Empty parking lot, ringing

It’s been half a year since my last update and a lot has been happening in my little corner of the world! A major announcement comes from the inimitable cohort, Kinds of Kings. They have announced their first ever Bouman Fellowship in which they have nominated me along with Cassie Wieland and Mason Bynes as the first ever Bouman Fellows. This fellowship serves as a way for the Kings to use their platform in the scene to advocate and mentor early-career composers through concerts, promotion, and professional development programs. They have commissioned all three of the fellows to compose a new piece for different ensembles. These pieces will then be premiered on separate concerts in New York alongside works from the Kings themselves. I have been asked to write a piece for New York based, Real Loud, which consists of two electric guitarists, two electric bassists, and two drummers (!!). Pretty much a match made in heaven, honestly. I wanted to take some time leading up to the premiere of my new work—December 13, 2019 at National Sawdust—and talk about the piece itself. This is something I rarely do and typically like to avoid, however, this piece feels different. I’ve approached the concept of this work in a way that I never have before and am excited to share my scattered thoughts on where this music is coming from.

I chose to write my piece for the full ensemble. I’ve had plenty of experience in the past writing for electric guitars, bass, and drums. With this commission, I get to expand on my previous practices through the augmentation of both the bass section and the drums. The instrumentation is strictly set to rock instruments, meaning no double bass and no orchestral percussion, only typical drum set instruments. Although it’s been a few years since I’ve actively been in a band, this way of thinking about my music has never left me—it’s like riding a bike yadda yadda.

Shortly before the Fellowship was announced, I was asked if I had a name for this piece that I had just barely begun to think about writing. Nine times out of ten, this is the worst question to get asked, especially this early into the process. But, instinctively, without ever really having thought about it, I said yes. I DID have a name for this piece! There was a vague vision from the recent past that had been circling in my head for awhile. It had something to do with urban decay, and time travel, and hearing loss, and the lifelong search for a sense of purpose. I know that sounds absurd and pretentious, but please let me try to explain.

The piece is called, Empty parking lot, ringing. It is a piece about parking lots (sort of), and also about memory (kind of), and the fleetingness of Time (mostly). These ideas all intersect at a special place in my mind, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for awhile now. For starters, I’ve found myself getting lost in the idea and in the presence of large parking lots. Much like seeing an old house or visiting a historic building, we gaze in awe of the presence of history embedded in the walls and floors. When I see an empty parking lot, quilted with its patchwork of tar lines and unmended cracks, my mind becomes fascinated with the mundane history that took place on those grounds. The parking lots of strip malls and dying shopping centers have a deep emptiness to them, as if any car that dare venture onto the lot is to get swallowed by the void. Imagining these dead, dying, and uncared for lots at a time when they were full of life starts to feel like I’ve been transported to another world. Except, this “new” world has existed before. There was a time in recent history when the asphalt yard of the Big Lots down the street was crawling with excitement. Imagining this world feels alien. Time is fickle, but memory is what connects the present with this vision of the past. Memory almost acts as a sort of wormhole, transporting me to this new place in time or space. It is in the empty parking lot—the vastness, anticipating the arrival of the masses—that the wormhole opens up and I am suddenly in a world both foreign and familiar. 

One thing about me is that my memory is delicate. So much of what I know I’ve experienced I can’t seem to remember for the life of me. Other things that I do remember seem unimportant, like what 3 AM in an empty parking lot felt like on a summer night ten years ago somewhere in the Midwest. However, I’ve learned to love the insignificance of these memories, and to connect with the sensory impressions of these recollections. I can smell the crispness of the late night air. I can feel the moisture against my skin in the early morning. I can hear a ringing in my ears. All of these senses connect me to a time and place in my past. So much of that time was experienced in parking lots that were just as worn and weathered ten years ago as they are today, and I wonder, maybe these lots were born into the world as bruised and beaten as we see them. 

In reliving these blips of memory, I am thrust back into a curious fascination with the history that has taken place or will take place in any given parking lot. I’m not only curious about the past transgressions it has witnessed, but also, what future joys it will bear. There is a specific parking lot in mind. It is a church parking lot across the street from the building it serves. Often times I forget that it exists for a church because every time I pass by it my gaze gets immediately drawn to its emptiness, never noticing the beauty of the church just on the other side of the road. I’ve never seen a car parked in this lot—probably because I never pass by during service hours. Occasionally there is a cop parked facing the street, trying to catch people speeding, but never a car using the lot as it was intended. I see this empty space almost every day, and its hollowness never ceases to captivate me. The weeds growing up through the cracks are the only forms of life I’ve seen exist in this space, but I know there is history there. This parking lot has been witness to a full range of human existence and emotion. When was the last wedding ceremony that took place and filled the lot with unbounded joy? What about a funeral—the grief absorbed by the pit of this plot of land?

I suppose you could say that any bit of land is as interesting as the next when you take into account the history that has unfolded there or the future that lies ahead. But the hollowness of a parking lot not in use creates a sort of tension. Its purpose is to be filled with movement and energy. The modernness of it ties it to a relatively compact time frame. It’s a period that I can comprehend and imagine, not lying beyond my scope of understanding. I’ll catch myself in a daze, visualizing multiple points in Time at once, floating freely through space. The parking lot starts to stretch in front of my eyes, becoming infinitely vast. And in that void, I notice something—a ringing in my ears. Back to reality.

This piece has become a means for me to explore unrelated ideas such as ambient space and understanding one’s purpose through these experiences and daydreams of parking lots. It’s all a little weird and maybe these ideas won’t connect in your mind the same way they do to me, but just trust me and let’s take a little trip together (not the drug kind). And sorry if you think parking lots are boring. That’s kind of the point (sort of).