As I was mixing tracks tonight, I felt like writing down a bit of what was happening in my head. It’s a brief glimpse but it’s real. What follows is written chronologically.
This is what I said about the mix in question: “I’m trying to contextualize some of the jazz that leads me into modern stuff like techno, balearic, and vaporwave.”
Sometimes I get an idea and it seems like this perfect thing in my head, this little nugget that absolutely nails a feeling that I’ve had. It is what it is and I can’t imagine how I could change it. But then I go to implement it and I realize it’s a dead end, or it’s too small, or it’s missing something outside itself, a reflection or context or counterpoint. So the idea changes or it dies right there. I can grow on it, I can add to it, turn it into something else. Or I leave it for another day, probably to be forgotten.
This is how I make my mixtapes, and it’s probably most plain in that instance. But it happens with everything I make, especially writing. I go in with one purpose and come out looking for another.
When it comes to mixtapes, the germ of an idea will plant itself in my head, destined to dig in until it resolves itself. This means that I start scrambling for ways to put this sound-idea into a mix. Maybe I’ve got an idea for a prefect segue, or maybe I want to juxtapose it against something later in the arc. Maybe I’ve even got an entire structure being erected around this idea, and all I need are the materials to fill it in.
But what usually happens is that I realize my initial excitement only covers a small amount of time, the grand plan is just a core piece, ready for a beginning and end to be grafted on. It’s ready for an entire world of context to be framed in. So I search some more, but this time I’ve got a base to push off from, gain some momentum.
At this point I usually begin experimenting with a road map for how it’ll go. I mix a few pieces together and see how it feels. Sometimes I even burn it to a CD and go for a drive. That kind of listening is important.
Once I’ve heard my rough sketch enough times, feeling how the transitions flow, letting my attention drift to iron out any jarring moments, I get this satisfied feeling, like it’s all set. Then I suddenly realize it’s shit and I tear it apart.
At this point, when I’ve destroyed everything I’ve created so far, I realize what I really wanted. It seems kind of fucked up, and it’s how I’ve run my life until this point, but it somehow works for me.
I’ve realized what I needed to do in a relationship right after ending it. I’ve learned important lessons about moderation right after overdoing it. I’ve felt powerful enlightenment just hours after acting a fucking fool. It happens. I keep learning.
But then the most beautiful thing happens: I realize what change I really needed, and I try it. It’s an amazing buzz for someone raised to feel conflicted all the time. When your default mode of existence is being torn between two extremes, it’s heaven to feel whole for once.
Here’s one of those songs that begat an entire mix, last spring’s Brother Keep Us. It’s the Moldau River movement from Bedřich Smetana’s symphony, Má Vlast.