Searches That Brought You Here: Nassim Taleb, David Abram, Walter Percy

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• Thomas, I’m curious what your take is on Taleb. This search brought you to my post on the musical applications of some of the ideas from Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile. I wrote:

“Tinkering is a process of trial and error that allows one to make many small mistakes or incur small losses. The mistakes that come via tinkering are important, Taleb says, because they are rich in information yet small in harm. They also do vital work by stressing the system of which they are a part and making it stronger. And by yielding information and stressing the system to make it stronger, tinkering sets the stage for discovery–the possibility of finding something rather significant.”

• Sentience was never our possession David Abram. This search brought you to my post on David Abram’s Becoming Animal, a phenomenology of experience. I wrote:

“As a manual about perception Becoming Animal is also a treatise on attuned, phenomenological writing. Page after page Abram models a wizardly ability to conjure the life force and energy of whatever it is he’s describing–whether it be a rock, a bird, a person, a feeling, the voluminous depth of a shadow, the stars or sky. This is very fine descriptive writing that reveals and resonates far beyond its subject matter to bring the reader deep into the insides of things and experiences that we didn’t know had an inside. Required reading, I would say, for aspiring ethnographers.”

• Walter Percy repetition. This search brought you to my post on a passage on repetition from Walter Percy’s 1961 novel, The Moviegoer. Percy wrote:

“What is a repetition? A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle.”

Subway Band

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The cover band in Times Square
that only plays Beatles songs
sounds broken

their songs lurch along
unsteady and strum heavy
rushing beats and pitchy vocals
just holding together

but the tunes still travel
memory maps of the early days
singing a hard days night
at a pub in Hamburg

because even ragged music
doesn’t feel sorry for itself.

Production Mindsets: Volume

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“Can I have everything louder than everything else?”— Ritchie Blackmore

Trying to get just the right volume for every element in the mix is frustrating, because there are so many factors contributing to how we perceive a sound. There is the timbre of the sound, the register it’s playing in, the part it’s playing, as well as its context (the other sounds and effects that surround and interact with it) and last but not least, your state of mind. I have often had the experience of turning a sound up for one reason, and then, a few moments later, turning it back down for another reason, which leads me back to where I began. This is why getting a mix together can be slow going.

The technique—if you can call it that—that has helped me the most with figuring out volume is to simply listen to the music as a totality, pay attention to my immediate impressions, and make adjustments based on that. Recently I made notes on some mixes. As I scribbled down shorthand for each piece (“piano quiet” and “overall quiet”) I realized that my task for the day was to listen through the pieces and track several sets of volumes. I needed to figure out if the piano was loud enough, if the supporting parts were loud enough (or too loud, which causes the piano to sound too soft), and also adjust the overall volume of the piece if need be. Listening through the beginning of the pieces, my immediate impression was that on most of them the piano lacked punch. It was too soft. But one of the pieces sounded better than the rest, so I used that as a benchmark in terms of volume, EQ, and compression settings. Then I went back to other pieces and tried to make them sound more like the one that sounded better than the rest.

Immediate impressions are valuable insofar as they tell you something is wrong with the music without explaining exactly why this is so. Your job is to experiment by making small adjustments until you can longer discern any problems in the mix and every sound doesn’t sound louder than everything else.

Being In It: Thoughts Whilst Editing Music To Make It Better

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Let me open up the first piece again. (Double click.) Okay I’ll listen from the top. Oh, I was going to EQ the piano. (Search for EQ, click and drag.) I had a preset I saved. (Piano is playing. Load EQ.) It sounds a little boxy on this piece though. (Move the EQ bump to a higher frequency range, then a lower one as the music plays.) Do I need to EQ the same frequency but with less gain? Or a different frequency? (Move EQ back to starting position, and lower the gain.) It still sounds too loud. (Go to mixer page and lower the fader a fraction as the music plays.) Better. I think it sounds better. (Turn off EQ to listen to original piano. Turn it back on to listen to EQ’d piano. It does sound better.)…I can’t hear this second (effected) piano part. (Move level up from 9.8 to 10.2.) Was there a reason I had it this low? (Move from 10.2 even higher.) I want it to be adding more energy. (Solo the part.) I like it but some of it is lost when the other parts are playing. (Unsolo the part.)…Can I automate that reverb on the main piano? (Click on reverb. Notice the “Stereo Width” parameter.) I could start it narrow and then get wider and back to narrow again. (Click on Effect Send Automation lane—a thin red horizontal line. Click once at the beginning, once in the middle, and once at the end. Drag the middle dot upwards to make an elongated triangle shape.) It’s hard to hear the reverb’s width, but you can feel the difference. Can’t you? (Solo the piano to listen to reverb width.) Why is this so loud? (Turn down monitors a tad.) I can feel the reverb opening up…When the bass enters I want to feel it but not notice it. (Turn down fader a tad. Play the entrance again.) It’s still noticeable. (Turn it down a bit more.) It should be so subtle it just resonates the space from below. (Listen again.) It’s better. Yes, it’s better. Save that. (Hit “Save.”)

Resonant Thoughts: Nick Papadimitriou’s “Scarp” (2012)

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“This book is…an inquiry undertaken in order to systematically ‘feel out’ the presence of my subject matter as it brushes against the consciousness…I will reconstruct the ghostly voices I hear while walking on Scarp in an attempt to relate my own story to theirs, to locate my own voice and sensations in the ones that came before me.”

“The deeper implication is that the world that confronts us through our immediate surroundings is alive and intrinsically valuable
in ways not amenable to instrumental reasons or economic reductionism” (10-11).

“I used walking as an instrument of research,
the aim being to step straight through the cracks in the apparent world” (24).

“Proximity flight: that’s what I call this using of environment to trigger mental journeys to another place and time in which the same stimuli can be found. I find it lifts my sense of the environment out of its codified framework and into fresh possibilities of interpretation, my eyes wiped clean by the resultant defamiliarisation” (44).

“I hit the underlying circuitry, the pulse-energy that pushes up to manifest” (63).

“I always approach my chosen subject from a position of near total ignorance…
I never seem to gain the accretion of knowledge
that would enable me to declare myself an expert” (78).

“Which aspect of the experiential field
serves as the sine qua non for understanding a place?” (79)

“organic interface between the human world
and processes of longer and deeper duration” (80).

“Deep topography is concerned primarily with the experience of place,
not its description” (253).

Nick Papadimitriou, Scarp (2012)