So, its been a long while since I last made a blog entry or even thought about this thing for that matter. Its shaping up to be a pretty random collection of entries. It started with an opinionated essay-like piece about emotion and experimental music, then a fan zine type piece about Zach Hill, now I’m going to write about what has been keeping me so busy: The Shoshin Music Project.
Initially, the idea of Shoshin (a Japanese word meaning “beginner’s mind”) came from reading the book Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (1970). It had a quote that I liked: “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” The reason why I liked this quote so much is, applying it to music, the idea intrigued me that one can return to a state of mind where the canvas is totally blank (or in aural terms: totally silent), where there are limitless musical possibilities. It may seem that musicians and artists create this way but we are almost always starting with and building on some set of stylistic tendencies we have developed over time. Before a musician even picks up his guitar for instance, there is music already there: the song he played last, the melody that's stuck in his head that day, the rhythm he has been tapping with his foot, etc. Musicians, artists, human beings as a whole for that matter are not designed to create from nothing. We build on the past. We take what already exists and change it, tweak it, combine it with something else. For the avant garde artist concerned with doing something new, however, it becomes important to think from nothing: not building on what’s already there but tearing it down and truly starting over.
When I concocted what was to be the Shoshin Music Project, I had this vague creating-something-from-nothing idea but the project had no flesh and bone yet. Then, I came back to an old idea I’ve had for a while: through limitations we see new possibilities. This may seem contradictory at first. It is indeed a little paradoxical. The idea came to me I after being introduced to a film actually, by Peter Bogdanovich called Targets (1968) in a cinema of the 60’s class. Bogdanovich was given by Paramount some Boris Karloff footage from one of his last films and asked to “make a film around the footage.” Bogdanovich was initially stumped by the challenge. What was a director in the 1960’s to do with classic horror film reels that no longer seemed relevant or scary for that matter in today's world? In the modern world of the 1960's in which one can walk out of the house and be shot by a sociopath on a shooting spree, are dracula and frankenstein really that scary? With this thought in mind, some classic horror reels, and some money from Paramount, Bogdanovich made a film starring Borris Karloff that juxtaposed the now impotent and phony classic horror genre with this more real kind of horror that we see on the news and read about in the paper every day. Hollywood and reality collide in a very thought provoking film that would not have occurred to Bogdanovich had he not been tasked with making “a film around the footage.”
So, from this the idea came to me: that starting with a unique set of limitations like that of Targets can create something potentially interesting, that would not have otherwise occurred to the artist. This is basically the premise of the Shoshin Music Project. The project will raise funds for Wood Craft Rangers, an afterschool program in LA that teaches music to middleschool students (among other activities). The funds will be raised with a compilation album and a live benefit show. A group of about 20-30 musicians will be formed that will then be split up into smaller groups (mp3s will be traded online most likely) that will contribute tracks to the album. Each group will be assigned or create a "game," a set of limitations to work within for the sake of creating something unique. Some examples of these “games” as we’re calling them, include: write something using only 3 notes, only use one guitar string, beat must change every measure, use instruments in unintended ways, just to name a few. Through these different writing processes, every track on the album should be unique and distinct from the average song, while still accessible to the greater alternative music community.
If you have any interest in participating in the project in any way, please contact the creator of this blog or go through the facebook.