I keep coming back time after time to this matter because PURPOSE is incredibly important as the starting point of any endeavor, and I've always felt there is tension between the two activities mentioned in the title, a tension that nobody else seems to notice or care much about.
I do because music is the big frickin' thing for me, I stand in that crossroads and cannot settle for a generic answer.
What do I mean by tension, you ask? Well, on one hand, for me, music is, or it can be in its highest moments, one of the most elevated things that a human being can experience on this planet.
On the other hand, however, I've been to plenty of concerts by now, and not everything that happens in those realms could be what someone would call "elevated"; on the contrary, some of the things that are prone to happen in those events, and some human specimens you find there, are base and with a filthy taste that is very connatural to them.
So we have two things that are opposite, and at the same time strongly connected, joined at the hip. Therefore, the tension.
It isn't either an intro-extrovert kind of thing, a la "the intro loves the detail of the records but gets exhausted by the massive, sweaty concerts". The exchange of energy that happens in certain concerts, with moments of actual communion, are nothing to be scoffed at (one personal favorite of mine: a band playing in the open, with the set starting as the sun goes down, so the music takes you into the night... One of the best ways I know to remind yourself you're alive).
Then what is it? I don't know for sure, maybe there's not a clearcut answer, but I found some clues in a book written only 25 centuries ago.
To my surprise and delight, Aristotle's Politics dedicates a huge chunk of the book's final section to the question of whether children should be taught music or not. He concludes that they must, but under certain conditions; he considers that music is the only art that resembles emotions (a melody can be sparse, passionate...), so its teaching can be useful to help people learn domain of the self, restraint...
When describing leisure, he distinguishes three possible finalities for it: relaxation, virtue ("benefiting leisure", so to speak), and recreation, and he considers that music has benefits in all three areas.
However, and here's the limitation, he warns that "paid musicians" are "often vulgar", because they don't practice music with an aim of elevation and self knowledge, but wanting to entertain a crowd, even at the price of resorting to the most servile resources, if the occasion requires it. Therefore, he concludes, young people must be taught music only to the extent to which they are capable to appreciate by themselves the merit of a good performance in others...
There it is again, the tension between sublime and vulgar, perfectly described by a guy who has been a speck of dust for the latest 2500 years -I guess that's why they call them classics-.
How do you deal with such contradiction? I'll have to resubscribe to my previous post; each musically inclined individual will have to find and draw his/her own private line on a different place. As for myself, the jury is still out; by now I know that I am not very big on vulgar (although I have my moments, like every one) and that I'd really like to be some day that guy up there on the stage, summoning the night for all the folks. I'd really like that, but not at any price...
I threatened with it a few posts ago, and now it's a fact: here's my first effort in the field of moving pictures at the service of rock and roll. I hope you enjoy it.
(I had to change to this URL format after bad experiences with the embedded video; sorry if the previous version autoplayed in your face as it does in certain browsers. I am also trying to resist as much as possible to upload to those YouTube swine...)
The song is included in Black Sheep Riot's self titled first album, which you can find here.
As for the new album, it is (*driving me nuts*) coming along nicely; I still find difficult to commit to a release date because my life in the latest times is like an army of butterflies bumping into my window every day, each of them causing their infamous well-known effect, what makes clarity and timelines an expensive commodity. But advances are being made...
One of the Lean mottos that I have most in the front of my mind lately is "If you are not visual, you are not Lean". In the end, we need to make our problems visual, to put our thoughts in front of our eyes, before we can do anything to solve them.
The kanban board is one of the classic Lean tools, and it is deceptively simple. In its basic manifestation, it only has 3 columns, "Pending", "Doing", "Done". You create a "card" or "sign" (kanban in japanese) for each thing you want to do, and you start to flow them from left to right through the process.
As with most of the Lean tools, what is important here is the thought discipline that this generates in you. As you start to visualize your work, you start to understand it better. You get ideas of how to make the whole thing flow better. Then one day you find that, for example, it might make sense to break the "Doing" category into two, depending on different states of the thing you're making (for example, speaking of songs, "composing", when the whole structure is complete, vs "Recording"). The cards on the board tell you where you are, how many items are on each area, etc...
Another benefit of the kanban board, and not a little one, is that it helps you do one thing at a time. It seems there is a certain flaw in our brains that makes us think, whenever we have a lot of things to do, that we have to do all "at the same time". It's like our brain always lives in the present moment, no sense of "now this one, later that one". But when we SEE this item is here, Work In Process, while the other one is on its left, "behind", maybe waiting for x to happen... We automatically feel relieved.
And besides, as you can move the items through space, you can also prioritize them and become more strategic.
This reflection comes now to me because the other day, after a period of some pondering, feeling somewhat cluttered and needing the new level of clarity, I finally had an important "eureka" about a better visual device for the flow of my songs. (A visual device must be simple, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to get it to be that simple).
I used to have different kanban boards for my different b(r)ands, which implied a lot of duplication whenever I came up with an improvement in the process. Now I've found a way to color code things so that they can coexist on one single page, making a gazillion of information available without giving you a headache. The transformation took me a couple of hours, but I have to say it was one of those couple of hours where you're so fascinated that you hardly can stand up from the seat. Suddenly I was seeing my work in a completely different manner, and feeling motivated and energized again, knowing exactly what to do next.
Short after finishing this visual, it came to me a new riff for one of the songs I have in the "composing" column. Busy as I've been with the other stages of recording, it's been long since the Muse last visited me. I'm pretty sure that this was no coincidence; a gap was created, and where there's a space, there can always be a playground :)
A misconception about standards that is often mentioned -and it's a good thing that we keep clearing it out, as it is still very embedded-, is that they make you somehow "robotic", that they stifle creativity. In reality it's exactly the opposite; what you standardize are the "sure things", that stuff that you have to always remember; those things that are like "paper cuts" ready to kill you if you just try to hold them all in your mind. And also, once you have all those little bastards in front of you, on a list, diagram or other device, you can start to play with their sequence, find better ways of doing things... It's a bit like composing music, really.
If this misconception is important to clarify in any area of activity, perhaps that's even more so when you take it to music making, at least the music I love and make, that "Triangle" of rock-metal-punk where I live happily.
Those three genres were born as different forms of rebellion against the establishment, the status quo, those-who-came-before-us, and a word like "standardization", often hijacked by concreteheads who disguise themselves in a suit of logic to do horrible things, has the potential to cause a visceral repulsion in a lot of people who have a heart and have been misinformed.
It doesn't help, either, that rock was born as a rebellion belonging to the young generations; a response against a culture too elder oriented that exploited and gaslit them. Younger generations, it's a simple fact of biology, are not usually very rational or disciplined; at that age in life you're, rather, in kind of a "buffet mode", more interested in gathering all kind of varied experiences, still dazzled with all the joy, the novelty and "superpowers" that come from being a young adult, but not necessarily in an orderly or rational manner.
(This is another misunderstanding that I'd also like to mention; as you get older, if you have eyes in your face, your discontentment will follow you, but the way to express that discontentment when you're 40 cannot be the same as when you're 20. What I often see is people who, as they grow older, either 1) give up completely "that rebellion thing", considering it's just something that belongs to an age of human development that they have outgrown -this is lazy, poor quality thinking in my book, but to each their own-, or 2) they stick to their "this sucks" guns but in a "frozen in time" way, still acting in that disorderly way that is a glory to see in 20-something guys, but that starts to feel a bit forced when that guy sticks to it year after year without changing a iota, as sort of a learned pose, or an "ID".)
But back to the standards. Discontentment follows you sometimes in your life as you grow, but other changes happen too; getting some sleep starts to become an issue now and then, one day you find out that certain pains stay with you longer than they used, body hair changes locations...
Fortunately, those new ages offer room for improvement too. As you learn, as you plan things instead of rushing headlong in all directions as you used to do, you get the "itch" for improvement. You find that, by working deliberately, tasks that used to take 10 energy units and 50 minutes can now take only 8 units and say 28 minutes. And even that is just a new baseline from which you can improve even more.
That's the "superpower" of the new vital age, and it applies to rock and the art of rebellion just as any other realm. What's rebellious about starting a concert late and feeling tired because it took you for ever to find the right cable? How about a shadow board, dude, or a checklist, that you do once and you're done with the whole frickin thing, on to a better use of your/our time? For example playing better the song that is going to make somebody's day, or it's going to be the wake up call or the helping hand for someone, or the chill out environment where deals are agreed, or the soothing air for the shy lovers to finally take the first step...
And the circumstances have changed. Society -if there's still any point in using that word- is no longer elderly focused. The whole population is getting older, let's not pretend we are what we are not, rock is about being yourself...
If you wear out yourself with prep work in the name of how rebel you are, you're just making a fool of yourself. We need a different kind of protest from you. There's a lot at stake here.
So standards win the race. They can be a middle finger in the face of those who standardize what shouldn't be done at all. Someone compared standards to the lines on the road. They just pave the way, but you're free to choose which way you take; they will just liberate your time from the silly things so that you can use it for the ones that matter. So that you can be the radiant, creative human being we all need, instead of yet another slave of drudgery.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it