Fractals are freaking sweet. They are infinitely complex and yet can be described using relatively simple mathematical equations.
Fractals are made, basically, by taking a specific equation and solving it a number of times. The more times you solve it, the more complex the surface looks and the “deeper” you can zoom. The equation below, for instance, is used to make the Mandelbrot Set, which is probably the most famous fractal. The variables c and z are complex coordinates, i.e. they have “real” and “imaginary” components. And so the Mandelbrot set is plotted on the complex plane. The number of iterations, n, can also be considered the “depth”, or complexity, of the fractal.
Honestly, it’s really hard to wrap your head around how this equation works. I programmed it myself in Python, and I still don’t fully understand it. Basically, for every spacial coordinate, you iterate this equation until it diverges, and then color it based on the number of iterations to get there. The images below illustrate how the depth, n, affects the appearance.
And here’s a video illustrating the same concept.
And another one.
And here’s another demo video, where the depth of the fractal is programmed to sync with the beat of the music. I also added 8-fold symmetry. Check out my earlier blog post to learn more about syncing music to visuals. Download the track here.
Fun fact, I programmed the expanding circles using a phase-field code that I worked on in grad school. Phase-field codes are used to simulate how phases or grains evolve in materials when you heat them up. You can read my PhD thesis here, if you feel like it, but I don’t recommend it.
This post is for my fans. You know who you are. You have sent me the most beautiful and inspiring messages. You have told me how my music has moved you, or inspired you, or helped you in some way. Those messages have meant the world to me. So I started making a scrapbook, where I literally paste in screenshots of nice comments from fans. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just open up the book. Here are a few examples that have truly made my heart feel warm.
I know it might sound cliche, but I would be nothing without you. The last few years have been a ridiculous ride for me. So many highs, so many lows. During those lows, it is YOU who have kept me going. Art can’t exist in a vacuum, at least not for me. I can’t be the only inhabitant of Trazer land. I likely would have given up already, if it weren’t for you.
Every time I start to think I’m never going to make it as an artist, all I have to do is remember that YOU exist. Every time I feel despair about my future in music, I remind myself that I am already successful because YOU exist. That keeps me staying positive, keeps me inspired, and, honestly, keeps me making music. Trazer isn’t JUST me. It’s us. It’s a whole world we can inhabit together. And as more and more people join us in Trazer land, I get more and more inspired and motivated because I can see that something is working. I’m growing. My fan base is growing. But way more important is the fact that YOU exist.
Maybe I’m just insecure, and I need validation. Maybe it’s just my ego that needs inflating. But I think it’s more than that. Before, making music was a hobby. It was fun. But at some point, it started to become something SO much bigger. It became an obsession, and now it has become an obsession that improves peoples’ lives. Or at least, some of you have said that it has. And I believe you. But I also have a hard time believing it. I mean, aren’t I just an amateur artist having fun? At what point does an amateur music producer become a professional? Is it once you start making money? Or is it once you have true fans? I’m not making much money. Not even close to breaking even. In the long run, yes, I need to make money to be able to do this full time. But that’s not why I’m doing this.
In the short term, I’m making music because I love it. Because I want to. Because I NEED to. In the past, this “need” was distracting, to say the least. It led to periods of anxiety and depression, that really interfered with my life, and my day job. Now that I don’t have a day job, things are waaaaay better. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s still up and down.
Anyway, my point is this. My fans have made all the difference in the world. To those of you who continue to message me with supporting words, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Every single time I get a message from a fan, it makes my day. Seriously. I never get tired of hearing from you. My music is my gift to you. If you believe in Trazer, and in the future of Trazer, I want to hear from you. I want to talk to you. I want to know you. I want to meet you. I want to hug you. Because you are the reason I keep making music. I love you. I really do.
Happy birthday to my incredible father, Kirk.
60 looks great on you.
My dad and I have a lot in common. For one, we both love running. In 2011, I ran my first marathon with him (it was probably his 20th). Then in 2017, I did another one with him at the Redmond Watershed near Seattle. He beat my time by 45 whole minutes. Maybe one day I’ll be in as a good shape as him. Regardless, both races were a powerful bonding experience for us, a real joy, and I hope to do it again.
I also likely inherited my love for music from my dad. Like me, he’s been playing music his entire life. He was in a band in his early 20’s, and even dropped out of college to move to New York with the band (he later finished his degree and became a reporter for the New York Times). Upon learning that I was quitting my day job to pursue music, he expressed nothing but encouragement. He did the same thing, after all. It truly makes a world of difference knowing that he and my mom both support my recent career decisions.
Anyway, he exposed me and my brother to music at an incredibly young age, constantly making up silly songs. Fun fact, he wrote a song called “Hiney Piney,” which he would sing to us when he’d change our diapers. TMI?
He also sang Elton John’s “Your Song” in my wedding ceremony. It was so incredibly sung, it brought me (and everyone else) to tears. Music can stir up such powerful emotions. Thanks, Dad, for teaching me that. I love you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
Anthony / Trazer
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Whoever you are, I’m thankful to have you in my life.
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.
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.