a quick break — but not without a small ramble
I'm declaring an intermission as I wipe the fog out of my clouded brain. A newsletter episode is a task opposed to my present energy level. It's been quite a week. I'll explain.
Even in normal times, a freelancer's life requires agility and nimbleness. But under The Strange Times, with work and jobs and economies falling sideways, these qualities need supercharging. Like many, my usual work is set to 'pause,' and the race is on for coming up with substitutions. I'm doing some writing gigs here and there (press releases and artist biographies, mainly) and glancing at consulting opportunities while the music business hums at a low volume. It's been touch-and-go.
About a week ago, I received a couple of referrals for music work. These jobs are similar: composing and producing original music for corporate branding videos and podcasts. The opportunity is exciting and challenging, and it's not lost on me that this brings my professional activity back to music-making.
But there's the rub. For all the weekly theme songs and the talk of new music, I haven't done squat. Even the AUDIOTOTEMPOLE release from last year comprised of older songs spanning years-and-years, miraculously fitting together as an EP. And as I wrote previously, I intended this newsletter's songs to be a self-imposed ruse to get me back in a regular music-making routine. But that hasn't worked out, either. So far, the 'theme songs' have consisted of scraps and unfinished bits from stray DATs and hard-drives. I even pulled out a rough track from 1988 — remember?
I said 'yes' to these two music jobs. And I set ambitious deadlines. The first project required five created-from-scratch productions, presented to the company as well-produced demos. I promised my pitch by the weekend, which meant I had given myself four days. I'm not sure what I was thinking (and the company seemed surprised by my short timeline). I guess I looked at it as a necessary shock to my system. With all my hemming-and-hawing for getting back to music-making, a hard deadline — with a price tag attached! — might be a necessary slap to the face.
The first day was frustrating. I've regularly messed around in my home studio over the past few years — so I didn't lose any technical familiarity — but never with an outcome in mind. Composing a full song from point zero was proving difficult. I ended up with a couple of sketches but nothing to write home about. Anxiety set in.
But it's incredible how we can ease back into old acquaintances. Despite the nervousness I felt at the start of the second studio day, I was comfortable within a few hours and had a couple of new sketches. And I liked them a lot. Then on the third day, the project started to get fun. I came up with the fifth sketch and developed all the demos into two-minute 'songs' (and retooled the first day's sketches into something cool). On the final day, I mixed everything down and submitted them to the company. Deadline met!
This project was my first starting-from-scratch music session in a couple of years. Even weirder (for me), it's been even longer — at least a decade, perhaps? — that I professionally made music. That is, delivering music according to a brief and for income. It's a hell of a feeling. And I'm exhausted. I forgot how much mental work it takes to compose and produce a song on my own — much less five of them in a few days.
So that's the reason you're getting an intermission. Rest assured, we'll return to our regularly scheduled Ringo program next Sunday.
Another thing: it feels like the slap in the face worked.
The hardest part of creative work is starting. It's even harder to start once you've stopped. That's why I'm writing this 1000-word ramble instead of just saying, "Hey, I'm taking the weekend off … back soon!" It's essential to keep going, so there's little distance to the reality of the creative process. I didn't do that with music, and the longer I waited, the more the process seemed like some dream. I'm using the word dream like an 'ideal' — that the act of creation was so easy back then when it wasn't, and that my present self-doubt means I'll never capture that 'flow' again, which is wrong.
I'm stoked about the week of music-making ahead of me. And now I'm thinking about the week after, and a summer (and beyond) of making music. Suddenly there's an idea for a whole new project, and it's all mapped out in my head. And I'm inspired to make the next 'theme song' something new, not some detritus that I found on a CD-ROM in a water-damaged cardboard box (true story). Like the purpose of this intermission statement — long and rambling like a regular newsletter section — I plan to keep the creative work going. The truth is that it's easier to start if you never stop.
Even though this is an intermission, I still want to present you with a theme song of sorts. This one isn't my song, but something special that has a small contribution from yours truly.
The author Robin Sloan is fascinated with how art changes (and often deteriorates, but in a beautiful way) when transferred across mediums. For example, from physical to digital to physical to digital — he calls it a flip-flop.
Robin recalls the origin of William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops, based on a melody recorded off the radio, forgotten, rediscovered over a decade later, and digitized from a corroded analog tape. A performance of the melody, broadcast on NPR, increased Robin's obsession. He gives this recorded interpretation to a neural network that reinterprets the melody even further. It's no longer disintegration — it's integration.
Exploring further possibilities for this simple melody, Robin requested participation from his newsletter readers: "After I published the first version of this post in April 2020, I invited anyone reading to join me by playing or singing the melody once through using whatever instrument (including their voice) and recording device (including their phone) was closest to hand."
Robin has released the final result, a beautifully haphazard collaborative piece he's calling "An integration loop, pt. 2" (part 1 was the AI-assisted interpretation). A number of people sent in renditions of the melody. That number included me, playing EBow guitar, heard just past the halfway point.
Robin: "In my imagination, each contribution is a rung in a ladder out of the pit of confusion and loss, all of us both (a) carrying the melody forward and (b) being carried by it, up towards something new, something whole." So simple, and laced with so much meaning. Read more about this project and listen to the final (?) result at the [LINK].
Thank you for reading this intermission episode of Ringo Dreams of Lawn Care. (It was more like a regular newsletter than I thought it would be.) I’ll be back next Sunday with the usual ramble and musings about whatnot. In the meantime, stay safe and connected with your friends and loved ones. See you next week! 🚀