Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coincidence and Confirmation

I've taken a bit of a break from this blog in order to get my "other" blog project-- the Page of Possibility -- up and running. Also, I've had to put the next YouTube video on hold until my cameraman gets back from Thanksgiving vacationing. So not too many Buffy stories in the past week or two, but boy do I have a story for you...

This week and last, I've been working on a multiple-day shoot for Grey's Anatomy in which I play a "Resident Doctor", which means I don't get any lines, but I do get to wear a white lab coat on top of the normal periwinkle scrubs. (Evolution in wardrobe; very exciting.) I bolted to set yesterday morning after having accidentally mistaken my call time for six minutes later than it actually was. In the hurry and flurry, I was overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation of bright lights, fancy equipment, hustling crew members and bustling TV stars. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a white guy with dark features who looked vaguely familiar. I know him from somewhere, but not from here... yes, in fact, I know him very well... is that... could it be... Holy crap, it's Adam Busch!

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Think of all the extremely awkward things I could say to him! I could gush about Buffy; quote some lyrics from his band; or best of all, walk right up to him and say, "Hey, you probably don't remember me, but I wrote you a love song!" I knew that would be wrong in so many ways, and honestly I didn't feel the need. I kept my cool until later in the morning when our paths conveniently crossed between shots. "I know you from The Thrilling Adventure Hour," I said. His face lit up. It was like I told him the secret code. Even though he was a recurring and I was background, we were suddenly on even turf. He told me he had checked out my songs, and I told him I had one for him in the works. We exchanged various bits of smalltalk throughout the day, along with the occasional silly face or random shoulder bump.

I found the story of seeing Adam so amusing that I told a handful of people on set, including a hair guy named Maynard Matthews. He said, "Coincidences are a confirmation that you are doing the right thing." I really liked that idea. It made me feel reassured and even proud. After all, I had put in the work -- writing the song, recording the track, showing up to The Thrilling Adventure Hour to begin with, allowing myself to be inspired. Had I watched Buffy and never bothered to follow through with the project, yesterday would have turned out very differently. The conversation would've gone something like, "I'm a huuuge Buffy fan, I thought you should know," and him going, "Thanks," and both of us probably walking away feeling a bit awkward.

This is the irony and beauty of Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads. It is a fan piece, all a fan piece, nothing but a fan piece. But at the same time, it has made me feel like less of a fan girl and more of a peer. In writing these songs, in singing to these characters, I have found my own voice, which in turn allows me to speak with confidence and conviction among the people with whom I'd otherwise be panting, drooling, or speechless. I could've never expected this project to have taken me to the places it has -- both out in the world and inside myself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Picking Apart the Machine


Friday afternoon, David and I laid down the track for the "If I Were a Robot." Recording -- especially with David -- is always fun, but it's also a lot of nuts and bolts. I thought I'd give you a sneak peek at the process with the above photo. This is what the song looked like as we bounced it out of ProTools.

The green squiggly bar on top represents the main track we used. The first green segment is verses one, two, and the first two repetitions of the chorus. The final segment is the last repetition of the verse and chorus. The red squiggly bar represents the bridge, which is in a different keyboard voice. The blue squiggly bar, along with the overlapping snippet of green squiggle at the very bottom of the screen, is where the chorus goes haywire in this delightfully fun way that totally fits the song. (I'll say no more for now...) It was David's idea to overlap two different takes, one of which has additional reverb, in order to make it sound extra wonky.

This probably sounds and looks completely weird out of context. But once you remove the outer layers, this is what it all comes down to. I thought you all might like to know. Maybe once the song is out, which will hopefully be in the next week, you can revisit this image with a totally different understanding of what all this mumbo-jumbo means. Until then, I hope you've enjoyed all of the funny-looking soundwaves, crazy colors, and odd little antics I've thrown at you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to the Buffy-board

I promise you I'll get to Buffy in just a moment, but indulge me in two quick sidenotes. First, give me a millisecond to massively geek out over my star sightings this weekend. Saturday, I saw Matthew Morrison eating lunch at the same café as me and my friends Robert and Jay. Glee-licious! Sunday, I went to my acting teacher's staged reading at Ensemble Studio Theater where every star and costar under the sun seems to be a member. I did a double-take when I spotted Gates McFadden,who turns out to be the artistic director. Also, I engaged myself in a conversation with Patricia Richardson, who, to my great amusement, introduced herself to me as my cousin's understudy on Broadway. Halfway through the conversation, I was like, "OMG, that's the mom from Home Improvement!" (My non-West Wing-savvy self still associates her as Tim Allen's sitcom better half. I'm working on changing that via Netflix...)

Also, I will make a quick shameless plug for my other project, which I will launch via Internet next Sunday. Its true name will be revealed at the time of its release. Until then, it's codename is Project Pinky and the Brain. I've been doing a lot of writing, musing, and imagining, and I am seriously stoked to share it with all of you. Please join me this week, fellow lab rat, in doing the same thing I do every night... try to take over the world.

Okay, really, back to Buffy. Song #4 has been a little slower in the making due to all sorts of crazy creative and personal stuff. But believe you me, the game is on. David and I have already met twice to work out the arrangements for "If I Were a Robot", love song for Warren. It's a hoot and a holler working with him -- one because he is an absolutely amazing musician and super fun guy, two because he gives me a totally different perspective and awesome insight on what it is I'm trying to do. I am not a trained musician so I really just go by instinct. I go with what I think sounds interesting and fits the feel of the song, as well as the voice of the character singing it. I have a guitar occasionally strum awkward cords on, as well as a piano I plunk from time to time, but for the most part I compose the music in my head. I can play out the melodies (albeit awkwardly) via single notes on piano, and I could even play the chords (though it may take me a while to find them), but I have no idea about key signatures and what the chords I'm using are called.

David, on the other hand, knows all. I love that I can meet up with him and put a name to all those little nuances that have until this point been nothing but crazy ideas in my head. For example, the first time we jammed with this song, I was sure it was in the key of because that was the note the song started and ended on. To my surprise, we discovered that it's actually in the key of C. minor! The C. minor chord also keeps popping up throughout the verse in various places, so David tells me. Another interesting thing is that the bridge is composed of alternating F. minor and C. minor chords that are played in different inversions as they descend. When David told me that, it was so cool because it made it really sound like music. I'm thinking to myself, "I don't know, I just wrote the thing."

We also played around with different keyboard voices to use during the recording. The last two songs were done with street piano, which I think fit the style of the song. This time I wanted something a little more synthesized-sounding, since the song is all about robots. We played around and found two voices for two different segments of the song. (In case you're interested in knowing what they are, they are 254: Square Head 1 and 255: Square Head 2.) We played the song several times through with the chosen keyboard settings. I told David where I wanted chords versus single notes. And he came up with an intro that sounds so incredibly kickass, I can't even BEGIN to explain. I was honestly kind of worried I might not be able to outdo myself after the last set of songs, but I am bursting at the seams with excitement about this one.

At the end of the session, as David and I parted, he said to me, "You really know what you're doing. You may not have the technical language to describe it, but you do." This was really wonderful to hear, since it all started out as a crazy little scheme with me making it up as I went along. Don't get me wrong, it's still a crazy little scheme, and I must keep thinking of it as such to keep it light; to keep it fun. But he's right. I know what I'm doing and I know what I want. And, much in part to this whole process, I feel confident in my voice as a singer and songwriter. Wow, I can't believe I just said that out loud to the world! That's kind of amazingly empowering, huh?

I'm going to step away from my computer and let that stew for a bit. More on the robot front soon!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Few Words About My Dad


I just finished the last of the family events-- "the dĂ©nouement of the weekend's activities", as my mom put it. That's really how it felt. This weekend was a climactic culmination of so much time and labor by so many people, especially my dad. 
My mother had the idea that each of his family members say a few words about my dad at the opening dinner celebration. I thought I'd share with you so you can all get an idea of who this amazing guy is...

As I write this, my dad just left to get interviewed on KPFA Radio. "So, you're doing a radio interview -- how exciting!" I said. "Yes," he said, "I'd better shine my shoes." This is a pretty typical thing for my dad to say. I think after 29 years of being his daughter, I've finally gotten used to it. I used to get confused, sometimes profoundly aggravated when he’d say things that seemed to make no logical sense. I’d try to argue with him or correct him or trick him into saying the thing I thought he must have meant. I didn't understand that this was simply his way.

My dad is an oddball, an innovator, a visionary. He is the quirky sensei who speaks in riddles and makes you do all sorts of weird things you think have nothing to do with the forward progress of your journey. I always thought of him as Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid." You come to him to learn karate, and he tells you to wax a parking lot full of cars. This method baffles you if you think that the only way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. You say, "I want to be an artist." He says, "Let's have a cup of tea." You say, "I want to learn fancy Zen calligraphy." He says, "Take your brush and make a dot." You say, "I want to change the world." He says, "Be lazy and stupid."

My dad will show you that the path from point A to point B is a brush stroke. And by the end of that brushstroke, you might find yourself at point Z. Chances are, you'll probably have arrived at a destination so unfathomably wacky and cool, you will have to invent your own alphabet to describe it. Kaz has taught me to invent words, phrases, philosophies and art forms, and to let them flow freely without judging. 

I have a tendency to get particularly anxious and stressed out first thing in the morning. I’ll make my breakfast, brew a cup of tea, and sit at the table worrying about how to do this idea or whether that other idea is good enough to follow through with. He walks through the front door, having been up since 4:30 AM, and tells me about how he’s painted 20 circles, figured out his next book, and decided to disarm all of Central America. Suddenly, my doubts and fears melt away. I think to myself, "If my dad can imagine world peace by breakfast (and knowing him, implement it by lunch), I can do pretty much anything."

I feel grateful not only to have received so much inspiration from such an creative, innovative human being; to have done so at the dining room table still in my pajamas. Today, we celebrate the completion of two large, extremely heavy, fancy-looking books, which are published proof of how your imagination speaks volumes. But this is really just the tip of the paintbrush. (And we all know how big my dad's paintbrushes can get!) Your influence has written itself into so many people’s existences-- shaping the way we live, make art, and dance with the universe. Dad, I am extremely proud of you. Thanks for everything -- the book, the breakfast conversations, and most of all the possibilities you continue to paint.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I am your BIGGEST fan!!!


I am thoroughly exhausted after a long day of celebration, conversation, delicious food, and amazing company. This weekend, I am up in Berkeley to celebrate the completion of what essentially amounts to my father's life's work. My dad, Kazuaki Tanahashi, is many things -- painter, calligraphy master, writer, teacher, peace activist. He is also a scholar and translator of Dogen Zenji, the renowned 13th century Zen master who brought Soto Zen Buddhism from China to Japan. Kaz has been translating Dogen's work since he was younger than I am now, and he has just published an enormous two-volume book set of the Shobogenzo-- Treasury of the True Dharma Eye -- a collection of all of Dogen's teachings. This project has been 50 years in the works. You hear that??? Five-zero, FIFTY!!! I haven't spent that long doing anything, including being alive, so needless to say this is a BIG DEAL.

Friday night, we had a lovely dinner at Greens Restaurant, which was the "intimate celebration", consisting of about 50 people. Norman Fischer made a lovely toast, and I -- along with my mom and brother -- all shared some words about what Kaz meant to us. Today, we scooted off bright and early to San Francisco Zen Center where Peter Levitt gave a really gorgeous talk on Dogen and intimacy. (He used the term "intimacy" not in the exclusively social/sexual context we're used to, but rather in how we get to know the world and ourselves.) This afternoon, we headed back over to Majestic Fort Mason where a Dogen panel took place. There were many speakers from the academic and Zen worlds, along with an enchanting shakuhachi performance by master musician Masayuki Koga. I'd have to say the highlight was hearing my new friend, author Brad Warner, describe Dogen as a nerd subculture, comparing it to comic con, punk rock, and Star Trek. I think I'll have to devote an entire entry just to geek out on that!

Long story short, I feel very grateful to be a part of this whole world. Being as how my parents met at San Francisco Zen Center, I'm what you would call a "Zen center brat." (It's sort of like being an Army brat, except totally different.) So all of the people I have met or re-met in the past couple of days are various permutations and incarnations of the American Zen archetype. The Hollywood movie world, on the other hand, is a more novel beast. Because I didn't grow up around it, I tend to go gaga-ballistic-drooling-misty-eyed-weak-in-the-knees-fan girl when I see an actor or filmmaker I admire. But sitting in the lecture hall today, listening to Peter's talk, I realized that these are the ROCK STARS of the American Zen community! What a privilege it is to know these people, to be enlightened by these people; to be so familiar with them, in fact, that their presence seems as normal as eggplants in the fruit basket. And to think, they are all there to celebrate the work of my daddy dearest!!!

I don't want to get excessively narcissistic about my dad. He had a lot of collaborators on the project, a whole community of people without whom the Shobogenzo would not exist. But he has been chipping away at this for years and years, and I've seen it from both sides of the lens. Countless meetings in our living room and around the world, editing with so many people to get that perfect word. Hours and hours of reviewing the glossary (which for such an epic work is not an easy task). A lifetime of love, exploration, and dedication. And I honestly believe the world will be a more beautiful place because of it. I have yet to seriously crack into Dogen's work (I feel like a schoolgirl who hasn't done her homework), but from the snippets I've heard through my upbringing, and, of course, all weekend long, he is a beautiful poet; a wise teacher; a revolutionary thinker. And I have complete faith that my father's translation has done him every drop of justice.

And of course, no artist or writer -- even when they describe somebody else or tell a story that is supposedly fiction -- can create something that doesn't speak volumes about who they are. I'm excited to get to know Dogen better because in doing so, I'm sure I will discover a few things about my dad. Whether Kaz connected to Dogen because they were similar or whether Dogen influenced the course of my father's life and character, they are surely inextricably linked. I know they say you can't judge a book by its cover. I won't even try to judge this book, since it doesn't actually have a physical cover. But I will say that even before I open it, it is a marvelous sight to behold. It is simple; large; weighty; beautiful. It lives up to its name; a true treasure.

I'll get all gushy and fan girl in my next entry, in which I will share a few words about the more intimate aspects of the awesomeness of that is my dad. But it's late, and I must get some sleep so I can be fully energized for another day of fantabulous fanfare for my biggest idol... my dad.