• "Let’s say the computers I was working with had been powerful enough for me to do my experiments in real time. I’m not at all sure that I would have made the discovery! Because the condition under which I was working, on a time-share machine, a few seconds of sound might take me nearly two hours. So the time it took, perhaps specifically the time between experiments, I had to think. These were discrete times: I would generate a sample of a sound that was 20 Hz, with a modulating frequency of 20 Hz and a deviation of 100 Hz. Then I would wait. Then I would listen. Then I would increase to another. If I’d had continuous control, I think I probably would have missed it. I could have let the carrier sweep through frequencies that were way too high, and I would have missed the points where they converged to harmonic spectra. That being the case, the fact that I had to sit and wait and think, and listen, and then think about what I heard, “what will be the next step?” greatly enhanced my ability in realizing the discovery." John Chowning on how not having realtime feedback was an asset, rather than a problem.
  • "This course is an advanced seminar in the anthropology of attention. What makes the
    anthropology of attention different from other ways of studying attention (e.g.
    psychology) is that we study it as a social and cultural phenomenon: attention is not just a matter of individual minds selecting objects from environments. Rather, attention is collectively organized and valued. We learn how to pay attention and what to pay
    attention to from other people; other people make technological and media systems to
    intentionally organize collective attention. We learn to value certain kinds of attention
    (e.g. intense focus on work, mindfulness, or multi-tasking) and to criticize others (e.g.
    absent-mindedness, distraction, intense focus on entertainment) in cultural contexts. So, while we will be experimenting with our own attentions throughout this course, we will remember that our attentions are not really our own. No one pays attention alone." This paper sounds brilliant.

I made a record.

31 December 2017

It’s the last day of 2017. I released a record today. It’s mainly electronic, a bit ambient, and there’s quite a lot of piano music on it. You can stream it in its entirety, or pay a little to download it.

I wanted to write a bit more about it.

I’ve been a musician for a long while. Sometimes, I forgot that. I always knew I had things in my hands (which is where I think that knowledge lies) but I didn’t call myself a musician any more.

Towards the end of 2015, I was playing with music again, exercising my hands and brain, building electronic instruments. It was still tough going: the war of art always is, and I found it hard to be happy with my work, to create an environment where I was comfortable with it growing slowly. I always wanted everything finished immediately, couldn’t work out how to be comfortable with the work in progress.

So I set a slow goal. In 2016, I decided I was going to try to make four pieces of music in a year that I was happy with. Just four. One every three months. That made it a goal that’d be achievable, rather than impossible. And I did! By the end of 2016, I had a few things on my hard disk I was happy with. More than four.

And something else had changed: I’d started calling myself a musician again. In doing so, certain small quadrants of my head began to unlock. One night, at End of the Road, I played the piano on the Piano Stage in the middle of a grizzly rainshower. The few people who were there enjoyed it; I remembered that I could play this instrument, and I should give myself permission to do so more. So I did what I’d been wanting to do for a while, and bought a full-size electric stage piano. Keys have always been my main instrument, and now I had space to have one. Not just space in the house: space in my head.

Come 2017, I set a new goal: not necessarily “an album” of music, but recording ‘more’ tracks I was happy with. I continued to play with music: building and tinkering with modular synthesizers, practicing the piano, selling synthesizer kits. Music was slowly growing into the corners of my life again. It’s still a challenge: sometimes, it’s difficult to compose or invent at the end of the long day. Sometimes, I need to let myself be tired, or let myself switch off. And I also need to be kinder to myself when I don’t have the energy to make a thing – because another time, I will.

One thing that’s always helped is the Disquiet Junto, weekly creative briefs organised by Marc Weidenbaum. I don’t participate that often, but I’ve done enough that have led to fun, interesting, or good results, and which timebox the effort. Half the record is Junto tracks, and that’s telling, I think.

Another thing that helped was being fairly quiet about this. It’s a thing I do for myself, not other people. I’m wary of the performative nature of pasttimes in the 21st century: not everything is made better by being shared immediately; not everything is made better by being open to critique the second it leaves my hands. I’ve been sharing in some small, close music communities, but not more widely, and that’s been somewhat deliberate. It’s been liberating making things primarily for myself, rather than as part of some public social portfolio. (Hence: a name, and a Soundcloud account, just for this; a fresh start).

It’s the end of 2017. It turns out I have a decent pile of tracks I’m happy with on my hard disk. So why not put them together as some kind of record? It’s not mastered, and it’s not work that was originally intended as an album. Think of it more as a sketchbook; a collection of work over a year. It’s available on Bandcamp to stream for free, for as long as you want. Many of them exist elsewhere online. Or, it’s a fiver to download. I don’t know if anybody will. I don’t know if that’ll put them off. But why not put a value on art, eh?

I’m still calling myself a musician. I’m making instruments and tools I use in my own work. I know that it’s probably only ever going to be part of my life. Not an entire career, but a thing I do nonetheless, and I know it’s going to take many forms – I’m probably never going to stop playing jazz at home, for instance. But at the end of a year when I’ve felt busy at work, and quiet outside it: a reminder I wasn’t doing nothing, and I wasn’t that quiet.