Need a Mentor?

Please note the date on this post – I have no plans for more virtual sound design interns – see this article

Empathy is a character trait I value. Highly. I heard a psychologist interviewed on the radio a year or so ago & her core theory (based on research) was that a large proportion of people in prison never learned empathy as children. Every now & again I meet someone with an obvious lack of empathy & think hmmmm… they just have no appreciation for their effect on other people & I think about those people in prison, who commit crimes with similarly no thought for the often devastating impact on their victims…

So why am I talking about empathy? Well I so appreciate the support a number of generous people gave me early in my career & while its difficult to repay their kindness I feel that it is probably more appropriate to repay in kind ie offer similar support to young people now… And to me this is an act of empathy, as I dearly remember how hard getting that start is, and how much a small gesture of support can mean at critical stages… Accordingly I’ve managed to do this a number of times over the years by taking on someone with no real post experience as an assistant/trainee and it is satisfying to see them develop & forge their careers… Finding the right person can be problematic, not through any lack of willing participants but more so in terms of clarifying the crucial formative characteristics. But having successfully been through the process four times now I have a reasonable idea….

Anyway, enough philosophy for now – this post is really just to say I would like to offer a virtual internship by acting as mentor to a young sound editor who is early in their career.

So what is a mentor exactly? The dictionary defines it as “a wise and trusted guide and advisor” while Wikipedia refers to “a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person” which sounds a bit more like it.

When I started my own company I had a business mentor for a while, and I found it invaluable to have someone far more experienced to ask advice from. Often they played devils advocate & answered my questions with questions, so I thought through my own conclusions and I definitely subscribe to this approach. If someone I am supervising is stuck on a problem it is rare that I would simply come up with an answer for them, because that doesn’t help them develop the skills to solve that same problem when it arises again in the future.

So what are the characteristics I am looking for? Well the first thing I can say is you do not need to be local. I already have a good team of people who I work with & accordingly I simply don’t have a trainee job to offer, per se. So I am happy to mentor via email, ichat, skype, ftp etc…

You need to be able to illustrate that you are already committed to film sound post as a career. It is an investment of time on my part so I need to be convinced this isn’t just a whim. That doesn’t mean you need to have credits on films, but already having some experience of contributing to short films or TV drama etc is a definite bonus.

Technical skill is important – don’t apply if you don’t already have a basic knowledge of ProTools. I’m not interested in what your favourite software is, it is a simple fact that ProTools dominates in film sound post & we need to be able to exchange Protools sessions as work in progress. I did plenty of films early on using nothing more than ProTools LE, so that at least is a prerequisite.

Owning (or having access to) a field recording kit is also important. I dont really believe in using library sounds other than in specific situations so I want to know what you will be using to collect sounds for your work.

Lastly & in my opinion most important is personality & attitude. I am going to have to research some questions for this bit – not about your personal life but definitely about your attitudes, ethics & approach. This will also require a character reference or two who I can contact.

So its kind of like a job interview, except there isn’t a job. The virtual internship will run for a maximum of 12 months, at which point I will take on a new intern. And bear in mind I despise sycophants. I do not want to hear what you think I want to hear, I want to hear what you think. Still interested? if you want to apply, please email me using the form below & in a week or so I will send you an application form.

> Registration is now closed!

– Update 1

– Update 2

– Update 3

– Update 4

– Update 5

Atonality, Naming Goats & The Ecology of Creativity

I can’t claim any of the great subjects in the title of this post as my own; each one is an article on the fascinating site: Thinking Applied…. but it was the one on Atonality that led me to first discover it. I find it interesting how musical tastes & perception change, both individually & via the collective consciousness. I guess its all a part of evolution…
But the article that I enjoyed the most is about Internal Research & is subtitled as an algorithm for the productive use of the imagination but could also be considered as a means of accessing your subconscious. Heres the introduction:

‘Elmer R. Gates (1859-1923), who held dozens of patents, made his living “sitting for ideas.” His tools were a quiet room, a pen, blank paper, and his mind.

When I read about Gates in 1960, the notion of “sitting for ideas” appealed to me, and I began to try it. For two decades I intermittently pursued it in different settings with varying degrees of success and failure. In 1984, after one career as an academic and another as a conductor of contemporary music, I succumbed to my scientific and philosophical interests and founded a small interdisciplinary think tank. Since then “sitting for ideas” has been a major preoccupation.

Learning to use introspection productively is like perfecting an artistic skill. It takes commitment, time, and understanding. There’s no substitute for commitment, but you’ll hasten your progress if you understand the underlying process.

The example of Elmer Gates demonstrates three things: The unconscious has access to information that lies outside our normal awareness; under certain conditions that information can be released into consciousness; some of it can be unique and useful…. continues..

Interesting huh? I know its related & it always makes me laugh but if I am working on a creative problem before breakfast & get stuck, I notice that if I go have a shower after about 5 minutes a solution will suddenly occur to me. Now I’m not standing in the shower thinking about the problem, in fact I’m not thinking about much at all & its that rest that lets the unconscious go to work. Similarly there is a saying about the best way to solve a problem is to go for a decent walk ie partake in an activity that lets the conscious mind rest… Explain that to your boss next time you get stuck on a problem: ‘its not that I’m not working….

The Creative Cost of Piracy

Everyone knows piracy is an issue, and the worst kind of piracy has to be the leak. There is no greater insult to an artist than for their work to be stolen & released to the world before it is finished, and while piracy of a finished product has a negative financial impact, piracy of an unfinished product has far deeper ramifications. What prompted this post? Well, I was reading an article about the picture editorial workflow on the new Star Trek film and while it is an interesting read, one section totally stunned me, get this:

Another issue was steps taken to reduce the risk of the film being pirated.

“Security-wise we made sure all the footage we gave out to the music or sound effects guys were in black-and-white. Eventually we did give them color but it was just another security precaution to make sure things weren’t going to get out. Of course all the footage had massive block letters with the name of who it was going out to. And it wasn’t just on the top and bottom it was through the entire image. Otherwise you just crop the top and bottom.

We had a lot of ADR sessions and some of those were done internationally because some of the actors were overseas. For those we were extremely cautious with and we actually blacked out the entire screen and made a little circle around the actors face and tracked the circle to their face so that is the only thing that was being seen. It’s a little scary when you are dealing with another country, another company and department that you have never met doing the recording. So it was a lot of tedious work involved but you do feel better about sending it out.”

Good grief! So THAT is the creative cost of piracy. To try & prevent the possibility of a leak, the sound post team are required to work to BLACK & WHITE video??? And the actors doing ADR are expected to get back in character, engage with the story & create evocative performances while looking at DISEMBODIED FACES???? In closeup that would seem a little weird but in a wideshot it must be bizzare!
While I feel sorry for the people working in such circumstances, I feel total disgust for the people who create this situation by pirating & leaking original artworks. What exactly is the motive for leaking something? What possible benefit is there? And is this a direct side effect of the Wolverine leak? There must be better solutions than those suggested above.

No mind

“When I improvise there’s no mind. I’m just there. I fiddle around. It’s like a painter would do, just fantasise a little bit. I’m not thinking about this shit, it’s just something I do. Mind messes everything up. When inspiration starts, rational thinking stops.”

Thats Joe Zawinul talking about his creative process from an interview published in SOS magazine back in June 2003 and that ‘no mind’ state intrigues me, since it appears in a number of other unique circumstances.

Mushin is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. The term is shortened from mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning mind of no mind. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything.

Am I talking about music or the meaning of life? Yes, no, maybe… but some of those buddhist words of wisdom could easily be describing music:

“The river has no shape, but it takes on the boundaries which it carves out for itself,
so is the mind boundless, until it creates a prison for its own thoughts.”

To the mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.

Lao Tzu

While attaining the no-mind state takes considerable focus & practice, the state of being in the flow is related & is perhaps a step down the same road…. There is a great article here: In the zone: enjoyment, creativity, and the nine elements of “flow.” Of the nine elements discussed, number 7 is particularly relevant: Self-consciousness disappears. When I was younger I felt far more self-conscious than I do now, and maybe thats just a part of growing up. I remember having one of those great, random, deep conversations with a complete stranger on a plane, about how as you grow older you eventually reach an age where you simply become comfortable in your skin. It takes a certain amount of time, but I would also presume, a certain amount of experience, of living…

A couple of videos worth checking out: the first by the author of the book discussed in that article; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, on creativity, fulfillment and flow

And a video of a presentation by David Lynch: Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain:

Food for non-thought?

25 Things

Someone tagged me on Facebook with the 25 things meme, so i thought I’d paste it here too. So heres 25 random things about me

1. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is the first film I ever saw. My grandmother took me during school holidays; thanks Irene, I hope Heaven is cool!

2. An empty grain silo on my Dads farm is the first beautiful sound I remember exploring, age 6 or so… I caught a mouse in there and it bit me. This was before computers – it was a real mouse.

3. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno & David Byrne is the first album that made me want to be a musician/sound engineer/music producer/space cadet

4. Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders is the first film I saw that made me want to be a film maker. I still love that film & visited some of the locations when I went to Berlin a few years ago. I saw the angels. They seemed happier.

5. As an artist and a human being, I believe what you choose NOT to do is as important as what you DO choose to do. I do not sing & I do not dance, so please, dont even ask me.

6. I have never consciously tried to meditate, ever. But I meditate every time I play the drums, mow the lawn, drive my car, water my plants, play my double bass, dream, swim, travel, make or listen to music, record sounds in nature…

7. I believe I am currently in Zen kindergarten. I hope to start school one day.

8. I’ve been in three bands (& I bet you can’t name one of them!)

9. I recently fell in love with a modular synth. I would sleep with it if I could, but its a bit sharp & pointy & all the glowing LEDs & warped sounds would keep me awake at night…

10. I would eat Japanese food every day if I could (preferably in Japan)

11. Haruki Murikami is my favourite author but I would love to live inside a William Gibson novel.

12. I like staying up really late on Sunday nights…

13. I dont believe anything good happens on Monday mornings.

14. I dislike telephones and wish they were never invented. Why wasnt the internet invented back in 1876 instead? Oh, right…

15. Autonomy is a core requirement for me to be happy.

16. I had piano lessons for two years when I was young but I still cant read manuscript. I had the loveliest piano teacher called Joan. She had two daschund dogs & when they barked it meant the next student had arrived and I would soon be FREE!!! I met my piano teacher again recently. My Mum told her I make jazz… or something…. and she’s right! (about the ‘or something’ bit)

17. I love steampunk as alternate history…

18. I feel incredibly blessed to work on films & to spend time with so many inspiring people.

19. I believe in Moleskins (the little notebooks, not the trousers!)

20. I have nine nieces & nephews: they are the nine coolest people on the planet.

21. My best work is the work I do tomorrow.

22. My favourite place is here & now. Second is there & soon. Third is way over there, in a few months…

23. My favourite state of mind is when I am caught up in the flow of creating music/sound.

24. I believe you become what you dream about, but every dream takes a different amount of time to become real. And you have to keep dreaming it for it to become real. The really big dreams can take ages…

25. The Y2k bug broke the tibia & fibula in my right leg. Well, either that or a combination of champagne & gravity. It happened 2am Jan 1st, 2000. Enough said. I am now partly robotic & have to avoid large magnets.

Music Thoughts

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby, has launched a new site called Music Thoughts which pretty much sums up its sole purpose – as a repository for music related quotes & thoughts, heres a random example from Robert Fripp:


It reminds me a little of Brian Enos Oblique Strategies although the thoughts contained within those are more specifically philosophical & relevant to the creative process in terms of provoking change… I own a copy of the 4th series of Oblique Strategies & consult them occasionally – the fifth series are still available although so is a free version for the iPhone/iPod Touch…

Music Thoughts is a great idea – whenever I’m reading a book or wandering around the interweb & come across a spark of wisdom specifically relevant to me I tend to write it down in my moleskin, as good thoughts are very worth revisiting. Relevant to this, on the front page of my current moleskin I have a saying I try to refer to often. Its says: “we become what we think about” and at a later date I’ve added in brackets “so think the future”
It was prompted by watching the following video, basically its a speech by Earl Nightingale (who sounds a LOT like Orson Welles) & it is very worth the ten minutes to check it out, its not new or quirky – its just worth thinking about…

Another great quote form that video: “The opposite of courage is not cowardice, its conformity” or in short form: “baaaaaaaa”

ps Earl wasnt the first person to come up with that saying, Buddha beat him by quite a few decades!
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

Ambient Sequencer AS606!

Check it out here

Funny! I used to use half empty packets of zigzags to achieve the same results ie jamming down keys for infinite sustain…

Stashing ideas In the real world…

Do you own a Moleskin? If not, then make it your next purchase…. why? Because they are perfectly designed to collect ideas while you go about life in the real world, thats why! Hell, they even make one for people that can read that strange tadpole language….

What? sound designers? Me not speaka de tadpole.. But if the choice was between my ipod & my moleskin the ipod would stay at home – why? Because like television ipods are mostly passive, whereas nothing is more interactive & inspiring than a blank page & a pen…

Anyways, relatedly here is an inspired bit of animation by Evelien Lohbeck called Noteboek

Inspiring Words

I often read books & articles on how people approach & think about their work in other creative fields, as the techniques are often either transferrable or inspire other ways of thinking about sound design and music. So if you would like some interesting advice & insight into the creative process of some very successful creative people, then have a read of this article – the author of the Magnum Photographers blog asked the same two questions of 35 photographers:

When did you first get excited about photography?

What advice would you give young photographers?

So have a read, heres a link to the PDF and wherever they say photo substitute the word sound (or music, whichever is your primary muse)

When did you first get excited about music?

What advice would you give young musicians?

Are you GENERIC?

There was one sentence in the quotes from the previous post by Ryuichi Sakmoto that has stuck in my head as it has interesting ramifications: “I don’t like ‘experimental music’ that’s only point is experimentation.”

Its an interesting point & perhaps the subtext is being wary of self-indulgence, an important consideration for any artist or musician. But it also makes me think of music that is so intensely genre driven that its only point seems to be to identify with that specific genre. The concept of genre is not new by any means, but I cant help think of the term generic as having negative connotations, as in cookie cutter type sound-a-like music… How important to you is genre?