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Photo by Guillaume Bolduc
Creativity & Constraints
There’s a music recording magazine called Tape Op that has a free paper issue subscription. I usually read it while eating breakfast – an alternative to looking at something on my phone. My lane is more Wax Poetics, which is why I truly have no understanding of the subject matter when Tape Op interviews start talking about kHz and audio engineering consoles. But there are little jewels about creativity throughout. Like this excerpt from an interview with Bay Area producer Ricky Reed. He talks about working with artists and a philosophy he calls the song of the day. It’s not what it sound like.
When an artist comes in, the goal is to talk for an hour or two. Whether it’s someone I’ve just met, or someone I’ve known for years, my philosophy is that you can only write the song of the day. The song of the day is the feeling that the artist has in their heart that day. If the artist is going through a terrible time, we’re not going to try to force a party song or something up tempo. If the artist is feeling light and bubbly, and they want to pound a cold brew and get silly, maybe a pop tune will come out. But the truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything good that wasn’t made in complete honesty and transparency, so it always starts with a couple hours of hanging. I like to listen to artists talk; listen to their language and word choices. A lot of times I’ll remember – or discretely write down – three or four sentences that an artist says while we’re hanging out. Then later I’ll say, “That thing you said about that person we’ve been talking about, that’s interesting to me, and you said it in this way that was so poetic.” Most artists speak in lyric and don’t realize it. We’ll try to get the DNA for a concept or a track from hanging out. Then making it tends to be the easier part. But it’s those first few hours where we learn what we’re going to do for the rest of the day.
What I like about this stance is his understanding of constraints and that you must work within them – that you can only write the song of that day. I also like his understanding that the process starts before the artist realizes it. He’s orchestrating the creative process – producing it, in fact – from the jump.
The Body & Sound
In the recent issue there is also an interview with music engineer Piper Payne. I held onto what she says below about the body, feeling, and sound:
When I sit down to master, I’m trying not to think too hard about the process as much as I am trying to feel it. I’ll try to deal with the music somatically, to designate a body reaction to every sound. If a vocal has too much 900 Hz, my throat might tense up. If the kick drum feels like there is too much 110 or 120 Hz in the low end, my belly starts to tighten. Checking in with my whole body as I listen is invaluable. Does my left arm feel funny? I might be having a heart attack, or there might just be too much 2 kHz.
She’s right. Eardrums are only one part of the body that feel the vibrations of sound.
Photo by Scott Tobin
I finished Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. This is the third book of his I’ve read in the past few years (first was Sag Harbor and then The Nickle Boys). As I read more of his books, I find myself trusting him more. Like when a chapter starts and it’s about a whole new person we have yet to meet – and I’m a bit disoriented as a reader – I trust him that it will not only matter but will be worth it for me. I imagine all authors deserve this generosity from their readers, and we the readers are the ones who loose if we cannot muster such a gesture toward the author. So I’m hoping I can extend it toward other writers, too.
We are taking our foot off the gas a bit in Readings in Young Adult Lit + Antiracist Teaching. The challenge in reading Ghost Boys was to understand how a novel written from the standpoint of a young Black protagonist could, at the same time, center whiteness. I think we got there without critiquing all goodness out of the novel. Now, we are onto an assignment that has students listen to, annotate, and draw insights from how they had been discussing the past three novels. This is possible because I had them audio recording their pod conversations, even though they didn’t know the exact purpose at the time. It’s a very different kind of assignment – one I’ve been thinking about for years and finally designed this semester while leaning on the excellent Letting Go of Literary Whiteness. I’m excited to see the results. I always tell myself: If I’m not excited grading and giving feedback, then how must students feel while actually completing it?
A whole bunch of beats on vinyl that I put together in this mix on my Soundcloud. It’s called “People Still Make Beats” because people still make beats! The standout track comes in 11:20 and is from one of my favorite Detroit producers, Illingsworth. His signature vocal chops are in there. Check it out.