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Artist in Residence 2017: Aaron Beaumont

By Aaron Beaumont Daniel 4:1–37
About

Aaron Beaumont unveils the impressive product resulting from his 2017 Artist in Residency in response to Daniel 4: a musical soundscape exploring the universal human experience of existence, identity, and consciousness.

Follow the development of Aaron’s project by reading his prior firstsecond, and third posts written as 2017 Artist in Residence project.

Details
Title
“The Strangest Thing”
All Music Written, Performed, and Produced By
Aaron Beaumont. 2017.
Project Curated By
Spark & Echo Arts, Artist in Residence

Scripture

Daniel 4:1–37

Nebuchadnezzar's Madness

1 Nebuchadnez´zar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 2 I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. 3 How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

4 I Nebuchadnez´zar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: 5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 6 Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chalde´ans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof. 8 But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshaz´zar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying, 9 O Belteshaz´zar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. 10 Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. 11 The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: 12 the leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.

13 I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven; 14 he cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: 15 nevertheless, leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: 16 let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. 17 This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. 18 This dream I king Nebuchadnez´zar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshaz´zar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshaz´zar, was astonished for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshaz´zar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshaz´zar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies. 20 The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; 21 whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: 22 it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth. 23 And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him; 24 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king: 25 that they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 26 And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. 27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

28 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnez´zar. 29 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. 30 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? 31 While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnez´zar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. 32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 33 The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnez´zar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.

34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnez´zar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 35 and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? 36 At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. 37 Now I Nebuchadnez´zar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Artist
Aaron Beaumont

Aaron Beaumont

From the Artist

For the past week, the maintenance crew has been replacing the heating system in my apartment building. I’ve been subjected to an extensive palette of clatters, buzzes, thumps, pounds, hisses, and every manner of aural assault (incidentally, I could not resist including a few samples in the third movement of my piece - an apt demonstration of the sinister, untold horrors that familiar objects like toys and seashells take on when wrenched from their harmless contexts). We’ve had no hot water over the weekend, and today, after vacating the premises completely from 9 to 3 while drywall dust settled on every surface of my apartment, I’ve spent the last two hours being shuffled from room to room, tragically and callously displaced from my disheveled home studio workspace, currently seeking refuge in the kitchen, the tapping on my iPhone-linked Bluetooth keyboard hopelessly drowned out by drilling and welding in two other rooms. Oh, the humanity.

This tongue-in-cheek lament of my current status in no way means to make light of any actual suffering in the world. Rather, it shows how easily our comforts and physical state can be thrown into seemingly irrevocable disorder - where something as simple as lack of hot water for a day or two (a comfort I admittedly take for granted) can produce existential anxiety and spotlight the roving line between security and destitution. Few things make us as cognizant of the tenuous nature of our place in the universe as being forced to prop one’s iPhone perilously against a toaster oven simply to send an email.

Daniel 4 serves up perhaps the most spectacular Biblical example of existential upheaval. On first glance, it would seem tricky for plebs like me to empathize with Nebuchadnezzar and his “emperor problems.” Here is a man painted as a megalomaniac, narcissist, and authoritarian; in the dramatic psychological mutation of his fall from grace, we are, perhaps, meant to believe he’s gotten his comeuppance. As all ancient myths agree, hubris must be chastened. Indeed, the powerful-powerless, authoritarian-benevolent ruler, and God-human binaries initially attracted me the most in the early days of this project. But Daniel 4 turned out to be less tidy and more challenging than that. For starters, we see a man who, in some respects, is not inaccurate in his boasts - Neb did accomplish some of the most spectacular feats in recorded history, as the provider-tree of his community depicted in the vision. Daniel seems to sincerely lament the judgment pronounced on the king in his dream. If justice is served here, it is at the very least a complicated one.

In my last post, I offered one possible reason for my vague unease with Neb’s plight. The king found himself swiftly bereft of a past, abruptly wrenched from his previous exalted state. We don’t know the extent to which Neb was self-conscious of or able to contextualize the amplitude of this fall. But regardless of the specifics of his madness (subject to considerable discussion - lycanthropy is one potential analogue in modern medicine), it would have been a precipitous and disorienting transformation, and the suffering therein is sure. Aaron-Beaumont_4th-post_IMG_8294-small.JPG#asset:3353 The sudden absence of my own history, of memories of any kind, would for me represent the purest kind of madness, perhaps the worst kind of hell. Uprooted, and thrown into a completely foreign state, Neb would have no context from which to derive a sense of identity. Deeper than simply losing a few physical artifacts of one’s own personal narrative (e.g. the beloved 90s era DVDs I mentioned in post #3), my empathy with Neb’s plight stems from this: his sudden reappearance as a brand new creature in a foreign state is analogous to the experience of every human at birth. At some point, we all “wake up,” born with consciousness in a physical body. Our only context is some vague subconscious genetic hangover, a cellular knowledge of things, a sensation almost like trying to remember something you just dreamed, but can’t quite pinpoint.

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We acquire an operating manual bit by bit, get busy trimming back the weeds of the absurd and the surreal from the manicured lawns of culture and civilization, and do our level best to organize our home within a cosmos in which our position is ultimately uncertain. In my work, I extend Nebuchadnezzar’s story as a metaphor for the universal human experience, ruminating on the idea of birth as a plunge into a surreal, dreamlike state as we undergo the halting, erratic process of forging our own identity and bringing into focus a personal narrative.

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My work draws heavily on the most potent purveyor of identity and culture - the family. The arc of my piece, entitled “The Strangest Thing” (unfortunately in no way affiliated with or inspired by the celebrated Netflix series) seeks to represent the dynamic, fragmentary way our own personal narratives and identities develop and persist, as we navigate uncertain circumstances and unfamiliar contexts, wading through all the wonder, confusion, and occasional terror that accompanies growth.

“Sampling” seemed an especially well suited vehicle to this exploration of memory, permanence, and personal history. Our very identities are derived from prismatic “samples” of our accumulated stories as creatures. As such, the connecting tissue between the five movements of my piece is a musical mosaic taken from dozens of samples from my own existing musical catalogue, including my very earliest recordings of the first songs I ever wrote - artifacts of a previous state, if you will, recontextualized (sometimes wildly) here. Similarly, I’ve used field recordings and audio samples from my own life - playing with my nieces, chatting with my parents, sitting by a lake in the Midwest, shaking a handful of seashells in a beach in Maine. Many of these field recordings did not originate for this project, but rather out of my own simple desire to remember and somehow preserve what’s most important to me, and in so doing, document and cultivate my own sense of identity. I used my great uncle’s guitar and my grandma’s mandolin, heirlooms that are bound up in my own origin story as a music maker. I tried to select from all these raw materials samples that could relate the very human experiences of birth, self-discovery, evolution, decline, and redemption, to the surreal arc of Daniel 4.

Appropriately the medium itself recreated a sense of nascence and even discomfort for me, in that I was artistically off the map - I’d never tried my hand at an electronic, ambient, through-composed soundscape (see Narwhal and Ocelot, my decidedly more “pop” Spark & Echo tune from last year). The piece closes in familiar territory though, with a pop song that ruminates on the thread tying every participant in this narrative together - we all wake up as creatures, bound together by our shared experience of wonder and newness, terror and tenuousness, and exuberance in our creature-ness, revelling as simultaneous minds and bodies. Neb’s experience is bizarre no doubt - but the weirdest part of his story is still the part it has in common with our own - the simple, wild fact of waking up as a conscious corporeal creature, whose very composition - whose very cells - herald toward the future aeons of seismic victories and instructive failures.

It’s an experience that, if we give ourselves enough pause from the comforts we seek to shore up around it, is altogether strange. The strangest thing, you might say.

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The Strangest Thing

I had a dream, what a strange thing -
I became a creature with a beating heart.
It had a body that kept changing -
Sure felt like the same thing even as it fell apart.

And that’s when I woke up

I had a dream I was the falling snow
Learning everything about the ground.
But any pretty thing that’s ever fallen knows
You can never quite forget the clouds,

And you never quite wake up
No, you never quite wake up.

I could be a king again
If only I could just go back to sleep, back to sleep.
Every Body understands
That a body is no kinda place for a mind to be.

God has never learned a thing,
While my holy brain bursts at the seams
Seems life is just remembering
What you saw in a dream -
It’s the strangest thing, it’s the strangest thing.

I dreamed about a dark room in my mind
Where I woke up just as something left
And life was just the time I spent
Trying to paint the scent they left behind.

My brain is clenched, it can forget
My bones still blindly carry it
My blood will be a chariot and I’ll find that

I could be a king again
If only I could just go back to sleep, back to sleep.
Every Body understands
That a body is no kinda place for a mind to be.

God never learns a thing,
While my holy brain bursts at the seams
Yeah, it seems life is just remembering
What you saw in a dream -
It’s the strangest thing, it’s the strangest thing.

I heard my name on the whistling wind
It passed right through me like a shiver in
An old man with old eyes glistenin,’
Spittin’ fireside yarns like they’re listenin.’

But who’s got time for reminiscin’ when
A fresh snow’s fallin.’ So kissing him
On sandpaper whiskers, God slips in
To a loud snow suit,
Laces little winter boots
And races outside to play.

Biography
Aaron Beaumont has toured the U.S. and Europe as a pianist and songwriter and been invited to share his work in wide-ranging venues from the Sziget Festival in Budapest to KCRW Santa Monica to the Tribeca Film Festival to off-Broadway Theatre 80 in the East Village to the main stage of the West Hollywood Carnaval. L.A. Weekly wrote that Aaron's music brings "a new life to the ancient music-hall/pop piano-man tradition, with clear-headed songs of genuinely witty lyrical oomph and, most of all, a historically informed musical depth – all delivered with style, grace, wit and elan, of course." [...] Read More

Aaron Beaumont has toured the U.S. and Europe as a pianist and songwriter and been invited to share his work in wide-ranging venues from the Sziget Festival in Budapest to KCRW Santa Monica to the Tribeca Film Festival to off-Broadway Theatre 80 in the East Village to the main stage of the West Hollywood Carnaval. L.A. Weekly wrote that Aaron's music brings "a new life to the ancient music-hall/pop piano-man tradition, with clear-headed songs of genuinely witty lyrical oomph and, most of all, a historically informed musical depth – all delivered with style, grace, wit and elan, of course."

Aaron wrote one song, arranged two others, and served as a piano performance coach for the feature Permission (Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Jason Sudeikis, 2017 Tribeca Film Festival), which premieres worldwide February 2018. He also contributed two songs to the forthcoming series Dan is Dead (Drake Bell, Maker Studios) and two songs to the indie feature film Alex & Jaime (2017 Roxbury International Film Festival). Aaron contributed an original co-write (“17”) and several arrangements to Gil McKinney’s 2017 debut album, How Was I to Know, which reached #1 on the iTunes jazz chart and #8 on the Billboard jazz chart. He also co-wrote “Good Love” for Briana Buckmaster’s 2018 debut album (#1 iTunes blues, #3 Billboard blues). Other recent TV and film placements include original songs written for Cedar Cove (Andie McDowell) and Where Hope Grows (Billy Zabka, Danica McKellar; Dallas Film Festival, Roadside Attractions). Aaron has composed original scores for films and theatrical productions, including All the Lovely Wayside Things; Tall, Dark, and Handsome; Heart; Until We Have Faces; Shrew; The Fire Room; the Breakfast Show with Adam O; Companion; and Beyond Imagination, winning best score and sound design at the Hollywood Fringe Festival for his work on Fugitive Kind’s production of The Fire Room by Ovation Award-winning playwright Meghan Brown. In 2016, Aaron wrote a commissioned work for the Spark & Echo Arts project, and in 2017 Aaron created a larger scale work as an Artist in Residence. Aaron also works as an in-house arranger, producer, composer, and mix engineer for the Gregory Brothers / Schmoyoho, whose original music has earned them a gold and platinum record and nearly one billion views on YouTube, along with myriad collaborations on other platforms. Recent Gregory Brothers collabs include the Justice League film (ft. Gary Clark Jr.), Weird Al Yankovic, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bassnectar, Alex Wassabi, LaurDIY, Markiplier, Slow Mo Guys, Todrick Hall, J. Fla, The Resident (Fox Network), and the International Olympic Channel. Songs Aaron has worked on with the Gregory Brothers have received over 175 million plays on YouTube.

In 2015, Aaron participated in the Ultraviolet Music and Arts Festival in Los Angeles as a featured artist and presenter, and performed with his band The Mots Nouveaux for the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Rockwood Music Festival in Frankfurt, Germany.

Aaron wrote the music and lyrics to the original musical, Behind Closed Doors, which sold out every performance at the historic Hayworth Theater, received multiple Broadway World L.A. Award nominations, and played for thousands of festival goers on the main stage of the West Hollywood Carnaval. Behind Closed Doors was selected to participate in the New York International Fringe Festival as a national show, enjoying a mostly oversold run at off-Broadway Theatre 80 in the East Village. Aaron was selected as a finalist as a composer and lyricist for the Fred Ebb Foundation / Roundabout Theatre Company Fred Ebb Award for musical theater songwriters, and received the Hal Gaba Scholarship for Excellence in Lyrics from UCLA/Concord Records.

Aaron is currently developing new musicals with playwrights Meghan Brown, Andrew Crabtree, Peter Berube, and Cassandra Christensen, and a one-woman show with soprano Lorelei Zarifian. Lorelei and Aaron’s first musical triptych, Midtown Antoinette, was featured on NPR-affiliate WFIT in March 2016 and debuted as part of the Florida Tech / Foosaner Museum French Film Festival. Aaron also occasionally helps produce the outrageous bingo raves phenomenon, Rebel Bingo, in New York and Los Angeles, as featured in the L.A. Times, Guardian, and BBC, and recently played a run of five capacity shows in the downtown L.A.’s Globe Theatre as part of 2016 Night on Broadway.

Aaron has collaborated as pianist, musical director, and/or co-writer with a panoply of music buddies, including Jason Manns, Gil McKinney, Sara Niemietz, Tim Omundsen, Dave Yaden, Nicholas Zork, Aaron Roche, Nick Bearden, Emma Fitzpatrick, Amanda Wallace, Shane Alexander, Ben Jaffe, Brett Young, Courtney Bassett, Eden Malyn, Luis Selgas, Aly French, Sam Heldt, Karma Jenkins, Emily Iaquinta, Lynette Williams, Meshach Jackson, Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, Kamasi Washington, Chad Doreck, J.T. Spangler, and Katrina Parker. He claimed several distinctions as a young classical pianist, including two-time Wisconsin Academy Musician of the Year, Andrews University Concerto Competition Finalist, and the British Royal Conservatory of Music Award of Highest Distinction for Piano Performance at the Newbold Creative Arts Festival. He currently serves as co-chair of the Carnegie Hill Concert Series in New York, featuring leading interpreters of classical and New Music from around the globe.

In 2015, Aaron founded SongLab, an online songwriting community for emerging songwriters. The inaugural SongLab Series welcomed GRAMMY-winner Dave Yaden as special guest.

In addition to working with other artists, Aaron performs as one-third of the pop trio, The Mots Nouveaux, alongside vocalists Emma Fitzpatrick and Amanda Wallace. The band celebrated their latest album release with a residency at Hotel Café, a six-month residency at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, and residencies at Rockwood Music Hall and Sidewalk Café in New York. They were invited to join the lineup for the Broke L.A. Music Festival in downtown Los Angeles, where Lyynks music hailed their set as the “greatest revelation” of the festival, one that “really thrilled the crowd” of thousands at the Lounge Stage (GroundSounds.com). The Mots Nouveaux recorded a new EP in Spring 2017 with co-producer Peter Barbee / Among Savages, with forthcoming tracks slated for 2018 release.

Aaron released his debut solo project, Nothing's Forever (Not Even Goodbye), featuring the first ten songs he wrote, on Milan Records (Warner-Ryko) in 2008.

In his spare time, Aaron enjoys playing the piano, traveling, eating, writing songs, making coffee, drinking coffee, collecting records, going for brisk walks, being near coffee, and composing extensive autobiographical sketches in the third person.

Sparks

Most Sparks for Daniel
Emily Clare Zempel

Emily Clare Zempel

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