Long overdue Burning Man post

January 5, 2018

Last year, 2017, I went to burning man, for my fourth time. Four weeks that now all blend together into a full month of dusty memories. A month of insanity out in the desert, in Black Rock City.

My brother Paul and me out on the playa.

For those of you who haven’t been, there aren’t words to truly describe it. But I’ll try. Imagine you and 70,000 really close friends decided to go build a city in the middle of nowhere in the desert for a whole week. That’s how it feels. Practically everything, everywhere, is communal and shared, and everyone you meet is your friend. And for that week, money doesn’t exist. It’s a purely gifting economy.

My gift to Burning Man.

Every camp brings something to give or share, be it a sunrise yoga class, or grilled cheese and mimosas, or an awe-inspiring 30-foot-tall sculpture, or mock wedding officiations, or an all-night dance party (complete with booze, DJs, and incredible sound systems and visuals). FYI, my gift has been homemade necklaces sealed with playa dust from the Black Rock desert.

There are no curfews and no rules about when you should sleep. You simply have about 200 continuous hours of play time, and you can do with it whatever you like. Plus, everyone is an artist. Even you. Especially you. Self-expression feels so natural there. For a man, a colorful dress would be a semi-conservative outfit. There are no fashion rules whatsoever (except for taboos against shirt-cocking, for some reason). You can be fully nude at all times if you want, or, in my case, wear a giraffe onesie every single night.

Becky and me, 2015. The dust can be intense.

All of these beautiful people, and all of this mind-blowing art, in one of the harshest lifeless environments, the Black Rock desert. Highs can be in the upper 90s (F), lows in the 30s or 40s, and dust storms can come out of nowhere and can last for hours.

Anyway, there were 5 moments at burning man this year that stood out from the others. In a way, these experiences encapsulate the beauty and randomness of the temporary city. I’ll try to describe them here, but I also hope to write a song that better captures each of these very emotional and inspiring moments.

Experience #1

I was lying on an inflatable couch in a tent towards the end of the night, maybe 5am. My brother Paul was lying next to me. My eyes were closed and I was flirting with the edge of consciousness. I was super tired. And yet I managed to stay awake, and explore the dreamy no-mans-land that exists halfway between being awake and being asleep. I had this thought, “I’m at Burning Man,” that kept reverberating through my head, almost in disbelief. It alternated with thoughts of “Where the fuck am I?”, as is typical out there. It’s a pretty unbelievable place. It’s like another planet.

Paul and me (2015).

These thoughts mixed with the all of the noises coming from Black Rock City, mostly just that never-ending deep house that is the heartbeat of burning man. But also sounds of people laughing, fire, art cars driving by blasting music, super squeaky bikes riding by (the dust is brutal on bike chains), and terrible karaoke from down the street. Just to name a few. So I had these few moments, lying in my tent, where I felt like I could hear all of the noise of the city so clearly. It was a beautiful moment, where I felt truly at peace. My body had been stretched and fatigued and burned and scraped and sleep-deprived for so many days by this point, it practically felt euphoric every time I lied down. And this moment was the peak of that sensation. Feeling like my body had melted into the inflatable couch and my spirit was then free to explore the sounds of burning man. What beautiful sounds they were. Sounds of pure joy, of people laughing and dancing and loving, of people living their truest lives. And here I was, right next to my brother, my best friend. And within 20 feet were another 15 beautiful campmates, including my amazing partner Becky. So much love in this place. How am I so lucky to be able experience this place? What a perfect time to be alive.

Experience #2

One night, my brother and I were biking through the vast expanse of the playa when we crossed paths with a single unfamiliar man. He approached us and enthusiastically  said, “Would either of you care for a slightly drunken hug?”

Now, if you were in the default world (i.e. not at burning man) and a random stranger said this to you, you would probably be creeped out. Or maybe you’d think he was going to try to mug you, or worse. But in this context, it seemed perfectly appropriate. He seemed like he genuinely wanted to give us a hug. Plus, the way he said it was just hilarious. So I said, “Yes!” and immediately got off my bike and gave him a good long hug. And it wasn’t awkward at all; it was a beautiful gift. Afterwards, he cheerily said “Fuck yer burn!” and went on his merry way. This one moment perfectly encapsulates one aspect of burning man that is truly magical. Human beings, when their walls are down, have so much love to give and receive.

Experience #3

Another of my favorite moments was while lounging on the couches at our camp in the middle of the night, maybe 2am. I’d been out for a few hours, and, exhausted, came back to camp to chill.

Paul, me, and Becky.

I sat on the couch with my brother and my wife, and giggled for what felt like hours. This was Thursday night, and we’d reached a point of exhaustion where, again, lying down felt euphoric. Any sense of urgency to go explore the city had mostly disappeared, replaced by a feeling of contentment and pure joy doing absolutely nothing.

Experience #4

Friday night, I went out exploring into deep playa with some campmates. By first light (maybe 5:30am) we found ourselves at Robot Heart. I was exhausted, as usual, but somehow found a second wind as the sun started to come out. And the music, it was beautiful. It was a type of melodic house that was just so so uplifting and melodic and euphoric. After the sun was fully risen, I experienced a moment of pure bliss. With my eyes closed, I faced the sun, reached my arms into the air, and simply danced. I opened my eyes occasionally, and I would see some of my closest friends, and my beautiful partner Becky, smiling back at me.

My love and me, at Robot Heart at sunrise. One of the best moments.

Even people I didn’t know would smile back at me. It’s one of the magical things about burning man. Everyone, including strangers, behaves as if they’re your friend. In such a place, everyone lifts everyone else up. Everybody wins. So much love and joy, spreading like a fire. As I danced, friends passed around snacks and drinks. I had a few sips of hot coffee, and it was absolutely perfect. Such a warming energizing liquid. Nothing quite like it when you’re out in the desert at sunrise, exhausted from a week of living life to the fullest. It’s all about the simple things in life. Hot coffee and good company.

My friends and me, at sunrise.

Experience #5

The final Sunday, after sunrise, I found myself standing outside Bubbles ‘n’ Bass, looking out at the playa. FYI, Bubbles ‘n’ Bass is a camp that hosts a dance party and gives out champagne every morning at sunrise.

Me contemplating life and death.

I saw so much joy, so much love, so much generosity, and I was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming sadness that this magical place was coming to an end. I wanted to cry. I teared up, though never quite managed to fully cry. I realized that burning man is a lot like life, or rather that burning man IS ALIVE. For one week of the year, 70,000 humans work hard to give life to something magical, something bigger than us all. And then at the end of the week, that life fizzles out and dies. All good things, anything alive, must come to an end. And sometimes that end feels heartbreaking, but death is inevitable. It’s all about making the most of the time you have. And remembering that love is all you need.

Thanks for reading. I love you.

*hugs*
Anthony / Trazer / Slutty G

p.s. Oh, by the way, my playa name is Slutty G. It’s short for Slutty Giraffe. It’s a long story.

p.p.s. One more pic. Or maybe three.

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Dancing in my Onesie

December 23, 2017

Yes, I recorded a video of me dancing in a giraffe onesie, again. This time, it’s to my recent hour-long set, “2am Dreamy Dance Mix.” It turned out to be quite exhausting, dancing like that for a whole hour. So sweaty. lol. But it was also ridiculously fun. You should try it.

Watch here, or below.

Or if you just want the audio and none of that silly giraffe nonsense:

One day I hope to do live shows, and I imagine that those sets will be something like this. Dreamy chill house, lots of animal onesies, you get the idea.

love,
Anthony / Trazer

P.S. You can download the mix here.

P.P.S. Post a video of you dancing to my music, and I’ll love you forever. Bonus points if you’re wearing a onesie, obviously.

P.P.P.S. Have I mentioned that my burning man name is Slutty G? It’s short for Slutty Giraffe, because I tend to get warm when I dance, causing me to remove parts of my onesie. 😉

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My First Composition

December 18, 2017

I’ve been writing music for the piano for as long as I can remember. When I was really young, I wrote a silly short song about a frog. It wasn’t very good (here’s my wife singing it with a goofy snapchat filter).

But my first “good” composition was finished in 10th grade, when I was 15. It’s called “Jailbreak Rondo,” and it tells a story about a man breaking out of jail, or something. The story doesn’t matter, and I’ve created better songs since then, but the track will always hold a soft spot in my heart (and my mom still cries every time she listens to it). Listen here, or embedded below.

In 12th grade, for my “Senior Project,” I decided to take Jailbreak Rondo and arrange it for a small wind ensemble. Since I was huge band geek, I had no trouble finding friends willing to play.

So, here’s a video of me at 17 conducting Jailbreak Rondo at the year-end band concert. The audio quality isn’t great (sorry), but that just adds to the vintage feel of it. Watch it here, or embedded below.

love,
Anthony / Trazer

P.S. If you liked the piano and/or band version of Jailbreak Rondo, you may also like the electronic version, here. Full disclosure, this version has a distinctively amateur production quality, since I made it when I had only just started producing electronic music.

P.P.S. Also in 12th grade, I played this original piece, Echo of a Dream, at my school’s annual talent show.

P.P.P.S Subscribe for more musical and personal tidbits like this! 🙂

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Piano Improv

December 16, 2017

Greetings from San Francisco. Have you listened to my track “Dancing with Light”? It’s piano improv, and has almost 42,000 plays on Soundcloud.

FYI, if you like that track you can download it here for free (or for a small donation).

I love improvising on the piano. It’s a special thing, sitting down and telling a story with my fingers. It brings me to a state of flow, such that it feels completely effortless. It also relieves anxiety. It expresses my emotions musically, and releases them from their grip on my mind. And thanks to the wonders of technology, I can listen to my improv tracks and re-enter that state of calm.

So how do I make my piano tracks?

I improvise on my Yamaha electronic piano, which gets digitally recorded as MIDI data directly into Logic on my computer. For each key I play, the computer saves:

1) Key, or pitch, like A, B, C, Eb, etc.
2) Time, i.e. exactly when the note was played.
3) Velocity, or simply how hard I hit the key.
4) Length, or how long I held the key before lifting my finger.

Once in Logic, I use the Alicia’s Keys synthesizer to output sound from the MIDI. I can also control the reverb, or add other effects. But really, the work is already done. It’s amazing how much of the heart of what I played is saved in those 4 pieces of data for each note. It would be theoretically possible to add each note “by hand” into the computer, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun. And it still might not have any soul to it.

Watch this improv video on YouTube. You can see each and every note I play, and the velocity of each note is indicated by the color.

That’s all for now. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications about new posts!

Love,
Anthony / Trazer

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Video Game Music

December 6, 2017

Hey you. In case you haven’t heard, my good friends from grad school founded an educational video game featuring an original Trazer soundtrack. The company is called Lux Science.

Download and play the beta version of the game, here.

Video games and virtual reality are the future of education (in my opinion). If you’re not convinced, read “Ready Player One.” It’s an amazing book about a future dystopia where everyone is in a virtual reality 95% of the time. The only thing preventing total societal collapse is the fact that virtual education is completely free and completely amazing. Once you’ve thrown all the traditional ideas about education out the window, the sky’s the limit.

Anyway, at the beginning of this project, my friend Roman (a co-founder of Lux Science) came to me and said he needed some ambient music for his game. Music that is unobtrusive, chill, dreamy, and loopable. So I made 4 different tracks, for the different moods he needed to convey in the first chapter:

1) Normal ship – calm exploration music
2) Red alert ship – a more anxious exploration music
3) Inside the Holodeck – excited, some-what trippy music
4) Floating around in a space suit around Mars reflecting on past experiences – peaceful dreamy music

It was fun making all of these, but track #4 is where I started to get really excited. Play the video game, and this is the first track you hear. I love it. I decided it was good enough to expand it into a full-blown Trazer track for release outside of the video game. I’m calling the track “Space,” and I hope to release it in the next few weeks.

It’s a special feeling falling in love with your own song, although it’s happened to me countless times by this point. That honeymoon phase with a new track is so ridiculously exciting. Exciting enough that working on it feels effortless. Exciting enough that I feel an urge to listen to it all the freaking time. It’s special. It’s magical.

So here’s a little teaser of the “full” version of Space. With Snapchat filter. I hope you like it as much as I do.

love,
Anthony / Trazer

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I Launched some Swag

November 26, 2017

Whoever you are, I’m thankful to have you in my life.
Happy Thanksgiving.

In the spirit of Black Friday and consumerism, I launched some Trazer merchandise, available here. In all seriousness, this is a great way to show your support for my music. I am a 100% independent artist, and every little bit helps. And if you post a picture of yourself wearing Trazer swag, I will love you forever.

By the way, let me know if there’s a particular type of Trazer swag that you’d like, and I’ll see what I can do to make it a reality. I’m here for you, after all.

In other news, I’ve decided to start doing more blog posts. I want to be an open book. I want to share the inner workings of my art. I want you to know who I am as person. And I want to know you. Let me know if there are topics you’d like to see, e.g. how I make my music, what’s my inspiration, my background, my deepest darkest fears, etc.

Cheers. I love you.
Anthony / Trazer

Howdy

November 13, 2017

I love you. I’m still here.

Just a few things. I’m working hard on a bunch of new tracks, and I’m super excited about every single one. I’ve started experimenting going deeper into the genres of ambient, psybient, and psychill. In other words, I’m creating more dreamy and trippy atmospheres to play in. And I love it. Come play with me.

I’m also constantly working on improving my production skills. Since I quit my day job, I’ve been learning at an accelerated rate. Yay. I still have a lot to learn, but my music keeps getting better. I hope you agree.

Also, here’s my cat Bella. The cat trap is working.

Also, I love you.

Anthony / Trazer

New Visualizer

July 2, 2017

Hey! I just uploaded this visualizer (below) to a remix of my song Love. If you want to learn about how I made the visualizer, keep reading.

It was done entirely in Python (my favorite programming language). At a high level, my code basically creates (from scratch) a whole bunch of images and then compiles them into a video with 30 images (or frames) per second. So how do I make a single frame?

When you look at a color image on a computer, each pixel is typically represented by 3 numbers. Those 3 numbers are the brightness in each of the 3 color channels RED, GREEN, BLUE (or simply RGB). Let’s say those brightness levels can vary anywhere from 0 to 1 (they actually go from 0 to 255 but let’s just use 0 to 1 for simplicity). Using different RGB combinations you can make essentially any color. For example, pure blue is [0,0,1], darker blue is [0,0,0.4], red is [1,0,0], yellow is [1,1,0], magenta is [1,0,1], purple is [0.5,0,1], white is [1,1,1], black is [0,0,0], etc. If you want to play around with RGB coloring, check out this link.

http://www.rapidtables.com/web/color/RGB_Color.htm

Ok, so the first step in making a frame is to set those RGB values for each pixel in the image. To do this, I first need to understand how to define each pixel’s location. For a single frame, pretend it’s actually an X-Y plot, where the (0,0) point is the bottom left, and each pixel’s location can be defined in (X,Y) coordinates. So for a 1000×1000 pixel image, for instance, the top right pixel is located at (1000,1000) and the center pixel is at (500,500).

To make the colors vary across the image, I define each RGB channel intensity as a function of X and Y in the frame. What’s particularly useful in this case is the fact that the 3 RGB channels are independent, so I can set up 3 different equations (1 for each RGB channel) that define the coloring.  To make the color vary in a wave-like manner, these equations need to be sine waves. Something like R=sin(AX+BY/2). The width (or wavelength) of these color bands/stripes can be varied by playing around with those A and B constants. I chose to use different wavelengths for each RGB channel so that they end up mixing in interesting ways.

For instance, if a red stripe crosses paths with a blue stripe, what you see in the overlapping region is purple. So, while the RGB channels are defined independently, what your eye actually sees is a mix of all of them. That’s what creates the huge range of constantly morphing colors, rather than simply red, green, and blue. Super beautiful.

Once those RGB equations were defined, I wanted to give the image that cool symmetry. This step was the hardest part to program. To do this, I first erased everything except 1/8th of the image (cut like a slice of pizza). This is the repeating pattern. Imagine taking a single slice of pizza, and flipping it along one side edge so that it’s now face-down in the neighboring spot. Do it again, and now it’s face-up in the next spot. Keep doing that until you go all the way around and you’re back to where you started. That’s what I did, in a nutshell. It means that each 1/8th slice is a mirror image of it’s neighbors. And that’s what gives you that trippy kaleidoscopic effect.

OK, so now we have one full image. To make the whole video look like it’s moving, each frame needs to vary slightly from the frame before it. This was done by including a “time” variable, t, in the RGB vs. XY functions. Something like R=sin(tAX+BY/2). Each time a new frame is rendered, the equation describing the colors is a tiny bit different because t is increasing. It also causes the wavelength (the width of the color stripes) to vary in time, which explains why the visualizer appears to keep changing. These changing wavelengths were initially unintended, but once I noticed they were happening I fell in love.

Alright, so now we have a bunch of frames that vary in time. Great. Now, you may have noticed that the visualizer responds to the music. I found some Python code that calculates a fast fourier transform of the song. It’s incredibly complicated, and I don’t fully understand how it works, but the output of that code is the sound “intensity” or “loudness” at each frequency at each time. For instance, when a loud kick drum is happening, the frequencies between 30-100Hz have a high intensity. To make the visualizer respond to the music, I inserted this low frequency intensity into a couple of the equations that define the color bands. It’s a little tricky getting it to respond to the bass and kick drum without making the visualizer too strobey. It’s a balance.

And that’s it! Now I can just run the program and it spits out a video. Follow all that? Do you have any suggestions for improving this visualizer? Do you want even MORE detail? Props to you if you got this far. Thanks for reading.

My next blog post will likely be a more detailed discussion of how I make my music. Would that interest you? Stay tuned 😉

I love you.

Anthony / Trazer

I quit my day job

April 20, 2017

Hey Trazer fans. Big news. Today, I officially quit my day job. My wife and I are moving to San Francisco, where I’ll be pursuing music full time.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Four years ago today, my life turned a corner, and I admitted to myself that making music was what I wanted, and needed, to do with my life. And so now I’m finally going to try to make that dream a reality. Because after all,

If not now, then when?
If not me, then who?

I expect the next year or so could go 1 of 2 ways:
1) I’ll use my new-found free time to truly perfect my craft, release a bunch of new music in a relatively short time, possibly get signed to a record label, and/or start doing shows. Then just maybe, Trazer will “take off” and become financially viable. This is obviously the best case scenario (or most delusional, depending on who you ask).
2) I’ll run out of money (I’ll be living is San Francisco, after all), or decide that the financial and/or emotional insecurity of the full-time musician lifestyle isn’t for me. Then I’ll *hopefully* get a tech job in Silicon Valley.

I admit the most realistic scenario is perhaps a combo of 1 and 2. That is, I’ll spend the next year setting the stage for a career in music. Then, I’ll get a job to help pay the bills while pursuing music the rest of the time.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving messages from people from all over the world. This “fan mail” ranges from simple but expressive YouTube comments, to multi-paragraph emails about how my music has made a positive impact on someone’s life, to extremely generous donations via PayPal (TrazerMusic@gmail.com) or my Bandcamp page. You know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Seriously, thank you.

That brings me to my final point. To all of my fans, I need you. You are the foundation upon which my dream stands. I am nothing without you. So please, if there was ever a time to show your support, it would be now.

You can help out however you feel comfortable. Share or repost my music on social media. Tell your friends. Give me a big hug and tell me everything will be ok. Buy, rate, and review my music on iTunes. Comment on my YouTube videos. Follow me on Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I’m not just asking for money, though I am. I’m not just asking for your help in getting my music out into the world, though I am, because I can’t do it alone.

But really, more than anything, I’m asking for your emotional support. If my music speaks to you, simply knowing you exist is a huge source of motivation and inspiration. Please never hesitate to reach out to me.

To those of you who have already shown your support, thank you! You are amazing and inspiring and I love you.

To those of you who think my music isn’t ready for prime time, I agree. I believe in my music, but I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn. And that’s why I’m doing this, to really sink my teeth into this passion of mine and see how far the rabbit hole goes. If I don’t do it now, I fear that I never will, and I’ll always wonder what could have been.

It’s incredibly scary. Terrifying, to be honest. And yet for the first time in a long while I feel truly optimistic about my future.

Exciting times ahead.

Love,
Anthony / Trazer