Non-falsifiable

It was only inevitable that the pandemic would bring a wave of conspiracy theories.

They’ve come in quick and whilst some have whittled away, some continue to stick and here is why.

Human nature requires explanation for big things that happen because it’s more satisfying to know there’s agency in the way things have panned out. There’s a refusal to accept that things may have or continue to happen at random.

The way a conspiracy works is that it is self-concealed, so picking an argument with a person who believes one is problematic because if something disproves the theory, then the theory changes. Facts are fungible.

Many countries have not helped themselves by adopting a populist approach that weaponises truth. Falsehoods are everywhere and lying is commonplace. Responsibility needs to be taken and accountability needs to be upheld. Too often, people are learning the hard way.

There’s ignorance, but then there’s the illusion that the knowledge we possess is incontrovertibly true.

It’s worth reminding ourselves to thoroughly investigate that which we believe, engage in open discussions that offer alternative views and assume that we may at any point, be wrong.

Leading by virtue

I recently listened to a podcast that featured the blues songwriter Dion. He has had a tremendous career and has recently released a new album at the age of 81.

One of the key things he said when being interviewed that one of the biggest lessons he learnt was told by a priest when he was 15 years of age; that the key to happiness is to be a virtuous man and do good.

Aldous Huxley admitted that it was embarrassing that the best advice he could give after 45 years of research, was for people to be kinder to each other.

Over two thousand years ago, Plato made the philosophical argument that those who are just will be happier.

It is so simple yet so elusive, because the so much of the culture today is designed to make us feel inadequate, protect our own interests and be fearful of anything different. Social Media has given everyone a megaphone and it so happens that the loudest voices, which are the ones fuelled by hatred are the ones that garner most attention. It is only recently that they are acknowledging the fact that action needs to be taken to quash this, but then there is the fact that so much money is involved in it, which leads us on to another point, that greed for the last four decades has been far too legitimised.

I have interacted with people of all sorts of backgrounds and I know that wealth does not make people happier, on the contrary, it can make them significantly more miserable.

The most happiness I have seen is when people lead by building connections, lifting others not putting them down and being generous in a variety of ways.

We all have the opportunity to make a positive contribution each and every day.

What will you choose to do?

The Ravel Affair

I am currently attempting to write my first string quartet. It is a significantly new creative path for me and very challenging but nevertheless rewarding.

Upon my research of different quartets, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major is one of my favourites. I consider it to be a beautiful piece with extraordinary passages and details typical of Ravel’s musical personality that would continue to evolve later on in his career.

What I find remarkable about the story of this piece is that it was his final submission to the conservatoire de Paris and Prix de Rome competitions to which both rejected the piece. Aside from having mixed reviews from the Parisian press, his teacher, Gabriel Faure, to whom the piece is dedicated to, dismissed the last movement as ‘stunted and in fact a failure’. Ravel himself believed that the quartet was an inadequate realisation.

Thankfully Debussy, whose own string quartet piece, which was written ten years previously and most likely had some influence on Ravel, wrote to him a letter with some words of encouragement and insisted he did not touch a single note of the piece he had written.

From what I’ve read, the truth appears that Ravel was an unconventional character with unconventional approaches to musical composition that was difficult for the conservatoire’s ultra conservative director to accept. He had enough resilience, or indifference to any other criticism than his own to keep going on his own path and it just so happens that the frustrations and failure he dealt with led him to propelling forward in his career and eventually being revered as one of the greatest French composers of all time.

Sometimes, art and the work created just so happens to be received in a time where the culture is not ready to accept its value. Some works find that appreciation is manifested at a later date, in some cases even beyond the life of the artist. Ravel’s String Quartet is now one of the most played chamber pieces.

The reason I like stories like this is that it reaffirms that steering your own creative path and focusing on what it is you want to achieve is better than changing what you do and who you are merely to fit in.

More often than not, innovation comes from the outside.

The edges is where it is at.

Now and then I check the Spotify top 50 charts and my gut reaction is a wince.

I approach the music without prejudice and will always be fascinated by what makes a hit a hit, but other than my musicological curiosity. The music more often than not, is not for me.

I’ve come to learn that there is are fundamental reasons why the chart music does not work for me.

One reason is that my musically trained ears usually require something with a bit more sophistication.

Another is maybe that the production is a bit run of mill. Super loud, super compressed and sound choices that are being used at the time simply because their fashionable.

The most important reason is that my values as to what music means to me is rarely aligned with what is in the charts.

As a result. If I mentioned my top favourite albums to anyone around me, it is unlikely they have heard it.

I choose music that speaks to me in a way that is more personal, weird and interesting.

That is okay.

We are an era where hits mean very little. TV especially seems to be going through an extraordinarily exciting period of creative development where shows are coming up that are unique and tailor made for an audience with a specific taste.

If you aim to target only 1% of the population of the U.K. with what you create, that’s still 660,000 people.

It’s good to have a space in your creative output where you maintain a full sense of integrity, stay true to what you want to achieve and work in your niche.

Everyone else is already taken.

P.S. If you might like the music I like, below is the playlist. There is no better marketing tool than word of mouth.

Looking outwards vs. looking inwards

A lot of the problems that are occurring in the world today are because of the latter.

The way in which our media works intertwined with the swift evolution of our survival instincts makes looking inwards quite an understandable condition. The need for acceptance and approval, the need to feel loved, appreciated or the security as a result of wealth and or privilege.

The problems start occurring when those inward needs get in the way of others accessing theirs and when the decisions we make are motivated by fear. From my experience, this leads to a deep sense of unhappiness.

Looking outwards however creates possibility, instead of looking at what we can do for ourselves, we start thinking about what we can do for others, what can we create for others, what collaborations we can make happen and what contributions we can make and what communities we can bring together.

We have the choice, and by lifting up others, it is likely that you will be lifting yourself as well.

‘Perfect’ Recordings

I listen to a wide range of recorded music. In fact, I would go so far to say that I have listened to music that spans the history of recorded music. From Vinyl to Cassettes to CDs and now streaming.

What is interesting about recorded music is just how fast the technology has advanced. You can hear real stark differences in the recording quality of music so much that you can hear incremental advances through each decade. One of the most particularly fascinating period was during the 60s to 70s where artists such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were making records alongside the evolution of mixing desks having more inputs, as well as the development of electronic equipment.

The turn of the century did see a turning point with the development of computers and software. Namely through mixing in the box, via software and then the egalitarian way in which everyone could essentially record music on their laptops via DAW and plugins. It is really great that everyone has access to this technology now and create for themselves.

The knock on effect has been fascinating, and one in which recording quality and aesthetic has been a very interesting and highly debated topic. There are plenty of arguments for the fact that recording in earlier decades was better because generally more expensive hardware and microphones were being used in purpose built studios. There is the digital vs. analog argument and the listening of music has also been a fascinating topic. It is more likely that your average listener hears music in a car stereo or on ear buds than they do a decent stereo system. I remember becoming conscious of this when Steven Wilson started smashing Ipods in numerous ways and decrying the quality of Mp3s. He was right, Mp3s are awful but streaming in some ways has solved this due to the fact that most streaming services play songs at 320kbps.

When I teach, it is funny to see how aware the kids are of autotune and how blatantly it is used in tracks and generally, they do speak of it rather unfavourably. The choice to use it appears to be a timbral or aesthetic choice as opposed to one that merely corrects the singing pitch. The prevalence of it in genres such as Trap are significant.

If you listen to pop music today, the production of some tracks has been done with mathematical pinpoint accuracy to which everything could be deemed ‘perfect’. Quantising, pitch correction, rhythmic hooks – but the defects still occur, some of which could be considered significant. Over-compression being a big one or the lack of human authenticity in the performance. It is unlikely that you will hear a pop song today with anywhere near the same warmth and charm as a Frank Sinatra record.

During my ACM days, one of my lecturers got us to listen out for discrepancies in Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. The vocalists heard about 12 in the first 90 seconds. That doesn’t make the song any less good, in some ways, it can be argued that they are enhancements. The same case could be made with some of Lindsey Buckingham’s vocal screeches in ‘Go your own way’ and the heightened emotion that comes as a result of them.

They fundamental thing that makes this such a fascinating area of discussion for me and one I love working within, is the subjectivity. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ record.

Ultimately, it comes down the intention of what we create, how we achieve that intention and doing our level best to get as close to that as we can.

Parameters

When I think about what my favourite films are of the last twenty years, a lot of them are not in my first language. Parasite (Korean), Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish), Amelie (French), Shadow (Chinese), The Lives of Others (German) and Let the Right One in (Swedish) are a few examples.

When I recommend these films to people, a common question is ‘are there subtitles’ and it is also equally common to see these films written off because they have to deal with subtitles.

To me, that would be a shame because within the world of cinema is a plethora of amazing films with much to offer.

Similarly, there are music listeners out there who will only listen to the same music records and will not embrace anything new.

If that is what makes you happy then that is fine but it is worth being aware of the parameters you set for yourself.

Especially in an on demand culture where everything is at our fingertips. It might be worth jumping outside of our comfort zone and giving something different a chance.

The evolution of ideas

When I think retrospectively about the music I have made, I feel that each individual track has it’s own particular story.

‘High Rise’ from the new Kinky Wizzards album originated from a riff I wrote when I was 14. It took over a decade for me to apply it to a finished composition. On the other hand, the occasional idea can be materialised and finalised in a single day. Some tracks to which I composed just music all of a sudden work with pre-existing lyrics that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

There is a wonderful fluidity about creativity. More often than not though, I am dancing with gut instinct, educated guesses and trial and error (with a lot of errors) before I can with true conviction, tell myself that I am getting somewhere.

Without acceptance of the fact that we will make mistakes and things may or may not work, we would not be anywhere near as creative.

Primary school children are the best at doing this. As the late Sir Ken Robinson said, they are willing to give things a shot without ego getting in the way. As we get older, we are conditioned into avoiding mistakes and ultimately, I think that this is the biggest mistake we can make.

More ‘We’ and less ‘Us and Them’

The western world over the last five years has gone through a bruising period of division and much of the blame can be put down to the way social media works.

Much like the news, it appears that a lot of the things that cause the most response and reaction is outrage and anger. Thus what is amplified is a downward spiral of disinformation and hatred.

I think the social media companies can do much more to tackle this, and whilst we agitate for those changes, it is worth reflecting on how we as individuals can adopt a way to online interaction that is more responsible.

Lefties, Right wing, Snowflake, Gammon, Woke – all of these terms achieve essentially nothing in developing a productive conversation that promotes respectful debate. It becomes a battle of ‘us and them’. You look beyond your feed and in reality, it’s easy to realise that we (as in humans) share a lot more in common.

Even if viewpoints are polar opposite – the approach of ‘we’ or ‘us’ is a much better way to come to an understanding with what our values and desires are, and explore the possibilities available to us.

It is much better to emphasise and treat each other with respect and dignity than point fingers.