick / stone arch that meets what appear to me to be ornamental columnar elements in the front (as opposed to structural ones).  whether functional or ornamental, i find the image compelling.

we have been discussing the very public space of the sidewalk in some detail in the class.  it's such a strange, small space.  and in new york you have the big city experience of the sidewalk.  in one breath you can overhear someone's very intimate conversation with a loved one or witness an intimate act that is likely better expressed indoors.  in the image below, i was captured by the way the mailbox joins us all to our specific network of family and friends - a unique and intimate connection for all of us in a very public space.

the last thing i do before going into the subway stop at flatbush and 7th avenue is cross flatbush avenue.  now i tend to generally use the crosswalk but i have been known to be that guy splitting through cars in the street if i'm about to miss my train (the cars are parked, of course).  this photo shows how the crosswalk connects both sides of flatbush avenue and also notes that flatbush avenue itself connects brooklyn to manhattan.  and then there's the subway stop in the background that easily goes unnoticed. this connects each and every one of us to the entirety of the new york boroughs and even the rest of the world as the subway is connected to both the train station and the airport.

i tend to look at subway stops as representative of basements.  in new york, all the subway stops feel like they are in various stages of being finished out just like basements.  some subway stops are iconic and completely finished out while others feel unfinished in a a wine cellar or man cave might have felt in the homes you grew up in.  this is an architectural image showing how one of the beams in the rational structural system joins to the stucco-surfaced wall.

on the subway, we are all forced to compete for space, especially in rush hour commute times.  this morning i was fortunate enough to get a good spot with enough space for me to actually hold on to the support bars.  downside, of course, is that i did not get a chance to practice my subway surfing, which i have been slowly perfecting over the past few weeks.  here you see the first (and only) human joint connected to the joints of our built or manufactured environment.

my favorite part of my journey on the q train is crossing over the manhattan bridge.  there is a reconnection with nature, albeit controlled and quite limited, and some sunlight to wake me up after 15-20 minutes underground.  i also get the chance to quickly check emails in case there is something critical happening at work or otherwise.  nothing especially noteworthy this morning on the email front, but i did happen to capture a view of the brooklyn bridge from the manhattan bridge articulated through the window of the q train (two especially functional urban joints connecting manhattan and brooklyn to one another).  it's voyeuristic in a way - i suppose if iconic feats of engineering do it for you.

i finally re-emerge into a new local reality at union square.  each time this happens my tendency is to look up.  today i found a lamp post.  it happened to be roughly aligned with the sun, which was fortunately hidden well enough behind the cloud cover that this image was feasible.  the joint here is the connection of the lamps to the post.  i find it especially useful that the light from the sun serves to illuminate the lamps which are obviously not lit during the day.  it adds a surrealistic quality to the image for me.

and that as they say, is that.  look out for more next week!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

my first blog

hello and welcome to the rytunes blog.  here we will definitely cover some music.  in fact, i should guess that most posts will have some kind of musical theme woven through them in some form or fashion.  i'm also interested in art, mathematics, architecture, food, a book here and there, a few films, and something i call free concept association (it's similar to word association).

now a bit of background.  why here?  why now?  (i am one to have background in spades, for better or for worse)

first, i enjoy writing (but i do not like capitalization; this is soothing to some to read and quite annoying to others).  this is a surprise to those that do not know me very well.  i come from an education in mathematics, see, and that fact stops many people in their tracks.  because of this fact alone, many assume i can only communicate with about three other human beings on the planet (it's at least four).  now the proverbial 'they' certainly assume i'm good at a chalkboard (which i am), but not so much in terms of written prose.

i'll let you be the judge of the quality of my communications, but i certainly enjoy writing.  and this is a fact that i've only come to have confidence in rather recently.  i think i've enjoyed writing for a long time but for some reason, i thought i wasn't supposed to be good at it or like it (maybe like the inverse of women that stop studying the sciences because of societal pressure...or the contrapositive?).

the fact of the matter is that i majored in math because of the flexibility it offered me - a theme about me (flexibility).  math had the fewest required courses.  sure, they were hard, at times, but the choice allowed me to spend time in the darkroom, the architecture studio, outside playing ultimate frisbee, teaching in the classroom in the evenings and with many wonderful lifelong friends (i'm sure they will make appearances in these postings).

you're maybe wondering why i chose the number '30' for my blog address.  the real reason is that 'rytunes' by itself was already taken (curses!).  but i got to looking into the number 30...

30 happens to be the sum of the first four square numbers: 30 = 1 + 4 + 9 + 16 (this is called a 'square pyramidal number')

30 is also the smallest 'sphenic number'...a positive integer which can be expressed as the product of three distinct prime numbers: 30 = 2 * 3 * 5 (you'll recognize that 2, 3 and 5 are the first three prime numbers)

i turned 30 about 6 months ago.  and while 30 trips around the sun may not mean much to you, it means 940 million kilometers / year * 30 years = holy shit, that's a lot of kilometers (but not *that* many miles, for my ethnocentric friends out there).  even trying to imagine that distance makes me a bit tired.  no seriously, something happened to me on or around my 30th birthday.  and it didn't happen in vegas.

i was actually driving on highway 71 from houston to austin on my 30th birthday.  it was a friday.  i didn't have a party.  when i got to austin around 2pm, i just went to the record store (waterloo records, for the austin crowd).  and then from there, to the elephant room (after some meandering) for a mediocre jazz performance by a group that was covering some christmas tunes in a jazz format.  some songs were good, others were a disaster.  but the underground sanctuary on congress avenue had brought me many fine memories over the last decade, so i let it slide.

in the ensuing two weeks, i woke up.  i didn't really realize that i was sleeping but i had been for some time.  well, more coasting than sleeping.  the thing is, i'm very good at my job.  and i'm good at managing my participation in 'the system.'  i pay my taxes, i make good decisions (for the most part).  and like many good americans, i subscribe to dozens of things i don't really use.  including a gym membership that i've kept in austin for nearly a full two years after leaving the city (i'm bad with that autopay stuff sometimes).  and the truth is that i had gotten to a place of not really questioning things the way i am generally accustomed to - constantly making sure that i'm spending my minutes the way i want to spend them.

so around the beginning of the year, i decided that i wanted my 30's to be a decade of intentionality.  not that there was anything inherently wrong with my 20's...just that i didn't feel like i had truly opted in to a lot of the decisions i made.  or i didn't quite understand the reasons why i made the decisions i made.

it all kind of clicked for me around the beginning of 2012.  i feel more comfortable in the driver's seat, as it were.  not more in control because i don't think we can ever really be in control.  but ready to make a turn if i need to as things arise or even double back and make a u-turn if something exceptional comes up.  in several recent communications with new and old friends alike, people have commented that i 'look good,' which i think means i'm reflecting more good stuff from the inside to the outside.

one thing i know for sure is that i'm not perfect.  i'm definitely not always right.  my opinion is simply that - my opinion.  but i think there's something to that.  something about waking up, acknowledging yourself for who you are and being comfortable just being.  that sounds simple but it's actually quite challenging.  self acceptance takes a lot of generosity.

my brother and i got turned on to the same tattoo concept recently.  we came to it separately but roughly at the same time (kind of like the way calculus was discovered...but without the controversy).  an adaptation of the japanese enso circle art form.

we haven't actually gotten the tattoo, but the reference here is more to say that this blog is meant to be an expression of me and my imperfections.  i hope you find some of it entertaining, other bits downright funny and maybe the occasional philosophical debate will be sparked or your musical tastes will be complemented by some of my suggestions.  who knows, right?

gordon lightfoot - i'm not sayin'.  i love this song.  it's very much an 'accept-me-for-how-i-am' kind of song.  it's a terrible 'love song' for a longer-term kind of situation (at least in most cases) but it's a great 'like song,' which is a genre of music that there just isn't enough of, in my opinion.

my first blog.  in the books.