Music As Labor

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I hear music
as labor now—

which struck me
when I was standing in line
at Whole Foods

the air conditioning
wasn’t working
and staff were complaining
while stocking shelves

it’s hot up here

and I noticed the blues playing
on the sound system
the guitar solo that couldn’t end
the drums slap-shuffling
the baseline dutifully moving
up and down and up and down

their music sounded like work
it was relentless
it followed a set of rules
it sounded like stocking shelves
with quarter notes and triplets
backbeats and accents
leads and accompaniments

their sound was for sale
bar-coded and scannable at checkout
in fact it had already been bought
now a soundtrack for my waiting.

Attention Over Time: Slow Noticing

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“A ‘bit’ of information is definable as a difference which makes a difference. Such a difference, as it travels and undergoes successive transformations in a circuit, is an elementary idea.”

-Gregory  Bateson, Steps To An Ecology Of Mind (1972), p. 315

When I’m working on music I often wonder whether I could work faster, but I seem to be limited by the slow tempo of my noticing. The slowness means that there’s a limit to how much I can notice in the music today. I can’t speed my noticing up to locate everything in need of fixing right now, in one pass. Or in two passes. Or in twenty. Instead, slow noticing seems to require the luxury of dozens of revisits to the music. Each day I return and notice a not-so-minor-after-all detail that I can’t believe I didn’t hear yesterday when I was sure that I noticed everything in need of noticing.

Slow noticing encourages, and benefits from, patience. You have to assume that if you give yourself enough time—as much time as it takes—you’ll notice everything important in the music. (Actually you won’t, but it’s a useful fiction to keep you focused.) The point is that while you can’t speed up slow noticing’s tempo, you can trust that its pace is appropriate because slow noticing is a part of your bio-rhythm, the default rate at which you absorb information—what Gregory Bateson called a difference which makes a difference—filtering it through what you already know. Slow noticing’s lesson: the speed of your noticing details in the music reflects music’s power to shape your attention over time, keeping you coming back to it, again and again.

Resonant Thoughts: Richard Sennett’s “The Craftsman” (2009)


“As a performer, at my fingertips I experience error—error that I will seek to correct. I have a standard for what should be, but my truthfulness resides in the simple recognition that I make mistakes…I have to be willing to commit error, to play wrong notes, in order eventually to get them right.”

“If the cook, like a carpenter, holds the cleaver or hammer down after striking a blow, it works against the tool’s rebound. Strain will occur all along the forearm. For physiological reasons that are still not well understood, the ability to withdraw force in the microsecond after it is applied also makes the gesture itself more precise; one’s aim improves. So in playing the piano, where the ability to release a key is an integral motion with pressing it down, finger pressure must cease at the moment of contact for the fingers to move easily and swiftly to other keys.”

Dear Spotify


You drive a hard bargain
using algorithms
to try to know what we like
and who is like us
sound is just a trace
of other measures other metrics
music a signifier
of crowd thinking
a playlist for every mood
but you keep getting it wrong
it being me
me being my taste
predictable yet irreducible
to musical style as information.