Thoughts and Meta-Thoughts

Time is a strange tunnel, a hazy, imperfect continuity, telescoping violently, with no warning or logic. Events that transpired not twelve hours earlier feel like they happened days ago, while those from years ago can feel like just last week.

Apparently, it’s been just over four years since my last post here – the time went by freaky fast! (I regret to inform you Jimmy John’s is no longer a sponsor, so for that, I may be sued.) I still remember conceiving of this site in late 2012, and it looks like I could barely keep it together for more than a year. Now I realize the main reason for such a weak track record is how much pressure I created for myself. Without realizing it, I had established arbitrary constraints that each post be either a refined (and relatively long) essay or an excessive link roundup of everything interesting I had come across in the past week (which was…a lot). While I still think both types of posts are valuable, they are both also a huge time-drain to create.

Amusingly, I’ve already addressed this failure directly, detailing the exact reasons essays, in particular, are unsustainable for me to write and post with any regularity. Despite this realization, I didn’t progress in any new way that made posting here fun or sustainable.

Lowering the threshold for the requirements of what constitutes a “valid” post is part of a philosophical problem I’m trying to tackle, which relates to the finality and attempted perfection of a released creation (song, artwork, essay, etc.) Being a perfectionist (who perpetually creates deeply imperfect and flawed things) has resulted in analysis paralysis for most things I make, which translates into an enormous volume of creations that no one other than myself has seen. So the relaunch of Thoughts Involuntary is a concerted effort, along with new methods of creating and releasing my music (and art in general), to allow spontaneity and imperfection to pervade my projects, to value shipping over the refinement of something ad nauseam.

So I’d like to recommit to that vision of creating posts that are more concise, more spontaneous, and just a bit less refined. Ideally, they’ll be insightful as well, but no guarantees!

Being on Twitter (pre-280 characters) more regularly helped show me the value of concision, and while I doubt the new, shorter posts here will at all resemble any of my vaguely ok Twitter jokes or anything from the Showerthoughts subreddit (I can be pretty humorless when I write non-fiction), I’d like to align this project with their general economy.

It’s also worth adding that while I still plan to write about very specific topics (I’ll slowly be documenting and adding them here with reckless abandon), many of my newest threads of thought and writing concern the very act of thinking itself, the patterns I’ve noticed arise. I’d argue that this may be the most important thinking and writing endeavor: exploring and documenting the ways your mind functions, its tendencies and idiosyncrasies. Doing so can allow you to hack it, both to increase its efficiency and productivity, but also enable you to establish mechanisms to be a happier, more fulfilled person.

Ok this post is already too long and boring to be useful to anyone other than myself, so if my purpose was to emulate every other blog in the history of the world, I’ve started off on the right foot!

Let’s get to it.

Nota Bene: Leo Tolstoy On Cognitive Dissonance


I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

Leo Tolstoy, excerpt from “What Is Art?”

Nota Bene: Seneca – On the Philosopher’s Seclusion


As to the course which I seem to you to be urging on you now and then, my object in shutting myself up and locking the door is to be able to help a greater number. I never spend a day in idleness; I appropriate even a part of the night for study. I do not allow time for sleep but yield to it when I must, and when my eyes are wearied with waking and ready to fall shut, I keep them at their task.

I have withdrawn not only from men, but from affairs, especially from my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them. There are certain wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread.

– excerpt, Letters from a Stoic – Letter VIII: “On the Philosopher’s Seclusion”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist

Drum & Bass: Behind the Music

Here’s an excellent little behind-the-scenes documentary (23 min.) on three great UK drum and bass artists: Squarepusher, Photek, and Source Direct. It’s especially exciting for me (and I imagine other computer musicians like me) to see how producers back in the 90s were making music at home. Hardware samplers, sequencers, and mixers were an essential part of it, whereas now a single laptop can do everything.

Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is the most impressive of the bunch here – very humble, and even this early on he’s clearly making the most complex, intricate music of the bunch. If you’ve heard his records before, this comes as no surprise. He talks about how he’s obsessed with listening to all kinds of rhythm-based music from every period past and present – jazz, funk, drum and bass, etc. He wants to be exposed to it all. This philosophy is also unsurprising given the maximalist complexity of his compositions, which are clearly his restless experiments to synthesize and expand upon all the rhythms he’s encountered. Seeing how bare bones his studio is is also quite inspiring. He’s able to do so much with so little because of the unique processing abilities of his most complex computer – his brain!

The guys in Source Direct also get points for being so honest and raw. I like how matter-of-factly they state that living in the middle of nowhere means their lives basically consist of making beats, driving fast cars, doing drugs, drinking, and girls. Since they only put out two albums, most recently in 1999, it’s clear this philosophy didn’t exactly have longevity built into it, but again, it’s honest. It’s completely understandable that guys growing up in such an isolated location, one so antithetical to the music they create, would have such a straightforward, reductionist outlook, especially when they felt alienated from school and the mainstream youth culture of most of their peers.

Thread Catalog 2013-05-31

Thread Catalog is a new weekly feature rounding up links pertaining to the issues most relevant to Thoughts Involuntary: science, music, art, creativity, technology, etc.

Thread Catalog for the week ending May 31st, 2013.

Movies in Color [film, design] – “A blog featuring stills from films and their corresponding color palettes. A tool to promote learning and inspiration. Updated daily.” Above is a great example from the site, deconstructing a classic shot from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Chicago’s last film processing company shuts down [film, technology] – “After 45 years of processing major films, from ‘The Blues Brothers’ to ‘The Dark Knight’, Chicago’s Astro Labs has shut down.” Sad news, but understandable. Analog formats just don’t make sense anymore in terms of price and workflow. High definition video offers the path of least resistance with great results, and eventually it will truly be able to replicate film’s aesthetic qualities, which is the main reason people like Christopher Nolan care about it (that and nostalgia). (Btw, the only people who should really be upset about the medium are avant-garde filmmakers like Ernie Gehr or Peter Kubelka, who actually required discrete, physical frames to properly do their work; but even people like Gehr and Ken Jacobs have happily taken up digital video.)

Vatican corrects Pope: Atheists are still going to hell [religion, atheism] – Amusing. Related to the story I featured in last week’s TC.

Popcorn Noises [music, criticism] – Cool music blog I found recently that features the author’s very personalized listening journal. I like his writing because it often incorporates his perception of the band, which I think is a more realistic representation of the way we experience music. It might be ideal to meet each song on its own terms, as if we had never heard of the band before, but more often than not part of why we like or don’t like a band’s new record is based heavily on what they’ve done before, and what we are aware they can or cannot do well.

Studio Science: Four Tet On His Live Set [music, music technology, video] – Red Bull Music Academy kills it again with this video of the amiable Kieran Hebden discussing the ins and outs of his live set.

quincunx [language, geometry, design] – “a geometric pattern consisting of five points, four in a square with one more in the middle of the square.” From Latin, literally ‘five twelfths,’ from quinque ‘five’ + uncia ‘twelfth.’ Had honestly never heard that term before, but I’m a big fan of simple words that describe very specific things. Nice vocab addition.

Curators Code [internet, writing] – A method for attributing content using special unicode symbols. ᔥ is used to mean via, thereby attributing a direct discovery. ↬ is used as a symbol for hat tip, indicating “a link of indirect discovery, story lead, or inspiration.”

Australia ranked ‘happiest’ developed nation again [sociology, psychology] – “Australia has been ranked the world’s happiest nation among developed economies for the third year running.”

Facebook bows to campaign groups over ‘hate speech’ [internet, ethics] – I had no idea about this, but apparently Facebook has faced criticism after not removing a graphic video depicting the decapitation of a woman in Mexico.

India’s ancient university returns to life [education, history] – “Nalanda University in northern India drew scholars from all over Asia, surviving for hundreds of years before being destroyed by invaders in 1193. The idea of Nalanda as an international centre of learning is being revived by a group of statesmen and scholars led by the Nobel prize winning economist, Amartya Sen.”

California Obamacare Insurance Exchange Announces Premium Rates, Lower Than Expected [healthcare, economics] – “I was indeed shocked by the proposed premium rates—but not in the way you might expect. I was experiencing the shock of rates far lower than what I expected — even at the lowest end of the age scale.”

Vintage Synth Explorer [music technology] – “Since 1996, the Vintage Synth Explorer has been providing a fast and easy way to learn about vintage synthesizers. We have grown to include modern digital synthesizers, analog emulators, soft-synths, plug-ins, and other forms of electronic musical instruments.” An amazing resource that I’ve come to many times for isolated reasons, but you could definitely get lost in here.

Synthmania [music technology] – Another amazing synth resource. Has tons of mp3 samples of many synths’ presets. Very useful, especially if you’re on the lookout for picking up some new hardware.

And for good measure, I’ll include one more Movies in Color image. From the Coen Brothers’ excellent film A Serious Man, we have a true visual representation of threads of involuntary thought: