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Aaron Beaumont unveils the impressive product resulting from his 2017 Artist in Residency in response to Daniel 4: a musical soundscape exploring the universal human experience of existence, identity, and consciousness.

Daniel 4

Artist in Residence 2017: Aaron Beaumont

By 

Aaron Beaumont

Credits: 

Title: “The Strangest Thing”
All Music Written, Performed, and Produced By Aaron Beaumont. 2017.

Curated by: 

Spark & Echo Arts, Artist in Residence

2017

Image by Giorgio Trovato

Primary Scripture

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For the past week, the maintenance crew has been replacing the heating system in my apartment building. I've been subjected to an extensive palette of clatters, buzzes, thumps, pounds, hisses, and every manner of aural assault (incidentally, I could not resist including a few samples in the third movement of my piece - an apt demonstration of the sinister, untold horrors that familiar objects like toys and seashells take on when wrenched from their harmless contexts). We've had no hot water over the weekend, and today, after vacating the premises completely from 9 to 3 while drywall dust settled on every surface of my apartment, I've spent the last two hours being shuffled from room to room, tragically and callously displaced from my disheveled home studio workspace, currently seeking refuge in the kitchen, the tapping on my iPhone-linked Bluetooth keyboard hopelessly drowned out by drilling and welding in two other rooms. Oh, the humanity.


This tongue-in-cheek lament of my current status in no way means to make light of any actual suffering in the world. Rather, it shows how easily our comforts and physical state can be thrown into seemingly irrevocable disorder - where something as simple as lack of hot water for a day or two (a comfort I admittedly take for granted) can produce existential anxiety and spotlight the roving line between security and destitution. Few things make us as cognizant of the tenuous nature of our place in the universe as being forced to prop one's iPhone perilously against a toaster oven simply to send an email.


Daniel 4 serves up perhaps the most spectacular Biblical example of existential upheaval. On first glance, it would seem tricky for plebs like me to empathize with Nebuchadnezzar and his "emperor problems." Here is a man painted as a megalomaniac, narcissist, and authoritarian; in the dramatic psychological mutation of his fall from grace, we are, perhaps, meant to believe he's gotten his comeuppance. As all ancient myths agree, hubris must be chastened. Indeed, the powerful-powerless, authoritarian-benevolent ruler, and God-human binaries initially attracted me the most in the early days of this project. But Daniel 4 turned out to be less tidy and more challenging than that. For starters, we see a man who, in some respects, is not inaccurate in his boasts - Neb did accomplish some of the most spectacular feats in recorded history, as the provider-tree of his community depicted in the vision. Daniel seems to sincerely lament the judgment pronounced on the king in his dream. If justice is served here, it is at the very least a complicated one.


In my last post, I offered one possible reason for my vague unease with Neb's plight. The king found himself swiftly bereft of a past, abruptly wrenched from his previous exalted state. We don't know the extent to which Neb was self-conscious

of or able to contextualize the amplitude of this fall. But regardless of the specifics of his madness (subject to considerable discussion - lycanthropy is one potential analogue in modern medicine), it would have been a precipitous and disorienting transformation, and the suffering therein is sure. The sudden absence of my own

history, of memories of any kind, would for me represent the purest kind of madness, perhaps the worst kind of hell. Uprooted, and thrown into a completely foreign state, Neb would have no context from which to derive a sense of identity. Deeper than simply losing a few physical artifacts of one's own personal narrative (e.g. the beloved 90s era DVDs I mentioned in post #3), my empathy with Neb's plight stems from this: his sudden reappearance as a brand new creature in a foreign state is analogous to the experience of every human at birth. At some point, we all "wake up," born with consciousness in a physical body. Our only context is some vague subconscious genetic hangover, a cellular knowledge of things, a sensation almost like trying to remember something you just dreamed, but can't quite pinpoint.


We acquire an operating manual bit by bit, get busy trimming back the weeds of the absurd and the surreal from the manicured lawns of culture and civilization, and do our level best to organize our home within a cosmos in which our position is ultimately uncertain. In my work, I extend Nebuchadnezzar's story as a metaphor for the universal human experience, ruminating on the idea of birth as a plunge into a surreal, dreamlike state as we undergo the halting, erratic process of forging our own identity and bringing into focus a personal narrative.




My work draws heavily on the most potent purveyor of identity and culture - the family. The arc of my piece, entitled "The Strangest Thing" (unfortunately in no way affiliated with or inspired by the celebrated Netflix series) seeks to represent the dynamic, fragmentary way our own personal narratives and identities develop and persist, as we navigate uncertain circumstances and unfamiliar contexts, wading through all the wonder, confusion, and occasional terror that accompanies growth.


"Sampling" seemed an especially well suited vehicle to this exploration of memory, permanence, and personal history. Our very identities are derived from prismatic "samples" of our accumulated stories as creatures. As such, the connecting tissue between the five movements of my piece is a musical mosaic taken from dozens of samples from my own existing musical catalogue, including my very earliest recordings of the first songs I ever wrote - artifacts of a previous state, if you will, recontextualized (sometimes wildly) here. Similarly, I've used field recordings and audio samples from my own life - playing with my nieces, chatting with my parents, sitting by a lake in the Midwest, shaking a handful of seashells in a beach in Maine. Many of these field recordings did not originate for this project, but rather out of my own simple desire to remember and somehow preserve what's most important to me, and in so doing, document and cultivate my own sense of identity. I used my great uncle's guitar and my grandma's mandolin, heirlooms that are bound up in my own origin story as a music maker. I tried to select from all these raw materials samples that could relate the very human experiences of birth, self-discovery, evolution, decline, and redemption, to the surreal arc of Daniel 4.


Appropriately the medium itself recreated a sense of nascence and even discomfort for me, in that I was artistically off the map - I'd never tried my hand at an electronic, ambient, through-composed soundscape (see Narwhal and Ocelot, my decidedly more "pop" Spark & Echo tune from last year). The piece closes in familiar territory though, with a pop song that ruminates on the thread tying every participant in this narrative together - we all wake up as creatures, bound together by our shared experience of wonder and newness, terror and tenuousness, and exuberance in our creature-ness, revelling as simultaneous minds and bodies. Neb's experience is bizarre no doubt - but the weirdest part of his story is still the part it has in common with our own - the simple, wild fact of waking up as a conscious corporeal creature, whose very composition - whose very cells - herald toward the future aeons of seismic victories and instructive failures.


It's an experience that, if we give ourselves enough pause from the comforts we seek to shore up around it, is altogether strange. The strangest thing, you might say.




The Strangest Thing


I had a dream, what a strange thing -

I became a creature with a beating heart.

It had a body that kept changing -

Sure felt like the same thing even as it fell apart.


And that’s when I woke up


I had a dream I was the falling snow

Learning everything about the ground.

But any pretty thing that’s ever fallen knows

You can never quite forget the clouds,


And you never quite wake up

No, you never quite wake up.


I could be a king again

If only I could just go back to sleep, back to sleep.

Every Body understands

That a body is no kinda place for a mind to be.


God has never learned a thing,

While my holy brain bursts at the seams

Seems life is just remembering

What you saw in a dream -

It’s the strangest thing, it’s the strangest thing.


I dreamed about a dark room in my mind

Where I woke up just as something left

And life was just the time I spent

Trying to paint the scent they left behind.


My brain is clenched, it can forget

My bones still blindly carry it

My blood will be a chariot and I’ll find that


I could be a king again

If only I could just go back to sleep, back to sleep.

Every Body understands

That a body is no kinda place for a mind to be.


God never learns a thing,

While my holy brain bursts at the seams

Yeah, it seems life is just remembering

What you saw in a dream -

It’s the strangest thing, it’s the strangest thing.


I heard my name on the whistling wind

It passed right through me like a shiver in

An old man with old eyes glistenin,’

Spittin’ fireside yarns like they’re listenin.’


But who’s got time for reminiscin’ when

A fresh snow’s fallin.’ So kissing him

On sandpaper whiskers, God slips in

To a loud snow suit,

Laces little winter boots

And races outside to play.




Spark Notes

The Artist's Reflection

Aaron Beaumont has toured the U.S. and Europe as a pianist and songwriter and been invited to share his work in wide-ranging venues from the Sziget Festival in Budapest to KCRW Santa Monica to the Tribeca Film Festival to off-Broadway Theatre 80 in the East Village to the main stage of the West Hollywood Carnaval. L.A. Weekly wrote that Aaron's music brings "a new life to the ancient music-hall/pop piano-man tradition, with clear-headed songs of genuinely witty lyrical oomph and, most of all, a historically informed musical depth – all delivered with style, grace, wit and elan, of course."


Aaron wrote one song, arranged two others, and served as a piano performance coach for the feature Permission (Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Jason Sudeikis, 2017 Tribeca Film Festival), which premieres worldwide February 2018. He also contributed two songs to the forthcoming series Dan is Dead (Drake Bell, Maker Studios) and two songs to the indie feature film Alex & Jaime (2017 Roxbury International Film Festival). Aaron contributed an original co-write (“17”) and several arrangements to Gil McKinney’s 2017 debut album, How Was I to Know, which reached #1 on the iTunes jazz chart and #8 on the Billboard jazz chart. He also co-wrote “Good Love” for Briana Buckmaster’s 2018 debut album (#1 iTunes blues, #3 Billboard blues). Other recent TV and film placements include original songs written for Cedar Cove (Andie McDowell) and Where Hope Grows (Billy Zabka, Danica McKellar; Dallas Film Festival, Roadside Attractions). Aaron has composed original scores for films and theatrical productions, including All the Lovely Wayside Things; Tall, Dark, and Handsome; Heart; Until We Have Faces; Shrew; The Fire Room; the Breakfast Show with Adam O; Companion; and Beyond Imagination, winning best score and sound design at the Hollywood Fringe Festival for his work on Fugitive Kind’s production of The Fire Room by Ovation Award-winning playwright Meghan Brown. In 2016, Aaron wrote a commissioned work for the Spark & Echo Arts project, and in 2017 Aaron created a larger scale work as an Artist in Residence. Aaron also works as an in-house arranger, producer, composer, and mix engineer for the Gregory Brothers / Schmoyoho, whose original music has earned them a gold and platinum record and nearly one billion views on YouTube, along with myriad collaborations on other platforms. Recent Gregory Brothers collabs include the Justice League film (ft. Gary Clark Jr.), Weird Al Yankovic, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bassnectar, Alex Wassabi, LaurDIY, Markiplier, Slow Mo Guys, Todrick Hall, J. Fla, The Resident (Fox Network), and the International Olympic Channel. Songs Aaron has worked on with the Gregory Brothers have received over 175 million plays on YouTube.


In 2015, Aaron participated in the Ultraviolet Music and Arts Festival in Los Angeles as a featured artist and presenter, and performed with his band The Mots Nouveaux for the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Rockwood Music Festival in Frankfurt, Germany.


Aaron wrote the music and lyrics to the original musical, Behind Closed Doors, which sold out every performance at the historic Hayworth Theater, received multiple Broadway World L.A. Award nominations, and played for thousands of festival goers on the main stage of the West Hollywood Carnaval. Behind Closed Doors was selected to participate in the New York International Fringe Festival as a national show, enjoying a mostly oversold run at off-Broadway Theatre 80 in the East Village. Aaron was selected as a finalist as a composer and lyricist for the Fred Ebb Foundation / Roundabout Theatre Company Fred Ebb Award for musical theater songwriters, and received the Hal Gaba Scholarship for Excellence in Lyrics from UCLA/Concord Records.


Aaron is currently developing new musicals with playwrights Meghan Brown, Andrew Crabtree, Peter Berube, and Cassandra Christensen, and a one-woman show with soprano Lorelei Zarifian. Lorelei and Aaron’s first musical triptych, Midtown Antoinette, was featured on NPR-affiliate WFIT in March 2016 and debuted as part of the Florida Tech / Foosaner Museum French Film Festival. Aaron also occasionally helps produce the outrageous bingo raves phenomenon, Rebel Bingo, in New York and Los Angeles, as featured in the L.A. Times, Guardian, and BBC, and recently played a run of five capacity shows in the downtown L.A.’s Globe Theatre as part of 2016 Night on Broadway.


Aaron has collaborated as pianist, musical director, and/or co-writer with a panoply of music buddies, including Jason Manns, Gil McKinney, Sara Niemietz, Tim Omundsen, Dave Yaden, Nicholas Zork, Aaron Roche, Nick Bearden, Emma Fitzpatrick, Amanda Wallace, Shane Alexander, Ben Jaffe, Brett Young, Courtney Bassett, Eden Malyn, Luis Selgas, Aly French, Sam Heldt, Karma Jenkins, Emily Iaquinta, Lynette Williams, Meshach Jackson, Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, Kamasi Washington, Chad Doreck, J.T. Spangler, and Katrina Parker. He claimed several distinctions as a young classical pianist, including two-time Wisconsin Academy Musician of the Year, Andrews University Concerto Competition Finalist, and the British Royal Conservatory of Music Award of Highest Distinction for Piano Performance at the Newbold Creative Arts Festival. He currently serves as co-chair of the Carnegie Hill Concert Series in New York, featuring leading interpreters of classical and New Music from around the globe.


In 2015, Aaron founded SongLab, an online songwriting community for emerging songwriters. The inaugural SongLab Series welcomed GRAMMY-winner Dave Yaden as special guest.


In addition to working with other artists, Aaron performs as one-third of the pop trio, The Mots Nouveaux, alongside vocalists Emma Fitzpatrick and Amanda Wallace. The band celebrated their latest album release with a residency at Hotel Café, a six-month residency at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, and residencies at Rockwood Music Hall and Sidewalk Café in New York. They were invited to join the lineup for the Broke L.A. Music Festival in downtown Los Angeles, where Lyynks music hailed their set as the “greatest revelation” of the festival, one that “really thrilled the crowd” of thousands at the Lounge Stage (GroundSounds.com). The Mots Nouveaux recorded a new EP in Spring 2017 with co-producer Peter Barbee / Among Savages, with forthcoming tracks slated for 2018 release.


Aaron released his debut solo project, Nothing's Forever (Not Even Goodbye), featuring the first ten songs he wrote, on Milan Records (Warner-Ryko) in 2008.


In his spare time, Aaron enjoys playing the piano, traveling, eating, writing songs, making coffee, drinking coffee, collecting records, going for brisk walks, being near coffee, and composing extensive autobiographical sketches in the third person.



Aaron Beaumont

About the Artist

Artist in Residence 2017: Aaron Beaumont - Part 3

Artist in Residence 2017: Aaron Beaumont - Part 2

Artist in Residence 2017: Aaron Beaumont - Part 1

Lightness of the Pines

Narwhal and Ocelot (Dietary Restrictions)

Aaron Beaumont

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