Working at the computer, I was trying my best to keep my experimenting and performing separate. I was going through sounds, exploring the endlessly morphing dimensions of the music software, listening and evaluating, reacting and thinking it through. But my impulse is always to get on with something—to build a prototype rather than mull things over. (The exact opposite approach of this blog!) As I went through sounds, trying to stay in an objective mindset (my mind will drift from “objectivity” after about 4 seconds), I heard something interesting. I could describe the sound in terms of its waveforms (it had four layers) or compare it to an 80s keyboard timbre (Top Gun!), but that wouldn’t capture my response to it. For whatever reason, I liked the sound. I began playing with it rather feverishly—rushing through familiar chord shapes to hear how they would react—and as I played I realized that I was no longer experimenting because there was too much urgency.
At least it felt that way.
The sound had pushed me from experimenting mode into performing mode. I was trying to see how much I could do with this sound right now. As I played my mind wandered—a good sign that the sound was taking me places. The sense of urgency came from not knowing how long this performance window would stay open, and I didn’t know how long I could stay excited by something I didn’t yet understand. So I kept playing, as if being timed. You have six minutes left. Afterwards I hit the Capture button (which records retroactively what was just played) to hear what I did.
I’ve often written about performance. It’s a topic that interests me because while I don’t consider myself much of a performer (mainly due to my temperament), I’m curious about how we access its modality and dynamics to make it work for our projects. Performing is not, contrary to widespread misunderstanding, about putting on a show. It’s not about drawing attention to yourself, nor is it about cultivating some kind of fleeting image or impression. Performing is more a kind of summoning through incorporating yourself into a set of relations or a situation and working to make sense from that. Some people achieve this through virtuosity of one kind of another, while others do it through more mysterious and minimal means. (Mimes come to mind.) At root, performing is about sharing one’s concentration. Performance is like becoming a light directed onto something else. When you perform, you become a human spotlight.
Later in the morning, I shifted from experimenting to performing a second time, this time with a different sound. I wasn’t as caught off guard and jumped right into what felt like inspired playing. I noticed not just my sense of urgency but also a sense of play: my testing the sound had morphed into playing with it, trying to see how elastic and expressive it was, how bendable to my intentions. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the music I came up with. But I became acquainted with new sounds and ways of playing with them, and in doing so I added the sounds and playing approaches to my cache of composing moves.
It was as if the landscape was always there, and now I was finally walking through it, attentively.