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.

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.