Indie Music 2020

Anne Stewart who writes The Buzz for GigHive asked for my thoughts about the future of the Indie Music Scene.. The feature is here: Indie Music 2020

Here's what i wrote...

"One thing that really caught my attention in the last week is that Apple purchased lala.com, which says to me that the biggest online music retailer will be moving to a more subscription-based model and will start allowing and encouraging users to keep their music in the cloud. This probably means that an obsession over storage capacity will give way to prioritizing bandwidth and constant connectivity.

As an independent musician, I always champion the dissolution of music prisons (DRM, mainstream record stores, horded music collections) because they prevent the flow of media and subculture from reaching the listener. When everyone’s music is in the cloud it will hopefully be easier to exchange and access new streams, though maybe the opposite is true if iTunes wants to tell you how to manage your music.

Another thing that I’m pleased to see happening at Bandcamp.com is that they are offering high-resolution versions of their artists’ music. This is an exciting trend because for all the joys of the mp3 craze it has caused a real devaluing of the high-fidelity listening experience. Listening to 128 kbps is like injecting bit-rot into your brain.

That is all in the next 2 years. After that, it’s anyone’s game. A few ideas:
  • Cell phones become a significant music production platform. They’ve already become home to demos and sketches for nearly everyone I know. I’m still waiting for the first #1 megahit produced on an iPhone.
  • Auto-tune is going to start to sound really dated.
  • I’m listening to how recording/producing is changing in indie music. Something that’s gone along with the loss of fidelity in the mp3 generation is that crisp and clean recordings aren’t so precious anymore. That used to be the signal of a professional studio but now a digital recording in a quiet apartment can be cleaner than an old studio recording with tape hiss (though now we have computer hum). So people are becoming more and more creative with how they are introducing noise and space into their recordings. Artists are getting more and more sophisticated with recording technology. I assume that most bands start recording themselves these days, so when they start working with a producer, they already have a developed idea of how they should sound recorded.
  • I’m heartened that the indie music scene has seemed amenable to real sonic experimentation and I foresee that only developing further. There is still somewhat of a mandate for rhythm but on top of that you can do nearly anything and people will be interested. People are getting used to massive amounts of parallel input and maybe that opens up avenues for composers and songwriters.”


Singularity (a song)

After a few years of trying I finally got out a song about the technological singularity. Here's the demo (Recorded and mixed on an iPhone): Singularity [mp3]

UPDATE: Hear the Studio Recording HERE


I’ll live to see a million things That men were never meant to see
My senses and my faculties are super-computing factories
Auditory mesmerizers Touch and taste olfactory
Digitized into data streams that register but will not delete
They’ll store it up on carbon atoms lined up into nano-diamonds
Priced just right for maximizing special year end price surprises
Every piece of food you taste and every thought you cogitate
Every sound that you can hear and sight you see for years and years
All stored up so conveniently on peta-bytes of memory
So you can always reference them in case you forget anything

Now once all that experience can fit into an easy grid
existence is no longer something mentally projected
The wires that you have inside are very easily realized
Through artificial imaging you duplicate 10 at a time
Your consciousness can be enjoyed by anyone forever more
And you live in whatever state that you or anyone creates
You could be Giant Squirrel, a statue or a talking cat
The Goodyear blimp, an etch a sketch, An octopus or a yoga mat
You’d have each and every memory and feeling to the one
And now you can commence your life as an uploaded extropian

My mother is so horrified by this post-human fantasy
She says you’d lose that special thing that makes us human beings be
But I don’t know I’m not so sure if humans are so good and pure
Perhaps we’d be much better off if we took these violent bodies off

Once everyone is in the cloud we’ll move beyond this earthly ground
Expanding into outer space as an informational signal race
Matter in the solar system converts into computing mass
And the sun becomes a central orb of a brain that grows into the vast
Expanse of space and emptiness for light years and light centuries
It replicates exponentially like a Russian doll in a cosmic dream
When every spot of the universe is filled up it will promptly burst
Eradicating finally the experiment that we grew from earth
As it explodes the brain will breathe into the dark impossibly
and anti-matter all around will collapse the universe back down
and right away what you would see if you were a fly in the vacancy
All the light and color in the universe is collapsing

Time would stop

From a tiny pinhead point a massive bang erupts into space
And trillions of new particles fly away at a photonic pace
And once again the clock would start to tick and tock and tick and tock
Years would pass, billions or more before the tiny proteins locked
And once again in the boiling seas of a miniscule blue anomaly
A planet floating helplessly around a tiny ball so fiery
an unextraordinary corner of the universe would cradle it
The flicker of intelligence that led us here and brought us this...


44 Considerations for Young Composers

1. Stop listening to what everything/everyone seems to be saying.

2. Then start listening again whenever.

3. Spend lots of time doing whatever you like doing.

4. Forget about everything you learned sometimes.

5. Make music that only your cat likes.

6. Music can be the wrong place to look sometimes.

7. You are very powerful.

8. You are very tiny.

9. You are perfect.

10. You are making a difference.

11. As an experiment stop trying to do the thing that you've been expecting yourself to do.

12. If you aren't doing anything you are still a composer.

13. Don't write a score for a piece that doesn't have a score just because the grant application says you have to have a score. (You might suggest that they read Varese's "The Liberation of Sound" 1936)

14. Don't take the rhythm out of your piece because "contemporary music isn't supposed to have rhythm."

15. Don't put a pulse in your piece because you think no one will listen to it otherwise.

16. Whatever your parents think about your music is fine.

17. If your significant other won't listen to your piece all the way through it doesn't mean that he/she is not right for you.

18. Read "Noise" by Jaques Attali

19. Read "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross

20. Music bloggers have a disturbing appetite for live and recorded music, and you shouldn't feel like you have to keep up. In fact, just don't read them unless you really like the feeling it gives you.

21. Go to the library sometimes.

22. Listen to the city.

23. Take a walk.

24. Eat local vegetables.

25. Consider the semiotics/social impact/evolution/formal structures/psychological effects of recording technology.

26.Try to imagine that sonic art (music) is the non-linguistic expression (explanation) of an infinitude of things that happened, are happening, and that will happen.

27. Grant yourself permission to write the future of humanity's organizational efforts in all areas.

28. Work with the assumption that your music has a massive capacity to achieve transformative results.

29. Consider quantity over quality.

30. Allow yourself to keep everything and forget everything.

31. If you want to say "I hate music and I'm going to do something else" just say it.

32. If you went to a conservatory it doesn't mean that you are letting someone down if you:
a. Don't notate your music.
b. Do something different entirely
c. Put down the instrument you practiced for your entire life and only play an instrument you barely know how to play.
d. Never practice.
e. Have a healthy skepticism (disrespect) for all the crap you learned in conservatory.

33. If you didn't go to a conservatory you don't need to "go back to school" and refer to 9.

34. If you are currently in a conservatory don't take yourself so seriously, remember that you are learning inside a specific institutional dynamic (point of view), and refer to 9.

35. Specify failure. Generalize success.

36. All rejected applications are valuable gifts, the summed value of which will purchase tremendous acceptance in the future.

37. When you don't get the grant you will doubt yourself. When you get the grant you will be proud of yourself and then doubt yourself. All of that is fine.

38. Be wary of out dated and newly minted sonic and musical moralities.

39. Be wary of composers and teachers trash talking "Pop Music" if they aren't referring to specific artists or musical currents. It's entirely possible that they don't know what they are talking about.

40. Be wary of the cult of the "new."

41. Be cautious fixating on new technologies just because they are new. Consider letting your musical imagination guide you to the technology that will aid in the realization of the imagined sounds.

42. Think about what caveman music might have sounded like, and what purpose it might have served.

43. Send your music to your middle school music teacher. I bet he/she will be really happy you did.

44. Make more music. We need it.

I wrote this piece in response to Annie Gosfield's Article for the New York Times website entitled "Advice for Young Composers."


Digital Artifact

My Proposals for the Future of Sounds were published in Digital Artifact Magazine Issue 3: We Made This For You Out Of Nothing.

The proposals were originally posted on the blog HERE.
Artichoke Perfume

So I labored all summer producing Zoe Boekbinder's debut solo album. It was really an interesting journey and ultimately a really great time. Zoe is a very talented individual and has a formidable career ahead of her. I was sufficiently happy to get my fingerprints all over her first solo effort. I contributed lyrics some of the songs and Typewriter Girl is a song I wrote for Zoe in 2007.

Here are a couple mp3s:
Paralyzing [mp3]
Typewriter Girl [mp3]

Order/Download the album HERE.

Artichoke Perfume by Zoe Boekbinder

All Songs written by Zoe Boekbinder with César Alvarez
except December, Mean, and Going Home written by Zoe Boekbinder
and Typewriter Girl written by César Alvarez

Produced, Engineered, and Mixed by César Alvarez
Mastered by Myles Boisen
Assistant Mixing Engineer - Mike Williams

Peter Evans - Trumpet
Sam Kulik - Trombone
Kyle Forester - Organ, Piano and Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar on Skeletons
Elias Orling - Bass
Eric Farber - Drumset and Objects
Kim Boekbinder - Background Vocals on Inexorably
César Alvarez- Tambourine (December, Typewriter Girl), Guitar (Adventures of Turtle and Seahorse), Organ (Typewriter Girl), Background Vocals (Inexorably)



Why not re-structure and more closely examine various philosophical and linguistic approaches to sound. Below are a set of incomplete tasks and unanswered questions that might arise in relation to that re-structuring:

  1. Examine the ways of hearing.
  2. Discover rhythm (and secondarily melody) as sources of mimetic/empathetic experience. These musical elements engage the most primal ways of learning and interacting: imitation.
  3. Take responsibility for the implications of performance. What is worth rejecting and protecting about a concert experience? Is musical performance necessarily indoctrination?
  4. Admit to persona. Decide on (create) its meaning.
  5. In musical contexts, explore the distinguishing qualities of prose, dialogue, narration, poetry, and lyrics.
  6. Re-examine the word “experimental.” What status quo does it imply? What status quo can the idea of “experimentation” engender?
  7. To what extent has inherited (evolved) neural “wiring” pre-determined a relationship to sound? In music, does the familiar only validate or does it create space for transformation?
  8. In what ways do the digital music “revolution” de- and re-commodify music? How is the composer implicated? How does the role of composer transform?
  9. Where does unamplified acoustic sound stand in relation to:
  • Networked culture
  • Simulated (virtual) experience
  • Cellular and video communication
  • mp3 (musical) culture
  • Nano-technology
  • Space travel
10. Examine the “processing” that happens to sound through every channel:
  • amplification
  • pirating
  • distribution
  • documentation
  • studio production
  • mixing
  • mastering
  • sharing
  • marketing
  • performance
  • verbal/written critique
  • repeated listening
  • podcasts/radio/downloads
  • co-opting
  • sampling
  • scoring/transcribing/arranging


A Machine That Creates Peace

Dear Friends,

The run of FUTURITY that is ending this weekend has been a really major development for my band and for me as an artist. The experience of collaborating with so many wonderful performers, designers, directors, and talented people has been an unbelievable blessing that has brought forth a really original piece of performance.

I came up with the idea for a musical about a a Civil War soldier that wants to be a science fiction writer almost two years ago. The piece started out as a goofy idea for The Lisps and has turned into a 70 minute play with 15 songs and a Cast & Crew of 18 people.

FUTURITY, at is core, is a piece about war and imagination. It's about the simultaneous human drive towards both destruction and phenomenal acts of creativity. FUTURITY is about the malleability of the past and the future. It's about the way in which a feverish drive towards innovation is what keeps us alive and what can aid in our self-destruction

I've thought for a long time that music is the opposite of war. Though I realize that music is so often used to promote war, the origins of music are in the human attempt to organize chaos (noise). Music is one of the earliest forms of civilization, and it possesses within it all the same potential for chaos and disharmony that society does.

I've tried to create a piece that speaks to the way in which I've learned to understand my life as an artist. Being a musician may sometimes feel like an exercise in futility but I know that at a fundamental level we are creating a proposal for society. A proposal for the way in which things might be organized with an eye towards community, compassion and creativity. I like to think of music as a form of Utopianism. For me, Music is science fiction.

I hope that you'll come see this piece not because you feel obligated but because we have put forth so much effort to create a piece that speaks to these ideals. We are telling the story of creativity and conflict in a time that needs so much of the former and has so much of the latter.

I hope to see you there.

Love, César

FUTURITY: A Musical by The Lisps
2 More Shows at Joe's Pub
Friday May 22 8pm
Sunday May 24th 7:30pm


Buy Tickets Here


Part of an Essay by Ada Lovelace

Tuesday, 5 January 1841

...What is Imagination? We talk much of Imagination. We talk of Imagination of Poets, the Imagination of Artists &c; I am inclined to think that in general we don't know very exactly what we are talking about. Imagination I think especially two fold.

First: it is the Combining Faculty. It brings together things, facts, ideas, conceptions, in new, original, endless, ever varying, Combinations. It seizes points in common, between subjects having no very apparent connexion, & hence seldom or never brought into juxtaposition.

Secondly: It conceives & brings into mental presences that which is far away, or invisible, or which in short does not exist within our physical & conscious cognizance. Hence is it especially the religious faculty; the ground-work of Faith. It is a God-like, a noble faculty. It renders earth tolerable (at least should do so); it teaches us to live, in the tone of the eternal.

Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently. It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science. It is that which feels & discovers what is, the real which we see not, which exists not for our senses. Those who have learned to walk on the threshold of the unknown worlds, by means of what are commonly termed par excellence the exact sciences, may then with the fair white wings of Imagination hope to soar further into the unexplored amidst which we live.

Mathematical Science shows what is. It is the language of the unseen relations between things. But to use & apply that language we must be able fully to appreciate, o feel, to seize, the unseen, the unconscious. Imagination too shows what is, the is that is beyond the senses. Hence she is or should be especially cultivated by the truly Scientific, -those who wish to enter into the worlds around us!

Excerpted from Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers by Betty Alexandra Toole