Archive for the 'fear' Category



Some instruments (or other tools) have “mojo”… there’s something magical about them that makes them play or feel or work better, compared to equivalent instruments.   Sometimes it’s general mojo that works for everyone; sometimes it’s mojo with just one individual.

Many people would argue that there’s nothing magic, that there’s no such thing as mojo, that there’s a scientific explanation for everything unique about an instrument.  Maybe there is.  But who cares?  “Mojo” makes a nice explanation for a real phenomenon – or at least as real as our flawed perceptions.  Those who argue vehemently against “mojo” aren’t arguing against the qualities of a given instrument… they’re arguing against a worldview that they feel is animistic, primitive, and otherwise wrong. 

And I suppose that’s important to them, too.  But once again, it gets back to fear… fear of being ruled by the irrational.



I’m not used to feeling boggled, but I’ve had to cope with it recently.  A few weeks ago, I got my first pedal steel guitar – a nice old Sho-Bud 6139 model.   Mine is relatively a simple, a single-neck 10 string.  It has ten strings, three pedals that change the pitch of various strings (sometimes more than one), and four knee levers that also change pitch.  Additionally, in the country-standard E9 tuning, the strings aren’t necessarily in low-to-high pitch order.  It’s very, very confusing.  I’m sure I’ll learn to play it eventually, but for now… boggle.



The other day, the Feng Shui Ninjas had a limited rehearsal… only Justin (percussion and accordion) could make it.  So Justin and I had some time to discuss where we’re going musically, and art in general.  One problem we discussed a lot was completion… turning an idea into a finished product.  Part of it applied to the Feng Shui Ninjas… we rehearse most weeks, yet after a year, we have yet to play a real public gig (parties and cons don’t count), and really, I don’t think we’re capable of an hour’s worth of quality, uninterrupted material we play well.  We do play well, and have a lot of fun, but our rehearsals are unfocused, a mile wide and an inch deep.  We need a real repertoire, not just random ideas.

Justin highlighted the problem when he realized he says he’s “going over to Dave’s to jam”, rather than saying he’s “going over to Dave’s to rehearse”.  It’s an important distinction.  We jam a lot, and that’s fun, but it’s not really solid rehearsal, and the results show.  We don’t complete our playing.

And it’s not just this band, either… I have a huge stack of recordings that I’ve started but haven’t finished.  Justin has a novel he’s been neglecting.  It’s hard to get from the point  of playing with an idea, to the point where it’s really polished and ready to share with the rest of the world.  Good enough for my pleasure isn’t the same as good enough for an audience’s pleasure.

Need to complete more things.


The perfect is the enemy of the good

This is another motto that’s been on my mind much lately (albiet mostly in political contexts).  It’s all over art, and is one of the curses of G.A.S.   If you get too caught up in trying to be perfect, you lose track of simply being good.  It can actually PREVENT productivity… worrying that it’s not perfect is a perfect excuse for hiding your work away, from others and from yourself.



Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Obviously, limitations are one of my favorite themes.  But I don’t see “limitations” in a necessarily negative light.  In fact, I see limitations as positives much (most?) of the time.  But here, I’d like to talk about a particular kind of limitation – choices.

It’s easy to become paralyzed by choices, for a number of reasons. First, it can be hard to choose between equal-but-different versions of the same thing. Second, choice can become a distraction, a path for fear of completion to take over our creativity. Third, it can just be added complexity when dealing with already-complex problems, pushing them beyond our ability to handle the big-picture problem. This is often made worse by computer-mediated creative processes like writing, photography, and music recording (to name three of my favorites) – computers provide us with a dazzling array of choices – the ability to undo/redo our work, create alternate versions, process in different ways, etc.

I find it valuable to take away choices when working, unless the choices are really necessary.  If I can work without a computer, I like to do that.  If I must use a computer, I try to do so in a limiting way.  For example, if I’m writing, I like to do at least pre-work with a pen and paper (erasers give us choices, too).  But pen and paper are slow going, and the work often needs to be retyped on a computer later – bad limitations in many cases.  I type far faster than I write, and often want to move my writing to a more complex form.  So I’ll start writing using a simple, formatting-free editor like Notepad or vi.  This takes away unnecessary “choices” like bold or italic.  It helps keep me focused on the words, not how the words are presented.

Choices can also be reduced by improving the raw input so we don’t have to “fix” so much.  I try to be a good technical photographer so I don’t feel an urge to Photoshop the heck out of everything afterward.  I could go farther and stick to b/w film (which does give a lot of choices, but also forces commitment to them once they’re made). If I’m recording music, I like to pre-produce as much as possible so I know well what the finished product should sound like.

This isn’t to say choice is always bad, or computers are bad.  They’re wonderful tools that have opened up new worlds for artists – the fact that you’re reading this on the WWW thanks to WordPress is proof of that.  But it pays to be aware of them, and be conscious of when choice becomes a substitute for creativity, or an impediment.  Don’t be afraid to take away choices from yourself.



I spent much of the day sunday cleaning up my studio.  It was a mess, junk all over the place, no places for things.  I also spent some time reorganizing some music software, and spent some time over the past couple of weeks organizing photos.

As a media artist (photos, recorded music), there are two key points where organization matters.  First, there’s the organization of tools, so I can create easily when inspiration strikes, rather than looking around for the instrument or camera or sofware I need in order to create. Second, there’s organization of the products of my work, the media I produce.  That includes both final products and works in progress.  And since it’s mostly software at this point, I need to concern myself with backups, long-term software compatibility, and other annoying technical issues.

Aside from these, there’s environmental organization – making sure I have a pleasant and effective place to work.  And there’s schedule organization, so I have time to work.

And then there’s organizing the mind, getting ideas in order so I can produce and improve my craft deliberately.  I need to meditate more.



Earlier this year, I built a new computer for music recording and photo editing.  For audio, I installed my cheap-but-good old M-Audio 410 PCI card, not the greatest, but it’s kept me from needing to invest in another interface.  But audio performance was dreadful.  If I didn’t run it with a 2048 sample buffer (over 40ms of delay), dropouts were unacceptable and the driver often crashed. The computer itself is modern and very fast, so there was obviously some other sort of problem.  I went through all the usual suspects – driver updates, IRQ conflicts, etc – but couldn’t find it.  Ultimately, some surfing led me to doubts about the interaction of the modern PCI Express video interface with the PCI bus, and a belief that the video subsystem was stealing cycles and interrupts from PCI, and hence killing audio performance.  I decided I would invest in a PCI Express Firewire card and a new Firewire audio interface whenever I had the money – and that’s a fair bit of money.

So last night, I decided to take another look at it.  Turned out that the soundcard was on IRQ 16… a virtual IRQ assigned by ACPI in Windows.  That meant it could be conflicting with a sub-15 IRQ.  I disabled the serial and parallel ports to free up their IRQs, rebooted, and viola!  I was able to crank the card down to 256 samples, or about 5ms of delay, where it ought to be.  So it was an IRQ conflict after all… I just wasn’t enough of a studly nerd to spot the Windows ACPI hazard. Now I can put off getting a new audio interface until I really need more inputs/have money to buy something extra nice.

The lesson to be learned, though, isn’t technical.  Rather, the lesson is that when I see a problem, I should keep trying to resolve it, rather than making excuses and looking for something/someone to blame.  And this applies to non-technical problems as well.