The other day Brian Eno was on NPR talking about his process. He likes to have people walk into the studio without any preconceived ideas or written out material. Then he has the musicians improvise within certain constraints. Usually these constraints are more about a mood or a vibe than a particular musical structure. After recording some improvisation, Eno edits and loops the high points into a shape. Miles Davis used this same process for some of his electric albums, like In A Silent Way.
Miles and Eno seem radical, but in a way, they’re just boiling the usual compositional process down to its raw essentials. Really, all composition and songwriting consist of improvising within constraints and then sequencing the best ideas into shape. Usually this improvisation happens in short spurts, inside the composer’s head or alone at an instrument. Using a recording device instead of a sheet of paper can make the process more bodily and immediate, and can help get at playful ideas that might not squeak past the mind’s internal judges and editors during the relatively slow process of writing stuff on paper. Michael Jackson wrote his best stuff by improvising into a tape recorder. There’s something about improvising a performance while being recorded that focuses the mind wonderfully.
Since 2004 I’ve been writing and recording with Barbara Singer in different configurations. The first version was her idea, a band called Blopop. She had some techno versions of pop songs programmed into her MC-909 groovebox, and the idea was that she’d sing and DJ, and I’d improvise guitar on top.
Kramer is the name my mom’s father’s parents gave at Ellis Island because they thought it they might have an easier time with it assimilation-wise than Garfinkel. In Eastern Europe, if you want a WASP-y sounding name, you usually choose something German rather than British. My mom’s wing of her extended family calls itself the Kramer clan.
For most of you reading, the name Kramer will have a different association.
I have a similar build to Michael Richards and some of his birdlike awkwardness. I’ve been here:
In my early twenties I felt like I wanted to start dressing cool but wasn’t sure how to get started. Kramer is a goofy dude but he always looks sharp. He has some of the same fashion sensibilities as my grandfathers. Papa Kramer was tall like me, not a flamboyant dresser but he liked bright colors and patterns. Grandpa Hein had even more adventurous ideas about colors and patterns. Once I started intentionally modeling my wardrobe on Kramer, my personal look completely came together.
When you learned division in school, the teacher probably brushed off the issue of dividing by zero in one sentence: you can’t do it, moving on. You might feel like you got shortchanged by that explanation. Why not? What happens when you divide by zero?