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  Steve Ball Diary
Monday March 11 
Tuesday March 12 
Wednesday March 13 
Thursday March 14 
Friday March 15 
Saturday March 16 
Sunday March 17 
Read the archive
Monday March 18 
Tuesday March 19 
Wednesday March 20 
Thursday March 21 
Friday March 22 
Saturday March 23 
Sunday March 24 

Monday March 11

Short but intense early morning practices.  Playing in the stairwell is a joy, even when I am tired and un-energized.  Even the simplest repetitive string of single notes come to life in the right reverberant space. 

I suspect this is a secret but obvious technique that has more power than we assume: if I sound good (because of the quality of my instrument and/or the quality of the space where I am working) then my practice will have more energy, and probably more value. 

What affects the quality of the practice space?  For me, it falls out in this order of priority: 1) acoustic properties, 2) lighting, 3) order in the space, 4) shape, 5) colors, 6) size.

Long day at work.  Then, SBRS is giving up our rehearsal in response to a need for a SC Development Team meeting.  Many distressing and distracting mails and conversations flying around over the past few weeks.  There are some things that require people to meet and speak face to face.

* * *

Considered putting my meeting notes here, then deleted them.  There are certain ideas/issues/topics that publishing in an online diary will only exacerbate.

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Tuesday March 12

A quiet night at home with LH.  Investing in my often neglected hearth this evening.

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Wednesday March

Juggling an ongoing flurry of email discussing directions, potentials, opinions, and annoyances. 

* * *

Once again, the highlight of my day:

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Thursday March 14

No SBRS rehearsal this evening because TravisM has a show at EMP with Tiger Zane.  Meeting with CurtG before SGC rehearsal to discuss Circulation Workshop plans. 

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Friday March 15

Attended an all day 'offsite' at MS called Design Day.  Some very inspiring sessions from some of the best UI and User Experience, and product designers on the planet. 

The highlights:

--  a confirmation and reminder from a well-respected UI pioneer that we each carry our own unique framework of perception that shapes and colors everything we experience.  Assuming that any two people  understand or experience anything in the same way is, at best, an illusion, at worst, a delusion that can lead to disappointment, false expectations, and missed targets. 

-- a quick history and portrait of the life, struggles, and vision of Vincent Van Gogh; 

-- a study of the way people learn reveals/confirms that there are orthogonal modes of learning, and UI (or instructors) that present only one 'mode of presentation' will, by definition, likely 'miss' a majority of the audience.  

There are certainly many good reasons to distrust Microsoft (or any large, distributed organization.)  There are also many amazing people and vital activities going on inside this organism that the outside world rarely has access to share in or experience.  

We are so quick to judge, bad-mouth, write-off, and criticize each other and the institutions in the world around us.   We are especially hard on those things, ideas, and/or people that appear to threaten us or our sacred views of how things are, or worse, how things 'should' be.  

Perception and the middle way: a) things are rarely as simple as they appear, b) things are rarely as complex as they appear. 

Level eleven: developing strategies for working with real complexities, contradictions, paradoxes, and ambiguities within the vast gray areas that separate us. 

* * *

Lisa is flying to LA tomorrow for a week of workshops and work activities.  This evening: preparations.   

* * *

Been keeping this diary all week, but just deleted a slew of potentially controversial entries.  Necessary self-editing to preserve my own peace, despite the potential for shared observation, growth, learning, and interaction that may come from this.

Deciding, again, that this diary is not a forum for these kinds of writings. 

* * *

Saturday March 16

Up very early to take LH to the airport.  Missing Calisthenics (and maybe sitting) to send her off in the right way.  Later today: on to the third official Seattle Circle Circulation Workshop.  No agenda.  No plans. 

The art of instruction is in responding appropriately in the moment to the needs of those in the room.  I suspect this is the underlying skill of the Master artist: the ability to transform what ever raw materials are available in the moment into an expression of beauty.

My personal goal for this workshop: to generate more energy than I spend.

* * *

Just back from all day at HQ for the Circulation Workshop with eight guitarists and a short SGC quintet busking show at (for?) Isabel's school.  

I am wiped out, but still have 1/2 hour of AAD work to do.  Better write this now or it may not happen later.

The Circulation team was well prepared -- it felt to me as if we were picking up where we left off at the completion of  the last Circulation project.  This team was well aware of and executed many of the more musical aspects of Circulation practice and primaries.

Our work began with an extremely musical Free Circulation, then we moved into an exploration of Pulse Division in smaller groups, an exploration of applied Group Loops, and more Pulse Division in 7 that provided empirical answers to the question "How can I practice (prepare for) Circulations when I am alone?"

A good day's work. 

Then off to the show in the basement of a church in the U-District.  Our SGC quintet busking was barely audible, so we kept it short and sweet.   Some fun and funny moments. 

Isabel's school really seems to have their act together.

* * *

Tobin's link to the NY Times article on the future of music hits a few nails on the head -- some of these are nails that I have hit on before, and some are nails that have been driven into my head (and into the coffin that contains my bank account) during my multiple careers as a music technology entrepreneur. 

The article is recommended reading.   TravisH had some wonderful email rebuttals to some of the points in which the writer eloquently states the obvious.  I'll leave it to Travis (or Tobin) to share those should they wish.

Tobin's mention of a potential DirectMusic/Ximer-esque project re-birth at MS comes about six months too late for me, although I may still be able to pour some of my considerable gasoline on the sparks (mistaken for "new ideas") that seem to be flying around in a few heads there. 

Now, onto my final obligations of the day.

* * *

Sunday March 17

Late night phone call last night from music-sister DebraK in Sacramento.  Nice to hear her voice and catch up briefly, even though I was deep asleep when she called.

The bad news: even after two decades of practice, working in groups is difficult and challenging.

* * *

Poetic Excursion:

I am a knife.  You are a hammer. Together we can create a sculpture, design and build other tools, or pound and slice the crap out of each other.  I am not a hammer.  You are not a knife. I will not pound that nail.  Please do not attempt to cut that paper.  

* * *

SC Circulation Project III - Day Two Notes

Participants: SB, CurtG, TravisM, ChrisG, JohnH, ElisabethP, ChadB, MarkJ, with StephenG in the Kitchen.

Morning Sessions

0. Airport Exercise warm-up and Free Circulation (Whole Team)

1. Composed Melody Circulation (CG)

a.) one person begins choosing the first note

b.) each person in sequence follows and listens before choosing their note

c.) the melody is composed intentionally one note at a time, one note per person

The sequence unfolds as follows:

1-2-3-4 ... n-1-2-3-4 ... n

and each person chooses their note quickly as the previous notes circulate around to their seat.  

c.) when the first pass is complete the first person chooses a second note and the process continues until each person has chosen two notes.  At this point, the Composed Circulation is complete. 

d.) when the last player has selected the last note, there is a brief pause, then the completed Circulation is played twice

e) the Circulation is then played 4 more times with each player "cascading" their notes (3 pulses)

f) then the Circulation is played twice again sans cascade

g) the 'performance' is completed with 3 un-cued chords:

chord 1 = first note
chord 2 = second note
chord 3 = first note

EXECUTION NOTE: There should be as little 'gap' between each 'round' of note selection as possible. Ideally, an audience should not know that 'composition' or note selection is even happening.   The audience experiences a Circulating melody being built up one note at a time.

2. Follow the Leader (SB)

The designated 'leader' begins play a short simple part (a part is not short or simple if the part cannot be easily and quickly transmitted around the circle), and the person to their right 'learns' the part by whatever means necessary and repeats it exactly as if they were acting as an 'analog delay' to the leader's part.   Each player inserts is a 'delay' between the time when then accept the part and pass it on to the next seat  Each part is transmitted around the circle until the leader sees that at least two people are playing the first part; then the leader 'enters' a second part into the circle, providing multiple layers of parts that are each 'circulating' with at least two players on each.  The Follow the Leader Circulation completes when the leader passes 'silence' into the circle, and the silence circulates around until the last player completes his last part. 

3. Group Loops with Sectional Circulations (TM)

Too difficult to describe in my current state.  Perhaps another diarist will give this a shot. My Argentinean "Greenthumb" pals will recognize this as the "greening" we did on 'Dark.'

4. Cascading Dynamics (CG)

Too difficult to describe in my current state.  Perhaps another diarist will give this a shot.

5. Lunchtime Comments and Observations (Whole Team)

a). we generally play within a dynamic range that moves from 6 to 8 on a possible scale of 1 to 10.   

b.) Group Loops give us a structure within which we may learn to improvise.  Love to see this brought into performance situations.  Principles that keep it safe: keep your part simple and and the overall length short.

c.) Question: how to signal chords, key changes, cascading, dynamic changes, section changes during Circulations and Group Loops? Shall we simply use our voice and speak to each other during the pieces or is there a yet-to-be-discovered vocabulary of non-verbal cues we can develop?

d.) Historical review of the primary characteristics of 'Squird.' 

- usually green; sometimes brown or orange
- of indeterminate organic origin
- usually somewhere between a liquid or solid
- supposed to be 'good for you'

Later postulation on entomology of the word. My personal hypothesis: contraction of 'squirt' and 'turd.'

Post-Lunch Sessions

6. Story Circulations (SB)

a.) Free Word Circulation (sans guitars)

b.) Themed Word Circulations:

i.) describe a skirt performance; (one word per person) -- result: a cacophony of nonsense sentences, no theme, no clear message, no perceived connection between speakers

ii.) provide feed back about lunch; one word per person -- result: clearer meaning, and connection between speakers directed by 'group intelligence' delivering an 'averaged' but somewhat coherient assessment of lunch;

c.) Sentence Circulations

i.) describe the vision of Seattle Circle; one sentence per person; result: another 'averaged' group monologue that held together remarkably well given the potentially divisive and ambiguous subject matter

ii.) in an emotional tone, describe the problems you are having with your group; one sentence per person; result: more flow and less focus on the 'process', more focus on the content of what each person was saying, as if the group and each person in it had a larger 'investment' in the overall message;  more energy and connection between the individual 'players' as well within as the overall 'composition'

d.) Reading SC Mission from Flyers (one word each person)    result: first time, chunky, no flow; second time, more flow, more focus on phrasing.

e.) Story Circulations with Guitars -- repeated themes above a) - d)  replacing words/sentences with notes and phrases on Guitar.   result: many clear parallels between how we speak (as a group and as individuals) and how we play

7. GC Theme Circulation in Gm (CG)

a.) cascades
b.) distributed theme, one person per string
c.) trading Circulations and theme

8. Weekend Review Performance for DougB (SB)

a.) Intentional Melody Circulation
b.) Group Loop
c.) Follow the Leader
d.) GC Gm Theme Circulation with Cascades

9. Follow Up Observations (Whole Team)

a.) one person mentioned confusion about 'presence' vs. 'absence' of music: to this person, if notes 'sound good' then it might be Music, but they do not know if that means that Music was present.

b.) comment: Circulation work is really a form of practical work on the technique of developing musicality and improvisation skills: Circulation demands a different form of group listening and response to what is happening in the moment unlike our 'normal' musical situations where you can play your stream of notes on auto-pilot. 

c.) one person would like to see these forms, structures, practices and performance techniques taken back to individual performance teams and applied in both rehearsal and performance situations.

* * *


Monday March 18

Up early and out the door this morning with 'homework' taken care of first thing. Even had time to clean up some loose ends and get organized this morning around the house. The morning seems to have been a full day so far.

A few mundane errands to run on the way to work this morning: gas, dry cleaning, bank, post office, and I'll still be on time to my all day "offsite" meeting.

* * *

In the Seattle GC community, there is a general and often expressed disdain for the idea of "meetings."  Granted, meeting face to face is only one of at least six strategies for collective planning and problem solving. But given this disdain, scheduling meetings is like pulling teeth.  And yet, we also seem unwilling or unable to explore other alternatives.

At MS, periodically, small teams go off together and sequester themselves in a shielded room (no email, phone, or net connections) all day to plan the next phase of operations and/or strategy. The team usually comes back with notes, a long list of items to research, and a list of tasks to execute with dates by each task.

But perhaps more importantly, the offsite team often comes back with a better understanding of each other and how to work together.  The real benefit of these kinds of 'meetings' may have less to do with what gets put on paper and more to do with the fact that the people in the room are in one place with clear a purpose -- there is a common mission: to work together to face the problems at hand.

* * *

Tuesday March 19

This just in:

----- Original Message -----
From: David LaVallee
To: SB, CG
Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2002 4:44 PM
Subject: dismissal of pressures

"I am not a creator," Fuller once said. "I am a swimmer and a dismisser of irrelevancies. Everything we need to work with is around us, although most of it is initially confusing. To find order in what we experience we must first inventory the total experiences, then temporarily set aside all irrelevancies. I do not invent my thoughts. I merely separate out some local patterns from a confusing whole. The act is dismissal of pressures. Flight was the discovery of the lift - not the push..."

-- Buckminster Fuller Anthology for a New Millenium, Thomas Zung pp 40.

* * *

Wednesday March 20

Up early for AAD tasks and a quick picture of the day.  Nice to have these out of the way early.  The rest of the day sort of took care of itself. 

Not my 'perfect day', but a pretty good day, nonetheless.

* * *

Thursday March 21

Much to say, but not here, not now.  Furious email flurries all around.  Much articulation and 'processing' underway within the extended SC team.

Good news: projector experiments for tomorrow's show seem promising.

* * *

Friday March 22

Very bad allergies today.  Must have sneezed two-hundred times this morning. 

* * *

SGC septet debut at Pitcairn Scott Gallery of Design. 

A packed house and a good show using the new sound system borrowed from SBRS.   Fine and fancy programs too thanks to a generously and skillfully executed printing job by Dean. 

Also, a new twist: song titles projected on the wall behind the group.  A minor success with some execution bugs to be smoothed out should we do this again.

Also, very nice to have special guests, TomR and JonathanB in the house.  We even managed to pull BillR out of his KMFDM batcave for the event.  I blew off potential social events afterwards to conserve energy and fight allergies.

* * *

Saturday March 23

Wow.  What a day. Where to begin?

Highlights: Seattle Circle 2002 Spring Gala and Fundraiser sponsored by the Seattle Circle Development Team.  Over 45 people and $700 in donations.  Performances by Tom Redmond and the Hellboys, SBRS, SGC, and Casting Shadows/Four Cheeses.  A slide show partially broadcast on borrowed equipment entitled, Seattle Circle: History of the Future

And wonderful historical photos adorning the walls by Ingrid Pape-Sheldon. 

All in all, a successful day of strong efforts and generosity.  Need to download and post the pix I took later next week and share some snapshots of the fantastic lighting that Frank, Ingrid, Chad and Jaxie put together.

We have a new sign at HQ and new stage lights after many delays and difficulties. Congratulations to those who took on these thankless tasks and delivered the goods.    

* * *

Sunday March 24

Reading this morning:

Rock as Art

"Rock is eating its young. Rock musicians are America's most wasted natural resource.

Popular music and film are the two great art forms of the twentieth century. In the past twenty-five years, cinema has gained academic prestige. Film courses are now a standard part of the college curriculum and grants are routinely available to noncommercial directors.

But rock music has yet to win the respect it deserves as the authentic voice of our time. Where rock goes, democracy follows. The dark poetry and surging Dionysian rhythms of rock have transformed the consciousness and permanently altered the sensoriums of two generations of Americans born after World War Two.

Rock music should not be left to the Darwinian laws of the marketplace. This natively American art form deserves national support. Foundations, corporations and Federal and state agencies that award grants in the arts should take rock musicians as seriously as composers and sculptors. Colleges and universities should designate special scholarships for talented rock musicians. Performers who have made fortunes out of rock are ethically obligated to finance such scholarships or to underwrite independent agencies to support needy musicians.


These days, rock musicians are set upon by vulture managers, who sanitize and repackage them and strip them of their unruly free will. Like sports stars, musicians are milked to the max, then dropped and cast aside when their first album doesn't sell.

Managers offer all the temptations of Mammon to young rock bands: wealth, fame, and easy sex. There is not a single public voice in the culture to say to the musician: You are an artist, not a money machine. Don't sign the contract. Don't tour. Record only when you are ready. Go off on your own, like Jimi Hendrix, and live with your guitar until it becomes part of your body.

How should an artist he trained? Many English rock musicians in the Sixties and early Seventies, including John Lennon and Keith Richards, emerged from art schools. We must tell the young musician: Your peers are other artists, past and future. Don't become a slave to the audience, with its smug hedonism, short attention span and hunger for hits.

Artists should immerse themselves in art. Two decades ago, rock musicians read poetry, studied Hinduism, and drew psychedelic visions in watercolors. For rock to move forward as an art form, our musicians must be given the opportunity for spiritual development. They should be encouraged to read, to look at paintings and foreign films, to listen to jazz and classical music.

Artists with a strong sense of vocation can survive life's disasters and triumphs with their inner lives intact. Our musicians need to be rescued from the carpetbaggers and gold-diggers who attack them when they are young and naive.

Long, productive careers don't happen by chance."

-- Camille Paglia, essay #4 from "Sex, Art, and American Culture" (essay originally printed in the New York Times , April 16, 1992.)

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