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.

Thoughts on Thoughts Involuntary

forest-stream

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
-Laozi

The mind works in endlessly fascinating ways. It took a moment of clarity during meditation for me to realize the solution to a problem with this blog that’s been plaguing me for some time.

The problem is this: I have many, many thoughts about many, many topics. I enjoy expounding on my ideas at length, and even attempt to do research to strengthen their validity. As a result, each post I write ends up being fairly long. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it is if I intend for this blog to actually be a regular, functioning space for posting my thoughts, and not some sort of permanent, finalized project.

Thoughts Involuntary is an intermediary project on the road to a book. I shouldn’t expect each post to be fully developed and researched to the point of being an essay. These essay posts I’ve been doing have been taking me hours to put together. That’s not realistically sustainable given my other commitments (music being the primary one).

Thus, from now on I’m going to be doing much smaller posts, with intermittent longer posts on the things I think really deserve it, or to which I’ve had ample time to devote. The benefits are severalfold:

  1. this blog won’t sit idle for weeks or months on end until I have the time and energy to devote to an essay-length post
  2. it will train me to accept incomplete, half-formed thoughts (which in my perfectionist mind, are all too similar to mistakes)
  3. it will get me in the habit of posting regularly, which allows me to master the blog as an instrument, and
  4. it will further enhance my own thinking

Reading one’s own thoughts creates a feedback loop that only strengthens the process of thinking. Talking to yourself helps you think more efficiently and successfully, and writing things down does the same. It allows you to process things in a more lasting way. In elevating my thoughts to the level of a blog post, and not simply the ephemeral multi-tweet rant, then I can easily tag my thoughts, reference them, and return to them when I’m ready to further develop them.

Additionally, if even some of my thoughts (even if only partially formed and clumsily articulated) can influence others in positive ways, then that makes this project all the more worthwhile. Waiting weeks and weeks to post a five-paragraph essay on a single topic only minimizes the opportunities for this kind of effect.

Posting more often can lead to a dangerous habit of quantity over quality. Trust me when I say I’ve lived by that maxim before. But that’s not my goal. I don’t care about the number of times I post – for me, quality will always trump quantity. However it’s been a long, internal struggle for me to understand that a few well-written sentences can do more than an essay or book ever could. This will further reinforce that philosophy. My hope is that Thoughts Involuntary posts will become just a bit more like haiku: nimble and well-crafted.

This post has itself, ironically, become longer than I intended for it to be, but the energy and amount of time has been a fraction of what my past posts have been, and what’s more, it’s been more enjoyable – it feels more spontaneous and effortless, and less like a labored school assignment.

I believe the purpose of this blog is truly a positive one – to help chart, uncover, and demystify the workings of my own mind in hopes of uncovering truths about all of us. It’s a strange situation we find ourselves in: to learn that the mind and body that seem to be so uniquely us, in some lasting way, and under our control, in some volitional way, are neither. It’s profoundly unsettling, and while after some thought and research I was able to accept it as truth, it has been really quite difficult to comprehend the countless moral, social, and existential implications.

So in my effort to think through these things, allow me to start the journey anew.