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Posts tagged "my reading year 2012"

Jan 03, 2013
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Ian Svenonius, Supernatural Strategies For Making A Rock ‘n’ Roll Group

Oh, now this was a fun book to finish 2012. Like I said of Svenonius’s first book, The Psychic Soviet, “Outrageous, brilliant, kooky, and totally hilarious.”

It’s really two books: the first book, “True Secrets Revealed,” is a silly premise—various dead rock and roll stars are contacted through a seance and muse about the form—framing Svenonius’s theories about the development of rock and roll. The second book, “Supernatural Strategies,“ is a rock and roll “how-to” cobbled together by these spirit mediums: everything from picking a name to taking a photo to recording an album to touring in the band. I could’ve done without the framing device of the seances. Part of the fun of reading Svenonius is the “He can’t be serious? But yet, I can’t really disagree” type feeling you get from reading him, and the seances take away from that a bit. But I love the writing.

Gems abound.

On sex: “The relative ease of sexual conquest in modernity is the culprit for contemporary music being so revoltingly mediocre.”

On conversation: “If you confuse people, they can’t pull their shit on you.”

On drugs: “Drugs are time-consuming and once one is not taking them, it becomes apparent to the former user how many years were used up with what is essentially an expensive version of sleeping late.”

On success: “The flush of success, after all, breeds conservatism born of fear.”

On criticism: “Ultimately, no one really cares about your group to the degree that you do, so chitchat about your group must be regarded for what it is: chitchat. You will never actually know if what you do is “good,” “bad,” or just confusing. You are, in any case, too close to it to understand what it is.”

At one point, Svenonius holds up the Viet Cong’s Code of Discipline as a model for group discipline:

I will obey the orders from my superiors under all circumstances.
I will never take anything from the people, not even a needle or thread.
I will not put group property to my own use.
I will return that which is borrowed, make restitution for things damaged.
I will be polite to people, respect and love them.
I will be fair and just in buying and selling.
When staying in people’s houses I will treat them as I their would my own house.
I will follow the slogan: All things of the people and for the people.
I will keep unit secrets absolutely and will never disclose information even to closest 
friends or relatives. 
I will encourage the people to struggle and support the Revolution.
I will be alert to spies and will report all suspicious persons to my superiors.
I will remain close to the people and maintain their affection and love.
On #2:


  This seems like an odd rule since stealing is what rock ‘n’ roll is based on. The groups one plays with will steal your song ideas, your lyrics, your stage presentation, and even your style and demeanor. You will have stolen these things from records you have heard, books you have read, and films you have watched. The sound engineers will steal your microphones and your guitar cords (or vice versa), while people “hanging out” backstage will steal your beer, your computer, your money, and your address book. Meanwhile, junkies outside the club will steal your luggage, your gear, and your van. People at the show will steal your records and T-shirts from your souvenir stand.


And finally, at the end, comes a word of warning to those who would attempt rock ‘n’ roll (the warning could apply to all art):


  If one becomes a lawyer, scholar, mechanist, typist, scientist, production assistant, or what-have-you, the world will commend your decision. Each day at lunch, on vacation, or at whatever party you attend, your choice will be applauded, upheld, and affirmed. And you will know what is expected of you. Even if your job is difficult—if you are a brain chemist, international death merchant, or rocket designer—your responsibilities will be obvious and your goals concrete. If you achieve them, you may be rewarded by promotion. If you fail, you might be fired or demoted, but nonetheless—unless your boss is insane—the job will have tangible parameters.
  
  The group, however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the infinitesimal cadre who even noticed will ask, “What next?”


Recommended.

Ian Svenonius, Supernatural Strategies For Making A Rock ‘n’ Roll Group

Oh, now this was a fun book to finish 2012. Like I said of Svenonius’s first book, The Psychic Soviet, “Outrageous, brilliant, kooky, and totally hilarious.”

It’s really two books: the first book, “True Secrets Revealed,” is a silly premise—various dead rock and roll stars are contacted through a seance and muse about the form—framing Svenonius’s theories about the development of rock and roll. The second book, “Supernatural Strategies,“ is a rock and roll “how-to” cobbled together by these spirit mediums: everything from picking a name to taking a photo to recording an album to touring in the band. I could’ve done without the framing device of the seances. Part of the fun of reading Svenonius is the “He can’t be serious? But yet, I can’t really disagree” type feeling you get from reading him, and the seances take away from that a bit. But I love the writing.

Gems abound.

On sex: “The relative ease of sexual conquest in modernity is the culprit for contemporary music being so revoltingly mediocre.”

On conversation: “If you confuse people, they can’t pull their shit on you.”

On drugs: “Drugs are time-consuming and once one is not taking them, it becomes apparent to the former user how many years were used up with what is essentially an expensive version of sleeping late.”

On success: “The flush of success, after all, breeds conservatism born of fear.”

On criticism: “Ultimately, no one really cares about your group to the degree that you do, so chitchat about your group must be regarded for what it is: chitchat. You will never actually know if what you do is “good,” “bad,” or just confusing. You are, in any case, too close to it to understand what it is.”

At one point, Svenonius holds up the Viet Cong’s Code of Discipline as a model for group discipline:

  1. I will obey the orders from my superiors under all circumstances.
  2. I will never take anything from the people, not even a needle or thread.
  3. I will not put group property to my own use.
  4. I will return that which is borrowed, make restitution for things damaged.
  5. I will be polite to people, respect and love them.
  6. I will be fair and just in buying and selling.
  7. When staying in people’s houses I will treat them as I their would my own house.
  8. I will follow the slogan: All things of the people and for the people.
  9. I will keep unit secrets absolutely and will never disclose information even to closest friends or relatives.
  10. I will encourage the people to struggle and support the Revolution.
  11. I will be alert to spies and will report all suspicious persons to my superiors.
  12. I will remain close to the people and maintain their affection and love.

On #2:

This seems like an odd rule since stealing is what rock ‘n’ roll is based on. The groups one plays with will steal your song ideas, your lyrics, your stage presentation, and even your style and demeanor. You will have stolen these things from records you have heard, books you have read, and films you have watched. The sound engineers will steal your microphones and your guitar cords (or vice versa), while people “hanging out” backstage will steal your beer, your computer, your money, and your address book. Meanwhile, junkies outside the club will steal your luggage, your gear, and your van. People at the show will steal your records and T-shirts from your souvenir stand.

And finally, at the end, comes a word of warning to those who would attempt rock ‘n’ roll (the warning could apply to all art):

If one becomes a lawyer, scholar, mechanist, typist, scientist, production assistant, or what-have-you, the world will commend your decision. Each day at lunch, on vacation, or at whatever party you attend, your choice will be applauded, upheld, and affirmed. And you will know what is expected of you. Even if your job is difficult—if you are a brain chemist, international death merchant, or rocket designer—your responsibilities will be obvious and your goals concrete. If you achieve them, you may be rewarded by promotion. If you fail, you might be fired or demoted, but nonetheless—unless your boss is insane—the job will have tangible parameters.

The group, however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it. And even after you have achieved greatness, the infinitesimal cadre who even noticed will ask, “What next?”

Recommended.

Dec 17, 2012
Permalink
Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy

A 350-page interview with Will Oldham about his work. How you feel about the book, of course, is dependent on how you feel about Will Oldham. I found a lot of his ideas about making art to be pretty in tune with my own.

A few things…

Starting out as a fan, ending up a colleague

Oldham says, “Before I made things, I was an audience member, and a lot of what I’m doing when creating things is wanting to evolve as a member of the audience.”


  I’m not of the group of people who make music or other kinds of art who feel like they have inherently within them something that needs to come out or is worth coming out… For me it’s by pursuing, absorbing, or just complacently being bombarded by things from all over or that have value to me…


You start out as a fan, and then you start making work as an ultimate act of fandom:


  I feel like that’s one of the main jobs of making the records: creating, but also identifying and maintaining, these abstract communities that nourished me growing up. By making a record and putting it out there, you can find someone who’s in your community, who lives in Manitoba or wherever, because they hear the record. And eventually you can work with some of these people, you know?


He says of his experience recording with R. Kelly: “I felt like doing the R. Kelly thing was an unbelievable bridge to have crossed, a dream-come-true thing, also in terms of getting from being a listener to being a colleague of sorts with someone whom I never imagined that there would ever be any possibility.” (I imagine he feels the same way about recording with Johnny Cash.)

The relationship of the artist to the audience

I love this description of the recording process: “Part of the idea in making a record is to freeze lots of moments of learning and discovery so that it really is like every time you press “play” you are opening up this experiment again.”

“People think of making a record as the end of something. In every way, it seems much more about the future.” Or, to paraphrase Paul Valery, a song is never finished, only recorded:


  I think that a song, for the most part, is completed by the listening experience. It enters into people’s brains and mutates and then might get completed again—in their dreams, in mix tapes that they make, or in new listening experiences that they have. So it isn’t ever finished because there’s never going to be a definitive listening experience.


As someone who highly values his own experiences as a listener, Oldham knows that that he and his listeners are in a kind of partnership, and in fact, they might wield more power over his work than he does: “The ears that are listening make more difference than the way the music sounds.”


  I feel the value of my work is determined very precisely by the audience. What does entertainment mean, anyway, and what’s the difference between that and art? I would say the main difference is that art isn’t necessarily funded by the consumer, but entertainment always is. In that way, entertainment is a million times more important to me than art, and being an entertainer is more important to me than being an artist.
  
  …My absolute, purest particular taste would not be something that could be appreciated on a grand scale. It just wouldn’t. If I really made a record just to serve myself I would end up alone in a dark, wet room, you know? That’s not really where I want to be. That’s why it’s more important to me to make a record that serves itself and its audience well. A good record should involve my needs, the listeners’ needs, and the needs of the other people who worked on the record. If I manage that, I feel I’ve accomplished something.


At the same time, Oldham is not particularly fond of having a live audience, and he’s a reluctant performer. “My dream: to get paid and not have an audience,” he says. “The only reason I want to be onstage is because that usually means that I will be making money that I can use to make records and live life and work with people.” At many points in the book, he seems exasperated that anyone likes going to shows:


  How can I reconcile my experience of listening to music with the process of making music? Why play shows when I just want to listen to the records, you know, and have people listen to the records? Why would they want to see a show? You can’t drive a car when you’re seeing a show, you can’t make love to your partner while you’re seeing a show, or cook breakfast or go to sleep; you have to stand in a club. Why would you do that? That’s not listening.


Playing live and making records, “They play completely different roles. The records are just trying to get the songs across, and then live we’re just trying to spend time together.” This approach to the live experience is what (presumably, I’ve never actually gotten to see him) makes him an exciting, if not always 100%-on-the-mark, performer, and he talks in one section about his restlessness with performing, and dreaming up new ways to make the live experience more exciting, for instance, a day-long string of one-hour, one-of-a-kind hour-long performances, with 10-25 people in the room.

Embracing the process—the whole process—of releasing records

“One of the sometimes stated and sometimes understood goals of the system of making records and movies is making the process, or some aspects of the process, invisible.” But Oldham is fond of figuring out how to make the distribution and the marketing and the advertising — the stuff that gets the record out, releases it, into the world — a natural outgrowth of process of making the record. “[Y]ou can let the weird rules that you create within the world of a record bleed out into the process of making and selling it as well.”


  As the audience, especially as kids, we assume that [the production and distribution side of things] doesn’t even exist. And if it does exist, that it is always a force that is in conflict with the product, with the end thing…. Never imagining that it’s a positive or cooperative or collaborative or good symbiotic relationship; you just assume that they’re different things, and realizing that they aren’t necessarily or don’t have to be different is fun.


Sometimes this means not following the rules of normal promotion — he is, for example, loathe to give interviews, because he feels they actually muddy people’s impressions of the work, and sometimes might even hurt record sales: “interview after interview, most people doing the interview don’t really prepare, don’t care, and what this is doing is providing a lot of lukewarm, empty, quasi-interesting content in relation to this record.” (Pity his poor publicist.)

Read the book→

Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy

A 350-page interview with Will Oldham about his work. How you feel about the book, of course, is dependent on how you feel about Will Oldham. I found a lot of his ideas about making art to be pretty in tune with my own.

A few things…

Starting out as a fan, ending up a colleague

Oldham says, “Before I made things, I was an audience member, and a lot of what I’m doing when creating things is wanting to evolve as a member of the audience.”

I’m not of the group of people who make music or other kinds of art who feel like they have inherently within them something that needs to come out or is worth coming out… For me it’s by pursuing, absorbing, or just complacently being bombarded by things from all over or that have value to me…

You start out as a fan, and then you start making work as an ultimate act of fandom:

I feel like that’s one of the main jobs of making the records: creating, but also identifying and maintaining, these abstract communities that nourished me growing up. By making a record and putting it out there, you can find someone who’s in your community, who lives in Manitoba or wherever, because they hear the record. And eventually you can work with some of these people, you know?

He says of his experience recording with R. Kelly: “I felt like doing the R. Kelly thing was an unbelievable bridge to have crossed, a dream-come-true thing, also in terms of getting from being a listener to being a colleague of sorts with someone whom I never imagined that there would ever be any possibility.” (I imagine he feels the same way about recording with Johnny Cash.)

The relationship of the artist to the audience

I love this description of the recording process: “Part of the idea in making a record is to freeze lots of moments of learning and discovery so that it really is like every time you press “play” you are opening up this experiment again.”

“People think of making a record as the end of something. In every way, it seems much more about the future.” Or, to paraphrase Paul Valery, a song is never finished, only recorded:

I think that a song, for the most part, is completed by the listening experience. It enters into people’s brains and mutates and then might get completed again—in their dreams, in mix tapes that they make, or in new listening experiences that they have. So it isn’t ever finished because there’s never going to be a definitive listening experience.

As someone who highly values his own experiences as a listener, Oldham knows that that he and his listeners are in a kind of partnership, and in fact, they might wield more power over his work than he does: “The ears that are listening make more difference than the way the music sounds.”

I feel the value of my work is determined very precisely by the audience. What does entertainment mean, anyway, and what’s the difference between that and art? I would say the main difference is that art isn’t necessarily funded by the consumer, but entertainment always is. In that way, entertainment is a million times more important to me than art, and being an entertainer is more important to me than being an artist.

…My absolute, purest particular taste would not be something that could be appreciated on a grand scale. It just wouldn’t. If I really made a record just to serve myself I would end up alone in a dark, wet room, you know? That’s not really where I want to be. That’s why it’s more important to me to make a record that serves itself and its audience well. A good record should involve my needs, the listeners’ needs, and the needs of the other people who worked on the record. If I manage that, I feel I’ve accomplished something.

At the same time, Oldham is not particularly fond of having a live audience, and he’s a reluctant performer. “My dream: to get paid and not have an audience,” he says. “The only reason I want to be onstage is because that usually means that I will be making money that I can use to make records and live life and work with people.” At many points in the book, he seems exasperated that anyone likes going to shows:

How can I reconcile my experience of listening to music with the process of making music? Why play shows when I just want to listen to the records, you know, and have people listen to the records? Why would they want to see a show? You can’t drive a car when you’re seeing a show, you can’t make love to your partner while you’re seeing a show, or cook breakfast or go to sleep; you have to stand in a club. Why would you do that? That’s not listening.

Playing live and making records, “They play completely different roles. The records are just trying to get the songs across, and then live we’re just trying to spend time together.” This approach to the live experience is what (presumably, I’ve never actually gotten to see him) makes him an exciting, if not always 100%-on-the-mark, performer, and he talks in one section about his restlessness with performing, and dreaming up new ways to make the live experience more exciting, for instance, a day-long string of one-hour, one-of-a-kind hour-long performances, with 10-25 people in the room.

Embracing the process—the whole process—of releasing records

“One of the sometimes stated and sometimes understood goals of the system of making records and movies is making the process, or some aspects of the process, invisible.” But Oldham is fond of figuring out how to make the distribution and the marketing and the advertising — the stuff that gets the record out, releases it, into the world — a natural outgrowth of process of making the record. “[Y]ou can let the weird rules that you create within the world of a record bleed out into the process of making and selling it as well.”

As the audience, especially as kids, we assume that [the production and distribution side of things] doesn’t even exist. And if it does exist, that it is always a force that is in conflict with the product, with the end thing…. Never imagining that it’s a positive or cooperative or collaborative or good symbiotic relationship; you just assume that they’re different things, and realizing that they aren’t necessarily or don’t have to be different is fun.

Sometimes this means not following the rules of normal promotion — he is, for example, loathe to give interviews, because he feels they actually muddy people’s impressions of the work, and sometimes might even hurt record sales: “interview after interview, most people doing the interview don’t really prepare, don’t care, and what this is doing is providing a lot of lukewarm, empty, quasi-interesting content in relation to this record.” (Pity his poor publicist.)

Read the book→

Dec 12, 2012
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15 good books I read in 2012

A strange reading year with not enough comics or novels in it. In no particular order…

Book I couldn’t believe wasn’t more popular
Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing

Book that introduced me to one of my new favorite thinkers
Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live: Or A Life Of Montaigne

Book I probably pimped more than my own
Mike Monteiro’s Design Is A Job

Favorite novel I read that isn’t really a novel in any conventional sense
Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood

Books read about reading
Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read and Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

Best book about how art works
David Byrne’s How Music Works

Best book about my favorite musical era
Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

Best book with the ugliest cover
Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking

Book I thought I would hate that I actually liked a lot
Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Book I can’t believe I’m putting on this list but it was actually super helpful
Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Book that made me laugh a lot
Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story

Book I’d never read that was adapted into a movie I’ve probably seen a dozen times
Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Best book (only book) I read this year that mentioned Tommy Wiseau’s The Room
Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

Best book that I should’ve spread throughout the year, but gobbled up in one chunk
Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence


See my past reading years 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

What should I read next year?

Dec 11, 2012
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P. T. Barnum: America’s Greatest Showman

It’s a damn shame that this is out of print, because this book is gorgeous, with 300+ pages of beautiful photos and good writing. (I got my copy for $8 off Amazon.) I took a couple of shitty phone pictures so you could see it.

The authors also did an illustrated biography of Lincoln which looks pretty great, too.

Thx to @mike_FTW, who mentioned it in Design is a Job

Dec 06, 2012
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Michael Herr, Dispatches


  [Day Tripper] was on his helmet… and on the back, where most guys just listed the months of their tours, he had carefully drawn a full calendar where each day served was marked off with a neat X.
  
  Like every American in Vietnam, he had his obsession with Time. (No one ever talked about When-this-lousy-war-is-over. Only “How much time you got?” The degree of Day Tripper’s obsession, compared with most of the others, could be seen in the calendar on his helmet. No metaphysician ever studied Time the way he did, its components and implications, its per-second per seconds, its shadings and movement. The Space-Time continuum, Time-as-Matter, Augustinian Time: all of that would have been a piece of cake to Day Tripper, whose brain cells were arranged like jewels in the finest chronometer.


Filed under: my reading year 2012

Michael Herr, Dispatches

[Day Tripper] was on his helmet… and on the back, where most guys just listed the months of their tours, he had carefully drawn a full calendar where each day served was marked off with a neat X.

Like every American in Vietnam, he had his obsession with Time. (No one ever talked about When-this-lousy-war-is-over. Only “How much time you got?” The degree of Day Tripper’s obsession, compared with most of the others, could be seen in the calendar on his helmet. No metaphysician ever studied Time the way he did, its components and implications, its per-second per seconds, its shadings and movement. The Space-Time continuum, Time-as-Matter, Augustinian Time: all of that would have been a piece of cake to Day Tripper, whose brain cells were arranged like jewels in the finest chronometer.

Filed under: my reading year 2012

Nov 19, 2012
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Sidney Lumet, Making Movies

This is a book about the work involved in making movies… I’ll try to tell you best I can how movies are made. It’s a complex technical and emotional process. It’s art. It’s commerce. It’s heartbreaking and it’s fun. It’s a great way to live.

The first sentence in Lumet’s bio actually made me gasp: “Sidney Lumet’s films have received more than fifty Academy Award nominations.” Fifty. And he made fifty years worth of movies: 12 Angry Men came out in 1957, and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead came out in 2007. What was his secret?

I don’t think art changes anything… I do it because I like it and it’s a wonderful way to spend your life.

Lumet was opposed to the concept of “the auteur”—he was very much more what Terry Gilliam calls “a filteur.” He chose material and movies to make that he could make personally interesting to him, but he always emphasized filmmaking as a collaboration. “If all this sounds like hard work,” he said, “Let me assure you that it is.”

There are so many good bits in this book:

  • “All good work requires self-revelation”
  • “I don’t want life reproduced up there on the screen. I want life created.”
  • “What we’re doing matters. It needs concentration.”
  • “We’re not out for consensus here. We’re out for communication.”

My favorites, which translate well to other art forms:

“What the movie is about [should] determine how it is to be made.

“Discussions of style as something totally detached from the content of the movie drive me mad.” I’m a big fan of the “don’t worry about style” school, believing that style emerges out of the things you’re obsessed by. Lumet put it perfectly:

The question “What is this movie about?” will be asked over and over again throughout the book. For now, suffice it to say that the theme (the what of the movie) is going to determine the style (the how of the movie.) […] I work from the inside out. What the movie is about will determine how it will be cast, how it will look, how it will be edited, how it will be musically scored, how it will be mixed, how the titles will look, and, with a good studio, how it will be released.

But what of what Lumet calls, “The ‘auteur’ nonsense?”

So-and-so’s “style” is present in all his pictures. Of course it is. He directed them. One of the reasons Hitchcock was so deservedly adored was that his personal style was strongly felt in every picture. But it’s important to realize why: He always essentially made the same picture. The stories weren’t the same, but the genre was…

“Creative work is very hard, and some sort of self-deception is necessary simply in order to start.”

The truth is that nobody knows that that magic combination is that produces a first-rate piece of work… all we can do is prepare the groundwork that allows for the “lucky accidents” that make a first-rate movie happen.

But the self-deception has to be a balanced kind:

I think most of us feel like fakes. At some point “they” will get onto us and expose us for what we are: know-nothings, hustlers, and charlatans. It’s not a totally destructive feeling. It tends to keep us honest. The other side of that coin, though, the feeling that we own the work, that is exists only because of us, that we are the vessel through which some divine message is being passed, is lunacy.

Don’t let today’s work hurt the way you evaluate yesterday’s work.

[You] have to watch your inner state very carefully as you come into rushes. Perhaps today’s shooting hasn’t gone very well. You’re tired and frustrated. So you take it out on yesterday’s work, which you’re watching now. Or perhaps you’ve overcome a major problem today, so in an exultant mood, you’re giving yesterday’s work too much credit.

If you have even a sliver of interest in how movies are (or were) made, this is a must-read.

Nov 15, 2012
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Padgett Powell, The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?

I loved this book, and ended up reading much of the ending to my wife while she was feeding our son late at night. Every sentence in the book is a question.1 You can hear Powell reading it here and watch him reading it here. It will go next to Joe Brainard’s I Remember on my shelf of favorites.

Filed under: my reading year 2012


  1. I wonder if the writer of this hilarious Guy Fieri review has read it as well? 

Nov 01, 2012
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David Byrne, How Music Works

Loved this. Cory Doctorow probably said it best in his review: “I could made good case for calling this How Art Works or even How Everything Works.” Much of the book reminded me of Byrne’s frequent collaborator, Brian Eno, as you can see in my bits of marginalia above.

Some thoughts:

All art is a result of context.

Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and “Genius—the emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work—seems to appear when a thing is perfectly suited to its context.”

How music works, or doesn’t work, is determined not just by what it is in isolation (if such a condition can ever be said to exist) but in large part by what surrounds it, where you hear it and when you hear it. How it’s performed, how it’s sold and distributed, how it’s recorded, who performs it, whom you hear it with, and, of course, finally, what it sounds like: these are the things that determine not only if a piece of music works—if it successfully achieves what it sets out to accomplish—but what it is…

Context largely determines what it written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually the opposite of conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion, from an upwelling of passion or feeling, and that the creative urge will brook no accommodation, that it simply must find an outlet to be heard, read, or seen… This is the romantic notion of how creative work comes to be, but I think the path of creation is almost 180 [degrees] from this model. I believe that we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats.

And:

The implication is that great work should, if it is truly great, not be of its time or place. We should not be aware of how, why or when it was conceived, received, marketed, or sold. It floats free of this mundane world, transcendent and ethereal.

This is absolute nonsense. Few of the works we now think of as “timeless” were originally thought of that way…

All art is a collaboration.

Even in solitude, we collaborate with our influences and with our selves:

When we write, we access different aspects of ourselves, different characters, different parts of our brains and hearts. And then, when they’ve each had their say, we mentally switch hats, step back from accessing our myriad selves, and take a more distanced and critical view of what we’ve done. Don’t we always work by editing and structuring the outpouring of our many selves? Isn’t the end product the result of two or more sides of ourselves working with one another?

And ultimately, music is a collaboration between player and listener:

I’m beginning to think of the artist as someone who is adept at making devices that tap into our shared psychological make-up and that trigger the deeply moving parts we have in common.

Technology shapes art.

The microphones that recorded singers changed the way they sang and the way their instruments were played. Singers no longer had to have great lungs to be successful. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were pioneers when it came to singing “to the microphone.” They adjusted their vocal dynamics in ways that would have been unheard of earlier. It might not seem that radical now, but crooning was a new kind of singing back then. It wouldn’t have worked without a microphone.

Revealing how art works doesn’t diminish its value or magic.

Byrne speaks of one of his stage shows that he wanted to “show how everything was done and how it had been put together.” He wanted to acknowledge his influences: “I wanted to show my sources, not claim I invented everything.”

The magician would show how the trick was done and then do the trick, and my belief was that this transparency wouldn’t lessen the magic.

Amateurism is a good thing.

Genius is a kind of marketing device — modern Capitalism “tends toward the creation of passive consumers,” and that the idea that only professionals can make real music keeps amateurs from enjoying the act of making. “The act of making music, clothes, art, or even food has a very different and possibly more beneficial effect on us than simply consuming those things.”

There is really no hierarchy in music—good musicians of any given style are no better or worse than good musicians of another. Players should be viewed as existing across a spectrum of styles and approaches, rather than being ranked. If you follow this reasoning to the end, then every musician is great, a virtuoso, a maestro, if only they could find the music that’s right for them, their personal slot on the spectrum.

Arts funding should be routed towards teaching students to make art, not just appreciate it.

Funding future creativity is a worthy investment. The dead guys won’t write more symphonies… Creativity is a renewable resource…

It’s more important that someone learn to make music, draw, photograph, write, or create in any form, regardless of the quality, than it is for them to understand and appreciate Picasso, Warhol, or Bill Shakespeare.

Definitely will go in my top ten of 2012.

(Cover photo via Brain Pickings)

Oct 17, 2012
Permalink
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

This is gonna be another one of those “things this book made me think about” reviews, and more rambly than usual…

“Everyone is a media outlet.” (Act accordingly.)

Quite simply, you no longer have to have a lot of money or ask permission to put your work into the world. Publishing is making something public, and that’s now a button. The tools of production, reproduction, and distribution are now cheap with a global reach. Amateurs now have the same access to tools as the professionals. What that means though is that “private” utterances when posted online become public (“Online… the default mode for many forms of communication is instant, global, and nearly permanent.”) and “there is no obvious point where a blog (or indeed any user-created material) stops functioning like a diary for friends and starts functioning like a media outlet.”

Best to have an “appetite for repeated public failure.”

“Many good ideas (or good photos or good music) are simply inaccessible in an institutional framework, because most of the time most institutions have to choose “steady performer” over “brilliant but erratic.”” The amateur online is free to make mistakes because the costs of those mistakes are fairly low (I’m talking about mediocre or subpar work more than say, posting a picture of your dick online). The “publish then filter” or “ready, fire, aim” model means, to extend a Brian Eno metaphor, you can fire your arrows, see where they land, see if anybody picks them up and sticks them somewhere else, and then draw your own targets around them…

You don’t find your audience, they find you.

So the advice then is to be findable. “Anyone in the developed world can publish anything anytime, and the instant it is published, it is globally available and readily findable.”

Fame turns conversational media models back into broadcast models.

“Fame is simply an imbalance between inbound and outbound attention…no matter who you are, you can only read so many weblogs, can trade e-mail with only so many people, and so on.” The downside of fame is not being able to reciprocate.


  Once writers start getting more attention than they can return, they are forced into a width-versus-depth tradeoff. They can spend less time talking to everyone. (It’s no accident we call these interactions shallow and say that people who have them are stretched thin.) Alternatively, they can limit themselves to deeper interactions with a few people (in which case we call them cliquish or standoffish).


The internet is not a separate place.” 

“The internet augments real-world social life rather than providing an alternative to it.” What I’ve found is that the internet is the most valuable to me when it makes it possible for me to make friends with people outside of the confines of geography. “Communication and travel are complements, not substitutes.” After this last book tour, so many of my online friends have become IRL friends — and the noisier my online life gets, the more those IRL friends (who I interact with mostly online) mean and the more valuable they are to me. (But there I go, speaking in online/IRL terms…)

“It’s not how many people you know, it’s how many kinds.”


  People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.


Teach, learn, teach, learn…

“The person who teaches learns twice, the person who answers questions get an improved reputation in the community…” And teaching publicly means you’ll attract those who want to learn: “the public asking of questions creates a motivation to answer in public as well, and that answer, once perfected, persists even if both the original asker and answerer lose interest.”

Buy the book→

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

This is gonna be another one of those “things this book made me think about” reviews, and more rambly than usual…


“Everyone is a media outlet.” (Act accordingly.)

Quite simply, you no longer have to have a lot of money or ask permission to put your work into the world. Publishing is making something public, and that’s now a button. The tools of production, reproduction, and distribution are now cheap with a global reach. Amateurs now have the same access to tools as the professionals. What that means though is that “private” utterances when posted online become public (“Online… the default mode for many forms of communication is instant, global, and nearly permanent.”) and “there is no obvious point where a blog (or indeed any user-created material) stops functioning like a diary for friends and starts functioning like a media outlet.”

Best to have an “appetite for repeated public failure.”

“Many good ideas (or good photos or good music) are simply inaccessible in an institutional framework, because most of the time most institutions have to choose “steady performer” over “brilliant but erratic.”” The amateur online is free to make mistakes because the costs of those mistakes are fairly low (I’m talking about mediocre or subpar work more than say, posting a picture of your dick online). The “publish then filter” or “ready, fire, aim” model means, to extend a Brian Eno metaphor, you can fire your arrows, see where they land, see if anybody picks them up and sticks them somewhere else, and then draw your own targets around them…

You don’t find your audience, they find you.

So the advice then is to be findable. “Anyone in the developed world can publish anything anytime, and the instant it is published, it is globally available and readily findable.”

Fame turns conversational media models back into broadcast models.

“Fame is simply an imbalance between inbound and outbound attention…no matter who you are, you can only read so many weblogs, can trade e-mail with only so many people, and so on.” The downside of fame is not being able to reciprocate.

Once writers start getting more attention than they can return, they are forced into a width-versus-depth tradeoff. They can spend less time talking to everyone. (It’s no accident we call these interactions shallow and say that people who have them are stretched thin.) Alternatively, they can limit themselves to deeper interactions with a few people (in which case we call them cliquish or standoffish).

The internet is not a separate place.”

“The internet augments real-world social life rather than providing an alternative to it.” What I’ve found is that the internet is the most valuable to me when it makes it possible for me to make friends with people outside of the confines of geography. “Communication and travel are complements, not substitutes.” After this last book tour, so many of my online friends have become IRL friends — and the noisier my online life gets, the more those IRL friends (who I interact with mostly online) mean and the more valuable they are to me. (But there I go, speaking in online/IRL terms…)

“It’s not how many people you know, it’s how many kinds.”

People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.

Teach, learn, teach, learn…

“The person who teaches learns twice, the person who answers questions get an improved reputation in the community…” And teaching publicly means you’ll attract those who want to learn: “the public asking of questions creates a motivation to answer in public as well, and that answer, once perfected, persists even if both the original asker and answerer lose interest.”


Buy the book→

Oct 15, 2012
Permalink
Studio Neat’s It Will Be Exhilarating: Indie Capitalism and Design Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century

Studio Neat is Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt — two fellas who launched two products I own with very successful Kickstarter projects: the  Cosmonaut, a fabulous iPad stylus, and the Glif, a tripod mount for iPhone. IWBE is a short book about what they’ve learned in the two years of being in business for themselves.


  Don’t make a product because you want to quit your day job… Don’t make a product because you want to get rich.
  
  Make something great because you care deeply about it. Make something because you stay awake at night thinking about it. Make something because you feel invigorated when you work on it, and anxious when you don’t.


Studio Neat is what you might call a “small batch business” — a company intentionally staying small so they can focus on the work they really want to be doing. (The authors quote Walt Disney from back in the day: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”)

I picked up their book after seeing a few tweets about their XOXO talk. I particularly liked this bit: “Tell a story. People really do want to see how the sausage gets made.” The idea is that today customers want to feel connected to creators and they want to know where their products come from. This happens best when creators speak directly to their customers, tell stories “straight into the camera,” share lessons, insight, and cool bits of inspiration, and show their behind-the-scenes process(es). “The best way to promote your products and your company is to simply be active online. Do stuff. Make things. Say things. […] By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”

Dan Provost blogs over at The Russians Used A Pencil

Studio Neat’s It Will Be Exhilarating: Indie Capitalism and Design Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century

Studio Neat is Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt — two fellas who launched two products I own with very successful Kickstarter projects: the Cosmonaut, a fabulous iPad stylus, and the Glif, a tripod mount for iPhone. IWBE is a short book about what they’ve learned in the two years of being in business for themselves.

Don’t make a product because you want to quit your day job… Don’t make a product because you want to get rich.

Make something great because you care deeply about it. Make something because you stay awake at night thinking about it. Make something because you feel invigorated when you work on it, and anxious when you don’t.

Studio Neat is what you might call a “small batch business” — a company intentionally staying small so they can focus on the work they really want to be doing. (The authors quote Walt Disney from back in the day: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”)

I picked up their book after seeing a few tweets about their XOXO talk. I particularly liked this bit: “Tell a story. People really do want to see how the sausage gets made.” The idea is that today customers want to feel connected to creators and they want to know where their products come from. This happens best when creators speak directly to their customers, tell stories “straight into the camera,” share lessons, insight, and cool bits of inspiration, and show their behind-the-scenes process(es). “The best way to promote your products and your company is to simply be active online. Do stuff. Make things. Say things. […] By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”

Dan Provost blogs over at The Russians Used A Pencil

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