Not a P.I.T.A. at all

I baked pita-bread for the first time today. I hadn’t done it before, so it was a step outside my comfort zone. Not a big step, but I had to read a recipe. Which I didn’t exactly follow. It worked out just fine, but I’m confident that next time I’ll be able to do it even better.

Baking pita-bread was a small achievement, but not an unimportant joy when I’m summing up the day. And the best thing is I think life is full of those small joys waiting. Achievements not like conquering Mount Everest, but just taking one small step outside of our comfort zone. Growing our skill and experience, and well yes, I suppose the comfort zone grows as well. I could bake pita-bread tomorrow. The threshold is super-low.

With every new experience our comfort zone and capability grows. It also means that every step we progress we diminish the distance to the next. Just imagine how much we could grow and learn if we decided to make something for the first time every week.

A freight train without tracks

Amateurs wait for inspiration. Professionals just show up and get to work. The gurus of creative self-help books are pretty much in unison on this, I think. Not that I have studied them all. But sure, in my day job I’m a pro. Provided that the job at hand is well defined – I just start writing.

There’s an Einstein quote… well there always is, isn’t it? … “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

If I reverse this thought I can see that the reason for my failure on my unproductive days is mostly due to lack of problem definition. I don’t have a plan. I show up at the studio, but … I haven’t got a clue. Where do I start? On a synth, on a drum machine.

On a day when I’m fresh, energized and awake this isn’t much of a problem. I will get some idea and run with it. On a tired day, after work, I need to have a concise list of idiot chores. Something I can do in my sleep, because that’s about the cognitive level where I’m at.

The professional attitude of just showing up and getting to work works fine when you feel like a formula 1 race car. Your acceleration goes from 0 to hyperdrive in just a few… well, minutes. On tired days I feel much more like a long heavy freight train that stretches for miles. The effort to get this monster moving is enormous, and it takes time to get it up to speed.

On those days, it’s absolutely crucial to be undisturbed. Slamming the brakes because family duties call and having to start over from zero. Well, after three or four false starts it’s hard.

Despite being tired I often keep pulling my box cars long into the night, long after the family is asleep. Because it’s not until then that I might reach hyperdrive, free myself from gravity to steal some magic dust from the stars.

The morning after, I’m not sure I’m that much of a professional at work. I’m a freight train stuck in a loop, running in circles.

Green green grass of doom

The cultural idea of having lawns seem to have sprung from our wish to show our wealth. Not from some idea of barefoot bliss. Idle land. Not used for growing, but for decoration.

As a lawn owner you’re a lawn mower, or it’s welcome to the jungle. I’ve got a basic manual cylinder mower. It’s nice, civilized, doesn’t disturb the neighbourhood. Makes you think of England. But using it is work. The grass better not be wet. And in longer periods of rain – you get the green green grass of doom, better put on your best halloween costume and grab the old sickle.

My partner is not very fond of our mower. She’d rather we bought an electric. Which isn’t unreasonable, it’s what people do, after all it’s more convenient. Less tiring and more rain-resilient.

We do a lot of things looking for convenience. It might not be in our best interest. I’ve found that wearing running clothes is a good way to change my perspective on the effort. I might actually go out to see if I can cut it one level shorter today.

Choosing compass

What if we trusted our guts more? If we allowed gut feeling and intuition to lead more of our decision making and control of our lives and our work? Would we be happier, more successful? Would it lead to more interesting art?

We probably all rely on intuition in varying degrees. But some people may do it more than others. Jon Hopkins, the electronic musician seems to be one of them. I listened to him talking about his work on an interesting episode of the podcast Tape Notes.

Where were quite a few nuggets in there. His trust in his intuition leading the process was one of them. He would work on a sound with very little idea of direction, but being confident that the next step would show itself. 

Looking at his method as a travel analogy, I imagine him going on a trip with neither map, guidebook nor any accommodation booked, certain that wherever he would end up would be his destination. 

This way of working of course lends itself well when the desired result is dreamy free form music not adhering to any specific tempo  – knowing that it would not be dance music.

Another interesting thing that ties in with intuition is his method of heavy processing of audio samples. He will send audio through long chains of effects and mangle them til they’re just right. Trusting his gut feeling and arriving at new kinds of beauty.

One way to argue against this process could be that transforming his piano playing beyond possible recognition would take away all his personal touch, arriving at something less human. It turns out the opposite might be the case. Through a series of intuitive decisions he arrives at places and sounds that are unique, and absolutely his own.

Maybe if we allow ourselves to let go of control, to get lost more and choose to rely on the compass inside, we might find the way to a truer part of ourselves.

Parallel realities

Peripheral acquaintances, friends of friends. People you recognize but don’t know. In many situations a hi! from a distance is good enough. And then there are situations where you are brought together to mingle at the mutual friend’s gathering. 

There’s a time and place for deep connections and there’s a time for a kind of friendliness that stems from the polite performance of good manners. A time when a little shallowness needs to be forgiven for the social lubricant it aims to be. 

And still it’s easy do it wrong too. Last night I cheerily asked a woman I’d only met once before, ”Is everything fine with you?” Her avoidance of really answering the question, a moment later made me remember (Oh shit, didn’t somebody say she had cancer). 

It wasn’t a total catastrophe in any way, I found a better conversation later at night and shared some laughs with her and her husband. But it’s still humbling to see your shallowness mirrored in somebody standing on the verge of the abyss.

There are so many lives lived in parallel.

Would I pass an inspection?

Tomorrow I’m taking the car for its annual health check. Not for a service but for the compulsory inspection, checking that my vehicle is no danger in traffic. The brakes, the exhaust fumes, wheel balance and the headlights not set too high. Etc.

I’m lucky to be in good health, to my knowledge, but as the years pass an annual health check probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. If I did it it would be to make sure that I’m not in danger. That I’m safe to live.

It’s interesting that it would be a violation of a person’s integrity and human rights if people were to be inspected like cars – making sure we’re not a danger on the road called life. It seems unthinkable, undemocratic, something worthy a police state, and I’m not advocating it. But that there’s such a difference is interesting. Isn’t it?

Rebooting with patience

The insight doesn’t come over night, but it grows upon you. That exciting, lightning-fast laptop you were so excited to bring home a few years ago – well, it just doesn’t seem to keep up anymore. It freezes, needs rebooting, can’t make full use of the new features in the software you use.

So, you start thinking of getting a new one. Luckily that is an option if you’ve got the means. If it wasn’t, what would we do? Maybe we would have to think our way around the problem. Reconsider if the latest upgrade is necessary. Find alternative software with fewer features and scaled back graphics that is little easier on the CPU/GPU. And maybe we would have to practice patience, cut the computer some slack and let it think in peace and quiet while we go and get a coffee.

Because when it comes to our real brains, upgrades aren’t that easily available. So we try the basics first. Get a good nights sleep, making sure we exercise, eat the vitamins and drink the coffee.

I’m thinking about this in regards to a piece of musical equipment (Vermona Retroverb Lancet). Despite being a small box, it has 25 knobs and switches that control parameters which effect each other in various ways. I’m in love with the sound of it, but it’s also intimidating because I can’t get my head around it. I sometimes fear my CPU just doesn’t cut it.

Panicking and stressing doesn’t help. Which is why I’ve realized that patiently investing the time to get my head around it is the only way forward. I need to sit down and draw charts of the electric and audio signal flow. All while forgiving my brain for not getting it instantly. Some insights and realizations simply take time. It might not even be a bad thing.

Sock it up

When you arrive at work and your gym-bag feels lighter than usual, it’s not really because you’ve finally put on those muscles. It’s because you have forgotten your shoes. Or shampoo.

Well, it turns out it was the shoes. My first impulse was to cancel the plan of going to the gym. On the other hand, why not just gym in my socks? So I did. It worked just fine. I chose forward.

There is always an excuse to quit. The trick is to get around it and play the hand you’re dealt – or should I say foot.

Keeping it real

“What’s for dinner?” – is a problem that people have every day. People don’t just go shopping for food, they are looking for ”meal solutions.” Supermarkets that understand this get successful. And in union with the food industry they offer convenience. Time-savings. The recognizable.

As a result we eat a lot of ultra-processed foods that aren’t that good for our health. And some recent study actually showed Swedes to eat more industrial food than any other nation in Europe. I would have preferred us winning some other championship.

There’s a lot of ultra-processing done in music production too. A lot ot if it is fun and interesting. We throw a plug-in effect on a sound and it transforms the sound into something new. I wouldn’t like to be without it.

But I think there might be value in keeping certain sounds real. Or that a least in every mix try to have a few sounds that are more natural than others. 100 percent reality is probably not anything to strive for, every microphone listens differently, so everything recorded will get filtered in some way.

I think vocals are especially interesting. We probably not even know how much we can detect from one. Vulnerability, mood and emotion. There is a ton of information beyond the words. Something real that is there for us to feel even if we can’t say what it is.

First track on Spotify

My first track on Spotify/Apple/Youtube “Dreamer in an office” went live last Monday. So far it has one listener worldwide, someone living awfully close to my neighborhood. Ha, I’m doing this marketing business all wrong of course. But I just want to get songs done and shipped. So for now, I’m just figuring out how it all works and how to set myself up to do it continually.

The writing of that song just happened. Very few songs seem to take place in offices. Which is ironic since we spend half our lives in our workplaces. In regard to the LinkedIn-comment I made the other day I have an idea of writing a small series of songs around occupational drama. We’ll see how it goes.