Andi State

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Some of you may have noticed a few changes on my website. It’s been some time since I did any content addition. Life, the bigboss, has taken over my time for the last year. However, I was able to give a fresh coat of paint, by way of some gorgeous photographs by the beautifully talented Andi State.

I love her work. I knew it the first time I saw it, thinking “oh, that’show you take photographs.” When I dream of being a rockstar lens-master, I usually imagine myself filming films like Christopher Doyle, and taking pictures like Andi.

In fact, prior, we hadn’t known each other officially. We had many mutual close friends, and I kept seeing her different projects and artistic sensibilities pop up here and there. I approached her, and she’s been wonderfully kind in letting me use some for the website. Since then we’ve shared wine and laughs. Love watching her make art.

Go check her work out here:

http://www.andistate.com

and follow her on instagram @ andistate

Thanks Andi!

Gradient Descent

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A new piece following the similar path of inquiry that I’ve traveled before and that fully maintains my interest, if all the while still eluding my understanding. That being, the malleable nature of time and how we perceive and latch onto different durations, events, whether they are given to us, or if they are purely subjective. In parallel to the multiple planes of temporal activity, that we experience in daily life, from checking our phones every 5 minutes, to the slowpoke of a transit transport, to the seemly slow solitude of a remote jungle sanctuary, which in turn has it’s frenetic high-paced anxious activity.

The piece is called Gradient Descent.

Listen to it HERE

And please take a look at the score, even if you don’t read music, it’s as pretty as a tide-pool, HERE.

Have a wonderful day.

A.

Tiny Toones Documentary

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I’m extremely grateful and thrilled to be part of this wonderful project. The amazing Arestia Rosenberg is making this lovely short film happen. Documenting a Cambodian hip-hop school that helps disadvantaged youth stay on the straight line. It has a moving personal story at the centre of it and I really can’t think of a better project to direct our efforts towards, as one that shows how the arts, music, dance, can improve individual’s, and communitie’s lives. Check out the short video of Arestia giving the low-down, and please help out if you can. All donations help.

I am especially moved by this project for many personal reasons, not least being the fact that I regard music and arts, to be an extremely undervalued component in the development of an individual’s life, as well as on a more macro level in its effect on society at large. I am someone who benefited greatly from the introduction of music in my life, while I was most certainly not underprivileged, I did find direction, humanity, peace and enjoyment when I began to immerse myself in the arts. These personal traits, obviously, quite often lead to successes in many other aspects of life. If we are all musicians, dancers and painters, I have no doubt the world would be a better place. Finally, this documentary feels like a return to my origins, because, my first real musical love (aside from Michel Jackson of course), was Hip-Hop (we just called it rap back then). And for many years, I tried to stay on the vanguard of this new musical development. As I began a more theoretical a serious study of music, as opposed to just professional listening,  I eventually began exploring other styles of music, and Hip-Hop and I parted ways. Not with any resentment, just that I had found that there was so much musical world to see, and life is only so long. So it is with a bit of nostalgic joy and happy poetic coincidence , that I return to work on the music of a documentary that is about helping kids enrich their lives through Hip-Hop, essentially what it did for me many years ago.

If you can help out with any financial support, that would amazing. I am volunteering my time, as is much of the western crew, and the money raised will be going towards paying the Cambodian team their fair wages (Cambodia has a blossoming  film scene), rental of equipment, festival applications, and, of course, a donation to the school to help with the excellent work they’re doing. Please take a look, and if you can, support,  if you don’t have any extra cash to spare, please help spread the word via your social media streams. Thanks so much.

Alex

watch the introduction HERE

Electric donations

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Any purchases, of any of my music, from my site/bandcamp (low prices but you are able to pay more if inclined) will have 30% of the the sum diverted to a Vietnamese charity for children. A close friend’s spouse works for ‘Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam’, so I have chosen this organization, because they are local, feet on the ground, and I have personal contact and know they are doing good work. (www.hscv.org) All proceeds will be officially documented and verified for the donor.

I have a record of soft moody piano music coming soon, as well as an ambient album of electronic textures, also soon to be finished in the next few months. But you can also by singles from my bandcamp store.

In the meantime, here is Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint (1987) for lots of guitars.
http://alexformosa.bandcamp.com/track/electric-counterpoint

Henry Cowell and bus rides, and a new piece of music.

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New Musical Resources by Henry Cowell is one of my favourite books. I remember circling paragraph after paragraph, jotting notes and ideas wherever I could find free space, the ideas seemed to spring out of nowhere simply from reading this small old classic. I wrote all through that book, most likely in a lovely pencil manufactured by the Lee Valley company of Great Britain, that I had purchased from a bookbinder I had worked with. She knew all the cool tools. I still have a few of those Lee Valleys left.

Most of that scribbling was done on the public transport of Montreal to and from the University of Concordia. Bundled in winter-wear, I began, reading that book, to feel the beautiful bumps and valleys that arise out of the layering of sound units who occupy different temporal realms. It seemed more natural, in the sense that related actually to nature, quite more so intact than the human being constructed  marches and waltzs and boom-baps, and 4s to the floor. The resulting ‘chaos’ of overlapping time units seemed much more in accordance with birds flying over trees, who in turn are surrounded by bushes, who then underneath have a line of ants parading their way to achieve some task.

That book was the greatest to me at the time. Henry Cowell was a pretty cool guy, who helped other cool guys like John Cage become cool. I like that.

Here’s a new piece most definitely indebted to those cramped pencil handed bus and metro rides through the province of Quebec, when some ideas came.

Listen to it HERE

Check out the score HERE

Indie Rock workshop.

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So I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be giving a summer camp/workshop for teenage musicians in Hanoi at the excellent YoungHitYoungBeat academy (click the name for more information) . It’s going to be focused on ensemble/group playing, in the context of rock/pop format.

One of the difficult aspects of learning an instrument, isn’t necessarily the acquisition of technique, but the acquiring of musicianship skills that can only really be experienced and understood when one interacts with other musicians. Playing with other musicians is one of the great, if not the best, way to learn how all the time you spent practicing alone manifests itself in the real world. Unfortunately, many young musicians don’t have an outlet to make this happen. Sometimes it merely depends on luck. If your friends are musicians, or if there is a practice room available, or maybe there isn’t enough free time in your day.

I was lucky as a young musician, and I had a friend, who lived close, and we found time most days of the week to play music together. It was, without a doubt one of the most influential times in my musical career, and exposed me to many of the ideas, concepts, and strategies, in music making, that simply can’t be acquired by oneself alone. Of course if one pursues music at a post-secondary level, the opportunities become more plentiful, but the joy and learning of “jamming”, and writing music, of improvising, making mistakes and then correcting them, shouldn’t be reserved solely for the later years.

I will be offering this class for teenaged musicians, of any instrument/voice, who have already acquired some basic musical skills. While I will of course address the subjects of technique and theory, our primary goal will be to have fun, as a group, and become aware and comfortable in the roles of our ensemble, and the individual parts which we bring to each piece of music.

The format will follow a familiar progression that I have used in university ensemble courses. We will divide the class into different ensembles. The size and number of ensembles will depend on the registration. Every week throughout the camp, we will work on a new song, with each group presenting to the others the following week. At the end of the camp, each group will select the piece(s) they feel best about, and we’ll have a little concert.

I’ll be creating a list of the music to play. Most of the tunes will come from the  genre we call Indie Rock, as much of this music lends itself well to different interpretations, and there will be a wide variety of samples to choose from. Meaning, that the aim of this camp is not to necessarily challenge yourself on the difficulty of a songs parts, but to grow your skills of playing in a group. There will be easy two-chord songs, and there will be multi-part odd-time difficult tunes. Each group can choose something that suits their level. Again, the primary goal will be to develop one’s listening skills, rhythm (in relation to others), dynamic control, and of course, the inter-personal skills required to help realize and produce a beautiful piece of musical art.

While the pace will be dependant on the levels of the students, I will also be addressing arrangement and compositional techniques. Which will first start out as composing an alternate part for your own instrument (i.e. an alternate bass line that stays within the confines and aesthetic of the tune). However, if these exercises work well, we will also approach songwriting/composition, and in this case, hopefully present some original tunes for the final concert.

I’m really looking forward to this. Small group playing is one of the great joys in the musical life, and it will be exciting to work with some of the exceptional young musicians of Hanoi in developing some beautiful new skills, and make some great music.

Alex

A Boat On Stilts

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I know a woman who is phobic of boats. Not travelling on them, nor the sight of them. In fact, she quite enjoys the pleasures and nature of nautical travel. Her fear  was unique, it came from being in proximity to a dry docked vessel. Specifically the hull, and especially when it was raised, as is common for many sailboats to be placed during the stormy quarters of the year. What lurked behind this phobia? From personal experience, as a severe arachnophobic myself, I am quite aware at the difficulties in articulating the irrational nature of a phobia, to others, as well as to myself. The optics of raising, removing a boat from water, to be retired is a strange sensation. Most likely, very few of us have seen this, yet we have seen the before and after. The former, the natural ease with which a ship sits in water, floats and sways, masts gently signposting the waters temperament, moving in lateral rhythm, is a natural vision, cognitively sound, and so common-place that it often barely induces a break in our consciousness or stream of thought. A boat in the water. What could be more normal? The latter however, a boat on land, conjures a sensation, I’m sure it varies in degrees for different individuals, but its more uncommon circumstance surely stimulates at least some intellectual or emotional activity in the mind. The most common, and obvious analogy is that of a fish out of water. Our most likely image of this in our mind, is of the fish flapping helplessly on the deck, as its last few seconds of life wind down. It is a strange sensation to see this at first. One year in my youth, I worked as a deckhand on a commercial fishing vessel, The Serenade, doing the Salmon run in northern British Columbia. I had to become, very quickly, mentally equipped to smacking the animals, and watching, or as it eventually turned out, ignoring, their dying moments. With a boat however, we do not watch it die. Most of us at least. Yet many of us see a retired watercraft, and contemplate the life it may of had. There seems to be a peacefulness in the communication happening between our imagination and a retired, rusty old ship. In contrast to a crashed aircraft, a boat on land has been placed there, and has transformed into a place of memory, a giant wooden, vehicular diary. It is no wonder that the term ghost ship, is such an often used and evocative label.

I know of another woman, who has a boat on her property, it is small and covered in a blue tarpaulin, surrounded by lush Pacific Northwest greenery. Its owner has passed away, and the boat sits, alone, on stilts. A ghost ship, helping to liaise  with the ghosts.

Here is a new piece of music http://www.alexformosa.com/portfolio/a-boat-on-stilts/ 

Here is the score:

boat-on-stilts-full-score

drummer

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Seb is a drummer for a hardcore band in Hanoi, Vietnam.

This is his tattooed back, bashing, pounding, sweating away, playing furiously well. This is his back deconstructed by triangles.

drummer

Saturday Morning Chant in Hanoi

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Every Saturday morning, from across the small street in front of my house, before some large steps that descend at the edge of the lake, I wake up to the peaceful chant of a small group of folks paying their respects to the Buddha. I sit and have coffee beside them, but am too put-off by the idea of photographing or recording them. So this is all I can provide.

 a-di-da-phat

© Alex Formosa