On Valentine's Day, my partner spouse best friend favorite musician Thomas Paul and I released a collaborative digital album called Drown To Resurface, featuring poems from my chapbook of the same name layered over his impressionistic instrumental guitar sketches.
We both have future plans for these pieces.
I want to publish the chapbook physically.
He plans to develop and embellish the instrumentals into a separate album.
We hope to get the published book to hold a disc of those developed instrumentals in a pocket. To print a download code for this digital combined version on the back, too. I want the book serve as much as liner notes for the recordings as a collection of poems.
For now, it feels satisfying to share something that is finished on one level, knowing there will be other elements of further completion down the road.
I've been working on the chapbook version of Drown to Resurface: water poems for a while. Most of the poems are about 10 years old. I didn't set out to write a book with them, but once they filtered into one, I went about my usual process of jamming in too many verses, whittling down and down and down, finally through massive cuts seeing what the thing was and then writing a few more poems to round out that thing.
The album is a project Thomas and I have talked about doing for several years, too. I've been a fan of poetry-music albums since I was introduced to Dottie Grossman's work. I since messed around with previous text/music collaborations that halted early or found quick endings when theater projects closed. Like Grossman's albums with Michael Vlatkovich, in 2016 I began talks with Thomas about bringing words to his instrumentals and smashing them together like John Cage and Merce Cunningham did with music and dance. We played with early, live renditions of this venture a few times along the way. We knew this text/tune combo wasn't/isn't something new. We weren't looking to reinvent wheels. But it sounded fun. The most fun part, I thought, was slapping the sounds and sentences together without pre-thinking or trying to arrange them formally into songs or compositions, but letting both parts sway and spar in whatever ways they connected/collided.
Last fall, once I decided the book of poems was as done as I wanted it to be,Thomas and I scheduled time with our friend Cory Strop in his home studio. I recorded all the poems one December day in two takes each, just in case. Then through the rest of December, January and a little of February, Thomas went in for his recordings, likewise with a take or two each. After combining the two layers, he and Cory gave them a touch of finesse -- because though I love Cage and Cunningham's pure collision, I also love Laurie Anderson and figured that if she made an album with her partner/spouse (etc.) Lou Reed, they probably would have given it a little polish. Even so, each element of each piece was conceived and recorded separately.
After choosing which take, we pretty much let the recordings stand as they were. I requested that one word in one poem be replaced with the same word from the other take because it sounded like too much vocal fry up front. Thomas did one new recording of one section, but that was all. For people who tend to re-re-re-revise in painstaking ways (painstaking for us and people who make art with us), it felt liberating and a little scary -- at least for me -- to let go of control and let them land as they fell. Not including the years of occasional talking and musing about the collaboration, the years of writing/rewriting the poems or the years between when his first song ideas came to life and when they got stuck in a drawer before unearthing them again, the album took a few months, tops.
For a cover image, I remembered working with a photographer who impressed me with her water shots during a site-specific, interdisciplinary, collaborative project in graduate school. I asked Shannon O'Neill-Creighton if we could use one, with hopes of asking her again if we can commission another photo for the book/disc rendition. She said yes to the first. We'll see what happens with the next request once we get our act together for parts two and three.
For now, you get the digital version. I'll send word when ambitions, time and money align for the grander scheme. And hey, if you pay to download the album now, it'll help us on our way to the larger plan.
It's nice to let something go out into the world without futzing with it and trying to perfect it for (more) years (than we already have). It's a relief to not spend a decade trying to get the gatekeepers to say it's good enough for a lauded release backed by a publishing house/theater company/literary journal. We made something. Then we shared it. Like when we were kids.
Independent musicians have known for a long time that their industry is impossible. The line to the welcoming door is too too long. They found another door. They made their own door. Same with filmmakers.
I played around with small bits of self-production as a younger playwright. Then I was convinced that if I wanted the plays to get produced more than once, I had to go the standard way. A colleague assured me early on that self-publishing literary work is a no go, as well. I listened. I still squirm a bit when I think of going those independent routes, but now I'm more curious. When it makes the difference between having the plays/books/albums/films get made at all or having them live in a cabinet forever, dying in new play development hell (though I do love new play development, I do!) or in submission purgatory suffocating with 999 other plays/poems/stories/essays per opportunity, letting those babies go off and make their little mark, even with the tiniest of audiences, seems more worthwhile than it once did.
I can learn a lot from indie musicians.
Enjoy the album. Consider paying to download it. Proceeds will go toward future dreams.
For all of you who have already downloaded and paid more than the listed price -- or whatever you could -- THANK YOU.
And thank you, Thomas, for making something with me. I'm lucky to share a life with you.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: