Four Sentences - Caroline Shaw's Partita for 8 Voices

If you were transported to this place both alien and familiar, a garden untended by smooth fingers, free of understanding or interpretation, a place of pure feeling, then upon the instant of arrival, incapable of logic or reason, you could become the well into which this rain of music falls, dumb and stone-still as the waters pour over past the boundaries of your head.

If you could think, you might decide in such a state that the inaccuracy, the inadequacy of our words to define anything is underscored, and although you may later assign educated guesses and approximations - Apollonian, delineated, fundamental, visceral, novel, warm, and so on - you are at the moment enveloped in sound and free from both the ability and the desire to identify or argue some causal or even correlative relationship between the stimulus and the complex of feelings which result with seeming irresistibility.

And leaving here maybe you’d retain that sense of fullness, that spilling over, as you’d once again fall stupidly, helplessly in love with this world, and in that abstract, unrealistic way in which you occasionally develop a crush on some far-off celebrity, you fall for the woman who brought such beauty into this world, a woman you know so little about, but who sings to this broken and suffering place which so desperately needs what her music supplies: harmony.

Perhaps in a dream your eyes could meet hers across some crowded room, and then diverge, never to cross again, and you would be O.K. with that, as your lives are separate scripts written by disparate playwrights, and you’d be left with clear gratitude that such beauty still may come into existence, as well as the fullness of believing that to have lived even a moment in her eye in a dream could have been to have lived forever in that garden, greenest of the green.

Nonmusic, Pt. 1

Non-musical components have always been included in musical compositions. To go beyond the boundaries of normal or acceptable parameters in an art form is to explore, it is akin to scientific experiment, takes courage and commitment, and when most successful, the attempt can shed light into the dark corners of the soul. Whereas philosophy also often takes as its subject the intricacies of human nature, it seeks to evaluate its findings, in contrast to art, which is revelatory.

In a series of theoretical essays which I will post here on my blog, I will attempt to set down a theoretical basis for the inclusion of such components, including definitions of relevant terms, structural functions, procedures, a conceptual framework, along with some examples and quasi-philosophical method of evaluating preëxisting work.

When complete, the essays will form a larger whole, which will be a unit within a larger music theory manuscript. The sections within the unit consist of the following:

Section 1:

Linguistic: Prefix considerations - naming conventions (a-, anti-, non-)

Definitions: music, rhythm, melody, harmony; nonmusic, nonmelody, nonharmony

Purpose - why nonmusic: outside of normal or acceptable parameters, derangement

Structural Functions

Section 2:


As a conceptual framework

As a set of procedures

Section 3:

Evaluating nonmusic in music criticism

Relation to common practice and examples

Aleatory music

Noise music

Field recordings

Unreliable Narrator

Each of us is the unreliable narrator of our own lives. After all, it’s easier to see and judge the actions of others than it is to do so for ourselves. Some of us are our own best friends, some of us are our own worst enemies, none of us are to be trusted.

Especially don’t trust me when you read my prose ramblings. Like you, I am the unreliable narrator of my own life. I’m just better at writing it down than you are. That you can believe, but when I talk about plans for the future, pass unwarranted critique on things, philosophize, or generally essay anything in writing, you as the reader may never know if what I’m writing is sincere.

Sincerity in writing has its uses. It’s a device. But writing that is unfailingly sincere is tedious beyond measure. That’s why I hate so many of the songs that I hear, poems I read, and other poorly conceived work. It’s not the sincerity per se, it’s the inability to cope with the lasagna model (remember, the universe is nothing but a lasagna composed of infinite layers of meaning).

All of my work is noise. Like many children born each day on this planet, nobody wants it, but it insists on existing anyway. It has a will of its own, and you must learn to treat it as you would that gossiping cousin you can’t wait to catch up with every holiday.


For years as a teenager I focused on teaching myself music theory with as much energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail as a trekkie would expend learning the ins and outs of warp drives. I tried to take theory classes when I got to college, but was told that my knowledge would place me out of them. I took them anyway and reënforced what I’d already learned.

As a songwriter, of primary interest to me has always been a hook, or a distinctive and memorable piece constructed of words and music together. These are a dime a dozen, easily made, and it always shocks me that more songwriters in my local music scene do not incorporate such a basic, entry-level method of making their music listenable. The majority of bands around here seem to have no concept of what a hook is, how to construct one, or how to incorporate it into a song’s design, and most of the ones who do write asinine, saccharine hooks that only the most unsophisticated listeners would find moving or compelling.

Even worse are the high-school journal keeper types who insist upon emoting their humdrum lives in song in a way that would better serve the world in the privacy of therapy. Greenville, South Carolina abounds with these types of musical dross.

If you’re reading this, then of course you’re excluded from all of the above blanket statements. You wouldn’t stoop to crafting such trite, forgettable, and meretricious nonsense, now would you?

In spite of a theoretical background (or perhaps because of it, who can say for sure?) the concept of noise, specifically when defined as unwanted sound, has always appealed to me. There is a perverse, transgressive pleasure in defining all of my sonic output as noise. It frees my guitar to howl like Allen Ginsberg on crack. (I don’t know if Ginsberg was ever a crackhead, but in my Mirror Universe, “crack” is the hypothetical fuel of all the wild and wonderful poetic crazies of history, the bards, the shamans, the heretics, the martyrs, the visionaries.)

It also frees me to make whatever I damn well please, as what I make is allowed to come into the world without regard for whether it suits the taste of anyone, living or dead. All of it comes through, be it angelic or demonic, and all of it is noise, foisted upon an unwelcoming world.