Positive Building Blog

  • DISCIPLINE: Listening to the Center-Most Minute

         I consider the works I've created to be collections of sounds, rather than songs or albums.  Although they certainly are songs and albums, I would like to think of each album as a book and each song as a chapter in that book. Subsequently, each verse could be a verse from that book, especially if it be a book of poems or a religious text. In the spirit of this idea, we reference lines of musical prose as if they are bible verses. Not only do I think of my work this way. But, I also think of the work of others' in this way. Furthermore, a live concert and an album have quite a bit in common. I do not listen to every note at a concert.  I accept the music, hoping and waiting passively to be compelled. The same can be said with my listening to songs and albums.

         There are very few songs that warrant listening from beginning to end, that lend each sound and word to the composition of a complete thought. This is not a criticism. For, it's not strange at all, considering how we communicate outside of the song-form. Indeed, there are very few conversations in which every word is crucial to the conveyance of the idea. And so, I accommodate this reality by addressing the sounds rather than the songs. I may listen to the center-most minute of a song and skip the beginning and the end. Perhaps, that part that I listened to contains my favorite recorded sounds in the world, and perhaps I don't know where to find those sounds in the natural world. For if I knew where to find those sounds in the natural world, why would I listen to a recording of a human mimicking the sound.

         This outlook does not allow for a competition for the best song. In fact, having an honest discourse with music disqualifies music from being an activity based in pleasure altogether. For, an indulgence in pleasure only leads to the corruption of the spirit. And so, it isn't only that we should make our recordings useful, that we should provide a higher purpose of sincerity to our music. We should also make our listening useful, providing a higher purpose of sincerity there, as well.

  • PERSPECTIVE: Interview with Danny Masao Winston (of Wax Poetics Japan)

    Diggs Duke interview for Civil Circus liner notes

    March 2017

    By Danny Masao Winston

    Hi Diggs.

    I was commissioned to write the liner notes to the Japanese CD edition of Civil Circus, and in order to try to understand what this project represents in your discography, I would like to ask you a few questions regarding the album and other things. I hope you don’t mind talking about a project you made a while ago.

    1 Could you talk a bit about how Civil Circus came about and the concept of the record? You had released Because You're So Wonderful, We Grieve While You're Still Livin' and The Eye of Discovery a few months prior in 2015. Do you see these/ three albums as pieces of a larger concept, or are they totally independent of each other?

    The albums you mention represent the consciousness I was coming into at that point in time. I recorded and compiled them earlier that year and released them as part of a series. It is difficult for me to clearly remember what I was thinking or feeling when I created and released this album. But, I think it can be heard very clearly in the music.

    2 Can you shed light on what Following Is Leading is, why you started it, and what it has morphed into since? I was curious to know why Following Is Leading’s Bandcamp page doesn’t exist anymore.

    Following Is Leading is the name of an informal imprint under which I release some of my creative ideas. Sometimes they take the form of musical albums or books, while at other times, they take the form of me just yelling in the air or typing on the internet. I also release the work of some of my associates. The name “Following Is Leading” is an abbreviation of the phrase, “FOLLOWING a set of creative principles IS LEADING yourself creatively.” The Bandcamp page still exists. I just don't have any music on it, so it says there is nothing there. I still post music on that site sometimes. But, since I prefer the informal, my music roams the marketplace very informally.

    3 You mentioned on DJ Rahdu’s interview show that you wanted to put out music through Following Is Leading that you thought may not exactly be appropriate to the audience you got through Brownswood. Did you feel like there was a certain sound that people at Brownswood, or fans of Offering For Anxious and The Upper Hand & Other Grand Illusions expected from you? Did you feel like you were being pigeonholed in any way?

    The music market structures itself based on categories that have nothing to do with the source of the music. They only reference the final sound, so that it can be sold. But, if I have indulged these categories, it would be dishonest for me to complain of pigeonholing. I would not place responsibility for my categorization on any record label or set of listeners, as I am inevitably responsible for allowing it. I do indeed direct my music toward specific ears at times. For the longest time now, 'Babylon' (a.k.a. The U.S.A.) has expressed great contempt toward the lost tribes. The extraction and transplantation of our true music is an attempt to manipulate and eradicate our way of living. Therefore, I sometimes must become more direct in my speech, behavior and the nature of my music, which sings of the emancipation of our souls. Under the current system of categorization, this idea is simply categorized as 'Soul Music.' But, I trust that the true listener can hear far beyond this categorization.

    4 Civil Circus feels more subtle, raw, and spacious. Most of the comments and reviews about the album mentioned how you leaned towards jazz more than Offering For Anxious and The Upper Hand…. I know that jazz has played a huge role in your music since the beginning, but would you say jazz was a major reference point for you during the creative process for this album, more so than previously?

    I would say that on this album, I more deliberately referenced my experiences and the consciousness that I've gained from them. My usage of the term 'jazz' or any categorization of music is only to try and communicate my intentions in words that will be familiar to the common listener. I have always attempted to speak directly with the listener, rather than projecting my voice into the abyss of the market. As I grow older, I find it easier to decipher the many voices within me. They never ever express themselves as part of any idea of genre. But, I understand that categorization makes music a little easier to sell. So, I sometimes accommodate the market by allowing these terms to be used. I much prefer to speak in terms of the essence and intention of the music.

    5 Who are some of the songwriters you look up to that have impacted the way you write songs? Was there anybody in particular you drew inspiration from during the creative process of Civil Circus?

    I don't look up to any songwriters. I may look over at them or try to pull them up. But, if I look up, all I see is the clear sky. I would say that songwriters who have inspired me usually share some experience in this world with me, in life and death. I can't name them individually because we share a part of each other.

    6 When you look back on Civil Circus now, what are your thoughts about this record and how do you think it fits into your overall discography?

    Although I do listen to my previous albums sometimes, I don't think about them that much. I am more concerned with how the listener sees my discography.

    7 You live in San Francisco now, right? How has being on the West Coast influenced your making or playing music?

    They have a lot of delicious food in San Francisco and I became a much better cook in my time there. I enjoy a healthier diet after living there. Nonetheless, moving back near my friends here in Baltimore and Washington DC has brought me comfort. The west coast had no influence at all on my music. I did not really interact with any musicians there, although I spent moments with a few. While I was there, for about 18 months, I lived in nearly complete isolation. I prefer to be in solitude most of the time. But, I spoke on the phone for hours each day with musicians on the east coast. Although I gained a few friends in San Francisco, I moved back east in November last year. I currently live in Baltimore. I don't know how long I will be here. But I do like it.

    8 You play multiple instruments and I’m sure you could easily craft a whole album without anybody else in the studio. But there are a few musicians you like collaborating with and on Civil Circus you have frequent collaborators like Jelani Brooks, Warren G. Crudup III, Herb Scott playing. How do you think your music benefits by having these musicians play alongside you and what do you look for in a collaborator?

    All of the men you mention are legitimate masters of music. They bring with them their own ideas. They dedicate their entire creative energy to their respective instruments, in the same way that I dedicate myself to my writing and composition. Having the chance to work with instrumentalists like that gives me a sense of security in my writing. I feel as if I can present any idea to them and they will interpret it masterfully. I look for complete honesty of spirit when I collaborate with others. I've made mistakes in choosing collaborators at times. But, I have become a very good judge of spirit now, as can be heard in the music.

    9 You’ve described yourself as someone that makes “soul music from the perspective of a jazz musician” in an interview in 2013 (http://www.stimulateyoursoul.com/interviews/2013/1/21/channelling-diggsdukes-musical-genius.html). Would you still describe yourself as that now?

    I tried my best to describe my understanding of that particular music to the interviewer in terms that would be easily understood by the readers. These days, I have less interest in the acceptance of what I am saying and I just tell it how it is. As I have been able to release more music, I have gained more faith in the readers and listeners that receive my writing and music. This means that I would probably not describe myself in such a way today.

    10 Please feel free to add if there is anything else you would like your fans in Japan to know about you or your music because I believe this would be a rare opportunity for your fans to read what you have to say in Japanese.

    Let it be known that I am extremely flattered to have so many gracious listeners in Japan. In listening to my music, particularly this album, one has the privilege of experiencing a very evolved representation of my essence. The listener is the most important part of the music. In my opinion, listening to music and accepting its message is far more important than composing or writing it. The only reason I write, record or perform music is simply to have a better capacity for listening to everything around me.

  • POETIC: Satisfaction

    the plainness of a grassy patch

    pleases me much more than

    the loudest field of lavender.

    ---

    the commonplace of green

    offers a helping hand

    to the artful scavenger

    ---

    the spectacle of purple

    and the smell that surely lingers

    entices the nose to want

    to touch and to see

    ---

    yet since I have no longing

    for perpetual longing

    i'll take what is

    right in front of me

  • SONG: "Can We Pretend"

         Bill Withers' “Can We Pretend” is a great song. It occupies a place in my repertoire these days. The theme of pretension is examined so simply, so as to let the feeling of the song carry the weight of its message. This message is that there is no pretending, and the melody expresses the acceptance that accompanies the feeling of wanting to do something that cannot be done. There is no blanket that can be laid over the feeling that will warm it to a sufficient temperature. There is no way to color the past which has already been painted. We can make corrections. But, still underneath those corrections lies what actually is.

         This isn't just applicable to the man-woman dynamic, but many other things, as well. It isn't simply a matter of writing the opposite in order to create a feeling of conflict and resolution. Many people who write things use the framework of opposition to inspire their writing, which I can understand. But, in using this technique, we must be sure that the thing we oppose warrants our opposition. In fully understanding Bill Withers' song, the listener must know the sensation. It is a strange feeling to have watched someone fumble a love so much as to wish it never existed. As the whole thing unravels, you are faced with the fact that you don't actually wish it never existed. You just want to do away with this particular feeling, which is in the hands of someone whose nature is somehow against yours.

         Man and woman harboring an opposing nature is certainly natural. The task at hand is to wrestle with that nature so that they fit together. This has not happened in “Can We Pretend.” For, 'there's a shadow hiding in [her] heart' and he is expecting her to move this shadow which is unmovable. Who knows why the shadow is there? It is obviously something mysterious. And so, Bill Withers song is a song of forced resignation. It's like leaving a job you enjoy because it just becomes rank with such vague hostility that it must be purged. Inevitably, it is a song about a common woman's nature colliding with a common man's nature.  It is a song about the great power and joy to be found in the act of acceptance.

  • PERSPECTIVE: The Ringing, Part Two

         I recently wrote about a ringing which appeared unexpectedly in my life. It was in my ear, and by default, it acted as a mediator between me and the world I heard. Well, I no longer hear the ringing. I can't tell whether it is only because it has been completely integrated into my experience. Perhaps, having served its purpose, it just up and left altogether. All I know is that my ears have returned to normality. The greatest thing about this absolution is that the pressure is also gone. For, much worse than the continuous tone was the pressure that accompanied it. These ears are far from their original state. But, I am once again contented, which is fine by me.

         Listening to William Grant Still's “Mother and Child” with reborn ears was quite the treat. It's been a couple of years since I wrote my essay on this work. I remembered what I thought as I tried to put into words the essence of my acceptance of that music. Romanticizing in the perfect moment is rare. Usually, reminiscence comes with melancholy of some sort. Naturally, since this essay included a bit about George Walker's “Lyric for Strings,” I queued that music to play directly afterward. It was pure bliss. With the revelation of new ears, I thought about my own music to come. I wondered what it would be, hoping to discover some sharp brightness deep within. I knew it was there. Though I can't hear it, I can feel it now.

         The feeling is certainly describable. I can't think of an instance that isn't describable, of course. But, many of those instances do not hold enough significance to warrant words. Presently, although I've been smoking cigarettes again, I feel clean inside, as if the ringing was some disinfectant which yelled over all of the contrasting spirits multi-tasking their way through my body. A bond that I sought for years has arrived. It is as if all of my colors have conspired to unify in a brilliant shade of brown, and as if that brown has taken over my entire being. Blood turned brown. Skin burnt like the brass of Jesus. I conspired in the open to make my skin into my ears, my ears into my tongue, and my tongue into my heart. This must be what that is.

  • DISCIPLINE: Cultivation Of A Sound Body & Mind Through Basic Instrument Associations

    Wind Instruments cultivate strong and steady breathing habits.

    If rhythm is the sole focus, and not tone or melody, Percussion Instruments cultivate extreme focus on expanding simplicity, as well as linear thematic development.

    Tonal/Melodic Percussion Instruments, such as the balafon or other derivations like the piano, cultivate focus centered on multiple lines of thinking.

    Stringed Instruments cultivate style.

    Vocalization cultivates strong and steady breathing and a deeper awareness of one's own body, as well as self-confidence and self-expression. Group vocalization encourages acceptance of a position or role, as well as the impulse to share.

    ****Performance can be antithetical to physical and mental cultivation, as it brings the direction of focus from inward to outward. However, if measured, sharing one's sound is invaluable. Music is intended to cultivate a balanced individual. One doesn't have to play everything from every angle in order to achieve balance. You may only want to apply these instruments to your life as they correspond with skills that you lack or qualities that you want to enhance in yourself.

  • DISCIPLINE: The Songwriter's Toolbox

    The social musician and the religious musician

    play to nurture connections

    outside of the home.

    ---

    The philosophical musician

    understands all things via music

    ---

    The corporate musician aspires to sell

    masterful performance of musical language

    to anyone who will listen.

    ---

    The healer musician mends inner wounds

    and empowers the spirit through sound vibrations.

    ---

    The musical clown presents music as

    a backdrop for comedy and tragedy.

    ---

    The domestic musician has no aspirations

    aside from the discipline received from practice

    and the opportunity to play for loved ones.