Friday, 20 May 2011

Solo simplicity

They say that the simple things in life are free… Or is it that the free things in life are simple… Or is it that the best things in life are free… Or is it simple?

Oh, I don’t know, but sometimes simplicity acts as a highly efficient duster, sweeping away the cobwebs and clearing the way for a deeper, more significant activity. This is the value of creating soundscapes – or auraloramas – for me. It is an instantly accessible method of getting something done, putting something into my own personal reality that is capable of delighting me on an immediate level, putting into action theory and practice and, if I’m really lucky, laying the foundations of future compositions.

As you might have seen in my previous blog (here) I recently went through one of those downward spirals caused by one too many inopportune moments of taking it easy. As I discussed then, while things seem pretty hopeless from within the labyrinth of mental blackness, the cure is a simple one: get up off your arse and do something. I wrote a blog about it and felt a lot better about things as a result – it made me observe me from outside, as it were.

All well and good, but that was just the first step – the ‘wake-up’ if you like. The following morning I had to continue, so, forcing myself to get work and chores out of the way, I hurried down the garden to my studio and plugged in my guitar…

Whaddayaknow? I wasn’t so much short of ideas of what to do as standing in a dusty wilderness where ideas have the moisture sucked out of them before they can even take their first breath.

Thankfully, I was plugged into my Gigadelay unit, so I switched it on, eased in a couple of notes, layered a couple more chords and there I was, 15 seconds and I had a spontaneous ‘composition’ to deal with, add to, manipulate. The music was coming back at me, demanding attention and calling out for progression. I had to deal with it.

I immediately felt better and before too long, I had laid two separate chord sequences on two asymmetric loops (one about nine seconds, the other 23), into which I blended a sort of ‘filigree’, high-pitched collection of notes/sounds on a third loop (can’t remember how long). I really liked it, it made me feel good – and what is more it has given me a couple of ideas (as a result of the ‘accidental’ chord patterns) of a song – or maybe two.

Having listened to it for a while, I then recorded about four minutes of it, feeling it would go well on the next auralorama album (Meditation) and I was planning to go back to more conventional practice, but after I switched off the first two loops, the third carried on by itself – and I thought it sounded great, so I copied that onto a longer loop and started all over again, creating a longer, more dramatic soundscape.

I know I am easy to please, but this was, for me, very exciting – and not only the possibility of another new song based on the second piece, but a whole concept for soundscape performance. Build a piece up, then deconstruct and at some point use what’s left as the framework for the next piece.

(The first of these two auraloramas is now up on Youtube – called Acceptance – and can be found here.)

Needless to say, the next day, my work and practice were better still and my energy levels are still on the up. It’s simple, really.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The angst of mediocrity 1

While having made much of the joys of mediocrity on these pages and hailing all of us who are not quite so good, but have a little of that something that means we can do, create, make, perform to a degree that is not entirely displeasing to those around us – and some a little further afield, too – there does come a time when mediocrity can drag you down. And because you were never that high to begin with, it seems to mean that you can go a lot lower.

I know there are those that say ‘the bigger you are the further you fall’ and that is undoubtedly true, but the implication is that if you aren’t so big, the troughs are not so deep. I don’t think I buy that.

Starting from a lower point and falling – possibly a little less than the high and mighty, admittedly – does not mean that you don’t fall to a lower point than the so-called ‘bigger’. In fact, from where I am now, it seems a pretty low place.

The problem – and I know we all face it – is stagnation. That vicious circle that catches you on a low ebb, which pushes you into doing nothing in particular, which – and I am still to get a handle on why this is – then saps your energy further. The less you do, the less you are able to do.

Why is that? Why does conserving energy so often prove to be the very worst thing you can do for your energy levels? Answers on a postcard, please (or below in the comments, should you feel so brave).

Of course, the highly talented suffer this as well, but at least they have the proof of their ability behind them. We, the mediocre, look back and see little to keep us going. Almost nothing there that inspires us. The worst thing about attaining enlightenment, a wise sage once said, is not the physical discomforts or even torture that you might be put through, but the wave after wave of blackness and despair inside that threatens to drown you.

That’s what stagnation builds up to for me. It starts as a simple ‘oh, I’m not going to do anything tonight’ and then (remarkably quickly) becomes a black labyrinth from which escape seems impossible.

I know I have a lot to do at the moment – an awful lot – but right now I can’t even bring myself to pick up my guitar.

The craziest thing of all is that I know full well that once I have carried out the tasks I have in front of me and once I do pick up my guitar, I will feel absolutely on top of the world and will enjoy even the simplest little things – but until then, until I do make this (almost symbolic) effort, I am dragging myself across a thick, stinking lake of mud that only increases in stench and viscosity while I try to crawl through it. The moment I stop, it becomes pure, clean air.

It’s like hitting yourself in the face with a hammer. It’s bloody unpleasant, but the only way to stop it being unpleasant is to stop doing it. So why don’t we? Why don’t we stop hitting ourselves in the face with a hammer and go and do something less painful instead?

It’s a good idea. I think I’ll write a blog about it – that should help.