Archive for the 'limitations' Category


authority, meet responsibility

Last year, I took photos of many shows in the Minnesota Fringe Festival.  I planned to do the same this year, but was concerned about potentially tightening photography restrictions, or “helpful” volunteers interfering.  So I asked if I should get a press pass this year, and sent along a link to the photos.  Instead, they asked me to be a floating staff photographer this year!  They already have staff photographers covering most of the venues/shows, but it would be my job to fill any gaps, to make sure there are official Fringe photos taken for every show. 

It’s frankly an honor to be asked to do this, but.  It’s a bit disconcerting as well.  My photos are no longer just for my amusement, and that of whomever might look at them.  They’ll be OFFICIAL.  I’ll have some actual responsibility to the subjects.

This shouldn’t be a Bad Thing.  I know I’m capable of quality work, and I was invited to do this based on the strength of my previous work.  I think my concern isn’t about the quality of my photos so much as whether this newfound sense of responsibility will lead to unnecessary caution or second-guessing.  I don’t want to try to be perfect. Photography, at least performance photography, is a hard realtime process.  A moment happens, and then it’s gone, never to return or be perfectly restaged.  It’s risky, and photographing performances well requires accepting the risks.  I don’t want to be cautious.

edit: I’m even second-guessing my decision to discuss my feelings about this on a public blog. That’s not good. It’s a variation on what Burroughs called “the Policeman Inside”, I think. Well, I’m determined to leave this up, just to thumb my nose at myself. Or something.


simple is hard!

I recently got my first bicycle in many years.  I started out looking for a road bike, but discovered single speed and fell in lust, then tried fixed gear and fell in love.  This isn’t terribly surprising, given my predilections in other areas.  Fixed gear has great immediacy.  You can’t just coast and stop thinking about what you’re doing – if the bike is moving, the pedals are moving.  And because of this, you need to plan ahead some – slowing for lights so you don’t need to stop completely, building up momentum for hills, etc.

Last night, I told one of my bandmates about my new bike, and the joys of fixed gear riding.  I said “Isn’t it just the kind of bike I’d get?”  And she said, “Yes – as hard as possible!”  To this, I replied “Simple is hard!”  And fixed gear is the simplest kind of bike there is.


recordings, and Flatland

Lately, I’ve been recording an album for a friend.  This has me thinking about the recording process, and how it’s similar to photography… namely, that both are very limited representations of the event they are trying to capture.  Obsessing over “accuracy” when making recordings of any sort is somewhat irrational, because recording itself is so relativistic.  What, exactly, constitutes “accurate”?  Put two different microphones in front of a guitar, get two different sounds… and neither sounds the same as listening to the guitar in the room.  Likewise, what the guitarist hears is different than what a listener hears!

In photography, the distortions and misrepresentation are more obvious, so I think they’re a little more tolerated.  But audio recording?  Why does anyone think this sounds “real”?

The residents of Flatland had no idea that they lived on a two-dimensional plane in three-dimensional space.  But we do, sort of.



I like manual controls on my tools.  Manual cameras, manual transmissions in cars, footpedals rather than rackmount electric guitar effects, a Unix shell rather than a Windows GUI.  I like interfaces that do what I tell them to do, and don’t do what I don’t tell them to do.  I don’t like machines doing the thinking for me.  I’d rather make my own mistakes. 



Over the last couple of years, my primary instruments have drifted to steel guitar and hand percussion, rather than straight acoustic/electric guitar. I’ve also become much more active in group performance, rather than solo.  This means that I’m often taking a supportive and decorative role, playing fills.

There’s a real art to playing good fills.  The goal is not for the fills themselves to be interesting, but rather to decorate and enhance the primary voice of the performance – the singer, other soloists, the rhythm, whatever is central to the music.  So it’s important to contrast the primary voice, rather than competing with it.  Play in the gaps.  And don’t overplay! This can be a real challenge as an improvisor… resisting the temptation to play too much. 

I find it difficult sometimes to fill the gaps rather than playing along with the melody.  That’s because when we hear the song, we hear the melody.  As improvisors, that’s where we hear ourselves.  But if that’s what you DO when playing fills, then you’re probably overplaying.

Phrasing and coloration become very important, too.  Do you want to extend the harmony and rhythm, or reinforce it?  And voicing matters… you should play in a range that is not competing tonally with more solidly rhythmic instruments.

And, uh… when I started writing this I thought I had a point.  But I guess I’m just dancing about architecture.  Sigh.



The other day, the Feng Shui Ninjas had a limited rehearsal… only Justin (percussion and accordion) could make it.  So Justin and I had some time to discuss where we’re going musically, and art in general.  One problem we discussed a lot was completion… turning an idea into a finished product.  Part of it applied to the Feng Shui Ninjas… we rehearse most weeks, yet after a year, we have yet to play a real public gig (parties and cons don’t count), and really, I don’t think we’re capable of an hour’s worth of quality, uninterrupted material we play well.  We do play well, and have a lot of fun, but our rehearsals are unfocused, a mile wide and an inch deep.  We need a real repertoire, not just random ideas.

Justin highlighted the problem when he realized he says he’s “going over to Dave’s to jam”, rather than saying he’s “going over to Dave’s to rehearse”.  It’s an important distinction.  We jam a lot, and that’s fun, but it’s not really solid rehearsal, and the results show.  We don’t complete our playing.

And it’s not just this band, either… I have a huge stack of recordings that I’ve started but haven’t finished.  Justin has a novel he’s been neglecting.  It’s hard to get from the point  of playing with an idea, to the point where it’s really polished and ready to share with the rest of the world.  Good enough for my pleasure isn’t the same as good enough for an audience’s pleasure.

Need to complete more things.


The perfect is the enemy of the good

This is another motto that’s been on my mind much lately (albiet mostly in political contexts).  It’s all over art, and is one of the curses of G.A.S.   If you get too caught up in trying to be perfect, you lose track of simply being good.  It can actually PREVENT productivity… worrying that it’s not perfect is a perfect excuse for hiding your work away, from others and from yourself.