It’s All Kind of Connected
I just need to let it happen.
I’ve been listening to a lot more music lately—and not just in the background while I’m doing something else, but in the foreground as its own activity.
Growing up, my mom always had music playing in the house. She was a huge Motown fan, so I grew up listening to Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, and way too many others to mention. She and my dad were also big Elvis Presley fans. I think my dad sort of wanted to be Elvis, which probably wasn’t all that uncommon for men in the late ‘60s. My mom and her friend Carol actually used to wait outside Elvis’ house in Brentwood, hoping to catch a glimpse of him coming or going. Although they never saw him there, they did get the chance to go to a party he hosted in 1969 at the International Hotel in Vegas, but that’s another story.
When I was in high school, I had a friend named Jay who made the most amazing mixtapes. He had incredible taste in music and he introduced me to bands like REM, Ultravox, The Violent Femmes, and a ton of others, a lot of them I still listen to. There was a group of us who would hang out after hours at the Upland Tennis Club where Jay worked. Or we would go down to Huntington Beach and make a fire in one of the fire pits and just spend the night on the beach talking and listening to the tapes Jay made. One time, our friend Aubrey thought it would be funny to toss a half-full plastic bottle of charcoal lighter into the fire, which ignited this massive fireball. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it scared the shit out of us. We’re lucky nobody got hurt. If there was a tape that we really liked, Jay would make a copy and you just had to bring him a blank cassette for every tape you wanted him to make—TDK SA-90s and Maxell XL-II 90s were the blanks of choice. He would even do box art and liner notes with all of the artist names and song titles and the coolest thing was that every tape had a unique title, but the spines of the cassette box only listed the title as an anagram. So our favorites had names like “NMFEOP” and “PTMCAS” and Jay would never tell us what any of the anagrams actually meant.
I guess the point of these two stories is that music has always been a big part of my life, often more as a listener than a maker, though I did play the trumpet in fourth grade. I also played the drums from fifth grade into high school, and for the past couple of years, I’ve been diving in and out of electronic music, trying to learn VCV Rack—I’ve even bought a couple synths. In fact, the music under this Iteration is a little thing I came up with, not so subtly inspired by the work of Brian Eno. As I’ve been getting more into the making, I’m finding that not only am I listening to music more intently, but the type of music I’m listening to is shifting to reflect more of what I’d like to make.
While I’m painting in the studio, for example, my playlists are leaning heavily into ambient and electronica, with artists like Ulla Straus, Billow Observatory, and Lisa Bella Donna (who I’m hoping to get on an episode of Process Driven) and they’re playing alongside Bastille, Young the Giant, and Death Cab for Cutie. In the same way that I pore over photographers like Avedon and Crewdson, or designers like Carson and Ashworth when I’m sourcing inspiration for visual work, these new artists (new to me anyway) are inspiring where I’d like to take my own sonic experiments. And the best part about all of it is that it’s just for me. That’s it. I’m not looking to be a musician or sell tracks or monetize these experiments in any way. If at some point in the future it makes sense to do something with it, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But for now, it’s a lab and I’m just mixing different things together to see what happens.
It feels good to give myself permission to just play and learn and explore, without explicitly tying what I’m learning and doing to a particular project or deliverable. One of the biggest surprises in all of it is that the influence of the music is spilling over into what I am doing in my paint studio. I don’t have synesthesia but I am starting to see connections–actually, maybe reactions is a better word–in how the music is inspiring textures and colors that are finding their way into my paintings. As I said, it’s totally unexpected but I couldn’t be happier seeing how it’s all kind of connected–the music, the painting, the writing, even the kinds of conversations I want to have and share. I think it’s all related and ultimately comes from the same place–I just need to stay out of the way and let it keep happening.
If you found this interesting and would like to listen to some terrific ambient music, Bandcamp (which is a fantastic resource for all kinds of music) has released a wrap up of the best ambient music of 2022. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of most of the artists on the list, but a few of them are now in my regular rotation. If ambient is a bit too chill for you, they also have a roundup of the best electronic music of 2022.
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