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These days I’ve been delving into the whole music thing again. Stuff I should’ve and could’ve learned ages ago but for some reason was unable to solve back then. The newfound enthusiasm, slowly waning now, came from overcoming my envy of the young fella Jacob Collier and actually listening to his music with an open mind. Stunningly virtuosic and accomplished but obviously my favourite songs from his albums are the understated, slower songs, “Hideaway” and “In the Real Early Morning.” I fell down the rabbit hole of Collier related things on Youtube and found this fascinating, rushed music theory discussion which gave me food for thought. At around the same time I watched this convuluted Rick Beato video about chromatic mediants and their use in film music which led to a video by 12Tone about Neo-Riemannian theory and 12Tone’s videos led me to David E Farrell’s music theory videos that lucidly taught me various concepts about modulation that I’ve never learned despite having a music degree.

On my commutes during the week or so exploring this I was re-listening to various talks by Kenny Werner and his “tank” metaphor or what Jacob Collier would call toolbox. The tank metaphor being you have three different tanks of stuff you can draw upon for improvising, and by extension composing, of Rhythm, Harmony and Melody. The idea being that you practise, learn and imbibe bits in each category until they spontaneously appear in your playing. In psychological terms of the Four Stages of Competence it would mean reaching the stage of Unconscious Competence for everything you learn, or Mastery. Total Mastery would be akin to the flow state, being in the zone where the task is being accomplished without any feeling of control, effort or forcing. In the cases when you notice you aren’t consciously controlling what you are doing you tend to panic and feel like you have to take control again and mess it up. It’s something that was discussed in my Feldenkrais singing book, Singing with Your Whole Self, and if memory serves, the whole journey of Zen in the Art of Archery. It’s one of the things we do in the Imprology classes, this lack of try harding or letting go, and Remy (Imprology teacher) often gives us exercises to multitask in order to distract and overwhelm the conscious mind so we get something akin to just action without the actor. There’s an interview with Remy where he tells the Zen Koan:

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.”

The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”

The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

Alan Watts talks about this where it’s an artefact of our language that we have nouns (things) and verbs (actions) but it’s entirely possible to have a language without nouns and have it be more accurate to reality. My cells have completely changed from ten years ago but I am still me because the pattern of me, the doing of me, remains the same much like the flame of a candle remains the same but is not the same.

Having learned new music theory bits from Youtube and Wikipedia my piano improvisations, once so boring I gave up playing for months, have gained a bit of freedom. I’m still bored at times (“not this fucking chord progression again”) but the situation has improved due to an increased repertoire in the Harmony tank.

Also from Jacob Collier he has a masterclass where he talks about reducing the disparity between head and chest voice by singing the same note alternating between the voices. He also says you should never strain, which is a very Feldenkrais thing. I’ve been playing around with alternating chest and head voice, ascending in semi-tones, sometimes quarter-tones, very conscious to use as little effort as possible especially as I ascend in pitch and sing in chest voice. Also in general reducing any strain in general and flipping into head voice for the higher notes lower than I previously would in order to undo the habits of straining, forcing and trying harder. My previous experience doing other Feldenkrais exercises informs the singing practise, as in Feldenkrais lessons you do variations of repetitions, the variations being easier, smoother, lighter, smaller range of motion and staying very much within one’s comfort zone. Improvements with the voice seem to be slow and take time, especially since I’m not taking lessons, but I believe the process of removing the strain, however little, to be a positive one. Also because I’m doing this myself, I don’t have anyone to assess if I’m straining without noticing it or if the tension I feel is the correct amount of tension. In any case it will be a long process of calibration, playing the game of hot and cold in the context of singing.

As a result of all this musical learning and exploration I’m desperate to write music again and use the various tools I have acquired to enrich the compositional experience. But I’ve come up against a wall. Very difficult to write anything. I also know that like farting, forcing it will be shit. What’s a guy to do? Once again I come up against old problems and habits that plague me before in the creation of music. But I’ve forgotten what they were so once again some amateur psychoanalysis may help. Probably some sort of perfectionism involved, needing it to be good, substantial, not corny or boring, and goodness knows what else. There’s a hefty amount of psychological traffic and things aren’t flowing in the North or South Circular as they could do. I think I have to hoodwink and overwhelm my conscious mind like in Imprology classes but in this case I have to do it myself. One of the things I have unintentionally hoodwinked myself was doing multitrack acappella and something about the process was very easy and fun, despite the recordings being noisy and out of tune. I also wrote a little something on the piano earlier on but my brain is saying it doesn’t count. I imagine one of the solutions to this problem would be to change my environment so that it is conducive to composition and songwriting. There’s also a tonne of roadworks in lyric writing village and words come very very slowly and difficultilly.

That’s it for now. I know I should edit this and excise huge portions of this for others to read but at the same time I’ve run out of energy and if I wait until I have energy to edit this will never get published, much like how the songwriting and composition is going.

Too doo loo, Live Long and Prosper.


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