How? What’s different? (A chorus of other in the Departure Lounge spontaneously chimes.)
To be honest, I think that for the moment at least, it appears my romanticism, my idealism, have waned slightly. I used to feel compelled to express my emotions through creative prose. That was kind of a barometer for me. Right now, I don’t feel that. It’s not that I feel bad or lacking, it’s just that the thoughts and feelings are not making their way to the front of my consciousness, requesting (or demanding) to be released, expressed.
(The chorus is silent now, uninterested in the bard’s introspective monologue. They return to their personal devices - tune back in to interior diatribes of their own.)
What I do feel is more of a calm. Less immediately compelled to visit the muse. It’s not that I don’t feel like being creative - it’s just that, I guess, I am not in the mood to do it with rhyme. Instead, I am writing this confessional (what a weird, loaded word!) - so still writing but in a more perfunctory manner. So, what am I confessing? Do I feel guilty for not sprucing poetry? Not really. But it is unusual. Although, if I consider where I am at in my life, it does make sense.
To explain: six days a week for over a year now, I have been spending four to six hours in the studios at SAE where I am studying electronic music production. So I have been awash in audio magic. Actually, not all magic. Quite a lot of process. Trial and error. Exploration. But what I am saying is that my focus - a new language has been found - and my new language has been sound, noise, melody, beats.
And, quite frankly, it has been surprisingly engrossing and rewarding. It began three years ago, when I discovered a new joy playing with Garageband on my iPad. I soon became addicted and committed to creating all kinds of crazy songs using loops and vocals recorded directly into my iPad in cafes, in my car, wherever. I made something like 140 songs over a year. They were pretty raw. Sometimes I would have beginners luck and smash out something kind of OK - I wasn’t even doing proper mixing, not even volume levels! - I relied more on concepts, lyric content and enthusiastic inventiveness to push things through. Naively, some might say delusionally, I went through the steps and brought out an album - releasing a proper CD with fancy cover, illustrated lyric sheet and even had a launch night at a local cafe (Rock & Roll Coffee Company, Mullumbimby). Sold like five copies! Actually, not like five: five. The thing is here: I did it. Completed the cycle.
Fate took care of the next step by calling to my attention an open day at SAE. Why not?, I thought. I always drive by, curious about the inside. Having traditionally been more of a film, images guy, I never really considered pursuing audio but when I turned up, I was curiously enthralled by the studios and got some good vibes. Tentatively, I signed up for a twice a week course in Ableton - electronic music production. Fortuitously, I was eligible for a scholarship that would cover 90% of the cost. Nothing to lose. Even then, when it came time to fully commit to commencing, I got the jitters. Did I really need to do this? As a big lover of routine and a commitment-phobe, I got very close to not going ahead. But something kept me in there.
A couple of times, after the first two classes, I felt out of my depth. I had no idea how to even make the most basic of drum beats, for heaven’s sake. All the others were experienced performers, most with active and dynamic SoundCloud pages, song releases, band experience.
So what kept me in?
One was the software itself. Ableton, despite seeming somewhat overwhelming at first is like a magic playground. Each new toy is like a puzzle to be worked out but once you have cracked the code and can use the new element it adds an exciting new layer to your production capabilities. And the best part? The possibilities are endless! The kid in me (never far from the surface) is continually delighted by the fun factor. Playing with sounds - making stuff up. It’s like sonic Lego. Phonic papier mache. Audio art class. Love, love, love. After getting over the first mountain of challenging newness and confusing complexity - which for me took about 3 or 4 months of solid application. (So worth it!)
The other thing factor in my sticking with and becoming an Ableton advocate was my teacher/mentor. For me, someone who never took easily to the teacher/student relationship, he was the ideal leader. He led by example. Chilled. No pressure. But always patient with us newbies, attentive to individual rhythms (figuratively and literally) and generous with his time and in sharing his amazing skills. I am certain his easy style and low key, natural encouragement helped me hang in there during the make or break early stages. And beyond. Like a flight instructor he got me to the stage where I could fly solo. And I am up in the sky as often as I can be. I salute the squad leader, ever grateful.
After I finished the Music Cert III, I signed up for the Diploma in Music Production. While there was still some Ableton in that one, it was more expansive - with some excellent music theory and studio technique stuff. Another teacher appeared who would adeptly educate and inspire me. A highly motivated, passionate Scotsman, also with a vast knowledge and lots of talent. I am still there and still learning. It’s awesome to be in an instructive and productive environment. Starting on ground level and making the slow ascent. Back to school at fifty seven. Who would have thought!
So, what am I really saying here?
(As much as I enjoy and advocate just going with the flow with writing - like I am doing here - I like, whenever possible, to consider what I am going on about and to share something that may be of value; a whisper of insight, a summation of substance of potentially applicable relevance to those in the chorus who may still be sticking around. In this case: thee.)
What I am saying is: taking on a whole new strain of creativity and starting right from the beginning has had it’s challenging moments but, at the same time, there is a wonderful freedom in coming in cold, being totally green, a beginner again. If I review my own path from the start, three years ago, to now - I have gone from being a curious novice with an interest and passion to now being someone with a pocketful of skills and some sauce sachets of knowledge who can - on his own - a build a decent tune from the ground up - from beats, to bass, to chords and melody to effects, levels, mix and mastering. I’ve gotten pretty good at something new. On a leap of faith, a bit of luck, providence, professional guidance and self belief. I recommend it. When life presents you with the opportunity to expand - take it. Or not. Sometimes it’s a waste of time. Luckily for me, this one was a good one.
Where it may lead, I cannot predict but for now, I am enjoying the ride. Less poem writing at airports but, hey, not a big price to pay.
You can listen to my recent audio creations here: www.soundcloud.com/lewiejpd