Photography

Visual Sentences

When you make art it can be a challenge to find the right language to explain what you’re doing. One might say that an artist needn’t ever explain him or herself. But art is a good conversation topic precisely because no two viewers or listeners share the same perspective. And since a viewer doesn’t share the artist’s own perspective, since a viewer isn’t intimately familiar with the history of choices the artist made in pursuing a certain visual result, the artist must offer the viewer a stepladder for reaching a vantage point that allows a work’s potential to be seen. That “stepladder” might be a word or phrase, a bit of language that gives the viewer a suggestion of where to look, how to begin understanding the piece at hand.

I’ve been describing my effort in photography as “photo pairing.” That’s been my language so far. I’m looking to create pairings or marriages between images that give rise to a kind of contrapuntal dialogue, where each image gains from being situated next to the other, where the viewer’s eye is guided seamlessly back and forth between the two images in such a way that no one image steals all the attention.

Some new language occurred to me the other day, as I was trying to make a video. Each photograph in a pairing can be thought of as an individual “word.” Together the two photographs combine, like words, into a “visual sentence.” The sentence draws out a deeper, and more specific meaning than each component word or image would convey on its own.

So instead of saying I’m working to create interesting photographic pairings, I’m going to try out some new language. I’ll say that I’m working to compose “visual sentences.” Sentences that mean more than the words they consist of. Sentences that teach us something. Here’s a video where I’m using this new terminology:

Photography

Photo Pairing

As a photographer, I strive to create pairings or marriages among disparate images. The goal of photographic pairing is the same as the goal of musical counterpoint. In counterpoint, we take two independent melodies and play them at the same time, hoping to discover something new in their dialogue, hoping the melodies may express something in conversation with each other that they could not or would not express on their own. When we take two photographs of different subjects, captured at different times and places, and position them side by side, if we’re lucky, we may achieve the same result — a conversation might arise, a dialogue between the two images where each individual seems to be enhancing the other, helping the other realize its full potential.

The idea of pairing photographs occurred to me sometime during the Covid lockdown of 2020 when I was contemplating my next steps as a photographer. I have been pursuing the same “thing” as a photographer since I first displayed my work publicly in 2011. In some sense, my style hasn’t changed or evolved in all that time. In a decade plus, I have been seeking better and better examples of the ideal that has captivated me since I first began.

I take closeups of everyday subjects — a chain link fence, a shriveled leaf — using them as raw material for graphic abstractions. I’m interested in these subjects both for what they are, and for what they offer visually, for what lines, textures, and colors they provide. I want the image to look like the thing itself, not like a photograph of the thing. When I print the image, I want to feel amazed, almost afraid to pick up the print, because it looks so real, so palpable, because its texture is so boldly accosting, because it seems to be alive and in motion even though it portrays a still subject. I want the image to delight in its squareness, meaning that it should be a dynamic square, with a sense of motion or activity throughout, addressing all four corners of the frame, in such a way that the composition breaks the symmetry of the stable, solid, unbudging square while still appearing balanced, harmonious, proportionate inside those walls.

Every once in a while I’m successful in achieving these goals that I’ve just begun to describe above. Every once in a while I’m left with something perfect. A photograph can be perfect, this medium lends itself to perfection, I don’t mean to toot my own horn. The flaw of a perfect photograph is that it is too perfect. Sometimes I want more variety, more diversity from a perfect image. My biggest revelation in my past couple of years of photographic works is that when I’m unsatisfied by a “perfect” image, I can sometimes find what I seek by pairing that image with another. Through coupling, through marriage, a photograph can extend beyond itself, becoming something bigger and greater than it can be on its own. My personal library lends itself to this kind of coupling because, again, my style has remained the same over ten years. An image from 2011 can find a partner in an image from 2022, with them both appearing to have been shot on the same day.

Since I began pairing my images in 2020 I’ve accumulated a few dozen examples that excite me and that I would like to share with you in time. To begin, I’ve made these two videos about what I’m pursuing:

Music

Album Update

I’ve been very lucky in the past five years to have had the time, the focus, the health, the overall life circumstances that were necessary for writing music. When I consider that I’ve created a sampling of the music I dreamed of creating, that I’ve given shape and substance to the music within me, I feel a sense of peace.

My goal now is to set up a context that might allow listeners — that’s you — to experience some of the same joy that I felt in writing this music. That means planning an official album release. Commissioning artwork. Making videos. Doing interviews. Planning events. Sharing the stories behind the notes.

In the meantime, I invite you to preview all the music in my new album, Meteorite.

The music is complete, but the music is only part of the album. The album itself, in the larger sense of what an album can be, is still evolving. If you leave me a comment, ask a question, tell me what moves you, what you want to know more about, you can be part of the evolution of this album. I’d love that.

Here is the music:

Personal Development

A month of essays

In March and April I took on the challenge of writing a 300-word essay each day for 30 days. And then I wrote a few more. If you’ve heard of “Ship 30 for 30,” that’s the challenge/course I was doing. Common themes are music and personal development. I posted these essays to Twitter each day. Here they are all together:

Music, Songwriting

Song: Drifting At Sea

Drifting at sea
No land I see
All that I see
Is sky and sea

Hull’s got a crack
Main sail is torn
Compass has lost the will to spin

Seagull above
Gliding with ease
How does it feel
To fly so free?

Someday perhaps
I’ll be reborn
I’ll be a seagull flying free

Trapped on a boat
Hope is remote
Inside a jar I’ll float my note:

Sweetheart I miss you and
Mother I love you and
Father I thank you for my life

Dolphins at play
With me, please stay
Show me the way
And I’ll obey

Seagull above
Soaring so sure
Guide me along
To my destined shore

Words & Music by Rudi Seitz, 2020

Life

May Update

Friends, readers, anyone who stumbles on my blog, here’s a brief update:

  • I have new music that I’d love to share with you. My upcoming album Meteorite is a cornucopia of musical ideas that I’ve been developing for the past five years. Perhaps these ideas could excite, challenge, or please your ear as well? You can hear the first track and preorder the album here. It will release this summer and I will post again here when the date is finalized.
  • I’ve started publishing guitar improvisation videos. In March and April I posted improvisations to YouTube on a daily basis. The breakthrough was finding a way to transform the material from the experimentation that I’ve been doing on guitar for as long as I can remember into “short stories” that I can conceive and record in under a day, sharing them as little pieces with a beginning, middle, and end. You can follow my channel here. I hope you find something there that inspires you as a listener, a creator, or both.
  • In March and April I participated in an online writing challenge/course called Ship30, where I wrote a 300-word essay each day for 30 days. All my essays were published on Twitter. I’ll be getting that material up here on my blog in due time, but for now the best way to check it out is follow me on Twitter and look at my history there. Here’s a summary of the writing theme I’ve been pursuing:
    • Many of us are drawn to music and other arts because they bring us joy. We seek fulfillment through creative expression. But the more serious we get as creators, the more pitfalls we encounter. Greater aspirations bring stress, confusion, blockage, and disillusionment. How can we pursue creativity in a way that actually delivers the fulfillment we seek? If art can help us learn about ourselves, connect with others, and experience the infinite or the divine, how can we realize those possibilities, growing as individuals by making art, building community by making art, connecting with “God” by making art? What ideas, practices, and tools can help us stay on track to growing more whole through our creative endeavors?
Guitar, Improvisation

How To Improvise With A Detuned String

There are many ways to incorporate a detuned string into an improvisation. You might want to try this if you’re interested in making sounds that you’ve never heard before. Here’s one improvisation template or schema that worked for me this morning. If you play guitar or another string instrument, you can apply this template too. It goes like this:

  1. Use palm muting to play a punchy rhythmic phrase that’s comfortably anchored to a tonic.
  2. As you keep playing, make a transition from palm muting to a clear, sustained tone, using nail. Let some of the open strings ring after you strike them, to create a background resonance. Slow down.
  3. End the gesture by striking a detuned string and letting it ring, stealing focus. You’ll need to have detuned one of your strings to do this part! You should generally avoid the detuned string in the previous steps so that it comes as a surprise here and captures all of the listener’s attention.
  4. Now use your right hand fingers to gently and slowly mute the open strings at the bridge (possibly skipping the detuned string) to create a gradual fade out. Practice doing this as slowly and gently as you possibly can.
  5. Keep repeating Steps 1 through 4 until you feel ready to stop.

Here’s how you can make your improvisation different from mine while still using the same template:

  1. Use a different instrument.
  2. Use a different tuning and detuning. I’m E A D G C E-half-sharp.
  3. Choose a different string to detune. I chose the highest string.
  4. Use a different muting technique.
  5. Use different rhythms and melodic motifs.
  6. Be a different person 🙂
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Criticism

Beauty is an experience, not a thing

The composer and podcaster Samuel Andreyev recently posted a video asking whether avant-garde music can be beautiful. In answering yes, he claims that “The category of the beautiful is incredibly elastic and unstable.”

I agree that beauty is elastic. And there’s a reason why it’s elastic. That’s because beauty is an experience, not a thing, and our experiences are partially created by our expectations.

We find beauty where we expect it to be. Some people who expect to find beauty in avant-garde music might not expect to find it in a pop song; and some who expect to find it in a pop song might not expect to find it in avant-garde music. These expectations are self-fulfilling. They set us on different pathways of perception.

I don’t meant to say that expectation alone creates beauty — there’s more to it than that. But expectation plays a bigger role than we often assume.

Every person should ask: Am I sometimes finding beauty in places where I didn’t expect to find it before? If the answer is yes, your fortune is good. If the answer is no, that’s an indication that you might be missing out on… unknown beauty.

There’s a second point that’s important though, particularly when it comes to avant-garde music, however one defines “avant-garde.” Just because something is complex, confusing, and unfamiliar doesn’t mean that it is necessarily profound beyond your comprehension and that you are merely failing to appreciate its greatness. It’s pretty easy for an artist to generate things that are complex, confusing, and unfamiliar. Not all such products reward our attention and faith — some are just bad.

I used the word “bad,” but how can I do that if I’m arguing that beauty is elastic? How can I do that if I believe that beauty is an experience shaped by expectation?

For me, being an active listener involves a tension between keeping an open mind and ear, and being honest about how something actually makes me feel. Let me emphasize the word tension. You can only grow by opening yourself to new possibilities. But at some point, after you’ve worked to learn more about a piece, to understand its particular aims and techniques, you have to return to your own experience: are you moved? Or not?

If we never allow ourselves to draw the conclusion that a piece is bad, always trusting that there must be something in a bewildering piece that we just haven’t understood yet, we’re not being authentic. As much as we try to keep an open mind, conclusions are inevitable: there are some albums we reach for, and some that stay on the shelf. There are some paintings we hang on our wall, and some we skip over when when we see them in a museum.

If conclusions are inevitable, the important question is what do we do with our conclusions? I’ll argue that positive and negative conclusions should be treated differently.

If we draw a negative conclusion — if we decide we don’t like something — we should question the conclusion every once in a while. Give the piece another chance. There’s no value in broadcasting a negative conclusion to the world, because all that might happen is that we discourage someone else from exploring a work of art that they might have the potential to appreciate, even though we don’t.

But if we draw a positive conclusion, we should trust it. If we decide we really like something, we should tell everyone.

See also: Art And Weed.

Audience Building, Music, Personal Development

What can I learn about myself from a video?

Can video be a tool for self-discovery? If you make short videos with your phone, capturing little slices of your life, what can you learn?

I decided to put my camera in selfie mode while I was doing one of the things that’s most important to me in my life: listening to music. What does it look like when I do that, and what can I learn from seeing it?

Here is me listening to my piece, Garnet:

And here is me listening to my piece Birdsong:

What are my takeaways?

  1. Music makes me really happy. I already knew that. But these videos make me think about how I typically project (or don’t project) my experience of music to the outside world. When I write about music, I’m often concerned with communicating technical details, and all the theory can seem pretty dry and serious, I bet. And when a friend asks me what I’ve been up to and I say I’ve been struggling to finish a composition, perhaps it’s not evident to them how much I actually delight in that struggle. These videos give a direct look at how music actually makes me feel, and I’m not sure most people in my life have had a glimpse of that before. This get me thinking that as I move forward in life, I’d like to do more to convey my pleasure in music rather than keeping that pleasure inside.
  2. The ultimate way to experience a piece of music, for me, is to gesture as I listen. I’ve been doing this for my whole life, but only when I’m alone. This kind of gesturing is not conducting, where you’re guiding a performance using specific motions to convey your intentions. It’s also not dancing as we might typically think of dancing. You can do it sitting down, with your upper body alone. You just move spontaneously in response to what you hear, to imitate or interpret it, to express your excitement in it, to release the energy that it gives you. You don’t have to get anything “right” or keep accurate time — you can do whatever you want! Spontaneous gesturing is such an important part of experiencing music for me that I’m amazed by how little attention it gets when we talk about music appreciation, especially when it comes to classical music. If you want to get to know a piece of music, especially classical music, move to it, any way you want!
  3. When I think about sharing these videos, I realize I’m grappling with some perfectionism. I find myself asking: are these videos the best they can be, or should I make some more and see if I can do better (gesture more fluently, coordinate better with the music, improve the lighting and overall presentation)? As the composer of the music, I feel some reluctance to show myself getting “fooled” by one of the pieces — Garnet — thinking that it’s going to end a few moments before it actually does, even though that trickery is an explicit intention in the composition. The piece is working on me exactly as it should. But do I need to justify that? Sharing videos that aren’t perfect is a good exercise in personal growth, if one is looking to become less guarded and more accepting.