Beyond the Record
Music news, album reviews & interviews
BtR: You are known for the music that you create but partially known for how you write those songs. Tell us a little about that.
For a long time I tried to approach composition as a field of innovative techniques. That is, I tried to come up
with new ways of writing music. Some were more successful than others, but ultimately based on this flawed
premise. Nevertheless, many of my best works up to this point have incorporated some of these techniques though
I am phasing them out in favor of a new approach based on a more objective premise.
BtR: Where did you spend your days growing up? How much would you say that your up-bringing influenced
PJBS: Where I grew up does not matter; it does not ultimately affect you in a decisive way. What does affect
your life is making a commitment to think objectively and to have a never-ending desire for self-improvement.
BtR: Would you say that you were 'born' with your musical gift or did you have to work at it?
PJBS: Nobody is born with a musical “gift”; there is no such thing as one. This pernicious idea is one of the
greatest myths in music, and essentially a backhanded compliment to any musician. Every musician has had
to work for it, one way or another, young or old, consciously or subconsciously, with help from others or alone.
I happened to learn much while young. I’m still learning even today.
BtR: At what point in your life did you embrace your creative side and pursue music?
PJBS: Creativity infuses every aspect of human activity. Indeed, to survive and thrive a person must be creative.
A person must take things or ideas and rework them into something they can use or sell in order to live and
grow. A person who does not, dies, or becomes an inhuman parasite. I have never understood the idea of
creativity as some separate, mystical idealized procedure that is supposed to be a separate “side” of a person
as opposed to an integral and indivisible part of their nature. It is everywhere humans exist.
BtR: You're incredibly passionate about the arts. Do you think that you were able to graduate from Berklee
after only two years because of your passion?
PJBS: I was able to graduate quickly because I planned ahead. My goal was to graduate as quickly as possible;
in fact I graduated by age 20. I took all the knowledge I had accumulated up to that point, tested out of as
many classes I as I could, did summer semesters, and piled as many classes as I could in each one. I am
particularly proud of testing out of general-ed classes through CLEP tests; I saved an entire semester this way.
BtR: Let's say you had the power to change the music industry and the way things work for all artists. The
mainstream and underground. What would you do?
PJBS: I do have the power; so does everyone. All they have to do is commit to their goals. Insofar as the music
industry is run by private individuals and companies, I have no right (and no desire) to tell them what to do.
What I will push for, though, is the abrogation of payola laws, the removal of regulations on industries, the end
go government monopolies, the abrogation of taxes and, in a broader sense, a freer society.
BtR: What song best depicts who you are as a person? Your struggles and triumphs.
PJBS: As a whole, all my pieces represent me, or a part of me. If you want to understand me as a person, listen
to my music.
BtR: Explain hoe you were able to create a system all your own. How did you develop encoding text into
PJBS: When I was still trying to invent new techniques, I was intrigued by the realization that, at least until now,
music had no way of communicating concrete, specific data unless it was through lyrics. There had been
gestures and vague “feelings” and tone poems, but no accurate, semantically specific communication. Seeing
this as a puzzle to be solved, I contrived to make a system that could convey specific and accurate
information- a true musical language- without using words.
I realized if I could map specific pitches to specific letters of the alphabet, and other pitches and some rests to punctuation marks, I could
achieve my goal. The same pitches would always represent the same letters or symbols. Rests of specific types would signal spaces, periods,
commas, paragraph breaks and other separators of words. Crude, but completely effective.
Then I realized that if I mapped the most commonly used notes to the most commonly used letters, and the rest of the letters correspondingly, I
could have a system rooted in the shapes of normal speech, with melodies that were relatively fluid and not haphazard. Somewhat arbitrarily, I
chose the scale beginning on middle C as my “most used notes”. I then mapped the most used “register” of the DHIATENSOR keyboard
layout onto ten notes within this scale, ascending, and the remaining registers one and two octaves above, correspondingly with frequency of
use. (The DHIATENSOR layout, designed for the Blickensderfer typewriters, places the ten supposedly most used letters in the English
language in the "home position" of the keyboard, to save time and energy for typists, and the other letters correspondingly)
I mapped all other symbols to other pitches, and punctuation marks to rests of specific durations.
Satisfied that I had created a method that truly translates words into music, letters into notes, I wrote a poem, "A Pear", and then transformed it
into music, giving the text to the violin and using the remaining instruments for color and contrast. The result was, for my purposes at the time,
I then expanded my system further, mapping the pitches into Spanish in order to translate Spanish texts; Spanish’s most frequently used letters
are different from English’s, so I had to remap them accordingly.
I've since used this method to both translate full texts into music (El Maleficio) and to add discrete semantic information to otherwise nonsemantic
pieces (Joropo for Harp); I’ve even to signed my full name musically.
But don't tell anyone! Keep your ears peeled instead. I’m definitely not done with this technique yet.
BtR: Aside from that alone, what makes you stand out from other composers within your genre?
PJBS:I don’t think in terms of genres, or rather, in the validity of genres. That sets me out automatically, for one.
Going one step further, I see music as a science- as a field where specific results can be achieved through
sound and where objective knowledge can be gathered and applied. This should be obvious to anyone, but I
don’t know many musicians who have achieved this level of clarity. Moreover, I have rejected “avant-garde”
and postmodern music, despite once being one of their advocates. Such music is sterile at the outlook, and in
some cases is not even music- their stated purpose, in some cases, is the destruction of music as a
meaningful and objective factor of human activity, the destruction of capitalism and civilization, and the
replacing of it with a philosophy where nothing matters and all is valid- be it piano keys banged randomly,
mind-numbing minimalism, or 4’33’’. And again, this is from someone who wrote such types of pieces in the