i hate engineering.
i'll qualify that. i hate non-creative engineering. how loud does something have to be. what frequencies to compress or enhance in relation to a similar-sounding instrument to make sure you hear everything. trying to cut down on hiss without destroying a sound's character. how to give something ambience without turning it into total mush. eliminating that horrific screech buried in a sample that is ripping your ears out. fighting tooth and nail with an incredible loop that has a shitty sound, or else giving up on it, thus changing the character of what you were working on.
but i love tweaking.
when you have an idea and can add an effect (or five) and transform one sound into another. when you can just reach out and change a bunch of settings til what was in your head is now coming out of the speakers. when you find that doing something wrong creates something that feels right.
unfortunately, the two need to go hand-in-hand. tweaking without applying engineering knowledge can back you into a corner. we're currently having one of those moments when we realize we have to go back to an original version of a sound, or even redo it entirely because it's not going to get any better, much less be what it should be.
ironically, admitting defeat on one level is freeing on another level. alternate methods present themselves, and the goal once again fills my mind's eye instead of the wretched sonic abortion that's been filling our ears over and over. a new start means a new chance.
when you work alone, you answer to no one but yourself. you theoretically maximize your time and effectiveness by creating whenever possible as the mood and desire hits, instead of being at the mercy of multiple schedules and working patterns. but you lose the objectivity and external influence that can save you from your own worst impulses.
working with others has been a rewarding experience, but also a costly one. maintaining a rehearsal/recording space and then waiting for people to arrive in it being the two biggest drains on money and time. two resources no one seems to have quite enough of.
the solution so far seems to be a complicated mix of the two approaches. everyone works on their own as well as together. whether it's writing lyrics, programming, creating loops and textures, or practicing parts, there are always aspects of working on music that don't require others to be there. there's also a spark of ideas and interaction that can only happen with more than one person playing simultaneously.
this has been the challenge of our existence in recent years: trying to find balance during times of imbalance. the constant variables can leave the brain flailing for something to grab onto.
suddenly something solid will materialize, or maybe what was once liquid has congealed and hardened into the form it was always meant to be. those are the moments we live for.
the computer has put an incredible power directly in our hands. but it's a power that comes with a price. as an engineering and experimental tool, it's wonderful.
it is also the gateway to a microscopic hell.
time spent staring at waveforms, zooming in and out, copying and pasting, feels like watching my own brain eroding. zig-zags have been burned into the retina of my mind's eye like a monitor left on with no screen saver. whatever music we work on is reduced to and associated with violent polygraph-like patterns. we think about the peaks and valleys we see as much as those we hear or feel.
instead of dreaming a sound and executing it with the best means possible, we now have a hundred different possible paths to the imaginary nirvana of perfection. there is nearly always another tweak or process that can be done that promises the sound coming out of the speakers will equal or exceed the one in our heads.
we don't fear or reject these tools, or doubt their abilities. we've even become good at using them. the trick is to find balance, remember their place.
out in the wilderness with a huge swiss army knife, we should be grateful for the attachments we have, but also be prepared to use our bare hands.
our first new song began, as several of them do, with a concept.
i asked my bandmate/collaborator bryin dall, and ryan smith of stars like fleas, for sounds relating to the concept. i recorded my own and scoured the web for more. i've lost count of how many sounds were collected for this one song.
bryin and i worked on it exclusively once or twice a week for about three months. i don't know how he kept from shooting me in the head during that time, except he has as much of a love of sound manipulation as i do. it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, except we had our own hacksaws and ink to be able to change any piece to fit.
jason of the unquiet void came to the studio and heard an early version. he was pretty shocked, as it didn't sound like anything we'd done before. after i added vocals, a potential manager heard it and got it stuck in his head for the rest of the night. it seemed like things were moving along.
then at some point, the other three people in the band told me to cut out what i'd thought was the best part of the song. i went back and worked on that section for hours, until i realized they were right. since then, other parts have been painfully excised.
nothing makes life seem futile more than work that feels wasted. not just the time and effort spent on it, but the realization that the good aspects of what was done will probably never be used or appreciated. we still have the pieces. some are saved as sketches for potential new songs. but they feel like unwanted children, or dismembered ghosts of possibility.
what remains is better than it ever was, but at the moment it reminds me of a patient who's had multiple surgeries in a short timespan. still healing, but in need of more work.
i am in a place i don't want to be. both literally and figuratively.
i am ostensibly a musician. however i seem to spend much of my time not actually making music. it's hard to judge, as in this literal and figurative place, time is pretty strange.
time. five years. that's the last time my band's music was fixed in a physical form available to the public.
music is ephemeral, magickal, spiritual. giving it physical form helps tether it to our existence, give it substance, and a nod towards certain associations.
my own high standards are both blessing and curse. at times, our new music feels like a mathematical equation that tries to divide itself by a fraction; the answer keeps getting closer but never seems to reach zero.
but it will.