Not-real-songs

FEBRUARY 18TH, 2016 — POST 045

I would’ve been 7 or 8 when I had my life changed by a museum. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney which focuses on technological history, and mostly post-industrial, was a destination my dad would take my brother and I every school holidays. It was the Powerhouse, Australian Museum (national history), and Taronga Zoo that we were taken to every few months. My brother and I got to know them very well, able to beeline for the stuff we were enamoured of like the plasma ball and the chocolate dispenser at the Powerhouse — the latter requiring sitting through a short educational video before selecting the type of chocolate you wanted to try. There were also times when we’d come across stuff completely new. Whether only recently installed by the museum or in an annexed part of the museum, on multiple occasions we’d see or do something we hadn’t ever done before, and might not do again. I still have a vivid memory of a wing of the Powerhouse dedicated to model cars, a wing I could never find again as much as I tried. I put it down to it being a dream.

Away from the showpiece exhibitions like that of a steam engine, or a space shuttle, we found a small little room tucked just past a textile exhibition (the only dependable yawn in the whole museum). The little room housed a bunch of computers with MIDI keyboards. At 7 or 8, I don’t think I had ever seen a set of piano keys as part of a computer set up before. The computers were set up with a program called Super Duper Music Looper, an extremely basic DAW by Sony. As kids are want to do, I sat down and lost complete track of time. I didn’t know it at the time, but from where I stand now I know what grabbed me and what has been the single biggest force in my life to date. Manipulating a machine to make it put into the world what is in my head is wondrous. I could never draw, and even then I think the notion of a manual craft felt too inaccurate. But a mechanical craft, one in which there’s a dialogue between me and the machine I’m using, hooked me in. So layering loops for a few hours was entirely captivating, even beyond my dad and brother getting bored. But nothing I came up with sounded like a real song.

From Super Duper Music Looper entering my life, I migrated to Acid as I move into highschool. A burnt CD version of Acid meant I could start to use my own sounds. Super Duper Music Looper, as its name implies, heavily preferenced the use of inbuilt loops. But with Acid, I could create stuff wholesale. I still recall sticking my shitting computer mic up against the speaker of a boom box to record Usher’s Yeah to make a remix. But none of this was that good. In hindsight, the Usher track was an mp3 burnt to CD and could surely just have been dragged into Acid without this weird round trip through a boombox and into a computer microphone with a diaphram the size of a little fingernail. Nothing yet sounded like a real song.

The first lyrics I wrote were with friends at the age of 12. They were to be sung over the main riff to Blink 182’s Dammit, one of the few “cool” songs I knew how to play on guitar at that point. But I’d never actually heard the real song so the melody was nothing like what is sung in the original. We called it Nanna’s Song as its content was sequence of jokes about grandmothers. I wish I could remember some of them. They’re probably on a harddrive or burnt CD somewhere at home. In any case, it didn’t sound like a real song.

I eventully did write songs that sounded like real songs. I’ve written recently about my band in high school. But this same sequence has happened with varying speeds for every other craft I’ve tried my hand at, and is still happening. There has always been a period of not-real-songs where the thing I’m making seems like a mutation of the things I was aiming for. I like to remember the protracted journey to mastery of songwriting because it makes me okay with that period of not-real-songs.

And makes the first real thing so much sweeter.

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