Teaching Inequality

Consequences of Traditional Music Theory Pedagogy

Just a quick note to say that I finally finished that piece on Ben Shapiro I mentioned a few newsletters back. Well, not on him, but rather using his recent attack on rap as a starting point to critique music theory pedagogy.

You can read “Teaching Inequality: Consequences of Traditional Music Theory Pedagogy” here!

I’ve been asked to write a follow-up where I explain how I’ve incorporated these ideas into my teaching, provide examples, and conclude with some additional resources. Stay tuned for that.

Shapiro’s quote:

The musical case against rap is that in my view and the view of my music theorist father who went to music school, there are three elements to music. There is harmony, there is melody, and there is rhythm. And rap only fulfills one of these—the rhythm section. There’s not a lot of melody and there’s not a lot of harmony. And thus, it is basically, effectively, spoken rhythm. And so it’s not actually a form of music, it’s a form of rhythmic speaking. And thus, so beyond the subjectivity of me just not enjoying rap all that much, what I’ve said before is it’s not music. (Ben Shapiro, 9/15/19)

Shit just makes my skin crawl.

Studio Talk 2


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I recently broke out my Push and let baby Lucas go to town. I'd like to say it's the happiest I've ever seen him, turning knobs, playing various synths, hitting random buttons, and playing with the volume and the tempo, but I'm probably just projecting.

(Push is a piece of hardware that makes interacting with Ableton much easier. Ableton is the DJ/production software I use)


Let's get right to it! Here’s a reminder of what my rough mix sounded like:

And here's the first edit of the final mix after a few hours in the studio with Silas:

After spending some time living with the first mix, here's my list of edit requests:

  1. There’s a riser that changes direction at 43. Can you shorten it so that it’s out by 44, with a sharp gain roll-off, so that it’s barely audible at beat 3 of bar 43?

  2. Can you take out the triplets at the end of the dub throw and let the throw fizzle out? They start at/near beat 3 of bar 53.

  3. Bar 51 bass buss, can you filter out all but the low part of the bass sound (around 120 and below), then start bringing in the rest of the bass sound from 55-67, so that the full bass is in at 67? I think the near-total absence of bass that gradually becomes that crazy bass sound you got will be really cool.

  4. I don’t know if the start of the dub throw will need to be louder now because of the reduced bass, but in any case, I’d like it to match (initially) the level of the build it comes out of.

  5. In 75-79, 83-87, and 91-107, can you add just a touch of saturation to the bass?

  6. for 131-139, more chords and less lead, and keep the reduced lead gain until it drops out at 143 (then back to normal)

  7. in bars 75-79, 83-86, and 91-107, the clap has a really prominent part panned way left that’s distractingly behind everything else. I’ve uploaded a new stem of just the claps for those bars—can you swap those in? The problematic claps are in the snare stem, and I don’t hear this problem when claps occur later in the track. Not sure what happened, but it’s definitely on my end!

Folks, I have no idea how I let that bit of ugliness in point 7 out into the world, but I found the problematic stem and squashed what needed to be squashed. In the process, I also came up with a different file naming system so that I could easily see the major changes from one save to the next. My previous consisted of [title][number][letter a-h], where I’d start with 1 and cycle a through h (sparkle1c, sparkle1d, for instance). After hitting sparkle1h, I’d save the next as sparkle2a. I have no idea where I came up with this system, nor why I kept it for years and years, given its obvious shortcomings, but…

Anyway, here's the final mix below. We had a miscommunication on point 3—Silas threw a high pass on instead (so that only the high frequencies passed through the filter), but I think it's effective and we agreed to keep it.

And finally, the mastered track.

That's two out of four tracks completely done! It's been a weird experience to have the mixing and mastering process on this EP so drawn out, instead of doing all four tracks in one or two consecutive days. I’ve hard to work to suppress my desire to tinker the first two tracks after having put more informed time into the final two and just having a better sense of how to do this stuff. Reminding myself that this EP is more a calling card than a definitive artistic statement has helped.

Next steps

The slow winding down of the year brings with it a time for reflection on past accomplishments and new beginnings. I’m gonna skip the introspective retrospective and give you a quick taste of a few upcoming projects in the near future.

EP1: It’s not clear yet whether this will be finished before 2020 hits—Silas’s daughter has been sick, derailing his schedule and making the window for this to happen before the ball drops a narrow one. If we don’t finish until January, I’ll have that much more time to figure out a title, a name to release it under, and a plan on how best to build a little publicity about it. Send thoughts my way!

EP2: I’ve been promising Carolina for ages that I'd make her some ambient music. It's been a few years, but I finally have five finished first drafts for that project. Going back through them and editing to make them live and breath will take some time, but still, the end is in (blurry) sight.

EP3: I’ve been thinking about an additional EP featuring ambient electroacoustic remixes of some of my concert works. The possible tracks for that are After, Canela, Dreams, murmur, Glow, Glimpse, and hope [put links to all of these]. Possibly the middle section to loss, found. This is still very much in the planning stage.

EP4: Much of the dance stuff I'm doing is really detail-oriented, with lots and lots of more tedious programming, too much EQing, etc. I'd like to get away from all that on some additional projects and focus instead more on sample manipulation, breaks, maybe some vocal chopping. Think Four Tet, and especially some of his collabs with Burial. I’ll need yet another name for these…

EP5: Then there's just some straight up secret projects I’m tinkering on.

EP6: See above.

I've started preliminary sketching for CHannel2's commission. After spending some quality time with Conner and Hannah at PASIC this year, I think we're all on the same page about the type of project we want to create. Ideally, all my commissions would take the form of an invitation to collaborate, the chance to get inside each other’s heads. What that actually means has varied from project to project, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm still working at consistently translating that ideal into practice. That's the goal though, right?


Issue 6

Hi, welcome, and thanks for joining us! Well, joining me, at least. Like what you see? Let me know! Don’t like? Let me know! If you’ve inadvertently stumbled here, make it a regular stumble by signing up at davemolk.substack.com or via the button below.

This is going to be on the longer, less music-specific side of things. Not for you? Don’t worry, the next newsletter, focused on the EP’s second track, will be out shortly.

PASIC, for those of you who don’t know, is an annual multi-day convention devoted to percussion. Each day contains a seemingly infinite number of performances, demos, competitions, and clinics. Frankly, it defies the laws of physics—I just don’t understand how it works.

I’ve gone each of the past five years as part of the Living Room Music composer collective. LRM began life in 2014 as Percussion at Princeton because everyone was affiliated in some way with the grad program, or, in Robert's case, the town. I joined in 2015, and the lineup remained static until 2018, when Wally Gunn sat out and four new composers came onboard. This year we scaled back to four composers total, though the smaller number is the result of various unrelated circumstances rather than a reflection of the vitality of the group.

I'm conflicted about purpose. What exactly are we doing, and why are we doing it? Part of me thinks the LRM presence at PASIC should be primarily about building community, about being open and excited and supportive and above all accessible to the performers who make what we do possible. The new music scene is so small and yet so fragmented. Given the slow (though in many cases fast) burn of everything around us, the promotion and protection of community feels all the more crucial. I know that a collective effort won't happen until a critical mass of individual efforts happens, and so if this is something I want to see occur, I need to work at it. Push for it.

What am I actually doing to prioritize community as opposed to paying lip service to the idea? How am I moving the needle?

We've had a few recurring discussions within LRM about placing more emphasis on issues of equity and inclusion. This was a significant reason behind our expansion in 2018 to eight composers, marking the first time the booth wasn't full of white men. The collective ethos emerging from our conversations the over last few years has been a decision to downgrade the importance of simply selling scores and to focus instead on reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Towards this, we've changed our internal payout model to ensure that shared costs are covered first and that everyone walks away with something.

I've had a lot of trouble reconciling these discussions with the actual booth practice, which still has an every-composer-for-themselves vibe. It's rare that someone promotes the work of another member of the booth, even if it's a better fit for what a performer is looking for. Part of this I’m sure is a reflection on my own complications with promoting my work. How does one learn to be a salesperson, and why do I feel the way I do about that component of my work?

This time, at least, I felt more comfortable, or at least was more active in promoting my own work. Carolina helped to put things in perspective during a phone call after the first day, saying that it's not my job to sell the music for other people ahead of selling my own. She was obviously much more eloquent and insightful than that, but I think the point comes across.

So, that's a little about where I'm at in terms of PASIC. The conversations and the coffee meet-ups are always the highlight for me, and this year was no exception in that regard. I always have a better time when I’m able to focus more on community and less on commerce, though that’s a mark of privilege in and of itself (as so much of PASIC is, and so much of what I do is).

Part of the conflict stems from the fact that PASIC has always been a very strange experience for me, and one that continues to grow increasingly strange with each successive year.

When I'm there, I feel like I'm simultaneously reliving previous PASICs as I go about my business in the current one. A glance at the left rear wall in the expo hall resurfaces memories of a phone conversation from a few years ago, details intact, that I had with Carolina while squatting against it. As I pass the reasonably plush seats near the convention center entrance, I remember sitting in frustration during an immigration advocacy conference call. The leftmost sink in the bathroom by the expo hall stirs recollections of reading a piece by Elizabeth Catte on my phone. Standing in the bathroom, amidst the flushing of toilets and the running of sinks, I peered down and read her demolition of the constructed whiteness of Hillbilly Elegy.

Faces, names, and conversations rush back with unchecked ferocity each year I step into the convention center. Maybe the extreme compression of time and activity creates this conflation of memories.

My first PASIC, and therefore all PASICs, are inextricably tied to the 2016 election. Carolina and I flew from DC to Indianapolis the morning after the election. Arriving at PASIC, we felt the community and support of similarly shell-shocked people, but also paranoia. Then-Governor Pence’s office is just a few blocks from the convention center.

I remember wearing my "Donald Eres Un Pendejo" shirt in the hall during that first PASIC, and I remember being uncomfortable doing so. I still wear it and I’m still uncomfortable doing so. My perspectives on what I’m doing with my life and what I’m not doing, on what’s important and what isn’t, began shifting in response to the election. This is all still happening. I’ve grown a lot since 2016, though I still feel like a work-in-progress. We’ll see what happens.

Issue 5!

or, Issue The Fifth!

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I’m going to be talking more about the upcoming EP today, and I have to say, I am really excited for folks to hear it. The third track, “Tuesday,” is nearly done in terms of the rough mix and it’s easily the best track I’ve made so far. More a deep house type of thing (I suppose) than “The Smell of Rain” or “Sparkle,” and it’s gonna open the album.

Why These Tracks?

I have, as a rough guess, between 18 and 30 mostly finished tracks in various dance styles. After deciding to make this EP, I listened back through everything, jotting down notes on what I liked and what, ahem, needs overhauling. Why did I settle on these four? Well, I was aiming for around 35 minutes of music, and these tracks covered a good mix of musical terrain while complimenting each other. There’s probably more behind the decision, but at this point, brain fog has settled in pretty thickly and I simply can’t remember.

So, lots more dance tracks to come after this EP is out and in the world. That of course means that I need to come up with a lot of nom de nectarines (ok, that was perhaps a bit of a stretch), so send suggestions my way!

I also have over 80 beat fragments that I will one day fertilize with proper amounts of swing and water with soul until they sprout into full-grown beats. In this utopian future of unlimited time, I’ll be unstoppable.

Why This Order?

The order of the tracks on the currently nameless EP is as follows:

1) Tuesday

2) Sparkle

3) The Smell of Rain

4) Skyward

Previously, I mentioned that while all of this music lives under the EDM umbrella, it is stylistically diverse. Said it above, in fact. As far as I can tell, there isn't one recognizable “voice,” although I'm certainly not removed enough to say. The music, both in terms of the EP and on the track-by-track scale, doesn’t fit neatly in the ambient box or the trance box or the minimal techno box, etc. And that's ok—the point of this EP, as I said before, isn't so much a grand artistic statement (nor a cohesive one) as an audio business card of sorts for production work and for job applications.

The tracks loosely follow the same formal organization as a typical four-movement piece written in the classical style, at least in terms of duration. This is intentional. Like the classical model, the second and third movements of the EP are shorter than the outer movements. “Tuesday,” which you haven't heard, is meant to get your head moving and pull you into the EP, *kinda* like how the opening movement in a classical multi-movement work functions. That’s more or less the only connection between my classical background and the EDM tracks I’m making. As you can see, it’s an incredibly shallow connection that really doesn’t accomplish anything in terms of understanding either the music or the two genres. And yet…

Resident Advisor Interviewer: DJ Cool Alias, I see you have a Ph.D. in classical composition. How does that impact the dance tracks you make?

Dave: It doesn’t.

More on this in the next newsletter, but I’ve got another Denver Antiracist Book Club meeting on Tuesday and I, cough, haven’t started reading yet, so gotta run. We’re going to talk about the 1619 Project—check it out!

Bonus 1

Mexican Cuisine and Nuevo Jersey


Recently, I’ve been filling out academic job applications and sending them into the void. Writing these has meant having to talk about myself. A lot. I’ve never been thrilled about doing this type of thing—I am the best candidate, the bester candidate, the bestest candidate—but, given that I’m in practice at this point, I figure I can use at least some of these bonus issues to give you a better sense of who I am, where I’m coming from, and so on. It feels rather egocentric, but given the implicit restrictions of a one-way flow of digital information, it’s probably the best way to get to know me until we have the opportunity to hang face to face.

Why would you care? Well, I can’t answer that for you. My hope is that you’re at least a little interested in who I am as well as in what I do. Proceed at your own peril.

So, that’s the plan. If you have any questions, let me know—maybe I can make one of these some sort of AMA.

I alluded to my fascination with Mexican cuisine in an earlier newsletter. Here’s more of the story behind that: my uncle has lived in New Mexico for decades and decade. During the year-end holidays, he would unfailingly ship us boxes full of chile powder and, on good years, dried chile pods. None of us had any real sense about what to do with these goodies, so we usually sprinkled some into this and that until either the bags were empty or were taking up too valuable storage space and so got “replaced.” The smells of the powders were intoxicating, and our haphazard use of them never did them justice.

My brother changed this. At some point, he began buying cookbooks obsessively and reading them cover to cover, wanting to understand the general and specific principles that help to determine whether a fish dish would make or break. As part of this culinary revolution, he picked up Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen and cooked through a respectable portion of it before deciding to move on to other types of cuisine.

Not me, though. Despite not actually having tried anything he made (we were living in different cities), I asked to borrow his book. I'm not positive why, which admittedly leaves a significant gap in the story, but I assume it had to do with the some deep-seeded desire to put those still-arriving powders to better use. Under his strict instructions not to stain the pages or break the spine by opening it too widely (what little faith!), I started reading my way through, quickly realizing that I needed my own copy. I therefore got my own copy.

One of the enticing things about Bayless is that he offers really practical substitutions for hard-to-get items without feeling like you’re creating an entirely new dish. This helped in the early stages, although it probably added some fuel to the “must find these” fire. Like my brother, I quickly became frustrated with the limited information on the bags sent by our uncle, which included color (red or green) and heat rating (mild to extra hot), but nothing about the actual chiles. Like my brother, I started ordering dried chiles in bulk in order to cook through the Bayless book. And, like my brother, I have a special place in my heart for the pasilla de Oaxaca, hands down my favorite chile.

During my Masters, I began cooking for other people, inviting small numbers over to my house for dinner. This really took off during my Ph.D, becoming known as “Nuevo Jersey” dinners. We held 40 of these over 5 years, the smallest with just one other person (Loren Stata bravely venturing forth during Hurricane Sandy), and many with over 20 people. A few had music by DJ Wally Gunn (can’t remember the name he was spinning under). Many were prepared with the invaluable assistance of a band of co-chefs, including Carolina, Loren, Quinn, and Travis.

One of the guiding principles was to use these as an opportunity to build community, something altogether too rare in too many grad programs. While we had a strong music contingent at each dinner, we also had folks from English, from Astrophysics, the Institute for Advanced Study, Comp-ltit, Spanish, Art & Archeology, History, from other programs, from town, from neighboring towns, and so on. These were unquestionably a major highlight of my time in graduate school. Carolina and I have hosted a handful since moving first to DC and now to CO (well, none in CO yet…), but the real Nuevo Jerseys belong to a specific time and a specific place. Ironic that here in CO I can get fresh masa with a 30 minute round-trip drive, whereas the one or two times we made tortillas from fresh masa in NJ, we had gone to a tortilleria in Queens earlier that day.

It should go without saying that I’m not proclaiming any expertise in Mexican cuisine. I’ve read many different cookbooks at this point, experimented a lot, and have spent a little time (far too little!!!) in Oaxaca and DF, but come on. A fan, yes. An expert, no way!

Below is a mostly complete list of what the menus were for each of the Nuevo Jerseys.

1) Fruity mole with chicken, beans with collards and dumplings, green chile rice, eggplant with tomato chipotle salsa.

2) Eggs, poblano rajas, tomato chipotle salsa, salsa verde, refried beans, sweet potato

3) Mole amarillo with chicken, tortillas, poblano rajas, refried beans

4) Stuffed poblanos (pork, chipotle tomatillo salsa) achiotte rice, refried beans, tortillas, scrambled eggs (when too many people came)

5) Mole coloradito (too sweet/too much chocolate), tortillas, beans with eggplant, sweet potato, and kale, tomato rice

6) Green mole, pork in adobo, tortillas

7) Mole poblano, tortillas, sweet potato with avocado, chipotle meco, refried beans with eggplant and poblano, chipotle tomato salsa

8) Tamales beans, pork, and sweet potato with chile, prehistoric version), lard one with beans and sweet potato, tamale logs (aka zacahuiles - one  vegetarian beans, mole poblano, sweet potato, and one with red chile pork). reried beans

9) (special dinner for Travis) Beans with chorizo and salsa negra (both as add-ins), tortillas, stuffed red poblano (beets, beans, mild chile powder), tomatillo and chipotle, tomato and chipotle, sweet tamale (peanuts, raisins, pumpkinseeds)

10) Manchamanteles mole with chicken, rice (had cilantro and roasted jalapeños as add-ins), tortillas, beans and sweet potato, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato sauce and tomatillo sauce, poblano rajas

11) Pibipollo, pickled red onions, empanadas/quesadilla (guajillo and corn, leftover chicken stuff), poblanos stuffed with red bean and red chile powder, black beans with green chile powder, Yucatan rice, chipotle tomato salsa, pasilla paste, guajillo paste, tortillas

12) Mole poblano with chicken, tamales (cinnamon, peanuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds), salsa verde with kale and navy beans, zacahuiles (black bean and pasilla, pork and beef with guajillo sauce), tortillas

13) Chile apple sauce, black beans with eggplant in butternut squash (one with seared tomato, other with chile from mole poblano), tortillas, chicken in tomatillo chipotle sauce (almost no heat)

14) Mole poblano, black beans, navy beans with cauliflower, virgin tomatillo sauce, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato sauce, tortillas (during Hurricane Sandy, so just Loren and me)

15) Black beans with mole poblano, adzuki(?) beans with eggplant and beet greens, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato sauce, tortillas, meat (veal, pork, beef mix) with spices and ancho, chile apple sauce with beets

16) Black beans, virgin tomatillo sauce, zacahuiles (poblano, kidney beans w/ yucatan seasoning, sweet potato - second one no poblano), manchamanteles mole, chicken, tortillas

17) Yucatan pork, pasilla de Oaxaca and tomato, roasted red bell pepper, tortillas, black bean tamales (rancho gordo beans), Dino kale in bean sauce, 3 kinds of hot vinegar sauce, refried black beans

18) Greens with tomatillo sauce, salsa negra, white runner beans with Yucatan paste, sangre de toro beans when ran out, chicken and beets in guajillo sauce, rajas

19) Loren early bday bash: Mole poblano for bean tamales (one with lard and one prehistoric), zacahuiles (one w chicken and mole and poblano, one with beans sub), tortillas, beans with Yucatan paste (rojo recado) and shit ton of kale, other beans with Swiss chard, chicken and mole poblano (another scramble to find enough food for everybody, lots of unannounced attendees)

20) Pork picadillo, meatballs (used masa instead of breadcrumbs) in Yucatan tomato sauce, red kale in Yucatan tomato sauce, tortillas, scarlet runners in recado rojo, chipotle and tomatillo, sweet potato, guajillo sauce 

21) Green rice, Yucatan pork (with sauce), beans and roasted peppers, jicama salad, manchamanteles with sweet potato, beets, and beet greens, tortillas

22) Taco night: Tortillas, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato, pork with sweet potato and tomato, fried black beans, guacomole and sweet potato, rajas

23) Chefathon at Kendrick's: guajillo pork tamales, black bean tamales (a ton of each)

24) Chicken in salsa verde, refried black beans (with and without chorizo), mole poblano, rajas

25) Yucatan pork when Becky was here, green rice, pasilla and ancho chiles and chocolate in beans with eggplant  - maybe some other stuff - forgot to write it down

26) Potluck 'no. 25' was at QC's and had sweet tamales (lard and vegetarian) and then QC used Yucatan paste for pork and fish

27) salsa verde, broiled chicken with garlic, oregano, coriander seeds, and thyme, tortillas, beans with ancho, eggplant, and sweet potato, rajas

28) Salsa verde (no chile), chipotle and tomatillo, garlic/oregano chicken, fresh masa tortillas!!! rajas, Yucatan beans, chorizo

29) chilaquiles (mole verde with chicken added, yucatan beans with guajillo sauce), not sure if there was anything else

30) enchiladas with chicken or bean filling, salsa verde and mole poblano, apple sauce with mild chile powder and a few chipotles in there

31) Gracias Giving! mole poblano (with turkey), mole manchamanteles (sweet potato and applesauce), roasted beets/onion/carrot with optional pasilla de oaxaca powder, roasted eggplant with green chile powder, applesauce with green chile powder, sugared tortillas (1.5 Tb to 1 cup masa), tortillas, beans with recado rojo, sweet potato with onion and poblanos

32) pasilla de oaxaca tomato sauce, mole poblano, mole amarillo, chicken, beans, fried sweet plantains, tortillas, peanut and de arbol sauce, roasted cubanelle peppers, eggs and chorizo, (onion, cilantro, cheese, avocado), roasted sweet potato

33) Yucatan pork (and sauce), picked red onions, frijoles con recado rojo, tortillas, taco fixings, queso grosso, mofongo 

34) Carnitas, red peanut sauce, nm chiles and pulla sauce, salad, black beans, beets, broiled chicken

35) (Nuevito Jersey) Carnitas, beans, asparagus, tortillas, chipotle tomato sauce, chipotle tomatillo sauce, mofongo

36) Yucatan pork, plum sauce (chipotle, rosemary, thyme, juniper berries), mild and spicy tomatillo/pasilla de Oaxaca, sautéed onion/eggplant/squash with mezcal, beans with platano and butternut squash, pico de gallo (deck chiles), trad sauce for pork (orange juice, apple vinegar, onion, costeno), tortillas 

37) Gracias Giving!!! turkey, mole poblano, salsa verde, pasilla de oaxaca tomato, roasted beets, roasted carrot/fennel/butternut squash, eggplant with onion, cabbage, garlic (Caro style), tortillas, beans (lots of cilantro), baked sweet potato mash, peanut and de arbol sauce, cubanelle chiles

38) yucatan pork, beans with recado rojo, salad, tortillas, horchata

39) carnitas, tortillas, veggie w lime, habanero, and orange juice, chilaquiles (in pasilla de oaxaca tomato sauce), spicy peanut sauce, beans, fried plantain

40) mole negro/early QC birthday bash! carnitas, chicken, taco guac sauce, de arbol and vinegar sauce, salad, beans with recado rojo, tortillas, poblanos, pickled red onions

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