Too much expectation, don’t know where to start, don’t know what would do any good, and the impatience, cause you wanna play much better by yesterday…
I’m impatient. Impatience is great when it adds urgency, not so great when you want to learn something. The frustration can fuel productivity, but it also invites a longer term sense of disempowerment. Some things simply take time.
How do I commit to the long game?
Be prepared to work slowly and work on things that have no immediate return
Look for two or three old ideas that have been discarded and see if there is something to be gleaned
Try to be patient – worry less about deadlines and product – more about process and learning
This week I’ve been thinking again about things I’ve read in Timothy Ferries books, and I decided to buy his latest book ‘Tools of the Titans’. For me he walks a fine line between aspirational / annoying / helpful, but it is what it is. One story tipped me over the edge — a conversation relayed about Siddhartha by a number of his guests on the podcast.
Merchant: . . . If you are without possessions, how can you give? Siddhartha: Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish. Merchant: Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give? Siddhartha: I can think, I can wait, I can fast. Merchant: Is that all? Siddhartha: I think that is all. Merchant: And of what use are they? For example, fasting, what good is that? Siddhartha: It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But, as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it.
I think of Siddhartha’s answers often and in the following terms: I can think → Having good rules for decision-making, and having good questions you can ask yourself and others. I can wait → Being able to plan long-term, play the long game, and not misallocate your resources. I can fast → Being able to withstand difficulties and disaster. Training yourself to be uncommonly resilient and have a high pain tolerance
Strategies for the day?
Work on rules for good musical decision making
Be prepared to play the long game
Withstand the difficulties and disasters when things don’t work straight away
Ex Nihilo: Conversations with Barney about Brian Eno
…what would be really interesting for people to see is how beautiful things grow out of shit, because nobody ever believes that…What would really be a lesson that everybody should learn is that things come out of nothing, things evolve out of nothing. You know the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest, and then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand because it gives people confidence in their own lives to know that that’s how things work… If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted – they have these wonderful things in their head, but You’re not one of them. You’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that then you live a different kind of life, you know. You could have a different kind of life where you say ‘I know that things come from nothing very much and start from unpromising beginnings, and I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something too.
— Brian Eno
Since I moved to Japan a few years ago, the isolation and the lack of a local music scene I feel a part of has led me to rely on my former collaborators and close friends from Sydney and London and Berlin. Barney – an amazing jazz pianist, theorist, musical laboratory technician and multi-instrumentalist – played keys on When you get down to it, and he and I have performed together often at Colbourne Ave and Free for all, along with occasional jam sessions in random spaces. We’ve also been known to enjoy the odd ale or two together in some fine Sydney bars and clubs.
Earlier this week I was explaining that I can’t find a flow for the album — I have processes and procedures, but it’s feeling like pretty tough work. One thing lead to another, and he suggested I should keep a diary of the production. He mentioned Brian Eno and the notion of making music for your future self, which brought me back to the above quote – one of my favourite about the creative process and the mysteries surrounding it.
I’m hesitant about writing a journal or diary. I hate the idea of giving advice to other musicians about how they should go about making work. Every time I talk about how to create I can think of a thousand exceptions.
But writing down ideas for my present and future self, clarifying and printing them so I can have the conversation about the things that revolve around my head day to day, that idea stuck with me and multiplied by the hour. By the end of the day I’d determined to write journal entries about the daily blocks, thoughts and strategies I encounter. I further resolved each blog would be a moment of reflection, with specific actions I draw from each, to try in a practical, pragmatic context. So what you are reading are the conversations I honestly have with myself as I move through the day — from guitar to mixing desk to recorders to youtube, while doing the washing, practicing and riding through Kyoto. My questions always remain — how can I make something new, something vital, something I will be proud of both now and in the future.
And so, from nothing – from less than nothing — from a determination to do no such thing, but with the concern and care of a skilled gardener friend, comes this, and an outpouring of thoughts, fears, observations, frustrations, confoundment, inspiration and strategy.
So today’s strategy?
Write each day or each second day.
Try to keep it up for a month at least, then publish
So yesterday I wrote down my ideas and intention to blog, and of course straight away started to frantically record in the hopes of ‘making things happen’.
I’m not going to get all spooky, but it did surprise me how quickly the negative thoughts flow in, and how, while recording a part on guitar, or programming a section, I’m monitoring so many negative words and criticisms with the thought that none of it is good enough. It’s discouraging, but worse — distracting.
It got me thinking, I really need to work on that negative dialogue to open space up in it to create without judgement, if it’s going to be fun. This brought me back to a book I read 20 years ago – Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. There’s a great interview with Kenny here, and he unpacks so many ideas so quickly, I spent a lot of today and yesterday writing things down and trying to work out some strategies for implementing these ideas. I’ve had some experience with the meditations and I used to do them back in my late twenties… time to revisit the ideas.
I love this quote about defining your own sound and finding your voice…
It’s not that I’m avoiding sounding like anybody. I get absorbed in the sound.. it’s an open environment that I accept. The way you find your sound is not something you do actively, you sorta do it passively, by embracing every sound you’re hearing. Now you don’t have that block about what you think the sound should be, and you start to find your inner sound, manifest in whatever your instrument is… – Kenny Werner
You don’t have that block about what you think the sound should be… If I’ve learned one thing from producing myself and others, this is the pivotal thing. Time and again in the studio, the beautiful and resonant has emerged for me from the discarded and overlooked.
I also love what he says about taking time to play, and to be in the moment, rather than endlessly worrying about the outcome and the product. This in part has led me to start blogging, hoping to reflect and catch some of the things I might otherwise miss. But the goal – the goal is to get all Zen Garden about it, right? david Bowie came to the temple in the picture… but famously recorded a Japanese sake commercial here. Maybe that’s a secret to creativity too – finding a sense of zen, but still enjoying the process.
I’ve downloaded the meditations from his site, and watched some interviews
Every day, make time for meditation and create a space from which to play and produce