Notes On Unknowns And Conditions For Musical Flourishing 

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unknown—unrevealed, uncertain, unsettled, undecided

“I’ve come to think that attention is the most important thing in a studio situation.”
– Brian Eno

Sometime last year I was listening to an almost finished track and heard a sound I couldn’t recall making, a sound I couldn’t figure out in retrospect how it came about. Some quality of the sound drew my attention to a sense of the unknown woven into what I had done, maybe despite what I had been trying to do.

This got me thinking about how one interacts with unknowns in the production process. Unknowns come in two forms, deliberately created or accidentally transpiring. Beyond that they are, by definition, somewhat mysterious. Unknowns are all around us; we just need to notice them. 

One way I have approached unknowns in production is to think of a project or a track or even a single sound design task as setting up conditions that allow unknowns to flourish and for me to interact with that flourishing. In other words, the music I’m in the process of making is an excuse to play with unknowns. This play always has a tension about it— between our sense of being in the dark about the direction of our work and our trying to impose order on our process. Two examples of this tension: I want to impose a fixed tempo (easy to do with computer software), rather than let a fluid one emerge from my materials; or I want to cement a key or a soundset ahead of time, rather than listen for random emergences and what is inherent in the mix at this moment. Yesterday I was auditioning sounds when I heard something different that caught my attention—a one-shot droning chord. Why not make something out it? In the right context, a single chord is more than enough, and in this case, it was.     

So: be in the dark about the direction of your project or track or sound for as long as possible so its unknown qualities can flourish and you can interact with that flourishing. Sometimes, you don’t understand where the music is going until it’s almost finished.

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