Since I decided to broaden my social networking reach by joining Twitter, it’s brought me mostly good things. I’ve been able to share some of the writing I do about certain artists with them directly, I’ve received positive feedback from them, and I’ve been much more able to be informed about new things happening with artists I care about. It would seem, however, that I have now discovered the other edge of that sword today.
I woke up this morning to a tweet from someone with a name I didn’t recognize asking a very simple question, check it out.
My first reaction was simple excitement because someone I didn’t know had obviously heard or heard about my music and was curious about it. That’s good! But then I started to wonder what the tone of that question really was; all I had to work with was the text of the question, so I don’t know if pure curiosity is motivating the inquiry or if there’s an element of challenge to it. Then, when I went to their Twitter page to try to figure out who this person is, I saw what the very next tweet they posted was.
Since this was the very next tweet they posted after sending me that question, they hadn’t tweeted in several days before they asked me that question, and the Declaime album I remixed and released yesterday came out in 2004 originally, I think it’s safe to assume that she’s talkin’ about me in that tweet. My first impulse, like anyone, was to be defensive and try to fire back some sharp comeback in reply over Twitter, and then when I thought for about one second about all the silly, pointless arguments that happen on the internet that I’ve seen, I held back. But I felt like some kind of reaction was necessary, so I tried to think of a way to respond that would be a little more constructive for everyone, and I realized that the answer was staring me in the face: “whats with the slowmo?” It occurred to me that since I have a blog with the word “slow” in it as well as three different chopped & screwed mixtapes out there in the world now, maybe it would make sense to talk a little bit about why I’m so interested in slowed down music so anybody that’s hearing this music or reading anything on here can have some sense of my motivation in making it.
I was interested in slow music as well as slowed down music way before I ever heard DJ Screw. Much of the music that I first got seriously interested in (jazz, Indian classical, instrumental rock) often displays an appreciation for a long, slow song that has always touched me in a very basic way. I can also say with certainty that as long as I’ve had a record player in my house, I’ve loved listening to records at the wrong (right, for me) speeds, it’s one of those things that is just instantly appealing to me.
I differentiate between slow music and slowed down music because I really feel like there is something special about music that has been deliberately slowed down after the fact that cannot be achieved by simply playing slowly. You might be able to play a drum beat at 20 beats per minute or perform a tune on a piano at 1/8 speed, but when you hit that drum or piano key, the individual sounds you make are still created, fluctuated, sustained, and decay at the same speed that they would if you played at 200 beats per minute and in double time. When playing slowly, it is only the space between the notes that changes, all of the other characteristics of the sound are unaffected, they are dictated by the laws of physics and acoustics. However, if you record someone playing the drums or piano (or speaking or making any sound whatsoever) and then slow it down after the fact, then every part of the sound is affected. Intricate details in individual sounds are suddenly uncovered, and the sound of a single, quick guitar note is suddenly a fascinating object that can be relished in and of itself. It’s like looking in a full jewelry case versus picking up each individual gem and examining it with a magnifying glass.
Sounds arise from silence in a certain way with a certain shape and character, they are then sustained for some period of time where they may or may not shift in a variety of ways (volume, timbre, pitch, etc.), and then they eventually decay back into silence with yet another unique shape and character. Some of these parameters are controlled by the player of an instrument, and some are controlled by the instrument itself because of its physical construction. When you play slowly, you can control some of these characteristics of the sounds, but it isn’t until you slow down a recording of an instrument that all of the other characteristics can be shifted. To listen to slowed down music isn’t just to experience music differently, it is to experience time differently, and it is in that characteristic that slowed music is unique.
Slowed down music also represents, for me, a lifestyle choice that has had a profound effect on my life over the past few years. In a variety of areas in my life that are of great importance to me, from breathing to relationships, I’ve found that adopting a level of slowness to my decisions and actions often has profoundly positive effect on their outcomes. One of the main differences I’ve found between the food that is prominent in our culture today and foods of the past is that processes that used to take a very long time are now being shortened as much as possible, and the effects have been devastating on the nutritional value of the food we eat. Slow-cooked foods, soaked foods, fermented foods, aged foods, these practices have been relegated to niche markets while “instant” is touted as a virtue. But there is more and more evidence all the time that simply the passage of time, under the right conditions, is one of the most beneficial things we can let in to our food world to improve our collective health. Instant things indulge our every immediate desire, but at the expense of our long-term needs.
In making life decisions, too, I’ve found that letting a certain amount of time pass before coming to a conclusion yields much better results than trying to impose a solution on a problem before I fully understand it. Sometimes I imagine my thoughts simmering in a pot for months or even years on end, and often times the longer I wait before scooping myself a bowl of whatever has resulted, the better the flavor is. My relationship with a lot of music has benefited from this way of thinking too; when I hear something that I don’t immediately love, I often deliberately spend a lot of time re-listening to it in various environments with varying levels of attention and areas of focus, and often times I can find something that I can appreciate or even love in that music if I give it enough time. That’s why I call this blog DRIVE SLOW, I want to encourage myself and others to not have those quick, dismissive thoughts about music that can so easily arise if you’re not constantly reminding yourself to slow down and think about what is really going on. Shocked by the subject matter of a song or put off by its auditory characteristics? I bet if you read an interview with that artist or learn about their upbringing or educate yourself on the environment that those people and that music came from or listen to that music under the right conditions, those artistic decisions will make a lot more sense to you.
The common thread in all of these areas (and in countless others) is the treatment of time, and in my experience, the more I let slowness take over, the happier I am about how things turn out. So for me, listening to and working with slowed down music is a really great reminder of all of these discoveries I’ve made about life, and is a perfect companion in the transformative process from fast life to slow life.
I would never claim that slow is the solution for everything, though. There are times when quick or even immediate action is called for, and I recognize the value of quickness as well as slowness in my life and in the universe, but the way our culture is constructed right now, I feel like I need a lot more reminders to slow down than to speed up, and I think that is true of a lot of people as well. So that’s what is so captivating about slowed down music for me, and it just so happens that I listen to a lot of rap right now so the music that I slow down tends to be rap music, but not always! On my Drive Slow mixtape I just released, you’ll find several non-rap songs being slowed down, and on almost every song on my more experimental Main Character work, you’ll find me slowing down classical guitar music or African percussion music or free jazz or any number of other genres and sources. It’s a universally applicable technique that can profoundly alter your perception of sound, music, and time itself.
So that’s what’s with the slowmo. Hate if you want, but…