Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Author Archives: David Thomas Peacock

Do The Work Part 1

Perhaps no other artist could serve as the poster boy for “Do the work” than Woody Allen. There are two sides to that coin, but no one can look at the sheer amount of art he created over his lifetime and not be a little awestruck. He has directed 54 movies in the last 51 years and written 77 – and he shows no sign of stopping.

The ying and yang of this phenomenon is this: On the one hand, by constantly creating you are allowing yourself to develop and possibly create some masterpieces. On the other, you will certainly create a lot of stuff that’s varying degrees of cool along with a few embarrassing stinkers. Note: They can’t all be winners. But there are so many important lessons to be learned here…

Lesson 1: You’ve got to be comfortable with failing. This is very, very hard. So hard it’s probably the main reason why more artists don’t do it.

Lesson 2: You must literally “do the work” in the sense of not waiting for inspiration. This is also bewilderingly difficult. When you sit down to create and realize nothing seems to be happening, you are suddenly face to face with a very uncomfortable situation. What do you do? You either shit or get off the pot, that’s what. Fight or flight…

Lesson 3: You learn that you are not your work. Its success or failure has no reflection on your own sense of  self worth. As an artist, this is a tough one. After all, you are expressing yourself through your art, right? So if it’s not good, that means you’re not good too, doesn’t it? The difficult to grasp but emphatic truth is no, that’s not what it means. What it means is that you are in a process of becoming. You are growing and getting better, and the harsh reality is that to do that, you must fail and fail again.

Music Software Is The Coolest

It’s a very good time to be alive if you are into creating and recording music – there’s a very big learning curve, but it’s a lot of fun at every step of the way. What is being done in music software development is now bordering on science fiction, it’s just so cool it’s insane… There are actually some small software developers whose stuff I will buy just because I want to support their work and make sure they stay in business.

I recently bought an upgrade to a program (Superior Drummer 3) that allows you to create drum tracks from what used to be called samples, a term that no longer seems to do justice to the process in question. Let me back up a minute to give this some historical perspective… In 1980, the Linn LM-1 drum machine was released for the price of $4995. It was the first drum machine that used digital samples. These drum sounds were 8-bit and in retrospect, they were cool but sounded nothing like a real drum. It featured 48 kilobytes of ROM – so all of the drum samples fit into 48 KB! At the time it was revolutionary – there had never been anything like it, and the implications were enormous. It’s sound became ubiquitous in 1980’s pop music – for example, all of Prince’s early to late 80’s records used it – but it was everywhere.

So fast forward to 37 years later (as I write this, I realize this sounds like a long time – but trust me, it isn’t. Someday you’ll know what I mean…). For $400, you get a program that was recorded in a world class recording studio (trust me folks – not a lot of those around anymore) over a period of 2 years by George Massenberg, an undeniably legendary recording engineer. The drums take up 230 gigabytes of memory – for comparison, the Linn LM-1 had 48 KB, Superior Drummer has 241,172,480 KB. Oh, did I mention it has an Artificial Intelligence module?

Every aspect of this software is just world class. From the installers to the ergonomic GUI to the sounds to the ease of use. It doesn’t crash and it’s copy protection is virtually transparent. And most importantly, it sounds fucking amazing. As broken as our world sometimes seems to be, if you are into technology and creativity, it is a very good time to be alive indeed.

Let’s Be Real

I am relevant to nothing and nobody. Ok, hear me out – this isn’t a bad thing… But the fact is that I am a 60 year old cancer survivor with nothing left to prove. From this point on, I have to recognize that whatever I do is just for me, my wife, and whoever I might be able to help or entertain in my immediate vicinity.

Many, many years ago I made a conscious decision not to have kids, something I have not regretted once since, even for a moment. I had very specific reasons for doing so, and time has reinforced my earlier intuition. Ultimately I think that decision served the greater good. I’m really happy for all of you that had children, but for me, in this life – not part of the picture. So I’m not really too concerned about what a grand shitshow we are leaving for the next generation. I did my best to leave this planet in better shape than I found it, but alas the greater part of my fellow humans did not feel the same. I’m sorry to say that I don’t really care whether humanity makes it in the end or not – I’m not even sure if we deserve to survive.

But please don’t think of this as a negative diatribe, because in fact I feel quite positive. I’m alive and fully engaged with life. The process of living still stimulates and amuses me. Did I mention I’m alive? Since whatever I create doesn’t matter to anyone but myself, and will ultimately end up either as discarded bits or in a landfill somewhere, it ultimately serves as a form of self expression and to help me more fully realize my humanity. And that’s good enough. My life started out a bit rocky, but turned out much better than I ever had any reason to expect. I’m going to try and end on a high note with some dignity, and at least attempt to make a positive difference in this very damaged world.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone

We all have different tastes – it’s part of what defines us as humans. We are constantly finding new things that interests us (hopefully), often discovering them from someone else. So the equation for this seems pretty simple – we scan our environment for things that seem interesting, we immerse ourselves in the things we like, and we pay little or no attention to the things we don’t like.

But what’s up with all the hate, condescension, and ridicule spewed by trolls for the stuff they don’t like? News flash – If you don’t like it, waste no more of your precious time on it and move on. But to ridicule someone else because they like something you think is shit is the definition of being an asshole. Really? I think we all know what is this about…

There are plenty of things I love that are so ridiculous I sometimes quietly and humorously make fun of myself – but I still own my love for them. I’m well aware that many of them are an “acquired” taste – and that’s OK. I don’t really care what other people think about my personal obsessions, whether it’s art or culture or just ideas. They’re mine and mine alone. Others opinions are irrelevant (unless there is something to be learned) and to even acknowledge them just takes time away I could be spending on something I enjoy. Somewhere along the way I became impervious to assholes.

But let’s be clear: You’re not fooling anyone. You tear others down because you feel small. Period. The real way to make yourself feel better is staring you right in the face. Do something nice for someone else. Think that sounds corny? Try it – you’ve got nothing to lose.

You can thank me by making it a habit…

Timeless

Art should be mysteriously timeless. It may be loosely associated with the period in history (or the culture) in which it was created – but ultimately it’s power must transcend everything else.

It lives in its own dimension, accessible to all who care to seek it out and receive it gifts.

And when that connection is made – it can change the course of your life.

Passing It On

I’m not sure when it happened or how long it will last – but it’s a very good feeling to realize you are viewed as a trusted, valued, and senior professional by your peers, to know that you have served some purpose greater than your own life.

To look around a group of other highly skilled colleagues in a social gathering and realize that, for many of them, you were their teacher, you were the “expert” that helped give them the tools upon which to build their careers. You taught, nurtured, and protected them at a very vulnerable time when they were gaining their foothold.

You learned how life works by living, learning from your mistakes, and paying attention for 60 years.

And now you are passing it on. And they are listening. What a wonderful responsibility and honor.

Don’t fuck it up…

I Love NYC Part 1

I am sitting in the break room of my ER eating the delicious dinner my wife made for me (let me take a moment to give thanks and gratitude to her, something I try to do everyday).

There are six people in addition to me, and they are all engaged in a spirited conversation loud enough to hear over each other. Three conversations in three different languages in a small room. I realize I am reading a book on my iPhone in the middle of this glorious cacophony with total concentration. There is a TV blaring on the wall.

As I leave the room I walk around a corner and pass a stretcher occupied by an intoxicated mentally ill woman I know well. She cheerfully greets me by name and I do the same for her. As I pass she resumes her conversation with the security guard across the hall, discussing the merits of a local Thai restaurant.

NYC is a million small towns rolled into one very, very large city. My ER is one of those small towns.

Thinking About Artificial Intelligence Part 1

AGI: Artificial General Intelligence, i. e. artificial human intelligence. The more I read about it, the more I think that the question of when (or whether) AI reaches the general level of human intelligence is the wrong question to ask.

Now god knows I’m no expert, just someone who loves learning and thinking about this stuff. I’m currently reading MIT physicist Max Tegmark’s book “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” It occurs to me that, like most things in life – this is probably not going to turn out the way we expect. AGI is a deep subject, one that is rapidly becoming a very hot topic among among scientists, business leaders, and the military industrial complex. And for good reason – the advent of AGI will either raise us to the next evolutionary step or will represent a final existential threat for humanity.

Humans have dominated the earth for one reason – we have used our intelligence to adapt, achieve our goals, control our environment, and survive. Intelligence trumps everything. We have never come in contact with anything smarter than us, and the irony appears to be that we will now create that superhuman intelligence ourselves. How it will play out is the great question of our time.

In a nutshell, the great fear (or hope) is the moment in which we have created an artificial intelligence equal to our own. Depending on who you are reading, once that occurs, it will only be a matter of hours, days, or weeks before that intelligence has surpassed us – and this process will be exponential. What happens then? Well, for one thing – we will no longer be calling the shots. So, quite understandably, there is now a lot of discussion about safeguards and strategies for keeping Pandora in the box (I think we all know how that turned out). But here’s my thought – we are going to be looking for one thing, when in reality it is going to be something else. We’ll be on high alert for the advent of AGI – and we won’t even see it happening until it’s too late.

Because perhaps there won’t ever be AGI – instead something else will develop that will surpass us. It won’t be a case of “Now computers can accurately model our brains and ability to figure things out.” No, instead AI will create a new form of thinking, of intelligence. One that works by its own rules…

It’s All One Big Movie

Harry Dean Stanton died at the age of 91 three days ago, and today I’m listening to a Marc Maron interview with him that was done in 2014. He was a very enigmatic character, and Marc prefaced the repost of this old interview lamenting that he clearly felt he had failed to achieve the level of human intimacy that he had hoped for. It’s funny, listening to it I don’t get that impression at all – in fact, I think it’s pretty thoughtful and enlightening.

In what I felt was the most illuminating exchange, Marc asks him about the differences between movies in the 1970s and films today. Harry Dean replies “There is no difference, it’s all one big movie…” Marc states “Everyone wants to be in a movie, right?” and H. D. responds – “They’re in a movie – it’s all a movie – including our present conversation.”

Think about that for a moment. Didn’t you ever stop and wonder “Wait a minute – aren’t we really acting all of the time?” Of course Shakespeare made this brilliant and woefully obvious observation first: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).

Don’t we choose the part we want to play on the worlds stage? I mean, no one tells us how to dress, how to carry ourselves, or how to treat others. No one is making us behave in any specific way at all. Oh sure, there are societal restraints, accepted codes of behavior, unspoken but tacitly agreed upon ways in which we interact with each other. But still – we choose to what degree or indeed whether we will conform to these rules at all.

And by choosing how to act, aren’t we choosing who we are?

José Mojica Marins

File this under “transcendentally weird cinema” – my first (and subsequent viewings) of the film I am about to discuss gave me the stunned “WTF?” reaction I treasure so dearly. After you’ve been around a while, it gets harder and harder to experience this reaction, if only because you’ve seen and heard so much already. This is probably why I’ve grown to love foreign cinema so much – I get to see stories told through the lens of another culture, and I can’t always tell where things are going. This allows me to watch these films (almost) as though I was a child, which is the absolute best way to experience art. I first saw “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” around ten years ago when I stumbled on it during a Halloween movie marathon on PBS of all places…

Where do I even begin? First of all, this is a black and white low budget horror film made in Brazil in 1967. José Mojica Marins is the auteur who wrote, directed, and starred in this masterpiece. The language was the first thing that threw me – when I initially saw it, I didn’t recognize it was Portuguese. This alone made the whole thing seem unique and other worldly – I really had no frame of reference for understanding what was going on, and I couldn’t tell what country it was made in. It turns out that José’s previous film “At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul” (1963) was marketed as Brazil’s first horror film, but I digress…

The movie is really low budget, but quite effective at building a mood. What exactly is that mood? Well, let’s see… Marins plays a character called Zé do Caixão, which roughly translates to Coffin Joe (!) in English. He is an undertaker who wears a black cape with a top hat and has really long fingernails, who is constantly shouting long metaphysical diatribes about how there is no god and how most men are pathetic, inferior creatures. Atheism is a core part of his ethos, so respect to a poor Brazilian filmmaker who decided to build a horror franchise around this concept. He carries himself almost as if he were superhuman, and even though he is not a large man, all of the simple villagers are afraid of him. He has a hunchback assistant who doesn’t seem quite human, and his quest is to find the “perfect” woman to have his son, which will make him immortal. As you might imagine, finding this woman is not easy, so a few get killed in the process.

There are no sets to speak of, so the outdoor scenes are actually filmed in the village. We get to see Coffin Joe walking along a dirt road lined with shacks in full regalia in broad daylight, filmed in grainy black and white 16 mm. It’s so surreal that it is hard to describe, almost like you are watching Nosferatu take an afternoon stroll in a small Brazilian village… This is probably a good time to ponder José’s influences – clearly he had seen the Universal horror films, and probably Nosferatu. But his vision is so completely unique that it’s really difficult to pin down what his touchstones were. The character of Coffin Joe seems like it’s straight out of a graphic novel, except they didn’t yet exist. It seems to be marketed to the Brazilian equivalent of drive-ins, but I really have no idea what kind of distribution this film had or where it was shown. And who makes a low budget Brazilian horror film in 1967 about philosophy, atheism, and surrealism – and then markets it to the poor working class? José Mojica Marins, that’s who!

But I’ve saved the best for last – nothing can prepare you for the surrealistic color sequence in hell that happens three quarters of the way through this fever dream. It really has to be seen to be believed – when I saw it the first time I watched it wide-eyed and slack-jawed, like I was seeing something for which I truly had no frame of reference, and my brain was desperately trying to rewire itself to integrate this new reality.

To say that this isn’t going to be for everyone is probably a bit of an understatement. But if you have any interest in the wild and fascinating history of international horror cinema or outsider art, you owe it to yourself to watch this with an open mind. This is a great example of an artist who is completely committed to realizing his personal vision. What a great inspiration. Bravo and well done, Mr. Marins!

Still Good

You know that feeling when some virus with bad intentions has you nailed down in a horizontal position and your body can’t even muster up the energy to make itself vertical? You’ll quickly recover, but for the moment nothing is going to happen – your body is full-on attempting to deal with this rude invader and has no energy to spare for anything else. Your voice is gone and you feel weak as a kitten, achy and thick-headed – you just want to lie down and sleep. You know what I think when I feel like that?

I think life is fucking good. I might be feeling like homemade shit – but I’m alive.

What Becomes Normal…

What we surround ourselves with, day in and day out – this becomes our baseline for what we perceive as normal. It might seem very skewed to someone else, but if this is what we do every day, it becomes our comfort zone.

This idea has some rather profound implications. We can certainly choose, to a rather large degree, what we surround ourselves with. Which would seem to imply that we create our own reality. What we choose to do, who we choose to be with, how we choose to make our environment…

With that in mind, perhaps we should think long and hard about who and what we surround ourselves with – it’s a big part of  who we are…

Becoming

  1. Any process of change.
  2. Any change involving realization of potentialities, as a movement from the lower level of potentiality to the higher level of actuality.

This, to me, is the true definition of living. To be alive is to be in a process of becoming.