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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stay in the Pocket

I just spent some exacting but enjoyable days playing guitar for the recording of a new CD from the very talented Dan Zimmerman (Dan Zimmerman), with the equally gifted Daniel Smith (Danielson) at the production helm (powered by the incredible musicianship of Adrian Valosin, Wayne-O Taussig and Matt Zimmerman). Exacting in the sense that we recorded 19 new original songs live in 3 days, requiring a zen-like approach, being sufficiently in the moment without over-trying, yet as close as possible to that state of flow and effortless concentration in order to play a perfect take each time. This of course is a state that you cannot consciously find, it has to happen; all the harder when you're under the scrutiny of musicians of the caliber of those I had the good fortune to be with.

Daniel had some great advice for me, the gist of which was:

  • Stay behind the beat - in the pocket - don't get excited and drive the pace by having the guitar part being ahead
  • Use less notes, "I can't get my head round all those extra notes, they detract from the melody you're trying to convey"
  • Roll off that distortion on the guitar and don't use it too much, get more contrast in the sounds. You get more impact from less overdrive, the cleaner sound is more powerful ("I'd rather have AC/DC than eighties hair metal")

Funny how the the principles of impact are the same, in music, martial arts or life in general. We have always to stay in the pocket by not rushing, being happy in the moment, allowing serendipity to work, while having the clarity of mind to anticipate upcoming changes.

Less is more - economy of movement, of effort, is the cornerstone of graceful impact. In my professional life, I see the effects of overly-complicated processes and people seeking the complex contributing to the inefficiency of the pharmaceutical industry. Being as clear as possible on purpose (fitness and purpose)--of work, the song we're playing, or whatever we're undertaking--and stripping out everything that doesn't contribute is vital.

Impact is contrast; in karate it's the contrast between action and no-action, typified by the sudden switch from a seemingly relaxed state to an overwhelming attack. Contrast is what adds magic to life, between sweet and sour, beauty and sadness, tension and release. Power is not generated by turning up to 11, overdriving or layering on fancy effects. Power is generated by the connection (emotional or physical) between you and those you wish to have an impact upon. This is not necessarily enhanced by increasing intensity or volume, it has to come from staying in the pocket and connecting efficiently and effectively, using contrast and dynamics. Listen to the Meters demonstrate this so perfectly - turn this one up loud and enjoy:

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