#14 Komorebi (or light and dark changing places)

Greetings from a hot summer afternoon in Brooklyn where I am hiding from my partner who is convalescing from a trendy new strand of COVID. I’m seated at a previously peaceful coffee shop near prospect park which is currently being auditorily invaded by some men with loud voices talking about money and their prowess at the act of generating more of it. All is well though, because soon I will be walking to my usual spot to visit my beloved turtle gang.

I'm mostly glad to be warm blooded but hanging out on that rock all day seems nice

It has been an eventful month with a week spent in LA helping my dear friends in Sonoda get their music prepared for a July recording session. They brought me on to take their already stellar songs and give them a little objectivity that a band can easily lose when they work on a project for a long while. I found the whole negotiation of ideas, song structure, and sonic palette to be deeply fulfilling and am excited to go back this month and record it in the studio. I recommend one of their older songs Purpose, a Broadcast-tinged meditative banger that I had nothing to do with making.

Mutual Benefit is still very much in a “try things out” phase with last month’s experiment being a full band show in Queens with some of the new songs and free-form ideas that have been a-brewing. I left the first third of the set open for the five of us to explore and improvise over a certain grouping of notes that's become a bit of it's own world for me lately. Leaving such a large amount of time open was terrifying but ultimately rewarding to cede control and be part of a cooperatively-directed music organism. A quick shout out to everyone who played in the band-thing since they all have great solo music (Gabriel Birnbaum on looped sax, H. Pruz on synth, Adelyn Rose on clarinet and Justin Randel on guitar)

American trumpet flower growing in the backyard of a bar, I was surprised by these blooms after seeing the unassuming vines for so long!

The musical notes that were the basis for the group improvisation (and for a number of the songs I'm currently writing) are an outcropping of what I talked about last month with how certain melodies like Claude Debussy’s can evoke a sense of “cosmic mystery” in the listener by how they shimmer yet don't resolve. I’ve continued experimenting with these ideas and tonalities and found a compelling formation which is E+B in the bass and above it, any combination of F#, G#, A#, C#, D# (or more simply, any of the black notes on the piano). The interaction between the notes are a bit searching yet has its own sort of beauty. I included a quick example on the piano of what I mean.

Bells for Newsletter

I’m still taking baby steps towards an actual Zen practice, subscribing to Tricycle Journal for contemporary teachings and finding a place in NYC to practice and potentially find a teacher. I’ve found the framework of compassionate non-dualistic introspection to be a place where so many of my other interests are able to easily nest and merge in generative ways. At its best I can feel the peaceful simplicity and awe-inspiring complexity of our interconnected existence at the same time. I don’t want to sound like I’m evangelizing at all but I can’t help but write about what I’m currently interested in and see it as a major influence on my current life and art practices. Recently I attended an online Dharma talk where they used How Surely Gravity's Law, a Rainer Maria Rilke poem written in 1905 as the basis. I included it below since I enjoyed it so much.

How surely gravity’s law,

strong as an ocean current,

takes hold of the smallest thing

and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing —

each stone, blossom, child —

is held in place.

Only we, in our arrogance,

push out beyond what we each belong to

for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered

to earth’s intelligence

we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves

in knots of our own making

and struggle, lonely and confused.

So like children, we begin again

to learn from the things,

because they are in God’s (Mystery's realm) heart;

they have never left him (this realm).

This is what the things can teach us:

to fall,

patiently to trust our heaviness.

Even a bird has to do that

before he can fly.

Empty Freedom, untangling our knots, the mystery realm (!!), trusting our heaviness… this is totally my shit. So many ideas that are important to me are there for unpacking. I’ve been meaning to read Wilke for a while but tend to have a hard time getting into most poetry because I often feel like I’m not “getting it” or can’t get in the right mood to let the potential profundity sink in. It is similar to how I’ve felt about various “high art” forms where people who went to a lot of school like to use it as a secret code to talk to other people who went to an equal amount of school while I kind of zone out. But over the past couple years I’ve been slowly getting over this biased and probably dangerously anti-intellectual point of view to find the gems that can cut deep into my soul and/or find starting points that unlock these forms beyond the nakedly pretentious or socially signifying works.

Speaking of learning to enjoy poetry, I recently picked up Anne Carson’s new dizzyingly multidisciplinary book, Wrong Norma, and loved the journey of it. Her training as an essayist, classicist, poet, translator, and visual artist all kind of mix with her trickster energy to make for deep yet digestible reading while also at many points being hilarious. I highly recommend it if only for her musings within a musing on the origin of Roget’s thesaurus or an anthropomorphized The Universe being interviewed on its own writing practices during each age of human development.

On the flight home from LA I surprised myself by watching Wim Wender’s affecting art film Perfect Days instead of turning off my brain to the oddly satisfying explosions and choreographed dancing- I mean fighting- of Mission Impossible 5 or 6 or whatever. I'm glad I did because Perfect Days rewards the viewer by slowly and contemplatively following a Tokyo toilet cleaner and the small yet occasionally profound interactions he has throughout the day. As someone who perennially works odd jobs in between music gigs I was moved by the dignified portrayal of this thoughtful man going about his day in a spiritually-satisfied way and finding small joy in cassette tapes, reading a used book in a bar, and taking notice of the the shifting shadows made by illuminated leaves. In fact, the final frame of the movie defines this as the Japanese word “komorebi”.

Final shot from Wim Wender's movie Perfect Days, one of my favorite films I've seen in a long time.

Weeks prior I had coincidentally watched another excellent film that takes place in Japan called There Is No Such Thing As Evil directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and also featured lingering komorebi shots that caught my eye. In a way this movie was the equal and opposite of Perfect Days instead exploring spiritual disharmony and unbalance as an exploitative corporation disrupts the way of life of the rural villagers in an attempt turn the town into a luxury camping destination.

I love how this specific word-concepts can enter one’s consciousness and gently nudge perception towards noticing the constant shifts transforming our seemingly solid reality into unbroken moments of almost imperceptible flux. In one of the final pieces of Anne Carson’s book a character offhandedly describes a movie as “just bright things and dark things changing places”. In a way, that is its own sort of temporal shifting shadows meant to be thoughtfully observed.

still from There Is No Such Thing As Evil

Thanks for reading, now to a bit of Mutual Benefit news:

We have 2 NYC shows in September:

9/7 at Stone Circle Theater with Lamplight and Blue Ranger

9/25 at Knitting Factory at Baker Falls (Transgressive 20th anniversary party!)

I was interviewed by Canadian podcast, If It Be Your Will and went deep into teenage songwriting years and some of the meaning behind Growing at the Edges.

The Stellar Transmission playlist has some new additions.

I’m still interested in more musical freelance or teaching gigs. I had a great time recently working with someone on how to accomplish their saxophone looping dreams as well as a couple production gigs. It is fulfilling and a real pleasure helping people with the creative or technical side of music so hit me up if that sounds interesting to you!

<3 jordan <3