This week, I found myself somewhat incensed by the mid-Atlantic and mildly-amused intonation of an ABC announcer extolling the virtues of a documentary of the decade which apparently ‘changed everything’, the 60’s.
Boomer self congratulation knows no bounds and continues to shamelessly parades itself, largely unchallenged.
Let’s run a quick inventory; that business on the moon, Delia Derbyshire and The Beatles; all very cool. There’s a few Blue Note albums I think are rather good too and that Rothko chap was smashing!
Hmm, there’s probably a fair bit of the cultural output of that decade that I’m a fan of on reflection.
But I’m still not okay with ‘changed everything’ at least not in the smug way posited by the ageing stakeholders. Yes, there was some seminal art made and who can deny that social unrest led to some novel and positive change in that decade? Surely though, the same can also be said for any decade since or before.
The sum total of change is something I believe is worth looking at and this was the decade that birthed the cold war, the Vietnam war and established contemporary Middle Eastern Geo-politics.
Let’s see what has changed since by reviewing this year so far; refugees needlessly punished, personal metadata up-for-grabs, police brutality abounds and, my favourite, this week our Prime Minister took a unilateral decision to enter into a war on a ‘death cult’.
No, the 60’s birthed some lovely ideas as some of its inhabitants looked for new ways to live but it also paved the way for the neo-conservative co-opting of language that has allowed us to go to war against nouns (what a rip-roaring success they’ve all been too).
It did this by giving up on its ideas. Lofty ideals exchanged for a reinforced status quo once the initial optimism ran out.
Not that my generation (the one called X) fared any better; I’m not sure we ever had the optimism to begin with. Did any one really believe D:REAM when they warbled ‘thiiiings can only get bettaaaah’ as Blair strutted to the dais?
One of the benefits of entering one’s middle years is the full realisation that we frequently have to endure what we’ll put up with.
It is our tax being spent on sending ‘our boys’ on Abbott’s chest-beating exercise and it is being done in our time and in our name.
Let’s give the Boomers their due, THEY took to the streets to challenge the ideas they found abhorrent.
What do WE want to be remembered for?
Did you happen upon that ‘drummers are actually really clever’ meme that’s been doing the rounds of late? Apparently, playing in time is a form of problem solving, indicating a modicum of intelligence. Am I the only person that feels this is the scientific equivalent of a headline confirmation of earth’s non-flatness?
Excruciating axioms aside, I’ve been reflecting this week on what problem solving means in a time of enormous, cheap computing power.
I know that statement will age faster than Mark Hamill but stay with me, if you can operate in non-real time, cloud resources mean you’re unlikely to run out of cpu cycles or memory addresses any time soon.
Musical composition is an activity where you get to both find and solve problems and it can also happen in non-real time (in the computing sense). Prior to modernism, the virtues of composing ‘away from the piano’ were widely promoted, it’s easy to imagine your favorite composer of yore adding the odd note to the score between coffees to create the meisterwerk.
As I’ve previously claimed on these pages, for music, the methods are not important, the results must speak for themselves.
Still, I’m getting a real kick from trying to solve the following problem: How much music can I create in the moment with a discreet synth, drum and dsp set up? Am not interested in samples or deterministic sequences, so my computer is relegated to elevated tape machine / mixer status.
Apart from upping my fun quotient there are tangible benefits to this approach.
First up, integration. Having to perform the track in its entirety means the process has a definitive beginning, middle and end. There’s no twiddling the virtual buttons to an infinite degree; I have an idea, I play with the idea, then I perform / record the idea. All of this happens in given time frames; if I have 30 minutes to record, that’s what I have, it’ll either get captured or it won’t.
Secondly, having been on a massive Arthur Baker bender this past fortnight, I’ve been reminded of the power of the electronic music of my youth, much of which was made under pretty constrained technological conditions. The temptation to try and copy this music, even (especially?) subconsciously would surface far easier if my ‘tabula rasa’ were a blank sequencer screen rather than some cheap synths and funky old drum set.
I don’t believe that I’m alone in this. The computing omnipotence referred to earlier has given us plenty of rope with which to hang our notions of musical originality.
I’m finding that doing less computer is leading to more me in the music. Whether or not this is, objectively, a ‘good thing’, I shall leave to your discernment..
Happiness. Don’t like the term much. It’s one of the big five that are ripe for imbuing with maudlin sentimentality for nefarious purposes (love, art, war and sport, please add/swap as required).
Without prior agreement of the meaning of happiness, there’s a slew of crass messages awaiting you via the gogglebox, internets and on posters. Advertising largely functions by telling you that you’re somehow incomplete without product or service X and I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences in letting that particular cat out of the bag (or telling you something you don’t already know).
In short, you’re not happy enough and what can be done about it?
There’s a plethora of solutions, pick your poison. Happiness is now utterly medicalised, so yeah, we got pills for that.
The classics have still got plenty of life left in them; booze, holidays and retail therapy all cause happiness, right?
Although, to our credit, we seem to be wising up to the temporary nature of the joy that any of the aforementioned will bring. There’s a realisation that perhaps happiness is something that happens despite these things rather than because of them. It’s deeper than buying a jeep; it’s a state of being.
And into this yawning chasm of marketing opportunity the self improvement hawkers have jumped with gusto. Which doesn’t leave you much to claim as a happy inner space all-of-your-very-own.
It’s worse than you thought however, because there’s now actual medical science that indicates that all we need to be happy is a ‘positive’ outlook.
I don’t know about you but I find those list of three positive comments posted by friends and acquaintances on Facebook really lighten my load!
There is a darkly comic element to my feed currently; between stories of Brandis wanting to spy on his subjects and daily horrors conducted in the name of border protection, there’ll be lists of positivity so cringe worthy in their lack of introspection that it has almost seen me running from the platform for ever.
Perhaps that is the true spirit of the age; rampant fear-mongering and parochial gratitude. Rapid oscillation between these two poles should keep us out of trouble, there’ll be scant brain space left for getting stuff done. Or for thinking big ideas as to how things could actually be different or even better.
Horribly modern those big ideas and look where they got us. Two world wars and some great shots of decaying Soviet iconography.
No, much better to work on that which can be changed. Your brain. By reciting positive mantra.
In the spirit of willing participation, I offer the following:
Today I am grateful for:
1) The strange outmoded belief I have in the human ability to change, both micro and macro. That’s positivity bordering on faith.
2) The family and friends I have who accompany during the ups and endure the downs caused predominantly by point one above.
3) Death. Making this game finite really ups the ante for us all.
Perhaps this list making business is harder than I thought..
Have some videos instead: