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Posts from the ‘philosophy’ Category

Snakes and spiders

A spider crawled out of my bag this morning. I let out the kind of involuntary girlish yelp that I reserve for spiders and mice. It was the same spider that I had seen on the ceiling two days prior while vacuuming.

I remember observing at the time, that whilst it might have been highly convenient to hoover the spider up, thus removing any real or imagined threat, I wasn’t able to do it. This evoked a feeling of curiosity with a tinge of self-satisfaction. Had the Buddhist teachings started to penetrate at last? Had I finally begun to feel compassion for all living things?

Another thought accompanied these musings: hoovering it up wouldn’t actually get rid of it. It would still be there, inside the hoover bag. Dead or alive, it would sit there, in the bottom of that bag, as a consequence of my action.

Perhaps this was about responsibility. When I throw something away, I want to imagine that the responsibility for that rubbish leaves me the moment the rubbish leaves my hand. But somehow these days that story doesn’t sit quite so comfortably with me.

Every thing we throw away goes somewhere. Nothing is completely eradicated out of existence – it just changes into something else. This is the case with things, but also thoughts, emotions, they’re all energies – they have to go somewhere. I wonder if in some way this is what karma is all about.

The next day I saw the spider again in a different corner. A shorthand version of the previous days musings played over in my mind, along with the thought: ‘ah, there’s that spider again. still there. hmmm.’

This spider gave me two warnings that an intimate invasion might be forthcoming, and yet I did nothing.

I wonder how this translates to my behaviour in other areas of my life. Do I push away unwanted thoughts like unwanted rubbish, only to find them manifesting later more vividly in physical or emotional ways that I can’t control?

Quite possibly.

I think about Robert the Bruce, who also famously learnt something from a spider. The moral of that story was, we were taught, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ You can’t really argue with that. How many people succeed by giving up first time?

It inspired me to construct my own proverb:

‘Ignore a spider on your ceiling and the next day you’ll find it climbing behind your eyeball.’

OK I dressed it up a bit for the sake of the drama, but you get the idea. I wonder if it’ll catch on.

On a related topic, I released an EP this week. Not about spiders, but snakes. Water Snakes, to be precise. It’s about not ignoring what’s there – rather embracing it. It’s about a journey – the kind of journey that starts by letting go of your baggage. If you’ve ever travelled with Ryanair you’ll probably have experienced this kind of thing already.

Looking at what’s actually there is really, really uncomfortable a lot of the time. But in my humble experience, ignoring what’s there and trying to work with something that’s not there, only to find the taut facade of your own fantasy come crashing down at the most inopportune moment, usually in public, is marginally worse.

If that doesn’t tempt you to have a listen to the EP, I don’t know what will.

I could also add that it’s got some nice songs on it, possibly some of my best work so far. And there’s more to come.

Incidentally there are a few particular doses of inspiration to which I am indebted, and which I shall note here, for those who may be interested: The teachings of Chögyam Trungpa, Coleridge’s The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, and TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, in particular, Little Gidding. I’ll end with a quote from that as it says it all as eloquently and succinctly as I could ever wish to do.

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’

And now the music.

How important is the silence?

It’s an interesting question. I recently decided to put my first album ‘The Anomaly Project’ back on sale on all the digital platforms via a new distributor. (The reasons I took it away are also interesting, but not completely relevant here.) Having uploaded all the tracks I finally got my new artwork sorted which I’m very pleased with, and sent it off.

The album was rejected because the final track on the album, “Silence,” has too much silence in it. The message I received was:

“Track 16 has an unacceptable length of silence at the end. Please remove this and resubmit the product. We can process tracks with as much as 4 seconds silence. ”

I was surprised because it had been on itunes for three years without any complaints. So I wrote back to the man at My new distribution agency, who was very kind and understanding of my bewilderment. He wasn’t able to upload it because it didn’t fit the spec. The reason he said was that online music store managers didn’t think patches of silence worked in a digital sense because they are committed to a format where buying individual tracks and playing them in order works.

Now I get this, and I’m not attacking the music retailers for their decision. But it raises a few questions in my mind. First of all… I am pretty sure I’ve bought albums in the past that had long passages of silence at the end. But perhaps this was in the pre-download age. You might listen to an album all the way through and be surprised to find it was still playing long after the sound had stopped. Sometimes there would be a hidden track 20 minutes later.

I wanted my album to descend into silence. I remember we debated for some time about the length of this silence. It’s only about 20 seconds in the end. But is it completely silent? Or is there something in it? I feel like the silence contains an energy of something I wanted to communicate.

As Daniel Barenboim says in his 2006 Reith Lectures for BBC Radio 4, “sound does not exist by itself, but has a permanent constant and unavoidable relation with silence.”

He talks about how sound arises out of silence and goes back into silence. There is a certain, finite amount of energy that we put into creating sound, but eventually, according to the laws of nature, that energy will run out, and the note will die.

“This relation between sound and silence is imperative to understand, because it does produce the first tragic element of expression in music.”

So there is some question about whether sound and silence can be separated so clearly.

The other thing that concerns me is the idea that patches of silence might not work in a digital format, because people need to buy individual tracks and play them in order.

Would it be so very alarming for an unscheduled gap to appear in somebody’s playlist? Do we, as listeners, really require every moment of our experience to be filled with noise? Is the silence before and after one form of expression different to the silence before and after another? I think it is. I’m pretty sure Harold Pinter thought it was too.

What would happen if they didn’t like the silence? Probably the same thing as would happen if they didn’t like the sound. They would press a button and eradicate it from their ears at once. So what makes my silence more unpalatable than the sound of, say, Bruno Mars singing?

“The rest is silence” says Hamlet at the end of the play. What does he mean? While I don’t have time to go into an in-depth analysis of that here, I’m fairly sure death played a part. So can we conclude that an abhorrence of gaps on itunes playlists equates to a fear of death?

On that cheery note, here is the song in question, set to a video I made in the London Aquarium. Incidentally this version does not feature the full silence at the end, simply because I ran out of jellyfish footage. It happens.

And here’s a link to the brilliant, profound and thought-provoking Reith Lectures by Daniel Barenboim – I heartily recommend them – you can read/listen to them here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2006/lecture1.shtml

Disclaimer

After re-reading my last post I notice that I sometimes have a tendency to sound like Doogie Howser, MD. Waxing all philosophical at the end of the episode, accompanied by contemplative synth music. And now I just sound old. Well anyway I’m working on it. The first part, that is. How to make a serious observation without sounding like a precocious fictional character. Because in the end, we’re all just trying to find our own way. A way to make sense of it all. A way to be who we are, without artifice or apology. Agh Jeezus. Help.

The Way The World Works

As I appear to be approaching adulthood I have been turning my attention to the way the world works. It seems to me there are certain patterns at play which it would be in my best interests to stop ignoring.

This afternoon I was chatting with a German friend of mine on Facebook – let’s call him Rutger – although his real name is in fact “Mr Beautiful.” Can you imagine. With a name like that, would it be possible ever to experience self-loathing? Even the slightest tinge of insecurity would see me standing at the mirror smacking my lips saying “Come on Mr Beautiful, who’s the daddy?” And it would be me, every time. But I digress.

So Rutger tells me that he is becoming a musician. He helped out a friend of his on a song which went to number 1 and now he’s a household name. He was very excited. “It’s a lot of fun.” he said. He was however sensitive to the fact that this instant success might be somewhat galling to someone who has devoted their life to a career in music, but I was curious.

We are taught that you put effort in and you get a result. In many cases this is true. Such as tree-planting. Or cake-baking. If you sit with eggs and flour and sugar on the table and get on with something else, nothing happens. If, on the other hand, you whisk them up and put the mixture in the oven, cake necessarily ensues. So the consequences are quite direct in this case.

What gets tricky is where other people are involved. Other people cannot be predicted or indeed imposed upon to act in a certain way. Nevertheless there are certain things that other people tend to respond to, and certain things they don’t. Desperation is repellent. In any field. But so is complete disengagement. Like a tree with no roots, the appeal of vacuousness cannot last.

What truly fascinates is art of the self-sustaining variety. It seems that you must turn up on the spot with every pore of your being and manifest wholeheartedly, without a shred of attachment to the outcome. The moment of creation itself is like this. Whether it’s a song, a sculpture or a baby you’re making – when the inspiration strikes you are not thinking of the consequences.