Resistance as a Homing Device

The other day I was listening to a podcast by author Matthew Selznick and he touched upon something quite remarkable about one of the obstacles that many artists / creatives face: Resistance

Contrary to the natural impulse of our minds and bodies to avoid resistance, the sustained practice of art, music, sports/athletics demands that we overcome this feeling. Our bodies have a natural tendency to select the path of least resistance. This may be a hard-wired survival instinct (or fatigue from day to day actives), but we must reflect on how we can override it so that we can expand our horizons and grow from whatever situation we are currently in.

Resistance is definitely real. You may start a project with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but from what I have experienced time and time again, there is a wave of resistance that always follows. There will be a reason to stop, there will be a reason to not continue, and I realize that it is all part of life, it is all part of the game, it is all part of the cycle and pattern of being.

The resistance can be the brain being overwhelmed by the fact that it doesn’t know what is on the other side, or doesn’t know the result of your actions. The fact that it cannot calculate what will happen next creates some sort of cognitive dissonance and can create self-imposed barriers to achieving the creative goal.

To arrive at the core reason for the resistance may take an entire novel. Even if we don’t know the exact reason, I think we should take a moment to acknowledge when we feel it. Once we relax towards it we can see it for what it really is: just another emotion, and thought object that we are perceiving.

If we take a deep breath and observe the feeling for a second, can we take a look at what is pointing to? When there is this “wall” of resistance, can we take a peek and look what’s on the other side?

What is the opposite of the pain of not finishing a painting? of not finishing a song? of an unwritten novel? A forgotten golf swing? A unlived dream?

In exploring this we may possibly discover what is on the other side. If only for that, the journey of overcoming resistance may be a point of growth and wisdom. We may not get what we want, but we might learn something that will change our life.

Next time we feel the ache of resistance, maybe we can turn it into torch that will lead us towards creative fulfillment.

Intuition and Improvisation

As we continue to go through our journey through life, I realize that one of the important things to consider would be the numerous unknown factors in life. These are inevitable and we can never expect to know everything. It is easy to get trapped and paralyzed by the fear of the unknown, but it is something which we can overcome. Being okay with the unknown is the beginning of the other side of your journey where you leave your comfort zone, and find your way to a place you’ve never been.

This to me is at the center of improvisation. Yes you may have an initial intent, or preliminary idea of what is to come, but when you reach the moment of decision, you intuitively use your gut and your instinct in helping you navigate what is in front of you. When I try to make even the smallest pieces of art or illustrations, I almost always never have an idea of what is to come.

You can of course take this very idea to the end and come up with a final output using improvised lines and structures. This is done by many jazz greats who have refined their improvisation skills to the point that any note that comes out of their improvising is totally deliberate, and totally willed. But as a developing artist, it is worth while attempting to “free flow” and play and see where that brings you, and then refine it later on during “post production”.

This middle way is something that I find most suitable for me as I am still a student of deep improvisation (especially in music). I use it as the initial salvo of creativity, and I use whatever I have to build something new. Joe Pass, a legendary jazz guitar player always advised his students to create their own lines; as there are literally limitless amounts of lines that you can play. This is but a glimpse of the potential of an improvising mind.

Every day I try to find a way to practice and immerse myself in the improvisation process. Be it through guitar playing, songwriting, painting, drawing, or even writing. This way I hope to develop a high level of intuition and spontaneous creativity which I can always draw from as I continue to live my life.

Work in Progress

The great pioneer of abstract painting, Wassily Kandinsky, wrote a very interesting thought in his book entitled Point and Line to Plane:

“…present day is only the springboard to “tomorrow” and only in this role can it be accepted with innermost tranquility”.

He may refer to the idea of having and being a work in progress. Kandinsky basically talks about the passage of time. Perhaps when your current situation is challenging and looking bleak, or when you are in the middle of the process and you are starting to feel fatigue, this thought can be encouraging.

However, there is also the thought that all you ever really have is that of “now” or this actual moment. These two seemingly opposed ideas are hard to reconcile.

After some thought, it seems though that it is somehow connected and pointing to one thing: All you have is the present moment, but in this present moment it can evolve into something else. To something perhaps better or something worse, but it will evolve like how the clouds will evolve over time.

The keyword here is acceptance. I believe that through acceptance, one can begin to forge ahead and overcome the challenges that one faces. Perhaps by being in the now, but also accepting the present day with tranquility because there is tomorrow, is a way of overcoming the challenges of life.

Drawing in the Dark Exercise of drawing without looking at the paper plane

I tried this quick drawing exercise of blind drawing. Just simply blindfold or close your eyes and put the pen to paper. See what happens from there. After the activity here are some notes I quickly jotted down.

1. Started with the idea of a person moving from one place to another, a higher place, a better place

2.Developed the idea of “where you are, many challenges all around”

3. “When achieving a certain goal, it may not be fulfilling, and you find yourself striving for the next goal, which is higher, and still more challenging.”

4. A face of fatigue seems to emerge from the elements below.

5. What was supposed to be grass, looks like stubbles of hair, could be a sign of age

After some thought, I realized that another idea that could emerge from the quick drawing is

6. Sometimes you are actually alright where you are, and by moving around too much you can end up being fatigued by so much activity.”

Going through the motions of these simple introspective exercises seem to bring out some interesting discussions with the self which otherwise would not have come about. This is perhaps the point of creative practice/work. Things can emerge depending on where you are, and had you not done the activity, you may not garner such an insight.

I guess it is the same with art, and music. Sometimes you don’t have the exact detailed idea of the end result, and what may come about may surprise you.

Art as Healing

Been looking at various readings, courses, and books on art therapy where art, mental health, psychology, and therapy intersect. It is indeed an interesting and deep topic and you will not run out of resources online on this. Wading through some videos I stumbled upon this ted X by an artist named Domingo Zapata. What struck me is the simple idea that creating is not making something perfect, but it is letting go.

He shared an anecdote where it was his act of painting and sketching during a dark period in his life that made him get through a particular WEEK. He describes that the act made him get through a particular pain point. It was subtle but it hit me hard. It was a very real, and practical application of Art as a Healing device. It may not necessarily change your life, but it somehow helps you SURVIVE.

It’s also interesting because it was not a scientific result that “general well-being” was defined and had an increase by “x %”. It was overcoming a specific obstacle through the act of creating. Perhaps it could be measured in a better way, but the artist’s account of overcoming adversity in this way was enough to get me really interested.

In the video, Domingo urged everyone in the room to create something when they get home. It was simply to “state where you are, where you are going, and why” It was definitely a trigger for me to open up my small sketch book and start sketching away, without any expectations. He urges us to sketch moments because “life is made of memories and moments.”

The drawing I ended up with somehow encapsulated some of my thoughts and sentiments for the past week. It is amazing how something can be expressed non-verbally and yet it can capture the idea and the emotion behind it. I urge everyone to try it and see how it makes you feel and what comes out. Try to share it with others as well.

Artimer JA
Rock Bottom, 2020
Marker, Oil Pastel, Colored Pencil on Paper

P.S This experience makes me want to develop this habit of capturing and recording these inner thought objects and emotions and allow them to be expressed. It’s about taking those thoughts and moments as an opportunity to create something.

Thoughts on Arranging

Consistency in creative efforts requires the gradual and disciplined build-up of habits that make you do certain actions on a consistent basis. By doing something every day, you are somehow able to invite creativity in your life daily. Recently I’ve been trying to learn new things in terms of music creation in order to expand and improve.

I’ve been working specifically on arranging and how to turn your regular 8-bar loop into a full-fledged song. The more I dive into it, the more I realize that many people (including myself) can get stuck in the 8-bar loop. Coming up with strategies to overcome this is crucial. Through my own experience, and the suggestion of more experienced producers, I realized that the key to this is making your 8 bar loop as full and complete as possible. With this complete 8 bar loop you can now create a big “block” of sound by repeating this sequence for the duration you’d like. Go ahead and copy paste this 8 bar loop until you hit the 6 minute mark.

8 Bar Loop

From there, you can do “subtractive” arranging. “You are like a sculptor chopping away at the woodblock to create a work of art.” Thomas Hoffknecht mentions this in his masterclass. I can relate this to an assemblage artist: finding small fragments of materials as they come to the shore of your “mind”, then you put it together to form an entirely new piece.

8 bar loop, extended to 6 mins in length

This was enlightening as it organizes the creative process by making the artist/producer focus on one thing at a time. The production and “raw material gathering” is where one deals with recording a performance, sound design, programming, and etc. (Steve Roach compares this to the shooting phase in making a film) After one is able to shoot interesting “scenes” and you have all the footage you need, you can proceed to editing the film. Going back to music – arranging.

Sound sculpture

I’m hoping this will translate to more finished works.

Art and Life

Many things are happening in the world today, from the global pandemic, threats to freedom of speech, and racism. I’ve heard people say that in-spite of so-called “progress”they are afraid the younger generation is not in a better place at all. We are confronted with a multitude of social, community, family, and personal issues.

This has caused me to step back a bit and take stock of what’s been happening. With all these layers simultaneously happening, it is difficult to ignore them. In the creative space, lots of artists have been finding their own ways to express their opinions regarding the issues at hand and I continue to reflect and see how I can do the same.

Music is a way to penetrate the barriers of noise and return back to life. In music (as in art) there are always two layers at play – one is the craft, and the other, the message. The message is transmitted by the craft. Without the craft, one will not be able to deliver the message. The two are inexplicably intertwined.

The gravity of both concepts usually cause the individual to drift back and forth between focusing on the craft, and focusing on the message. I sometimes find myself being engrossed by details of the craft like compositional technique, scales, modes, equipment, audio engineering, arranging, effects, synthesizers, MIDI sequencers, (the list goes on and on). This is an entire universe to be immersed in and it is an exciting part of art.

But I also now know that this is just the first layer. To transcend to the next layer is to be immersed in the message, to the “truth” that it represents. Jean-Michel Basquiat said, “I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.” Art is a representation of life, though not always literal, it does capture the awareness and frame of mind by which the creator grasps a certain aspect of life.

The tapestry of life is captured in a multitude of ways: There are songs about love, hate, anger, pain, fear, hope, lack of hope.. songs about government, anti-government, ideologies, philosophy, science, and numerous countless subjects – all having their own merit and bearing.

Aside from this, Music seems to be a very effective way to interact with the consciousness of other human beings as it can be the gateway for deeper pursuit of things in the process of growth. In other words, music may not literally change or transform the world, but it may affect a human being’s thoughts, which will affect their actions, which will ultimately affect their destiny and course of life.

I find that the most uplifting music comes from the direct application of “taking from the deep well of life”. There was an experience to be had and from that the music was born. What’s inspiring is that every moment is an experience and it is ever evolving. The exterior and interior life is full of moments and experiences that can be the seed of art and music. You can take this even further and tap the collective consciousness of human civilization and take the lessons and truths extracted from literature, spirituality, history, myths, archetypes, legends and etc. – These are all endless sources of life which in turn are endless sources of art.

Everything that is happening in the world today, from the global pandemic to chaos and racism, to threats to human rights in one’s own country, is pushing me to focus even more on the message. Basquiat’s innate instinct to think about life when working on his art is such a simple, yet powerful principle in the act of creating. The Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote two books which became the seed of the revolution which eventually led to independence. Art is capable of articulating not just direct beauty and truth, but also resistance, change and a call to transformation.

This is not to say that the craft side is useless, in fact it is essential. The more you practice and learn about the language of music and art the more clearly you will be able to articulate your message. With command of the language, what is it that you want to say? What would you like to express?

May these realizations help me, and help anyone who reads this post, in their journey in art and creativity. My hope is that we all find our own unique way of using the tapestry of life as the raw material in art. Dig deep and extract the truth inside!

Here’s a meditative piece to aid us in these trying times:

Everyday Art

For many years it has been my goal to create art & music on a daily basis. To be honest, this is quite hard to attain. It is but a dream given the realities of life. There are signs though that it is possible. I’d like to share an idea of how it can be done – how you can possibly not run out of ideas.

Everyday our mind is filled with thoughts, emotions, and memories, both positive and negative. In a moment-to-moment basis these thoughts continually evolve just like how clouds in the sky continually change. Can art and music be perceived as objects or “clouds” of creativity? The blank canvas is the sky and the ever changing clouds are your potential pieces of art.

What if I could somehow take these clouds, harness them, and create a corresponding piece of art. Those creative impulses will relate to my day, to my life. I know that they will be unique because every day is different. The music or the art will have the “essence” of that particular day embedded in it.

Art as a Practice

So what I present here is somewhat of a different form of art, because there is no aim of creating a “hit” or creating a masterpiece. The aim is simply to transform raw energy, raw creative impulse, to a tangible or audible thing.

In this way, the creating becomes a practice, and thus is integrated in the person’s life. The creation becomes a mirror of life rather than a novelty which is meant to purely excite the senses.

Artimer JA
Thought Object: Systemic Pain, 2020
Colored Pencil and Pen on sketchbook paper

I’d like to encourage anyone who stumbles into this blog post to take a look at this short clip about the electronic music composer Steve Roach to see how he approaches music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abd5LUyH0us

Brick by Brick

Allowing your creativity to flow in short bursts rather than long winding blocks of time can be productive as well. I battle with the notion of needing a good solid amount of time before I start making something.. But based on how life works, I’m beginning to learn that part of the challenge is learning how you can weave in and out of creating. How can you do this if the creative flow requires focused attention for a period of time? What is the minimum viable amount of time? These are just some questions that come to mind as I think about the problem.

I realize that it’s the small steps that make a big difference. Make a little snippet once a day rather than making one big project once every 4 months. Your energy will be depleted by the end of the day and the exhaustion will just make you feel burnt out.

Building something brick by brick will allow you to keep moving forward no matter how slow. Long term projects requiring multiple outputs is more feasible by breaking down the required tasks into digestible chunks. It’s something so simple yet hard to do. Also, I’m not claiming to be an expert regarding this; I am simply becoming more conscious of it’s effectiveness as a principle in being productive.

Groovebox as a bricklaying tool

The groovebox classification of sequencers / synthesizers is I find, the most efficient tool I have at the moment. It allows me to make a pattern which represents an idea encapsulated in a maximum of 4 bars or 64 steps. Within these 64 steps I have the option to use 1 – 16 different sounds and create both simple and complex patterns in the process. Here is an example of such a piece created with a groove box (Korg Electribe 2)

Recording music this way has allowed me to create in a fast, and engaging way. After making music with a traditional DAW for some time now, I find it very inspiring.

I used to think that the machine was very limiting because I could not go back and tweak the sounds, or change the levels once I had recorded its output. However, this limitation is what is liberating. I have to trust my ears and decide on the spot on the sounds that I use, as well as the volume of each element. By making those decisions swiftly I am able to focus on the MUSIC and I’m able to record it right away.

This workflow/approach is only the tip of the iceberg as it can open up so many possibilities for projects I’d like to do and have been planning to do. Given the busy schedule that life gives us, the ability to make something fast in a very spontaneous way is inspiring.

One of my dreams is to be able to keep creating music and art no matter what my circumstances may be. This is definitely a step forward.

Creativity with Scarcity

The past few days have forced me to milk the little time that I have for art. I decided to challenge myself and see how long it would take me from zero to full fledged piece of art, ready to be shared to world.

To share a song in the internet world, the very basic things you need would be the audio master, and cover art to go with it. I took out my iPhone, pressed the start button, and proceeded to go to my Korg Electribe to start making a track. I wanted to time it to see how long it actually takes.

Composing

I wanted to see what an Electribe can do for rock grooves or “rock idioms” as I would call it. So immediately I was up and running with some basic rock drums. I quickly selected a kick and snare and set the tempo to 170. Immediately I was off and running! Some punky rhythm to start with.

After that I decided to do a bass line, taking a bass sound from one of the samples found in the Electribe. (Here was another challenge, I would confine myself to the sounds of the Electribe and will only customize it when I finish the first batch of 250 patterns) I did not want to get bogged down by the act of endlessly looking for the best damn bass sound. I needed to decide right there and then, and decide quickly. Moment I found it I switched on the keyboard mode and start making basic melodies.

Korg Electribe Sampler – A standalone groovebox

Next up I went for the lead riff and was going for some guitar sounds but got derailed and I ended up picking this weird sounding synth. Ok, I’ll accept it, it sounds alright to me. Whats important is I was moving forward and I was still liking the track somehow and grooving to it.

On and on I put one layer after the other until I went for this vocal chop “go”. This was when I thought “ok its time to dial back and go for the break down of the track. Lets bring this baby home.” I sequenced an alternative pattern to serve as the “B” section and ended the composing there.

Recording

So with that, I had the elements I needed to make an arrangement that I could perform and record with the Zoom H1. I will take the stereo out of the Electribe and plug this to the line-in of the Zoom H1. I recorded the whole thing in one take, trusting my gut, trusting that my intentions will bring me to the end result – a finished track that sums up my day.

I hit record and press play on my Electribe. Im up and running at 170 bpm. A pretty frantic pace for some electronic “rock” music. I start going through the patterns and went for some improvised pitch shifts and drums. Some off timing some choked by the note stealing limitation of the sampler. Still I push on, and go into the next pattern of the song and I finally arrive at the GO part which I know will lead me to the “turn around” of the song.

At this point, I’m not thinking of much – I’m just focused on the music and what will happen next. I know that the record button is on and everything is getting captured. With this in mind, I also try to stay in the spirit of the music and just keep on going. I try not to get derailed by imperfections, and get bogged down by mistakes.

And finally I find myself “heading home”. I’m now in the patterns that will bring me back to the beginning of my track, to end the instrumental. This is electronic music.. but with a human element. Live arranging, live jamming, “DAWLESS” so to speak. Just me and the machine.

The final sequences of the drums come in and all is well. A mistake here and there but its okay. I hit the stop button, and boom another track made. I looked at the time and I had just spent 45 minutes. Not bad! This is a song from scratch!

Mastering

I proceed to fire up my laptop and open up Ableton Live. I transfer the track from the H1 via usb and proceed to setting up my mastering session. I had recently built my little humble mastering chain (which I can talk about in the future) and start fiddling with parameters. I also do some gain staging to make sure that the plug-ins are all in the sweet spot. Another 30 minutes go by and I finally finish the track! Ready for uploading, ready (or not) for sharing.

Cover Art

I feel the slight fatigue but I push on. I open up GIMP and start working on the artwork. I wanted to keep it simple. I saw a crack on my bedroom wall and decided right there and then that it could be part of the artwork. I took a picture with my trusty X-A10 and upload the picture to my laptop. With GIMP I proceed to make the artwork and since I’m such a beginner with the software I ended up spending a RIDICULOUS amount of time trouble shooting! It was not a very pleasant experience but I finally figured it out.. So many errors but it’s okay – I learned.

Spontaneous usage of details in your environment

Conclusion

So the total time I spend to make this project was 2 hours and 46 minutes. Not bad if you think about it. For sure this can still be streamlined and fine-tuned. It was just great knowing that I could come up something complete in that time-span.

I wanted to include the uploading to the platforms in the process but it was simply too late. I did not want to end up sleeping at 5am.

Overall it was a well spent 2 hours and 46 minutes. It will not go to waste as long as I upload it and share it as well. It’s interesting to know that if I have a 3 hour time block, I can come up with something. On a side note, the best place for your music is a place where someone can discover it and listen to it. No way will it ever be heard in your hard drive.

So here it is, a quick rock based electronic music jam. I would say its like an encapsulated record of my day presented in a sequence of sounds. Let me know what you guys think.

Learning by Taking the Plunge

Realized this for myself: Taking the plunge, taking immediate action, and beginning to work on your idea is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It simply propels you forward and have something at hand. The beauty of publishing something (or posting) is that it forces you to make the necessary creative decisions so you can come up with something.

The work may not be perfect, but I realized that perfection can be the enemy. Judging your work, trying to find out if its good or bad, leads to the death of the work. A creation never seeing the light of day is painful. How many hard drives of unfinished work, untapped potential, do you have?

This can apply to projects, to music, to art, and to life in general. Perfectionism makes you focus on the outcome too much. What I nurture for myself is an attitude of appreciating the process.

A tip I got from a creative person, Matt Farley, is that he just kept going and going, creating song after song. Perfectionism did not stop him. Even if he thought it wasn’t the best, he just proceeded to upload because he could always upload again; he can always write a better song and publish that. He knew that the album/song that was just posted was not the last!

Here’s a recent work I did by just taking the plunge:

Cover art is fun to do, and it allows you to put a number of elements together. I used two photos I took of cityscapes, a free-to-use stock photo, and some lettering. This was done through an open-source software called GIMP. What came out was a completely new work which was miles away from the original source material. It was just the creative use of layering, and effects. The process of going through each step became part discovery, part exploration, part experimentation.. the process itself generated pleasure.

Small developments like these make the process of learning, creating, and executing ideas fun. Makes you want to keep doing it again and again.

I hope that we can always find the strength to move forward with our projects and take the plunge.

Artimer