Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ladies And Gentlemen... The Spirit Three

The news has stopped for a few minutes, maybe I can wedge in a little overcooked musing on something or other... shall I give it a go?

I've recently been faced with an interesting creative challenge. With my interest in creating straightforward pop waning, I seem to spend a lot more time making experimental ambient music. Now, this is a strand of my musical diet that has always been there (since about the time I bought my first delay unit in high school), but has rarely bubbled to the surface, since it seemed tantamount to musical self-abuse - sure I have fun doing it, but does anyone really want to hear it?

The principal stumbling block is that in a mindset where repeatability is a key - i.e., it's no good unless you can repeat the process and get the same result... scientific musicality, in essence - an activity in which rolling around in sound, largely improvised, and unique to that performance seems somehow, well... false. Not bad, but not "real", whatever that entails.

But that was my own hang-up. In a world where recording exists, and in a medium (experimental music) where the recording and sonic manipulation is a given factor in the end result, it just doesn't matter... you only have to be able to do it right once. And sometimes, not even that, thanks to multitrack recording. Suddenly, the idea of it being a necessary factor to be able to play the same part the same way every time seems not outdated - after all, I still love pop music - BUT more than anything, it seems quaint. Suddenly, I'm working in a different field, with a different set of rules than before, and I'm finding that these rules offer a freedom of form that leads to new avenues of creativity.

The most interesting of which is that this inclination to experimental improvisation has been bubbling under for years. In 2004, we made the first Shake EP. It was intentionally primitive garage rock, inspired by the Oblivians, Cheater Slicks, et al. Only one of the songs was "written" before the recording session, and that was only in the most basic form, as it was only two different two-note riffs over a thumpy beat. The point was that between getting home and going to bed, the goal was to create, and then have the creation exist as a separate entity, outside my head, before the day was through. That forced creativity can create some excellent accidents, and is freeing in that there's a certain sense that it doesn't matter what the end result IS, simply that there is an end result, a product created for whatever purpose. In my mind, that physical end result of spontaneous creativity, whether subjectively good or bad (I had a metalhead plumber friend who LOVED the Instant Record EP and garage rocker friends who hated it), is the key to the whole thing, and the reason to even do it in the first place. What matters is that there is now a thing that wasn't. That didn't exist before you created it. And if one keeps doing it, one gets better.

Naturally, there are some hidden clauses in that freedom - i.e., I'll respect your right to make something like that, but there's a "minimum competency level" that my aging ears have begun policing. However, that level is still pretty low. I'm willing to listen to just about anything if that spark of mad creativity is there, even if the result is (and it usually is) less-than-aurally-pleasing. Of course, I don't want to make music that sounds shitty, but again, if that spark, that audible drive to push somewhere new is present, a bum note seems like a lot less of a problem and a lot more like a byproduct of improvisation and spontaneous creativity.

So now, I'm faced with a dilemma. I've come to terms with the fact that I have a limited audience... embraced it, even. Granted, I'd like my friends, whose opinions I respect, to LIKE it, but it's not necessary. Do I keep going down a road where I'm making music that pleases me with the sole intention of creation of an artifact and the enjoyment of making it? Or do I declare that art is invalid without an audience, and perhaps attempt to focus the energy on something more appealing to a wider group, thereby increasing my chances of this so-called "art" (blech) reaching a larger crowd?

The answer, of course, is the former. It doesn't matter whether or not anyone will hear (or if they do, care for) the music, it matters that this is a piece of something that wasn't there before. Sure, it might not be appealing, but it is an honest, true-to-life of a creative endeavor. It isn't forced, it isn't striving to fit a pre-determined style (it's not like I'm doing anything innovative, but I have no particular influences beyond "they play droning, heavily-effected guitars in a repetitive manner". There are a wondrous number of groups and players that have experimented with feedback and modulation. This is just another one. But the "keep doing it and get better" mantra fails me a bit when it comes to something this inherently structure-light. Without the classical pop format, the rules for whether or not something is good or bad get much more blurred. Right now, when I listen to the free-er end of avant/ambient/psychedelic music, my primary scale is "Is it boring?" That's not a lot of pressure to perfect a style, to be sure. But what if there were JUST enough pressure to keep things moving forward on a practical level, in a resolutely static style of expression? With a certain amount of pressure from a deadline, that's how. A deadline for a record series. One per month... a single at worst, and an EP at best. Some will be better than others, some will be worse than most of them. But they will be, and they will each have something appealing about them.

So please, in addition to Shake, welcome The Spirit Three into the world.

[And no, the name actually has nothing to do with Spiritualized and Spacemen 3... that's just a happy coincidence. You get an EP named after you if you're the first person to comment and say where the name comes from.]


  1. Hey Mike,

    Totally unrelated to your post but this is the only way I could find to get a hold of you! Check your AIM or call me/email me, I got a question for you!

    Mike in bloomington at BW. my email address is my Or this google account.

  2. I think that it is a combination of Spirit Fingers and Three's Company!

    I got nothin'.

  3. At least one of those is one of my favorite things.