Saturday, November 17, 2007

Focus Is Where A Crack Begins


Long before I ever fancied myself a writer, I used to fancy myself a musician, but even before that I fancied myself an artist. I know, a lot of fanciful self-regard. That’s me. I maintain that, even without much innate talent, giving these creative endeavors some thought is worthwhile. I learned a lot about seeing from sitting, methodically drawing, trying to render shapes, contours, proportions, gestures and light and dark on paper. You learn about how light and shadow co-exist, how the darkest folds of fabric are set off by the brightest reflections. You learn about how disconnected from visible reality our ideas of lines and discreet contours are. The outlines we draw on a sheet of paper bear little resemblance to the way the we actually see shapes in space. Things don’t have that clarity or sharp delineation. I remember the way that I would start a drawing, of a face say, and I would home in on some feature, maybe the eyes or the lips, and I could never maintain that level of focus and concentration on everything else, so, as I drew, the ears, the hair, the shoulders would be rendered with less intense single-mindedness, which may or may not have resulted in some kind of precision. As a result, when finished, or given up on, I could always see the place that I had started with such ambition, and how everything sprawled and bent and stretched in a distortion that grew with the distance from the focal point. It was always a little embarrassing too to have such a clear trail of my gaze.

As I mentioned before, I’d been planning to share some of this righteous Nathaniel Mayer when my car got broken into and my bag containing a bunch of discs got swiped. These intensely weird and raw soul doo-wop jams summoned up all the thoughts about focus and distortion because it seems like on every track there’s some sonic detail – a piercing flute, an aggressive tambourine, brushes on a snare, or a falsetto vocal – that just zooms out ahead of everything else in the mix, causing all the backing vocals, tremolo guitars and distant bongos to sort of melt and fold like hot wax, all disfigured, and surreal, blurred, distressed, and abraded in places. The mixes are way too hot, overdriven to where certain instruments and tracks get all distorted. It’s a little like organic, real-time dub.

A few years back JP and I came home from work on a windy fall day and found that there were pages of notebook paper blowing through the grass and on the sidewalks in the neighborhood. Evidently someone had cleaned out a box that had one of their kid’s homework, circa 1978, and they’d put it out in the trash, but it had gotten picked up by the wind. We found several excellent bits of unusual quizzes. Our favorite piece of found art was some sort of 5th grade earth sciences test involving plate techtonics and volcanoes. There’s a map of the world with several markings in different hot spots, and underneath the map, the student wrote "Focus is where a crack begins." We hold these truths to be, if not self-evident, then at least excellent.

1 comment:

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