On starting over

When I first started playing with modular everything felt new and open and expansive. I had a few semi modular starting pieces and then added a sequencer, modulators, and effects. I remember in those early days I was always stumbling across strange and incredible ways to reimagine my understanding of what music was and how I might shape it. I’d think about something like pumping compression and end up with reverb tails sequenced by a pitch sequencer through a vca. Everything was used multiple times. I focused on learning everything about single modules. Then thought about pairing.

Then during COVID I came into some business relief money and also a lot of free time and a great deal of anxiety. Over the next year, I filled 12u 104hp. I built a full live performance system. I wanted to be able to perform, so I ended up with in rack mixing, percussion, and a number of voices, sampling, etc. It’s very effective, and does feel like a complete system.

In fall 2021 I finished an album. I’m terribly proud of it, despite making no real effort to promote. The album was for me. The recordings started because I was so excited about the sounds I wanted to capture them. But slowly it morphed into a mission to “be a real musician.” I grew up as a musician and perhaps my biggest regret has been that I didn’t accept my admission to the Berkelee School of Music in Boston. Ultimately saxophone wasn’t the right instrument for me, but in truth I was scared. Scared to be myself. Scared to be that vulnerable in front of the world (this was 10 years before I would transition and enter recovery).

The big push for the album was in many ways a redemption story. It was so often filled with bliss and joy, but it was often filled with guilt and drive and a grasping for the infrastructure and equipment that would allow me to be the person I wanted to be, to make the music I wanted to be.

It’s almost a year since I finished the album and I haven’t been making much music since. Part of me is just resting, taking a fallow period.

But I wonder if something else is happening. I wonder if my grasping pushed me to grow my setup and my process much too quickly. I sit down now and I feel…not overwhelmed, because I know how to navigate my system as a whole well, but perhaps a bit like an expat years later in a city I have come to know well but whose deepest recesses are hidden from me.

I’ve been thinking about starting over. Selling everything, and buying a single semi modular again (I won’t mention names because this post isn’t about that) and started a new, longer, slower process getting to know the equipment and the process without pushing for it to be something that it’s not.

There are so many sounds that have penetrated my heart in my rack. Although in truth it’s probably only 5 or 6 modules. I’ve thought about just stripping away to these, but then I feel like I’d be left with the strongest of my patterns, and the whole point is to have open space again.

This is all circling around a deeper spiritual practice. A growing understanding that what I chose to call God is what is left when everything else is stripped away. I want to find this in my music, not a full percussion kit.

What is left in your musical practice when everything else is stripped away?

—-

Here’s the album for anyone interested. This post isn’t about that, but I feel remiss mentioned it and not sharing. Tea With Someone Dangerous

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I can somewhat relate to your post. I’ve never had loads of gear but I sold what little I had after losing my job recently. Now I have another (better paid) job, I can afford to build up again from nothing (aside from a laptop and Bitwig). So, I will be getting a few select semi-modulars that I love and eventually a Pulsar-23. All GAS for other things has disappeared. I know what my sound and strengths are and I’m going to double down on them and not look back. Long story short, starting over with some experience behind you is liberating. No fluff in your future setup. Good luck!

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I run into this issue constantly, but it’s more about wanting to expand my sound and being infatuated by gear I don’t have (gas). The joy of a giant Eurorack system is having all of these beautiful modules in front of you but it becomes overwhelming making music because you want to use everything all at once. Starting over for me isn’t the answer. I have found that changing my workflow with what I have is a very good resolution. Or, in my case, trying to emulate gear I want but don’t have with gear that I already have. For example, I have recently used my Eurorack to make music akin to what I would want to do if I had a CL plumbuttter, with the the results being pretty darn good. Suffice to say, gear is just gear and while starting over might sound like a good idea, making due with what you already have makes not only logical sense, but economic sense as well.

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From someone who has been teaching at Berklee for 28 years, I’d like to offer some comfort by saying that Berklee is in many ways a great place to get immersed in music, but whether or not one studies there has no real impact on one’s ability to dream of music and then manifest it. None whatsoever. Put that out of your mind if at all possible :pray:t2:

On some levels I believe that art school is a better foundation for really creative music than music school…. But that’s another conversation.

The other thing I want to share is that the actual equipment is kind of a distraction. What I have experienced many times is the excitement of the new, followed by a feeling of deflation as the new becomes the familiar. This is a well-documented part of the human spiritual condition.

If you’re comfortable with your existing gear and know it well, I’d encourage you to consider finding alternative ways to recharge your inspirational batteries. Run, meditate, cook something amazing, try using Oblique Strategies to reset your patterns. Etc.

If you don’t confront the psychic atrophy then whatever you replace your current gear with will eventually end up in the same stuck place.

Wherever you go, there you are! The only way out is through :+1:

:om::om::om:

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I appreciate this and have experimented some with creating smaller racks out of my current gear that narrow my focus somewhat, although I find myself feeling like I’ve placed my glass of water a bit out of reach.

It’s less about wanting a particular piece of new gear, and more about missing a place where I was restricted and forced to rethink each piece of gear rather than reach for something that has dedicated functionality for what I want.

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I appreciate this; thank you.

I in fact ended up in a sort of art school and it was incredible! I think my regret has more to do with not building music into the foundations of my life and my livelihood earlier. But perhaps that’s an excuse for not beginning to build those practices now.

I know parts of my current gear well, but I think what I’m feeling is that I rushed through a period of slower development and growth so that I actually don’t know some of my gear well. I have a deep connection to some of it, some of the sounds, some of the process, but I feel like I crossed some tipping point where I no longer learned each new additional fully or even partially but treated it more at face value for it’s stated function, and that has felt like a loss.

Thank you I needed to hear this

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I am in the same boat. I had already started building my eurorack rig when I came into some unexpected cash due to a death in the family. That allowed me to get a number of modules that I had researched and determined to be a good fit, but definitely too many simultaneous learning curves that I am still working my way through slowly, maybe even glacially.

It’s frustrating but then I remember that I have the rest of my life to learn them well, and I can approach it as a fun learning experience for a better emotional outcome rather than letting it cause angst and depression…. I still have to battle against GAS, but it’s getting somewhat better.

Also as I do and learn more, my perspective as to what I still want or need is getting more refined. I don’t think that drive ever goes away completely but I do think it eventually balances out.

Hang in there !

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I think on one side there’s GAS, and that is a contributing factor hear - the feeling that something new will build or breed excitement, will remove restriction. As you say this is always only true for a limited time and then you’re stuck up against the same process wall having made little to no progress against the actual challenge of moving through it.

On the other side - are we stuck with the decisions of a single pathway we took when we were naive beginners? Do we consider our first adventure into building this kind of system as some predestined source of truth that we’ll spend the rest of our lives unraveling?

Perhaps I want to change approach entirely? That “good fit” you mention is a moving target. I had focused on creating a system that can produce a (wide) range of techno and electronica that arises from many of my influences, but I have increasingly wondered if “purer” (cringe) formats like Serge or weirder more degenerate formats like Soma Labs might fit me better.

Yes, the grass is always greener, and I have deeply come to believe that we must grow where planted, and yet while the settlers on the way west that stopped in Kansas may have built happy lives there, the ones that carried on to be planted in the valleys in the western pines sure had more fertile soil to work with.

I think about this with saxophone. I could have pushed on there and worked to find inspiration for it again. But coming to modular felt like coming home. A total night and day difference - a place for all the parts of myself to express themselves musically. Maybe saxophone will come back into my process someday, but I’m immensely glad that I allowed myself to leave it behind for now.

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I totally hear you on all this.

Of course we must grow, and growth is change!

My purpose was only to say that you are not alone and to encourage tapping the brakes on any radical shift to give yourself time to really think and feel your way through it, lest you wind up in a similar place.

I’m old enough at nearly 63 to have been down this path several times, and am finally getting some traction on a more balanced approach…

We’re each on our own unique journey!

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@scarletdame I don’t know you and can’t advise what would work for you as a person, but here is my experience for what it’s worth.

I have had a fair amount of gear churn for the last 10 years or so. But there is a core setup and mindset that persists and doesn’t change. In my case for playing with others, it’s a guitar like instrument and pedals. I learned about stacking distortions in the 1990s and that has stuck with me. I bought an Eventide H9 in 2014 and have slowly learned which algorithms were good for my musical applications in a band and how to manipulate them. I tried going all digital in a Line 6 pedal and found that I could but it wasn’t as fun. I experimented with a bunch of reverbs and figured out what works for me. But the function and role are independent of the specific gear.

So there is a core musical process and attitude, enhanced by ongoing practice, and study with a teacher.

For synth stuff, it’s been more fluid. I had a long affair with granular synthesis, but have sort of left that behind. But I am getting to a solo practice that works for me. Again, I think it’s mostly gear independent, though I like a Linnstrument for “entering” pitch — whether playing or working with a sequencer. I know I like to improvise, I know I prefer hardware when I’m feeling creative. I know I prefer certain kinds of interfaces and I know what sounds I like. I can work with modular, semi-modular, or just fixed architecture.

That said, there is a value to building a system once you know more about what you like. I started piecemeal in Eurorack and always regret not just getting a single-manufacturer system to begin with.

Tl;dr, there is the musician who hones their craft on an instrument over the years, there is the composer who transforms their process every few years. In modular world, there is something inbetween.

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this really strikes me, yes.

Is there any way to learn about which side of this balance we fall other than going too far in both directions?

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I’d guess that there is little choice but to fall somewhere in between these poles.

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everything is optional
the music comes from you, not from the device
don’t worry about “time”
maybe there is no need to change, but to continue exploring deeper what it is you already do

those some small philosophies that have been healthy for me and my creative practice in the last few years anyway

also your album is beautiful, congrats on making it

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Just chiming in to say that this is so true in my experience. For a lot of us, art is primarily a way to process and work through experience. I’ve noticed over the years that my best work comes after some kind of event, whether positive or negative, and periods of stagnation follow long stretches of ordinary life. So I agree; take a break from your art and go experience something. See if that shakes the bushes.

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Honestly, everything I know about myself as an artist is a result of trial and error. I wish there were a faster or cheaper way. What’s amazing, and I don’t mean this in any way to brag, is that I keep finding myself capable of things I thought or felt were impossible for me. And that almost solely comes from practice.

One other thing that should get more traction from your original post is the spiritual dimension of this. I’m an atheist (in the literal sense not having any relation to a deity, not in the sense of defining myself against faith or others’ belief or religion—I understand their value to others). For me, being “in” music is my path to transcendence. That is much more important than artistic accomplishment or even being good. It’s expensive in terms of time: I am either playing with others or by myself or not, but once I start playing, it comes cheaply. A bad practice with my band, a synth drone that goes nowhere, a frustrating practice session, it’s still valuable. So if you start over, focus on that part and not the shopping. Not that shopping isn’t fun.

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I’ve been oscillating back and forth from deeply appreciating the stillness my life is in right not and feeling a deep sense of loss and anxiety that my creative practice hasn’t come with me into that stillness (at least not in the musical form that I had loved most).

I think this is true, but I miss the music! I am certainly deepening in my life in other ways. I think as I was saying above that I left my music behind for so many years in a way that was driven by trauma and insecurity, and I now find this fallow period to be unnerving and triggering - I don’t want to spend another 10 years without music making and get caught up in all the other parts of life instead.

“Time.” Yes.

Thank you very much!

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I have experienced this too, but where is the role of practice and process here? I have written morning pages everyday (although currently fallow from this as well) and have found that it becomes a background grid through which my experienced is processed. Because I write everyday, I work things out in words. When I make more music, this happens as well.

If i only wait until some period of inspiration, whether from the positive or negative experience that you mention, do I not miss this kind of opportunity to use a musical practice as this process?

Sometimes I feel I’ve experienced far too much for a number of years…

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Thanks for pulling this forward!

I think that’s exactly what I feel like I’m missing and want to get back to. When there was less gear, before I was trying to record, before I was trying to share, it was just a creative process through which i transformed myself.

I wrote a blog post once about this, about how the art is an artifact of the process and the real material that is being worked and transformed by the process is ourselves. This is a spiritual process of coming closer to that which we are.

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For me it’s less about inspiration and more about stimuli. Feeding an input into the system that is me so that it has something to chew on (other than itself, which is what ends up happening to me otherwise). Then bring all the muscle memory you’ve built through practice to bear on the matter at hand. There’s nothing better than that feeling, IMO!

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i do also definitely think practice, and to a certain degree, discipline, is important. sometimes it is all too easy to let things just be what they be, and get comfortable not challenging ourselves to feel uncomfortable trying and failing, sometimes for days or months in a row, to find a creative flow

like everything finding the balance of that can sometimes take constant effort. but that is okay too i think

i also want to just say that ever since i saw the title of this thread i have been saying to myself in my head
“yes! wake up every day and start over, always!”

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