In the preface to his excellent book Microgrooves (2015), critic and musician John Corbett recounts listening to the sounds of frogs by a pond with his father when he was eight years old. Corbett’s dad told him to focus on the sound of one particular frog among the full chorus. “Now, he said, keeping that one in mind, try to hear another one at the same time.” Once Corbett could do this, another task: “Listen to the new voice in relation to the first one…OK, now see if you can switch them.” Corbett expands on the lessons he was learning:
“My dad was teaching me about polyrhythms. Setting me up for Steve Reich and jazz. That’s already pretty mind-blowing for an eight-year-old, but there was more. I couldn’t put a name on it, but I also understood that he was showing me something deeper, a principle. If I was able, by shifting my focus, to change the rhythm I was hearing, then listening must be a relative activity. A listener has to make decisions about how to listen. It’s not just a passive thing. And in order to do that, to put yourself into the right space to be able to make informed listening decisions, you have to pay attention.”
The perceptual key to effective writing—words or music, it doesn’t matter—is getting into a space of concentration. I call this the Quieting process: a narrowing of attention where the present is felt as a fully enveloping perpetual now. Yesterday’s work is gone—you can barely recall it!—and tomorrow remains a question mark. You’re left with only this sentence-in-progress in whose tensioned midst you’re ensconced, wondering how it will resolve, or this melody’s trajectory, singing just like so at this micro-moment as you listen to it dissipate, and only then, once it has faded, do you consider your next move. The Quieting process’s narrowing of attention also effortlessly silences naysaying’s resistance. Which brings up an ironic fact about it: Quieting is less something you try to do and more a by-product of doing the work itself. As the words or sounds draw you into their spaces, the “right” direction seems so beside the point. You can proofread or proof-listen for sense later, but right now it’s an adventure. When you’re Quiet, the sound of meaning is clear.
Golf Course, Zen Garden
Cymbal, Water Wavelets
Artwork (Piet Mondrian, “Composition with Grid IX”), Ableton Push Controller
“Digital time is not lived time–it’s machine time.”
“My team’s work reveals that the art of magic also relies on an analogous, but opposite grand illusion, in which we are blind to the prodigious clairvoyance of our visual system – which makes us see hidden things. Exploiting either of these grand illusions not only requires skill and knowledge on the part of the magician, but also chutzpah, because he or she must place absolute faith in the counterintuitive quirks of the spectators’ visual systems, and allow them to produce the real magic.”
“Chopin forces you to think of time sensually, forces the pianist to acknowledge the connection between the body and duration.”
The thing to do
says the artist,
is to begin anywhere—
so get going
and make something up.
That’s how it starts.
But there are two keys to ongoingness.
The first key
is withholding judgment
about your beginning,
going and making.
The second key
is moving it forward
by asking “Why not this?”
over and over again.