11

•17 May 2016 • Leave a Comment

Greetings,

I do not give these posts titles.  If I were for this one, it would be “Tin Music Falls upon Tin Ears”

It was today ten years ago that I declare when The Spangle Maker was started.  I believe the rationale behind it was that it had to do with the Craigslist posting asking for a female vocalist.  The original intent was to start a dream pop group in the tradition of Cocteau Twins (hence the name).  It was after I had finally figured out a vehicle for channeling the music I had made for myself at the time and whilst in college.  However, it did not take long – and this was a consequence of allowing me the time and the space to think things through – for it veer away from any dream pop sound and to be all-embracing of any and all styles that interested me.  And it also became clear that this would start and end with me.

For about three years or so, my focus on mostly on The Spangle Maker on top of trying to make it on my own: moving out on my own, serving as a choir director at an Orthodox parish, and even being engaged … and then breaking it, and moving to a completely new location.  The end result was two EPs that were conceptual, an LP that was anthological and a collection of other songs that would have been either their own experiment or anticipated other future releases.

And now ten years later …

As evident by the infrequent updates here – and only then to divulge a little bit more about what this was all about – there is not much now.  The project has basically been on hiatus since 2011 and, unless there is a huge demand for it, it will probably remain that way.  There are times when I am at a loss of what to say about this.  Mostly because there is a lot to say and I am not sure where to start and how to distill it into something digestible and understandable.  But I will make the attempt all the same.

The last time I spoke, I revealed a few of those reasons: depression struggles due to the move (further compounded by various past events post-college and post-relocation), equipment mishaps/workflow disruptions, day-job struggles (and now consumption), lack of return and motivation to continue, greater pull in film.  Those still remain as the reasons for a lack of musical output.  I would add also my own perfection and high ambitions.  This is not just some desire to fulfill some vision in my head about how something should sound.  This is also this realization that I would never measure up to the music I loved for so long.  To me, my music sounds merely like a second-rate imitation of the music I have heard and I have no idea if I could surpass my musical masters, so to speak.  (Interestingly, I don’t feel like that with my film projects.  Then again, I have yet to realize any of them also.)

The reason I feel conflicted by this because I had spent a fair chunk of my life convinced that music was going to be my main creative outlet and my life’s ambition.  I had also managed to convince others this was going to be the case.  To me, this situation feels like total failure and it is even more so because I still have yet to achieve what I have in mind.  Then again, I understand having high ambitions can often be a setup for eventual disappointment.  There is a part of me that knows I shouldn’t as life is full of various twists and turns.  And there are plenty of people who started out thinking one thing but end up somewhere else … and you could even argue they even achieved what they set out to achieve.  But I have yet to reach a point where I can settle life accounts so to speak and assess the profit and the loss.

To wrap up, I started this project more than a year after I had completed my studies at the College of William and Mary.  If you were to tell me even at that time (during Commencement) that I would start a music project, I may have thought of it plausible but difficult for me to envision.  When I embarked on it, I had in mind a few more LPs and several more EPs that would have expressed a wider range of musical, thematic and emotional ideas.  But if I couldn’t imagine what would happen in a year, how could I know ten?  And so, I should say: here’s to another ten … whatever those may be.  I hope I can make the most of it, no matter what it is.

All the best, DP

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10

•30 December 2014 • Leave a Comment

Greetings,

As you can tell, it has been a long while since I wrote something here.  Coincidentally, I have chosen to write on the sixth anniversary of when Alpha was completed and released*.  Thus, this will be a post that will cover not only the past but also the present and perhaps the future as well.

* Between us, there was a snag in making it available through the Internet Archive and it was only until several weeks later when it was finally made available there.  I still consider its first release date to be December 30, 2008.

The original intent for The Spangle Maker was to have the EPs to be “concept-driven” while the LPs are just an anthology of songs that have nothing to do with each other other than its creator and similar timeframe.  To drive home the point, the LPs will have standard issue titles: Alpha being the first, Beta the second, Gamma the third, etc. I started coming up with ideas for songs since late 2006 or so while I was finishing The Romantic Dysthymia.  Originally, Natalie Garland and Andrew Thompson were going to be involved but they ended up pursuing other projects.  I continued to work on songs through 2007 and into 2008.  This was on top of many other things that were happening to me personally.

Alpha was definitely a demonstration of both what I could do and what was on my mind.  I had talked about how “Firerage” was inspired by the Greek forest fires during the summer of 2007 and “Grey Clouds Hover Above the Clouds” was inspired by the Virginia Tech shooting.  The other songs were just emotional reflexes on various things.  “The Automaton’s Rebellion” was my discontent with both any and all day-jobs I had and living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  “When Will the Moment Begin” and “The Blue Shore” represented my romantic side.  “The Modern Ameinias” – which is separated into two parts, “Tears” and “Blood” – was an attempt to tell a story about someone who desires a same-sex yet strictly platonic relationship and yet ends up with something else.  “Fall of the Leaves” were created as contrasting interludes to give the album a certain flow.

Amy Green (at the time) and I share the same alma mater.  Even with the departure of Natalie Garland, I still wanted a female vocalist for some of the songs I wrote.  She appears in four of them: “The Softest Chord”, “Firerage”, “Circumambulation (A Way Forward)” and “Before the Empyrean Throne”.  “Firerage” had the concept already there and she was able to take it and make it her own also.  “The Softest Chord” was designed as a dream-pop song (and perhaps one of the few times where the project sounds similar to the artist who provided the name) and she was able to make it about the river representing time.  (The phrase came from a contemporary translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus.)  “Before the Empyrean Throne” I intended to be a kind of hymn for the heavens and she sensed this as well.  “Circumambulation (A Way Forward)” took a neo-Baroque piece and she made it into a look at the history of man’s vainglory.

The album was completed and released mere days before I made the biggest transition in my life: moving from the Washington, DC metro area to the Boston metro area.  The transition was not a particularly easy one and it is still painful to recall what had occurred during that first year.  In summation, it was not pleasant.  Interestingly enough, this angst formed the basis for other songs that were intended for the next LP, Beta.  But over the course of nearly six years, things have changed greatly.

It was a combination of various factors.  As stated earlier, the transition from VA to MA was not an easy one.  This also occurred when I experienced another not-at-all easy moment that happened during the making of Alpha but before the move.  All of these bad turns led to a personal depression, which still lingers even after all these years and other positive things that have occurred.  I also believe that the circumstances that led to the depression also affected my musical ambitions directly.  As I was not feeling the strong impulse to make more music, I was feeling the desire to work on film projects as a writer and then eventually as a director/producer.  It was during this intense moment of my personal depression where I wrote three feature-length scripts.  Since that time, film has been more of a focus for me creatively, though it has also created its own tribulations.  Finally, there is also the expense involved in making music.  Right now, I am at a point where I am stalled musically due to equipment mishaps and malfunctions.  (The current one is an almost seven-year desktop computer on the fritz.)  As music – not just mine, but in general – does not yield a great return, I have yet to acquire the resources to make appropriate upgrades (and perhaps expansions).  There is more but I will leave it at that for now.

This is not to say it has been extinct.  I was able to release through The Spangle Maker another EP, The Rose of Al Basrah, a couple more singles and then the single compilation The Singles Volume 1.  I even wrote a song for my brother’s wedding called “All That Heaven Allows” and even performed it as part of my toast to the newlywed couple.  I still have ideas and I occasionally record a demo or a sketch whenever I feel inspired by something.  But as stated in the previous paragraph, music and I have reached an estranged relationship.

Right now, I am working – when there were plenty of times when I was not – and it has been stable for almost two years.  However, the hours are long and often unforgiving.  When I am not working for money, I am either decompressing from the workload or I am working on film projects mostly as they seem to provide not only the most inspiration but also the most drive.  As I am supporting myself and with very little outside support – of any kind – it has been extremely difficult for me to get a lot of the things I want to do to have happened.  And the path I chose was never the easy one.

I am not writing this to provide a pity party.  If there is anything that you should get out of this, it is an awareness of how difficult to realize anything creative and that any and all support is not only encourage but also greatly appreciated.  All I can do for now is till soil and plant seeds until something blossoms.  So far, I have yet to see the yield.  Yet, I keep going.  I am not sure if I can fully – much less succinctly answer – answer why I do.

All the best, DP

9

•22 August 2012 • Leave a Comment

Greetings,

It was five years ago today that 2007 Greek forest fires started to reach its most destructive and lethal levels.  Thanks to a summer season with a strong heat wave, severe drought and some acts of arson, the Peloponnese and Euboea peninsulas had reported over 3,000 fires.  In the end: 2,700 square kilometers (670,000 acres) of forest, olive groves and farmland and 2,100 buildings (including 1,000 houses) were destroyed and eighty-four people lost their lives, including several firefighters.  It was the worst fire breakout Greece had until another wave of forest fires hit Attica two summers later.

I was aware of this thanks to a very vocal colleague who was very much in tune with news outside of the United States and particularly of Greece.  At the time, the country was fixated on Lindsay Lohan’s “one day in jail” due to cocaine use and driving under the influence.  And yet, this occurred.  The U.S. television and media outlets do have their priorities covered.  I began associating the Greek forest fires with a demo I had just made at the time, which had the working title of “Pitfall” (after the 1962 film, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara).

Since the 2007 Greek forest fires were a starting point, I wanted the lyrics both to reflect that particular event and to be relevant to any devastating moment when it seems as though the rug was pulled from underneath your feet.  It’s that great paradox in creating art where it can reflect a particular event and yet can speak to all similar events (i.e. Picasso’s “Guernica”).  And because it was inspired by a particular event – and I have a strong interest in languages, even I feel very inadequate with them – I wanted to use the event’s language.

Originally, the Greek was going to be a repeating chorus.  But the subject and the language itself pushed it to form its own little mini-epic poem.  Thus, I hear “Firerage” as two parallel yet conjoined songs: one in English and the other in Greek.  Amy Green handled the “English side” with only general direction given by me (she knew it was inspired by a particular event).  The T.S. Eliot allusions were her idea and I approved of it gladly.  The “Greek side” was a long affair as I had first to write what should be said in English and then work with Anna Caraveli on the Greek translation.  To this day, I haven’t been able to sit down and properly “re-translate” what the Greek is and the Greek she used was a collegiate-level, highly sophisticated Greek (my cup of tea really and I’m still very grateful for that aspect of it).  But in general, it starts with complacency, then the devastation, then dealing with the aftermath, first with anger and finally with acceptance and even praise.  Like I said, “Firerage” is really two conjoined yet parallel songs: one in English and the other in Greek.

The Greek vocals were done by me in a period of haste as I was preparing to move out of my apartment in Falls Church, VA to journey north to the greater Boston metropolitan area.  If I had more time and more practice with the language, I could have come up with a better melody for it as well as a better delivery (I think some of my stresses and emphases are not authentically Greek).  Or I could have had someone else sing it for me with some direction.  But on the other hand, it was a sincere effort to memorialize something that was a blow to the Greeks that year.  Forgive me for my shortcomings.

While there were elements in the song I could have done better, I’m proud of it in terms of the music and its overall production.

And for all those who were lost … μπορεί μνήμη τους είναι αιώνια

All the best, DP

8

•14 May 2012 • Leave a Comment

Greetings,

Just to reiterate, The Singles Volume 1 is available physically (and by a certain extension through Bandcamp) and digitally (through every store TuneCore distributes except for Amazon-On-Demand).  One of the recent additions is Google Play.  Right off the bat and according to them, the project is similar to Pink Floyd, Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Rós and Porcupine Tree.  Not bad for an initial pass … and hopefully more activity –both on my part and by a curious audience – will yield more comparisons.

As the project’s sixth year of existence is approaching, there is that ever-present question: “What is The Spangle Maker?”

This is a dreaded question to answer, whether it’s amongst new company or drafting band biographies.  The best succinct answer I could give is that it’s a “personal musical R&D project” where it’s basically “whatever I want to make.”  Apparently this could put me in the category of “eclectic” where it’s about playing “Genre Roulette” or when you don’t want to make “Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly” longer than it already is.  But even with an all-inclusive label, if one exists, I hesitate to give it one because ultimately it’s personal expression.

At its core – no matter what the instrumentation, style, subject matter or execution – it’s personal, honest and sincere.  I don’t apologize for what I’ve released; nor should I.  The sentiments and ideas are genuine and reflect something of me.  And the way I approach is akin to painting where it’s about that moment of inspiration, executing it right then and there and moving onto the next one.  No matter what happens, The Spangle Maker will remain true to that standard.

I conclude with a simple request.  If you are reading this and you don’t know what this sounds like, give it a spin.  And if you do know it, please spread the word about this to anyone and everyone who may like this.

All the best, DP

7

•16 April 2012 • Leave a Comment

Greetings,

It was five years ago today that at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus – better known as Virginia Tech – a student shot thirty-two people dead and wounding twenty-five others.  It’s the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, the worst act of mass murder on college students and the second deadliest act of mass murder at a school campus.

I’m not going to get into the larger issues raised as 1) it’s been extensively covered at the time and since and 2) that’s not really relevant here.  This is strictly personal.

I did not know anyone who was killed or wounded that day personally.  Yet it made an impression on me for two main reasons.  The first one was that I was closer to them in terms of age (I was 26) and experience (finished college two years prior).  The second one was an unspoken bond with Virginian schools as someone who grew up there.  Obviously anyone who attended Virginia Tech was hurt by this.  But this hurt was also felt by those who attended any of the Virginian schools.  It’s an unspoken bond that became very apparent that day.  In fact, I thank Ben Lansing for expressing this sentiment visually at the time:

Cartoon by Ben Lansing

Another thing I remember very clearly about it was the weather.  During April, it was a spring warm.  But the sixteenth was a significant exception.  It felt like late autumn with cold crisp air and a grey overcast.  All of these things created an association with an earlier musical idea I had.  Thus was born my “musical response” to what happened.  This was – and still is – my humble tribute to what happened at Blacksburg.

Its subtitle is “an elegia in memoriam 16.04.2007 – ut prosim” (using the school’s motto).  Yet I still feel that this can be – and should be – seen as a comfort during any time of mourning, whether it’s for one or for many.  Furthermore, as this anniversary coincides with Bright Monday (or “Easter Monday” for those use the Julian calendar to determine the Pascha date), I affirm and testify that death has been and is still conquered.  Death does not have the final say, even when it seems that way.

May God grant rest to all Thy servants for as much as He is merciful and loves mankind.

Memory eternal.

All the best, DP

6

•27 March 2012 • Leave a Comment

Greetings one and all,

It was five years ago today when The Romantic Dysthymia was first released into the great wide open.

The concept behind it was providing an “emotional narrative.”  Basically it’s about a young man who goes into the city to try to have a “night out on the town.”  He however feels alone and alienated.  Consumed by this depression whilst walking on the city streets, he reaches the “conclusion” that he should end his internal suffering by jumping into the nearby river.

It accomplished two major goals I had at the time.  The first one was to make a continuous and cohesive work with multiple sections/parts and that could be played from beginning to end.  This reflects a lot of artists I personally like where the focus is more on albums than on individual songs.  Thus I wanted to do the same thing with my own music.  The second one was to channel a lot of internal emotions and thoughts that were bothering me even before I had the idea of The Spangle Maker.

Looking on it now, I still stand behind it because it represents both what I felt and what I could do at the time.  There are some things that I did in it that I wouldn’t do now.  However, unlike other artists I know (both directly and indirectly), I don’t dismiss the early work just because it’s early.  While the Derek Power of 2012 is different than the Derek Power of 2007, they are both the same person.  Furthermore, I’m experimental in the dictionary sense: I test out an idea and produce a result, and as long as I obtain data from it, I consider it a success.

Finally, I appreciate greatly both Natalie Garland and Andrew Thompson for their contributions to this particular release … the release that started it all and not just The Spangle Maker.  Thank you.

All the best, DP

5

•16 March 2012 • Leave a Comment

Greetings one and all,

Four years ago today, Rand Abdel-Qader was killed by her own father “in the name of honour.”  He felt his honour stained because she was seen conversing – and allegedly had an affair – with a British soldier.  It didn’t matter to him that it was done in public and at a relief centre where she volunteered her time.  It didn’t matter to him that the interactions were pleasant, cordial and even affirming.  It didn’t matter to him that it was, in spite of any feelings she may have felt, very innocent and platonic.  Simply being in the same company as an foreigner, an occupier/invader and an infidel, was enough to murder her, ask that his sons to help him, ensure that the rest of the family – with the exception of her mother – disown her and insist that he would have killed her immediately after birth had he known then what he knew now.

It was this story that prompted me to make The Rose of Al Basrah.

This work is the funeral Rand never had.  It affirmed her character as someone who seem to love ideas like beauty and truth in the way seventeen year olds do … with wide-eyed passion.  This is not a declaration of a fault.  On the contrary, it’s something that most who have lived through that age can understand, myself included.  This work also called what happened to her what it truly was: a brutal, selfish, childish and inexcusable act you could do within your own family.  Her father only demonstrated conditional love toward her daughter.  Furthermore, I could see other ages besides the age he actually was at the time (46).  And finally, it provided a means to wail and mourn for the loss of someone who was created by God and called very good.  If her family couldn’t do it – again with exceptions – someone else should.  That responsibility fell onto me.  My constant hope is that what I could do was done in good service to her … and by extension, to her mother.

I also see this work as a means of calling an “honour killing” in general what it really is: a brutual, selfish, childish and inexcusable act you could do within your own family.  It does not serve any high ideal like justice … there’s nothing just in killing someone within your own family.  And even if you could make a case of an actual transgression against a higher and broader law, i.e. adultery, it neither does nor should warrant a “death sentence.”  All “honour killings” do is make the family patriarch feel “better” after feeling “stained” due to someone else’s actions.  Consequently, it destroys a life without any semblance of love, compassion, mercy or remorse.  It is simply murder.

And so this work is and shall remain dedicated to all who have been killed in this way … “in the name of honour.”

For you, Rand (23.06.1990-16.03.2008)

All the best, DP