I am intrigued by the sense that culture itself has a wild edge. As Claude Levi-Strauss remarked years ago, the arts are the wilderness areas of the imagination surviving, like national parks, in the midst of civilized minds.

This is a quote, tweeted by a Gary Snyder Quotes Account, from the book The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder, published in 1990.

Wilderness of nature and wilderness of culture. Wilderness outside and wilderness inside. I believe we need both to flourish. Some people are uncomfortable with wilderness of nature or of culture, but they also reap the rewards of it. One example of that is the amount of medicine found in the wild corners of the shrinking Amazon forest. In terms of music think of how much bass playing was changed by the wild Jaco Pastorius or guitar playing by Jimi Hendrix. When they first exploded onto the scene there may have been many who didn’t like it, but now there is hardly a bassist or guitarist who was not influenced by them.

I think this dovetails nicely with my old Spinning circles image of culture.

In the fringe is where everything exciting happens, never in the center. Cultures are like spinning circles. In the center they don’t move very much, that’s where the traditionalists live, the conservatives. Towards the rim is where the action is, that’s where the artists hang out. Life is a little more out of balance there sometimes and the spinning can make you dizzy there. What is most exciting is that many of the culture circles overlap and if you can stay in a spot where several things overlap you can find new clouds of ideas. Ideas are not bound to any individual, there are bound to a time. Many people in that spot will come up with similar ideas. Sometimes this cloud of ideas forms a new circle and the center of it hardens and becomes a new tradition. The longer it can remain liquid the more alive it will remain. Life is change.

Rant #5

Capturing the Guitar

I have written about my guitar sound before. Here is a post from 2010 and here is a post from 2019. This will be a more comprehensive post with more photos. The microphone’s position has not changed in over twenty years. Tape marks where the chair needs to be,...

The Moon + the Guitar

I want to share a few observations I have made about creativity and how I use that experience while working on new music. But let me start with this….

Seven years ago Douglas Rushkoff published a book called Present Shock. Here is a link to a video on Vimeo in which he explains some the ideas behind the book. I loved the book and bought several copies of it so I could give some away to friends.

The book delves into circadian rhythms, biological clocks, and moon cycles in an effort to explain what happens when we subject ourselves to the constant terror of notifications and alarms.

Just as there are four solar seasons with rather obvious implications (winter is better for body repair; summer is better for exertion), there are also four corresponding moon phases, sections of the day, quarters of the hour, and even stages of breath, Filippi argues. By coordinating our internal four-part, or “four phase,” rhythms with those of our greater environment, we can think, work, and interact with greater coherence. Integrating the research of Dardik, Goodman, and Robinson along with his own observations, Filippi concluded that in each moon phase the brain is dominated by a different neurotransmitter. According to Filippi, the prevalence of one chemical over the others during each week of the lunar cycle optimizes certain days for certain activities.
At the beginning of the new moon, for example, one’s acetylcholine rises along with the capacity to perform. Acetylcholine is traditionally associated with attention. “The mood it evokes in us is an Energizer Bunny–like pep. That vibe can be used to initiate social interactions, do chores and routines efficiently, and strive for balance in our activities.”
Nearer to the full moon, an uptick in serotonin increases self-awareness, generating both high focus and high energy. Serotonin, the[…]

Excerpt From: Douglas Rushkoff. “Present Shock.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/present-shock/id572777094

Here is a summary found at this site:

1st week of the new moon—Acetylcholine:
associated with new ideas, making friends, and being open minded;
2nd week of the new moon—Serotonin:
all about getting things done, being industrious and reaching conclusions;
3rd week of the moon cycle—Dopamine:
it makes you want to relax and enjoy being with people (not about work or getting things done);
Last week of the cycle—Norepinephrine:
makes you very analytical, organising things and moving above the situation to figure out the structures which underline things.

Are you still with me?……….

I have made over thirty albums since 1990 and that translates into a lot of time spent in studios trying to encourage and harness that fickle beast called creativity.

For many years I wondered why some days and even entire weeks were ablaze with creativity and on other days I just wanted to study what we had accomplished, edit, and make detailed plans for the next mix. Then there were days when I wanted to sit down with a book and ignore the music I was working on completely. I put it down to some weird mechanism in my brain or perhaps something in the air that I responded to. I did notice that there were days when we all, meaning all of the musicians and engineers involved, felt creative and switched ON. Likewise we felt that we were running against the wall on days that it simply didn’t flow. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I figure out a nice melody for this piece?

Rushkoff described that he wrote Present Shock using the four moon phases to plan his activities… creative writing, editing, engaging with others etc.

I don’t plan my days and weeks like that but it has been tremendously helpful to feel my way through the four phases. I can tell when I am switched on because work feels easy. I can trust my ideas, I can trust my ability to spin melodies… there is a sense of flow and effortlessness. I can also tell when I am in a different phase, because I WANT TO EDIT and study and compare and make plans. Knowing that this may well be how our brain functions, and how the hormones cycle through it, made a big difference to me. I am not fighting it anymore, unless I am getting paid to work on somebody else’s project – then I have to knock my head against the wall and hope that something good falls out. :-)

Check out Present Shock or, perhaps, just give some attention to the moon phases and how they seem to highlight different aspects.


In 2017 an engineer turned me on to the Bose QC25 headphones. He had been wearing them on the tour bus and on planes and told me how much they improved traveling. When I saw the headphones on sale a little while later, I grabbed a pair for $175, as did Jon. What a difference they made! When we travel the headphones are always immediately accessible in our backpacks and we often put them on in the airport before boarding. They stay on our heads until we reach baggage claim. It’s like traveling in a bubble, a bubble of decreased noise, a bubble of civility and comfort. I might listen to Dukunmak by Erkan Ogur or my album slow on the plane and then switch to something more upbeat when I am walking through the destination airport. The headphones also help when hotel rooms are too noisy – loud air-conditioning or the unfortunate proximity to an elevator in a sold out hotel…

I loved those headphones, but lamented three things:
1) the microphone wasn’t very good and phone conversation wasn’t easy and comfortable as I often had to hold the mic closer to my mouth with my hand…
2) there was only one setting for the noise cancellation… on and off… walking around in traffic wasn’t the safest thing to do
3) the cord was very long and I had to use the Apple dongle to attach it to the phone. Several times the long cable got hung up around an armrest while walking down a plane aisle. Later I found a shorter replacement cable that had the correct plug for the iPhone…

At the end of Spring, after discovering that I was allergic to the Powerbeats Pro as well, I came across an article about a brand new pair of Bose headphones, the NC700. The specs ticked all of the boxes:
• Bluetooth 5.0 – check
• multiple noise cancellation settings – check
• a total of eight microphones, some of them “beam-forming” like the mics of the Apple AirPods… I have no idea how that works, but it most certainly does work – check
• touch sensitive fields on the ear cups that allow simple gestures for skipping forward or backward, increasing or decreasing the volume, accepting or ending a call… etc.

I decided to pre-order the Bose NC700 and they were delivered in the first days of July. Since then I have worn them for at least one and a half hours every single day. I conducted many phone conversations with them and can report that the mics work indeed very well. I listened to mixes from the Fete album in progress countless times. I felt safe walking in traffic, because I could lower the noise cancellation so I could hear approaching vehicles – there are three presets (I use zero, five and ten) that one can switch sequentially with the press of a button in the back of the left ear cup. Fully charged the battery lasts twenty hours.

Here comes the kicker… as you might remember, if you have read my Diary for a while, I have a pet peeve about mobile phones: landline phones (since the Fifties?) add a little bit of the signal from the mouthpiece into the ear cup. This enables people to hear their own voice and makes them less likely to scream into the phone – except for my dad, of course, who always yelled into the phone as if it was a mechanical device, like two cans strung together… Mobile phones on the other hand, inexplicably, do not do this! I envisioned an app with a simple slider that would allow people to adjust the amount of feedback originating from the microphone into the ear piece. That’s all the app would do. Even easier would be for manufacturers to build this into their operating system… Bose apparently also observed this need and developed their own solution. The Bose phone app that partners the headphones has a setting they call *Self Voice*. It adjusts how much of one’s own voice one can hear while on a call. Brilliant. Finally. :-)

Bluetooth 5.0 is good and, after four weeks with these headphones, I have yet to hear the first dropout! That’s remarkable.

There is a chip on the market that delivers even higher audio quality, but that would certainly have raised the already significant price of $399. That’s the only nitpicking I can do. I love everything else about these cans. They are fantastic and I carry them with me 24/7.

PS: I paid full retail for the Bose NC700 and this is not an advertising, merely the enthusiasm brought on by a device that actually works well… :-)

In the Middle of the Night

A few weeks ago I was awoken by a sharp knock. It was the middle of the night, perhaps around three, and I jumped out of bed. Being one of those people who naturally flip that switch from asleep to awake very quickly I immediately moved to the bedroom door and listened. Silence. I opened the door and nothing stirred. I opened the front door and there was only darkness and silence outside.

I thought about the sound I had heard and noticed that something was wrong with it. It hadn’t sounded woodsey enough and the reverb accompanying the sound was also wrong… What was going on? It must have been a dream.

First I went to bed and back to sleep then, in the morning, after all of my brain came alive with a cup of coffee, I realized something.

Our brain can’t record sounds or sights, or smells for that matter. It can file the experience for future reference and categorize the type of sound, for example a knock against a wooden door as opposed to a hollow metal door. Then when we hear that sound again, we can compare notes and realize it was a wooden door we heard.

When we dream we are so involved in the emotional aspect of the dream that the details don’t matter much. The brain creates an *impression* of a knock on a wooden door. And it is good enough because it got me going, didn’t it. But I am musician and the impression didn’t last long in my waking state.

I don’t remember many dreams, in fact I hardly ever remember one, and perhaps that’s why they seem very real when they do spill into the waking state for me. Note to self, try to make it sound a little more realistic next time.