How do you get excellent conversations?

No really, I’m genuinely asking. Everyone’s been through the “formality” conversations that go something like this:

“Hey, (name you hopefully haven’t forgotten), how’s it going?

“I’m good. How are you?”

“Not well haha. (Annoying class) is really tough. How far are you on the homework/project?”

“Oh yeah it’s rough. I haven’t gotten much of it done.”

…and really stilted conversation about school (your only common factor) continues. This usually happens with someone you’re only tangentially close with – acquaintances that you’ve seen around a lot but don’t really know well. Great conversations with close friends are candid, free of pressure, and it feels like you could be talking back and forth forever – neither party is just “waiting for their turn to speak,” but instead conversation flows naturally and both people are attentive and interested.

It seems obvious that the differentiating factor is just familiarity and common interest, but I know charismatic people who can have genuine conversations very early into meeting someone new. Thus the question I have is “how can you pull excellent conversations out of people you might not know well?” Or perhaps the core question is “How can you get people excited to talk about something, even if it’s not a shared interest?” – because it’s passions that are the interesting windows of character that lead to friendship.

The last great conversation I had with a total stranger was on Dostoevsky and Russian literature. They were studying philosophy, and it’s not really too often that someone in EECS gets to talk about their love of the humanities. But conversations like this are pretty sparse. I find that most of the time, even if the two of you have some shared interest, it’s still not easy to get people off their guard. Of course, there’s the FORD acronym – Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams, that acts as a good topic list for generating deeper-level conversation, but in general, people still seem a bit wary when it comes to sharing too much about their lives, unless their personality is to be naturally open.

I’m interested to hear how others approach having good conversations with strangers, and how to circumvent the “formality” of a not-close relationship. Is familiarity and shared experience really a necessity before you can have more candid conversations? How can you get people to feel comfortable enough to talk about their passions? I’d like to know!

“Everything’s rose.”

Well, nearly two months later, I can finally say that I’m fully recovered from James Blake’s latest album release. Assume Form cut deep; it felt like he’d found and published the hidden contents of the locket necklace hanging around my neck. As a long time die hard James Blake fan, I noticed that this particular body of work distinguishes itself from the rest of his existing discography. Its themes and content are…dare I say…communicating a positive outlook? His music usually summons oppressively solemn memories with a grey background. His trance-inducing synthetic beats feel addictive, dizzying. When entrapping yourself to headphones, his music all too eerily takes the form of that persistent voice of ill ego inside the skull. In an interview Blake coyly submits, “I’ve subdued a generation. That will be my legacy.”

After letting my curiosity take the reigns of Google for a minute, I found the answer for why Assume Form seems to strike new emotional chords in the realm of intellectual sad boi edm. He fell in love.

James Blake doesn’t hold back—the lyricism and craftsmanship of this album are both a tender forehead kiss and a desperate shout into the void dedicated to the new, intoxicating gravitational forces that come with loving another.

 

On the consistent state of pleasant disbelief: Blake, James. “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow.” Assume Form. Polydor Ltd. (UK) 2019.

I can’t believe the way you showed everyone/Couldn’t they see what you could do for everyone/I know it took you a while to get to California/I had no idea I was waiting on you

I can’t believe the way we flow/I can’t believe the way we live together/I can’t believe the way we flow/I can’t believe the way we flow/I could have used you in the early days

Well, it’s been such a long, long, long, long time/With the music of my mind/Most of it seems unfinished now/I can’t believe the

I can’t believe the way we flow/I can’t believe the way we live together/I can’t believe the way we flow/I can’t believe the way we flow

Nothing makes a sound/When you’re not around/You are my fear of death/You wave my fear of self/And alone in the show/Despite what I was told/I’m finding I’m a smaller piece/Than I once thought/Oh, no, I really am/I really am

 

On the intensity of a trusting partnership: Blake, James. “Ill Come Too.” Assume Form. Polydor Ltd. (UK) 2019.

I’m gonna say what I need/If it’s the last thing I do/I do, I do, I do/I’m in that kind of mood/I’ve thrown my hat in the ring/I’ve got nothing to lose/With you, with you, with you/I’m in that kind of mood

I’ll go under your wing/I’ll slot right in between the/Cracks between you and him/I don’t wanna go home/Shall we drive from zone to zone?/I wouldn’t do this on my own/But I’m not on my own tonight

Oh, you’re going to New York?/I’m going there/Why don’t I come with you?/Oh, you’ve changed to L.A.?/I’m going there, I can go there too

I’m gonna say what I need/If it’s the last thing I do/I do, I do, I do/I’m in that kind of mood/I’ve thrown my hat in the ring/I’ve got nothing to lose/With you, with you, with you/I’m in that kind of mood

I’ll go under your wing/I’ll slot right in between the/Cracks between you and him/I don’t wanna go home/Shall we drive from zone to zone?/I wouldn’t do this on my own/But I’m not on my own tonight

Oh, you’re going to the brink?/I’m going there/Why don’t I come with you?/You don’t care what they think/I’m getting there/I could get there too

I’m gonna say what I need/If it’s the last thing I do/I do, I do, I do/I’m in that kind of mood/I’ve thrown my hat in the ring/I’ve got nothing to lose/With you, with you, with you/I’m in that kind of mood

I’ll go under your wing/I’ll slot right in between the/Cracks between you and him/I don’t wanna go home/Shall we drive from zone to zone?/I wouldn’t do this on my own/But I’m not on my own tonight

 

Let’s take some of Blake’s earlier works “Voyeur” and “The Wilhelm Scream” for brute comparison.

 

Blake, James. “Voyeur.” Overgrown. Polydor Ltd. (UK) 2013.

A voyeur is defined as a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or scandalous, deriving pleasure or gratification from looking at sexually provocative materials in secrecy. With that definition in mind, it’s hard to not be in fight or flight mode amidst the carefully engineered sounds of attenuated sirens in the song.

I don’t mind, it was all me/I don’t mind, it was all me/I don’t mind, it was all me/I don’t mind, it was all me

‘Cause I am flawed/When I am through those doors/‘Cause I am flawed/Times unsure

I should do whatever will make you feel secure

I don’t mind, it was all me/I don’t mind, it was all me/I don’t mind, it was all me/I don’t mind, it was all me

 

Blake, James. “The Wilhelm Scream.” James Blake. Polydor Ltd. (UK) 2019.

The wilhelm scream is a popular stock sound effect that’s been used in 389 films and counting. It’s usually employed when someone is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion. A truly intentional and unapologetic artistic choice, especially in the context of the lyrics.

I don’t know about my dreams/I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore/All that I know is/I’m falling, falling, falling, falling.

Might as well fall in.

I don’t know about my love/I don’t know about my loving anymore/All that I know is/I’m falling, falling, falling, falling.

Might as well fall in.

 

I can’t help but ruminate over the drastic shift that’s happened from his first EP to now. It seems that James Blake has found a pair of rose-colored glasses, and I can’t help but sit here and wonder where mine are.

 

(Image credit: Google images)

No Writing Is Wasted

No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen can become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They would make the next words better. – Eric Bow

Katherine gave us this last excerpt for English 125 class. Reading it a couple of times felt like inspecting a smooth stone, I turned it over and over again, making sure I would encode this moment in my head as a writer. It seemed like an advice I badly needed, but never knew I did. As an occasional writer, I identified with this excerpt closely. It gave me the reassurance to pick up where I left off even in the belief that my last few pieces were terrible, obsolete and irrelevant. Even in my self-doubt, I knew I had to continue, to struggle with myself because writing is just that. It is the process of untangling your thoughts and persisting in uncharted waters. It is voluntarily choosing to sail into the untamed oceans, knowing that there are terrible storms to weather, waiting for you in the endless horizon. It is knowing that there will be perils along the way. The horizon will seem frighteningly scary sometimes. Sometimes will feel like forever. Nevertheless, soon you will come to know that you will not be afraid of the horizon anymore. You will have faith in it.

When you are out at sea, you have no choice but to confront yourself. 

You choose to sail because the journey is worth it. Trust the process. That’s what you often hear. Usually it is never quite about the end product. The transformation process is keeps making you return to the writing table (or laptop). Keep all your notes. Keep all your pieces and failed loafs. Because all of that will matter when you are in a writing rut. Take all the older pieces out and try to map out your progress. You’ll see how far you’ve come and see how you’ve taken the process for granted. You’ve come a long way from all those cringy written ones.

You are an imperfect writer and thats the essence of it. The imperfections in your writing, the rusted bits and disjointed stitches created you, an original layered on top of multiple copies you’ve emulated from other great writers. Like a quilt, you’ve patched up  what you liked from others, learned from mistakes be it yours or other writers. Writing is a journey of learning and it is subject to perception, relevance to certain groups and especially authenticity.

You’re here now and thats what matters. Trust that all you’ve written is essential to creating future beautiful pieces.

(Images from Google Images)

The Confusion of Making Something Instagrammable

Right now in my Stamps “Methods of Inquiry” class, we are working on a project about making Stamps more “Instagrammable”. “What does this mean?”, you make ask, and to that I give you the answer, “I have no dang flabbit idea.”

At first I believed this meant cleaning up how Stamp’s markets themselves online. As a genZ child I understand how organizations, businesses, and schools brand themselves based off of how they display themselves online. I know what reaches out to the ideal audience because I am a part of that group and know what I as well as others seek for. Many people look up schools to see if they have an aesthetically pleasing account and show them what they are looking for and are interested in. When looking at Stamp’s page, you see randomly scattered low quality images of events happening at Stamps and also “Stamps Takeover” posts where they have an artist or student take over the instagram for an amount of time to share their own work.

When I got this project, my first ideas were to not stray from what they were already posting but instead to post them in a more visually pleasing way, especially because we are in an art school. I thought of the profile picture, bio, and not just the pictures themselves but how they looked as a collection on the school’s feed. After drawing out ideas of creating a more aesthetic art school page, I asked my professor how they were and he told me what I did NOT want to hear, I had interpreted the project wrong.

Great.

He explained how he meant that he wanted me to create a unique event or a unique sculpture for Stamps that people would want to post about. So, instead of making Stamp’s Instagram better I needed to make other people want to post about it on their own accounts. After hearing this(and still being confused), I started coming up with ideas of community themed projects to create a long continuous trend for making Stamps Instagrammable hoping this war right. I was then assigned a team in part two of this project and we came up with a comfortable study space with a cafe for people to study in and do teamwork while sipping on some nice cold(or warm I don’t judge) java.

On Wednesday, my team and I gave a presentation on our idea and my professor was confused on the overall process of our idea(which made me nervous I would have to rethink the project all over again) but came to really like it when we showed him all the space had to offer including a sticker wall, cafe, couch seats, moveable tables, and a rug(success). The rug was a real winner for him. I thought the space needed a rug instead of concrete floors like most rooms so that students could study in a more home like room. Whether or not one thinks about how the floor’s material affects our mood, it does indeed change our thoughts on if we want to stay some place or leave. The color also changes our perspective of a room but I have not gotten to the point of what color I want it to be. I believe warm tones would bring a weird aesthetic to the room and I think I will end up with a dark navy but who knows. Tomorrow we have a poster due and will receive feedback on it before a final review of our entire project. Wish me good luck my friends and thanks for listening!

 

P.S.

Although I now understand what the project is and how to complete it after my confusion of the assignment, I still can’t get my mind off of how the real Stamps Instagram looks. Therefore, if any of you Stamps employees are reading this, hire me. I would love to help recreate the page with current posts enhanced.

Sincerely your curious, odd, and wonderful student,

Bree Andruzzi

 

Reinventing the Orchestra

This past week, the Philharmonia Orchestra played at Hill Auditorium under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. Salonen was recently featured in the New York Times discussing the future of classical music, and I thought it was a funny coincidence that he came to Ann Arbor just four days after the article was published. The article, written by Anthony Tommasini, is titled “Esa-Pekka Salonen Says Tweak the Orchestra, Don’t Blow it Up” and I wanted to reflect on it for my post today. I will link the article here, but from what I understand, Salonen suggests that instead of destroying the whole institution of classical music, it’s in each orchestra’s best interest to understand the community they are serving and tailor their concert programming accordingly.

Disclaimer: “Revolutionizing” the classical music world is a complicated topic for me. My identity is so intertwined with this institution that I think about it constantly, but it has been a challenging process and not all of my opinions are fully formed.  

Since entering music school for a classical performance degree, my relationship with classical music has changed. Music classes and rehearsals consume my school (and weekend) days, so I spend a fair amount of time thinking about it. There is a very strong element of conservatism in classical music, which to be fair, makes sense. The process of learning an instrument has been passed down by teachers for hundreds of years, and much of the music that we play is at least 100 years old. For the most part, the purpose of learning any classical art form is to preserve a part of history. It truly is a special, beautiful thing. I take a lot of pride in being able to perform historic pieces of music. Art should most definitely be preserved.

But there are traditions in classical music that should not be preserved. The institution, like many others, values the work and talents of white men at the expense of other groups. Classical music is rooted in classicism, elitism, racism and sexism. Performance spaces are often inaccessible for people because of the high cost of concert tickets and exclusivity in its “elite” audiences. The standards of perfection expected of audience members and musicians alike creates a toxic environment that inevitably harms the art itself.

What Salonen suggests, to program music that fits the audience/community, is valid and good advice. But I feel like a lot of symphonies are already doing that. In an effort to be innovative, orchestras will typically program two to three pieces written by dead white male major composer (Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss, etc.) and for some diversity, they’ll include a filler piece by a 21st-century composer that’s under ten minutes long. And most of the time, that 21st-century composer will still be a white man. I am not saying that white men cannot or have not written great music, but I’m saying that it’s time for other artistic voices to be heard. It is immensely important to give contemporary music the acknowledgement that it deserves– there is so much important music that is being written right now and it needs to be heard. Why can’t contemporary music be in the forefront of the classical music industry? We can still play music from the past, but why not let Beethoven be the filler piece while the rest of the concert can be carried by new music composed by people of diverse identities?

I want to see what would happen if we “blew up” the orchestra. To reset this institution whose entire historical foundation is rooted in oppression, I believe that it’s our only choice.