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olga

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This Is What It Sounds Like.

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I’ve carried this song around with me since I was small.

Some songs are like that. They become companions in their own right, marking you— until certain memories become almost defined by the swell of music.

The song you whispered to someone in a quiet moment, the song you sang to yourself to be brave.

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I recorded this arrangement of When Doves Cry while ensconced at a friend’s place in Scotland a few years ago.

On the day I heard the news, the song woke up quietly in the back of my mind, and began to play, gently, on repeat behind my thoughts.

On the day I heard the news, I was working with incredible artist David Mack on another video for the amazing Amanda Palmer, he and I taking his paintings and photographs and animating them to her song.

When I saw David’s dream-like painting of Prince, it immediately sprang to life in my head: his serene face, coming into focus, and falling away again, doves growing from the mane of his hair.

I asked David if he minded— could I animate it? He agreed, and the song softly playing in the back of my head became more insistent.

Suddenly, the painting and the song converged, and I added flourishes to this quiet arrangement, a love letter to a song (and by extension, a towering musician) that has kept me company on many lonely evenings.

This is for you, old friend.


Note: If the painting animated in the video moves you, David has opted to make it available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to several of Prince’s personal charities. You can buy it below.

 
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“I did this painting as a Prince tribute upon hearing the news. I shared it on my page. So many people asked for a print of it, that the gallery is offering a print at the link with a portion to go to a couple of Prince’s personal charities.” -DAVID MACK
“Dearly Beloved”
BUY PRINT
 
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Skipping Through Time Zones

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I am in the backseat of a car driving across the expanse of Iceland. Allan is driving, and Hera is riding shotgun, occasionally tossing strange licorice gum drops at me and her bandmate Jed in the back.

The scenery is stupid in it’s beauty, a sort of unending ridiculousness: mountains, and waterfalls, and snowcapped peaks, frozen lakes, rainbows, geysers, mossy rivers of rocks, and slanted light bathing it all in postcard-ready splendor.

Once or twice an hour, Allan pulls the car over in a sort of last minute panic attack, the beauty too much for his photographer brain. “Sorry-not-sorry,” he’ll grin, grabbing his camera with one hand and hopping out of the driver’s seat. Sometimes I chase after him, iPhone in hand, as he runs across the highway to snap a couple dozen photos.

Mostly I let him do his thing, knowing his record of our journey will put my tiny phone photos to shame.

I keep trying though.

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I’m dumbstruck by the beauty of this place. I keep learning bits of Icelandic, and pestering people to tell me stories about the elves that are believed to live inside the rocks here. It’s such a strange fairy place, and I’ve fallen half in love with it.

I’m already trying to figure out how to come back.

Hera has been gracious enough to let myself and Allan sleep in spare rooms and spare beds of various family and extended family members as we stowaway in the back of her tour van across Iceland. We meet people everywhere we go, each of them self-possessed and brimming with slow, patient stories.

We were told before we came here that one in every ten people in Iceland is a published author. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’d believe it.

My favorite thing to do here (after staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the unfolding topography) is just sitting, quietly, attentively, while someone tells me a story.

And everyone here tells them beautifully.

* * *

I’ve been traveling for a month? A month and a half? I lose track. Days feel like weeks, memories densely Tetris-packed into every available minute of time.







We interview people. We unpack and re-pack bags, moving them off a plane and into a car and out of a car and into a train and off the train and back onto a plane.

We talk about art.

In Scotland, Allan shows me a video subtitled in German of an old John Cleese talk on creativity. In the video Cleese talks about being in Monty Python, and how he noticed that even though he thought another Python member was funnier out of the gate than he was— John Cleese always seemed to write better skits.

The reasoning? John Cleese said it was because he didn’t let go. When he had a skit idea, he was like a dog with a bone: he would worry it, and worry it, until he was exactly the shape that he wanted.

The other member in the troupe— he would come up with an idea, and leave it at that. Add to cart. Print. Done.

I keep saying to myself: be John Cleese. Don’t be the other guy.

Making the movie with Allan, I’ve been traveling around collecting a mental list of bon mots on.. creativity, I suppose, for lack of a better term. Sitting with Dave McKean, or Greg Ruth, or Jason Shawn Alexander or any one of dozens of artists and hearing their processes, I feel like I’m getting a master class in how to live a creative life. Listening to story after story feels like that bit in the Matrix where Neo learns kung fu, only in this case I’m downloading special ninja art moves directly into my brain from some of the best artists I know.

On the day we left on this trip, I wrote a song.

For the first time in four months, sitting at Allan’s kitchen counter in Los Angeles, typing out lyrics, and then walking in circles in the parking lot humming out melodies.

As we travel, I sing it to people.

* * *

My head is buzzing.

Back in LA, after zipping through Oslo, and London, and cars and planes and buses, I’m sitting back at Allan’s kitchen table, slowly letting the jet-lag peel away.

I play piano.

I daydream.

I daydream.

I daydream.

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You’re An Artist When You Say You Are.

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I’ve been running around between Los Angeles, New York, Scotland, England & Iceland, helping Allan Amato make a documentary about the creative process and living an artistic life. After enough time clocked helping out, Allan dubbed me co-producer and convinced me to come help make the movie more or less full-time.  (In between running around I’ve also been working on secret art/music projects– shhh.)

It’s been kind of amazing traveling, juggling multiple hats– (singer! producer! editor! musician! marketer! all-the-things-er!)– and noticing that the busier we got, the more time we found to do crazy side art projects. (The old adage, “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person?” TOTALLY TRUE.)

One of those crazy side projects we did was go to Hudson, New York, and film Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova interview Amanda Palmer about her new book, The Art of Asking.

(Here’s a shot I took of Allan filming Amanda + Maria chatting about life, the universe, and everything.)

 

 

After filming the interview, we called up some of Allan’s friends and some of my friends in Glasgow, London & Reykjavik, and asked if they wouldn’t mind holding up some signs on video. Then we holed up in our friend Indíana’s place in Iceland (who wonderfully is featured in one of the passages in the book) and I spent a couple days painstakingly editing bits and scraps of video, while Allan waved pompoms and made occasional editing suggestions.

This is the end result:

 

The book itself is wonderful.  It’s honest, and brave, and explores the more complicated parts of making art, legitimacy, and giving yourself permission to ask for help. (Much like the super-popular TED talk Amanda did on the same topic.)

I stayed up till five in the morning reading it on a couch in Reykjavik, foregoing sleep in favor of combing through the intricate art tapestry Amanda has woven out of her life. It’s liberating to see another person lay bare their fears about being as an artist– and then doing it anyway. In a way, so much of the wisdom Amanda has to offer is hard-earned– it reminds me of an exchange on a recent episode of Doctor Who, where the companion says to her boyfriend, “When did you get so wise?” to which he responds, “same as anyone else. I had a bad day.”

Amanda doesn’t pull any punches describing her bad days, good days, and everything in-between, painting a picture of each lesson learned. Very few corners of her life are left unexamined. She offers them up to the reader nakedly, using them to illustrate what it looks like when you trust the people in your life to catch you.

And then, leading by example, she shows you how to gracefully allow yourself fall into their arms.

This book deeply moved me, and I strongly encourage you to watch the trailer, read some excerpts, and just buy the thing. It’s a wonderful quilt of stories that adds to the lexicon of what it means to be an artist, and a human training to be fearless.

You can buy the book this week at any of the links on Amanda’s site, or on Amazon.

 

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Art & Death

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Pictured: Neil Gaiman with Satine Phoenix, photo by Allan Amato

If you’re curious what I’ve been up to recently– when I haven’t been hiding in a house somewhere in Scotland writing songs on a baby grand piano, I’ve been helping out with various amazing projects.

The first is my very dear friend Allan Amato’s Temple of Art documentary film, that begs the question: why do we make art?

One of my two favorite things this month was going to shoot the amazing Barron Storey for Temple of Art– I came up with a concept for a miniature short film to do with Barron, Allan directed and shot it, I edited it and Elisabeth Evans helped me color-grade the thing when we were done.

The result gives me chills every time I watch it. Mostly because Barron talking about art just makes me want to get off my ass and work harder.

Watch:

(You can pre-order the Temple of Art film HERE.)

The second favorite thing this month was when Neil Gaiman called me yesterday and asked if I would direct and shoot his ice bucket challenge for ALS.

Obviously I said yes.

We both came up with an idea together– or rather, he called me, and said “this is my idea” and I said “that’s exactly what I was planning to do!” Magic.

The result is pretty adorable– Allan Amato ended up doing the filming, I directed the humans around, and the fantastic Cat Mihos helped out, and many women came dressed as Death. (Among them, Elisabeth Evans, Satine Phoenix, Stephanie Inagaki, V Nixie and Melanee Nelson.)

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Photo by Cat Mihos

And if, like me, after watching that video you feel deeply compelled to donate to ALS? You can (and should!) do so HERE.

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Anti-Theft Rube Goldberg Haunted House

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I came home a few weeks ago to find my door open and my window smashed in. In a panic, I ran in to assess the damage, phone in hand to call the police.

The strange thing was that nearly nothing was missing. A few things were, of course: some cheap jewelry, some loose cash. A backpack that was filled with vitamins and charger cables that wouldn’t do anyone any good.

But on the whole, the big stuff– the laptop, the iPad, the music gear– was all miraculously untouched.

I sat in the mess of my apartment (undone by my own spring cleaning rather than the ransacking of robbers) waiting for the police to arrive, oddly scared to leave.

Because if I left, of course, the logic goes that they would return. They’d scoped the place out, and they’d definitely left the most valuable stuff behind.

It was the creeping feeling of vulnerability setting in that upset me the most.

I’m generally a human who deals with things with a sense of humor. So after some hand-wringing, I decided to turn my apartment into a robber-proof haunted Rube Goldberg machine.

I wanted spooky noises. Flashing lights. Voices and sirens, and the sort of thing that would communicate “hullo, robber, please reconsider your life choices,” as well as perhaps filling Mr. or Ms. Robber with an eerie sense of dread.

Enter: SmartThings, stage left.

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SmartThings, like most smart tech today, doesn’t presuppose how you might use it. You’re given a collection of sensors, and an app that allows you to trigger events based on those sensors.

For example, you can choose to turn on an FM radio, blink the lights, and randomly switch on your blender if your front door is opened when you’re not home.

It’s a little difficult to wrap your head around at first, but you can basically use sensor data from virtually anything to trigger virtually anything.

After some trial and error, I thought building an outright haunted house was maybe too subtle for the sensibilities of the average thief, so I opted for something a bit flashier.

Daisy-chaining SmartThings to IFTTT to Dropbox, I managed to set up a system that sends me photos of intruders, turns every light in the house into a flashing strobe, and triggers a playlist of terrifying sounds if an unwanted robber-human attempts entry.

Haunted House Rube Goldberg Machine

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My grocery list:

Starting with zero knowledge on how to do any of this stuff, it took a few days of teaching myself how to use Automator and figuring out how to wrangle the Philips Hue lights so they could both be triggered by SmartThings. (Thanks to Leon Meijer for showing me the secret sauce to triggering the strobe effect on the Hue.)

In the end, I think I managed to make my place pretty inhospitable to casual thieves. Here’s some video of what happens when my SmartThings alarm is engaged:

Bonus: I love that the whole system can be taken down and set up at a new house without a lot of hassle. If you’re interested, here are the IFTTT recipes, and here are the Automator scripts. (If you have Hue, you’ll have to get their API up and running as well as set up the pointsymbol for each light before the strobe effect will work for you.)

Next step possibilities include triggering a loud movie and/or flick on the house lights when SmartThings senses someone on the front porch, so it seems like someone is home. (And, if I can swing it, do a little more research towards figuring out how I can make my burglar alarm a little less SFPD and a little more Sixth Sense. Because scaring burglars is awesome.)

Full disclosure: no one paid me to say any of these terribly nice things. I just think these things are terribly nice.