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Tom Pile - Running Dog Music

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One door closes, another one opens

So I asked:

"Five elements. Two versions of each element. How many possible combinations are there?"

The question arose out of seeing Cunningham's Split Sides at BAM last night. The final NY performance of the world's most celebrated dance company was bittersweet - profound and earthy, mysterious and straightforward - in typical Merce style.

Split Sides is one of the more popular later works, partly because of the collaboration with Radiohead and Sigur Rós on the music score, and partly because of the way that the chance operations that were so fundamental to Merce's approach are brought right out on stage. The official video is available on Netflix and Amazon, and contains several possible sequences. It works like this: the sequence of the dance, the music, the costumes, the sets, and the lights is determined just before the dance starts by five tosses of a die. In other words, when the die is thrown for the dance, and even number means the 'A' portion of the dance goes first, and an odd result means that the 'B' portion goes first. And so forth for the sequence of the rest of the elements. 

The program told us that 32 possible combinations existed, but we didn't have the math skills to prove this out, so I asked for help from people who actually might understand the math. Henry punted [it was Saturday night after 11 pm, after all] and Robert responded at 3:00 in the morning with a series of cogent questions, pointing out how incomplete my framing of the question actually was:

1. How many elements per "combination"? 2? And saying five elements with two versions of each is really just saying 10 elements, mathematically speaking.

 2. Also, is element1 + element2 counted as a different combination from element2 + element1?

 3. Also, can two of the same element together be considered a combination?

To be fair, Henry actually responded later with the correct mathmatical formulation of the problem, which is 2^5, or 2 to the fifth power. Seems so simple when you know what to ask. Robert has graciously pointed out that I should be embarrassed that I could not put 2 and 2 together, as it were. He's right, of course, but I'm profoundly glad that my son is smarter than me. I probably learned this in 8th grade algebra and promptly forgot it. Use is or lose it.

Since I was losing sleep over the question, I got up early and spent a couple of hours working it out visually for those of us who are slow learners. Below is a picture of the 32 possible combinations [click to enlarge]. By the way, other than Robert Swinston's failure to take the bow he so deserves, the version that we experienced last night seemed absolutely perfect. The Cunningham legacy will live on, thanks in no small measure to the way he opened the eyes and ears of so many people around the world. Always looking ahead to see the future before the rest of us could even imagine it. Always living in the present. Always listening carefully to the sound of silence.



"Where do you come up with the ideas for your music?"

I got this question from a middle school student whose teacher is an old friend who had shared my Murakami promo with her class.

I thought I would share the answer with you.

Fantastic question, Cameron, and it's the all-important one. I could get all big-headed and say that I'm only the medium, and that I just allow the universe or the spirits or God to speak through me, but I won't :-)

It's really much more practical than that.

Music is a very special language, because anyone can understand it. Babies in the womb understand it. Everybody, and I mean everybody, values music in some way. The sources are infinite, and there are innumerable ways that people use this special language to express things that words cannot say.

I recall riding to work one morning many years ago on the back of my friend's motorcycle, in a sleepy daze, when suddenly everything in my ears - the garbage truck's crusher, the traffic, the subway train passing beneath, the wind, the motorcycle, the radio in the car next to us - all at once, I realized that every single sound belonged there, and that I was experiencing a symphony, and it all made perfect sense. At that moment, I finally understood what John Cage was trying to get at when he wrote his famous and controversial piece, 4'33". Music happens always, everywhere. You just need to be able to stop and tune in.

Here's a picture of my studio. I spend a lot of time in that chair just tuning in. There is no end to ideas. You can see the all-important coffee mug on the right.


When I sat down to write the music for 1Q84, I remembered that motorcycle moment, because the opening scene of the book, where Aomame is trapped in a traffic jam on a Tokyo expressway and needs to escape to get to an appointment, reminded me of that magical sense of possibility. The rest was easy.

Software and tools. Much less important than learning to work with what you've got [you've got everything you need to make music in your own body] but here's what I use:

ProTools, GarageBand, Audio Recorder, Super Looper, Jack Pilot, WireTap Studio, and XO Wave for mastering. CamelCrusher, CamelPhat, and Alchemy for sampling and processing.




Uniform Motion

Fantastic! Independent artists with a vision, a plan, and metrics! Too many young artists approach the creation of their work as something completely separate from any other kind of business venture, as if they don't really want to make money from their endeavors, as if passion were enough. This band's approach takes passion as a given, and layers on carefully considered elements of communication, clarity, care for their fans and for the larger community of artists and creators, and immense generosity of spirit. 

The old Balinese saying on my homepage applies here: We have no art. We do everything as well as we can.



engineers and musicians

Talking with Robert about the state of the world we're handing over to the next generation, I expressed some relief that there seems to be some recognition on the part of young people today that the challenges they face will only be met through hard work, serious study, and tremendous ingenuity.

"Kind of makes me feel guilty about the choice to study music," he said.


We need music now more than ever. Music calms the beast, ignites the soul, and unites everyone through a common language that is pre-verbal. What are all those engineers going to listen to on their brainpods or genephones or whatever it will be that they will use to connect to everything everywhere?

I sent him this drawing courtesy Hugh Macleod along with some banana bread and told him to get back to the woodshed.

He has much work to do. 

Thinking Out Loud

Allright, I'm going to do it. I keep fantasizing about it, so I better just kick in and do it. 

I am going to write and record a new track every day in September; 30 tracks in 30 days. I'll be sending them out daily to subscribers and will compile them into a nice little collection at the end of the month. 

Little is right. I think that short will be the key here - 30 to 60 seconds long. Don't know how this is going to work when I'm on the road, but I have a feeling SoundCloud is going to save my ass. If you haven't checked out SoundCloud yet, some smart kids in Berlin put it together a couple of years ago, and it's been growing exponentially this year.

Stay tuned.


Solaris, the epic science fiction novel from Stanislaw Lem that inspired the slightly less inspiring movie of the same name some years back, is finally out in a direct-to-English translation, and Audible has it. It was my great honor to do the music for this one, and I came up with a perfect score, edited nicely by Rick Bradley.

Check out this preview


Evelyn Glennie is the first symphonic percussionist to have an international solo career, including Grammy awards, a year-round performing schedule, and an appointment from the Queen of England as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Evelyn Glennie has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12, which means that she can't hear anything quieter than a jet engine. She plays barefoot so she can listen through the floor.

In her TED talk a couple of years ago, she talks about listening with the whole body. What she has to say can not only help you take the boredom out of practicing an instrument, but has profound implications for the way one approaches life in general. Listen when you have a chance, and maybe she can help you learn to listen with your whole body.


Is the Ipod Generation missing out?

question [from Mahalo]: Is the Ipod Generation missing out on listening to music properly? Is music better with big speakers instead of tiny earphones?

What makes music good and gives it value is the experience that is created in the mind and heart of the listener. Whatever helps to enable that connection with the spirit of the singer, musician, composer, ensemble, or band is also a good thing. For some, that experience may be delivered through $3.00 earbuds, for others, it comes through gold wires connected to $30,000 speakers. You could be sitting in the front row at the Blue Note or in a drum circle deep in the Brazilian rainforest and have equally transformative experiences in either place. The place, the technology, and the equipment can contribute to the enjoyment of music, but none are required. The question of what is better assumes a value judgment that you are free to make when deciding for yourself what it is that floats your boat, but it's not a value judgment that you can impose on others. Is there a proper way to listen to recorded music? In my opinion, there are as many proper ways to listen as there are listeners.


Merce Cunningham opened the world for those who worked with him and for countless people around the world who experienced that work. The influence he wielded with Cage and Rauschenberg and other major artists is well-documented, but I do not think he was much moved by his own reputation. Merce was really all about the day-to-day dedication to excellence and the attention to the details of the moment. Today’s work always trumped yesterday’s. Over the years his company and his studio provided incredibly rich opportunities to thousands of dancers, musicians, artists, teachers, administrators, designers, and technicians. I had the good fortune to make music in class at Merce’s studio for more than 16 years. It was a daily opportunity to dig deep into my own wellspring; to turn over the rocks in my soul and make something useful out of whatever I found underneath. Horrible failure and mysterious beauty happening all at the same time, and often I couldn’t tell which was which. Merce’s work was like that: profound and baffling, immediate and cool, irritating and sublime, enigmatic and pedestrian. Often all at once. He made us think different, see different, hear different, and feel different. We will not forget.

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