Monday, March 30, 2009

Plotting the learning curve

Lots of web logs out there "document the creative process." That is fantastic. I follow those kinds of web logs and I attempt to maintain that kind of web logging here. But what I have come to discover is that I need also to accept the kind of learning curve that I've got to deal with in terms of my creative avocations. So I've got to document not just my creative process but also my slide down the various learning curves that I've got to manage.

Last January, inspired by another web-logger's (Stretta's) year-end-review, I published my own "production principles." With as much as I have to learn, they seem a bit comical to me now. So this post is kind of a response to my own previous post. I need not only principles guiding my creative process, but some way to make sense of managing my steep learning curve and keeping a balance between actually producing something and all the study time I need in my project studio (for musical and sonic pursuits) and with the artists who guide my study of iconography and sacred architecture. They say that half the journey is getting there. I am the type that wants to be there already. So I quickly and easily get impatient with myself or discouraged by the sheer amount of in-depth and arcane knowledge possible for (and sometimes demanded by) the creative avocations I have come to pursue.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the shear volume of area that my interests cover. In terms of my sonic and musical pursuits:

  • programming, which includes
  • synthesis,
  • use of the multitude of applications for the monome device
  • sequencing in general and
  • drum-patterning in particular
  • musical composition (be that ambient or "pop")
  • sound capture and
  • use of my digital audio workstation ("DAW," e.g., Logic)
  • possibly needing to learn another DAW (i.e., Live when it comes out combined with MAX/msp)
  • possibly learning to program monome applications (with the bundled MAX)
  • guitar (again)?

In terms of sacred images and architecture:

  • their history
  • their theology
  • their multiple styles
  • drawing technique
  • painting technique

The above bullet points cover vast tracts of learning territory. Then there is learning how to share the products of one's creativity after one has finally learned enough actually to produce something worth sharing!

  • web publishing through one's web log
  • "sharing" through (sane use of) forums
  • "sharing" files through social networks (Vimeo, Soundcloud)

Some of these have a steeper learning curve than others. Some I recall well from my high school garage-band days. Some, like the iconography and architecture, are really quite new to me. Some I feel comfortable with at this point (e.g., managing my web log), others I feel intimidated by (e.g., the vulnerability I feel when sharing my amateur tracks on Soundcloud).

So, for perspective's sake, I'll do a little review. I recently looked back over receipts with regard to purchases for my project studio. It has helped me form a timeline of acquisition directly proportional to a timeline of my learning curve.

I hadn't broken out my synthesizers and fired them up for, say, about four years until last January of 2008. I was playing them through a crappy four-channel radio shack mixer into an old borrowed guitar amp.

Last March (2008), two months after I finally turned my synthesizers back on, I bought a real mixer, monitors, my Korg Kaoss Pad, and all the stuff to connect the power, the audio and the MIDI to one another and into my computer. I still didn't have a DAW other than the free Garageband that came with my apple and the "Live Lite" that came as trial software with my M-Audio Audiophile.

Finally, in May (2008) I bought Logic Express. The last time I tried to mix my computer with my synthesizers was back in 1993 when I bought Opcode's Vision. I tried to run it on my little Mac Classic II and it just crashed every time. It was about that time that I started dedicating all my energy to my vocation and left music to just the listening category. So, as of this post, I've only been learning DAW technology for about 10 months. In my old garage band I certainly sequenced using my awesome MMT8, but I didn't also have to serve as my own producer, engineer, mixer, master-er, and "publisher." When I write these things down, they give me perspective. I guess I feel like I've been learning pretty well so far!

I finally picked up a decent quality home studio microphone in October (2008). So that launched me into the need to learn something about audible sound capture (as opposed to simple "line-in" from my synthesizers). It was also about that time that the glorious email from came letting me know that my "device" was "ready" for order. And that is when things avocational really started to change for me.

I received my monome 64 in November (2008). So I have only been working on learning how to integrate its nearly mind-boggling capabilities into my (still only hypothetical) "work flow" for about five months. Wow. That is good for me to read. I guess as of right now I've decided that I am right on track with my learning curve!

My monome device and the amazing monome community was what initially inspired me to go crazy and start up this web log. I am glad that I did. It has been fun and I have enjoyed the interactions, inspirations and communications that it has allowed me to be a part of. It is far more fun pursuing an avocation with others who share a common interest and are supportive.

I am so thankful and joyful to be back in the world of creativity, especially that of sound and music. More plotting of my learning curve to come. Thanks for reading, and thanks for all the encouragement I have received along the way. So here is to more learning - and the gift of more, inspired creativity I have come to know that I can expect. Peace


  1. Wow. This is a great post and exceedingly timely for me personally as I am or have been struggling with similar issues.

    Like you I am interested in many things and am fortunate enough to be able to pursue them with some level of "favorable outcome" -- provided I am able to focus adequately. And that is the kicker because having a wide set of attainable interests really encourages one to spread very thin. And the danger there is in becoming a dilettante.

    With the birth of our first child last year I had to really really force myself to "boil down" my priorities and interests to what I could reasonably pursue. For me that boiled down to (in order): My family, my health, my music, my day job. (Understand those are my mental priorities; the reality is that the day job occupies a much bigger time slot due to necessity than the above list would have you conclude.)

    However, I found that I quickly began subdividing those categories. In "music" for instance there are my piano studies, my blog, my (currently bereft of inspiration) music projects. I found that I was still frustrated by lack of progress. For example, I wasn't able to "get anywhere" with some pieces I was trying to write...

    ...But "getting somewhere" depends on perspective and expectation. You are probably familiar with Stretta's ATAOIB songset. Beautiful pieces that he wrote over a couple of weeks within a very time constrained 30 minute window each day. I was blown away. How can he do this? Summon the muse consistently for such short periods and produce this wonderful music? (It has become one of my absolutely favorite listening experiences.)

    I contacted him to ask that question. His response was simple and in retrospect obvious. I'm paraphrasing here: An adjustment HE made after his children were born was to change his expectations concerning the types of pieces that he would try to write. They had to fit within the new realities of his available time and changed priorities. In my view, he connected all of the pieces. Situation, aspirations and expectations.

    Anyway this rambles.

    A thought provoking posting Tetramorph. Thank you.

    PS - If you don't mind, I'd like to add you to the front page of my blog as a "friend" site. (Let me know if that is not ok.)

  2. Thanks for reading. I'm glad my post resonated with you. I love following your web lot.

    I call myself a "dabbler," not a dilettante. "Dilettante" implies naive snobbery. I've got a lot of naivety but I, for the most part, have dropped the pretense and snobbery. I've become comfortable with myself as a dabbler. Sometimes I make nice things, sometimes pretty, sometimes profound (in that order of likelihood). Part of my coming to terms with my "situation, aspirations and expectations," has been accepting myself as a dabbler.

    I like your priority list. Ditto, except that my "job" is so closely tied to my vocation that it ranks above my avocation, or at least equally.

    Stretta always kind of shocks and amazes me. Then I remember his resume, his education and experience, and it helps me put my own relative lack of formal musical training and inexperience in proper perspective. I think I make nice stuff for someone with my training / experience. (Yes, I too love ATAOIB and Brood XIV.)

    I like the question you asked him. What a nice, honest answer he sent your way. His "tips" are always wise. Thanks for giving me more "Stretta-wisdom" to meditate on: what is my situation? what should I aspire to? What should I expect to get out of it?

    And, of course, I would be flattered if you listed me as a blog "friend" site. I'll do likewise.

    Thanks for posting. Peace


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