This week continues a three-part interview series with local creative stallion, Aleah Fitzwater. Ranging from visual arts, music, to poetry and more, Aleah is carving a unique space for herself in the wide world of artistic expression. Her website is located at https://aleahfitzwater.com; here, you can learn more about her specific projects, check out her music and photography portfolios, and follow along with her blog ‘Fusion!’
Based on a podcast style interview format, Aleah and I shared a sprawling conversation, first talking about some of the software that she has been using recently in her musical process; later, Aleah shared her perspectives and insights on her approach to practice as it relates to the many artistic mediums she enjoys creating through. Finally, we chatted about photography and what lies ahead in the future, brainstorming upcoming collaborative projects together.
Sam: Could you tell me a little bit about how you got interested in photography and what your process looks like?
Aleah: I first got interested in photography because… well, actually let me backtrack to a story about my mom! This is the story of my formative origins as a photographer… When I was a very young child, my mom took me to JC Pennies or [some store like that] to get my photo taken. I was in this pretty little dress and green sparkly shoes, but by the time that we got to the store, one of my shoes was missing!
S: What did you do with your shoe?!
A: I don’t know! I was three! And my mom she was [panicking] like “Oh my gosh! She doesn’t have a shoe!” and I was crying… and [the whole situation] wasn’t really [showing] me. My mom wanted to capture me [in my element], so my dad got her a Minolta camera (which is basically a film camera) [so she could get some natural pictures of me]. When I was a toddler, I grew up around my mom taking pictures of me with this film camera. Eventually, she got a digital camera, and as soon as I was old enough to be able to hold it, I started taking pictures!
We would go on trips to West Virginia and apparently I would say “Take picture? Take Picture!” and she would just hand me her camera! Well then, fast forward a bit and my first camera was a digital Nikon – loved it – then in high school I started taking digital photography and Photoshop classes, I bought my own Photoshop program, and I started noodling around. A lot of [my process] was self-taught, [but] some of it was informed by those initial high school classes.
Then, I ended up putting in some proposals online through Submittable for some different abstract pieces. It’s funny, people always take my abstract pieces and they DON’T want my macro butterflies… nobody wants my macro butterflies, it’s fine. BUT! I [submitted] a few of my abstract pieces, some of which included: textures from trees, reflections into water that I altered significantly, and self-portraits… Some of them have made it in galleries in Portugal and Rome…
S: Wait, you’ve had things on display overseas… in galleries?! Did you have a chance to go to the premiers?
A: Absolutely…not. But I thought that it was really interesting… There were two that I was REALLY proud of; there was one that was in Rome, Italy and it was very odd that it was displayed because it’s actually a self-portrait [laughs]. I wasn’t expecting it to get in at all. It was for [a series] called the UnderWater Exhibition, so it was supposed to be for things…underwater.
I had taken a picture of water and soap bubbles, and I also had an old profile picture of myself. I took the bubbles and I edited them to look like multi-color chrome – but they definitely still resembled water. Then I took this watery edit and stamped it onto the photo of my profile, which created this really interesting texture…and THAT was displayed for several weeks in a gallery.
The other one that I was proud to have chosen was for an environmentalist-themed gallery in Portugal; this exhibition was based on photography displaying human destruction of natural resources. It was really weird because it was exploring the theme of destruction, yet we were finding beauty IN the destruction, all while advocating for the preservation of the earth’s natural resources. For me, it was strange taking pictures of human destruction, because of course I wanted it to be beautiful, but in a certain way, it’s not beautiful at all.
S: Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s really interesting, trying to find a way to hold these two completely contrasting perspectives in focus at the same time. What image did you end up submitting?
A: I was digging through my old stuff – I do that a lot, because there are a lot of pictures that I forget that I’ve taken – and I had taken a picture of a graffitied quarry in West Virginia. Since the time I first took the picture it’s gotten worse and worse. I mean, there are stories of people dumping entire campers and horses inside of this quarry…
S: Whoa whoa!
A: It’s absolutely terrible… So that’s the first place I thought of when I saw this competition. I submitted a picture and they DID invite me to the premier, but OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t make it to Portugal – I don’t have those kinds of funds. But it was also printed in a magazine; It was a picture of these beautiful layers of red-brown rocks in the quarry in West Virginia, and on top of that, all the layers of graffiti from over the years. And the graffiti is super high up too, I was impressed that somebody even managed to find a way to spray paint those rocks!
S: Did you get paid commission?? Because I think you should have!
A: That’s really funny that you should say that. You’re the only person that has ever paid me for my photography when I did your head-shots. Shameless Self-Plug: a few pieces of my art are available as non-fungible tokens on the digital marketplace platform, OpenSea.
A: Yea! The artist Grimes put up one of her paintings and it sold for over $1,000,000… and well, I’m not expecting that, but I think it’s really interesting, this emerging craze over original digital files. I have a lot of those, so I thought it’d be worth putting up some art.
S: I’d be interested to hear about how that process unfolds over time!
A: Yeah, I think I need to do a lot of promotion that I don’t really have time for right now, but it’s on the list.
S: You and I have done some collaboration with glow-juggling and nighttime photography, can you tell me a little bit about the process you use to derive such cool final projects?
A: Night photography and working with light are some of the hardest aspects of photography. For those pictures, I used a setting called bulb. Bulb allows me to control the shutter speed with my finger. Usually when you are running a camera, the shutter speed is a predetermined number that you can change with a dial. But since the way you were moving and the patterns you were using were constantly changing, I decided to take the shots with bulb – that way, I could watch you, and whenever I decided to lift up my finger, that would determine my shutter speed.
S: That’s so cool!
A: Sometimes it would turn out super underexposed or overexposed, so there is a lot of experimentation in that process. When taking photos like that, with manual shutter speed and bulb mode WHILE the subject is moving, it’s really interesting because I can’t actually see where you are through the lens. So I have to guess where you are and try keep my hands super still! The second I push down my button, I actually can’t see you; sometimes I look over my camera, but I can’t see you through the camera – I have no idea what the camera is going to pick up until after. There is a lot of spatial guesswork!
S: That’s CRAZY! It was so much fun to do that with you, can we do that some more? And what about on the editing end? How did you do the editing after the photography-magic voodoo you were conjuring?
A: So I pop it into Photoshop and I crop it to the rule of thirds – this way, the design that you’ve danced into my camera is centered in a pleasing way. Usually, you don’t find true darkness, so I have to adjust the black levels and the individual colors. Then, since you were further away and were using the colored LED balls, I adjusted the saturation. I do this ONLY after I fix the light and dark balance, because if you don’t, you could end up with the night background looking a little…green.
So I crop, edit the background and darkness (sometimes I have to steal parts of black from other parts of the picture and then paint it in by hand), then adjust the saturation.
S: And the saturation changes the juiciness of the colors?
A: Well, too much can make it look a little grainy, but just a little bit of saturation makes it look more accurate to what you see. It’s interesting, because actually, when a camera takes a photo, it’s not actually accurate to what your eyes are seeing. I don’t really have a lot of problems with using Photoshop. Some people do, some people are like, “Oh my gosh, no, I want it to be exactly how it is.” But a camera is a representation of what you see already, and it’s never going to be accurate, so I don’t see anything wrong with light editing.
With yours in particular, some of the pictures you have on your site, I did a little bit of reflection or kaleidoscope effect with your patterns.
S: I remember we had a few pictures of fire and you talked about turning it into a DRAGON! Have you encountered this wild creature in the realm of your Photoshop creations lately??
A: *Shakes head “no” laughing*
S: My last question is: Do you have any projects you would like to collaborate on in the future?
As far as digital art goes, I would love to work with your sketches in Photoshop again sometime.
S: YES! OH MY GOD THAT FUCKING WAS AWESOME!
A: If we could do that blend of sketch and digital art again – some sort of fusion between those two mediums – that’d be really fun because I love working with textures!
S: Yes. Yes. Yes. That is so inspiring to me, the way that you turned that around and brought it to life, was like [exclaiming loudly and sputtering with excitement!]
A: [Laughing] I love things and – I wanted to transform it, but I didn’t want to change the feeling, I liked working with and guessing what your intention was and then working from there!
I know that you do a lot of electronic-sort-of-experimentation with music. I actually have a way to animate photos. If you ever wanted a video for some of your music, I would absolutely love to let you riffle through my stuff. Then I could animate something and we could put something visual with your music!
S: Oh, I would love that! I just need to get my ass in gear! I was just looking through some of the snippets that I have on my computer before our conversation; there are little pockets of things, some are like, “Eww,” [shudders] “What the fuck was THAT?!”But othersaren’t so bad…
A: [Laughing] Oh yes, I have PLENTY of those too… that is why we have external hard drives.
S: Yes! The visualized art and music sounds SO cool.
A: I’d also really like to do a collaborative album – nothing too complex or layered, sort of a minimalist poetry album, kind of like that previous poem we worked on together. I’d love to record spoken word poetry, send it to you, and let you produce it however you want. That sound SO cool to me.
S: I know we talked about about record called **** ** *** ***, that took those same ideas of spoken word and poetry and spliced them with acoustic guitar. I’m still really interested in that too.
A: Well, there is no shortage of poetry to work with.
S: Amen. Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with me and share your process, it was so fun!
A: Oh my gosh, it was so fun!
This concludes part 3 of of the 3 part interview with Miss Aleah Fitzwater; Thanks Aleah for taking the time to share a glimpse into your photography practice and for brainstorming ideas with me!
Aleah is an advocate of ScanScore for her arranging process; we talked at length two weeks ago about the usefulness of ScanScore for arranging. For more info, check out the software here!
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This week continues a three-part interview series with local creative stallion, Aleah Fitzwater. Ranging from visual arts, music, to poetry and more, Aleah is carving a unique space for herself in the wide world of artistic expression. Her website is located at https://aleahfitzwater.com where you can learn more about her specific projects, check out her music and photography portfolios, and follow along with her blog ‘Fusion!’
Based on a podcast-style interview format, Aleah and I shared a sprawling conversation, first talking about some of the software that she has been using recently in her musical process; later, Aleah shared her perspectives and insights on her approach to practice as it relates to the many artistic mediums she enjoys creating through. Finally, we chatted about what lies ahead in the future, brainstorming upcoming collaborative projects together.
This interview is part two of a three-part series.
Pt.2: The Art of Practice
This is an extension of research I began in 2017, the last year of my undergraduate studies, and is something I still actively cultivate and pursue in my artistic process. The whole idea for the project was inspired by my direct experience with Zen Buddhism and the necessity of practice within music school. I was, and largely still am, completely fascinated with the experience of engaging with life in a direct, intentional, and ritualistic way. Back then, perhaps for the first time in my life, I found myself equipped with an awareness capable of recognizing a deep need to practice – to clearly identify the limits and edges of my ability as an artist, a musician, and as a human being in general. After this fundamental recognition, I found myself exploring intensely personal ways of working with my own barriers, both within my musical training and within my own personal life.
Then I got to wondering, how do musicians at all different stages and of all calibers approach practice? I wondered what it would be like to conduct and assemble research about artistic individuals and their practice habits, then to share the information with the larger artistic community, as well as to apply my findings to my own art-making process. I finished the project in a certain sense – I turned it in, received a grade, and graduated. But it felt incomplete in the sense that there was a very small data set; I feel like there are a lot of interesting artistic perspectives out there that I haven’t yet heard, and I would love to continue cultivating and sharing my research.
Thank you, Aleah Fitzwater for sharing your time and perspectives with me and with the wider artistic world!
Sam: So, would you mind sharing what your personal relationship to your art and music practice looks like?
Aleah: Oh gosh. I would describe my relationship to art and music as complicated. That’s the first word that comes up. The next thing that came to mind – it’s interesting that the word “complicated” shows up for me, because, so many people that I personally know have covertly bashed my art and music in some way. In working to rebuild from those hang-ups that we all develop as we stumble through the world of the arts, things can appear very much black and white. Sometimes I’m always doing art and music; other times, I’m just thinking about it but not acting on the impulse. I’m always thinking about it though.
My relationship with the arts has definitely changed since I’ve graduated. All that being said, I feel more myself when I’m making music. This sounds cliche but, it’s part of who I am. So, whether I’m pouring resin, writing, or playing music, it’s always has that same feeling. And the impulse to create is always present.
S: So your relationship to art is complicated and evolving? And maybe omnipresent and pervading throughout your life?
A: Yeah! And I’d say that a lot of the different arts give me a very similar qualitative sort of satisfaction. So like, if I’m demolding something I poured in epoxy, or if I’m playing Poulenc, it just all has this really nice, ASMR feeling.
S: Yeah! Well, there’s something really satisfying about using the contents of your life in the current moment, actively transforming reality through some medium with a creative impulse. That’s absolutely satisfying, I feel you there, haha.
Do you have any internal stances, mindsets, or feelings in regard to your art-making process?
A: It’s funny because the only strong sense I have is a stance of impermanence, or, no hard stance at all. I know that my process is going to be different every single day. When I wake up, it’s a totally different day. And I guess I always expect my process to be different, kind of like the weather.
And I’m okay with it. I mean, sometimes I do have certain habits, but, for the most part, I wake up and I don’t know if I’m going to write a poem with a bunch of half-rhymes, pour something in epoxy, or if I’m going to turn on my recording equipment. I mean, something is probably going to happen. But as far as strong permanent stances on things, not really. I’m okay with the weather pattern (laughing).
S: That’s very interesting! And it sounds like, for you, it’s very much motivated by the spirit of the moment as you move through your day. You have your environment primed for these different artistic moments to unfold… maybe piano, flute, or recording; you’ve got visual art stuff, you have all of your creative tools on hand. Whatever inspires you that day, you’re open to, willing, and at peace with being able to say “Hey I’m going to take this train to wherever it goes.” That’s cool.
A: I mean, I’ve tried it before where I would say “Okay, I’m going to practice piano every single day. And I mean, I should practice piano more than I do, let’s be honest. But, unless I feel really taken with the piano, I find that I don’t get as far. I think it’s okay to have certain time periods of hyperfocus because it ends up turning out better than if I force myself to practice. It just doesn’t have the same sparkle.
S: I think that, for me, the way that I’m wired, I always come back to this impulse to maintain a daily grind. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best or only way to relate to practice, but it’s a feeling that I can’t seem to escape – like I need to maintain my daily practice. I think that the spontaneity and the inspiration often comes (when this ritualistic approach is functioning at its best) through the grind. The ritual creates such a concrete foundation that I get sick of it. Then it’s like, “I’m gonna do ANYTHING just as long as I don’t have to play the (same fuckin’ stupid) thing again.” As a result, I’ve got so many fragments, moments, and sketches of musical ideas that emerged through the process of formal schooling, which, in a certain way, was kind of miserable for me.
Creativity birthed out of concrete rigidity.
And so that is still a difficulty that I face: what’s the balance between spontaneity and cultivating and maintaining a healthy musical “garden?” I tend to be really bad at taking care of plants unfortunately… it’s something I-
A: I spent 4 hours today gardening, so it’s really funny for me to hear you say that. Also, I wanted to say, I think there’s a big difference in (even though we went to the same school) the different programs that we were in. It seemed like, as far as the jazz school goes, you grind and you grind, and then, on “Jazz Night” on a given Tuesday, at whatever bar is hosting the jam, after all of your grinding, THEN you are allowed to be free and do what you will and solo and whatnot. You’re not memorizing charts on Tuesday night; you’re just having fun with it. So say, I was in a flute choir, and marching band, and private lessons, orchestra, and wind ensemble all at the same time. I think the reason I am the way that I am now is because of all of these ensembles. We would grind and grind, and the end of it all, there was a concert… [that was the exact same music…the exact same way]. Not to say that that’s bad, I love Dvorak, but we never really got cut a break in the same way. [For me,] you couldn’t just go to the bar on a Tuesday night and play whatever you wanted during your solo. It’s also odd though, because, during classical lessons, my professor would so often say “Play in the dark, play with your eyes closed!” But I just [funneled] down such a straight line that I really needed to transform my relationship with the arts to something more spontaneous.
S: Yeah! More spontaneous. And it sounds like you’ve discovered something that is more flexible and that serves you and works with your life much better than “Don’t veer off the course until the concert and then we do the whole thing again.”
A: Right! So, if I play scales from Taffanel and Gaubert, I don’t then treat myself [afterwards] and then make something up. I just play Taffanel and Gaubert for 4 hours like I’m in the practice room in college again. It’s a broken method, I had to change my method.
S: Interesting, that makes sense! The next question: Does a sense of ritual inform any of your art practices? Even in your flexible approach to art making, how do you engage with it? Do you find that there is a sense of ritual inside your spontaneity?
A: I do! Especially for music. It sounds odd, but yeah, I get myself in a certain mindset. I guess the ritual [for me] is: I think about it a little bit, think about it some more, and then I decide. Once I decide, I make a cup of tea and eat a piece of chocolate, and then get started. It’s super simple.
S: Yeah! That’s beautiful. That’s exactly what I was wondering about! And so, how do you like to practice?
A: I like to practice by starting out with something I’m super comfortable with. Something I know I’m not going to mess up. So, it revs up my confidence engine. And then, after that, I choose something more difficult. This is after my sound is warmed up and clear. So, that brings me to the idea of tension, I’ve been thinking a lot about tension lately. As I practice, I gradually turn up the ‘knob of uncomfortability.’ Then, I find a limit. I go past that limit, and I think, ok, that is my limit. So then, after I know where [my limit] is, I go back and I practice really slowly. If I keep pushing the limit I get tension problems, and you can’t play fast with tension problems. After that, I start speeding it up and work on it for a while. After that, I let it go and do something else.
S: That inspires me. When you find these barriers, do you have a way of working with the thresholds and ceilings of your ability? Do you have a way that you like to organize and clarify what you need to work on?
It might be interesting, from a processing perspective, to compile a notebook of ‘Barriers Difficulties” that one encounters in practice. It seems like, for me, it could be extremely motivating to have a clear map of the things I need to work on, the things I can’t do.
I know that sometimes I get stuck in what’s comfortable and familiar, and so I’m always looking for new ways to challenge myself to grow and integrate. In the past, I know that sometimes I have fudged my way through barriers, passages, moments that give me trouble, and changes I don’t know how to address…
If I wasn’t careful, this notebook could turn into a masochistic party…
A:(Laughing) I was going to say, it seems like this could be a very sad book!
S: But, in a way, I feel like it could be really empowering to recognize, “There’s this thing I can’t do, and now, I want to work with it.” Then it’s a process of engaging, maybe failing, trying again, and hopefully crossing it off the list and knocking it out of the park.
A: Well, this is what I do. I have the piece, Carmen Fantasie. It’s beautiful. It takes a bunch of different themes from Bizet’s opera and turns it into a flute concert/theme and variations. And it’s very technically difficult. What I like to do with that is, I allow myself to play through the pretty parts that I know; because, if [I] just work on the 32nd notes, I find myself getting really bummed out. If you’re bummed out with the fast notes, you’re not going to want to make music.
S: That’s true!
A: So, I play through the beginning, because the beginning makes me happy. Then I delve into a bunch of difficult things. But when I find myself losing even an ounce of patience, I go back and I play something pretty. And then I think “I’ve almost learned this piece, if I finish polishing up these 4 bars, then this page will be done” So I allow myself to toggle back and forth.
S: That seems really healthy. I know for a fact that I have a tendency to grab onto things and to sometimes practice in a way that goes past the point of necessity.
A: Yeah, that’s a recipe for tension. I made that recipe a lot. I still make it.
S: I understand.
But that’s really interesting; it’s kind of a mix of “Here’s this thing I can’t do,” awareness and the intention to work at the edge of your ability, and also, a recognition and reminder that “This music is beautiful and I love to play this piece.”
I dig that.
Do you have any ways that you use to keep yourself engaged in growth in these different artistic fields?
A: Like I said, I’m always thinking about doing art, but a lot of the time just I think of it and I don’t act. When that happens, I go and print off something I really want to play. For example, I really want to learn Paganini’s Caprice 24. Which I do. And I haven’t yet. I put just this one thing out on my stand. And then I let it sit there.
And I let it sit there, and it bothers me.
S: It’s like a teabag! It’s steeping!
A: Eventually, I walk up to the stand and I just do it. It’s kind of like when I go Hobby Lobby and I buy a bunch of things at the craft store that I don’t know what I’m going to do with yet. I leave it in a bag on the kitchen table. I’m a very organized person, so the fact that something is out and kind of messy really draws my attention. I don’t know if it’s the best method… I kind of feel like I’m tricking myself into doing it but…
S: I think that that’s brilliant! That’s a really good idea. It reminds me of seeds in the soil, or the tea bag steeping…
I have so many piles of music around here…
A: But the piles are intimidating, they make me freeze up and get anxious!
S: I know, and I lose track of things. I’ve got these lyrics I’ve written, tunes I’m working on, all these books for lessons…. some business junk that’s partially done.
A: Right! So I find that stack, I clean it off my stand, and I clean my stand. That’s my ritual too. And I put the most important thing I need or want to do on there.
S: I might have to use that in my own process…
Do you find that your insights into your art-making process inform other aspects of your life? If so, how?
A: Well, I’m not sure that I could say how the arts inform other aspects of my life, but I can say that my different art practices definitely inform each other. I find that my music informs my photography and digital art, especially because music makes me think of textures. When I play a lot of music I think: Textures. Maybe aurally, but you know! Then I pick up my camera and I find myself taking pictures of things with texture. (Laughing) Once I even took a self-portrait with my hair, and I was like “Wow, what an interesting texture!” And later in Photoshop I made a kaleidoscope of it; I did a bunch of wacky things with the dropper tool and colors. And usually, it all turns out! Music causes me to want work more with textures, but visually!
Since music is so ingrained in my brain, it is always informing my life – I can hear a lawnmower right now, and I can’t help but wonder, “What is the pitch it is sounding at?” And I can I see it as the bass of the current orchestra of life that is playing in this moment.
Oh! And when I meet new people, I think “How would I write them in a book?” and I internally write a poem about them. Sometimes I see people as walking poems…
S: Whoa, that is beautiful! I like that very much! I didn’t realize that…
That made me think of a few things: I find a similar crossover between music and art in my own process as well. A long time ago I wrote this odd-time, wacky looping guitar riff. I loved it and played it over and over again. The more that I played it, the more that I realized that it had this visual element about it. I was studying how the melody moved across the neck and one night, I just decided to actually sit down and draw out the abstract motion on the page using the flow of the sound along the fretboard as a guide.
And going back to that idea you mentioned – when you first meet a new being, you think to yourself “Who is this person as a poem?” I’m going to have to sit with that one, that’s so cool!
S: I’m curious about the impulses that drive you towards creativity. Can you share some of these experiences?
A: I have a hard time with this one, because I can’t think of any hallmark experiences that made me say “Ok! I’m going to be an artist,” or “I’m a musician now!”
There was one time where I wrote my first set of lyrics when I was 5, and I really surprised everybody around me – but I don’t think that I felt very surprised myself. I’m not sure if I decided so long ago that I can’t remember, or that it’s something that always was, but it something that kind of just is. I have found that when I have tried to make decisions that lead me away from the artist’s path, I am often met with a lot of resistance.
I’ve been told I CAN be a very logical or mathematical person, so I thought I’d try and take a “safe” route after high school and go into accounting – there are always accounting jobs. I tried to sit through the introductory workshop, but I had been thinking “visual art, music education, creative writing!” I had written these things down dozens of times as degree path ideas.
S: The holy trinity!
A: Maybe even a side of horticulture and photography. I thought I’d try accounting for a year. Well, I actually tried accounting for 10 minutes in one little lecture hall for an introduction as a freshman.
And I couldn’t take it.
Everybody already knew how to read graphs, and they LOVED graphs. And I was like, “How can somebody love graphs?”
I was thinking, “I love music and poetry like you love graphs.” Their arms were up in the air and they were cheering and waving…for graphs. And I just felt this sinking feeling, and I actually left. I walked out of my own college initiation… I left after lunch.
I just knew. I looked around and thought, “This is not my place. And these are not my people.” No offense mathematicians. Any other path just didn’t quite jive.
[After the strange graph party,] I walked myself straight into the music department instead.
S: I’d love to hear about any crossover experiences, inspirations, or insights you’ve had in your practice of art through multiple mediums. We did mention this a bit before, but I’d love to hear about any specific experiences you’d like to share.
A: I’ve been doing so much gardening today – it’s really been on my mind. I think gardening is an art I’ve taken up too; and today I thought of an allegory that relates to this question. I always want to garden like I always want to grow my hobbies and my art. I recognize through gardening, that the plant can always get taller; and though it might not always be time for it to bloom, you still get a positive result if you put the effort into nurturing the plants.
This recognition of the benefits of caretaking informs the way that I relate to my different art practices: photography, visual art, poetry, music… There’s always a positive result if you put the effort into cultivating your arts – the idea of consistently adding fertilizer to these things. You’re eventually going to get a good result.
Also in regards to this idea of crossover effects, I think for me, poetry crosses over with my music a lot. The lines between poems and lyrics get blurred a lot; I think that the musicality of rhymes and syllables makes me wonder, “Is this a poem, are these lyrics, what do I have here?”
I’ve always thought of doing poetry book with my photography and matching it together. I have A LOT of raw materials to sort through; I just haven’t done it yet, but the idea of it is there.
S: I think that allegory of gardening is interesting, I relate to that metaphor in my own practice –
A: (laughing) Have you LOOKED at your windowsil basil?!
S:It’s – it’s looking kinda sad, it’s a SAD basil plant.
A: There’s like ONE LEAF LEFT!
S: There is more than ONE leaf! There’s like… three, ehrm. I’ve had A LITTLE bit of success with gardening back in time, but that’s informed my relationship to learning too!
I’m kind of a weird cat, I, somewhat randomly, decided to teach myself how to write with my left hand because I realized I had two, so like, why not?
A: I made a similar decision too back during my senior year of high school, so I feel you there haha! It might be a musician impulse because we use both of our hands a lot.
S: Sure! For me, I always wondered what it might be like if both of my hands could write at the same caliber. What if I could write two different paragraphs at the same time? That kind of thing has always interested me.
The same allegory of “The Arts as a Garden” has shown up for me in learning how to juggle, learning how to play guitar, and cultivating new skills and practices that I had no previous experience. I realized, “Man, this is something that I need to nurture.”
Now I think I’ve had way more success in cultivating the garden of my artistic habits than I have with actual gardening (laughing).
I think it’s really interesting in that allegory – even if it’s not blooming right at this moment, taking care of, adding fertilizer, and nurturing this process will eventually and quite naturally lead to the bloom.
For you, I think it’s really interesting that you have these two, almost contrasting perspectives active in your arts practices. On one hand, you are very garden-minded, consistently taking care of and nurturing your plants and art practices; but on the other hand, you tend to take a much freer approach to your arts, cutting out the unnecessary rigidity and flowing with the ‘weather patterns’ that move you day by day.
For me, I feel like I need to stamp myself on the forehead, like “WATER THE PLANTS, FOOL!” I really want to cultivate a more regular nurturing approach to both gardening and my own art practice.
A: Well, sometimes I feel that I need a healthy dose of that too; everything isn’t always there for me either, but that’s my ideal framework. That’s what my process looks like when all the wheels are turning.
S: Lately, I’ve been reading this book, Atomic Habits, that I think you might dig. (More info at jamesclear.com) It’s been getting my gears spinning on a daily basis, I think I’ve finished it twice now (laughing), it’s really interesting. The whole premise is based on the idea of making microscopic but reliable change to your life on a regular basis can lead to HUGE results.
A: Yeah! I think that small amounts of practice, but more consistently prove more helpful than GIANT chunks and cramming.
S: For me, I have been finding myself asking the question, what do I actually need to do to keep developing? How do you address that when it shows up in your life?
A: A couple of months ago I had an online concert and I realized I need more solo repertoire. So, I allowed that to be the target of my hyperfocus. I think that allowing a period of hyperfocus is really important to me, because if I focus on too many things all at once I get anxious and overwhelmed. If I sit and think to myself, “Oh my god, I need solo flute rep, but oh my gosh my high range is unclear and my vibrato needs work, my fingers are too tense…” [it becomes unhelpful]. Allowing myself to hyperfocus on things for short periods of time allows me to get more done than if I focused on everything, 100%, all at once. That’s what works for me
S: I think I do something similar. I find that when I decide to just hang out with some practice for a chunk of time, hyperfocusing on the nuances of what I am doing, then when I let go and forget about it, and then come back later, it has changed. It seems like there is germination period where the work that I’ve done has subconsciously grown. There is something magical about intensive, focused attention, letting it go, then coming back to it.
A: That reminds me of studying! I used to make flashcards for biology; I had like, over 100 of these things. I would spend an hour studying them, then I would then go to sleep. The next day when I pick it back up, the information is just there somehow… in a different way.
S: (Laughing) I think that sleep is a really interesting part of the process of learning, but that easily could become a whole topic of discussion! Maybe we can come back to that sometime!
This concludes part 1 of of the 3 part interview with Miss Aleah Fitzwater; Thanks Aleah for taking the time to share a glimpse into your process of practice. Aleah is an advocate of ScanScore for her arranging process; we talked at length last week about the usefulness of ScanScore for arranging. For more info, check out the software here! Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of this Interview, where we will explore topics related to future collaborations!
If you like what you see, please subscribe! And if you’d like to set up an artist interview, please feel free to send a message or drop a comment!
This week begins a three part interview series with local creative stallion, Aleah Fitzwater. Ranging from visual arts, music, to poetry and more, Aleah is carving a unique space for herself in the wide world of artistic expression. Her website is located at https://aleahfitzwater.com; here, you can learn more about her specific projects, check out her music and photography portfolios, and follow along with her blog ‘Fusion!’
Based on a podcast style interview format, Aleah and I shared a sprawling conversation, first talking about some of the software that she has been using recently in her musical process; later, Aleah shared her perspectives and insights on her approach to practice as it relates to the many artistic mediums she enjoys creating through. Finally, we chatted about what lies ahead in the future, brainstorming upcoming collaborative projects together.
This interview is one of a three part series.
Pt.1: Blogging and Optical Music Recognition
Sam: I know that you are a writer, musician, and artist, could you tell me about the different projects you are working on?
Aleah: Sure! Lately, as far as my career goes, I have been working on a lot of music blogs. I write for an OMR software company, I review instruments like piano keyboards on various sites, and sometimes I write about mixing and mastering as well.
As far as personal projects go, I’ve been recording a lot of spoken word poetry, and have been arranging Northern Downfall for five flutes.
S: Can you tell me a little bit about those last two projects that you just mentioned?
A: I find myself writing poetry a lot, oftentimes words just kind of fall out of my head, and I need to write them down. I’ve been trying to be more open about sharing my poetry more recently. I was inspired to arrange Northern Downpour because, on the Pretty Odd album, Panic! At the Disco uses a lot of MIDI flutes. One day when I was listening back to some of the songs, it made me laugh. I love Panic! But, I thought, “Man, MIDI flute…” I chose Northern Downpour in particular because it has a lot of movement. Even though I’m stacking the same instrument on top of itself, it has enough texture for that sort of setting to make it work.
S: You mentioned OMR technology? Could you tell me a little bit about what that stands for and what it does? Because I don’t actually know.
A: Well, you should! So, OMR stands for optical music recognition. It’s kind of like computer science and sheet music had a baby. Basically, optical music recognition teaches your computer to recognize music elements, and it digitizes them into an editable format.
So, before OMR really was a thing, we would have all these PDFs. People love putting music in PDFs. But, say you want to arrange a piece of music in PDFs. Before OMR, there was no easy way to digitize that music. So, you’d have to spend hours typing it into Sibelius.
In the ’80s the college MIT had the idea to start doing optical music recognition like the way text was currently being digitized with OCR Technology (Optical Character Recognition). OMR is a lot more complicated than OCR though, because of how many elements are in music (staff, note heads, key signature, articulations). And that’s why this technology took a lot longer to develop, too.
One of my favorite things in the history of OMR is this robot called WABOT. Originally it was this robot that could move its limbs and whatnot. WABOT-1 wasn’t really related to music, but WABOT-2 played the organ with its ‘fingers’ (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0167849387900027 ). That was the first really big piece of optical music recognition hardware/software. It didn’t take long for them to learn that, well, all these arm and legs and fingers don’t really help us digitize the music in the way we’re looking for.
S: That’s so interesting! So did it have mechanical fingers and a camera?
A: Yes, yes it did! It literally read the music and played the organ.
S: How has OMR evolved past that point? Is that what this software ScanScore is doing now, are they building little robot buddies with mechanical fingers?
A: No no, that was very early in the synthesis of the idea. Now, it’s more along the lines of a companion program to Forte notation software or Sibelius, Musescore, anything like that. A lot of the times notation programs have some OMR capability, but, it usually isn’t very good. What I like about ScanScore in particular is its accuracy. In addition to this, it has a mixer, and you can edit the misreads really easily.
S: Wait, I know Sibelius has a mixer tool too; you can adjust the levels and pan of the instruments. Is ScanScore’s mixer similar?
A: I’ll walk you through the process here. So, say you have a PDF of Fur Elise so you can do a Fur Elise remix or something. You can pop it into your program by uploading it into ScanScore. And say you want to hear it in MIDI flutes or something. You can go to the mixer and you can change the allocation of the instruments. In ScanScore it is more of a draft sort of format, so you can hear what it sounds like. It’s a really good tool for composers and performers. Say a contemporary composer hands me a piece of physical sheet music and I don’t know what it sounds like. I can take a picture of that piece and have ScanScore play it back to me, which is something a notation program can’t really do.
S: You can change the type of instrument that plays back too?
A: Yep, and you can also pan and EQ to some extent. Oh! And there was one more thing I wanted to mention here, let me backtrack. So, as far as the process goes, once people get their score the way they want it, most people export their file into a MusicXML and then put it into their favorite notation program. OMR adds another piece of software in the mix, to save us a lot of time.
S: Does that pretty much sum up the process of how you use ScanScore?
A: Yeah! Basically, you can take a picture with your phone and link your devices with a QR code, and the music gets sent to your computer and digitized. You can also upload pictures of PDFS, or you can use a physical scanner that connects to your computer. After that, it all works pretty much the same way.
S: Now, how do you apply ScanScore in your own musical process?
A: I use ScanScore (https://scan-score.com/en/) in my own arrangements, specifically. I guess you could call me a bit of a lazy arranger. Sometimes I find myself diving into MuseScore’s online community to find melodies. So say I know a song really really well, but I don’t want to have to sit there and transcribe the melody. I figure somebody’s probably done it at some point. And so I find it. Say I find Northern Downpour, I know I did that with this one. So I found it on MuseScore, and it’s in a downloadable PDF. And I mean, MuseScore is still riddled with all sorts of problems, and I still have to listen through and edit rhythms. But, it’s still better for me to do that than to play the song fifty- million times to get the melody on the page, you just edit someone else’s mistakes. So! I am the lazy arranger.
S: Sure! And I mean, say you have a book like this (The Beatles), and even vocal music in general, it tends to have a lot sixteenth notes with the stems all broken apart. Vocal melodies can be really intricate on paper when they’re actually relatively easy to sing. That’s a really good idea. I spend a lot of time transcribing melodies, and so sometimes I get burnt out when I get to the arrangement.
A: Yeah! I mean, with the underground/ Indie band sort of thing, you just have to bite the bullet sometimes. I recently did a cover of Anarbor’s 18, and, while the song is fairly popular, I still had to transcribe it all from scratch. But, if it’s Panic! At the Disco or something, a lot of the time you can be the lazy arranger!
This concludes part 1 of of the 3 part interview with Miss Aleah Fitzwater; Thanks Aleah for taking the time to share a glimpse into your arranging process. Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this Interview, where we will explore topics related to The Art of Practice.
If you like what you see, please subscribe! And if you’d like to set up an artist interview, please feel free to send a message or drop a comment!