The Visionary Art & Music of Michael Garfield - Austin Live Painter & Avant-Guitarist: March 2009

18 March 2009

Helices, Spraypaint, & Custom Shirts

> Imagery

(You can get a better look at each painting - and all of my previous work - at myspace.com/michaelgarfield or my Visionary Art Gallery at Photobucket.)

available - 2009 02 28 & 03 01, 08 Grizzly Room & Sail Inn (A Meaning To Memorize, Indigo Children & The Noodles) - 16x24
This one happened in two very different places. I worked on the first layer of clear hexagonal plates at the same bumping house concert I mentioned in my last newsletter, and the second layer of tentacles at an outdoor Grateful Dead Tribute down by the canal. The two extra layers of spraypaint between and after the other layers were the result of me sitting at home looking at this bizarre painting for minutes at a time, trying to figure out how to give it more depth. The three different types of embellishments on the tentacles adds an extra veneer of weird, since they must not all be coming from the same thing...and are those eyes all over them? Plants have gotten in the habit of growing down for me, recently. Even ferns, apparently.

available - 2009 03 06 & 07 Mondrian Hotel & The Firehouse (Pere La Chaise & Leaf) - 16x24
I love my new gig at the Mondrian Hotel in Scottsdale. It's outdoors, for one - and I set up my easel along a low white wall next to a beautiful flowery tree and the back gate of the building, which opens to a deep, wide lawn way off the street. And it's "Pere La Chaise" themed (that's the French graveyard where Jim Morrison is buried), so that means 1960's bohemia. I'm there as a performer, and it feels more like an acting gig than the more familiar pseudo- lighting/video vibe. I feel like I'm getting away with something criminally good - like I'm getting paid to pretend to be an artist?

available - 2009 03 11 Rogue Bar (Michna, Eliot Lipp, Jared Alan, Living Humans Being) - 16x24
This would have been a packed house in Boulder, but here in Arizona it was an audience of about sixty people in an almost impossible-to-find (but charming) dive bar duplexed with a liquor store, parking lot capacity = eight cars. Eliot Lipp was great as always, but I was really pleased to hear the other acts, especially Jared Alan and Living Humans Being who are local talent and really worthy. This show was put on by Thru The Wires, which is just about the most passionate garage-production company I've ever met. And the painting: I decided to lay down a field of spraypaint stars first, which tipped my whole endeavor toward what feels to me like a Phil Dick vibe (he wrote VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth after an extended and vivid communication with some transcendent space intelligence). Quite satisfied with the pink and blue part, which reminds me of oceanic jasper.

available - 2009 03 13 Mondrian Hotel (Pere LaChaise) - 16x24
Hard to tell from this picture, but the background is entirely filled with a field of the Flower of Life, gloss black on matte black, and it was from that matrix that I extracted patterns for the rest of the piece. Kris D and Krystle Smith do something similar with their paintings, but Kris lays it out in advance and Krystle often throws the grid on top. Both of them use measuring tools to do this - but I enjoy the challenge of trying to freehand ideal geometries, and I'm more fascinated by the irregularities that I have to build into each subsequent layer. The whole theme here is biological form arising from the Logos, or quantum plenum, or whatever you want to call it: the hidden order that shapes "the world of ten thousand things." Consequently it should come as no surprise that while working on this, I got into an extended conversation with a math student from Carnegie Mellon about whether mathematics are eternal archetypes or created by the human mind... :)

taken - 2009 03 13 (Sonoma Ladies' Medium)
My first custom order, filled. I'm so happy to be doing something people can wear. Paintings are wonderful on a wall but art means something totally different when it's carried around on your person. I consider custom designs like this a consecration practice, blessing the body.

available - 2009 03 14 Mondrian Hotel 1 (Merona Men's Small)
The creative director at Pere La Chaise wanted me to try painting on other things beside masonite, so last Saturday I brought some shirts to work on. I enjoyed myself thoroughly but noticed that working on two shirts in one night rather than one big painting seemed less interesting to the night club crowd. First of all, it takes a lot longer to work on fabric because I have to go over everything two or three times for decent opacity. And secondly, the designs just aren't as extensive or grandiose. Nonetheless, a fun experiment.

available - 2009 03 14 Mondrian Hotel 2 (Converse Men's Medium)
Same night, second project. If nobody buys this shirt, I have half a mind to keep working on it indefinitely.

> Writing
Playing The Body Electric, Part 1 (Visionary Music Blog @ Colorado Music Board):
I believe that we as a species are currently witnessing the evolution of a new relationship between the inner and outer worlds, renegotiating that tricky self/other boundary...and in the process we might ultimately reach a new platform of musical development at which the individual has internalized not just the other players, but the instruments themselves.

Phil Keaggy Struts All The Tricks (Fretbase):
If you’ve ever wanted a single nine-minute demonstration of every acoustic guitar technique imaginable, Phil Keaggy delivers. On my regular YouTube shred-trawl, I recently discovered a gem of a performance by Keaggy in which he demonstrates the perfect execution of everything from standard fingerpicking to slapping, looping, mid-song retuning, and body percussion.

Adrian Belew's Out-Of-This-Word Signature Parker Fly (Fretbase):
Getting your own signature guitar is the rockstar version of a Lifetime Achievement Award - the opportunity to have an entire corporate skunkworks at your disposal to implement the craziest, most mind-blowing customizations ever. In my opinion, though, most people totally blow this opportunity…but Adrian Belew sure didn’t.

Finally! Clock Your Riffs With The "Shred-O-Meter"
(Fretbase):
I can’t decide whether this is a legitimate rehearsal implement, or a ridiculous novelty, but either way it exists: the Shred-O-Meter, a speedometer for your guitar. Coupling an analog needle-based display with a “super-metronome” that goes up to (brace yourselves) 1300 bpm!, this device finally allows guitarists to know when they’re playing fast enough to travel backward through time.


MG on the Spiritual Significance of Music

Originally published at XtremeMusic.org.


My academic training was in evolutionary biology, ecology, and integral theory: the study of articulating as many perspectives as possible in order to honor the partial truth of each. So my understanding of music’s spiritual significance is fundamentally evolutionary, systemic, and pluralistic. Many things can be said about music and spirituality, including:

– That our entire universe is vibratory, and that order emerges through a series of harmonic relationships;

– That as micro-cosmic instances of the universe, we are the image of this fractal order, and so the study of music is literally the study of ourselves;

– That because of this nested and reciprocal relationship, human music is unparalleled in its effectiveness in evoking and engineering the states of our minds and bodies, both “mundane” and “sacred”;

– That music as a means of entraining minds and bodies, pre-verbal and psycho-physiological effects, as well as encoding dense multi-layered information, verbal and trans-verbal, frequently culture-specific messages, is an exemplary method of communication and intersubjective bonding/community development, which is the original meaning of “religion”: re-ligate and re-connect.

From an “integral” perspective, we can find the spiritual dimensions of music through methods as diverse as empiricism, psychology, hermeneutics, introspection, sociology, systems theory, art, and anthropology. Each of these discloses some aspect of music’s wondrous nature. I like to contemplate how music can be understood from each of the classical seven chakras, as a vehicle for each: as food and vital force, as sex and mutuality, as self and sociality, as justice and compassion, as expression and communication, as vision and insight, and as non-dual identity: the groundless and eternal, omnidirectional and intrinsically significant “play” of creativity.

10 March 2009

Playing The Body Electric, Part One

I believe that we as a species are currently witnessing the evolution of a new relationship between the inner and outer worlds, renegotiating that tricky self/other boundary...and in the process we might ultimately reach a new platform of musical development at which the individual has internalized not just the other players, but the instruments themselves.

But first, a bit of necessary exposition in the field of developmental psychology, so bear with me, here...

I went to grad school for Integral Theory, which meant studying the intricacies of human mind/body development. One of the recurring themes of "growing up" (which of course extends into ongoing adult development, although most adults seem unwilling to admit that such a thing exists – as if someone with their own job and car has reached the goal posts of maturity) is that we all rely on our environment to take care of things we eventually learn to do ourselves. As we grow more accustomed to assuming personal responsibility for some psychological or physiological function, we go from not even noticing that we're being taken care of, to seeking sources in the external world that will satisfy that need, to satisfying it ourselves.

One example would be how newborns don't even know they need to eat; but eventually learn to inform their parents when they're hungry, and finally manage to feed themselves. Again: young children are unaware of "the rules;" older kids learn to follow them (but don't know how or why they are in place); and adults can not only obey or disobey, but explain why certain rules are necessary for a functioning society.

(Quick check: If you think that the statement "Murder is wrong" is true "because God said so," I love you but you don't qualify as an adult in the modern world. You're still relying on external support for your moral system. If this concerns you, go read Robert Kegan's book In Over Our Heads and then find a few more literate friends.)

So what does this all mean for music? Well, it means we were born right in the middle of a revolution.

Archeologically speaking, instruments appeared first as more or less extensions of the natural environment...hollow reeds, rocks, sticks, and animal gut strung across a bent frame. The earliest instruments emerged from human experimentation with accidental noises and animal calls...what po-mo sophisticates such as you and I would call "found sounds." Ethnomusicologists observe a trend from these earlier instruments, capable of a limited expressive range (typically only a handful of notes, and only one at a time) toward more intricate devices capable of producing complex polyphony. (Think about the difference between relatively ancient intruments like a shaker or hand drum and relatively contemporary instruments like a guitar or piano...or even more contemporary instruments like the laptop.) In other words, the history of human musical instrumentation follows that same developmental curve: first, a symphony of natural sounds; then, a symphony of humans playing simple instruments; then, one human playing an entire array of chords, with remarkable tonal variety, on one instrument. Like so:

Music Starts Here

Egyptian Instruments - A Halfway Point

Internalized Orchestra on the Chapman Stick

These trends seem likely to continue even further as we continue to deepen our relationship with technology. Groundbreaking child psychologist Lev Vygotsky built his developmental model on observations that use of tools within a cultural substrate are often the means to new levels of development (that a child learns to write letters exactly as taught before developing his own handwriting, for example...take it one step further and eventually the child learns to write with any marking object or create his own). From a different field, but with a similar understanding of the flow of things, technology writer Kevin Kelly says that we don't really live in "The Age" of something until it's so much a part of the background of our experience that we don't even notice it until it breaks. We don't live in The Age of Computers...yet. But we will, as soon as computers shrink to invisibility and are embedded in everything.

Likewise, I think we don't live in an Age of Instruments...but we're about to. We're coming up on a new world in which playing music by crude manipulation of some boxy device will be left to the retro-ers and traditionalists. An era when we can speak symphonies as easily as we can form sentences.

This may sound somewhat akin to claiming that soon we'll be able to give up scissors and cut paper with our bare hands. But what I mean is that we may learn to exercise not only conscious control over our hands and voices, but over the subtler biological circuitry of our bodies - those systems responsible for our breath, heartbeats, and brainwaves - in order to make music that is directly translated from tiny electrical potentials through novel electronic interfaces into sound. Not only are people already rigging electroencephalograms to synthesizers, but some are developing full-body suits that communicate musical dimensions of dance in a much more intricate and expressive way than any keyboard-and-pedal control surface ever could.

As a compulsive futurist, I have little doubt that this would bring the evolution of instrumentation to the logical conclusion of a trajectory along which the means of music are increasingly internalized. And of course, music itself grows in complexity at every step along this path - of course, the music made by a group of people all playing polyphonic instruments is potentially much more complex than one guy trying to imitate bird calls by blowing across a blade of grass. There isn't an end point; each new development opens up an entirely new realm of musical expressive possibility, in which each person becomes the entire orchestra of the previous realm. So what will this mean when we have polyphonic synths hooked up to each of a person's once-autonomous bodily functions, have trained that person to operate each "instrument" independently of the others, and throw him in a room with forty other people similarly prepared?

What kind of music can we expect to grow out of early experiments, such as these...

Phil Stearns has bent circuit boards through a biofeedback unit and uses his body as a variable-resistance conductor to make experimental noise music.

Daito Manabe has attached myoelectric sensors that turn the electrical impulses of his muscles into sampling, trigger, and loop controls.

And THIS guy is processing an EEG (electroencephalogram) signal through mediating algorithms to turn raw brainwave data into an intelligible composition (although the guy with the helmet is certainly able to use his info of the device to "compose Beethoven-like music, and make it fast and loud!"

(Written for Colorado Music Board.)

06 March 2009

New Conscious Alliance Poster, Live Recordings, & Articles

Whooo...have I ever got presents for you guys. I promise not to lay it on you like this again for a while...give you some time to chew...

> Imagery (FULL GALLERY & LIST OF AVAILABLE PAINTINGS)
First of all, after over a year of bugging them about it, Conscious Alliance finally asked me to do a poster for them! For those of you who don't know, Conscious Alliance commissions artists to do fine-art concert posters they then sell or trade for canned goods and it all goes to feeding the impoverished. (Their slogan is "Art That Feeds.") I can't think of a single institution more aligned with my own aesthetic-economic-ethic, so it was a huge honor and I had a blast coming up with something really special for them. Here's the painting, prints of which will be sold on Izabella's upcoming Colorado tour:
http://lh4.ggpht.com/_7e6REs6OWHs/SbB3d9iEvqI/AAAAAAAAAFg/WisyEzsJIro/s512/michael%20garfield%20-%20izabella%20poster%20-%20100%20dpi.jpg

If you're interested in the original, I'm putting it up for $500 and donating half of the proceeds to Conscious Alliance's operating costs as a gesture of my appreciation for letting me join their veritable "Who's Who" list of badass poster artists. (Maybe some of you can figure out a way to make it a team purchase, then raffle it off for more than you spent, leveraging it for even further social good??)

Also, I did the cover/frontispiece illustration for Sean Hargens's & Michael Zimmerman's Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives On The Natural World - the seminal book on multi-methodological science. No kidding; I'm totally humbled to have played a small part in this. If you have a serious interest in humanity and our world should find yourself a copy. (And no, I'm not getting paid royalties to promote them. Dr. Hargens is my old grad school professor; he's one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, and the quick look I gave my advance copy confirms that this book is absolutely amazing.)

[The concept was "Four perspectives on a frog, based on Ken Wilber's AQAL Integral Theory." Clockwise from the upper left, those perspectives are individual-interior (thoughts, intentions - psychology and introspection); individual-exterior (physiology, behavior - empirical sciences); collective-exterior (networks, systems - social science and cybernetics); and collective interior (shared meaning and values - cultural and linguistic studies). Only you know, for a frog. :) Like I said, I studied this stuff in grad school so if any of you are eager to learn more, I'd be happy to talk about it.]

http://lh6.ggpht.com/_7e6REs6OWHs/SbB3edUAJbI/AAAAAAAAAFo/MjMdmYWiWtU/integral%20ecology%20cover%20%28final%29.jpg http://lh6.ggpht.com/_7e6REs6OWHs/SbB3dcBstuI/AAAAAAAAAFY/hkKg6H7_L3s/s576/integral%20ecology%20frontispiece.JPG

I am, however, selling signed and numbered (series of 50) 11x11" glossy prints of the original illustration for $20 each (that includes shipping):
http://lh4.ggpht.com/_7e6REs6OWHs/SbB3esxJP7I/AAAAAAAAAFw/WS06Nvz1Q5c/s512/bookcover-integralecology.jpg

Oh and by the way, I did my first custom t-shirt! The lines are now open if any of you want me to throw some bless on tees, hats, lingerie, or whatever. Of course I'm still liquidating my original paintings (in most cases I'm willing to match your hourly wage plus the cost of supplies and shipping), and I'm still selling 11x17" prints. But this is way more personal, and easier to flaunt. :)
http://lh5.ggpht.com/_7e6REs6OWHs/SbB3dFdE-ZI/AAAAAAAAAFQ/6iT0m1dn5uI/s640/custom%20tee%202009%2003%2005.jpg

> Music
(FULL ELECTRONIC PRESS KIT AT MYSPACE)
I've been mixing down all of my solo acoustic concerts so I can stop asking people to accept on good faith these claims of being able to sing and play guitar. So here you go: not one, but two free live recordings that showcase a wide array of instrumental etudes, dynamic anthems and ballads, lots of pretty ambient loopscapes...and - at last! - my long-awaited first foray into acoustic techno (it's track #1 on Live At The Grizzly Room if you're in a hurry).

Like all of my music so far, these recordings are freer than Peter Pan. But if you feel like throwing a couple of gratitude bucks in the MG Carpal Tunnel Prevention Fund, there's a Paypal donate button on my myspace page. :) Enjoy!
http://i147.photobucket.com/albums/r290/michaelgarfield/Front_Cover.jpg?t=1236302838


> Writing

I just had one of the most inspiring conversations of my life with Laura Faeth, author of I Found All The Parts: Healing The Soul Through Rock 'N' Roll. We spent over an hour on the phone talking about everything from the law of attraction and vocal analysis, to archetypes and occult symbolism, to shamanism and sound healing, to deity yoga and the sacred responsibility of rock musicians. You can get ahold of it here:
http://www.realitysandwich.com/sites/realitysandwich.civicactions.net/files/imagecache/large/lauralp.jpg
Do so. It's worth your hour to hear what she has to say about the healing power of rock music. And if you're even a tiny bit web-savvy, I'm sure she'd be grateful if you would digg the interview so it'll get a bit more attention from other people.

And AAAGH! I'm so fricking excited! Reality Sandwich FINALLY published my epic essay on exploring mythology and sacred geography at Burning Man 2008 as a feature on their front page:
http://www.realitysandwich.com/sites/realitysandwich.civicactions.net/files/imagecache/large/burning+man+fashion+small_0.jpg

Thank you all so much for your time and attention...have a beautiful day, and don't ever hesitate to write!

love
Michael

"The future is already here; it's just unevenly distributed." - William Gibson

-----

PS: For those of you not already swamped, here are some of my other recently-published articles:

Reality Sandwich: Indecent Proposal
Could a federally-funded endangered species derivatives market be the next step in conservation?

Visionary Music @ Colorado Music Board: Tanya Tagaq & Kronos Quartet's Brilliant Collaboration

Another reason to raise your voice and hands to the heavens and praise your chosen creator for the technological infrastructure of postmodernity: thanks to air travel and the internet, the world is now overflowing with amazing musical collaborations that were simply impossible even a few years ago.

Visionary Music @ Colorado Music Board: Visionary Instruments - Not Quite A Piano, Part 1

Sometimes, innovation produces an instrument so radically new that people are hard-pressed to even describe it in familiar language. Most of the time, though, new ways of making music are more or less variations on what already exists - the piano, for example, evolved from the harpsichord, which evolved from the organ. Since then, generations of geeks have made it their personal mission to reinvent the piano from the inside out, or apply pianistic techniques and concepts to different instruments entirely.

Fretbase: Boss RC-50 Loopstation: Flawed But Glorious
Guitar pedal companies are known for hyperbole, but Boss’s claim that their flagship live sampling pedal is “the best live looping tool ever built” is simply insane. Nonetheless, it’s the best I’ve ever been able to afford…certainly the best under $1000, and the best you can find without resorting to rack-mounted or software-based systems.

Fretbase: Squiggly Frets Deliver Superior Tone
For years, my violist girlfriend and I have been engaged in the “frets vs. fretless” argument - whether the relative ease of playing on a fretboard makes up for losing the ability to adequately control intonation. Now, it looks like we’re both wrong.

Fretbase: Controversy Continues Over Use Of Endangered Tonewoods
Blogger Brendan “Goofydawg” Delumpa, citing luthier Terry McInturff’s thread at TheGearPage.net, recently boycotted the use of endangered tonewoods (like Brazilian Rosewood) in new instruments. It amazes me that anyone could reasonably disagree with this, but some find these woods too beautiful to care.


05 March 2009

Review: Doomstar!'s Colors

Originally published at Performer Magazine.


Roaming, Reverb-Saturated Trip Rock

Colors, Cambridge, MA psych-rock outfit Doomstar!'s latest release, is an epic and outrageous debut – even though it clocks in at under half an hour, with half of its track listing devoted to miniature ambient interludes.  From the first note, the band carries listeners on a sweeping, sometimes-deconstructed music-scape that turns and lurches, leaps and falters across a terrain of moments held together by the slimmest thread: Doomstar!'s tonal consistency was my only clue that one minute's free-time ambient wanderings and the next minute's driving hard-rock were the work of one band. Rhythm comes and goes in waves, the drums less responsible than the guitar for holding a groove...although generally speaking, it is rhythm, not melody, which defines this album. The sparse vocals are so drenched in reverb, so quietly mixed, that they play support even when it seems they should be front and center. It's all the more confusing, since these are lovely harmonies and fascinating lyrical fragments getting lost under the tires. But the intense tin-can atmospherics are obviously central to Doomstar!'s aesthetic, geared more toward rambling psychedelic experiments in sound than the grandiose Radiohead anthems to which half of these tracks allude. And after a few consecutive listens, the "listening to a rock band playing down a hallway and through a wall" vibe started to hook me. Ultimately, I decided this music is subtler and more evocative than I'd first recognized. Colors is perfectly captured by Adam Bach's album artwork:  somehow both ethereal and percussive, faded and intense...somewhere between the garage and outer space.

Key Track:  "Helicopter Pilot" develops well in spite of a constant beat, riding the energy from expository guitar chords through key changes, solos, and marked changes in mood (edgy and anxious into surf rock peppy and hopeful).