Work in progress – do not fill the gaps

It’s very easy to look at things the wrong way.

For example, on the back of this new year and the inevitable lists from people about what they liked last year, and its conjunction with the fact that I’m at my most skint for a decade and will likely be for a while yet, it could be very easy to get depressed about the fact that I’m never going to be able to buy all the albums I’ve put in my Bandcamp wishlist in the last few weeks, let alone anything else that’s not out on the platform.

But of course, there is another way of looking at it, and I’m going to use an analogy, because I like doing that.

This is not an exact figure, but there are roughly 7 billion human beings on this planet of ours. Of those 7 billion, I reckon 99% of them are actually wonderful people – it’s just a shame that the 1% that aren’t seem to feel the need to try and rule the rest of us, openly or otherwise; also it’s a shame that us otherwise wonderful people keep falling for their bullshit time and time again. This, ladies and gentleman, is exactly why I’m interested in magic theory – it explains an awful lot of the world a lot better than the random chaos meets survival of the fittest bollocks that passes for a worldview in mainstream society, although there is more to memeology than I originally gave credence – ironically, one of the most unscientific theories ever to be popularised by a  wannabe preacher supposed scientist!

Now, I am never, ever going to meet all of these wonderful people, which is in many ways a shame, but in the most important way is in fact unimportant. It’s enough to know they are there, and that when we meet we should enjoy each others company.

So let it be with all this tremendous music which is flooding my perception on a daily basis, as well as my continued rediscovery of all the wonderful stuff in my epic library. Because I unashamedly have a world view that is largely at odds with the current paradigm, I’m at one with the idea that I can’t have it all and have it now, but I feel that I get what I need when I need it. And so, I shall continue to add things to wishlists, and because Bandcamp has some good features which includes being able to listen to said album all the way through at least once (depends on how many times the artist/label has set it behind the scenes), I know where it is for the future. Also, I may even get to buy it in said future so that I can support said artist/label.

But there’s gonna be a whole heap of posts coming up…

 

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Confessions of a stats nerd

Or: Why numbers will always be numbers.

Some or fewer of you may have looked over at my last.fm profile page if the mood has at all come upon you to look at what I have been listening to. If so, I have sad news that will only get sadder: most of what I listen to these days no longer gets caught by the intrusive eye of the scrobbler, and therefore doesn’t get ‘captured.’ The list then, is vastly unrepresentative and explains why I shall no longer link to it on my ‘about‘ page whenever I next get round to updating it.

But really, is this so great a loss?

Some while back, I was talking to my brother about the limitation of using ‘play count’ as a kind of measure of how much you like an artist. I used the following example: I could listen to a whole album by Nu Sensae in slightly more than half the time than I could listen to my favourite track by Terry Riley, giving Nu Sensae 14 plays whilst Terry Riley gets just the one. And yet, I personally get much more pleasure from that one play (although my brothers response was: ‘I’ve heard neither, but I can already tell that I would like Nu Sensae 14 times more than Terry Riley…’ – in honour of which I shall create a new tag of ‘music my brother wouldn’t like’ which shall be applied to anything with an average length of more than 3 minutes – so most of my posts, then). Not to disrespect Nu Sensae – when I’m in the mood, Sundowning is a cracking little album.

So quantity in this regard doesn’t measure quality. The amount of times I listen to something is not actually an indicator of how much pleasure I get from it. And it can absolutely never capture those ‘moments’ – such as like the first time I listened to Inutili, whose play count still hasn’t reached double figures and yet currently rank amongst my favourite new music. And there are occasions when you listen to something that really makes your day, yet that experience is never repeated and you stop listening to that thing. It doesn’t mean that one time wasn’t valid.

So lets have a look at my ‘top artists’ for what will probably be my last time.

alltime10

Really, for sheer amount of time I’ve spent listening to an artist since I joined in late 2010, Oneida should be top by a mile. Their average song length is quite long, though, especially the recent stuff. Big Blood, despite being relatively recent additions to the library, thoroughly deserve their place. This isn’t to disparage Thee Oh Sees – I get enormous pleasure listening to them. They are a truly wonderful band. But by my listening standards, they have short songs.

Another thing to point out is that there are many artists there that I don’t listen to so much these days – smaller catalogue, not so much recent activity, gone off them a bit, all or some of the preceding or something else entirely. Which leads to the hypothesis that the longer this thing continued, the more artists there would be in the upper echelons who are actually not getting listened to that much. Unless, of course, my favourite artists never change. With me, that is never going to happen.

Many years ago, when I entered the PC age, my first PC lasted quite some years before complete breakdown. During that time, the play count on Windows Media Player had racked up an impressive chart. Although this was only songs, if the top song was ‘Dubby Conqueror’ by Burning Babylon and it had been played 150-odd times (which it was at the time it broke), then it was a fair estimate that said song was amongst my favourite songs ever at the time. However, that isn’t a fair picture. I had the PC on all the time even when I wasn’t at home, and I left the music playing on shuffle. Most of my active listening was actually on shuffling, and only if I didn’t fancy something  would any choice on my part influence the play count.

In fact, it’s only really since 2010 that I’ve started being a more focussed album player rather than having music on shuffle, which is a very passive way of choosing entertainment, letting a computer do your thinking for you (sidebar: those of you who have ever succumbed to that disease, have you ever noticed how certain songs keep getting selected, even from a library of thousands?) So although I love that tune still, since the scrobbler, it hasn’t even been scrobbled ten times ( I can’t find it on the tracks chart, I went down to everything from 10 above, and my eyes went funny so I stopped).

To use an analogy, in cricket, a flat-track bully can get quite an impressive average over time if he always performs against minnows, but against the best teams you want your players who bring their best under pressure, who often don’t have averages as impressive – my thesis for this is because their guard is down against teams they expect to beat, or when their team mates have already walloped the bowlers around. So, when your mood calls for music to lift it, do you go to play counts and say ‘well, I’ve played this most, it’s therefore my favourite, therefore its guaranteed to work?’ If so, I’ve got a large organisation I’d like to offer you a job in.

We humans like charts, don’t we? I’ve been as guilty as anyone. I think that numbers are almost always useless without context, but we as a species seem to forget the whole context bit, and just focus on the numbers.

However, the recent reboot of Last FM has ‘coincided’* with the scrobbler on my net PC at home going cuckoo, and I frankly cannot be arsed to try and sort it out. I’ve much more important things to do, like being a dad, playing a guitar, reading books, doodling, tending the few home grown veg I can fit in my garden, or staring blankly into space.

It’s actually been a lot easier to give up the idea of seeing who I’ve played most often than I thought it would be. This probably tells you/me something about the nature of giving stuff up in general. It’s surprisingly easy to do when fighting it is more trouble than its worth, harder when its not.

So, when I play music at work, it may get scrobbled, it may not. And that doesn’t matter.

I may do a part two, and if so it will delve into the notion of converting the wonderment that is sound into numbers – i.e. my thoughts on digital music. However, that may only depress me, since realistically the vast majority of music I listen to will be digital.

*I don’t believe in coincidence. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before.

Passion or Pastiche: The elephant in the room (part 4)

Part 1 –  Part 2 –  Part 3

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

The elephant in the room is you.

Don’t feel bad about it. Being an elephant in the room can feel lonely, certainly, not least because of all these blind men running around stating with such certainty that they know what you are based on their tiny observations of you, but it does have its upside.

Like you, I’m an elephant in the room too. Probably the best thing I can do from here on in is to explain how I deal with it over here in my world, or as I call it, Entropy House. And, boy, is there an upside.

For a start, you can think exactly what you want on any given topic. You can change your thoughts on said topic to the polar opposite the next minute if you want, and no-one can actually stop you from doing so. However, being quite so cavalier with your thoughts can lead to a very incoherent world view if not attended to with the utmost awareness. I personally have therefore found it wise to try and base my thoughts on actual experience, but there are other models available to you. We live in a neo-liberal world, after all.

I very rarely make new year’s resolutions, but in the new year of 2012 I resolved to give up opinions. I’m still trying, and failing quite spectacularly as I would not have need for a blog if I was succeeding in any way. But it has been the most valuable exercise, possibly one of the most thought-provoking I’ve ever done. I would go as far as saying almost everybody bases their worldview on their opinions, and then filters their perception accordingly to bolster their opinion – but then, I may be projecting!

So, when I said I was trying to give up opinions, what I meant was that I wanted to try and actually experience what happens in my perception in its raw perceptual is-ness. I wanted, indeed I still want, to have a worldview that is based on things as they are and not things as I would have them be. The longer this goes on, however, and the longer my biases seem to inform how I perceive the world, the more I question how possible such a goal really is. And I’ve recently come up with a fairly new hypothesis, and I’m looking for how to test it.

Hypothesis: Because I have yet to see any convincing evidence to the contrary, I’m treating my life as a complicated initiation ritual that exists to show me something(s) that I need to know. In many ways, this worldview may seem like solipsism, but my current thoughts are more like solipsism with co-stars – in other words, I’m not the only one going through this initiation ritual, and we can all help each other to get through it, or we can hinder each other. Some of the co-stars are here to play a part, though, and that part is to make it harder. I mean, it wouldn’t be an initiation ritual if it was easy. However, I am open to the idea that we just make it hard for ourselves without any extra help.

One of my learning curves has been about the need to rely on other peoples perceptions for an opinion and what I have learnt is this: no opinion is worth having if it hasn’t been formed by my own direct observation and/or interaction and, more importantly, my own instincts and perceptions are the most valuable thing when formulating whether or not something is useful to me or not. I may sometimes say that such and such an issue seems to be quite thorny and if only we meddling western bastards kept our noses out and stopped trying to treat the entire world as its own resources mine then the world may be a better place, but as I haven’t actually been to, say, the Ukraine, it may be that the view presented to us by our darling truth-telling media who never, ever lie is in fact correct, and the people of Ukraine really do want us to meddle in their lives and impose a government of outsiders in part of ‘our’ plan to dismember Russia into a series of vassal states. I mean, something has to be true. Maybe it’s that.

This reliance on others statements probably comes from over-identification with a particular way of doing things, or a subculture, or maybe just a particular in-crowd. Let me give you an example from my own life: in 1996(?) Beck released Odelay and because I had taken leave of my senses for a while and actually credited the opinions of the New Musical Express with some respect (it was a brief spell that lasted about 4 years, maybe 5), I really, really wanted to like the album. I bought it, I bigged it up, I put it on when friends came round. About a year later, maybe longer, I listened to it again and thought – ‘you know what? It’s shite. It’s aimless, it has nothing to say, and doesn’t actually have any fucking songs on it.’ I have never had cause to change that perception, although opportunities to do so since then have been limited because why would I play an album I stopped liking? And since then I’ve gradually leant less and less on the opinions of others. The last NME I bought was in 2000 when I moved house – I’d been going through the motions with it for quite a while but my local newsagent (who I quietly fancied) kept putting a copy aside for me, otherwise it would have stopped sooner. I only ever bought a music mag afterwards if it had a free CD with it so I could listen to the music myself. And indeed, my primary source of new music after then became late night radio, especially John Peel who I didn’t really discover until 1998ish.

Of course, once you lose faith in something as being a reliable guide, that faith pretty much goes completely. Whilst Beck himself went on to make some decent albums after that, the NME will always remain a marketing tool for major record labels as far as I’m concerned because of my experiences as a reader. I found the same thing with Kerrang!, particularly after they were bought out by EMAP and simply put the biggest artists on the cover from that point on – before that they used to take risks with putting unknown bands on the cover. Whether you like the bands in question or not is irrelevant, the fact was it was a genuine foot in the door for some acts. I just know someone is going to talk about the bottom line, though. Also, I am so clearly not their intended audience.

So in many ways, over-identification gets in the way of being you. Let’s swing back to where I started off this series and say I’m into psych-rock music, amongst other things. Over-identification with that label makes you then go out and try/buy every thing that gets released under that label, especially if lots of chatter goes on about how ‘excited’ people are about an upcoming release, which in itself generates an excitement in others. That excitement itself will predispose you to favourable initial impressions.(The Anticipation Effect?) It may take a little while before all the marketing bullshit  excitement wears off, by which time you’re getting uber-excited about another major upcoming release / reunion tour. BUT – as in my NME example above, it carries dangers. Once someone loses respect by getting really ‘excited’ about something that’s actually shit, you stop taking them seriously. And then they may recommend something that you actually would really like.

However, as I mentioned earlier, you’re the elephant. In my case with the above example, that means that if the NME actually started only featuring music for reasons of quality and not commerce, I would miss out. I’m comfortable with that. I am aware that my freedom has consequences and I choose to accept them nonetheless. Not every elephant seems willing to do that, but then, their initiation ritual may be for a different purpose. My concern is for mine, and making sure I go through it the right way.

So then, what else have I learned, and just why is it that this idea of being true is so important to me?

I’ve noticed that fakes (for want of a better word) in other fields of endeavour don’t always get quite the same vitriol once exposed, or even suspected. For example, I remember reading, again back in the 1990s, that a certain percentage of premiership footballers didn’t even like the game. There were some, and I admit I initially thought this because I used to follow football back then, who thought this something of a travesty given how many passionate footballers there are out there. But would you judge a carpenter harshly who didn’t especially like wood but made thoroughly useful cabinets? A security guard who wasn’t passionate about saving the company’s property, but did it better than anyone else? A librarian who fell into the job by accident and discovered it was the least shit thing he’d done so far so may as well stick around til the urge to move on manifests, not least because he became pretty damn good, pretty damn quickly (hello!)?

And by them same tokens, if someone makes good psych-rock but is only doing it to put bread on the table, should they be judged harshly? Should they be judged at all?

There’s doing what you have to in order to get by, and all of us do what we have to do in order to get by because our initiation rituals have that built into them. But there’s more to it than that. And music is probably one of the best areas where this tension between doing what you have to do and there being more to it than that is played out.

For me, music is a fundamentally spiritual pursuit, particularly when creating (i.e. channeling) / playing, but also when listening. It is a way of making ‘sense’ of the world I inhabit, at least, the world I inhabited that day. It provides a language of unbelievable depth to express as best it can the unexpressable, the noumenal, the nagual, that huge part of my perceptions and experience that I cannot find words for.

The fact that music has always accompanied rituals and worship speaks to me. It tells me that music is a fundamental part of the divine, one of the most powerful keys to understanding life itself, and therefore why I’m here, and therefore more about the exact nature of my initiation ritual.

I am, in fact, a very lucky elephant. I’ve ploughed my own furrow for many, many years now to almost no acclaim, and yet I still do it anyway, mainly for the reasons noted above. Yet I have been rewarded. I enjoy my music more than I ever have done. Each year I discover even better music than ever, I find songs/artists/performances that resonate with me stronger than has ever been the case previously even though this resonance has always been very strong for me anyway. This is telling me that the simple act of being on the right path is reward in itself, and it gets reinforced by the fact that I get to channel better music, and receive better music than ever before. For those of you who are unafraid of teleology, entertain the following notion – the reason I have never been rewarded with any fame/recognition/notoriety/money for my music is because I don’t need those reinforcers. I would do it anyway. (Yes, there is an alternative hypothesis, and that says its because the music is shit or mediocre. However, I’m the fucking elephant and this is my fucking room. Also, there are a plethora of counter-examples).

You ever met any musicians who are really really impressive but utterly boring? Awesome hand/eye co-ordination, tremendous knowledge of scales and relationships, but you don’t hear them play music, you simply witness a high mastery of the instrument. I have come to think of such types as ‘instrument technicians’ rather than musicians. This is not to say that anyone flash is not a musician, oh no, far from it. To get that good to start with you must care at least a little bit about actually making music. The best musicians always allow themselves as many tools and avenues for expression, and increased ability with an instrument allows for a greater range of expression. For example, Jimi Hendrix; say no more.

Get a bunch of instrument technicians together, though, and you rarely have music, you have a designed and moulded product which emulates music. Thinking of music as a language, it is the sort of language where words that go together on paper might get bundled into a paragraph but when analysed don’t have any coherence. Would you seriously consider having a conversation whereby you didn’t care how much sense you made? Would you really seek out conversations with people who were clever but incoherent? Surely not. The purpose of communication is to communicate.

So, when I get really sniffy about an artist not really meaning it, maaaaan, I’m saying that the music falls into the category of ‘product’ and not music, pastiche, in other words, and without a meaning to the message. It’s a box ticking exercise whose primary purpose is not communication, but probably money generation or ego-glorification/self-indulgence (very often the two go hand in hand) . For people who think of music as simply something to listen to whilst waiting to die, of course, such objections won’t matter (also, and most importantly, they will not have read this far). Whilst music does indeed double as fantastic entertainment, it is not its primary purpose. And to my mind, it’s a waste of a good legominism if you haven’t encoded some genuine content in the medium. It becomes an empty vessel. And an empty vessel isn’t what I need to help me with my initiation ritual.

John D. Niles, in his book Homo Narransuses the concept of a ‘tradition bearer’ as a way of tracing how traditions, in this case oral narrative culture, carry on through the ages. His example is Duncan Williamson, a man so thoroughly into the storytelling medium that he not only is a great storyteller, he hoovers up all new stories and tellers and ideas with utter passion and total dedication. What do you think he would say to someone who came along simply trying to look good, a chancer? He’d say nothing because there is no actual need to. But he’d know that there is unlikely to be much of value there, so would move on. It’s a perfect example of what I’ve been trying to find the right combination of words to say over these posts, but the tag ‘tradition bearer,’ whilst technically not inaccurate, seems a little bit limiting. I think it makes Duncan and others of our ilk seem conservative, and that somewhat misses the point. It is done simply for the joy of doing it. We don’t throw out the old unless it no longer serves a purpose, but we don’t simply concentrate on the new either – we assimilate it to find out how useful it is to our overall approach. Is it useful tech? And if it is, it goes in.

For this reason, I prefer to use the term ‘torch-bearer,’ a decision I made last night. You can re-purpose the description above by saying that we look for the fuel that helps the torch burn brighter; once it is no longer useful as fuel for our torch we discard it.

Because this need for stories – musical, verbal, visual, whatever – is much deeper than entertainment. They are an integral part of our world picture and the world you think you see would not be the same without the stories in your head. And to do your head justice, you need to allow it to have the best stories, stories that have room to grow and evolve with you as you complete this section of the initiation ritual. And…there’s only one person who knows what those stories are.

One of the many synchronicities in my life was reading this post this morning which had this quote which again puts things much better than I could – ‘in an age when almost everything is genre, the insistence upon genre forms, often carefully outlined, is regressive.’ If respecting conventions comes at the expense of navigating your journey, it’s time to question the conventions. By the same token, though, if it ain’t broke…

Of course it’s a fine line. That’s why you should attend to it carefully.

Times change – the trick isn’t to change with the times so much as it is to navigate the landscape as it changes using the most appropriate tech to do so. And you can only do that by experience. So a good ‘torch bearer’ will always be open minded, but will also have enough self-belief and nous that anything which doesn’t keep the torch lit won’t get in. There is no room for passengers. Chuck as many marketers as you like at them, their bullshit detectors are impeccable.

Such people, however, also have quite an uneasy relationship with their society at large. They are valued because their skill is recognisable and obvious, but they also seem to make people feel a bit intimidated. It is one of my fundamental beliefs that there is nothing special about me that could not also be the same level of special about any other human being given the right circumstances, opportunities and inner desire, but one thing I have learned is that people don’t do things just because I tell them they are capable. They have to want to do it, and they have to believe it is worth doing. There is no point trying to harangue people in this regard; people can get really quite hostile to being informed how much personal power they already have but don’t use. It’s best to light a few beacons here and there in the parts of the map that you pass through so that fellow travellers can see a bit better, and make their own judgements accordingly. A true torch bearer seeks no reward; it is enough to know that the torch remains lit.

Just because some one might not necessarily meet my exacting standards does not mean they are not conscientious or doing their damnedest to seek excellence in what they do. We all of us go through the territory using maps and beacons of varying usefulness. Most people who have passed before and who have left markers have done so honestly. There may be the odd exception but by and large people are doing their best and are trying to do what they think is right. Do you know many people who purposely do things wrong? How’s their life working out for them?

So what, after all this rambling, is one to do when confronted by the latest sensation whose upcoming release is getting people ultra-excited, even though they haven’t heard it yet?

Well, you’re the elephant. You decide.

Passion or Pastiche? The appeal to authority (part 3)

At the beginning of this year, my wife and I bought a new bathroom, one of those things that some people do when the need arises. As tends to be usual with this kind of transaction these days, my email address was surrendered to the vendor even though we were paying by cash and in person (we’d been saving up). So you can probably guess what I’m going to be telling you next – every day subsequent to that for about 13 days I got emails from this retailer who specialise exclusively in bathroom products. It probably would have gone on longer, but I unsubscribed from the list.

Now then, having just bought oneself a bathroom, how long do you think it would take for someone to start thinking about replacing said bathroom? Many years? Some years? Some Months? Some days? One day? And yet, can you blame the autobot for automatically adding an email to a mailing list, and can you blame a salesperson for obtaining said email address? They do it because that is what is done these days. It might make marketing sense for a retailer whose goods traverse something of a range, but let’s be honest, if I need to replace aspects of my newly bought bathroom within days or weeks of buying that one, I’m hardly likely to be looking at the same supplier…

So my beef here is not with email lists in general, although they are one of the many lesser evils to assail us daily (unsubscribe! unsubscribe!) but instead with unthinking application of procedures, aka Lazy Thinking. We have a mailing list because everyone has a mailing list. We send daily updates because everyone sends daily updates. We put that sitar in the recording because everyone is doing it these days. We put that quote about the spirit world in to prove that we’re truly psychedelic and therefore we must be right into all that new age shit, right? I mean, that’s what they do, innit?

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how to cross a bathroom with a Goat.

Briefly going back to the bathroom story, there are probably great precedents surrounding the email marketing technique being applied. Have a look at this article back in 1999 (if you have an ACM subscription), this more recent one (also needs a not at all cheap subscription) or this one which may actually be free. Of course, the man at the counter collecting email addresses is probably not aware of any of this theoretical basis, he’s just doing his job, which is to follow the precedents and apply them to the marketing of bathrooms. Company X started collecting data on their customers and their portfolio has risen by N percent a year since. Luminary Y said in some speech last year that any company not collecting email signatures was doomed to failure. You know the kind of thing; a few examples of success, and a few more ‘authorities’ shouting for the cause, and then simply not doing it becomes unthinkable. And thus a story is written.

But there is very usually a context that doesn’t get taken into account. Company X’s profile may actually have risen N percent a year because of a confluence of coinciding factors, of which the data collection was but a minor one and some snazzy new catchphrase crossed with sleek design crossed with being in the right place at the right time may just have been about 1000 times more important. Equally, Luminary Y may work as a consultant for a company that specialises in exactly that sort of data collection and is basically drumming them up some business. Regardless of the original contexts, though, the end result is that almost every damn vendor you buy anything from these days will then start sending you emails. Have you ever seen the look on a salesman’s face when you say you don’t want to give them your email? Depends on the salesman, I suppose. But these things rarely make the story.

Anywho, on the subject of marketing, there is only one authority you need.

You’d better believe this kind of lazy thinking happens with people writing/making/performing music.

Probably the biggest authority-bubble I would like to see popped in my lifetime is the notion of ‘types of music,’ known to most of us as ‘genre.‘ In some fields, the fragmentation into various sub-genres is frankly mystifying to the people who remember that field starting, especially as what separates one artist from another into separate categories is usually only noticeable to the ‘expert.’ (There is a separate and probably opposite idea here about increasing complexity mirroring evolution in it’s speciation-tree manifestation, and taking it fractal, but I’ll let that gestate for a while).

But that is a pet peeve of mine, and the world is not going to stand or fall on it, no it isn’t. Where I think this need to follow precedent is at its most pernicious, though, is where it tries to place limits on what you can do. I mean, some of my favourite psychedelic music of this century would probably not even be considered as psychedelic by most people who would instead call it jazz or neo-folk or whatever because of the obvious stylistic trappings and completely disregarding the actual effect on the listener. Meanwhile, bands who are basically a revivalist rock band are unquestionably accepted as ‘psych-rock’ because they play the music the way it was done by that great band back in the late ’60s even though the effect on the listener is not noticeably different to listening to a covers band. The same thing happened with ‘stoner-rock’ a while back. Therefore, a young band comes along and they haven’t seen past the bullshit of labels just yet, and start thinking about playing about with what they’re doing. But it isn’t psych-rock! exclaims their guitarist/producer/ manager/hanger-on/bank manager. And thus the idea is discarded, and we get the old maps out and tell the bass player to stop looking down those dirty alleys, they’re not on this map.

Now the label ‘psych-rock,’ or indeed any label for that matter does not matter as much as one may think it does, certainly it matters less than I may appear to be trying to make it matter. I shall fall back into the realm of absurd analogies, a realm I visit often, to illustrate my point.

Let us suppose that all children and immigrants into our society from now on were going to get all of their knowledge from a select group of teachers, and no other members of society may contradict what these teachers may tell our society’s newbies. Let us then suppose that these teachers started telling their charges that the colour we have come to know as ‘yellow’ is, in fact, ‘blue,’ and vice versa. This process, uninterrupted, would result in a population who had completely opposite views on these respective colours in less than a hundred years, albeit there would be some confusion in the meantime. I dare you to write that screenplay.

Now, whether we call ‘yellow’ ‘blue’ or vice versa doesn’t actually matter a damn; the key thing is that we tend to agree with each other that we’re talking about the same thing when we communicate – this is called ‘consensus reality,’ and it has its uses. But although labels are an occasionally necessary evil, particularly if we want to tell someone what colour towel they should be fetching out of the airing cupboard – why do we need to start describing that label? ‘Well, John, Blue is the label we give to vibrations in light frequency between 610-670 THz, you can’t miss it.’

So where to begin with describing the labels given to music? I mean, go on, describe rock music. Describe psychedelic music. Describe noise-rockDescribe slowcore. Describe post-dubstep. And describe all of those terms in such a way that anyone will know exactly what to expect from any artist tarred with that label. I’ll wait.

Where the problem with this is exacerbated is that Valerio Cosi, for example, may only ever get filed under jazz, experimental or improv, and people will think they don’t like jazz or improv, and certainly not that horrible experimental racket, but they do love themselves some Psych, so they go to the psych ghetto and there they are introduced to Foxygen. But, but, Pitchfork said they were good! And our would be seeker would have discovered that the aural atmosphere created by my favourite Italian saxophonist is in fact every bit as good as I said it was if someone had had the temerity to add ‘psychedelic’ to his many facets. In a way, it’s like the way academics have to fill their work with citations of other academics to justify their own work, why they had the temerity to think of doing the investigation in the first place, and look everybody, we followed the correct protocols and jumped through the right hoops. And as academic knowledge gradually indexes more and more of material reality out of this blob of writings and citations, so musical genres also get labelled as soon as they emerge. In most cases, the artists themselves were probably just doing what felt right/sounded good.

It doesn’t help that almost every artist labels themselves. I’ve yet to find an artist whose primary descriptor for their output is simply ‘music,’ yet every artist who I have mentioned or will mention could quite legitimately do that. To counter the ‘but that wouldn’t be very helpful’ argument, I say this: what label or description would guarantee that you would like an artist? Because two artists could very easily be legitimately described as the same thing and you would hate one and love the other. There is no foolproof way of avoiding music you don’t like when investigating new stuff. Which may be why the majority of humans seem to happily let commercial radio be the gatekeepers who decide which new artists are allowed into their mental space. Clearly this post is not aimed at such people.

Imagine the freedom you would have if you only applied the broadest of categories to who you are and what you could do. Instead of saying I make lo-fi indie-psych-rock-punk, I make music. This means I can make music in any format without violating expectations. Now, I can do that anyway. But people have a serious resistance to having their expectations violated, which is one of the reasons I’m suggesting we should do as little to help create them in the first place. Every expectation created is a potential script/straitjacket to follow. Why do we want to behave as people expect us to?

Now, hondootedly mossis thotcher, there are valid reasons for the existence of labels. I mean, how many different artists can you currently choose from if you were to go to t’internet now and try to find a new musical love? I don’t just mean current, either. How many artists could you theoretically listen to? So, if I were to indulge in this exercise now, even I would probably have to put some genres into a search engine for whatever resource I’m exploring, and I think the jury deciding how varied my taste is must have gone to the pub and got pissed, because if it’s still out, they’re having you on. And I’m quite narrow minded compared to some people I know.

It is no sin to create music that falls squarely within the boundaries that groups of people have decided to label as a genre – there’s a good argument to say that a large percentage of music that is made has to, by definition, be quite conventional. If you consider music as another form of communication, another language, then compare it to the way we use our verbal language – we use the same words as each other so that we may be understood, yet language nevertheless evolves without trying to. So I don’t advocate originality for the pure sake of it, it is my belief that it happens when the time is right – putting yourself in the right conditions, from the artist’s perspective. And always, the work is the king. Do it properly, it basically does itself, so trust your instincts.

However, we seem to have evolved a reward system for people who can make music in a way that successfully communicates to people, a mixture of financial reward and ego-stroking, which interferes with the original intention to communicate. Where there’s success, there’s a support system, in this case the music industry at large – the managers, the agents, the record labels yadda yadda. And once entrenched, they naturally prefer to stay entrenched due to the not insubstantial rewards in this support system, which include more power than you’d realise. Thus, the edifice eventually coalesces into a rigid conservatism where formulas are followed based on what made money previously. Repetitive rituals, basically. And thus we get a situation best described by Alan Moore (one of my appeals to authority!) where the majority of people, including many practitioners, think all of this is just something to pass the time whilst waiting to die.

Come on now, is that how you would describe your most transcendental music experiences?

If it wasn’t for all the places on the internet where unknown artists could show their work, we wouldn’t get heard outside of our circles of friends. Yet, it is this that will make the dominant system redundant, almost a separate enterprise in terms of musical innovation, a bit like children’s fiction has its own niche in our cultural superstore. It is here at the bottom of the pond where the new swings in cultural direction originate, the earth in which they germinate. Everything in the mainstream ultimately has its roots with outsiders.

Ah! But why do we need someone to police what is and what is not acceptable as a trap for young bands to fall into? Well, now we’re asking a more intelligent question. Maybe this is all actually part of the game.

In true Trickster style, indulge me in a thought experiment. Suppose you wanted to communicate something to the widest audience possible, and the message would seem more important than how it was communicated. Well, wouldn’t you go for the best vehicle for the ride? There’s a very good reason that cliches are what they are and passing in the air as I write this is one that goes Keep it Simple, Stupid, so I’ll pluck that out.  We’re back to the idea of needing stories to get an underlying message across, only in this case I’m thinking of stories told in a musical language. Popular music equates to popular musical stories, and if you wanted to reach your widest possible audience, you’d surely use a popular vehicle to get you to the biggest stage you could. If people thought you were actually doing something else such as entertaining them, well, so much the better.

Have you ever noticed how universally simple the main themes of our most popular songs are? They very often boil down to self help workshops, songs of love and devotion and, yes, worship; very often there’s a mix of one or more of the preceding. If, like me, you’ve investigated some esoteric/occult explanations for reality, you’ll probably be aware of the idea that life is about performing your true will – being your true self, remembering who you are. Now this message can be summed up very simply as – I want to be free. You can be free. (Y)Our dreams can come true.

Ever heard any songs with that kind of message?

A similar interpretation can be performed on love songs ultimately being about completing yourself. The point is that there are some truly deep meanings underneath these ‘simple’ songs, much in the same way that fairy tales touch on so many fundamental archetypes of deep culture. We are back in the realms of the legominism. Gradually, listeners find themselves being drawn to the more complex communications once they’ve been engaged, and maybe start exploring, creating maps. In a few cases, they really do go out and find something new, because that’s how it works. But the process got started with those pop songs, and disguised itself as ‘mere’ entertainment. In the same way we don’t actually sniff at children’s books because that’s how we teach people to read, so we shouldn’t sniff at manufactured pop music. It’s where the children learn the language.

Staying with the books analogy – there are gradations of adult fiction, from the bestselling ones right down to the niche, cult books, each adding its own layer of story, and all parties on this spectrum have the same mix of motivations as those those on the music one. For example, this bestselling book actually has a very deep but simple story, the message of which will absolutely be scoffed at by many in my culture, but they are not its intended audience. Believe me, the author doesn’t give a stuff for the opinions of those who don’t agree with him, otherwise he wouldn’t have published it. It’s there for those who understand what he’s saying, even if they don’t consciously grok the full depth of it. The same, then, can be applied whenever my spidey-sense goes about a band who I think are putting it on – maybe they are actually genuine, but I am not their intended audience. My opinions can go hang (I’ve been trying to make them do that for the last three years; unsuccessfully, as these posts demonstrate).

Anyway, the point is that in amongst all the chancers and celebrities and smartarses who make up the successful top tiers of the musical pyramid (plus of course, the really genuine ones who are truly following their muse, who are probably the only artists not limiting themselves to appeals to authority), there are some tricksters there, not as they seem. It’s the job of the listener to sort out who’s who, and how much/ if at all it matters. Also, it’s probably the same proportions all the way down. This means there will be tricksters all the way down, concentrating on the audience they can get using the stages their chosen vehicle can take them to. They may be indistinguishable from those who are doing it because its their most preferred way of passing the time until they die, the ones who follow styles as much from lazy thinking as from a particular passion, and they usually do a reasonable job of playing the part that they mean it, maaaan. In fact, they usually mean it just as much, but not as advertised. The more I think about it, the more necessary I actually think they are.

Maybe they are, in fact, a wink from the elephant in the room.

Ah, have I not mentioned the elephant in the room?

As I’ll discuss on the next (probably last) post in this series, this is why YOU do matter.

Passion or Pastiche? The map versus the territory (part 2)

At the very beginning of this year, the electric blues band that I play bass in had a gig in a village in Leicestershire called Heather (pronounced Heether, for the non Leicesterfarians amongst you). After we had finished and packed up, we discovered that an enormously thick fog had descended in unison with the freezing temperatures which, despite some frankly silly front page headlines, are actually par for the course for this part of the world at this time of year.

Now, we’ve played that venue three or four times a year over the last few years, so I know how to get there and get back. I know the routes very well. However, it is one thing to know the routes but another thing entirely to know the roads themselves, and this became more and more obvious to me as I drove home very slowly through the thick fog that night. Because if you know all the little bends, the bumps and dips, the turns, then you’re not constantly on the edge of your seat. You know what’s coming and when. You may not necessarily drive any faster, but you can drive home in a much more relaxed state of mind. You necessarily must stay alert, but you can actually experience it with less fear; dare I say it, enjoy the ride.

There is, of course, one way, and only one way to get to know the roads, and that is to drive them regularly and with more than a certain amount of awareness of what it is you are doing. It is the same as learning any new skill. It is all about focused practice. Some people may be blessed with seemingly inherent abilities that help learn the new skill faster, but no amount of advantages will be of any use if the activity isn’t practiced. And both the art and the craft of making music is exactly like that, with the possible exception of being a singer but that’s another debate, one on which I’m probably not the best person to present, being a functional singer at best (boy, do I wish I had perfect pitch!)

When embarking on a journey to somewhere you haven’t been before, it is almost certain that you will have to refer to a map at some point. From said map, you will choose a preferred route, and this will in turn be converted into directions, which are basically a sequential list of recommended actions.

But how did the destination make its way on to the map in the first place?

Obviously, someone has to do some exploration. For the purposes of this part of the post, I’m going to assume that the thing we want to make a schematic of (cartographise?!?) is something that pre-exists, rather than a new town that we are going to plan into existence just off this road, next to the dwindling forest, trying not to draw attention to the local landfill.

An explorer is not necessarily going to be drawing a map as they explore, although I suppose it depends on why they’re doing it in the first place – for example, Laurens van der Post did quite some exploration at the request of HM Government. But the initial findings and subsequent representations will necessarily be quite sketchy. Suppose you’ve gone camping somewhere and decided not to follow maps but instead just explore and experience the place you’re in and maybe you find this amazingly beautiful spot, a little stream, maybe, or a hill with a view that is totes amazeballs. Later that night down the pub you may be chatting to someone else who’s doing the same thing as you and you tell them about this place – ‘well, starting from here, you’d go down the crooked path until you reach a really gnarly tree, you’ll know what I mean when you see it – well, there’s like a little path that goes off there to the right, so go that way and…’ You get the idea. Although, there’s also a certain amount of danger doing things this way isn’t there? What if you walk into a swamp just at the same time as a heavy fog descends? Which may be why the vast majority of people carry maps these days when there is a map to hand. Or probably there’s an app for that these days? (I don’t have an app device).

I’m now going to transpose this clumsy metaphor over to the realm of music making, specifically the creation of it.

In my experience, most ideas for music kind of just happen. But they don’t just kind of just happen. You have to be receptive, maybe have an instrument that you’re playing with at the time, although this isn’t a necessary condition (it is also not always a sufficient condition). Most importantly, the mindset must be quite exploratory. Say you’re practising scales, which is uber boring but important if you want to play music a certain way. If all you’re focused on is getting the scale right, then any deviation will just be that, a deviation, must try harder, etc. But if your mindset is more exploratory, then you may say ‘hang on, that sounds quite interesting.’ It could be a jumping off point for a riff, say, and off you go, exploring. Said exploration may then go to a dead end, a well known highway, a dimly lit backstreet, or somewhere you’ve never been before. If you like this place that you’ve never been before, well then, you’ll maybe want to remember it and maybe you’ll want to tell other people about it too – that would be when you start thinking about performance.

But if you want to leave a permanent marker, then you’ll start to consider recording, notation etc. Such a recording can then be thought of as a map for the benefit of others. In the example of written recording, i.e. notation, it is instructions on how to replicate your exploration. An audio recording, however, is often a much more precise representation, because you can get across some of your style of exactly how you got there. The written notation is like directions: turn left, stand on one leg, play the c note and follow it with the f# for an interval and a half, do the hokey cokey etc. The audio recording has all that too – less explicitly but in more detail, so that a listener so inclined can then play along with it more or less exactly, as their desire takes them. Exploring ready made sonic maps in this manner can go (at least) two ways: one, you can get really good at following those directions, you may even be able to play a flawless copy of the original; two, it can start a new exploration.

To my mind, the creative spirit will quite happily explore all available and interesting maps, but will never regard them as fixed. They will be reference points for their own journeys. They may be jumping off points – ‘I love that style, let’s see where I can go if I try it,’ for example. They may also regard them as places to not necessarily go to, but it is enough to know that they are there.

And this is the point where people like me can get quite sniffy about whether or not people really mean it, maaaan. I think what I actually mean is: are they actually exploring? Are they actually telling us about where they’ve been and how they got there? Or are they just cobbling together other peoples maps and slightly rearranging one or two contours without getting their hands truly dirty, taking risks of getting lost in the swamp on a foggy night? Another way of putting it is this: was the destination a conscious decision, the result of reading and following a map? Were they looking for unique stories of the journey, or were they content to send prefabricated postcards?

Of course, sometimes whilst traveling a well known or pre-explored route, something completely unexpected happens, even though the destination was pre-determined. A creative equivalent of a hailstorm, maybe, or getting mugged by some residents who previous explorers didn’t meet. Choosing to go to somewhere that is well known is not in and of itself a bad thing, even for an explorer. Because ultimately, it is the journey itself that is the exploration.

A lot of people don’t care whether they’re listening to sonic postcards, or a unique sonic photo album. For those of us who do, it can be hard to tell, although actual live performance and proximity is a pretty good guide – for example, in my youth I was a fan of Lenny Kravitz; I liked his first album. I went to see him when he toured for his second album, and I stopped liking his music and paid him no further mind.

To my mind, the word ‘art’ can be a synonym for ‘representations of anothers journey.’ I have literally just thought of that. It is so that I can write this: great art is an aid for you to understanding reality, filtered through the perspective of the person whose exploration it is based on. Bad art is made by people who aren’t giving you their perspective or, if they are, it may be incoherent (or both). Obviously it is a sliding scale between the two poles, and I don’t actually treat it as a dichotomy as there are other factors involved. However, it is quite useful for my purposes on this occasion.

So this is where I question the conclusion of the first post: how can it not matter if the artists aren’t giving you their own truth?

I’m paraphrasing Ezra Pound here: Artists are the antennae of their culture. You want to know what’s really going on? Check with the creatives. Their output will prefigure real life experience by varying amounts, but that’s because the truly tuned in types pick up on the undercurrents that eventually swell to the surface, and not every undercurrent will come to the surface. Watching the news is simply getting updates on the waves crashing onto the beach, by which time it’s usually too late to do anything about them, unless you have a surfboard handy.

The very act of putting yourself into the situation of being creative, regardless of motive, is in itself a way of opening the channel. Sure, some people are more receptive and pick things up more clearly, and it may be that the more sincere someone is, the more likely they’ll get a clear reception. On the other hand, you can perhaps care too much. As with everything, striking balance is the key, and will explain why the very best usually don’t take themselves too seriously but are in no way flippant about what they do.

So even a chancer who’s picked up a guitar and joined a neo-psych band ‘cos they’re dead cool, like’ may still contribute something genuinely worthwhile if he happens to be receptive when in the right situation, which in itself is a potential exploration. At the point of starting on these journeys, there is no functional difference between those who are genuine and those who think it makes them look cool – that comes with time on the journey, which they are themselves going to be setting out on using previous maps as guides. It can be very difficult to discern motive amongst people still finding their way, so the best thing to do is simply engage with what they have to say; read the maps or reports that they bring. If it is of no use or interest, discard it. If everyone around you is going nuts over something and it just doesn’t work for you then it doesn’t work for you. Discard it. Go and look for something more interesting.

Yes, there are people out there who have no interest in exploration and are never going to be able to contribute something worthwhile even by accident. Do not let them concern you, even if they are making piles of money and their every move is followed by a fawning press. They may, after all, act as a ‘gateway drug’ for some of their followers who then dive in and go in search of the true currents. And there is nothing to stop a chancer from getting hooked and getting serious – equally, there are far too many serious types who give up too quickly and never really explore.

I’ve thought of a bit of an idea of how to represent what I just wrote, but I’m not sure how to translate it using the limited dimensions of verbal language. Here goes: imagine all previous artistic output (henceforth called pathways – indulge me here) glued together into a giant representation of all artistic exploration, a humungous map. What I think its main features would be are a couple of giant superhighways (maybe more than a couple – maybe as many as some) linked together by many, many pathways of varying levels of ease of travel. There will be openings that don’t quite yet lead anywhere but have the potential to do so with a bit of exploration, and there will be backstreets where you don’t see many visitors, but that’s fine because not everything is for everyone is it? And of course, this is more than 3d. It’s more than 4d. It’s nd.

Now make the map into a maze.

There will also be dead ends, lots of dead ends. If you manage to factor in a way of reading this giant maze which links each pathway to the time it was created, I bet you’ll find that most dead ends would cluster around the time there was a gold rush in the exploration of that area.

And this nd maze doesn’t just work for music, it works for everything – art, literature, science, religion, business, you name it, you can build a similar kind of representation to the one I’ve just tried to describe.

And I think that is the answer to the question of why it bothers me if someone doesn’t mean it, maaan – I think they’re taking me down a dead end, and I’m not a fan of dead ends when there is so much of interest to explore. Especially ones that are not literal in the sense you bump into a wall; instead it takes you in a circle or a spiral or…

…I don’t know. It may also be true that someone of rare insight could probably go into a dead end and pick a way through it which then turns it into a valuable new pathway. Remember, with these explorations, there really are no rules. ‘Thou shalt not’ has no place here.

That’s the trouble with trying to communicate a metaphorical idea using fairly literal tools – this is basically the elephant in the room we’re dealing with here, and this elephant is an ever-changing beast that can at best be felt one limb at a time with a blindfold on, and each snapshot will be from a different perspective. And so on.

Before I kill the metaphor even further I think I’m going to wrap it up here. A future post will be explicitly dedicated to that elephant in the room, but I’m going to swing back over to the stories that accompany artistic exploration in the next one.

Passion or Pastiche? Actually, does it matter? (part 1)

I’ve been toying whether or not to do a post dedicated to Prince Rupert’s Drops, and it feels oddly appropriate that the title track of their new album should therefore lodge itself in my head for the duration whilst I consider it.

Now, the track in question is something I actually have a love/hate relationship with, in that I only really like the chorus. And this in turn is reflected around the whole of this and their debut album – there are some stunning tracks, but there are also some right clunkers. And I can’t really get out of my head the notion that they might not 100% mean it, maaaaan.

Let me turn to another of the neo-‘psych’ bands doing the rounds, one you may be more familiar with.

Goat bring me a lot of pleasure, especially the track ‘Gathering of the Ancient Tribes.’ And the vocalist? I love how her voice frequently borders derangement (totally a word, but not how I meant it). But again, as I listen to the album, the little nagging voice seems to harp on – passion or pastiche?

Why does it matter?

Why is it that I, and indeed many others, demand that anyone who releases music that I listen to is equal in their passion for music that I am? Do I make the same demands of artists who I don’t listen to? The answer is no. I don’t. Especially with pop bands, because I see that as a genre full of people whose primary motivation is fame and celebrity, and the music as a vehicle by which to accomplish this, but it also tends not to bother me if, say, Slipknot turn out to have been a marketing exercise because I don’t personally like their music or their chosen genre of expression.

Also, I work in a library, and have done for nearly 10 years. It was not an obvious place my ‘career’ was heading prior to, and I won’t be surprised if I move on somewhere else at some point; my life has been somewhat like that. The point is, I do it, I sometimes even enjoy it, but I’m not passionate about it even though I still expect to get paid for it. Should I give it up because of my lack of passion? What about football players? People who flip burgers for a living?

There’s a lot to be unpacked in the above, and to do it properly, we’re going to have to range away from music. And seeing as it’s me (you’ll get used to me), let’s go a bit weird.

Tell me, have you ever read The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen? The rest of this post will probably make more sense if you have; if not, try it anyway.

I mention that book principally because it is a master legominism. You know what a legominism is, don’t you?

Mentioned in the above book is the saga of Carlos Castaneda, and the books he wrote about the Yaqui sorceror Don Juan Matus, and how the story Carlos gives about the experience doesn’t seem to match whatever it was he was actually doing at the time, and that there are a lot of people who think he made the whole experience up.

I might controversially say that this sort of thing could be applied to the whole story of Jesus. There are people, not just atheists, who put the theory forward that dude simply didn’t exist, or if he did, he was a man who did some stuff, and then in the centuries after his life, stories got attached to him and eventually built a monolithic legend from which a religion could be built, a religion that had more than some things in common with (at least) one of its rival religions at the time, and also just so happened to be of some use to the dominant social control system of the time. After all, any sizeable society has never lacked for would be preachers. With a little imagination, we could quite easily imagine that in a couple of hundred years, a reasonably sized cult/religion could have sprung up around the Toltec Warrior teachings, though I’m feeling too stupid to give it a flashy name at the moment.

In fact, if you look all around the whole subject, you’ll probably find a certain ambiguity around pretty much all such stories surrounding any new movement, especially where their origin stories interesect with reality, or don’t, as the case may be. The waters from which the contemporary version of the New Age movement emerged, for example, are very murky indeed.

But – does this mean that we should discard absolutely everything associated with a story just because there are some things about it we don’t like because they don’t satisfy some criteria that we apply when judging things, criteria we might be slightly less zealous in applying to our own favourite stories? Or – if we’re going to discard the bathwater, shouldn’t we first check to make sure there isn’t also a baby in there? Particularly if you weren’t the one who ran the bath to begin with.

Just try this viewpoint on and see how it fits: whether Carlos Castaneda actually went to Mexico and studied with someone called Juan Matus is actually unimportant. It is irrelevant to the message. The same is true as to whether or not Jesus was a physical human being. Arguing either for or against the existence of the figures in question is an entirely different argument from whether or not the teachings are useful. So then the real question becomes: how good are the teachings? Are they useful tech? And that is a question you need to answer for yourself, to your own satisfaction.

It seems that, for whatever reason, instead of accepting that there can be some really useful ideas about how to live life, we need to believe that these ideas came from one person and that the accompanying story has to be spectacular. We don’t seem to be able to accept these things from prosaic sources, there has to be fireworks, sacrifice, hardships, and hopefully some sex and drugs too. Therefore, the teachings gather the best story that enable them to reach their widest audience. Whether or not the stories themselves are conscious entities purposely doing these things, or blind constructs simply following strategies that ensure their maximal propagation, or simply tricks of our own perception is again irrelevant, and I would argue unknowable.

So, to bring these entirely non-rational ramblings back to my starting words (even though I admit that the examples are not exactly commensurate), does it matter that some artists who are trying to capture my attention may not actually be quite what they say they are? Are we only able, nay allowed, to enjoy music if the person(s) who made it were living, breathing, sweating the stuff?

Well, let’s re-frame the question. Is the music good? Is it useful tech? And if the answer to either of these questions is a genuine and heartfelt YES (and again, only you can answer that question), then the accompanying story is therefore irrelevant. For those who say no, however, the stories then become a stick to beat the music with, which again misses the point in my view – if you don’t like the music, just say you don’t like the music. No excuses are needed. Nothing more is necessary.

Speaking as a Creator, I can vouch for the fact that when the really good stuff comes there is very little conscious effort involved. It feels more like channelling than going to work or doing an essay or writing a blog post. Assuming that the same is true for other artists, I could posit the following in relation to this argument: the intention of the artist may simply be to make music in order to enhance their chances of becoming famous; the intentions of the music, however, may be somewhat different and are simply using the most useful and/or available channel through which to realise their intentions. (I realise that I have just hypothesised Music as a being with intentions, and you probably shouldn’t take that bit too seriously but do at least entertain the metaphor, offer it a cup of tea and a sit down. The point is possibly elucidated better in the quote from Impro halfway down this post.)

Of course, then comes the graft of realising what was released in this manner, and it is probably then that the story around it gets written. Where I fall down is usually in writing an accompanying story; I simply don’t do it.

I get the impression that audiences don’t want to believe that the music simply happens because the musicians happened to be in the right frame of mind with the right conditions; such a scenario implies that anybody can do it (and indeed, so too with the mystical examples listed above, and I chose them deliberately because that is exactly their point!). For whatever reason, and I have a whole host of ideas as to why this might be but I’m not going into them now, we prefer that anything new has to be accompanied by a genius or a hero, and it should have a compelling story holding its hand. We need to give medals and awards and we need to populate pedestals, so much so that we often do all of this for the benefit of people who don’t even have the grace to give anything in return. But to reiterate, don’t get stuck in the rut of judging the stories – look at the content, the output. If it has the right effect on you, then it needs no further justification, from you or anybody else. If it doesn’t, then ignore it. It probably wasn’t meant for you anyway.

In part 2 of this, I will possibly contradict most of what I said above, but in the true spirit if TTATP, both posts will be useful…

However, the next post will be a resumption of normal service, and a band that I will be amazed if you haven’t heard of before. Which means you may not have heard of them before.