A Place to Grow

If you look closely you will see that this ficus tree was not planted at all. It stands above the ground, retaining the shape it had when it was growing inside a pot, in an apartment on the other side of the street.

After she left him, he became morose. Is there a word that combines despair and anger? That’s what he felt, especially late at night, after drinking too much beer. One such night, he noticed that the little tree she had cared for wasn’t doing so well. Maybe that was because of the cigarettes he stubbed out and left in the dirt. Or maybe it was because he didn’t remember to water it. He certainly didn’t sing or speak to it as she had often done. In a fit of despair-rage he picked up the plant by the trunk and flung it from the balcony. The dirt was dry and so the little tree easily slipped out of the pot, which fell and shattered on the balcony, and flew in a glorious arc across the street and landed somewhere in the dark. The root ball, and the dirt it clung to, was the heaviest part of the little tree and thus lead the way, which is why it landed right side up on the sloping meadow. Later that night it rained and by the morning little roots were drilling down into the grass and the dirt below, anchoring the tree to this spot. It had found a place to grow.

Moving Forward

the need becomes desire
the power of desire gets channeled into practice
over time practice becomes ritual
eventually, unstoppably, ritual creates change

Chicken or Egg

When do we shape ideas and when are we shaped by ideas? It has to be a continuous interaction and often the lines are so blurred as to be unrecognizable.

I have been working on rhythms for the “Rain Album”, which I think of as a combination of “slow” + “One Guitar”, but with upright bass added on some of the tracks. I listened to many different rain recordings and looked for patterns that could be used as the rhythm bed for a new song. So far I identified five rain rhythms that I worked with. The next step was to find a section that was steady enough, meaning that it didn’t speed up or slow down perceptibly, and to find other sounds, like water drops, that I could add to make some accents stronger.

What makes this difficult is that rain has to have an element of randomness in order to sound like rain. If rain was metronomical it wouldn’t sound like rain. Similarly, if I picked too short of a loop you would quickly hear that it is a loop. There is a fine balance that has to be found. Tricky, but fun.

I don’t know what the guitar parts will sound like and feel that I have to open myself to playing along with the rain rhythms to discover what works. In other words, new territory.

It is typical that I would attempt a project like this when most of my life has been in upheaval. That is not a qualitative statement, just a statement of fact. One should think the smart thing would have been to make an album of music that sounds familiar, that is easy, that is like a perfectly worn-in shoe, especially so soon after a huge move, and while having to figure out a new way to record music. I didn’t only give up a studio that was familiar after nearly thirty years of recording, I am also starting with a new recording platform. I switched from a 2003 computer to a 2021 laptop and moved from Pro Tools 6.9.1 to what is probably PT 15 – in 2018 they stopped counting at PT12 and moved to a date/time based nomenclature, the latest of which is version 22-7, meaning July of 2022. I am currently using the laptop screen and the laptop trackpad and find that the screen is too small – I was working with two screens before, and each of those was bigger than this screen – and that I miss using a mouse. I can obviously improve my game by buying an additional screen and a mouse, but the point I am trying to make is that the music seems to mirror what I am going through. Perhaps that’s what my music has always been like, a mirror of the current state of my heart and head. I always ignored the advice of record companies and managers and instead made albums that I wanted to hear.

What does it feel like? It feels like I am a scout who has been dropped into a new landscape and is trying to make sense of it. This is a new landscape literally and figuratively. I live in new locations and as I familiarize myself with the new landscapes I am also learning a new way to record music, to work with music. So, there’s scouting happening all around. Life feels a little bit like those rain rhythms. It’s not super stable or steady, the patterns keep changing, new sounds surprise, and sometimes delight, and I am not sure where it is all going. No wonder I am enjoying Laozi and the Tao Te Ching at the moment. Be like water.

I think steadiness and predictability is only an illusion anyway. It’s a nice illusion and we all crave it, but it’s a fragile thing. If it does not rain a farm will have no crops. We can be hit by a bus while running across a street or, if you are in America, can be shot by some unhappy dude with an AR-15 who decides to go on a rampage.

In other words, I am trying to embrace the flux I am in and learn to enjoy it. The next album will very much be a record of this. Rain rhythms that are somewhat steady, but full of little surprises, and guitar music that somehow fits into that painting. I can feel hints of this music, which is like seeing a shadow turn a corner, like smelling the perfume of a person who has already left the room, or like a dish that contains a flavor that seems familiar but can’t quite be identified.

It’s a hell of a journey I say with a smile. Glad to have you along.

History

I think most of us can remember getting caught in a lie or a deed that got us into trouble. The brain worked feverishly to come up with a suitable excuse while the parent was simply shaking their head in disbelief.

I imagine many slave owners knew in their bones that it was wrong but searched for excuses for their enslavement of people. If we can only come up with reasons why the enslaved is inferior to the enslaver… then we might be able to continue with this business. See scientific racism (Wikipedia).

If I remember history correctly, slavery existed for millennia but, until a few centuries ago, people never came up with the excuse of the slave being inferior — slaves were simply the soldiers and people who had lost the war and therefore became the slaves of the victors.

These days we hear politicians claiming that migrants and immigrants are inferior people, or even criminals. Throughout history animals and humans have migrated. The reasons were droughts or disagreements or simply the search for a different life. Foragers rarely fought and it was more likely that groups would split up and go their different ways. One such splinter group may have led the exodus out of Africa. So, in essence every non African is a migrant.

Many Silicon Valley hotshots own property in New Zealand – Business Insider, Bloomberg, The Guardian. People buy property in coutries to obtain a golden visa. How is that morally superior to a family needing to leave a drought zone, a war zone, or a zone that has no opportunities for their children? And then there is climate change. Shouldn’t the industrial nations, who contributed more to causing climate change, help people displaced by climate change?

I wonder whether, just a few decades from now, history will view the issues surrounding immigrants today as similar to how slavery was once seen. Is migration the new slavery? I was reminded of a sentence I read in the excellent book Grand Hotel Europe, by Ilya Leonard Pfeijffer:

Those who believe they are suffering tend to blame people who are suffering even more. The weak are generally gunning for the even weaker.

Those are two deeply troubling sentences. I have reread them many times and can’t claim that they are wrong.

Hospitable

Friday 29 July 2022 – The Monocle Minute | Monocle:

This week, Portugal’s government moved to relax visa restrictions for fellow Lusophone countries, while Germany is reforming its immigration system to ease its worker shortage. Japan, however, continues to suffer from an ageing yet historically immigration-averse population.

Without immigration, we’re all heading in Japan’s direction. UK census data shows that there are now more people aged 65 and over in England and Wales than children under the age of 15. Despite this, the contenders to be the UK’s next prime minister seem resolutely anti-immigration, echoing the political debate that has been seen in both France and the US in recent years. They should instead be making a positive case for the more considered and systematic immigration policy that’s clearly needed. Wealthy nations face a stark choice. Following the lead of Portugal and Germany by becoming more hospitable to foreigners would be a good place to start.

I love that word Lusophone, because it sounds like a musical instrument, some kind of large horn perhaps.

Here is a paragraph from the book “Grand Hotel Europa” by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer

Those who believe they are suffering tend to blame people who are suffering even more. The weak are generally gunning for the even weaker. And the fact that there are hardly any boat refugees or other African immigrants in Venice may not form an impediment to identifying them as the source of all evil.

and

Separatism arises from a nostalgia for better times which may or may not have actually existed. It’s tempting to think that the solution to today’s problems might be to turn back the clock to a time when those problems didn’t yet exist. This is the lure of right-wing populism, which in essence is nostalgic. Discontent and fears are roused, stoked up and magnified, and then an idyllic, idealized past is presented as the solution. We need to close our borders again, bring back our quaint old currency, let church bells ring and shut down mosques, restore military service to its former glory, sing the national anthem and fetch our former decency from the attic and polish it until it is a shining beacon in the dark night.

When I hear people talk about the good old days, and how simple things used to be, I think they don’t actually mean a certain period of time but a particular stage in their own life. The life of a five year old is indeed simple. Your parents tell you what to do and they love you, feed you, give you shelter – if things go well for you. As we grow up, however, things should change, in fact they need to change, because increasing consciousness leads to increasing complexity. Now the simple lines, that were once drawn with a sharpie, gain modulation, become pencil drawings that grow bolder here and finer there, because graphite pencils have 16 degrees of hardness. Eventually color is added, for even more variation and complexity. When people say that they want to return to a simple life I think they really mean that they want to go back to being a child.

Sunflower


In a narrow cobblestone alley a few sunflowers have sprung up. Were they planted or did they surprise? In any case, they seem well cared for. The flowers are tied to bamboo poles that hold them up. The ground appears to be watered. An older person might be the caretaker of these flowers, judging by the handrail that was installed to help them negotiate the three steps into the house. It’s a simple bathroom handrail, like the ones I installed in my house, when my dad lived there. The handrail is simple and artless, in a beautiful way, making me imagine that an engineer lives here. If the sunflowers were volunteers, they could not have picked a better spot. They look perfect in front of the yellow house. Or perhaps the engineer has a partner who wanted to obscure the practical handrail by planting sunflower seeds and watering them. The gleam of the chromed handrail won’t be quite as obvious if sunflowers grow here, they might have thought.