My man and kindred spirit DJ Delgado is celebrating the five year anniversary of Fresh Jamz with his partner, DJ Odiaka. They got a heavy lineup and they’re kicking it off early!
And to boot, Delgado got interviewed for SF Weekly. Great read on the current scene and other goodies.
See you guys there tonight – there’s a free mix in it for you and a great party for sure.
And after that, heading back to SF to check out Diamond D and The 45 Sessions gang.
I woke up this morning (says Captain Obvious) and found a great read by musician, writer, and friend of The 45 Brains: Keith Foster. In his article he hits upon some interesting ideas that I wanted to comment on. But my comment quickly grew too long and I decided to make it a full-fledged article of my own.
Definitely check out Keith’s “Influence of the Subconscious” article.
(1) The contribution of the subconscious to creativity:
Really, this is what feels like the subconscious because it’s not formally intended. I might be playing semantics here but, for this response, it’s important to know what Keith means by the subconscious.
Keith uses “dreams” as an entry point into subconscious thinking. His clear example is of artist Rick Veitch who created a dream journal in comic book format. The entries become more vivid over time as Veitch becomes better at capturing his dreams, and therefore his subconscious thoughts. I think Keith is suggesting that subconscious thoughts are unintended connections made without conscious effort. And yet, Keith and I both think that this form of thinking is a trainable skill. How can you become better at thinking subconsciously? And more importantly, how are creative people inspired? For me, the answer can be summed up by artist Chuck Close:
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work”.
That is, inspiration does not come out of thin air. Creative people are immersed in their craft. A connection that comes naturally to them seems inspired to the rest of us. What are creative people other than those who can connect nodes in ways that others have not? For example, that is the basic premise behind sampling 2 seconds of a jazz record to create something entirely new.
(2) The subconscious can be wrong, or misleading!
But that’s ok, it is part of the creative process to err. Sometimes connections are made that are just lifted from sources we were exposed to long ago and forgotten. I think that too, is ok; it is not stealing, because it is unintended (lawyers, help me out here). The problem is this: what counts as original? The Bible argues that there is “nothing original under the sun” and (I think) an old sufi tradition says that the only original action we execute is death — that no one can teach us how to die. This sounds extreme! But what examples out there suggest otherwise?
In Keith’s article, he relates a story in which he was possessed by a catchy riff, that he thought was completely his own, only to be corrected by his girlfriend’s children. His personal example is one of a creative person coming to terms with these old ideas, that there is nothing original under the sun. But just so, he takes it in stride. He subconsciously created a “funky cover version of a pop song”, a creative act in itself. The pains of his realization date back to olden times as well, as Shakespeare put it:If there be nothing new, but that which is Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled, Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss The second burden of a former child.
The problem is catching the “former child” before it hits press, or at least being lucky enough to have your girlfriend’s children around to help you out.
(3) Does dream-sleep count as subconscious thinking?
I’m not entirely convinced that it should. I feel perfectly aware in my dreams and would count myself as conscious, although the creation of the dream-world itself seems to happen without my control. Is it conscious processing that is easily forgotten when we awake? Is it consolidation of the previous day’s efforts? Is it completely out of our “conscious” control? I don’t think we know enough about the brain, or dreams, or sleep, to really say what’s going on here, but we can philosophize, and tell stories.
Anecdotally: two years ago I was working on a science proposal. It’s a big process where I have to spend months scouring the literature and designing key experiments to address a question in neuroscience. It culminates in three professors grilling me about my proposal. Well, I was near the end of the process, right before the defense. The package was polished and I had numerous people revise it so there were no major holes in it and that it read well. Or so I thought.
Because I was constantly thinking about this proposal, I began having what I, at the time, called “science dreams”. Experiments would come up in dream conversations I had with myself or people in my lab. And one time, in one of these conversations, I discovered a major hole in my proposal! In the dream I started panicking because the deadline for defending was soon, but then something crazy happened. In that very same dream, I came up with the perfect experiment to address the issue. When I woke up, I ran to my computer and started typing away. The entire proposal didn’t change much, but there was that key paragraph stuffed in at the last minute.
Sometimes your clearest thinking happens while your dreaming. But does that make it subconscious?
Back in September, my friend Alex was hanging out with me and a few others while I was freestyling with my man Gabe. Being a jack of all trades and a master of none, I hope it does not come as a surprise that I dabble (of course dabbling guarantees that I will remain an amateur). Regardless, we were having a great time, and Alex, being a neuroscientist, asked what the hell is going on in my brain while I improvise? And as an answer to her question, today, she sent me an email about an interesting study entitled “Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: an fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap”.
And out of that, comes to you the very first 45 Brains post that mixes my two passions: music and neuroscience.
Like pretty much all scientific papers out there, this study is full of jargon and tech-speak. But the basic finding is simple to understand: some brain regions become more active when you freestyle and these are different from the brain regions that become active when you perform a memorized piece. So what? Well, it turns out that these patterns of activity are reminiscent of those found in jazz musicians when they improvise versus when they perform set pieces. That is, the brain may improvise jazz and emceeing in the same way. If you are Myka 9, then this is not news to you; indeed, his freestyle form is highly influenced by jazz and may be entirely founded in it.
It’s easy to appreciate the similarities between freestyling (language-based improv) and jazz (instrument-based improv). Both forums are vehicles for on-the-spot musical creation. Indeed, they serve as methods for spontaneous self-exploration of one’s creative powers and limits. And it seems the brain may control improv, and therefore tap into creativity, in similar ways, regardless of your creative technique, canvas, or vehicle for expression.
At the same time I’ve been a comics fan since I was about 15. I remember the exact comic that hooked me – Secret Wars #4, the cover of which has the Hulk holding up an ENTIRE MOUNTAIN so it wouldn’t crush him and the other heroes. From that moment on comics were for me, and I don’t just mean the content and the stories. Comics as a *medium* fascinated me, not only for the traits similar to other media (they look like art, read like a book and play out like a movie) but for the traits that are more uniquely “comics”. So much action in a comic book story happens in-between the panels as you continue the story in your mind; you can create a passage of time and pacing to a story that is much more difficult with other art forms; and so many more. And, your budget is zero yet unlimited; your only constraint is imagination! Can you imagine how expensive and time-consuming it would be, special-effects wise, to have the Hulk hold up a mountain in a film?
Giant monsters have been there the whole time. Saturday afternoons in front of the TV as a kid watching Godzilla turned into countless hours spent as an adult watching and re-watching those films, soaking in the giant monster destruction. Yet, as great as the movies were visually, it was the music that really drew me in. So ominous, so powerful, and in some cases – so hip-hop. Pharaohe Monch tapped into that with “Simon Says” and the hip-hop influence weaves in and out of Godzilla scores whenever they get just the right BPM and hang out in 4/4 time for a while.
It’s the intersection of Godzilla scores, hip-hop beats and funk that created the basis of “Terror Mountain Showdown”. It took no time for us to go from one song to fifteen! And once we completed the music, we figured we’d just do what we did with the Jimmy Ruckus records – give the record the whole ‘lost soundtrack’ vibe, create a few lines of dialogue and imagine it as a Godzilla soundtrack that never saw the light of day until now.
RIP to Steve Jobs, the very young, super genius, CEO and co-founder of Apple. Jobs and Apple have and are still changing the way we interact with digital media and we are all thankful. For one, I’m grateful to be writing this entry from my MacBook Pro – the pretty much essential piece of machinery i use on a daily basis to work, play, learn, research, and connect with people from all over the world. Not to mention how much time I spend on iTunes or learning Japanese on my iPod. And I’m still going strong as an Apple user and supporter.
Also, Ralph Steinman, like Jobs, had pancreatic cancer and died three days before he won the Nobel Prize for his work on the immune system. He discovered dendritic cells, important players in your immunity, and tried to use them to treat (his own) pancreatic cancer!
My friend Pu told me that the Chinese have a saying: “God is jealous of geniuses”.
I just finished putting together the 45Brains facebook page. I will mostly use it for quick updates and mini adventures; anything that doesn’t really fit here at the main site. I will update people about anything 45 related that comes my way. That includes gigs you should check out, new additions to the collection, record sales, podcasts, etc.
But my favorite part is going to be this: I will be putting up youtube links to songs that I either have at home or am currently hunting for. The way that I see it, if we’re going to talk music then we might as well listen too. Of course, I realize the quality of sound that I’m referring you to on youtube is nothing compared to the sound I get at home. In fact, it’s incomparable. And you may already know the obvious reasons why. But in reality, it’s a deep issue that needs to be hashed out fully and I will try to do it justice at a later time. For now, just tune in to the facebook page and listen. I hope you Like This.
Not to mention you can follow 45Brains on twitter.