Making Sense of the Human Condition

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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.

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. 

Leaving Your Mark in Hidden Places

As many of you know I’m really into metaphors and allegories, it’s always a big feature of my music but I saw this in my other job today and it got me thinking.

I was dismantling this manual wind Omega watch from the 1960s and spotted that a previous watchmaker had scratched their name and the date under the ratchet wheel (you can just see it in the picture). 


Now I’ve seen this kind of thing many times before and it’s common practice to inscribe the inside rear of watch case after a service, but not on the movement itself and especially where it’s been inscribed in such a hidden position.  It’s completely obscured from view in every possible way and the only person that will see this is the next watchmaker that services the watch, in this case me.   So why on earth would they do this?  Well there’s only one reason I can think of and it’s some sort of marking your territory thing, a bit like when my dog has to relieve himself on every single lamp post on his walks.  He’s leaving a message completely invisible to humans, to all the other dogs that this is his patch and I’ve been here… But even armed with this insight I’m still baffled…

Releasing New Music and The Art of Progression

I’m about to release my next album, a few weeks away now and someone asked me a great question recently which I think deserves a wider audience because I think the answer is relevant to any anyone that has ever presented any artistic endeavour to a wider audience.  WARNING. This is a long rambling post so skip to the tl; dr below if you don’t have the time.

Are you nervous before releasing new music? (Thanks to Jean-Maurice Bicard for this great question)

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

This sounds morbid, but I think a great way to check how your life is going is to imagine yourself at the end of it looking backward to the point you are now…Are you heading in the right direction? And are you going to achieve all the things you wanted to?…Let’s face it there’s nothing you can do about changing anything from now to birth, but you can do a lot to change your life from your current position to death.

Your Mind Is A TV

I’m interested in the concept of your mind being like a constantly broadcasting TV set. Your thoughts are like a drama playing out in your favourite film or soap opera. You start to feel anxiety as the danger surfaces or the monster appears suddenly from the shadows. You feel warm when your favourite character walks along a beautiful beach with a golden sunset and you feel the icy blast and loneliness when they are trudging through snow, desperately trying to reach some remote and dangerous destination.

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