Category Archives: Creativity

FPF World Tour, Part 7: Kicking Brain Crack in Philly


There’s this phenomenon called brain crack. Have you ever heard of it? I remember the term was introduced years ago, by a vlogger named Ze Frank.

Basically: when you have an amazing idea in your mind, it’s easy to just keep thinking about it. Over and over. Planning all the wonderful details, crafting the perfect plan, dreaming up how great it’s going to be.

But you never actually do it.

You just get addicted to the idea. And there’s no way, if you actually did it, that it could ever live up to the idyllic concept you’ve created. So there you are, caught in a feedback loop, addicted to brain crack.

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There are these names that keep popping up. Certain people are mentioned again and again in various conversations. It’s like echoes calling me forward, and If I search long enough, I might find their origins.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Arequipa, Creativity, Learning about Pianos, Multidisciplinary, Music Practice, Piano Maintenance, Piano Stories

Gratitude and Appreciation

Arches and

While staying at la Casa de Melgar I met a painter, accompanied by a group of unusual tourists. This painter takes travelers on tours throughout the world, showing them how to document their experiences through artwork: instead of snapping photos, they paint pictures.

He discussed with me how you can have a richer sense of a place if you take the time to sit and paint it. You’re there for an extended period of time, and can watch the scene change as the hours pass. For example, he had just come from Cuzco where he had been painting the Plaza de Armas over several days’ sessions. Just before he finished his last sitting, a group of school children arrived, and they formed two rows as they waited for some activity. The geometry of it was such a perfect addition to the scene already in process—so he quickly sketched them into the piece before they dispersed.

The experience of a place is never captured in one photo, one video, one conversation, or one story. A memory lives with depth in time, space, and levels of awareness.

You don’t know what will come into frame if you take that extra time to watch and listen.

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Centro Cultural


Sunset over the town

We’re at a halfway point in our journey in this foreign land. I arrived in Peru six months ago with some ambitious goals in mind, but without a completely concrete plan on how to accomplish them. For instance, I had no idea how or if the Ambassador program would evolve. We didn’t know if we could thrive as a business with members on different continents. I knew I wanted to perform a concert somewhere in town, but where? When? How? Continue reading

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Hay Festival


It’s amazing how meeting just one new person can open up hundreds of pathways and tunnels you otherwise never would have found. My first visit to the home of Hernando Torres-Fernández was a prime example of this. An evening filled with friendship and piano stories, it definitely led to a slew of discoveries I hadn’t expected.

Before we parted ways that night, he reminded me of an upcoming event that I might like to attend. The event is called Hay Festival. When Hernando gave me a copy of the program, I it seemed to include many different kinds of thinkers who would be sharing their ideas. But honestly I could hardly decode the Spanish enough to be prepared. My new words of the day became “periodista” and “escritor.” There would be several of these people the conference. Once I found the meaning it made sense: journalists! Their job is to author periodicals; Writers! They might compose a script. So, it would be literary festival of sorts.

There were quite a few lectures I could choose to attend, but where should I begin? Would all the talks be in Spanish? Would I even be able to understand any of it? Continue reading


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Djerassi is a residency program in Woodside California that hosts artists in groups of twelve for one month sessions. The program takes place on a several hundred acre property that rests peacefully in the Santa Cruz mountains. Nearby, brainy technophiles populate Palo Alto, the home of Standford University and  startuplandia. This month’s session, playfully titled Scientific Delirium Madness, is special. A selection committee has chosen a group of art/science integrators to share this experience. They are hoping we find interesting ways to collaborate and that our creativity will flourish at this remote retreat. I plan to keep a strict daily schedule: early rising, 4 hours of science, 4 hours of making things. Each day I look for ways to create something meaningful. Yesterday—day two— was packed full of activities and orientations.


Thursday, July 2: I passed my PhD thesis defense about a week ago. When I did, my wife Christi and my friend Valeria Lombo came to my lab and presented me with a mask as a gift. This mask—made in the image of an Australian pied butcherbird head—was a giant hit: I had spent six long years up to my ears in song recordings of this species. This gift idea was so perfect that when my wife met with our friend Anthony Villanacci to tell him of it, she found out he had the same idea! Anthony—being an industrial designer—got to work right away on the construction and completed it masterfully in one late-night session. Christi and Valeria gave it life with paint. It is magical. All my lab mates and my mentor loved it. Everyone enjoyed putting it on and goofing around. With permission from all who made it, I decided to leave it in the lab as a mascot.

Just days after receiving this mask I lost it! This was seriously devastating. The devastation stood out as very significant against the backdrop of my general indifference toward material things. Losing the mask reminded me of what it represents. It represents the memory of celebrating with my friends and collaborators. It represents friendship, collaboration…and fun.

One of my goals here at Djerassi is to create a mask like the one my friends made me. I don’t know why I have such a strong desire to replicate something that has already been made but I think I will stick with this goal. Before attending this residency I sent messages to Djerassi alumni asking advice on how to spend my time here. It was Ramekon O’Arwisters who said “I suggest that you plan out or have specific and clear ideas of your goals for the residence mapped out before you arrive.” Others echoed his suggestion.

As silly as it seems—even to me—one goal will be to reconstruct this mask. It is strange to make it in this context. It is only obliquely related to my work as a birdsong researcher and musician—the credentials that earned me a spot here. I wonder if the other residents will find my cardboard project laughable and childish. I hope that it will become something special—a tribute to the magical powers of the original. For now I am dedicated to this possibility.

I began work on the mask yesterday and I continue today. I am quickly realizing that Anthony is very talented to have built the original mask in one night , but I think I have a plan…

There will be more updates to come but in the meantime visit the Scientific Delerium Madness blog, hosted by Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology to find out more about our experiences with art and science collaboration at the Djerassi residency.

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