For an organic lot, we humans sure like the comfortable confines of boxes. If we can categorize, classify or limit ourselves in some way — any way — we will.
We segregate ourselves by sex, ethnicity, culture and belief. Are we introvert or extrovert? Tall or short? Rich or poor? Liberal or conservative? A morning person or a night owl?
Inhabiting boxes simplifies life. Each has its own rigid limitations, boundaries and rules. The more boxes we can use to define ourselves, the less we have to take responsibility. Direction is determined. Choice is eliminated. And we — as humans — are defined, packaged, labelled, and marketable.
Not content to live only within metaphorical boxes, we confine ourselves to physical boxes too. We partition our planet into countries, and divide our countries into states and provinces; provinces into counties; counties into cities; cities into neighbourhoods; and neighbourhoods into houses — which we further divide into smaller, purpose-oriented boxes called rooms. We give those boxes names that define their acceptable functions. We dine in the dining room, bathe in the bathroom, and place our beds in the bedrooms. Within these rooms, we have designated boxes for storing pre-ordained content: sideboards in the dining room; vanities in the bathroom; dressers in the bedroom — all of which we divide further into sub-compartments. We have a drawer for socks, a shelf for stemware, and a bin for expired tubes of medicinal creams. And when we eventually pass from this earth, what do we do? Entomb ourselves in tiny boxes for eons.
Just how many barriers do we need?
I am obsessed with organization — an obsession that has, historically, relied heavily on a partitioning mindset. I don’t just have a drawer for my socks — I have subdivisions within that drawer to further delineate and classify those socks. The tidier my environment, the freer my mind… or so I thought.
But over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that rigidly adhering to my traditional definition of “organization” has had a significantly negative impact on my music.
Contrary to the content that appears within ULTRAsomething’s virtual box, music is my raison d’être. Music is what feeds my soul and it’s what feeds my body — quite literally in fact, since designing, developing, testing and documenting electronic music products has been my primary source of income for over 35 years.
As you might expect with something so integral to my very being, I’ve been particularly diligent at micro-organizing the craft’s myriad tools and techniques into tidy little clusters of function, purpose and intent.
Consider my “home office,” which is really just a small bedroom crammed full of computers, synthesizers, audio processors, mixers, effects, sequencers, microphones, speakers, amplifiers, and other assorted gadgets. Not content to merely place the music gear on stands and shelves within a singularly purposed room, I felt compelled to subdivide that gear into sections. One-third was grouped into an area meant for “composing.” One-third was dedicated to “product development and testing.” And the remaining third was for “live performance” — a particularly curious classification, since I don’t even perform live.
This allowed me to instantly test products in the “development” section, improvise new music and ideas in the “live” section, and work on carefully nuanced recordings in the “composition” section. Neat. Tidy. Orderly… and a total disaster.
If I needed to test a new product’s compatibility or functionality with an instrument that wasn’t currently in the “development” section, I had to disconnect it from where it sat, physically move it to the development section, and route a bunch of cables to connect it there. If I played an interesting improvisation in the “live” section, I had no way to record it or turn it into a composition — that function was built-in to the “composing” section. And if I sat down with the actual intent of composing something, two-thirds of my music making equipment was unavailable to me — resting in either the “live” or “development” portions of the studio.
So, while the arrangement was logical and organized, it wasn’t the right kind of organization. I didn’t need to build more boxes within boxes, like some kind of elaborate matryoshka doll. I needed fewer boxes. I should not have to go to a box and retrieve the ‘thing’ I need — the ‘thing’ should come to me when I need it. Yes, Henry Ford figured this all out way back in 1913… color me a slow learner.
Upon realizing this, I spent the past couple of months reinventing my concept of organization — tossing significant chunks of thought, time and labor into creating an organizational system that transcended partitions, and moved into the realm of neural networks.
My musical environment now functions more like a brain, and less like a filing cabinet. Every piece of gear is fully online and communicating. Any instrument or effect can feed into any other instrument or effect. Anything can be used for development, improvisation or recording. Anything and everything can be immediately grouped or ungrouped as needed. Streamlined fibre optic cables have replaced heavy copper snakes for the purpose of switching, merging and routing hundreds of discreet audio and automation data streams — allowing for instantaneous repurposing and reordering of every chunk of hardware.
Invigorated by this method of ‘open’ organization, I’m considering applying it to the rest of my condo. Why have any walls at all? If I’m hungry, why not push a button and have all the necessary items for preparing and eating food appear before me — regardless of where I currently stand or what other activity I’m engaged in? I’d push another button, and my bed would appear — bringing with it my sink, soap and a toothbrush for the nightly pre-sleep ritual. Everything should come to me — instantly, effortlessly and automatically. Yes, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera figured this all out way back in 1962 when they created “The Jetsons”… color me a doubly slow learner.
My new approach to physical organization completely eschews a traditional reliance on purposeful segregation through division, and instead embraces access, openness and relationships.
Can you imagine the human potential if the world’s metaphorical partitioners were to one day try this same approach?
©2019 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE ARTICLE:
You can take it as a literal and tedious discussion about how I reorganized my recording studio, or you can take it as a metaphor for society. Your choice.
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
My original intent was for this post to have no media accompaniment besides the “song.” But upon looking over last week’s roll of Tri-X, I discovered that — without even knowing what the topic of this month’s article would be — I seem to take an awful lot of photos that imply organization. So, rather than hide them on a hard drive for all eternity, I opted to publish a few with this article. All were shot with a Leitz Minolta CL, fronted with an uncoupled (scale focus only) Cosina Voigtlander 25mm f/4 Snapshot-Skopar, loaded with Tri-X, exposed at ISO 400, and developed in Rodinal 1:50.
ABOUT THE MUSIC:
The embedded song is the first one I’ve published in 18 months, and only my second in two years. This dearth coincides quite precisely with the two years my studio equipment spent segregated by purpose. While the song is neither hummable nor danceable, its creation was itself a dance. With the push of a button, every audio channel in my studio was put into record mode. I needed only to waltz around the studio and improvise. I played a low, pulsing drone with the Moog Grandmother, grabbed a snippet of it with the Chase Bliss Mood pedal and began to play the two of them off of each other — the Moog continuing to be Moogish, while the audio snippet shifted through various granular recreations of what I played. This all happened on what had previously been the “development” third of the studio. Dos-i-doing over to what was once the “composition” station, I latched a note on the Oberheim OB-6 and gently twisted its knobs with my left hand, while my right hand played a second keyboard, to which I assigned a choir sound. I next, in real time, step-sequenced a pattern into the Korg Minilogue XD and set it to playing, then performed a Chaîné turn over to the “live” section of the studio, where I added additional undercurrents from the Novation Peak and Arturia Micro Freak, before moonwalking back over to one of the computers to add a final string crescendo. Real-time, improvised recording — from anywhere within the studio. Instantly. My next goal is to write stuff that’s actually good enough to publish for a reason that’s more compelling than “I haven’t published in 18 months.” But that’ll be a whole other psychological issue to address.