Hemispheres of Music

“Find the thing that excites you the most and go after that … find the thing that you’re natural and really good at, and then exaggerate it…”

I came across this 2010 interview with Steve Vai, and something he said struck me.

— Steve Vai

He says that some of the best musicians don’t know music theory and can’t read or write.

“If you tell Jeff Beck to play an F# on the G string, he might not know what it is…”

—Steve Vai (rather out of context, but still…)

This is a possible example of where musicality is a right-hemisphere activity whilst the symbolic representation happens on the left. I am simplifying and talking metaphorically as I have not done any brain scans, but it feels apt. Of course, Steve Vai does both—and on steroids, so there’s that.

Music Property

The topic of intellectual property gets me every time. As much as I am opposed to the notion of property in general, intellectual property is a complete farce. Along with Rick Beato and David Bennet, Adam Neely is one of my three main music theory staples on YouTube. Here, he goes into more depth than I would have expected, but it’s worth hearing the perspective of a musician. I won’t break down his video fully because it speaks for itself. Instead, I’ll share my thoughts and pull out highlights.

Podcast: Audio version of this page content.

November 8th, 1548 is the day in history that the French King Henri II opened the door to intellectual property, an obvious giveaway to a benefactor, creating a publishing monopoly. He turned community cultural knowledge into property, turning the benefit of many into the benefit of one. This is the crux of capitalism—favouring the one over the many.

Before continuing, it seems that there is a schism in the legal system itself. In fact, it is very fractured even within this small domain. At the same time it wants to be precise and analytical, it’s dealing with a subject that cannot be analysed as such. To add insult to injury, it exempts musicians and musical experts and requires music consumers to decide the outcomes of trial cases. To be fair, even relying on so-called experts would lead to mixed results anyway. They might as well just roll the dice. This is what happens when right hemisphere art enters a left hemisphere world.

nature + work = ownership

Adam establishes a grounding on the theory of property rights à la John Locke’s ‘sweat of the brow’ concept, wherein nature plus work equates to ownership. He then points out how intellectual property has even shakier ground to stand on. It relies rather on notions of originality and creativity, two concepts that have no intersection with the left-hemisphere heavy legal and jurisprudence systems. Moreover, like pornography, these things cannot be defined. They need to be divined. Divination is no place for lay jurists. It’s a recipe for disaster. The entire English court system is rife with problems, but the left-brainers feel these are just trivial devils in the details. I beg to differ, yet I am voiceless because I won’t participate within their frame.

Adam also points out how out of date the law is insomuch as it doesn’t recognise much of the music produced in the past few decades. Moreover, the music theory it’s founded on is the Romantic Era, white European music that often ties transcriptionists in knots. If the absence of certain words to emote experience is a challenge, it’s even worse for musical notation.

In any case, this is a hot-button issue for me on many levels, and I needed to vent in solidarity. This video is worth the 30 minutes run time. His ham sandwich analogy in part V works perfectly. It’s broken into logical sections:

  1. 0:00 Intro
  2. 1:45 Part I – Rhythm-A-Ning
  3. 7:07 Part II – Property Rights
  4. 11:25 Part III – Copyright
  5. 15:58 Part IV – Musical Constraints
  6. 22:18. Part V – HAM SANDWICH TIME
  7. 26:51 Part VI – Solving copyright….maybe?

Give it a listen. Cheers.

The cover image for this is of Thelonius Monk (circa 1947), who features heavily in the video.

Tone Deaf

Real music comes from the heart. Rather, it’s a right-hemisphere affair. Beethoven was such a true musical genius, he had to express himself even when you couldn’t hear himself.

Above, Rick Reato gives us a little appreciation for Daniel Barenboim’s rendition of Beethoven’s Op.110 Piano Sonata. I’ve included the entire opus below. The entire 31st sonata can also be found on YouTube.

To be a musician and continue to write when deaf is the same as continuing to write as a deaf author. Musical notation is just symbols as words are symbols in a different medium. The inspiration happens in the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere translates them into symbols.

Musically speaking, I am more left-hemisphere. I have ideas that spawn from the right, but without an instrument, I couldn’t articulate them. Not even relatively. Many of my own compositions are left-hemisphere fare. I either take a mathcore approach or perhaps something along the lines of Schoenberg, where I want to convey a pattern—an example that comes to mind is Tool’s Lateralis, wherein the lyrical melody is based on the Fibonacci sequence—, or I let the instrument do the talking and transcribe the music after the fact. I know just about enough music theory to be dangerous, but not enough to be self-sufficient. This is why I always tended to collaborate with music directors or someone competent in this along the way.

My point is that the ears are not necessary to produce music—at least after you’ve figured out how to articulate it. For the record, there are blind artists and sculptors.

Right Creativity

The struggle is real. Last night, rather about 3 AM, I awakened with a thousand thoughts. This happens often enough. Some were creative ideas. Some were ideas for topics to write about here. Not just topics, but content as well. Then came the internal debate—whether to wake up and capture these ideas or to hope they’d remain in cache until the morning. All I can say it at least this one did. Well, the topic, at least.

The struggle is whether to lose sleep and risk not falling back to sleep to be able to awaken at a decent hour and not be dragging around the next day from lack of sleep. Or perhaps, at next notice, it would just be time to get up. All these scenarios have occurred at one time or another.

I tend to write a lot, whether for here, for work, for pleasure—whatever. I used to create visual art and certainly wrote a lot of songs or at least musical ideas that I hoped would develop into songs. The struggle was the same. The outcomes were as well.

Having read as much as I have of McGilchrist, it starts to make sense. The right cerebral hemisphere is the font of creativity. It’s also the place for intuition and empathy. The left hemisphere is for symbols and categories. It’s the quarter for intellect. It’s also a bad roommate.

Whether or not one is creative does depend on the right hemisphere. Whether one can create depends on the left. Allow me to explain after laying out a relationship and three possibilities. For my purpose here, I can reduce the brain to three principal actors—the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere, and the frontal lobe.

As mentioned already, the right hemisphere generates creativity; the left hemisphere allows these ideas to be articulated symbolically, as in written and spoken words or art or music notation and so on; the frontal lobe acts as a mediator. Without getting too deep into neurology, a primary function of the frontal lobe is restrictive, which is to say it tells one or the other hemisphere to shut up and mind its business. Unfortunately, the hemispheres have this veto power of their own, so it’s difficult to fully understand the dynamics. This being said, let’s have a look at four scenarios that may illustrate why someone may or may not be able to create—in some cases even if they are otherwise creative.

I’ll start with the situation where the right hemisphere generates the creative ideas, and the other actors perform as expected. This is the brain of the creative person.

In the second scenario, the right hemisphere is simply weak. The person was just born with the bad luck of having a hemisphere that isn’t creative. In this case, there is nothing the left hemisphere or frontal lobe can do to compensate for this deficit. I’d like to think—like, perhaps being the wrong word—that this is where most non-creative people reside. They just don’t have that metaphorical creative gene.

In the third scenario, the right hemisphere generates plenty of creative thoughts, but the left hemisphere won’t “shut up”. If you’ve even had to think in a place with a lot of noise or distraction, you’ll get the gist. This is an imperfect analogy because creativity is precisely about not concentrating. Concentration is the enemy of creativity. So, in the case that the left hemisphere is interfering, it’s because it insists on concentrating, and that interrupts the creative process. In fact, it’s a misnomer to call something s creative process because creativity is precisely a lack of process. Like concentration, process kills creativity.

The right hemisphere is open and divergent.
The left hemisphere is closed and convergent.

In the fourth and last scenario, the right and left hemispheres are each playing their parts swimmingly, but the frontal lobe as moderator is deficient. In this case, the left is being itself and disrupting. Like the parable of the scorpion and the frog, it can’t help itself, but the frontal lobe isn’t telling it to be quiet and wait its turn. That’s the job of the frontal lobe. If you’ve ever witnessed a debate or mediated discussion where the moderator just lets the participants run rampant, you’ll know what I mean. Or perhaps you’ve been in a classroom or a meeting where the teacher or leader has no control of the class or the audience. It’s difficult to get anything accomplished.

Moving on. So, the actors each have their roles, but timing matters. The right hemisphere not only needs to generate thoughts or ideas, but it also needs time for them to incubate. Once they are ripe, only then is it ready to encounter the scrutiny of the left hemisphere and seek moderation for the frontal lobe.

If during the incubation process, the left hemisphere is continually asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” it’s unlikely one will ever get there.

If you are wondering how this works in the world of business and commerce—or better yet, you have already put together that this can’t possibly work in the realm of business and commerce—, I talk about that next. And I’ve got another segment on cerebral challenges in business in the works.

Creativity cannot be time-boxed. It can’t be summoned on demand. As already mentioned, it is not a process, and it can’t be tamed. Aside from the fickle public, have you ever wondered why so many musical artists are one-hit-wonders—if they have even been that lucky? These people had one idea—that happened to be an idea that would resonate in that moment—, but being told by the label to go generate some more hits is asking for creativity on demand.

Depending on your age and generation, some of you might be asking yourselves, “What about Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran or the Beatles or Beethoven?” These people are clearly the exceptions. We could as well look at the Vincent van Gough of the world who didn’t experience acceptance until after his death. Clearly, his creativity was unrecognised by his contemporaries. Even in some of these exceptional cases, these people have found a voice and are applying a pattern. An example I like is that of Stephen King, who in an interview admitted that he has only had one good idea in his entire life, and he’s exploited it into a large number of books. So, he’s kept reskinning the same skeleton but with different dressings.

And as far as commerce goes, yes, these people are commercially successful. Some would argue about the actual talent. I’ve seen philosophy classes compare the ‘high art’ of Shakespeare with the ‘low art’ of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. Certainly, The Simpsons are culturally creative and commercially successful, but how creative is it really? How does one actually measure degrees of creativity?

My point is that these exceptional people are generating output once a year or every few years. In business, so-called creatives may be asked to generate new ‘creative’ content daily, weekly, or perhaps monthly. Creativity doesn’t work like this. Even if you asked Mozart to generate a new piece each week, this mechanical process might yield paydirt, but most would just be a formulaic rehash. In fact, if you talk to any top artist, they’ll tell you that what you see or hear is less than one per cent of their ideas. Most are either partially formed or, upon reflection, just bad. They felt good at the time, but they couldn’t develop into something better, or they turned out to be derivative, which is hardly creative.

So business is a death sentence for creativity. The creative people I know, don’t get their creative jollies from their day jobs. They get it from their side projects, from their passion projects, and whether or not these projects are commercially viable.

In fact, I can also look at someone like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain who was creative at the start—when they were under the radar—, but once they rose into view, he lost it, and then we lost him.

I hope this gives you a better feeling of how creativity works from the perspective of the brain and why we see so little creativity in the real world and even less in the business world. Do you find this surprising, or are you thinking, “man, this bloke must be dense if he’s just catching on to this now”?

Let me know in the comments.

Time

Yes. Time. That Time.

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I was browsing YouTube, and I got captivated by reaction videos, where a younger audience listens to music some of us grew up with and reacts to it. Time is a song I grew up on. Pink Floyd were a major influence on my music and my worldview. I have to admit that I am partial to the David Gilmour years and stopped caring about anything released after Roger Waters left. I have spent hours listening to their back catalogue with Syd Barrett and early David Gilmour, but Meddle, released in 1971, is about as far back as I prefer to go—even that old gem, Seamus.

Roger Waters penned the deepest lyrics for Pink Floyd, and this was one of his best. He wrote this in his late twenties, though it feels like he would have been older and wiser. I suppose he’s an old soul. Here’s the first verse:

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

This speaks to how we tend to take time for granted. Sometimes, we just want the time to pass. We’re bored, and we want to get on to something meaningful, eventful, or perhaps exciting. We might be sat in work or school just waiting for quitting time. We aren’t living in the moment or enjoying the moment. And we might just be kicking around on a piece of ground in our hometowns rather aimlessly. And whilst I am aware that many people are looking for someone to guide them to the next level, whether a religion, a vocation, a guru, or a hero, that bit’s never really resonated with me. I suppose I’ve always been naturally insouciant and Zen. Some have said to a fault.

you missed the starting gun

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain 
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today 
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you 
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun 

The second verse picks up where the first one left off. Let’s not forget that this is Britain—London—plenty of rain. But some people do get tired of lying in the sunshine living their routine workaday lives. When we are younger, the days feel longer. Time is stretched. Einsteinian relativity. Again, we’ve got time to pad out and fill. Something’s happening at the weekend. Let’s just fast-forward, but we can’t, so let’s fill the time with mindless prattle and television or somesuch. Once you were 18 and now you’re 28. What happened? Tens years gone. Where’d the time go?

The last line in the second verse is telling. For me, it’s more an indictment of quote-modern-unquote society. It only applies to those who buy into this worldview. I never bought in. It’s’ always been a sham. But for some, they reach 28 and realise they’ve made the wrong decisions for their lives to end up the way they may have envisaged. I’ve never had this grand vision.

one day closer to death

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking 
Racing around to come up behind you again 
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older 
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death 

Resistance is futile. You can’t escape the movement of time as represented by the quotidian sun. It will always lap you. The sun ages on a different time scale to you. The sun doesn’t appear to age. It was here when we arrived. It will be here when we leave. It was here before any of us were born. It will be here after we’ve all left. Yet with every lap of the sun, we are each another day closer to death. That day may be tomorrow, next week, or in a hundred years, but as Twelve-Step programmes remind us, we live one day at a time. Perhaps even this is too large of a time slice, as we can only live moment to moment. Anything else is but a construction. Nothing else is real. Memento Mori.

thought I’d something more to say

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time 
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines 
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way 
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say 

Again, time is relative. When we are young, we yearn for things: perhaps to graduate high school; get a driver’s license; graduate college; get the job we wanted; get some promotion or recognition; get signed to a big label; get a big break; the list goes on.

For those who are planners, the best-laid plans go awry. We dream of whatever and even journal these thoughts, but in the words of another song, “you can’t always get what you want”.

We want to do this or that, but life gets in the way. We can’t do everything. Economists capture this by the notion of opportunity costs. We can do this but not that. It doesn’t matter if we are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or whomever. Time is the ultimate leveller.

We can just keep a stiff upper lip and persevere. Just occupy some place on this third rock, Next thing you know, the time is gone. I recall my ninety-odd-year-old father-in-law after his wife of seventy-five years died. He just wanted to die. He was done. He was ready to quit, but the music was still playing. Any semblance of hope was exchanged for the hope to reach the ending peacefully.

home again

Home, home again 
I like to be here when I can 
And when I come home cold and tired 
It's good to warm my bones beside the fire 

In this verse, Roger becomes reflective. He’s nostalgic for home. Anyone with a home has a place to return to after work, after school, or a childhood memory, but to touring performers, home is an even more special place. It’s a place to return to after life on the road, perhaps for months or years. Consider Odysseus and the travellers of old. This home.

He wants to be in this comfortable, familiar place. And after a long day or excursion, it’s a place to rejuvenate and rekindle by the warmth of the fire.

softly spoken magic spells

Far away across the field 
The tolling of the iron bell 
Calls the faithful to their knees 
To hear the softly spoken magic spells 

The final verse is even more metaphorical than the others. There’s an allusion. Religious allegory. In the distance, we hear the peal of the church bell beckoning the parishioners to hear the palliative words of the vicars and priests and whatnot. Or perhaps these softly spoken magic spells are simply the prayers of the individuals.

In deference to Barthes, the author is dead. But it doesn’t matter this is my interpretation—my meaning. Even more so, in deference to chapter eight of the Matter with Things, poetry and music are meant to be appreciated as a whole, not dissected. We can reflect on the words and phrases—even the melodies and rhythms—but the words are less than they sum to. Still, this piece moves me. It always has.

What does this mean to you?

The Matter with Things: Chapter Eight Summary: Creativity

Index and table of contents

Intro

Creativity is the eighth chapter of Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things.

In the last chapters, the topics were about different intelligences. As we’ll see, intelligence is one of the factors for creativity, but there are more. Let’s crack on.

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Content

Creativity is an elusive phenomenon that cannot only not be summoned at will, the very act of trying inhibits it. Unlike left-hemisphere-oriented intelligence, there are no simple tests for creativity because of their very nature. Assessing the left-hemisphere is relatively simple because it is systematic and any tests have definite known solutions—whether calculating some figure, solving a puzzle, choosing analogies, or recounting some trivia. There is no such test for creating something not yet created, but there are some proxies that most people categorically fail.

Psychologist, Colin Martindale, had this to say about the personal characteristics of creativity

Creativity is a rare trait. This is presumably because it requires the simultaneous presence of a number of traits (e.g., intelligence, perseverance, unconventionality, the ability to think in a particular manner). None of these traits is especially rare. What is quite uncommon is to find them all present in the same person.”

— Colin Martindale

Whereas the left hemisphere is analytical, the right hemisphere (hence creativity) is a Gestalt. When given a difficult time-boxed challenge, the left hemisphere dominant individual who does not arrive at the expected response on time will commit to and defend an incorrect response (think escalating commitment), and the right hemisphere dominant individual will simply not commit to a response under the thought that there were still options to be explored.

Effectively, creativity can be broken down into three phases: preparation, incubation, and illumination.

In essence, for the creative individual, the best we can do is to leave well enough alone. Anything but space and permission will kill the creative impulse.

Preparation is simply the accumulation of a particular domain of knowledge. For an artist, it will be to understand, perhaps, colour, shape, texture, form, shadow, media, or so forth; for a musician, it might be to understand melody, harmony, tempo, timbre, dynamics, and so on; for a mathematician, it might be basic arithmetic, theories, proofs, and on and on. It’s also important to note that accumulated information in multiple domains also forms a foundation leveraged by many polymaths.

Incubation is simply waiting for something to grow in the prepared garden. Incubation is an unconscious activity and cannot be controlled or accessed by the conscious mind. In fact, conscious effort and introspection will serve only to impede cultivation. Digging up planted seeds to see how they are growing will only hinder the process.

Illumination is the final phase. Again, this is unwilled. Prepared and incubated flowers bloom. Of course, this is an imperfect metaphor because the ground must already have been fertile at the start. Tossing seeds on fallow ground still yields no blooms no matter how carefully attended.

In essence, for the creative individual, the best we can do is to leave well enough alone. Anything but space and permission will kill the creative impulse.

McGilchrist discusses generative, permissive, and translational requirements.

“The key element in generation seems to be the ability to think of many diverse ideas quickly, demanding breadth, flexibility and analogical thinking – seeing likeness within apparent dissimilarity.” This can be summed up as divergent thinking. This is the openness afforded by the right hemisphere as opposed to the convergent behaviour of the left. As it happens, this is where artificial intelligence falls flat as it is predicated on convergent activity.

The right hemisphere Gestalten surveys the environment and notes otherwise unperceived parallels. It is not a systematic approach. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Education is an admirable thing. But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

“Talent hits a target no-one else can hit;
genius hits a target no-one else can see”.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer sums it up nicely, “Talent hits a target no-one else can hit; genius hits a target no-one else can see”.

Citing Isaac Asimov writing about Darwin’s insight, he notes that before Darwin, many people had read Malthus and studied species, but they lacked the creative spark that Darwin had.

Steve Jobs noted that

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things … A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So, they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

— Steve Jobs

This is a failing of the business world and of specialisation more generally. McGilchrist writes, “Linear approaches and analytic thinking, characteristic of the left hemisphere, are fine in the right context, and may at a subsequent phase take part in creativity by narrowing things down and eliminating some of them, but on their own will not achieve creativity”.

There is a direct link between intelligence and creativity. Ego crushes creativity.

There is a direct link between intelligence and creativity. Ego crushes creativity.

He again cites Asimov:

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it …The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing.”

— Isaac Asimov

Some people excel at maths, but many are systematic and procedural left-hemisphere types; they apply logic and reason—insert tab A into slot B. The famous mathematicians understand the procedures, but their ideas come from intuition rather than reason. The left hemisphere doesn’t recognise this as a viable vector, and therein lies the rub. “Math is not about following directions; it’s about making new directions,” writes mathematician Paul Lockhart.

This is why we hear so many accounts of aha moments, something coming to one person in a dream or Isaac Newton’s falling apple anecdote.

“These thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I very rarely think in words at all.
A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterward”

Albert Einstein

Einstein told Max Wertheimer, founder of Gestalt psychology, “These thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I very rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterward”. Words are a left-hemisphere phenomenon.

Many accomplished musicians hear a piece whole. All they need to do is to compose it to staff paper or perform it. We hear this regularly: “I was driving from here to there and it just came to me. All I needed to do is to remember it long enough to get it down.”

I found McGilchrist’s inclusion of hemispheric damage quite interesting. He provides many examples of artists, composers, and poets, but I’ll only summarise them. For musicians and Artists with right hemisphere damage, those who even retained the urge to create did so at a lower quality level. However, those with left hemisphere damage operated at the same level and oftentimes at a higher level, without the inhibition and censorship of the left hemisphere.

It’s important to note that most people rely on both hemispheres. When I write left hemisphere dominant, I mean to say that either the right hemisphere simply underperforms or that the left hemisphere does not cede control back to the right hemisphere. Generally speaking, both hemispheres experience the world, and a strong right hemisphere will act as air traffic controller, or perhaps have the right of first refusal, but this is a loose metaphor because sometimes the left hemisphere just fields an experience and takes its best guess how to handle it even if it should have been fielded by the right hemisphere and even if the left hemisphere provides the wrong answer. The left hemisphere is the hemisphere of the ego and identity, so it is somewhat relentless and defensive even when it is wrong.

As a side note, I trust that political identity and escalating commitment are left-hemisphere activities and why modern Western politics feel so intractable.

After a strong argument for right hemisphere dominance and divergent thinking being hallmarks of creativity, he offers some counter-evidence and counters some of it.

A paper by Arne Dietrich and Riam Kanso co-authored a book citing instances of convergent thought processes that led to something innovative or creative. At the onset, McGilchrist calls them out for conflating problem-solving with creativity. In the end, the left hemisphere does play a role. He calls this the translational phase. Essentially, this is Mozart having heard his symphony and needing to put his thoughts to paper. Or the poet.

He goes off on a bit of a tangent noting how words pale concepts, and divergence and convergence are no exception. This fits in with my own insufficiency of language theory, but McGilchrist and I have different rationales for our arguments, so I’ll not side-track this summary.

He cites some statistics correlating creativity with mental health disorders and incidences of suicide. This will set the reader up perfectly for the next chapter about schizophrenia and autism.

Perspective

In summary, creativity has got me riled up more than in the previous chapters. This is partially due to how it comports with my own observations. I have always felt that humans are not very creative or innovative despite protests to the contrary. In fact, I’ve often commented when I’ve heard people say something like “artificial intelligence will never create the next…” Fill in the blank: Mozart, Picasso, Michelangelo, Nabokov, Wordsworth. Or Einstein. Of course, neither will a human be the next of these.

All these people are right cerebral hemisphere dominant. AI operates systematically, in the manner of the left hemisphere. None of these people built up systematically. Instead, their ideas were wholly formed, and their creations were reductive rather than additive. Famously, Michelangelo was to have said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there. I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” He sees the solution first and then builds towards it.

In my professional life, I have been a strategist as a management consultant as well as a business analyst. In each case, I could quickly assess a situation and then spend weeks or months defending my intuition with words, diagrams, and numbers.

As a business analyst, I would offer a recommendation, and this would need to come with an estimate to deliver the recommendation. This figure would come to me in a matter of minutes. Then, per protocol, I would need to enter micro-level details into a pricing model so it could calculate from the ground up. First, this was time-consuming. Second, this would be circulated for review where different people would (almost invariably) reduce the number of hours estimated, typically due to pressure to reduce the cost. Ultimately, a number would be output and tendered to the client or the person footing the bill. Again (almost invariably), the number initially intuited was more accurate and reflective of what was ultimately invoiced. Unfortunately, business is a left-hemisphere endeavour, and that will be its Achilles’ heel and denouement.

This wraps up the chapter on Creativity. The next chapter is “what schizophrenia and autism can tell us”, and is the end of part one of The Matter with Things.

What are your thoughts and experiences with creativity now that you’ve heard McGilchrist’s take?

Leave comments below.

Music Is Life

I’d been professionally involved in the music industry since the early 1980s, a career option from which I was greatly discouraged. Like many others, I was drawn to music early, but my family were not supportive. Accessing music beyond what I could hear on the radio was nearly impossible.

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I had been asking for instruments, but I was directed to band instruments—a coronet to be precise. My dad had played the trumpet in his days and had suggested it. They bought me a coronet, and I enrolled in the school band. Let’s just say that this was not fulfilling. I didn’t find out until later that practically everyone else was also taking private lessons on the side. Many had an actual interest in what instruments they were playing.

I wanted a guitar. As I found out when I finally bought my own guitar at 14 that my mum didn’t want to encourage me to play rock music. My bio-dad had played the guitar and he was a heroin addict, so guitars equalled heroin in my mum’s mind. Might have as well been a gateway.

When I began working in high school, I was able to buy a turntable and records. And a guitar. That’s when I heard the rationale for not being given one. The guitar displaced books somewhat until I found a happy medium.

My ex-wife recounted, well countless times, how she had wanted to be a ballerina when she was a little girl, but she was never allowed to take lessons. As I recall, her mum didn’t like the local dance instructor on a personal level, though I don’t know anyone that her mum did like outside of her siblings. This pained her well into adulthood, and she still fancies the lost career option.

she admitted that she would have preferred violin

Her niece took piano lessons and was coerced into becoming a Medical Doctor as her sister with no artistic interests was pushed into becoming a lawyer. As she was in her residency, she admitted that she would have preferred violin and to have become a veterinarian. And so it goes.

Fast forward to my then-three-year-old son. I was still playing my guitar around the house, and he would engage with it. I’d place it on the floor, and he’d play with the strings. I’d tune it to an open or modal tuning and cycle through my effects pedals for tonal variety. Whenever I’d play, he’d come around, and I’d take a break to encourage his interaction.

Come Xmas, he was four, and I bought him a three-quarter scale Squire Affinity Strat with a practice amp and the general accoutrements. We took the requisite photos of him wielding the guitar as a memento for when he hit the big time.

we heard chorus after chorus of “Cat Scratch Fever…”

That was the last time he touched that guitar. Or mine. Somehow, this purchase was the kiss of death. When he was five or six, he evidently heard Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever on the radio. I didn’t listen to Classic Rock radio, so I’ll presume it was my wife. In any case, we heard chorus after chorus of “Cat Scratch Fever…” in pitch. Nothing more.

At six, he had a deep interest in Korn. This was retained as we migrated from Los Angeles to Chicago. In fact, he asked me if I would teach him how to play some Korn songs on the guitar. I informed him that I had sold my 7-string before we left LA, and Korn was a low-B 7-string band. I tried to show him some 6-string renditions, but they don’t quite sound the same an octave higher.

Around this time, we bought him a drum kit. He played it exactly never—though it came in handy some years later for me, so that worked out nicely. His mates would come by to visit, and they loved it. All of his friends would pound away on them whenever they had the chance. A month or so later, Korn were touring (during the time when Brian “Head” Welch had departed in favour of Christian values), but he had switched genres to Classical and Epic music.

I had a digital synthesiser that got moved into the living room (rather than the studio, which was downstairs), so it was more accessible when the inspiration struck. He was attracted to that in much the same manner as the three-year-old him was drawn to the guitar. He was more interested in the textures than the melodies or harmonies.

My wife enrolled him in piano lessons, as she herself had also done as a child. He took those for a few months, but he never really grew to like it much. We asked if there was anything he was interested in, but that was just listening. Eventually, he took a music appreciation course that he appreciated, but that was about it.

He’s twenty-five as I type this. He loves music and still favours instrumentals. Soundtracks and video game music are among his top genres.

she reacts to melody and beat

Now I have a toddler. She’ll soon be three. She is also drawn to my guitar. This time, I gave her an older ukulele for a while, and then I bought her her own. She responds to music when she hears it. She reacts to melody and beat, interpreting it with her own dance gestures. She’s not mastered the ukulele, but it’s hanging on her wall at about her shoulder height near her bedroom door. She strums or plucks the strings when she enters and exits her room. Often, she takes it off her wall hanger and noodles with it.

For Xmas, we bought her an assortment of kids’ instruments as did someone else, so she’s got two—xylophones, triangles, harmonica, blocks and shakers. I don’t recall what else, but she seems to love to engage with them. We’ll see where it ends up. One never knows.

Amyl and the Sniffers

Philosophy is not my only interest. Music has always been a part of my life, and I was a professional musician in the 1980s in Los Angeles, when LA was the veritable centre of the musical universe as hair bands ruled the airwaves.

I was into progressive jazz fusion at the time, but my primary income came from being a recording engineer and producer. I worked on commercials, film tracks, albums, and demsos—lots of demos. Because of the 1984 Olympics, commercials were a big thing.

Besides the hair metal thing, LA had a solid punk showing. It wasn’t quite like London or New York, but it gave us bands like Black Flag, Redd Cross, Minutemen, and Circle Jerks, with whom I had the pleasure of working. Keith Morris had come from Black Flag (replaced by the inimitable Henry Rollins) and Greg Hetson came from Redd Cross (and would go onto Bad Religion).

Unfortunately, I worked on the Wonderful album after their musical hiatus. During the six weeks of recording, I was hired and fired three times with a friend Jim McMahon finishing the record and taking the album credit. I can’t confirm or deny whether chemical substances may have been involved.

I had started with Karat Faye, with whom I had then recently worked on Mötley Crüe’s Theatre of Pain album. Circle Jerks were seeking a sound more in line with the other headbangers, but that sound was not for them, they couldn’t really write for that genre, and they didn’t really have the chops. They should have just leaned into their roots.

Anyhoo

What’s this got to do with Amyl and the Sniffers? These Aussi cats rock old-school punk without skipping a beat. Straight beats, nice bass riffs, and a guitarist with the playing competence of Greg Hetson, which is just what this band needs. Stay true to your roots.

Amy’s voice and delivery are perfect for the genre, and the lyrical content is personal. This clip is excerpted from a nice KEXP interview, which is also available on YouTube. Follows is the setlist:

  • Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)
  • Hertz
  • Guided By Angels
  • Security
  • Knifey
  • Capital
  • I Don’t Need A Cunt (Like You To Love Me)
  • Maggot

I am not going to review these tunes, but all of them are top-notch and punk-fun. If you are into old-school punk, I can almost guarantee you’ll dig it.

If you know Amyl and the Sniffers or want to share your thoughts after a listen, I’d love to read your comments below.

Finding Husserl

When I was seriously exploring music, I started from the artists I enjoyed and searched their roots and influences and cascaded back. In the 1970s, this was to look at the roots of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. I’d be brought back to James Burton or Elmore James; I’d find Robert Johnson, BB King, Muddy Waters and Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf); and I’d find John Lee Hooker, and Chuck Berry. And then, I’d dg further to find Son House, T-Bone Walker, and Big Bill Broonzy. Although I grew to appreciate these originals, I still preferred the reinvigorated versions of my youth.

In philosophy, I seem to have taken a somewhat similar path. In particular, it’s a journey back to Husserl. I was exposed to essence and being most probably through Sartre. this brought me to Heidegger that brought me to Husserl. To be fair there was a large gap between Sartre and Heidegger and a fairly long gap from then until Husserl. I’ve come upon Husserl’s name time and again but I deprioritised him, He seemed always to be the AND of Heidegger, sort of like how Garfunkel was the AND of Simon.

But I thought that Heidegger was the root—the source, as Son House might have been to the Blues. Given the connection of Husserl and Heidegger, I’m not sure that Dasein‘s genesis is clear cut. Moreover, I believe it’s a pedestrian German world, that fancy pants academes wish to evermore preserve in amber as a stand-in to being there, though Heidegger insisted that the meaning was more nuanced and in some way I could consider that it prefigured Derrida’s privileged pairs highlighted in his Deconstruction.

I’ve commenced reading Husserl’s’ Ideas, and my takeaway at this point is his eidetic facts.

Rememories

I follow David Bennett Piano on YouTube. Today, he posted a side trip he took from Manchester to Liverpool.

This post reflects on how memory operates and true and false memories. The video clip is about a minute long and shows Paul McCartney recounting how he decided to create the character of his eponymous song Eleanor Rigby.

In Paul’s recollection, he had been working with an actress Eleanor Bron on the Beatles film Help!

Eleanor Bron and George Harrison

He fancied the name Eleanor and was trying to think of a two-syllable word to follow when he spotted a sign that read Rigby & Evens, a wine and spirits shop in Bristol.

Rigby & Evens, Limited Sign

According to Paul, these were the components leading to the title character.

Eleanor Rigby Hand-written Lyrics by Pail McCartney

From the perspective of recency over primacy, Paul may be correct, but it could also be, as he admits, that he had seen the tombstone without it being consciously registered. He may have even been consciously aware but subsequently forgotten it. Perhaps this is why the name resonated with him, having been exposed previously. Memory is known to be reinforced through repetition. From the perspective of primacy over recency, he may have never settled on the name had he not seen the inscription on the gravestone.

Could it be that this was a coincidence and Paul never did see that grave marker, or is it more likely that he did? We’ll never know for sure, but it is an interesting turn of events.