Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: April 2009

29 April 2009

Novelty, Brush Play, & Frolicking At The Last Hurrah

> Music

I can't remember the last time I was so excited about prematurely showing off new material...but my newest tune, "You Don't Have To Move," is in many respects the proof of principle for my fantasy of weaving guitar tapping/percussion, live looping, singing, mystical poetry, and electronic delay effects into a single piece of music. This new video shows a song still slightly wobbly on its feet but – to my knowledge – totally unprecedented in the entire universe of human music. That's right:


You can download the mp3 for free at myspace.com/michaelgarfield.

> Imagery

available - 2009 04 17 Sail Inn (Delta Nove) - 16"x24"
I finally broke down and bought some paint brushes, along with a weird, flexible paint chisel called a Colour Shaper that doesn't hold paint but simply pushes it around. Finally expending my sole can of white spray paint and dabbling with the Colour Shaper, I laid down a verdant background for this piece before Delta Nove's recent show at the Sail Inn. Their manager BJ Cochran was cool enough to hook me up with opening slots for them during their two AZ dates as well, although having me play my music before a garage funk band turned out to be a comically awkward mismatch. The above image is what happens when I drink and paint. Gin and tonic, in case you were wondering.

available - 2009 04 18 Orpheum Theatre (Delta Nove, The Brothers Gow) - 15"x30"
I had the honor of opening the very last concert at this historic and beautiful venue in Flagstaff before painting for "D-No" and local badasses The Brothers Gow. For the first time ever I actually used a foam brush during the actual show to apply deep and luxurious gold columns to either side of this chakra column, then layered new metallic pens on top of that before my teal pen exploded everywhere, ruining my composition. With most of the show already over, I had to totally re-envision the painting and ended up with the spinal column peeking out through the gate of vegetation. It ended up working, I think...I'm all for layers. This piece was especially difficult to photograph because of the multiple different metallic paints...

available - 2009 04 20 Goathead Saloon (Great American Taxi) - 16"x24"
Oh man, Vince Herman and his band were a pretty perfect group to be painting for on 4/20. Their song catalog is one ode to toking after another. In spite of the limited lyrical repertoire, those guys can really jam...which made working on this piece a lot of fun. I had prepped it by laying down the metallic gold and white tentacles first, giving them shape and detail and context over the course of the night. I had originally intended them to be ferns...yes, some ferns are gold. Or at least appear to be. As it came out, though, I like what this painting doesn't show as much as what it does.

available - 2009 04 24 Mondrian Hotel (Pere La Chaise) - 16"x24"
For the first time ever I used the fat-tipped black marker as an eraser early on in the composition of this one, and consequently the bottom half is matte black but the top half is glossy black. Hard to tell from the photo but in person the effect is bizarre. I had the 4/17 Delta Nove painting displayed immediately adjacent to the canvas this night, and this painting records another first: the first time I carried the design of one painting directly into another, like bookends. Of course, after an evening of improvisation the resemblance is a lot looser than it was at the start. There's a strange transformation in the triptych of this piece, in the passage from the rising elements below into the bubbles above. What is happening behind those rows of hexagons? Are we looking at one layer, or several?

> Press
I've been getting a modest amount of positive press recently.

Tyler Groover at Austin music blog TwoGroove.com had some very nice things to say (including that he's trying to rally people to get me to move to Austin).

Trevor Harden selected my electronic track "...And The World Rushes In" for a recent weekly feature on his music and spirituality website, RockOm.net – for which I provided a tidy explanatory blurb that in which I linked nondual philosophy with found sound percussive textures.

Art Nouveau Magazine out of Atlanta gave me a nice little spread in their reader's art section.

And the Scottsdale Chronicle published a very...um, factual feature on me – that diced what I thought was a very engaging 45-minute interview into incomprehensible fragments, but hey. At least now everybody knows I have an imaginary friend (?).

> Links

If I don't tell everybody about this stuff, it's going to drive me crazy. Here are some news items I think everybody should know. Hopefully you agree.

60 Minutes just did a segment on cold fusion entitled "More Than Junk Science." They took a look at this supposedly discredited branch of energy research and found that in fact, there are over a dozen independent research labs all over the world that have succeeded in creating room-temperature tabletop nuclear reactions. I can't stress the importance of this enough...we're talking about not just the end of oil, but the end of ANY energy monopoly, here. Not nuclear reactors. Not hydrogen fuel cells. Once this technology finally gets out in force, everything we know is going to change, completely. Strangely enough, CBS yanked this video soon after posting it...but due to public outrage they got it back online. Goes to show you that the age of trying to hide such important technological progress from the public is (almost) over.

Kamal Meattle of Delhi, pollution capitol of the universe, has found the "Three Essential Houseplants For Clean Indoor Air." Turns out that with just these three easily-acquired species you can seal yourself in a bubble and get by just fine, breathing clean and fresh plant exhaust.

Stuart Brown studies play for a living and has made a great case for "Why Play Is Vital – No Matter What Your Age." If this video doesn't convince you to approach your life differently, you're already as good as dead.

And this is so true it hurts, so thank God it's hilarious: "Everything's Amazing And Nobody's Happy" – Louis CK on Conan O'Brien, bemoaning how kids these days are spoiled by convenience, completely oblivious to the miracles of modern technology.

15 April 2009

YOU'RE The Musician; YOU Make Some Noise!

(continued from part one)

I have been consumed by thoughts regarding the changing role of the artist in our culture. As I started to mention in my previous essay ("The 3-2-1 of Musical Performance"), there are – even in the narrow and unimaginative relationships between contemporary musicians and their audiences – at least three different depths of intimacy, three different lenses through which the rules of performance can be observed. The performer, in recognizing the audience as Impersonal Other (It), Personal Other (You), or Self (I), projects radically different characteristics on the concert environment.
This can be intentional, but usually artists naturally settle into one of these three perspectives and become known for it. (To give you a taste of what I mean, imagine the distinctions between playing to a room full of uninterested strangers, or friends, or family, or alone, or as worship...now imagine taking each of those various perspectives on the same group of people. It's a fantastic exercise in developing fluid perception.)
This is the kind of thing I rattle on about to whomever I can capture in my word-sphere, trying to coax from them new aspects I haven't recognized. I brought this stuff up with my girlfriend the morning after live painting at a huge rave outside of Phoenix. One of their MCs spent most of his airtime asking how many of us were fucked up, and how many of us were really fucked up, and complaining that we weren't making enough noise, and try again, make some fucking noise!

Never mind that as someone more immersed the jam band scene and its hippie-noveau mentality, I can't imagine actually volunteering to announce that I am on drugs. Never mind that I was questioning the musicality of the entire event when I found out that one of the headlining DJs, apparently by playing the same stuff I'd heard in a dubious Scottsdale nightclub the evening before, had been voted #4 in the US (our desiccated monoculture should be evidence enough for the dangers of democracy).

The real sticking point was this:

As a passionate defender of individual autonomy, someone who bristles up when a DJ's robotic vocal sample insists, "I – control you! I – control you!," I'd rather zip my lips in revolt when some obnoxious dude with a microphone tries to play audio-puppeteer. I believe it is the urgent duty of anyone blessed enough to be amplified before a crowd to at least attempt to express some understanding of our common identity. And this guy clearly didn't get it.
My girlfriend, once a symphonic violist for the Topeka Symphony and thus coming from a much more formal tradition of stage-theatre interaction, put it well:
"YOU'RE the musician; YOU make some noise!"

On the one hand, this is exactly the assumption that I as a songwriter would like to challenge. I don't want us all relinquishing our creative agency to whomever The Machine decides is going to be The Next Big Thing. In an age when we can all produce our own books/video/music/fine art/theater, I think it's time for us to reclaim our inspiration from centralized corporate governance.

At the same time, even as an artist I prefer to let the guy on stage take the reigns for a little while. Yelling at your audience for not giving you enough applause is a tragic misunderstanding of the postmodern argument that the critic co-creates the artwork. It's an abdication of your personal responsibility to melt our fucking faces off. And it's a waste of our time – we came to get down, not to coddle your bravado. Less talk, more rock.

Of course, there are awesome exceptions to these traditional polarities – like John Cage's piece 4'33", for which a blank score is placed on the stand and the pianist (or any other musicians) just sits there while the audience starts to squirm. After a minute or two, people are coughing, shifting in their seats, sighing...and all of these random noises make up the actual performance, by an unwitting orchestra.

Cage, a postmodern philosopher and mystic if there ever was one, was making a point: pulling the audience into the performance, 4'33", is not only an intense defiance of expectations, but points out how those expectations are part of the piece, that the audience is at least half-responsible for any perceived musicality.
Sure enough, some people "get it" and some people don't, depending on who can hear "noise" as "music" and the crowd's restless soundscape as John Cage's actual musical intent. Even as he demonstrates the participatory role of the so-called "observers," he denies their total sovereignty by playing them like instruments. And he manages this without demanding that people do anything, in what is widely considered the first "noise music" composition, blurring will and accident. It's a complex and nuanced deconstruction of classical music's rigid artist-audience dynamics.
I was born thirty-two years after 4'33" debuted. It's a part of my blood, my bearing. I grew up with the fourth wall trampled into dust. Still, I don't bring my guitar to concerts so I can jam along from the crowd. Nor do I try to rape participation out of my audiences when I can't seduce them with the music. After all, learning to see the arbitrariness of our social conventions doesn't make them go away. We still all have to stop at a red light, even if we know it could just as well be blue.

But oh, how I long for the day when I no longer hear people say, "I'm not an artist. I don't have a creative bone in my body." We're all more likely to "make some fucking noise" when we have reclaimed our creative selves and can appreciate what it's like to be up there on stage, when we understand the effort and can applaud from a sense of solidarity, rather than obligation. Until that day, it is all I can do to remind people at every opportunity that we're in this boat together, even as we take turns at the helm.
(Written for Colorado Music Board.)

14 April 2009

One Heart, Many Petals...And A Few Eggs

> Imagery

available - 2009 04 03 Mondrian Hotel (DJ Maji) - 20" across

Attempt #2 at using a compass on a circular canvas to explore new territory. This one is a bit more "vegetable" and less "mineral" than the last...a more complex design, intentionally lacking in radial symmetry (numerous different radii with the compass, repeated with rules but somewhat irregularly). Tiny variations in radius due to the dulling pencil on my compass gave it a slight asymmetry, which is ultimately more organic anyway.

2009 04 04 Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre (One Heart Umbrella Campaign Charity Dinner)

I have always wanted to do more charitable work with my art – specifically, to do live painting at a charity dinner. And I finally got my chance when Mesa's Broadway Palm Theatre, under the PR direction of the amazing Gary Kimble, organized a benefit gala for Emma and Taylor Bailey. These girls were born joined at the heart, and that heart is now failing due to the stress of having to pump blood for two bodies. So Gary and company put together OneHeartUmbrellaCampaign.org (a tie-in with the Broadway Palm's production of Singin' In The Rain), where they're auctioning off umbrellas signed by a tremendous array of celebrities (including Debbie Reynolds, William H. Macy, Alice Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Josh Groban, Amy Grant, Goldie Hawn, Hugh Jackman, Jim Belushi, Reba McEntire, Geoffrey Rush, JK Simmons, Michael Phelps, Firesign Theatre, Kevin Bacon, and the full casts of every production on Broadway, just for starters) in order to raise money for their post-operation care (their separation and the double heart transplant is being donated by the surgical team). I made it very clear to Gary that I had to be a part of this, that I needed to donate a live painting to the auction. I taped an umbrella to my easel and worked on it off to the side while they put on an awesome variety show and dinner for a packed house.

At the end of the night, the Taylor's priest came up to me and suggested I offer them the umbrella as a memoir – after all, there are a ton of umbrellas already up for auction. And I did, and they took it home. So there it is...like Gary said to the crowd that night, in one sense these girls gave the biggest gift of anyone, because they gave everyone the opportunity to do good with their energies, to contribute to something meaningful. There is now a foundation to fund the medical care of children like Emma and Taylor who were born with such rare complications that no other organization exists to support them. And I finally got to do a live painting for something real.

2009 04 05 XL Men's Urban Pipeline (Community Arts Expo)

I knocked this one out while chilling at a delightful monthly event that transforms one of downtown's empty parking lots into a community art fair. It was as strange as it was charming...but only because I had no idea before coming out that most of the participants were vocal members of the LBGT community (the DJ was pounding the gay disco all Sunday afternoon, much to the chagrin of those such as myself, whose booths were set up right in front of his speakers). There was some lovely work there, though, that made the day just fantastic – my personal favorite being the dichroic glass pendants by Nick & Brent at SweetEarthArt.com.

2008 12 18 & 2009 04 10 & 11 Chipper's Lanes, Mondrian Hotel, & Tempe Beach Part (Zoogma, Pere La Chaise, & My Fest) - 16"24"

As befits my "Phoenix is Purgatory" hypothesis, I've taken the opportunity to circle back around and work on a few old paintings that didn't feel totally finished. You know, burn off some karma. This is one of them, from my Colorado tour with Zoogma last December (original painting here). If it feels a little "rain" themed, it is...my normal outdoor set-up at Mondrian Hotel was compromised by the first Phoenix rains since February. Apparently, rainstorms here are sporadic, and I kept moving my easel back outside, inside, outside...eventually just camping out between the DJ and the front door, while everyone squeezed like clowns into the bar. I finished it the next day at Tempe's gorgeous waterside park, where they were having a huge convention of non-profit organizations to raise awareness of the various programs available to benefit children. I set up next to the stage for my friend Nicole Duran's new project, RaiseTheVibration.org...the music was surprisingly angsty and screamy given the context, but the vibes were indeed high. I even got free reiki from a beautiful woman. :)

available - 2008 12 31 Quixotes (Sporque, Vibesquad) & 2009 04 11 Easter Moon (Tech Itch) - 16"x24"

Be glad I don't have the energy to give the full story of painting at this rave by the Firebird Raceway on the south extremity of town...it was a very long, very interesting night where I was set up between four other painters, some of whom where quite friendly and some of whom were strangely cold (as if that's required of someone in order to be professional). This is another act of closure (original painting here)...I went over the first night's work with a coat of spraypaint, then one of my fat yellow graffiti pens, and ended up with something that reminds me of one of the local desert flora reaching up into the psychedelic architecture of night (Seriously...what makes you think there isn't some vast, transcendental structure webbing our planet's sky? You really think that you, with your primate brain, evolved on the savannah to comprehend distances of a few mere miles, would even notice something a light-year across?)

available - 2009 04 12 Easter Moon (Daedelus, Chali 2NA, Z-Trip, Turner & Heit) - 30"x15"

Same party. The absolute freakin' highlight of my entire musical evening was Daedelus's mashup of Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" and Imogen Heap's "Hide And Seek." Oh my God, it was amazing. I'm still getting chills just thinking about it. Check that dude out if you haven't already.

But anyway, the painting...I swiped a few big masonite panels from the Raise The Vibration's area at My Fest, where they were letting people just go to town on them and paint inspirational slogans or whatever to display around the camp. At the end of the day they had a few left over so I made out like a masonite bandit. But since I went straight from there to the rave, I didn't have time to give them the typical black priming coat, so with this one I started by using my 3" black graffiti marker and giving it my first ever "brush-textured" background. It kind of harkens back to my second-ever live painting, once upon a time in Boulder. You probably can't tell from that tiny picture, but I signed it both ways so it can be hung "upright" either horizontally or vertically.

One of my best-ever live painting stories happened to me while working on this piece. Earlier that night I met the daughter of someone whose work has had a profound influence on me: Drunvalo Melchizedek, the author of The Ancient Secret Of The Flower Of Life. We got to talking and by the time I had started this painting, I had given her one of my extra masonite panels to work on. She wanted to use one of my easels but since it was already being used to display another painting I was trying to sell, I suggested she go find some twine and tie her painting to my back, so we could paint conga-train style. And she did. And we did. It was probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever done in public. Matt Brown of The House Of Flying Paint was working next to me and stopped what he was doing to walk over and give me a very curious look. "I don't know," I told him. "It's a first for me, too!"

Unfortunately, we didn't get any pictures of it.

available - 2009 04 12 Easter Moon (Rabbit In The Moon - Urban Pipeline Men's Medium)

The last act that night was the oh-so-Easter-appropriate Rabbit In The Moon, which is widely regarded as one of the finest shows in rave culture. Admittedly, their costuming was amazing, but given my fondness for live electronica, and since the flyer said "100% live show," I was expecting a little bit more than one guy on a computer and another guy shouting weird kraut-rock stuff like, "I – control you! I – control you!" over and over. That said, almost everyone was at the first stage to see them and from where the painters were set up, between stages one and two, there was very little traffic, so I got to work on this new shirt in almost complete peace.

And about the shirt: I've been thinking a lot recently about the massive global transition that I believe is coming in the next few years...I've done a lot of research into actual hard science about this stuff, astrophysics and geomagnetics, evolutionary biology, and the postmodern science of time. And as far as I can tell, there is a real consensus about something major going down in 2012, not just among the pre-modern indigenous cultures, but from numerous modern methodologies, as well. So the whole "world as egg about to hatch" thing has been preoccupying me, recently. "I'll split this shell" is a line from one of my old songs, "Time Machine Dream". The image came back around on a new octave sometime in the last few weeks, with all of the reading on hyperdimensional intelligences and chaotic bifurcations I've been doing. Plus, it seemed right, for Easter: a visual pun on the resurrection of Christ just as we seem geared up for what some people are likely to interpret as the Second Coming. It's either a happy little shirt or way too damn heavy. I can't tell, these days.

> Writing

Three recent essays from my Visionary Music Blog about the shifting self-other boundaries of contemporary music performance:

The 3-2-1 of Musical Performance

For whatever reasons, our culture has decided that we are not all musicians. Instead, a few trained (or not-so trained) specialists are expected to get up on stage so we can live vicariously through them. There are musicians, and there are spectators. But I don't think the distinction is so clear cut; we're all participants in something larger called a "concert" that requires both artist and audience in the same way that fertilization requires both male and female.

YOU'RE The Musician; YOU Make Some Noise!

I don't want us all relinquishing our creative agency to whomever The Machine decides is going to be The Next Big Thing. In an age when we can all produce our own books/video/music/fine art/theater, I think it's time for us to reclaim our inspiration from centralized corporate governance. At the same time, even as an artist I prefer to let the guy on stage take the reigns for a little while.

Playing The Body Electric, Part 1

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.


08 April 2009

The 3-2-1 of Musical Performance

For whatever reasons, our culture has decided that we are not all musicians. Instead, a few trained (or not-so trained) specialists are expected to get up on stage so we can live vicariously through them. There are musicians, and there are spectators. But I don't think the distinction is so clear cut; we're all participants in something larger called a "concert" that requires both artist and audience in the same way that fertilization requires both male and female.

Engaging An Audience - 2nd Person Engagement
To designate the female as the only creative member of that dyad is just as insane as saying that only the dudes on stage are creative...and yet this is exactly what we do. Beneath it all is a significant cultural pathology, an issue of misunderstood self-other boundaries writ large. In order to explain this, let me take a detour through a bit of my history in personal development...
In the fall of 2005, I attended a seminar on Integral Life Practice – a sort of practice-of-combining-practices that regards everything from weightlifting and Tai Chi to Gestalt therapy and Vipassana meditation as tools in a kit for people to exercise every dimension of their being. After all, there are a lot of ways to grow in "self, culture, and nature," innumerable different lines of development, and should one care to cultivate them, each has its appropriate program of possible activities, both ancient and postmodern.

Needless to say, I learned a lot that weekend about the various ways to be more intentional about my life, about how to organize my self-development activities so that they support each other, and of course how the ultimate end of all of this isn't bragging rights but a greater capacity to usher forth more truth, beauty, and goodness in the world.

But out of all of the practices and meta-practices I learned that weekend, only a few really stuck with me, percolated through my mind and become fundamental aspects of how I understand and relate to the world. One of these was the so-called "3-2-1 Process," a way to uncover and deal with troublesome material in one's psychological shadow (the part of yourself you aren't willing to admit and so can only see in "the world out there," in other people and things). The 3-2-1 Process is almost a theatre exercise:

- First, you notice an intense emotional reaction to something;
- Then, you describe it in as much detail as you can (the "3" of third-person analysis);
- Then, you imagine yourself in conversation with that thing, asking it what it might have to teach you, and whatever other questions you have for it (the "2" of second-person relationship);
- Then, you speak AS that thing, recognizing it as a facet of who you are and not some absolute other (the "1" of first-person identity).
This can be done with pleasant or unpleasant emotional reactions; you might unwind your fear of some monster in a recurring nightmare, or find within yourself the beauty of someone you envy and admire. It takes practice – and vigilance – but is one of the quickest ways I know to turn anger or fear or hatred into understanding and love.

What more, as it became clear to me in the years since, this same structure is recapitulated not just in moments of intentional shadow work but also in the entire saga of human development. We begin identifying with nothing at all, not even aware of a self. Slowly we become more aware of the world, and begin to engage it relationally. It is through these relationships that we eventually learn how the world is us and we are the world.

And here's where the music comes in.

As a performing singer-songwriter, I can identify this trajectory in the way I understand what is going on while I'm on stage. The 3, 2, and 1 of the process are three different kinds of relationships I have with the audience, three different states of being.

When I first started playing music at open mics, I would be looking out at the audience and noticing things about them ("That is obviously a wig," "Holy shit, look at that hottie," "What a bunch of drunks"), but not really doing anything useful with that information. More than helping me, it was often a distraction from what I was TRYING to do, which is "just play" – but of course, I wasn't just playing, I was PLAYING AT, trying to FORGET about the audience and pretend I'm alone in the room, playing to an insentient empty space. Even today, this sometimes happens when I'm especially nervous.
At some point, after getting used to being the center of attention (and that this is not always by their choice – especially with bar crowds, where it's pretty unlikely anyone is actually there specifically to hear me), I realized that there's a certain amount of trust and reciprocity involved in the musician-audience dynamic and I have to meet the crowd halfway in order to really entertain them. It's a relationship, and relationships require mutuality. That means if I want them to listen to me, I have to listen to them. I have to be able to read the crowd like the face of a single person – sometimes the crowd is sleepy and belligerent and trying to watch TV, and sometimes she's totally rapt and playing with her hair and trying to get you ask her to come home with you. Each person in the crowd is like a little voice in the head of that one person, and so in conversation, I can PLAY TO certain voices and draw the attention of the entire crowd by sparking something in only a few of them. (People, after all, are social-mirroring animals. If you see someone else enjoying themselves, you're more likely to join suit. And in that way it really is almost like playing to one person, like trying to persuade someone by finding out what matters to them and planting hooks in it.)
This is a more engaged, more personal, warmer way of playing. If I'm talking on the mic in "3 mode," I'm usually talking to myself. If I'm on the mic in "2 mode," I'm asking questions, looking people in the eyes, cracking jokes, keeping the energy between me and the audience lively and dynamic.

From time to time, however, even this melts away into something much deeper, something in which "2 mode" seems like the desperate manipulative bid that it often is. Because sometimes, I BECOME the audience – or, more accurately, I stop playing the music and the music just happens, and in the flow of things (if I were to stop and try to describe what is happening) the concert is revealed for what it really is: artist and audience as two facets of one event, one creative moment happening all together, one thing in its wholeness. NOT playing AT a crowd, and not playing TO a crowd, but just PLAYING.

This kind of thing, this "1 mode," doesn't happen when I am playing a song for the first time, when it's still awkward and unfamiliar in my hands and throat. And it doesn't happen when I'm trying to impress somebody in the audience – that's me not owning up to something, projecting it "out there," and trying to work some kind of voodoo to control it at a distance. (Try cutting off your hand, throwing it across the room, and willing it to pick up the phone. Good luck.) It happened first in front of friends, with old songs I knew...well, "like the back of my hand." And with practice, learning more about myself as a performer, learning more about the technical minutia that can so easily distract (microphones, monitors, tuning), learning the patterns of crowds in different venues, it happens more frequently these days.

I've found that keeping my eyes open while playing makes a big difference; otherwise I might never be able to engage and relate to the audience, much less transcend that relationship. Certainly, thinking about it helps. I enjoy making it explicit in my own mind that this is a moment of mutuality and co-creation, that I'm shaping their experience while they're shaping mine, so we exist within each other like the dots on a yin yang. Just sitting there listening (or not listening), the audience is in this sense as much a part of the music as I am, because they are the content of my experience – and what better definition of self do we really have? ("You are what you eat.")

Talking about it helps if I'm in the right crowd, one willing to be drawn into deeper awareness of themselves and their environments. Otherwise, it's more likely to alienate the audience than entrain them. I typically keep it to myself at bars.

Perhaps the most useful practice is to exercise simple, general mindfulness both on- and off-stage. The more aware we are, the more likely we are to notice that there isn't really anyone BEING aware, so much as there is an awareNESS that frequently gets lazy and divides into "self" and "other"...or artist and audience.
(continued in part two)
Stillness
(Written for Colorado Music Board.)

02 April 2009

Branching Systems, Measuring Instruments, Astonishment

> Imagery

Just Another Desert Party - available (but currently on display) - 2009 03 21 & 22 Just Another Desert Party (feat. DJs Spyder, Chromatest, Psytek, and many more), Queen Valley AZ - 16"x24"

By now, many of you know that I've worked as a scientific illustrator for the Department of Herpetology at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum since 2005 (a few years on-site, and since then by occasional correspondence). Recently, KUNHM has taken to displaying natural-history-themed artwork in their main stairwell, and when I was back in Lawrence last fall I saw an call to artists for their latest exhibition, "Branching Systems." I couldn't pass up the opportunity to display psychedelic live art at my old haunts, especially since my old professors and co-workers have little or no idea of how I've been applying my education. Plus, I have had little experience applying my training in anatomy and realism to my newer profession...so this piece, painted from 7 pm to 5 am at the burner-produced Just Another Desert Party in Queen Valley (a gorgeous desert camping area about an hour east of Phoenix), was a really satisfying cross-pollination between two epochs of my life. Here's the statement I prepared for them to use:

Branching systems are all symptoms of the universe's own tree-like structure. Ancient societies believed that the whole world was a tree - the Axis Mundi - and hundreds of years before science formalized this understanding with chaos math, alchemists had summarized it in their dictum, "As above, so below." The same rules that govern the efficient dissipation of energy play themselves out at all magnitudes: from the branching flows of river systems and electrical discharge, to the arrangement of organic molecules, to the dispersal of nutrients by our cardiovascular system, to the groping splay of the vertebrate limb, to the radiating development of new languages and cultures. A symbolic overview of evolutionary history, this painting was "grown" semi-algorithmically from a visual "genome" – but organized as a collage, to honor the non-linearity of our world's self-organizing principles.

Of course, that was a bit too much of a mouthful for them to use. We ended up with this:

Using symbolism and vibrant color, this work illustrates the ubiquitous and non-linear branching systems of the natural world. Items in this painting - wings, organs, and rivers - have unique structures and processes, yet are also creators or products of tree-like structures. This painting was composed live at the multimedia arts event "Just Another Desert Party," in Queen Valley, Arizona.

A fair compromise. If you're in Lawrence KS at all over the next couple of months, go check out the Natural History Museum and its Branching Systems Exhibit, which features plenty of other awesome art by local artists including my very inspring buddy Yuri Zupancic.

Vacuum Trellis - available - 2009 03 25 Pussycat Lounge (Joe DiPadova, World Famous rani "g," dk.strickler) - 16"x24"

Another in a series of attempts to evoke vacuum/field interactions and how pattern arises out of emptiness by the self-organizing overlay of vibrational patterns. Of course, as unified field theory physicist and total badass Nassim Haramein constantly reiterates to those of us less insightful, the vacuum isn't empty, but infinitely full! This isn't the greatest picture but I started with "wafers" of black on black and built it up from there. My favorite part about this piece - as in much of my work - is how minor imperfections in the symmetries of the first layer feed forward into increasingly significant and obvious asymmetries when I start adding other colors - how those first triangles, not totally equilateral, ended up warping all of the straight lines and windows later in the painting. It's a very organic feeling and a constant challenge to the process, which makes painting without measuring instruments an ongoing experiment, as well as an artistic language for the physics story of how our universe emerged from "broken symmetries in the vacuum."

This club was awesome, by the way - lasers all over the place, and a live trumpet and saxophone playing along to the DJs all night (what a great idea!).

Compass Mandala 01 - available - 2009 03 27 & 28 Mondrian Hotel & The Grizzly Room (DJ Maji & Cameron Martin) - 20" across

So I finally gave in and used a compass for the first time, starting with a symmetrical grid like my friends Kris D and Krystle Smith. While it was on the one hand kind of a pride-swallowing moment and also somewhat dissatisfying in light of my above statements about loving to explore asymmetries, on the other hand I feel like this piece has a psychoactive effect that really obviously and instantly puts it in a class of its own next to the rest of my work. It was a frustrating painting for most of the process, totally uninspiring and mundane. But I'm very pleased with the way it came out, once I started overlaying straight lines and crystalline structures over all of the interlocking circles and shot some warmth and whiteness through the blue to give it a sense of self-illumination. In the name of including and transcending additional techniques, refusing nothing in the name of creative development, I indent to do more circular canvases, more compass work, and to continue to investigate new ways of expressing these subtle orders. Stay posted...

> Writing

Lastly, I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who's been so damn patient with me, waiting for the author-read audio version of Giving In To Astonishment, my essay on sacred geography, mythology, and shadow work at Burning Man 2008. You can finally listen to and download the "audio book" here:


In the spirit of Burning Man's gift economy, I highly encourage you to share this with your friends, mix it into DJ sets, whatever.

As usual, thanks for your time. If you have any questions about this work - or about commissions, custom apparel designs, music, evolutionary dynamics, or anything, email me. And have a beautiful day!

love
Michael