/page/2
Mimicry makes us feel as though we are more than what we actually are through fantasy, pretense, and disguise. Our ancestors, as they danced wearing the masks of their gods, felt a sense of powerful identification with the forces that ruled the universe. By dressing like a deer, the Yaquir Indian dancer felt at one with the spirit of the animal he impersonated. The singer who blends her voice in the harmony of a choir finds chills running down her spine as she feels at one with the beautiful sound she helps create. The little girl playing with her doll and her brother pretending to be a cowboy also stretch the limits of their ordinary experience, so that they become, temporarily, someone different and more powerful - as well as learn the gender-typed adult roles of their society.
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pg. 74
And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns.
The twentieth century will be chiefly remembered by future generations not as an era of political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.
– Arnold J. Toynbee

Methodological Pedestrian.

It is common accepted practice to define oneself in a particular line of thought, to categorize one’s thoughts as linearly drawn from a specific thinker/school, and to attach a name to what it is you are arguing. But is this not fundamentally skewed? I mean, can one link the Nietzschean aphoristic style to the rise of jazz music? Of course one can make such an argument, just as one can argue that the form/approach of jazz is derived from Mozart.

It is logically arguable, but phenomenally absurd. This is especially so when we examine the history of ideas. No ideas are new. There are just ideological revolutions that rearrange age-old thoughts in ways that express the sentiments of an era.

In a way, we are all just pedestrians in the world of ideas. That we are to snap pictures. The picture that most moves the many is the arrangement that wins. The most persuasive that is.

Method, then, is of focus. For method gives birth to schools. And schools, perhaps define eras.

The difference between a rich man, a ruler and a celebrity is something like this:

A rich man collects cattle and hoards of grain, or the money which stands for them. He does not worry about men; it is enough that he can buy them.

A ruler collects men. Grain and cattle, or money, mean nothing to him except in as far as he needs them to get hold of men. He wants, moreover, living men, whom he can make die before him, or take with him when he dies. He is only indirectly concerned with those who lived before his time or who are born after it.

A celebrity collects a chorus of voices. All he wants it o hear them repeat his name. As long as there are enough of them and they are versed in his name it does not matter whether these voices belong to the dead, to the living, or to the as yet unborn.

– Elias Canetti, Crowds & Power, p. 397

Movement of Thirds.

A single note is too isolated.
Two notes are too murky in character.
Three notes defines a chord. 

It is interesting to think about the nature of a chord.  It is often the case that a chord is defined by the root, third and seventh.  Why is it that a chord is defined by three notes?  Or put differently, what is it about the movement of three that invokes a sense of harmony?

The notion of three most visibly plays out in the triangle.  In Euclidean space, the three interior angles of a triangle will always add up to 180 degrees.  Now what’s fascinating is what happens externally.  The sum of a triangle’s exterior angles, one for each vertex, is always 360 degrees.  A circle.  Now, a circle implies motion because there is no beginning and no end.  It is just movement.  The cycling of chords, then, makes sense when examining it through the geometrical consistency of a triangle.  Or to say it in reference to music, one third is meant to move to another third.  Hence we find the movements of harmony, rhythm and melody (which is one basic way of understanding music).

Let us take a step back then.  What can a three teach us about the gathering of people?

A single individual is too isolated.  One cannot survive alone, nor can one commune.  Two individuals can have that element of communion, yet there is no one to help stop them from splitting apart nor that other perspective to deepen and push what they already have together.  In other words, two can be too intense without a buffer.  Three, however, is the lowest quantity one needs for community.  If one goes too far, there are two to bring him back.  If the group is stagnant, then it only takes one to push.  Ideally speaking, it is a dynamic flow of power that has no starting and ending point.  The goal then would be to keep its motion steady and contained within the circle.

Some sketches of three:

The holy trinity in Christian thought.  The trinity is often spoken of as the ideal concept for church community building.  It isn’t necessarily that the doctrine of the trinity offers a blueprint for how churches ought to be run, but it’s rather that three conveys fellowship.  In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the trinity is likened to an eternal dance between father, son and holy spirit.  Is it not fascinating that two are presenting in human form and the third in a metaphysical form that is mean to surround the two?  Or perhaps in another sense, that the spirit is that which binds and intuits between?

States of matter.  It is my assumption that humans intuitively grasp three because we intake and outtake in threes as well: solid, gas, liquid.  We eat, we breathe and we drink.  Or in another sense, we shit, we fart, and we pee.  These three states of matter are fundamental to us not just as human beings, but as the core center of our molecular make-up.  Like water, these three phases are always in flux and they move circularly.

The jazz trio.  The trio has always been the most demanding combo in the jazz tradition.  It almost always implies the meeting of three strong individuals who bring their own tailored sound to the group.  It is the conversation of this group that is most exciting to listeners.  The trio is just big enough to convey a full sound to the audience.  Rhythm, melody and harmony are all presented.  But the trio is also small enough to make musical exploration more accessible.  To break free of forms and musical constraints is much easier.  For example, if we can split up the three musical elements of melody, rhythm, and harmony into saxophone, drums and bass respectively, it only takes one melodic riff to break the harmonic structure and for the rhythm to follow suit.  And of course, not one must always lead these changes.  Any of the instruments could inspire a fluctuation.  Or even in a deeper sense, all three can somehow change together without intention.

A company method:

Three can be split into the following areas: creative, communicative, commerce.  It is the movement of the three together that defines not just success, however one may define the word, but also collaboration.  Not just innovation, but community.  Not just the strengthen of individual skills, but fellowship.

In One, Find All?

About a week ago, I was featured on iamkoreanamerican.com.  It’s a cool project that features various korean-americans that submit a mini-profile from all over the country (and a number of those overseas).  In writing my little blurb, I was reminded of a few things I experienced while living in Chicago, the Austin neighborhood of the west side.  According to those wonderfully horrid urban planning fact sheets, it was a predominantly black, low-income community where most were on some form of state welfare.  Stereotypes, now enter.  Negative images of black folks, on.  Not trying to point the finger though.  I mean, you should’ve seen my face when I first moved into my neighborhood.

On an honest note, the neighborhood was aesthetically discouraging.  Broken glass on sidewalks, park fields… trash left on the streets… and unhealthy amounts of noise.  The toughest thing to stomach was thinking about the kids who had to grow up in such circumstances.  But you know, ponder a step deeper and you start to ask those peculiar questions.  Broken glass, why are folks drinking so much?  Trash, why hasn’t the city’s garbage trucks rolled through yet?  Noise, what are people really trying to say?

An old pastor of mine once said to me, asking questions gets in the way of faith.  What a tragic thing to say.  But I guess that’s what makes heaven so appealing… you don’t have to consciously walk through hell on Central Avenue.  Life is cool when you cruise on by.  You just glance, and drive on.

I walked into church one morning.  There was a seminar of some sort.  Black man sitting on his piano bench, shoulders rested, hands fluid.  He sang, he sang, he sang.  Thrusts from the throat, diaphragmic vibrations, vocal trills.  Take a step back.  Praises, cries, wails, yearnings… silence.  Perhaps it was a step deeper.

“Did you feel that?”

Nods, all at their own tempos.

“What you feel… is the struggle.”

Never got to play music much growing up.  We were one of those families struck with the immigrant dream, yet flailed with its american backhand.  Call it bad economic timing, poor planning, lack of ingenuity… But I’ll call it the woes of unrestrained capitalism.  When you look at those U.S. income level sheets, we were what society would call “poor”.  It’s unfortunate, that same society should also have a subjective happiness meter, we would be what you call “fuck this game, we know joy”.

Mama loved to sing.  She had a song for each situation I was in.  When happy, when sad, when frustrated… and my favorite, “mommy sohn-eun yahk-sohn” for when my stomach hurt.  Even though she could only sleep two, maybe three hours… she sang.  She sang because she needed to, we needed her to.  You should’ve been there.  They say music most closely resembles spirit because sound is merely compressed air.  It quite literally passes through you.  And after it does, it dissipates.  My home was a sanctuary.  Saturated, drenched.  My dad may have been the priest, and a powerful, soulful one at that.  But my mom was the curator.

The green line train runs from downtown Chicago to the west suburb, Oak Park.  My stop, Central Avenue, is about 2 stops before that.  In other words, I lived in one of the most heavily policed areas of the chi.  The barbed fence of handcuffs, batons and flashing lights, I like to call it.  One day, as I was spending extra time riding the trains so to avoid swimming in the humidity, I looked out and saw something … something ecstatic.

Children dancing.
Meat grilling.
Elders sitting.

I got off and walked over.  Before I knew it, I was pelted with water balloons.  Better drenched in cold water then humidity i guess.   What was really beautiful was that an urban geyser had been created.  Folks had shoved a wood board up on a fire hydrant, held it there by wrapping an old tire around it, and cranked it full blast.  In my mind, it was as if God had sent a special cloud full of water and showered the street corner.

Three cars parked, all amping the same radio station.  And yes, we were dancing in the streets.

.

I am korean-american.  But I figured that out while dancing on Central Avenue.  I realized why my mom needed to sing, why my neighbors had to dance, why that black man sat at the piano.

I discovered something profound, or perhaps peculiar.  The more I was myself… the more I owned up to my own narrative, my family’s history, my parents struggles, my community’s well-being… the more I was able to relate to those Central Avenue dancers.  The more I had reason to dance.

In essence: the more particular I am, the more universally human I become.

So you know what… fuck this whole conceding who you are because others don’t want to be uncomfortable.  Be who you are.  And make others respect that.

Dance, so others may dance.
Sing, so others might sing.
Feel, so others can feel.

Music is Deeper than Philosophy: the Robert Glasper Trio

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a show at the Regatta Bar featuring the Robert Glasper Trio.  Already, I sense the futility of trying to write about such an experience.  How does one even begin to write about something so inherently subjective?  Music, after all, is experienced in a way that is supposed to provoke emotion and imagination.  Even if there is a singer who spews lyrics at you, the very fact that these words are drenched in tone, rhythm and cadence makes it something uniquely higher than the content one can reasonably decipher.  In short, music is supposed to be felt, not reasoned.  That said, I will attempt to do exactly what is against that.

The dynamic trio, featuring the revolutionary Chris Daddy Dave on drums and the scholarly Vicente Archer on bass, grooved furiously, gently, and playfully.  I was utterly blown away by both the caliber of their musicianship, but also their reach to draw in the ordinary listener.  While working out complex rhythmic and harmonic concepts, they also knew when to settle down into a deep groove (signified each time by the synchronized head bobbing fluttering through the room).  In short, they were fresh, hip and accessible.

But rather than fully diving into the intricacies of the night (something I probably can’t do anyways because it’s all memory, factual or constructed), I want to talk about what I felt and what I thought.

I have a weird obsession with Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  It’s a simple, ordinary art-form that uses everyday materials that you would probably pass on the street: flowers, branches, stems, etc.  One takes those ordinary materials and arranges them in a particular way in order to provoke the beautiful and the joyful.  For example, if one has three flowers to work with, one must arrange them in such a way that each looks most happy.  In essence, the Ikebana artist is not an “artist” in the popular sense of the word (one who fashions, manipulates, creates out of blankness), but rather is a curator of sorts.  A museum curator manages different works and aligns them in such a way that presents a mood.  The curator is perhaps one that arranges space in between different works.  In a similar sense, Ikebana is just that: the art of managing space.  One must place these raw material objects next to each other in a way that displays the right amount of room.  These empty spaces are meant to convey the sense of movement.  Yea, soak that in.  The sense of movement.  Whatever that means to you, at the very least, it sounds dope.

So in a random way, but also not really… I just thought about Ikebana for a large part of the night.  It was just a trio.  So even physically speaking, there was a lot of empty room in between each other.  And musically speaking, each player gave the other just enough room to be themselves and to express what they felt the music was saying to them.  Now of course, it’s what happened in between these players… and in between these musical expressions that made the show exciting.  The easiest musician to point out was the drummer.  As the bass laid down low and simple patterns, the drummer would shuffle, almost in a schizophrenic way, through various rhythmic ideas.  Some samba here, funk there… and dilla everywhere.  He understood time so well… that he made it elastic.  Right before our very ears, he created beautiful, rhythmic dissonance.  And to me, it was that constant searching that moved me.  That posture of loving the present groove, but also simultaneously letting go in search for the next one.  This is jazz at its highest: not a musical style, but a disposition.

As the drums would flair, Glasper was right there on the keys… coating and interlocking with the rhythms.  It was a perpetual conversation.  It was pure vibe.  You go where the music goes.  Or in more accessible terms, you talk to each other without an agenda.  You let each voice build the feelings of the moment.  This was a communal affair.

What I love about Ikebana is that those empty, in-between spaces are inviting.  They ask us as viewers to imaginatively engage.  Those spaces give us a sense that something dynamic is happening.  They are still and subtle rooms exploding with rhythmic vibrancy.  Or in other words, they give us a sense of life.  And it is exactly those spaces, the ways that they provoke us, that allows infinite room for engagement and creativity.  This is what the trio did for me, for the room… and probably for each other.  They created beautifully dissonant spaces that treaded in between genres and styles.  And if I can be presumptuous for a second, it is probably because they know that those spaces are where the fresh and the hip emerge.  After all, is not jazz about that very space?  Is not jazz about the senseof movement?  Jazz is about dialogue.  It is about individuals engaging in authentic, harmonious expression… together.  A lesson for democracy right?

Jazz is not genre.  It is a method, an approach.  It is about loving the moment… being in it, dialoguing with all that is around it.  It is also about wholly letting go of that which you love.  And it is about doing that over and over and over again.

The last tune of the night was Glasper’s FTB (I think).  As the band settled into the pocket, Glasper hit play on his ipod.  The house speakers wavered as three speeches shot through: MLK’s “We Shall Overcome”, Obama’s election night speech, and a snippet of Cornel West.  The room was silent.  It was a breathing silence.  History, vision, hope… all threaded together with the struggle.  And most importantly, the sense of the work to continually be done.

Obama’s voice ceased.
The band faded.

And a voice…
Music is deeper than philosophy.  In the end, we finite creatures, we don’t have a language or even a linguistic eloquence that can begin to be fully truthful to the experiences that we have the short time we’re here in time and space,” says Cornel West.

We need sounds, we need tones, we need silence in between notes.

The sense of movement.

the Sampler, the Sampled & the Sample

i had a good conversation with a friend of mine the other day.  it was mostly about what it means to create, to be a part of a collective and/or a network.  much of this conversation was centered around the difference between organizing a group of people as a collective, which requires much more commitment and self-reflection within a community setting, and a network, something that is more loosely based and organized based upon the needs of a certain project.  now of course, much of the time, these two understandings share many traits.  and often times, it’s hard to distinguish between the two.  but for me, a collective is defined heavily by method.  to pursue a project as a collective, the decision-making and organizing principles rest upon profoundly democratic principles.  not just that each person has a voice and an equal weight to their opinion, but also that there is some sort of shared basis, a common vibe between all the involved individuals.  a network, on the other hand, is much more malleable in that it can be hierarchal, democratic, whimsical, etc etc.  the point is… a collective is much harder to maintain and more fruitful (in my opinion) to be a part of… at least in a long term sense.

so when thinking about what this means for the production of art… we hit an interesting hill.  if i may assume that a good work of art rests on a continuity with a given community, experience, and/or group that is couched in everyday experience, then we have a pretty cool departure point from where we can think about collective art production.  it illuminates the difficult process of creating a work that is both honest/authentic to who you are and where you are situated as well as to the wider aesthetic sensibilities roaming about in the wind.  in short, it’s particular… but in its particularity, you may perhaps hit at something humanly shared.

so i guess at this point, some examples are needed to demonstrate what my friend and i were talking about.  a most pertinent example would be the hip-hop movement.  now i’m not talking specifically about top40s… i’m mostly referring to 80s.  i’m talking about a particular cultural movement that arose from the neighborhoods of new york.  i’m talking about the origins of a multi-billion dollar, global phenomenon… which happened to come from a bunch of kids who society predestined to not produce anything of worth.

we’re talking about that guerilla perspective, graffiti.  that body rock, breaking.  that grammar-interrupting flow, rhyming.  and that streamin melodic rhythm, djing.

now what hip-hop presents to me… the gift that its given to the world… is a modern (perhaps postmodern?  who knows what these terms even mean anymore), contemporary aesthetic.  hip-hop music, after all, is really an aural collage.  the use of multiple samples from various sources.  the juxtaposition of dynamic rhythms.  the open space left for the improvisational to happen.  the form of hip-hop… is about framing these intersecting complexities.  a gift from jazz… and a direct child of the jazz movement.  you create a form that frames all these various sources into a space where something is supposed to happen.  you place certain restraints.. but only dynamically so in order that the unknown is more readily accessible.  in other words, dissonance is harmonically framed in such a way that beauty is its offering.  but we must remember, beauty doesn’t mean clean and tidy.  the beautiful is a subjective description of the persuasive.

hip-hop is a contemporary aesthetic.  if you listen closely to the grooves coming out of nyc jazz clubs, they’re in dialogue with it.  they have to be… or they’re not relevant.  if you pay attention to dance… the striking movements of hip-hop are seething through.  these are of course sweeping claims.  but these are also my personal opinions and experiences.

what makes hip-hop so interesting is that it presents a new form of communication that expresses vast amounts of information in severely limited and constrained amounts of time.  perhaps a lesson for us youtube/googled-out folk.  sure, this could be a bad thing.  sure, maybe we’re losing our ability to focus on one thorough text.  sure, soundbites are no alternative for deep, prolonged listening.  but perhaps this is an indication of how we are processing information today.  and let us remember, most folks were never able to read anyways.  much of what we know as “history” is an oral narrative passed from generation to generation.  so maybe we can see this as a challenge for a new era.  maybe we ought to bring ourselves up to the task of figuring out new forms that harness this current internet-based sentiment.  in short, we should take a cue from hip-hop and move forward.

of course, i speak of hip-hop in its ideal sense (if there is one).  i love to hear the stories of how these dj’s got started at house parties.  i love watching ciphers on street corners.  i love to watch those young artists mark their place in the urban landscape through painting on trains, walls, and the like.  i enjoy it… because it produced a culture.  one that is potentially fruitful and damaging.  but powerful nonetheless.

hip-hop had a particular origin.  it came from an oppressed folk who slowly saw their dreams and opportunities crushed by the national machine.  and in the face of the tragic, they chose to create.  they chose to bring forth a new attitude.  a “fuck you” posture of living.  and it was in speaking from and through those particular spaces… that they hit at something profoundly human: freedom?  love?  justice?  fairness?  hopes?  who knows.  but whatever it is… it can’t be ignored.

is hip-hop dead?  perhaps.  whatever its life-status… there’s an aesthetic that we need to learn from.  and continue to unpack.

Han & Jung

Han:   long suffering without alleviation
          birthpains, but with no birth? 

Jung:  brotherhood
          that feeling when one meets a kin 

Arirang is Korea’s national song.  Or more precisely, it is Korea’s folk musical form.  Akin to the American Blues, the song structure, on a harmonic and rhythmic level, expresses the push-and-pull, to-and-fro of the Korean experience.  It is common knowledge that a song can express the culture and sentiment of a people.  Arirang in particular takes its song form from the natural structure of the mountain passes of Korea.  The ups and downs of their circular paths evoke a sense of infinity.  But if infinity is a movement, what is the content of such passings?

The past 100 years of Korea’s history is a dark tale.  The Japanese Occupation, the Korean War, the bloody road to democratization.  It is a melancholic tapestry, to say the least.  The stories that mark themselves as the blue threads come in many sizes.  One thing is to be held common: separation.  In a country marked by Jung, Han claims supremacy.

It is the Han of being stripped of culture, of family, of roots:
…the Japanese stripping our language by forcing Korean youth to speak Japanese in schools and building their administrative building in front of Korea’s royal palace, a symbol of Korea’s nationhood.
…the politics of the red scare, the liberation movement of communism using Korea’s peninsula as a playground, separating brother from mother, daughter from father.
…the military coups of Korean military dictators unsympathetically beating their own into subservience.
…the exodus of thousands into the promised land of America, that foreign fortress holding the keys to peaceful living, only to find that it means the sacrifice of one’s tongue. 

Han is the one that has lost her way.  She finds herself in strange lands, one of hyper-modernization glossing that which pained before and one of alien hands that give opportunity and strip it simultaneously.

Jung, today, finds itself intricately interwoven with the immigrant experience.  We are alive in a time where being Korean finds itself hyphenated.  We are Korean-American, Korean-Italian, Korean-Brazilian.  Jung, today, is that feeling I feel when entering a Korean restaurant in Rome, to find those that have shared similar experiences to my parents, though it is two oceans away.  It is a certain feeling of understanding and camaraderie, even though we live far separated from each other.  It is also that close-knit feeling of those I meet in church each Sunday.

I write today as a Korean-American.  I write as one trying to tie one land, one tongue, one dream to the other.  The Arirang I know is faint.  It comes by way of a silent grief.  It is a song I am hungry to uncover.  It’s tones and cadence I feel through the blues and jazz, yet I know those are not fully mine either.  I search as a man trying to make sense of the Han my mother carries, that my father buries.  And I look for a way to bring Jung and Han back together again.

The Jung of Korean-Americans must meet the Han of Korea.

Mimicry makes us feel as though we are more than what we actually are through fantasy, pretense, and disguise. Our ancestors, as they danced wearing the masks of their gods, felt a sense of powerful identification with the forces that ruled the universe. By dressing like a deer, the Yaquir Indian dancer felt at one with the spirit of the animal he impersonated. The singer who blends her voice in the harmony of a choir finds chills running down her spine as she feels at one with the beautiful sound she helps create. The little girl playing with her doll and her brother pretending to be a cowboy also stretch the limits of their ordinary experience, so that they become, temporarily, someone different and more powerful - as well as learn the gender-typed adult roles of their society.
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pg. 74
And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns.
The twentieth century will be chiefly remembered by future generations not as an era of political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.
– Arnold J. Toynbee

Methodological Pedestrian.

It is common accepted practice to define oneself in a particular line of thought, to categorize one’s thoughts as linearly drawn from a specific thinker/school, and to attach a name to what it is you are arguing. But is this not fundamentally skewed? I mean, can one link the Nietzschean aphoristic style to the rise of jazz music? Of course one can make such an argument, just as one can argue that the form/approach of jazz is derived from Mozart.

It is logically arguable, but phenomenally absurd. This is especially so when we examine the history of ideas. No ideas are new. There are just ideological revolutions that rearrange age-old thoughts in ways that express the sentiments of an era.

In a way, we are all just pedestrians in the world of ideas. That we are to snap pictures. The picture that most moves the many is the arrangement that wins. The most persuasive that is.

Method, then, is of focus. For method gives birth to schools. And schools, perhaps define eras.

The difference between a rich man, a ruler and a celebrity is something like this:

A rich man collects cattle and hoards of grain, or the money which stands for them. He does not worry about men; it is enough that he can buy them.

A ruler collects men. Grain and cattle, or money, mean nothing to him except in as far as he needs them to get hold of men. He wants, moreover, living men, whom he can make die before him, or take with him when he dies. He is only indirectly concerned with those who lived before his time or who are born after it.

A celebrity collects a chorus of voices. All he wants it o hear them repeat his name. As long as there are enough of them and they are versed in his name it does not matter whether these voices belong to the dead, to the living, or to the as yet unborn.

– Elias Canetti, Crowds & Power, p. 397

Movement of Thirds.

A single note is too isolated.
Two notes are too murky in character.
Three notes defines a chord. 

It is interesting to think about the nature of a chord.  It is often the case that a chord is defined by the root, third and seventh.  Why is it that a chord is defined by three notes?  Or put differently, what is it about the movement of three that invokes a sense of harmony?

The notion of three most visibly plays out in the triangle.  In Euclidean space, the three interior angles of a triangle will always add up to 180 degrees.  Now what’s fascinating is what happens externally.  The sum of a triangle’s exterior angles, one for each vertex, is always 360 degrees.  A circle.  Now, a circle implies motion because there is no beginning and no end.  It is just movement.  The cycling of chords, then, makes sense when examining it through the geometrical consistency of a triangle.  Or to say it in reference to music, one third is meant to move to another third.  Hence we find the movements of harmony, rhythm and melody (which is one basic way of understanding music).

Let us take a step back then.  What can a three teach us about the gathering of people?

A single individual is too isolated.  One cannot survive alone, nor can one commune.  Two individuals can have that element of communion, yet there is no one to help stop them from splitting apart nor that other perspective to deepen and push what they already have together.  In other words, two can be too intense without a buffer.  Three, however, is the lowest quantity one needs for community.  If one goes too far, there are two to bring him back.  If the group is stagnant, then it only takes one to push.  Ideally speaking, it is a dynamic flow of power that has no starting and ending point.  The goal then would be to keep its motion steady and contained within the circle.

Some sketches of three:

The holy trinity in Christian thought.  The trinity is often spoken of as the ideal concept for church community building.  It isn’t necessarily that the doctrine of the trinity offers a blueprint for how churches ought to be run, but it’s rather that three conveys fellowship.  In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the trinity is likened to an eternal dance between father, son and holy spirit.  Is it not fascinating that two are presenting in human form and the third in a metaphysical form that is mean to surround the two?  Or perhaps in another sense, that the spirit is that which binds and intuits between?

States of matter.  It is my assumption that humans intuitively grasp three because we intake and outtake in threes as well: solid, gas, liquid.  We eat, we breathe and we drink.  Or in another sense, we shit, we fart, and we pee.  These three states of matter are fundamental to us not just as human beings, but as the core center of our molecular make-up.  Like water, these three phases are always in flux and they move circularly.

The jazz trio.  The trio has always been the most demanding combo in the jazz tradition.  It almost always implies the meeting of three strong individuals who bring their own tailored sound to the group.  It is the conversation of this group that is most exciting to listeners.  The trio is just big enough to convey a full sound to the audience.  Rhythm, melody and harmony are all presented.  But the trio is also small enough to make musical exploration more accessible.  To break free of forms and musical constraints is much easier.  For example, if we can split up the three musical elements of melody, rhythm, and harmony into saxophone, drums and bass respectively, it only takes one melodic riff to break the harmonic structure and for the rhythm to follow suit.  And of course, not one must always lead these changes.  Any of the instruments could inspire a fluctuation.  Or even in a deeper sense, all three can somehow change together without intention.

A company method:

Three can be split into the following areas: creative, communicative, commerce.  It is the movement of the three together that defines not just success, however one may define the word, but also collaboration.  Not just innovation, but community.  Not just the strengthen of individual skills, but fellowship.

In One, Find All?

About a week ago, I was featured on iamkoreanamerican.com.  It’s a cool project that features various korean-americans that submit a mini-profile from all over the country (and a number of those overseas).  In writing my little blurb, I was reminded of a few things I experienced while living in Chicago, the Austin neighborhood of the west side.  According to those wonderfully horrid urban planning fact sheets, it was a predominantly black, low-income community where most were on some form of state welfare.  Stereotypes, now enter.  Negative images of black folks, on.  Not trying to point the finger though.  I mean, you should’ve seen my face when I first moved into my neighborhood.

On an honest note, the neighborhood was aesthetically discouraging.  Broken glass on sidewalks, park fields… trash left on the streets… and unhealthy amounts of noise.  The toughest thing to stomach was thinking about the kids who had to grow up in such circumstances.  But you know, ponder a step deeper and you start to ask those peculiar questions.  Broken glass, why are folks drinking so much?  Trash, why hasn’t the city’s garbage trucks rolled through yet?  Noise, what are people really trying to say?

An old pastor of mine once said to me, asking questions gets in the way of faith.  What a tragic thing to say.  But I guess that’s what makes heaven so appealing… you don’t have to consciously walk through hell on Central Avenue.  Life is cool when you cruise on by.  You just glance, and drive on.

I walked into church one morning.  There was a seminar of some sort.  Black man sitting on his piano bench, shoulders rested, hands fluid.  He sang, he sang, he sang.  Thrusts from the throat, diaphragmic vibrations, vocal trills.  Take a step back.  Praises, cries, wails, yearnings… silence.  Perhaps it was a step deeper.

“Did you feel that?”

Nods, all at their own tempos.

“What you feel… is the struggle.”

Never got to play music much growing up.  We were one of those families struck with the immigrant dream, yet flailed with its american backhand.  Call it bad economic timing, poor planning, lack of ingenuity… But I’ll call it the woes of unrestrained capitalism.  When you look at those U.S. income level sheets, we were what society would call “poor”.  It’s unfortunate, that same society should also have a subjective happiness meter, we would be what you call “fuck this game, we know joy”.

Mama loved to sing.  She had a song for each situation I was in.  When happy, when sad, when frustrated… and my favorite, “mommy sohn-eun yahk-sohn” for when my stomach hurt.  Even though she could only sleep two, maybe three hours… she sang.  She sang because she needed to, we needed her to.  You should’ve been there.  They say music most closely resembles spirit because sound is merely compressed air.  It quite literally passes through you.  And after it does, it dissipates.  My home was a sanctuary.  Saturated, drenched.  My dad may have been the priest, and a powerful, soulful one at that.  But my mom was the curator.

The green line train runs from downtown Chicago to the west suburb, Oak Park.  My stop, Central Avenue, is about 2 stops before that.  In other words, I lived in one of the most heavily policed areas of the chi.  The barbed fence of handcuffs, batons and flashing lights, I like to call it.  One day, as I was spending extra time riding the trains so to avoid swimming in the humidity, I looked out and saw something … something ecstatic.

Children dancing.
Meat grilling.
Elders sitting.

I got off and walked over.  Before I knew it, I was pelted with water balloons.  Better drenched in cold water then humidity i guess.   What was really beautiful was that an urban geyser had been created.  Folks had shoved a wood board up on a fire hydrant, held it there by wrapping an old tire around it, and cranked it full blast.  In my mind, it was as if God had sent a special cloud full of water and showered the street corner.

Three cars parked, all amping the same radio station.  And yes, we were dancing in the streets.

.

I am korean-american.  But I figured that out while dancing on Central Avenue.  I realized why my mom needed to sing, why my neighbors had to dance, why that black man sat at the piano.

I discovered something profound, or perhaps peculiar.  The more I was myself… the more I owned up to my own narrative, my family’s history, my parents struggles, my community’s well-being… the more I was able to relate to those Central Avenue dancers.  The more I had reason to dance.

In essence: the more particular I am, the more universally human I become.

So you know what… fuck this whole conceding who you are because others don’t want to be uncomfortable.  Be who you are.  And make others respect that.

Dance, so others may dance.
Sing, so others might sing.
Feel, so others can feel.

Music is Deeper than Philosophy: the Robert Glasper Trio

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a show at the Regatta Bar featuring the Robert Glasper Trio.  Already, I sense the futility of trying to write about such an experience.  How does one even begin to write about something so inherently subjective?  Music, after all, is experienced in a way that is supposed to provoke emotion and imagination.  Even if there is a singer who spews lyrics at you, the very fact that these words are drenched in tone, rhythm and cadence makes it something uniquely higher than the content one can reasonably decipher.  In short, music is supposed to be felt, not reasoned.  That said, I will attempt to do exactly what is against that.

The dynamic trio, featuring the revolutionary Chris Daddy Dave on drums and the scholarly Vicente Archer on bass, grooved furiously, gently, and playfully.  I was utterly blown away by both the caliber of their musicianship, but also their reach to draw in the ordinary listener.  While working out complex rhythmic and harmonic concepts, they also knew when to settle down into a deep groove (signified each time by the synchronized head bobbing fluttering through the room).  In short, they were fresh, hip and accessible.

But rather than fully diving into the intricacies of the night (something I probably can’t do anyways because it’s all memory, factual or constructed), I want to talk about what I felt and what I thought.

I have a weird obsession with Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  It’s a simple, ordinary art-form that uses everyday materials that you would probably pass on the street: flowers, branches, stems, etc.  One takes those ordinary materials and arranges them in a particular way in order to provoke the beautiful and the joyful.  For example, if one has three flowers to work with, one must arrange them in such a way that each looks most happy.  In essence, the Ikebana artist is not an “artist” in the popular sense of the word (one who fashions, manipulates, creates out of blankness), but rather is a curator of sorts.  A museum curator manages different works and aligns them in such a way that presents a mood.  The curator is perhaps one that arranges space in between different works.  In a similar sense, Ikebana is just that: the art of managing space.  One must place these raw material objects next to each other in a way that displays the right amount of room.  These empty spaces are meant to convey the sense of movement.  Yea, soak that in.  The sense of movement.  Whatever that means to you, at the very least, it sounds dope.

So in a random way, but also not really… I just thought about Ikebana for a large part of the night.  It was just a trio.  So even physically speaking, there was a lot of empty room in between each other.  And musically speaking, each player gave the other just enough room to be themselves and to express what they felt the music was saying to them.  Now of course, it’s what happened in between these players… and in between these musical expressions that made the show exciting.  The easiest musician to point out was the drummer.  As the bass laid down low and simple patterns, the drummer would shuffle, almost in a schizophrenic way, through various rhythmic ideas.  Some samba here, funk there… and dilla everywhere.  He understood time so well… that he made it elastic.  Right before our very ears, he created beautiful, rhythmic dissonance.  And to me, it was that constant searching that moved me.  That posture of loving the present groove, but also simultaneously letting go in search for the next one.  This is jazz at its highest: not a musical style, but a disposition.

As the drums would flair, Glasper was right there on the keys… coating and interlocking with the rhythms.  It was a perpetual conversation.  It was pure vibe.  You go where the music goes.  Or in more accessible terms, you talk to each other without an agenda.  You let each voice build the feelings of the moment.  This was a communal affair.

What I love about Ikebana is that those empty, in-between spaces are inviting.  They ask us as viewers to imaginatively engage.  Those spaces give us a sense that something dynamic is happening.  They are still and subtle rooms exploding with rhythmic vibrancy.  Or in other words, they give us a sense of life.  And it is exactly those spaces, the ways that they provoke us, that allows infinite room for engagement and creativity.  This is what the trio did for me, for the room… and probably for each other.  They created beautifully dissonant spaces that treaded in between genres and styles.  And if I can be presumptuous for a second, it is probably because they know that those spaces are where the fresh and the hip emerge.  After all, is not jazz about that very space?  Is not jazz about the senseof movement?  Jazz is about dialogue.  It is about individuals engaging in authentic, harmonious expression… together.  A lesson for democracy right?

Jazz is not genre.  It is a method, an approach.  It is about loving the moment… being in it, dialoguing with all that is around it.  It is also about wholly letting go of that which you love.  And it is about doing that over and over and over again.

The last tune of the night was Glasper’s FTB (I think).  As the band settled into the pocket, Glasper hit play on his ipod.  The house speakers wavered as three speeches shot through: MLK’s “We Shall Overcome”, Obama’s election night speech, and a snippet of Cornel West.  The room was silent.  It was a breathing silence.  History, vision, hope… all threaded together with the struggle.  And most importantly, the sense of the work to continually be done.

Obama’s voice ceased.
The band faded.

And a voice…
Music is deeper than philosophy.  In the end, we finite creatures, we don’t have a language or even a linguistic eloquence that can begin to be fully truthful to the experiences that we have the short time we’re here in time and space,” says Cornel West.

We need sounds, we need tones, we need silence in between notes.

The sense of movement.

the Sampler, the Sampled & the Sample

i had a good conversation with a friend of mine the other day.  it was mostly about what it means to create, to be a part of a collective and/or a network.  much of this conversation was centered around the difference between organizing a group of people as a collective, which requires much more commitment and self-reflection within a community setting, and a network, something that is more loosely based and organized based upon the needs of a certain project.  now of course, much of the time, these two understandings share many traits.  and often times, it’s hard to distinguish between the two.  but for me, a collective is defined heavily by method.  to pursue a project as a collective, the decision-making and organizing principles rest upon profoundly democratic principles.  not just that each person has a voice and an equal weight to their opinion, but also that there is some sort of shared basis, a common vibe between all the involved individuals.  a network, on the other hand, is much more malleable in that it can be hierarchal, democratic, whimsical, etc etc.  the point is… a collective is much harder to maintain and more fruitful (in my opinion) to be a part of… at least in a long term sense.

so when thinking about what this means for the production of art… we hit an interesting hill.  if i may assume that a good work of art rests on a continuity with a given community, experience, and/or group that is couched in everyday experience, then we have a pretty cool departure point from where we can think about collective art production.  it illuminates the difficult process of creating a work that is both honest/authentic to who you are and where you are situated as well as to the wider aesthetic sensibilities roaming about in the wind.  in short, it’s particular… but in its particularity, you may perhaps hit at something humanly shared.

so i guess at this point, some examples are needed to demonstrate what my friend and i were talking about.  a most pertinent example would be the hip-hop movement.  now i’m not talking specifically about top40s… i’m mostly referring to 80s.  i’m talking about a particular cultural movement that arose from the neighborhoods of new york.  i’m talking about the origins of a multi-billion dollar, global phenomenon… which happened to come from a bunch of kids who society predestined to not produce anything of worth.

we’re talking about that guerilla perspective, graffiti.  that body rock, breaking.  that grammar-interrupting flow, rhyming.  and that streamin melodic rhythm, djing.

now what hip-hop presents to me… the gift that its given to the world… is a modern (perhaps postmodern?  who knows what these terms even mean anymore), contemporary aesthetic.  hip-hop music, after all, is really an aural collage.  the use of multiple samples from various sources.  the juxtaposition of dynamic rhythms.  the open space left for the improvisational to happen.  the form of hip-hop… is about framing these intersecting complexities.  a gift from jazz… and a direct child of the jazz movement.  you create a form that frames all these various sources into a space where something is supposed to happen.  you place certain restraints.. but only dynamically so in order that the unknown is more readily accessible.  in other words, dissonance is harmonically framed in such a way that beauty is its offering.  but we must remember, beauty doesn’t mean clean and tidy.  the beautiful is a subjective description of the persuasive.

hip-hop is a contemporary aesthetic.  if you listen closely to the grooves coming out of nyc jazz clubs, they’re in dialogue with it.  they have to be… or they’re not relevant.  if you pay attention to dance… the striking movements of hip-hop are seething through.  these are of course sweeping claims.  but these are also my personal opinions and experiences.

what makes hip-hop so interesting is that it presents a new form of communication that expresses vast amounts of information in severely limited and constrained amounts of time.  perhaps a lesson for us youtube/googled-out folk.  sure, this could be a bad thing.  sure, maybe we’re losing our ability to focus on one thorough text.  sure, soundbites are no alternative for deep, prolonged listening.  but perhaps this is an indication of how we are processing information today.  and let us remember, most folks were never able to read anyways.  much of what we know as “history” is an oral narrative passed from generation to generation.  so maybe we can see this as a challenge for a new era.  maybe we ought to bring ourselves up to the task of figuring out new forms that harness this current internet-based sentiment.  in short, we should take a cue from hip-hop and move forward.

of course, i speak of hip-hop in its ideal sense (if there is one).  i love to hear the stories of how these dj’s got started at house parties.  i love watching ciphers on street corners.  i love to watch those young artists mark their place in the urban landscape through painting on trains, walls, and the like.  i enjoy it… because it produced a culture.  one that is potentially fruitful and damaging.  but powerful nonetheless.

hip-hop had a particular origin.  it came from an oppressed folk who slowly saw their dreams and opportunities crushed by the national machine.  and in the face of the tragic, they chose to create.  they chose to bring forth a new attitude.  a “fuck you” posture of living.  and it was in speaking from and through those particular spaces… that they hit at something profoundly human: freedom?  love?  justice?  fairness?  hopes?  who knows.  but whatever it is… it can’t be ignored.

is hip-hop dead?  perhaps.  whatever its life-status… there’s an aesthetic that we need to learn from.  and continue to unpack.

Han & Jung

Han:   long suffering without alleviation
          birthpains, but with no birth? 

Jung:  brotherhood
          that feeling when one meets a kin 

Arirang is Korea’s national song.  Or more precisely, it is Korea’s folk musical form.  Akin to the American Blues, the song structure, on a harmonic and rhythmic level, expresses the push-and-pull, to-and-fro of the Korean experience.  It is common knowledge that a song can express the culture and sentiment of a people.  Arirang in particular takes its song form from the natural structure of the mountain passes of Korea.  The ups and downs of their circular paths evoke a sense of infinity.  But if infinity is a movement, what is the content of such passings?

The past 100 years of Korea’s history is a dark tale.  The Japanese Occupation, the Korean War, the bloody road to democratization.  It is a melancholic tapestry, to say the least.  The stories that mark themselves as the blue threads come in many sizes.  One thing is to be held common: separation.  In a country marked by Jung, Han claims supremacy.

It is the Han of being stripped of culture, of family, of roots:
…the Japanese stripping our language by forcing Korean youth to speak Japanese in schools and building their administrative building in front of Korea’s royal palace, a symbol of Korea’s nationhood.
…the politics of the red scare, the liberation movement of communism using Korea’s peninsula as a playground, separating brother from mother, daughter from father.
…the military coups of Korean military dictators unsympathetically beating their own into subservience.
…the exodus of thousands into the promised land of America, that foreign fortress holding the keys to peaceful living, only to find that it means the sacrifice of one’s tongue. 

Han is the one that has lost her way.  She finds herself in strange lands, one of hyper-modernization glossing that which pained before and one of alien hands that give opportunity and strip it simultaneously.

Jung, today, finds itself intricately interwoven with the immigrant experience.  We are alive in a time where being Korean finds itself hyphenated.  We are Korean-American, Korean-Italian, Korean-Brazilian.  Jung, today, is that feeling I feel when entering a Korean restaurant in Rome, to find those that have shared similar experiences to my parents, though it is two oceans away.  It is a certain feeling of understanding and camaraderie, even though we live far separated from each other.  It is also that close-knit feeling of those I meet in church each Sunday.

I write today as a Korean-American.  I write as one trying to tie one land, one tongue, one dream to the other.  The Arirang I know is faint.  It comes by way of a silent grief.  It is a song I am hungry to uncover.  It’s tones and cadence I feel through the blues and jazz, yet I know those are not fully mine either.  I search as a man trying to make sense of the Han my mother carries, that my father buries.  And I look for a way to bring Jung and Han back together again.

The Jung of Korean-Americans must meet the Han of Korea.

"Mimicry makes us feel as though we are more than what we actually are through fantasy, pretense, and disguise. Our ancestors, as they danced wearing the masks of their gods, felt a sense of powerful identification with the forces that ruled the universe. By dressing like a deer, the Yaquir Indian dancer felt at one with the spirit of the animal he impersonated. The singer who blends her voice in the harmony of a choir finds chills running down her spine as she feels at one with the beautiful sound she helps create. The little girl playing with her doll and her brother pretending to be a cowboy also stretch the limits of their ordinary experience, so that they become, temporarily, someone different and more powerful - as well as learn the gender-typed adult roles of their society."
"And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns."
"The twentieth century will be chiefly remembered by future generations not as an era of political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective."
Methodological Pedestrian.
"

The difference between a rich man, a ruler and a celebrity is something like this:

A rich man collects cattle and hoards of grain, or the money which stands for them. He does not worry about men; it is enough that he can buy them.

A ruler collects men. Grain and cattle, or money, mean nothing to him except in as far as he needs them to get hold of men. He wants, moreover, living men, whom he can make die before him, or take with him when he dies. He is only indirectly concerned with those who lived before his time or who are born after it.

A celebrity collects a chorus of voices. All he wants it o hear them repeat his name. As long as there are enough of them and they are versed in his name it does not matter whether these voices belong to the dead, to the living, or to the as yet unborn.

"
Movement of Thirds.
In One, Find All?
Music is Deeper than Philosophy: the Robert Glasper Trio
the Sampler, the Sampled & the Sample
Han & Jung

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An archival project by Charles Kim.

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