About Music for Sunsets
Music for Sunsets is a twelve movement piece in the form of an album. It uses a ton of electronic music and studio equipment, field recordings, and features guest spots from Garrett Wingfield on saxes, Diana Wade on violas, and Universed (Cristina Lord) on vocals. Lewis Pesacov mixed it, Andrew Noseworthy mastered it, Traci Larson did the graphic design (there’s a whole AI art thing we did together), and it came out on September 15, 2023 via people places records.
It would be extremely cool if you were to purchase it at peopleplacesrecords.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-sunsets.
Here are the liner notes. Notes for each track are available if you click “info” on that track on Bandcamp.
There is quite a lot to say about how Music for Sunsets could be read as a document of my recovery from my first episode of manic depression in 2020. That’s a narrative for the record that I generally feel good about, one of empowerment via collapse—so I want to say something about it here—but I don’t want it to be the only thing this record is about. There are a few other narratives to consider which are more interesting to me, and more important, and it just happened to take my life falling apart and having to rebuild it to get them down on tape.
To get the obvious part out of the way: yes, I had a psychotic break in 2020, and was diagnosed as having bipolar 1 disorder and hospitalized, and had to put my stuff in storage and move in with my mom, and lost my girlfriend and job in the process, and went bankrupt because the second one of those losses before the ensuing depression got me sent back to a psych care facility for a few weeks—this time with a stunningly good chef—which was followed by eight hours a day of therapy six days a week for a month (I think this was actually kind of traumatizing in and of itself?) and somewhere along that timeline I spent like six to nine months so depressed I was almost physically unable to leave the couch. There was also a bit where I was hiding out in a hotel but I don’t exactly remember the details. I know 2020 sucked for everybody, but man, that was a lot.
Part of what got me off of the aforementioned couch was beginning to realize that at some point I would need a job again (don’t get me started on how hard it is to get on disability, re: all of this), and since I felt totally burned out on music (I had like four to six months in the middle there in which even hearing music at all bothered me, which was not at all a good thing) started looking at what else I could do. I had studio experience and knew some people in film, so thought maybe post production sound would be cool, and Santa Monica College had some once a week classes on zoom. Over the next two years or so I got very interested in it, found some work cutting dialogue and sound effects for reality tv, and as I started using techniques and ideas from the film sound world in my music, gradually got excited about stuff again, and this record came out of it.
This record also came out of my interest in Zen Buddhism, which helped me a lot during that time. My friend and composition teacher Joel Feigin, who introduced me to a lot of it, is now a Zen priest. He thinks that’s crazy too! I’m not good at meditating every day and probably never will be, but the philosophy of Zen is very interesting and attractive to me, and I’ve been an active member of the Angel City Zen Center on and off for a few years now. When I was hospitalized they still let me join the weekly meditation sessions on zoom, and Dave Cuomo, who always had trouble with titles (monk?), was open to talking with me once a week about whatever might come up. We got into the idea of goalless practice quite a lot, and he encouraged me to just write music instead of trying to accomplish writing a record, which had eluded me since well before 2020. We even came up with the idea that writing music specifically knowing it would never be heard by anyone else would be a useful exercise, and I decided that if I did this with about fifty to a hundred tracks, maybe the best ten or so would be worthy of releasing (an idea I stole from the electronic musician Joo Won Park).
With this practice I learned to enjoy just working on stuff instead of worrying about what came out or what people might think of what came out, and that encouraged a lot of experimentation and play and actual fun. When I said “empowerment via collapse” at the top, this is what I meant. I had been through my life disintegrating and music being dead to me, so now I didn’t have anything else to fear and could do whatever the hell I wanted. No longer worrying about others’ conceptions of my work (or even my own conception of what my music “should” be like), I found pursuing my true curiosities to be way more interesting than ever before, found myself being more expressive and honest in my sound work, and, perhaps not counterintuitively, found that my friends and people who heard what I was up to reacting very positively. It felt like I was finally onto something real, and that feeling is probably what pushed the album across the line. That plus a career coaching session with Megan Ihnen. She’s great.
Okay, so that’s the big burn and recover story of Music For Sunsets. All that aside, I think there are a few musical or artistic narratives at play here, which are genuinely more interesting to me. One is a story of exploration. Vidal Two and Shinsaibashi are both from 2018 or so (Shinsaibashi might be a couple years earlier even, when I was just starting to experiment with synthesizers), while three of the saw wave interludes (Morning Ambience Made of Waves, Sand Dunes in Retrograde, Like a Fire in the Rain) were written just days before going into the studio to mix them in January of 2023. My friend Andrew Tholl, when he was doubling as my composition teacher at UCSB (funny story), once asked what was exciting me about a piece I was writing. I told him it felt like I was discovering new things, and he said he didn’t think that was apparent to the listener. Over the course of a full album, with five years worth of discoveries on it, I think you can actually hear me trying out different sounds or techniques or genres and assembling them into my own personal musical thing.
Once I finally got said personal musical thing assembled, I asked Lewis Pesacov, who I knew a bit from his work with The Industry and Wild Up, if he would be down to mix it, and I am so so grateful that he said yes! Lewis’s approach to mixing is very much about seeking out new sound worlds, and the way he uses outboard signal processing to build up layers and textures opened up an entirely new mode of composition for me. He’s very influenced by Brian Eno’s “use the studio as an instrument” approach, and at one point got excited about my own excitement over the stuff we were coming up with and said “it’s mixing as composition!” That idea will stick with me forever. Also, his equipment is really awesome and sounds great, and now I want a Trident console and a Terry EQ.
I had recently worked with my friend Andrew Noseworthy on another mastering project (he mastered my synth heavy score for the short film Camateur), and I loved what he did with it. He also founded and runs the label people places records, which is the only record label I am aware of that does both DIY hardcore and contemporary classical music. I forget which conversation happened first, but I asked if he wanted to master it and he said yes, and I asked if we could talk about releasing it on PPR and he also said yes. I mentioned in our meeting that when I looked at the label’s artist roster it seemed like people I would want to hang out with and feel at home around, and we both thought that was as important as any sort of business consideration. Since that meeting (maybe in January?) he’s been a constant source of guidance and support in making this project happen. He was also one of the first people to say “yeah, it could work this way or this way, but it’s your album. Make the call.” That vote of confidence has also served as great advice in an ongoing way.
If I want to be sappy about it, the album is called Music For Sunsets because it’s about the sun setting on the first part of my life. I think with all that happened around 2020 I’ve definitely moved from youth to adulthood, whatever that might mean, though since dedicating myself to this project I’ve felt enthusiastically youthful way more often. There’s also a thing in Judaism I’ve always liked which is that our day starts at sundown. As a person in the music world I’ve always felt that way anyway—whatever we do when the sun is out is a warm up for the show that night, when things really get going. That’s even true outside of music—I’d so much rather start my day with friends and family and the fun stuff that happens at night than with the work we have to do all day to support said nighttime activities. Also, with just how much I learned from Lewis while we were mixing the album, I feel like I’m at the beginning of a new stage in my life as a composer. It’s very exciting to me in a way that music hasn’t been in a while. So there’s that metaphor for you.
Then again, it’s also called Music For Sunsets because I had sent Judd Greenstein a few tracks and he said he had listened while watching the sunset in his backyard and that they were good for that, and I couldn’t get that very happy sounding scenario out of my head. I do hope people use the record to soundtrack good times with friends.
There are notes for each individual track on the bandcamp page for the album, if you click “track info.” Thanks for listening.