The Unreasonable Silence

Making Sense of the Human Condition

Why calling people toxic is toxic.

I’m really aware of this recent phenomena in Psychotherapy circles of calling people or relationships ‘toxic’. I see it all the time now on mental health blogs and I personally don’t think it’s helpful.

If you go around labelling everyone who offends you as ‘toxic’ you are in danger of actually making a very bold statement about yourself, in particular your intolerance for anyone that doesn’t share your views. I think it reinforces the notion that certain people are the cause of your problems and if you avoid them, your problem will go away. The truth is that virtually anyone can present a very challenging set of circumstances to you if you are experiencing a mental health crisis or simply going through a difficult period in your life.

The solution maybe is not to avoid everyone that you consider represents a threat to you but maybe to examine why you feel that way about that person, and why maybe others don’t. You might not like their behaviour or agree with what they’re doing, and you also don’t need to put up with it, but at least you can see it more objectively as someone’s own response to anxious behaviour, trauma, neglect or any other unresolved issue, rather than some notion that their behaviour is aimed at harming you.

I presented this idea on my Facebook page recently and had some interesting replies, some agreeing with me and a number of people who were really defending the use of the word.

It could of course be semantics over the words used but I just think the labelling doesn’t resolve the issue. For me when faced with this kind of situation, I need to confront the reasons why the behaviour was unacceptable, why the boundaries were crossed, and where to set them in the future, in order to be sure my actions were appropriate. Without that I’m just reinforcing the belief that everyone I meet is toxic if I don’t like the way they behave. I can’t see how that’s healthy.

A few people were concerned I was advocating a policy of ‘turning the other cheek’. That’s absolutely not the case and in many cases I was thinking absolutely the opposite. If someone wants to do harm to you, then show them clearly where those boundaries are in no uncertain terms. But the real battle comes afterwards when you have to deal with the fallout, post trauma… The therapy for that is a bit more complicated than simply labelling that person, or behaviour ‘toxic’, sweeping it under the carpet and moving on. There lies the danger of it being used as a fix all sticking plaster.

Experiencing trauma should not be a life sentence for living the rest of your life, and a good therapist should be able to help to reframe those events without the labels.

The view we take of these events is crucial to our mental health going forward.

I am Analogue man

I am Analogue Man, or am I?

Despite enjoying many of the attractions of modern technology, in many ways I am ‘analogue man’, and here to remind you of what we have all lost in the unstoppable procession into the future…But maybe we haven’t lost much at all?

If you are old enough to remember the BBC series Tomorrow’s World that was very popular in the 70s and 80s, they delighted in showcasing the ‘Home of the Future’ giving us all a tantalising taste of how we’d all be using laser disc players, video phones and have robots doing the housework. Well elements of all those things came true, but maybe not quite as literally as they were depicted by Judith Hann and Michael Rodd all those years ago. The thing they didn’t factor into their futuristic predictions is that people don’t conveniently follow technology curves, throwing out everything that’s old and replacing it with new. They didn’t factor in that people kind of like old and new stuff and mix it all together.

Now we have smart phones capable of video calls, and there’s no need for laser discs, video recorders and minidisc players…. But get this! We ‘stream’ our music from data servers whilst still buying something called ‘vinyl records’, remember them?

You see, a lot of us still have this profound underlying need to connect to bygone eras. It’s not just nostalgia for Boomers or Generation X’ers either… Generation Z’ers are buying LPs for the first time and discovering The Beatles and The Stones. And they are finding out all about this historic music from their smartphones watching something called TicTak and FaceTube. This is the beauty of marrying old with new.

In the real world of Tomorrow, the wonderful thing is, you get to pick and choose. Our Homes of the Future are typically an eclectic mix of 4K TVs, smartphones with more processing power than Houston Mission Control in the 1960s, and carpet and furniture designed in the late 19th century. The Kubrick 2001 ‘esqe vision of bright red plastic furniture and white walls was cool for a while, but we got tired of Spaceman fashion and craved a return to the more sartorial elegance of an Edwardian country house. Just as long as there are enough USB charging points and a decent internet connection.

How many of us still read good old fashioned books but purchase them from Amazon on an iPad or Phone? Technology hasn’t yet killed off the book, and I don’t think it will kill off the CD either, which is another weird anomaly that is set to survive the streaming revolution.

My other job is repairing, and servicing vintage watches and to some extent I also make music ‘of a bygone era’, where again, I mix, quite literally, the old and new. I’m now the proud owner of a 2020 spec Apple Silicon M1 powered computer running the latest version of Logic which I can seamlessly interface with my handmade valve powered microphone pre amp designed by Universal Audio in the late 1960s.

Rolex steadfastly still make the most desirable and iconic watches in the world and, they are also the most environmentally sustainable too. They require no power, no nasty lithium mined batteries, take minimal energy to manufacture, last 100 years + and are worth more in 10 years than when you bought them. They are also less accurate and useful than a £30 Smartwatch. Which is why the two happily co-exist at the same point in history.

The thing is, the past is full of imperfection, crackles, hiss, noise, smell, heat, weight, inaccuracy, inconvenience, danger, and the digital world promises to solve all these problems. But we forget that we become fond of things that aren’t perfect. The imperfections that the analogue world creates, are the very imperfections us humans grow to love.

The crackle and warmth of vinyl, the distorting characteristics of an overdriven valve amplifier, the sound of the Mellotron trying to imitate a choir or strings. Then there’s the orange glow of filament bulbs, the smell of a leather interior, the sound of a V8 engine under load…You get the idea..

Some of these things disappear but they come back in digital form. Then people wonder how good the emulation is and get excited about rediscovering the original analogue design. Before you know it we are all paying ridiculous sums of money for stuff that was thrown out in the rubbish 50 years ago.

In the music production world we have plugins that emulate classic analogue circuitry. LED lights now mimic the look of filament bulbs and once we are over this initial phase of electric vehicles with the aesthetic appeal of household domestic appliances, my prediction is that a new era of EVs will arrive that resemble the classic lines of yesteryear. I have no doubt that EV sports cars will also come with a choice of organic engine noises played in the cockpit to hide the really awful ones like brakes squealing and tyres rumbling.

A good friend said to me once, that one day the digital world will be better at being analogue than analogue is….He may be right.

But on that subject of old things becoming desirable again. Here’s a fascinating question.. What are we are throwing away now that will become priceless to collectors in the 2070s?… Answers in the comments please…

A Man with a Fork in a World of Soup.

Facebook has this feature called ‘Memories’. When you click on it, the app shows you everything you posted on this same day, going back a number of years. On News Years Eve in 2019 I posted about how my mental health had declined in the previous year and jokingly said that my mind Failed Under Continuous Testing (FUCT). I had identified that I was spending too much time trying to fix the unfixable. I had somehow smashed the pottery into a thousand pieces and was berating myself for not being able to put all the pieces back together. This is such a common theme for me. I am completely unable to let things go, to sweep the pieces into the bin and start again.

I admire those people who can do this, intently, the ones that can accept with good grace the deal that life has dealt them and start again. For me, the agony is continuously replaying the trauma on a loop. I still want to replay the same sorry scenario over and over, like some demented software engineer who’s trying to find the exact line of code where it all went wrong.

For me, 2022 has been all about fear and loss… I lost an old school friend to cancer back in August and it deeply affected me. We barely spoke in recent years but we were connected by the whole life forming experience of being great mates at school and subsequently bandmates with hopes and dreams of rock stardom. Rob was an extraordinary character; he couldn’t see any barriers in the world, just opportunities. He suffered appalling circumstance on many occasions, but just got back up undaunted. It seems such a cruel irony that life turned around and finally pulled the rug from under him at just 52, when he was so well equipped to deal with its numerous downs.

I was and still am the opposite.. I can see hurdles from miles away, perceived hazards, pitfalls, possible things that can go wrong, and people with dishonest intentions. Some would say that this is a fantastic life skill, and it’s certainly saved me from disaster on a number of occasions, but also it can be all so overwhelming, putting plans in place to achieve anything of worth is often too anxiety-inducing to contemplate.

I very recently discovered I may be suffering from something called ‘Hypervigilance’ which is the mind being in an elevated state of constantly assessing potential threats around you. It can have all kinds of unwanted consequences, but does have at least a flipside in that it unleashes a wonderful creativity for writing concept albums.

I wrote this song called ‘If Things Don’t Change’, and it’s very clear things are very much going to have to change in 2023, and for a lot of people.

Increasingly in 2022 I found myself incredibly angry about politics, and I have subjected friends and family to more than a few rants. But I think we are heading for disaster… Just on one level, my energy bill for December was £400. Just one month.. I can’t afford this, and I don’t know many people who can, where will this all end?

I am thankful for a few things. The very few genuine friends I still have. The adage about finding out who your true friends are has never been more resonant. Also family and the opportunity to keep trying, even if every year it feels like an ever increasing incline. I think of Rob and also former bandmate David Longdon who will never get that chance… As I wrote in the song..”As long as I can feel the sun, I’m willing to try..”

Cosmograf reached its most critically acclaimed heights yet, this year with the new album, even though the sales remain frustratingly low. It’s the latter point and the growing cost of living which is causing me the most anguish I think… The constant mismatch of putting your heart and soul into work that for the most part is not valued except by those very loyal dedicated fans that continue to support me. I joked to my parents in law at Christmas, that I could have built another company by now and retired, but like so many of my fellow muso friends struggling at the moment, I sold my soul to rock and roll.

To be honest, I don’t know how much more time I can dedicate to music, when it pays so poorly…and I think 2023 will see me put more effort into building other income streams, including my watch repair business.

Forgive my lack of positivity for the new year, but at the moment I feel like that great quote from Noel Gallagher describing his brother, Liam:

“He’s a man with a fork in a world of soup”.



Sharks

Swimming with Sharks

Lies, Damn lies and Statistics
I’m sure you remember that old statistic about the likelihood of getting bitten by a shark. I just googled it again and apparently it’s 1 in 3.75million. Being the overthinking being that I am, I wonder how on earth they calculated that, and how absurd the notion is that the risk of being eaten by Jaws is the same if you lived in a suburban house in Reading, or if you were an Australian surfer on Bondi beach.

Of course the risk isn’t the same at all. Our own brains are as equally useless as averaged statistics in assessing the objective level of danger that you are in. The mind is unable to calculate the true risk of what lies before us and it actually takes an experience based approach to whether something is harmful to us or whether we are more unfortunate than other people in whatever event occurs.

Do you Feel Lucky?
One person’s assessment of whether a situation is risky or dangerous can be entirely different to someone else’s. Similarly it’s also impossible to objectively determine if someone has been lucky or unlucky. It’s just something we say… If our Australian surfer spends every day in the water in the known habitat and feeding grounds of a Great White, there is a good chance he’s eventually going to have a rather unwanted encounter. If he does, we might opine that he was ‘unlucky’ to get bitten, but given all the circumstances, it was bound to happen. We might also say he was ‘lucky’ to survive, which is surely the daftest statement ever if we are saying there was a 1 in 3.75million chance of being bitten in the first place. Our tiny brains aren’t very clever at objective assessment. We just say what we see, or say what we think we know from our own experience, or the experience of others that we are aware of.

Rock Stars Die Young
When I was a teenager I spent more than a few hours wondering why so many big rock stars that I dreamed of becoming, seemed to die before their time, often in some sort of hideous misadventure. Drugs, alcohol, helicopter, plane and car crashes, and various other unusual deaths seemed to be very common and certainly well above the statistical averages.

What was the reason for this? Are the music and creative industries really so inherently dangerous? We all know the 27 Club thing, right? It’s fuel for conspiracy theorists but also fun to try and take a more scientific approach, using things like reasoning and probability to analyse what’s going on.

I guess if we look at the activities that surround the art of making music in a bit more detail we start to get a more realistic picture. Logistics pay a big part, and back in the 70s and 80s, getting a rock star from A to B involved a great deal of fast moving and dangerous transportation in an era where we hadn’t even legislated on the safety benefits of the seatbelt, let alone the airbag.

Drugs and alcohol have always gone hand in hand with the music industry and in many cases were salves to the crushing boredom of life on the road or a way of coping with the pressures of fame, or an intangible artistic struggle.

I don’t think luck has much to do with any of this at all but yet the brain persists to draw its own erroneous conclusions. In my own life I regularly curse my own ‘luck’ and question ‘why me?’ on a whole variety of daily issues. The one parcel of CDs that our label sends without insurance will always get lost in the post and I then wonder why I’m almost on first name terms with the Royal Mail help team on Twitter. It’s because, just like those 70s rock stars, I’m ‘Swimming With Sharks’. I send a lot of post, therefore probability dictates that I will lose some stuff at some point.

Virtual Sharks
This all sounds very trivial until you realise that our mental health is really inextricably linked to the view we take of ourselves and that of the world around us. If we go through life thinking that we are cursed, or unlucky or that good things will never happen to us then the probability that life will get worse will increase for sure.

I wrote a song on my album Mind Over Depth, literally called ‘Sharks’. As with so many of my concepts, I’d taken a story and made it into an analogy or allegory for some other deeper meaning. The story in this was case was the fate of the crew USS Indianapolis that delivered components for the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima in August 1945. The ship was holed by a Japanese submarine and all the surviving crew went into the shark infested waters of the Pacific, leading to the largest shark attack in history. In my song, the sharks represented the negative thoughts that attack us every day, and the thrashing movements of the stricken sailors, our futile attempts to defeat them. And furthermore, the very thrashing about and shouting in resistance, made things worse attracting even more ‘sharks’.

We are all ‘Swimming with Sharks’ to some extent but more positively I think we can possibly reverse this mindset. If we consider we are ‘Dancing with Angels’, we might consider that ‘being lucky’ is surrounding ourselves in an environment where our productivity yields the most fertile results. Some would dismiss this as ‘being in the right place at the right time’, yet another fortune based idiom.

But how can we use this insight? Well, when something bad happens to me now, I try this trick:
Instead of saying “Why is this happening to me?”, I say to myself. “Why SHOULDN’T this happen to me?” This simple act of reversing the perspective defeats my brain into taking a more realistic view of the situation. I think a lot of really resilient people that I know do this automatically without even thinking about it. They accept that there is no immunity against life dealing them a bad hand, but they equally know the storm will pass, and they laugh in the face of the wind…

Where It All Went Wrong

Those that follow me on Facebook and Twitter may have noticed I’ve become rather animated about politics these days. When I started my adventures as Cosmograf, I formed a firm opinion that it was best if musicians simply stayed out of political issues. I watched as some of my contemporaries clearly put their mark in the sand and pinned their party political allegiances to the mast, and I thought they were making a terrible mistake, dividing and alienating a potential audience when, it was all too difficult to get any attention at all for your music.

The Airfix Model

Many of us carry an inner philosophy of ‘goal based thinking’.  I know I do and like many learned behaviours it probably stems from childhood.  Much of our indoctrination in early life and at school is to strive and achieve.  Goal based thinking is being overly obsessed with the result of your endeavours and the expectation of achieving it.  Needless to say if all you can see is the end goal, you’ll never learn to appreciate the journey and your world will become pointless if the end goal is never reached.

As a child I used to make the odd Airfix model or two.  From the moment I took the plastic parts out of the box, I was in a race to produce a model that looked exactly like the picture on the box.  All I could see was the image of my gleaming creation, complete in its Humbrol’d livery and  carefully applied waterslide transfers…But it never quite ended up like I envisioned.  I’d get glue on the windows of the cockpit or I’d snap the undercarriage of the aircraft before I’d fixed it in place.  Then I might lose a few of the smallest pieces, spend a fruitless few minutes trying to find them and give up soon after in a heap of frustration..  The few models that I did finally get to fruition basically gathered dust on a shelf until wheels or wings got broken and they were discarded…

The journey to my goal was not at all enjoyable and if the goal was ever reached, it wasn’t valued.

An alternative approach to goal based thinking is ‘value based thinking’ where you consider the journey as part of the experience of reaching your goal.

In my Airfix model example I should have spent more time preparing my tools, mating the parts correctly, enjoying the progression of the build over a much longer time period.  Once it was completed I’d have looked upon the finished model with pride, and felt good about the journey it took to create it.  I’d have also valued the finished product more and taken more steps to protect it for the long term like putting it in a presentation case.

Although a complete failure at Airfix models, I’ve had more success applying this mindset to my music.  Just as with the Airfix model, I rushed my first attempts and made terrible mistakes that couldn’t be fixed without starting again.  I eventually learned to take more care, and thoroughly study the tools and the engineering and craft of producing music.  This provided a much deeper sense of achievement and enjoyment from making a new record.

But I have to be really honest,  once an album is released,  it’s creatively, a dead end for me. There is no joy creatively for me from that point on unless I’m going to make a video or some other artistic offshoot.  Once the album is finished I then have to switch from an artistic perspective to a marketing and business one in order to give it the best chance of being a success…and this can be a painful process.   For many artists it’s so painful that they neglect to give it any attention at all and their newly created masterpiece fails to find an audience.

Whilst it’s always gratifying to see people’s responses to the music, mentally I’ve moved on to the next creation, the next journey.

In an ideal world I’d like to completely bail out of the process at this stage and hand everything over to someone in the PR arena.  I’d argue that musicians are the worst people to promote and sell the record.  You need to be dreadfully thick skinned to take the rejection of a cynical and disinterested press and utterly persistent to the point of annoyance in doggedly getting the attention it needs.  

But hiring good PR professionals takes a great deal of money and there is no guarantee any of that investment will pay dividends.   I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last few releases and even more from running my tiny label Gravity Dream Music.  I have an endless capacity for details in pursuit of what I personally consider to be the goal, even if that goal is actually far removed from anything that the audience will ever recognise.   This is a dangerous path for any commercial venture because it means all your time and money will be eaten up in tiny details that your audience might not ever see.  But equally it’s your unique superpower.  When you spend a huge amount of time perfecting these tiny details, the overall impression of the finished product to someone else is that you’ve made something impossible or magical.     

We are all different, and we like different things

Someone posted on Facebook yesterday that if you weren’t completely moved by the programme that they had just watched, then ‘unfriend me now’…..I wasn’t moved by it all, so I did unfriend him…..not because I disagreed with him, but in fact because I was intolerant of being told what I should or shouldn’t like.

MAKING SENSE OF AUDIO – PART 2 – Why CD Audio has all the resolution any audiophile will ever need.

The invention of the Compact Disc format that we know and love today is dated to around 1980 when Philips and Sony settled on the ‘Red Book’ standard, specifying a 120mm optical disc containing 2 channels of digitally encoded audio, with 16bit values sampled at 44100Hz. The format could store 74min-80mins of music on a single disc which was almost double capacity of a typical long playing record.

MAKING SENSE OF AUDIO – PART 1 – Your Ears

 I’ve decided to start writing more about audio because I’m endlessly fascinated by the whole thing and it helps me to cement my own knowledge in what I do in producing Cosmograf records and for other artists.
  

Every day is school day and I kind of think it is a responsibility to have some answers for those people that do see me as having some knowledge and expertise in this area.  I’m also interested in the misunderstandings that a lot of people seem to have about audio particularly in the area of playback and the myth and legend that seems to come up when people start banding around file formats, bit depths and sample rates and maybe not understanding what those numbers mean.  I don’t want to start a war with audiophiles, as we are very much on the same side in terms of caring about audio quality,  but I do think there’s a clear disconnect between what we do in the studio and what people think we do in reference to what they hear on their hi-fi systems.

Don’t Ignore The Funny Noises

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I think a perfect time to turn your gaze inward at the world within, rather than the one outside.

I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery for a few years now following my own issues with mental health and I’ve learned a lot of things and talked to some amazing people about their views on what makes us all tick. 

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