Tag Archives: sherlock holmes

Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status: Level II

Well, since I finally have some downtime between projects, this seems like a good point in time to flesh out my thoughts on “Level II” of Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. If you have not already done so, take a quick detour and read up on Level I: Knowledge.


‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ I remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.’
‘Quite so,’ he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’
‘How often?’
‘Well, some hundreds of times.’
‘Then how many are there?’
‘How many! I don’t know.’
‘Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.’ (Holmes teaches Watson a lesson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”)


Level II: Observation

Whenever I pick up a new endeavor (I despise the word “hobby”), I do my best to see what the professionals are doing. When you start off, these are the people you want to emulate and, in the future, outperform. In addition to accruing facts and building up a decent knowledge base (see Level I), you also have to build muscle memory by practically swimming in your craft. Like any other skill, you can’t become the best simply by reading books. You also have to train.

The traditional method, which hardly anyone does anymore, was to apprentice under a grand master. You would work hard, sweep the floors, wash the laundry, and do all the cooking; and, throughout your tenure, your teacher would fill your head with gems of knowledge and you would grow to fill his or her shoes. This is the route I have been striving towards. Each sunday I go to the record shop and get immersed. I help clean up the shop, move crates around, organize records, and help customers. And once a month I spin at Monarch Lounge where DJ M3 looks out for me by teaching me the tricks of the trade.

And all the while, I do my best to see and observe.

And as Sherlock pointed out, there is a big difference between seeing and observing. The former is passive, the latter is active and full of intent. In essence, one must see with a goal in mind. This is a little difficult to explain when it comes to learning about soul music. But, what I do is reach out to DJs and record collectors who have been in the game for a long time and connect with them. And although these people have lives of their own, it does not mean that I am necessarily limited. I suppose an example of what I mean by observation would be helpful.

Each month, I go to The 45 Sessions, a monthly all-7-inch dance party in Oakland, and I pay attention to what the DJs are actually doing. Not just paying attention to what they play, but how they play it. For example, how and when they transition from one song to another, how they handle the records, how they troubleshoot. And all the while, I note the crowd’s response and my own gut reactions. And I do this practically at all events that I go to now.

But opportunities for observation are not limited to these outings. I also listen to as many mixes as I can get my hands on, and replay them constantly while paying attention to the transitions. In essence, the whole observation philosophy can be summed up in a piece of advice that Skeme gave me at the first 45 Sessions I attended: “take notes on what to do, and what not to do”.

That’s some real Sherlock Holmes advice.

And for me, observation is not limited to the music world. For instance, due to repeated viewings of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I have not been able to watch any movie since without paying explicit attention to scene transitions, the musical score, and how characters are framed on the screen. My appreciation for film (and music) has shot through the roof because of this “active seeing”. And in addition, I gain a greater appreciation for life because I constantly pay attention to details that others might take for granted or completely miss.

Stay tuned for the final level of Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status.

“I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction.” (J. Watson)

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Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status: Level I

When I was a kid, there were two people I wanted to be: Bruce Wayne and Sherlock Holmes. I idolized these two heroes because of their planet-sized intellects, their use of science and logic to solve crime, their almost egotistical level of self-confidence, and above all, their unparalleled detective skills. I would, literally, train myself by solving hundreds of logic puzzles in order to one day become as good a detective as Sherlock and Batman. I even pursued a career in science because it gave me a chance to use my detective skills to solve biological puzzles that no one in the world has figured out yet. And even today I still read Sherlock novels and I occasionally tap into my collection of Batman comics. Not to mention I’ve expanded to the likes of ColumboThe Question, and Nero Wolfe.

So I hope you can guess that I approached my entry into the vinyl scene with that detective mentality. When I started I had nothing more with me than some vague ideas and a few preconceptions, and now I am striving to reach “Sherlock Holmes Status” (otherwise known as “The Bruce Wayne Directive”).


“Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one ‘Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.’ In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue.” (Sherlock Holmes in “The Sign of Four”)


Level I: Knowledge

This is the very first step to reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. You have to accrue as much knowledge about the field as possible. I do this on a daily basis regardless of the topic. In science, I make sure to scan the vast literature for new discoveries and I’m always reading publications as they come out. For music, I read blogs and books, I follow up on DJs I respect, and I constantly use my record collection as a springboard for research. If you give me a soul artist’s name, then you can rest assured that by that night I would have searched the internet or any books I have lying around for her singles, what albums she’s dropped, who she worked with, what label she favored, and any memorable and noteworthy anecdotes in her life.

But it’s not enough to just have breadth, to reach “outwards” and accumulate tons of facts. Your knowledge base has to have depth as well; it should reach “downwards”, deep into the subject matter. It’s not enough to know that to get sound out of a record you have to put the needle down on it and have your speakers turned on. In order to reach Sherlock Holmes Status, you have to know how the needle translates those tiny bumps in the groove into sound. If you don’t know then you were like me a while back. So figure out how your record player works by doing some research, or ask me if you see me, or better yet ask someone who really knows and takes apart turntables like lego pieces (which is what I did to find out myself).

And this brings me to an important point. I know that reading books and blogs is not enough when it comes to something like music, which is, almost by definition, social. You have to talk to people. Just make sure you consult with the experts, i.e. those people who have been in the scene for far longer than you have and are holding on to gems of knowledge. Do not be afraid, but always be respectful.

And most importantly, I listen to music constantly. While I work, when I wake up, before going to sleep. I’m always humming, or singing, or whistling, or nodding my head to some song that’s stuck in my head. Aside from knowing the people and the history behind the music, you have to know the music itself. Hell, I’m jamming right now as I write this.

In essence, I have just outlined the recipe for reaching Level I, and I follow it religiously. I read blogs, books, or anything I can get my hands on (here is a student’s honor’s thesis on Lavell Kamma that I was turned onto by reading up on The FUNKY16CORNERS blog). I ask questions and I spend my weekends at the record shop chatting with Dick about music (the man is an encyclopedia). I even looked at my needles under a microscope to understand the intricate details of the design (lab perk). And even with all of that, I have not even come close to scratching the surface, and I wouldn’t say I’ve reached Level I.

But here’s the best part.

Even when I do reach Level I, I can never leave. This part of the quest is ongoing and never ending. And, as my mentor would say,  I have to always keep a baseline state of “I Don’t Know” while I continue to accrue new knowledge.

Stay tuned for Level II.

“The Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study”. (Sherlock Holmes)

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