The advantages of making lots of different things

In my experience of being creative and making otuff, it’s been easy to get precious about an idea.  Setting the time aside to do that thing can become a big deal. When things are a big deal, getting around to doing them can require a special mood, occasion or… alignment of the stars.

I’ve found that, by having several projects on at once, THE THING is less intimidating and it is possible to trick the brain into being more productive.

I’ve been working on several different songs at the moment, and it’s been so good to be able to switch between them.

I’ve made a short listicle like I’m on “the BuzzFeed”.

(1) Rebellion / Productive procrastination 

When you have a to-do list and then work on something that is not on that list, it feels like procrastination.

It can give you a kick and have the same pay-off as a massive Youtube binge: rebellion.  That naughty inner voice says: “just one more thing… then I’ll definitely definitely get on with what I’m supposed to be doing”.

Suddenly, before you realise it, something else has been made. Magic.

(2) The more advanced work inspires the newly conceived work

Having different projects at different stages means that some parts will be more polished than others. The more polished work provide inspiration in moments of despair. That “there is a way through”/“I am a capable human being” feeling can be very helpful.

(3) Easy wins to get started

I like to make some quick progress when initially sitting down to work. This can help to build momentum and keep you there for longer.  Revisiting something that just needs fresh ears or a bit of tweaking is great to feel like progress is being made quickly.  A shortcut to getting in the Zone!

(4) Let the mood take you 

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to work on a sombre song when you’re very hyper… or whatever. Having options of different projects, doodles etc, let’s you work on what you’re in the mood to work on.

(5) Fresh eyes/ears/tastebuds etc

Shutting down one project to work on another can mean that when revisiting the first project, you see or hear it in a whole new light with a new sense of subjectivity. Ideal.

Note to self: Now go, make stuff!

The images are from my collage phase.

 

Thanks for reading.

Emma x

Daphne Oram, electro pioneer

Daphne Oram was born on 31 December 1925, ahead of her time.

As a child she had envisaged creating sounds from drawings.  As an adult she created Oramics: the process of drawing lines onto film strips which were then read by photoelectric cells (involving light and the emission of electrons) from which the sound was generated.

The lines she drew would determine the parameters of sound (i.e. pitch, waveform, reverb etc.) allowing her to play with the sounds, as she explains:

You take a sound, any sound, record it and then change its nature by a multiplicity of operations. You record it at different speeds; you play it backwards; you add it to itself over and over again. You adjust filters, echoes, acoustic qualities…you produce a vast and subtle symphony. It’s a sort of modern magic. We think there’s something in it. Some musicians believe it may become an art form in its own right.” – Daphne Oram, 1957

All of this was 10 years before the synthesiser was invented.

Daphne Oram had trained as a musician and scientist and, as for many women, the Second World War presented new opportunities to her.

She worked at the BBC where there are tales of her staying after hours, determined to work on her vision.  She would move large audio recording devices (the size of fridges) so that they were beside or opposite each other.  This allowed her to mesh and mash sounds into the night, making and adapting recordings of recordings finding new sounds.  No simple clicking a button to adjust filters like the software allows in 2018.

She would then disassemble her innovative studio for the morning when everyone else arrived at work.   After co-founding BBC Radiophonic Workshop (which was around until 1998 and most famously contributed sounds to Doctor Who) she resigned within the year in order to carry on her work.

She just tried stuff to get closer to the sound that she had envisaged.

Not only is Daphne Oram an inspiration as “the first woman to design and build an entirely new sound recording medium” but she often worked alone using the meticulous process that she created from scratch.  She put her money into her work and endeavoured in a world that wasn’t quite ready for her.

The independent recording studio that Daphne Oram established (when very few people were doing it) allowed her to make her music.  She would create music and sounds for adverts to pay the bills so that she could continue to be “an artist in charge of the noise” in her own projects.

I endeavour to be an artist in charge of the noises that I’m making and I hope that I may emulate her tenacity. I wanted to share her story because it’s an important one.

Thanks for reading.

Emma

To delve further into Daphne Oram’s world:

  • There’s a mobile app that allows you to play with the process without the need for appliance-size equipment.   Just search “Oramics”
  • Daphne Oram’s music is available in all the usual place (including “mash ups” of her interviews).
  • Daphne Oram wrote a book in 1972 called “Individual note of music, sound and electronics”.
  • The website dedicated to Daphne Oram is here:  http://daphneoram.org
  • And the articles (I would recommend reading/listing to) which I reference here are:

New Zealand, New Me

(I have just made myself laugh with the title of this blog… I don’t mean it!)

A man stepped out of his Hare Krishna street parade to tell me that I looked “peaceful”.

This comment felt fitting as peace was the very thing I came to New Zealand for: as the antithesis of my busy London life.

Being back in Auckland, the place where this trip began on New Year’s Day, it feels fitting to do a short round up of the month-and-a-bit that I’ve been away.

I’ve discarded the planning and goal-setting that I’m prone to.  It’s been great to just be in the moments as much as possible.  If I’ve started thinking about what might happen when my trip reaches its conclusion, I have told myself to just look at the trees and the mountains.  I planned to find places to perform my music, but it hasn’t happened and I am fine with that.  I wanted to make music every day, and that hasn’t really happened either: particularly when dorm rooms are involved.

The trees, mountains and lakes have been the thing.  I’ve been writing lots: songwriting and writing-writing.  I finished another draft of my children’s book and submitted it to a literary agent.  I’ve met some amazing people, and spent lots of good alone time.  I’ve listened to myself and changed my plans where I’ve needed to.

In particular, I have been giving myself space to record songs: completely new songs and rehashes of songs I’ve written in the past.  I’m being more honest with myself about wanting to write songs for Rhianna.  This was the plan when I started writing songs half my life ago.  I may need to borrow some ears quite soon.

That’s it for now and I’m excited for the next chapter.

Thanks for reading!

Em x

The diving board, Wellington Waterfront

“Don’t even think about it. Just jump” said the five year old boy from the safety of the ground.

Following my visit to Wellington last week this moment has stuck with me.

After a day of Wellington’s characteristic rain, the skies at the Waterfront began to clear. I made my way towards the water to explore and I stumbled upon a potential diver at the diving board.

I had been told earlier that day that Wellington’s residents and visitors used to challenge themselves and each other to jump into the harbour’s water from the roof of a building on the front.

Wellington Council’s response was not to knock down the building or put barbed wire up. They built a diving board beside the building so that challengers could use it to safely dive into an especially cordoned off area, free from stingrays and seals.

It’s hard to be a rebel in Wellington.

The potential diver was a boy aged around 14. He stood at the top or the board surveying the challenge.

I joined the gathering crowd of around 30 and stared up at the boy: left arm by his side, right arm across his body, right hand clutching his left elbow. Would he jump?

People came and people left as the boy continued to contemplate his challenge.

A member of the departing crowd was a blonde child who must have been no more than 5. He yelled his parting words of encouragement: “don’t even think about it. Just jump.”

Clearly this little boy was just repeating what others had been shouting from the crowd, but it really struck me. He had voiced the simplistic, child-like words of the spectator. The person protected by the hypothetical. The person who could happily use the words “you should just…”.

But the boy on the board had thought about it. What now? How can you return to a state of “just do it” when you have thought and over-thought about it.

I’m finding my dreamy plans of making music and performing are a lot more difficult than the hypothetical… just do it.

In my idealised plan for this trip, I didn’t properly account for the restlessness of packing up my rucksack on a daily basis, the tiredness caused by bus journeys and constantly being with and around other humans.

Two weeks in, then, I have decided to re-route my trip. Instead of getting the bus all the way to Auckland and stopping, again, at all the places I stopped at on my way here, I will stay in Dunedin and Queenstown for longer and fly to Auckland from Queenstown.

I hope that resting in those place will give me space to reverse the overthinking. Perhaps I will make my music, explore the sounds I’ve been collecting. Maybe, if I’m feeling ready to really jump, I could try to find a small gig?

The boy on the board didn’t jump from the high board. He backed away down the steps before launching himself off the lower board. Those invested in his story clapped and cheered and then got on with their days, as people do.

Things to think (or not think) about.

Em x

 

Note: I didn’t take the first photo above.  This is not the boy.

A tribute to the beta readers

I have recently completed beta version 2.0 of my debut novel: the Unexpected Adventures of Ammerella Twigg.

In the summer of 2017 the first beta version of the book was as ready as it could be.  I wanted to get some distance from the story as well as some objective feedback before the next rewrite.

I printed 100 hard copies of the book, ready to deliver to shared book cases and leave them around in a book fairy fashion.  There was a note included on the cover:  PICK ME UP / READ ME / PASS ME ON.

I mentioned this on my personal Facebook page, to see if any of my friends might like to read it.  Unbelievably, I received 100 requests within a matter of hours.  I busily distributed the books with no expectations.

I also prepared some electronic versions of sample chapters from the book and delved into the wonderful world of #bookstagram.  I contacted the people of Instagram who adore books and whose profiles looked fantastic to ask if they would mind possibly reading a few chapters if they had time.  To my astonishment, these amazing humans from all over the world were not only happy to help but some thanked me for the opportunity.

My friends have dutifully shared beta version 1 and I continue to receive helpful feedback via email.

 

Importantly, I received some hugely useful information about characters, storyline and typos.

This is a tribute to those beta readers. Beta version 2.0 is a re-write that hopefully clarifies any confusions … and typos.

If you would be interested in being a beta reader for Beta Version 2.0, please email ammerellatwigg@gmail.com and I will get a copy to you as soon as possible.

Ammerella has her own Instagram account on @ammerellatwigg and is on Facebook.

Thanks, once more.

Em x

The fear of stage fright

People who say they never have stage fright make me feel the same way as people who say they don’t get hangovers:  confused, envious and I don’t believe them.

I was the girl who mimed in the choir.  I looked with awe at those who were designated as “singers”.  The celebrated ones.  By the age of 9 I was apparently so convinced that I was not one of them that I announced in a school project entitled My Life So Far: “I love singing, I’m just not very good at it”.  When I found and read this safely stored project a couple of years ago, my twenty something self was flabbergasted.  It remained my “party line” and occasionally falls out of my mouth even now.  Have I seriously been telling myself this for 20 years?
It is no wonder then, when I get up to sing, I am overwhelmed.  This is a serious hinderance for a songwriter who needs to sing her songs.
It’s all very Coyote Ugly.
I have now found ways to sing my songs in public without falling to bits or crying (… yes this has happened).  Despite the mixed results of these performances I have always had the same response afterwards.  I’ve delighted with myself for trying and I’ve learned something.
The fear has been known, in the past, to get the better of me.  It has been, however, more than the stage fright itself, but a fear that stage fright may rear it’s horribly ugly head.  Concern that I might get stage fright can lead to nothing but a downwards spiral.
Some traditional strategies have not gone far to reduce my despair.  For example, “just imagine everyone in the room is naked“.  I cannot imagine anything worse than performing to a room of fully naked people.
I have explored some of the science around stage fright and developed some of my own strategies for dealing with it over the years.  Here are a few things that I need to constantly remind myself of.
1.  Understand what’s going on and know it’s nasty but normal
It’s normal to be scared.  Standing up and singing or reading something you have written in front of a room full of people is a scary and abnormal prospect for anyone.  It can be difficult to convince oneself that our reactions are normal, particularly when the full rooms include people who have performed a million times and appear to be taking it all in their stride.  They say “you’ll be fine” in an attempt to be supportive but actually kinda making you feel even more ridiculous for being concerned… cue more concern.
I was going to research and produce a succinctly digestible explanation of the science of stage fright but TedEd, Mikael Cho and and Robertino Zambrano have already done this for me:
So, the flight of fight response to a threat that evolution hasn’t quite fixed for us:
“When you think about negative consequences, a part of your brain, the hypothalamus, activates and triggers the pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH.  This hormone stimulates the Adrenal Glands in your kidneys and results in the release of adrenaline into your blood […]. Your neck and back muscles contract (forcing your head down and your spine to curve) moving your posture into a slouch. This results in a Low-Power Position as your body tries to force itself into the fetal position.
 
If you try to resist this position by pulling your shoulders back and lifting your head up, your legs and hands shake as the muscles in your body instinctively prepare for an impending attack.  Your blood pressure increases and your digestive system shuts down to maximize efficient delivery of even more nutrients and oxygen to your vital organs. When your digestive system shuts down, this is what leads to the feeling of dry mouth or butterflies” – Mikael Cho
The results:
Bad posture + dry mouth and throat + short breath as oxygen is taken to the vital organs + shaking extremities (when playing a musical instrument) = disastrous for singing and speaking performance.
As Mikael Cho says – it’s “natural and inevitable”.  Don’t let your hypothalamus hide the best of you.
2.  Get in the same boat or build a new boat
Find a place where you are in the same boat as other people trying to sing is really helpful.  This can be anything from a beginners’ singing course or series of courses where you will get the opportunity to sing solo.  Then take that opportunity.  The fact that everyone is so vulnerable should make for a supportive and nurturing group.
I even started Ladies’ Set, a safe stage for women doing something for the first time (including performing for the very first time).  We are all terrified but we all do it… PLUS it’s for charity, which is helpful for ego removal.
I think it’s healthy for a person to be nervous. It means you care – that you work hard and want to give a great performance. You just have to channel that nervous energy into the show” – Beyonce Knowles
3.  Create muscle memory
We know practice makes progress.  Repetition is key.  When you’re worried about the stage fright the last thing you want to be worried about is that you haven’t practiced enough.  But it’s more than that.  If your body is used to its shape when singing or playing, and if we can let our hands move around the instrument on automatic pilot, this will assist the body in moving when the nerves attack.
4.  Breathe
Focus on the breath allows us to be mindful and remind our bodies that the threat of attack is minimal.  I will write more about the power of mindfulness on another day.
5.  Practice being uncomfortable
 
Practice performing and being in a position recognise and interact with evolution’s triggers and responses to threats.  Become a choir slut, going around as many choirs as you can and perform with them all.  Take every public speaking opportunity you can at work.  Karaoke constantly.  Know your body in that state.  Then, after going through all that, find a friendly open mic somewhere you can be anonymous, then another, then another:
In my opinion, the only way to conquer stage fright is to get up on stage and play. Every time you play another show, it gets better and better.” – Taylor Swift
6.  Acknowledge the fear
I’ve been known to talk myself around: “what’s the worst that can happen”.  My attempts to suppress my reactions may convince my intellect but my body will react,  almost saving up all the fear for the final performance.   It’s not fine and it’s normal not to be.
See how Joe Kowan acknowledges fear:
In honour of acknowledging this fear, I entitled my EP: Fighting and Flying.
7.  Power pose
7.  Power Pose
I hope everyone has seen Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk.  It’s time to get big; stand like Wonderwoman.  Before a performance or rehearsal, trick your hippocampus.  Find a corner stage or a toilet cubical or dressing room and open your body up:
Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes. So, this is two minutes. Two minutes, two minutes, two minutes. Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors. That’s what you want to do. Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation. Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down. Don’t leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn’t show them who I am. Leave that situation feeling like, I really feel like I got to say who I am and show who I am” – Amy Cuddy
8.  Don’t drink
I used to think it made sense to have a few drinks before I performed.  This is 100% not the case.  When I stopped drinking before performances, I found it so much easier to interact with my fears and realise what was going on.  No crying.  Even a cheeky glass of wine can push you slightly off kilter.  Now I wait until I have finished to have a drink.  I have not cried on stage from fear since making this decision.
9.  Letting butterflies fly
Remember the metamorphosis: caterpillar to butterfly.  Working with and through the butterflies will hopefully lead us to our own.
So it’s ok, it happens to the best of us.  Let’s find the magic in it:
If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?” – Stevie Nicks
I’d love to hear your stories and strategies around stage fright and ways in which you’ve managed to control it.
Em x