On How The Shape Of A Sound Shapes Us

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I noticed a simple thing the other day while working on some music. The sounds I was working with were long tones with slow attacks and long decays. (Can you guess the instrument?) What I noticed was how instantaneously the shape of the sounds shaped me. The sounds literally slowed me down–making me feel as if I was resonating along with their contours and slow rhythms. I’m somewhat astonished that I had never noticed and articulated this perceptual phenomenon in my own musical experience until now, but there you go.

To re-phrase that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: Be careful what sounds you make, for surely you shall become one with them!

On Timing And The Nature Of Blogging

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Recently I’ve been experimenting with timers–using countdown apps on my phone to time whatever it is I’m working on. Lest you think I’m one of those people who are overly into the analytics of timing everything–I’m not (yet). No, I’m one of those people who generally loses track of time and looks up to marvel at how much of it has passed. So I thought it might be a good idea to try clocking things. In fact, I just started a timer on this blog post (17 minutes and quickly elapsing).

One effect of working with a timer is that it allowed me to understand how long I was actually attending to something. Usually, tedious tasks feel like they’re taking forever. But with the timer adding structure by way of a preset time frame (counting down) the tasks feel…lighter. Just a few sessions with a timer has had lasting effects too. I began thinking about everyday tasks that I was avoiding and how long they actually take. For instance, it turns out that organizing that shelf crammed with t-shirts took all of 3 minutes. Hmm.

Timer = a plan of action = clarity of purpose = surprising perception.

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Blogging is another kind of self-timer. I write different kinds of posts, each of which has its own built-in temporality. Some posts are quite long–book reviews, for instance. These posts are built by gradually adding ideas together over days and weeks. I suppose they could be rushed but they want to take their time so I let them. I revisit them from time to time, re-read them, add a bit, and then leave them alone. Their length means that they have a slowness about them, and over time the posts grow until they’re finished. (Timer has 5 minutes left!) Other posts, like some of the Microthoughts (such as my previous post on the music of Harold Budd) are quicker and finished in minutes in a single sitting (literally: while sitting on a subway). The brevity of these posts and the quickness of their completion is influenced by context. (Timer has 1 minute left!) I use the timing of my situation (getting off the subway in 20 seconds!) to shape how fast I write. (17 minutes are up! Done!)

On Lessons From Long Distance Activities Which May Also Apply To Making Music

1. It doesn’t feel great at the beginning.

2. Take it slow at first.

3. Have a plan of action.

4. Add a little each week.

5. Allow time between sessions to recover.

6. The activity itself is discipline.

7. If possible, use the activity as an opportunity for exploration and adventure.

8. Alter your plan of action depending on the specific circumstances of the day. Conditions are never optimal.

9. The longer the activity, the more your mind changes: new thoughts just…appear.

10. Fatigue makes clear the adage “mind over matter.” But still–it hurts.

11. Today sets up tomorrow and another plan of action.

12. Timing things is useful. But so is going by feel.

13. Steady rhythmic movement is fun.

14. Places feel different when you’re moving through them.

15. There is always something more to say, but that something hasn’t arrived yet!

On Capturing Thoughts In Formation: Notes On Listening

It would be a blog post about listening.

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It would be about the relationship between what we listen to and what we create as musicians.

About the tension between wanting to listen to many (new) musics briefly and listening to one (older, familiar) music repeatedly. Is one approach “better” than the other? Or–as it’s more PC to say–are they just “different”?

About how and how much we remember what we listen to. Where exactly does that remembering reside? In our minds or in our limbs, or in both? Do we in fact register some of our favorite sounds and patterns in our muscles, remembering by trying out little copped moves–a half-recollected riff, a personal remix of something we liked a lot? How does musical remembering work?

About what happens in the spaces between our listenings. Is there an optimal spacing here? A day? A week? An hour? Do we synthesize in the days off, or just atrophy?

About whether or not we’re listening even when we aren’t “paying attention.” It turns out that playing Mozart for your baby never did make her smarter–even if she was paying attention. Now then, does being half-attuned to music do anything to us, for us?

If we “pay” for our attention, what currency do we use? Is it just physical energy we expend while listening, or do we somehow deplete reserves of imagination as we venture outward to meet the music halfway, waving hello and inviting it inside us for a spell?

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And it would be a blog post about listening-food analogies.

Can listening “feed” us?

Can music be a toxin? (The composer Arvo Pärt says there are musics that can heal and musics that can kill.) Does its “bad taste” tip us off to its toxicity or its health benefits?

What about overly sweet musics? We call them saccharine, sentimental, New Age-y. Might they be empty sonic calories? Will they make us fat?

About the possibility of binge listening, or conversely, starving ourselves from a lack of nutritious music. Either way, how do you know when you’re in the midst of an extreme listening situation, drowning in excess or devoured by deficit?

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It would be a blog post about listening.