Sound Found

Photo credit:  Studio Bee Creative.

During my undergrad, I did most of my elective courses in the Summer session so I could exclusively concentrate on music during the Fall and Winter. This was a great move because university in the summertime is a paradise. You get the whole place to yourself. All bathrooms become your bathrooms.

One summer, woodwind/jazz prof and master improvisor¬†Paul Bendzsa hired me to clear out his office and organize his vast collection of sounds and scores. He gave me a key, showed me where everything was, and let me go to it. There’s no other way to describe my effort: I did a piss-poor job. I was paid, too. How brutal is that? Paul is a beautiful soul and did not bawl me out, but he could have. He should have.

I did such a truly terrible job because Paul’s music collection was so intense. I was intoxicated by the layers of cool all around me. I dubbed at least 40 cassettes in a few short weeks, all of which I still have, and spent the rest of the time just listening. Because I had the quietude (quiet solitude) of his messy space, I was allowed private audience with both the sounds and the constant wondering of “why does Paul like this?” Extending from that, I began to really cultivate my own taste for the first time. “Why do I like this?”

That tiny gesture changed a lot for me. Putting aside my underwhelming performance, I was brought into a sacred place by a very special person. He might not has realized it at the time, but Paul helped me teach myself about sounds. I was given a shovel and a pile of dirt and told to dig. And I dug. I was surrounded by his curated life and allowed to take it all in.

Many discussions about streaming and the lack of a physical product neglect what I believe to be the steepest cliff. We’re losing the very quest to access music. There’s something important about taping something off the radio, waiting for Rick Dees to shut up so we get a full recording of “More Than Words.” I like hearing live interviews rather than waiting for the podcast to download. And liner notes! Brave souls have taken the time to connect words to music, an impossible task! Sitting there, in the quiet mess of Paul’s studio I just came ear-to-air with my own decisions about art for the first time. I’ve heard my own music on the radio at random. Not many younger folk today have that chance.

I have since hired students to clean my office, hoping they would enjoy my own curations. Time will tell, but I’m pleased to see that piss-poor cleaning efforts continue. So that’s promising.

Here’s a short sampling of some of this enduring music I was so fortunate to access privately thanks to Paul. In no particular order:

Charles Ives “The Unanswered Question”, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with Lukas Foss

Sonny Clark – Cool Struttin’

Steve Reich – Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint

And this Scott Johnson gem….crank it!