Friday, October 30, 2020

Paper Life is now available!

Paper Life, my latest solo album, is now available on Bandcamp. $5, and it includes a PDF of liner notes and lyrics. The album will appear on the various streaming services over the next few days.

About Paper Life

In 2019, I reconnected with a musician I had worked with in my Los Angeles days. We talked about working together on something that spoke to the lives we had now, decades later, while musically referencing the 1990s.

Distorted guitars. Early samplers. Drum loops. The big electronica wave that didn't happen. Shoegaze. Artists like Curve, The Crystal Method, Filter, Garbage, Goldie, Hooverphonic, Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy, Republica, Roni Size, Slowdive. And of course, the entire grunge class of the early 90s.

He was not able to collaborate, but I liked the ideas and it became a solo album. The pandemic happened, and that ended up informing the record as well.

I have described Paper Life to my friends, somewhat jokingly, as my "mid-life crisis depression record". That is both completely true and untrue, as all the best stories are. I also think its is simultaneously one of the catchiest and darkest solo records I have made. 

Paper Life is damaged, distressed, digital, and distorted — a mirror of life in 2020.


Recorded by Anu at Blue Moscow in California, 2019 - 2020
All songs written by Anu Kirk, © 2020 Erich Zahn Music (ASCAP)

Mastered by Michael Hateley for Lotus Mastering

Album art design by Iran Narges

Thank You

Robert Ptak for the inspiration, friendship, and Artificial Joy.

Matt Gramly for building the guitar I used for nearly all of this record.

Iran Narges. Liz Yelamos. Geoff Geis. Stan Fairbank. Thomas Muer. Rich Trott. Mark Erickson. Maryann Faricy. Clint Woods. Holland Campbell. Brian M. Ward. Christy Phoenix. Xopher Davidson. John Hong. Michael James. Chris Fudurich. Louis Figueroa. Steve Mason. Brian Ward. Jon Appleton. You helped make this record better.

Gold stars: Dr. SS Yom. Dr. Katherine Yung. Kristin Bond. Dr. Yue Ma. Laura Habich.

Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

That's What We Do: Winner, SF Independent Short Film Festival, 2020

Lauren Tabak (also known as "Elle Empty") and I wrote a song together earlier this year: "That's What We Do", another in a long series of collaborations.

Lauren is an extremely talented filmmaker and shot a great short film for the song. Her music video just won an award in the San Francisco Independent Short Film Festival. 

Congratulations, Lauren!

Check out the award-winning work below:

Friday, October 09, 2020

The Duke University Talent Identification Program (1980 - 2020)

After 40 years of serving gifted and talented children, Duke University has abruptly terminated their highly-regarded Talent Identification Program (TIP), laying off all employees of the non-profit organization. Like many other educational programs, TIP suffered from the loss of revenue from canceling its summer residential programs due to the pandemic (and perhaps Duke deciding they'd rather have a different type of summer program).

This is terrible news for the kids, and for gifted education. It is also extremely unfortunate for the hardworking staff who kept the program running, and now find themselves unemployed.

It is a devastating loss for me as well. TIP changed my life twice, and saved it once. 

As a student, the 4 summers I spent at TIP were major defining experiences of my life. The person I am today was greatly shaped by my time there, and the students and faculty I met. Many of my TIP friends remain my closest and best friends today.

As a teacher, TIP reminded me of the person I had forgotten I was, and the person I had forgotten I could be. My first summer teaching inspired me to leave Los Angeles for San Francisco. Teaching at TIP also reinvigorated my passion for music, after a decade in L.A. had nearly killed it. Several of my former students have gone on to either make music their vocation, or their passion, and I am still in touch with some of them. Several of the instructors I met during that time remain good friends as well. 

One of my TIP friends saved my life. A story for another time, though some of you have already heard it.

I have written about some of my TIP experiences here as a student and as an adult occasionally, but perhaps not as much as I should. 

Today's news is roughly equivalent to finding out that your childhood home, your high school, and your alma mater all burned to the ground. I am heartbroken over the loss of something so important to me, sympathetic to the dozens of TIP employees who have been laid off, and sad for all the gifted kids who will never have the TIP experience.  

Thank you for everything, TIP. 

There are so many special people I met through TIP as a student and teacher I can't even begin to list them all. I am sure all of them are feeling the same terrible sense of loss I am. 

Thank you, Dr. Sawyer, for your persistence, belief, and hard work. TIP would never have happened without you.

Thank you Dr. Greg Kimble, Mark DeLong, Angela Teachey, and all the other tremendous instructors and teaching assistants who both saw our potential and put up with our adolescence.

Thank you Deborah-Kay Hughes, Shawna Young, Vicki Rennecker-Nakayoshi, Tasha Martin, Brian Cooper, Ramon Griffin, Vicki Stocking, Hollace Selph, John Pollins, Lynn Daggett Pollins, Pamela Clinkenbeard, and the countless other hard-working people who kept TIP's back offices running.

Thank you G. Stanat, Glen Borg, Art Shepard, and all the RAs. You were role models of the best kind, and provided a different, but equally important kind of education out of the classroom for your young charges.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Edward Van Halen (1955 - 2020)

Eddie Van Halen died today from throat cancer. He was 65 years old.

Ed, The Musician

Eddie Van Halen and his brother founded the band that shared their last name in 1972. Eddie made his name and his fortune writing songs and playing guitar in that band, whose self-titled first album was released in 1978.

Ed was a guitar hero, and still frequently tops lists of "best" and "most influential" players. He is credited with inventing two-handed tapping, a visually flashy technique where players tap the strings on the guitar's neck with both hands. It is itself a logical extension of the "hammer-on" and "pull-off" techniques, but Ed did it first, producing blazing runs of 16th notes and inspiring generations of teenaged players. 

His playing had a style, which, while squarely in the "hard rock" camp, was broad and unique. Ed seldom just hit a basic chord and let it ring. He wrote interesting guitar parts that covered a space between chords and single notes.

Eddie Van Halen's playing also had great feel. Despite his considerable chops, Ed's playing always felt loose, fluid, and effortless. Like a true master, he makes it look easy.

Ed also cared a lot about guitar sound and guitar technology. He famously discovered that by starving his tube amps of current using a "variac", he could get the sound he wanted from his amp. He developed his own "brown sound", a unique, distorted guitar tone that retains dynamics and detail. He also had a shimmering clean tone, all enhanced by bits of "jape" -- his term for his effects, a tape delay, phasing, flanging, and chorusing, deployed as he liked.

He built his own guitars from parts, with a deliberately raw and primitive aesthetic, offset with his bold home-created striped paint jobs. He was constantly tinkering with different ideas.

He was also a solid piano player. Many of his songs were written on keyboard first, and a number of Van Halen's biggest hits were driven by keyboard, rather than guitar -- notably "The Cradle Will Rock", "Jump", and "Why Can't This Be Love"

Ed was more than a riff generator, he was a songwriter. Yes, he created those intricate and interesting guitar parts, but he often wrote the vocal melodies and harmonies, too.

He also famously contributed the guitar solo to Michael Jackson's "Beat It"...the subsequent success of "Thriller" kept Van Halen's own album 1984 from the #1 slot, and Eddie's brother Alex never let him forget it. 

Ed also played rhythm guitar on Thomas Dolby's Astronauts & Heretics album, on the tracks "Eastern Bloc" and "Close But No Cigar".

Ultimately, his music brought happiness to millions of people, and his playing has inspired guitar players for over 40 years. Few people have ever had that kind of impact, and it is difficult to imagine anyone else having that kind of impact in the future.

He Gave Me A Guitar

I met Ed in the late 1990s. I was working for an audio technology company, managing their professional products. I was working from the Mountain View office when the receptionist told me there was an "Edward Van Halen" on the phone to talk to me.

I looked around the office and said "very funny, guys...sure, put 'Mr. Van Halen' through." Once I heard the voice on the other end of the phone, I instantly knew it was actually him. He wanted to try out some of our products in his 5150 studio at his compound in the canyons between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

A few days later, I dropped the gear off and was quickly hurried off the premises by the chief engineer. But about a month later, when I returned to pick up the demo unit and drop off the units he purchased, Ed came rolling up in a golf cart, wearing cow-print pajamas. It was close to noon, and he looked like he had just gotten out of bed.

He introduced himself ("Hi there, I'm Ed!") and we talked for a few minutes. He said he thought I was going to be older. He asked me if I played guitar. I told him I did. He smiled big, and walked over to his garage. 

As he pulled the hinged door open, he said "I wanna give you a guitar and an amp!" I was stunned. He said "I am really proud of this guitar, it's my favorite one I've worked on." He pulled out a plastic case, set it down on the driveway pavement, and opened it up. I was looking at a Peavey EVH Wolfgang, with a sunburst top. He said "It's yours, man...lemme get you a stack, too".

He started pulling out a complete 5150 amp stack: a tube head and 2 4x12 cabinets. 

I told him "I never in a million years would have believed I'd be standing in your driveway while you hand me a guitar." He just smiled that goofy smile of his and said "the amp doesn't sound good unless you turn everything up to the max." I assured him I would.

I couldn't even fit it all in my car, and left the 2nd amplifier cabinet at his place. I drove home in silent shock. "Eddie Van Halen just gave me a guitar." I never did go back for the bottom cabinet.

Of course, when the team at work found out about it, they were incredibly jealous.

I still have the guitar. I didn't have him sign it, as I thought that would have just been tacky. Though it is both valuable and desirable, I will never sell it.  It's not a collector's item, I play it. It has a few dings and scratches. It is one of the nicest-playing guitars I have, with a comfortable (for me) short(er)-scale neck. 

It has a "D-Tuna" that lets you instantly change to a drop-D tuning, along with an Ed-approved Floyd Rose vibrato system. The dual humbucker pickups and overall sound of the guitar mean it serves as my "hard rock" guitar. The EVH fills the space in my collection that a Les Paul might normally occupy for other guitar players.

Thank you for the music and the guitar, Ed.


Some examples of his work follow.

"Eruption", perhaps his best known display of his technique:

"Hear About It Later", one of my favorites, showing off his musicality and playing range:

And of course, "Jump" -- Van Halen's biggest hit, which mostly features the guitar hero playing a synthesizer:

Monday, October 05, 2020

The Oldest Song notes:
...the oldest musical composition to have survived in its entirety is a first century A.D. Greek tune known as the “Seikilos Epitaph.” The song was found engraved on an ancient marble column used to mark a woman’s gravesite in Turkey. “I am a tombstone, an image,” reads an inscription. “Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.” The column also includes musical notation as well as a short set of lyrics that read:  
“While you live, shine / Have no grief at all / Life exists only for a short while / And time demands its toll.”

Wise, and well-translated, as it preserves the feeling and a rhyme.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Leaving Social Media

I am leaving social media*, and you should, too.

*I will keep my accounts active rather than deleting them. As someone who works in what is described as "tech", it is simply not practical to not have them. I will continue to post outbound notifications about album releases from my various musical projects and the occasional blog post, but my days of frequently checking my accounts, posting links, and commenting are done for now, and hopefully for good.

Social media is a bad idea and a worse business model. I am tired of contributing to it, and I am tired of being assaulted by it. 

By "bad idea", I mean it is actively harmful to us as individuals and society to offer a platform for anyone and everyone to broadcast without curation or vetting. Particularly when the craziest and worst ideas are put in the same frame and given the same presentation and weight as the most banal personal trivia and serious journalism. This alone has damaged democracy and eroded our sense of common truths and purpose. 

As a business model, it is also terrible. People are now using social media as a daily newspaper, because it is free and "personalized". Social media repurposes other people's content (including yours) and monetizes them with its own advertising. 

Social media has contributed to the impoverishment of serious news organizations and helped enable and empower garbage pseudo-news providers from OANN to chumbox companies to meme farms. Every time we post on social media sites, we are working -- for free -- to make people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey even richer. They are definitely getting the better end of the deal, which is why they're multi-billionaires and you're worried about feeding your family.

The resulting data and databases are used in ways we can barely comprehend or believe by private companies. Worse, the information is being acquired by governments and used for everything from facial recognition databases to behavioral profiling to vetting who is allowed in or out and what they can do. If you think Trump's America is rough for some people now, wait a few more years and see what they do with this stuff. And if you're a "Republican", imagine what your nightmare Democratic candidate will do with unfettered access to your "private" life. 

Your employment is already at risk. The wrong kind of post will cost you your job, as the mob demands your employer give you the boot. Your employer will comply, firing you not "for your views" (which might be illegal) but because the mob scene / boycott is causing a distraction and bad press (and this, so far, has been totally legal).

Setting all that aside, social media has become permanently corrupted by businesses and state actors. A few years ago these efforts were clumsy and barely effective. They are now good enough to achieve their primary goals (manipulating how you feel, gathering information, and fomenting dissent, cynicism, and helplessness) with a mix of human actors and bots. Soon, machine-generated profiles will overwhelm us all, indistinguishable from friends-of-friends. It is already a safe bet that most of what you read on social media is false and posted with an ulterior motive. Within a few years, it is a certainty.

I am tired of contributing to these sites and these problems. I am done working for free, done giving my ideas and information to big platforms that enrich themselves from my work, while simultaneously using against me and my friends. It does not make me happy. And it makes bad people rich.

I am tired of spending so much time engaging with it. Tired of arguing with distant relatives and people I barely remember from high school and college, some of whom are merely ignorant and some of whom have had their brains rotted by toxic media...and as bad as my friends and families are, your friends and families are so much worse. 

I am tired of the daily assault. Today I opened Facebook's new design. Pitch-black. I can no longer choose to see "most recent", so I am subjected to whatever Facebook vomits at me. Two giant video ads for services or products I already use, followed by a string of posts from friends freaking out about the state of the world, likely getting pushed up because the comments are exactly what you'd expect: a third of people outraged because the original post isn't focused on "the right things", a third of people recycling Fox "News" tropes from 20 years ago, and a third of people making jokes, or cynical comments. Then pictures of food or cats or memes. It's an endless "feed" of bile and sugar. 

I have been primarily referencing Facebook, but it really does not matter which site I am talking about. You might not use Facebook, but think Instagram is OK. For starters, Facebook owns Instagram. They're the same company, same model, same problems. Go to Instagram if you want to feel insta-bad at the stream of curated, empty fabulousness coming from people there.  And the less said about Twitter, the better. If the people that owned it and worked there had any decency, they'd have shut it down years ago. They're enabling the disinformation war and have been for years.

I tried not to take the bait, to refrain from commenting, to avoid feeling outraged. I failed. I let the darkness get to me, and get in me. 

So I am done. You should think about doing the same. 

Social media offers nothing that you cannot get in other ways. Call someone. Send an email. Read or write a blog. Subscribe to a news site. 

I hope you will stay in touch. I am not hard to find, and most of you have my email address, if not my phone number. You may see a bit more activity here -- I may try posting daily or weekly on the blog instead of on social media. 


If you want to read more about why social media is so bad, there are a pile of great books and articles:

10 Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier, 2018

Who Owns The Future?, Jaron Lanier, 2013

You Are Not A Gadget, Jaron Lanier, 2010

Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media, Brooking and Singer, 2018

The New York Times has written extensively about many of the issues with social media.