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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Miss Loïe Fuller (1893)

"Maybe I'm deep down trying to sabotage my effort …"

I struggle most with the technology, which I believe someone invented with the notion that it might somehow render things overall easier. Under whatever rule has always reigned over technology, though, the best one can ever expect from it might be a slight shifting of some problem, never outright resolution, and each incremental improvement in something inevitably erodes some other aspect, thereby keeping everything more or less even in this universe. Advancement might well cause the cosmos to crash in upon us. Yet each field seems to eventually yield to the ceaseless seduction of a technological improvement never once evident in actual results.

My second career involved helping to upgrade computer systems into alluring futures.
Each conversion taught the same lessons: It would ultimately cost much more than anyone would have ever willingly agreed to initially contribute; It would involve reinventing every wheel associated with operations; and it would result in a frightful expansion in the number of employees needed and revenues required to remain profitable. Doubtless, these transformations forced a future on operations, but they also forced an open question as to whether those futures actually improved anything. The overall energy expended was never reduced or eliminated. I later realized that I had been employed rearranging deck chairs rather than improving anything.

Why should it be any different with songwriting or performing? I can confidently report that I've not yet successfully navigated the conversion to electricity. Microphones baffle me. Mixers feature buttons for which I cannot imagine a purpose. The software associated with capturing any performance seems essentially useless, its sole purpose, if I remain just as generous as I can possibly imagine myself ever becoming, must be to seduce us into attempting to employ it before failing. Its chief benefit being that one never seems to grow tired of the seduction or any more successful at actually using it. It's perfect technology in that respect. Utterly useless, of course, but endlessly promising, eternally just out of reach but still deeply desired.

I'm in no way exempt, though one might imagine that anyone with my experience might prove invulnerable to such baits and switches. Since back in the sixties, when I read somewhere that engineers employed by Apple Corp (the Beatles' very own DARPA development operation) had invented a machine the size of a deck of cards, with no moving parts, that could capture, store, and playback performances with the fidelity of the finest studios, I imagined that one day, I'd be able to play a song into a machine that would faithfully transcribe the thing into standard musical notation with chord names noted, and lyrics even properly hyphenated. No one has managed to invent anything even remotely like that yet, but the hope still continues springing, even though I long ago came to understand the paradoxes involved in creating such a machine.

With The Muse's encouragement, I've collected a fine condenser mic and installed a pickup on my old D-18, and even bought a second-generation mixer thing which digitally interfaces with my computer. The primary result of these technological improvements are a lot of cords which seem to get tangled up in everything. My studio headphones transmit a distinctive buzz which doesn't seem possible to eradicate unless I hold my head just so. The mixer has buttons I cannot comprehend, including two labeled simply 'air.' I punch buttons at random until I can hear both the guitar and the mic over the buzzing in the headphones, then dance back and forth trying to get the volumes right, but since I can't simultaneously produce sound and fiddle with buttons, I inevitably fail in that. Either guitar or vocal, or both, a tad too loud or quiet, then, I set about getting in some practice time without getting terminally tangled in those cables, while remembering to hold my head just so, so that I can hear my performance over the headphones' background buzzing grey noise.

I know that I possess the promise of producing studio quality recordings of my performances, if only I could remember which buttons turned on and off the recording function. I also know that I could adjust a hot few dozen aspects of both the vocal and the instrument to fine tune any performance, make either or both sound like they were emanating from a medieval cathedral or over a landline telephone, for instance, if only I knew which buttons to push and how. The user interfaces feature buttons I can't quite figure out how to push and features with names I cannot comprehend. I understand that PluggingInto will likely result in a complete waste of energy and time and will more likely discourage than encourage me. Maybe I'm deep down trying to sabotage my effort at creating and performing my SetList. Why else seek technological improvement?

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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