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Jammin' with Niknaps and KTastrophe

Apr 07, 2020

This weekend, KT and I spent some time just vibing in Ableton, thanks to their extended free trial for the time of COVID-19. With the software and a MIDI keyboard borrowed from the ever-gracious AIR APPARENT (my much more musical brother), we were ready to BUILD.

We focused on recreating some songs from scratch: first MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and Ivy Lab’s “Jet Lag.” Being able to learn how to use the tools without having to also generate new tunes made the big scary app seem more accessible. Breaking down songs was also a fascinating exercise in discovering how composition worked. Ever since I got my bass many months ago, I’ve started picking out the bass line out of songs as a form of study (in hopes that it will inspire me to actually learn to play), but doing the same for every component of a song was another story. Thankfully, KT studied music for over a dozen years, and I could lean on her ability to know things like the length of notes and figure out time signatures. What we finished with resembled the songs closely, but we didn’t go as far to completely recreate the songs and match our instruments perfectly.

The whole exercise was super fun, and in some moments afterwards, I started to envision the beginning of my music career (niknaps, with KTastrophe on the beat) , making emo sad boy shit somewhere between Joji and Lontalius so I would never have to learn how to sing properly. Maybe I’ll follow that dream, but for now I’m thinking about making music as a fun creative thing to just play around with. I don’t need to become a musician to appreciate making music every now and then, just like I don’t need to be a professional dancer to like going out.

Another Robin Sloan blog post comes to mind (I swear I read other blogs, but I’m really into his brain lately):

The exhortation “learn to code!” has its foundations in market value. “Learn to code” is suggested as a way up, a way out. “Learn to code” offers economic leverage, a squirt of power. “Learn to code” goes on your resume.

But let’s substitute a different phrase: “learn to cook.” People don’t only learn to cook so they can become chefs. Some do! But far more people learn to cook so they can eat better, or more affordably, or in a specific way. Or because they want to carry on a tradition. Sometimes they learn just because they’re bored! Or even because—get this—they love spending time with the person who’s teaching them.

The list of reasons to “learn to cook” overflows, and only a handful have anything to do with the marketplace. This feels natural; anyone who has ever, like… eaten a meal… of any kind… recognizes that cooking is marbled deeply into domesticity and comfort, nerdiness and curiosity, health and love.

For years, I’ve had an endless list of creative hobbies that I’ve wanted to get into, but it’s easier to learn and do more of them when I don’t put the pressure on myself to be good at them. At the end of the day, I think that writing and design are the only two creative disciplines that I’m willing to put an outsized amount of time into, and I don’t think that will change. If that does change, I’ll at least have tried a few other things that I can fall back on.