As a teenager I used to think I would listen to my walkman for the rest of my life. It was so essential to me – the cassette tapes I had painstakingly curated, the stock of fresh AA-size batteries, the headphones I found in an airport in England. The ritual of plugging it all in and pushing play. It just didn’t get any better.
One day in my early 20s I found my dad’s LP collection and an old hifi setup. I heard classics like Otis Redding and Springsteen in such clarity and power. Besides the fidelity, there was the long beautiful process of choosing the record, cleaning it, playing one side through and flipping it over, reading the liner notes, poring over the album covers, adjusting the needle and the audio settings. A new ritual was born. My life changed.
Now in my 30s I have my iPhone and an Apple watch. New tech, new ritual. I can call up any song I want no matter where I am. The digital liner notes are getting better every day and the sheer convenience of Bluetooth and music on the go is changing my life again. Don’t even get me started on Spotify’s daily mix and discover weekly playlists. That revolution in curation is a topic for another post.
Older forms of technology can all still be used of course. And often they retain their original power even though the convenience factor is low. Vinyl has made a come back. Audiophiles also tout the benefits of CDs and cassettes. For me this means I now have an arsenal of ways to access the Music drug. The music is the constant, Platonic form while the tech revolves and morphs around it in a clumsy, circular dance.
Perhaps one day the headphones will be nothing more than chips in our brains. A neuralink device Elon Musk sells for a fee. What might a music listening ritual look like for this scenario?
I get comfort from the fact that the music never changes. Taste and quality may vary, but a song is a song no matter what. The catalogue keeps on growing, but the essential form and function of a song is set. It is information in the form of a sound wave being received by the brain. Only the tech for delivery varies.
It helps a lot if you are confident about the desired outcome. If you know what you want. I’m not sure what the stats are, but I bet that the odds of something happening go way up if you have the end goal clearly emblazoned is your mind.
All of the most important things related to a project – values, culture, status, leadership – they depend on the parameters that are set.
Maybe an example will help me express myself. If you write a novel, and it starts as a tragedy, then slips into a sci-fi, then to a slapstick comedy, and finally reaches a crescendo as a religious historical piece – well that sounds like a confused mess.
Genre and its audience is perhaps where you want to start. It helps to define the values, the culture and the modus operandi.
With that in mind, I have realized my writing on this blog tends to split into different interests. I might write about creativity, African trade, productivity, music, or sci-fi all in the space of a week.
This needs to become a little clearer, and step one in the splitting out of interests is to redesign the site a little. I think this new template is clearer and the menu at the top will help to clarify things.
It’s a work in progress.
For anyone who has reached this far in the post, happy Monday chimps. 😀
This wasn’t always a dining room. In fact, like a pimply-faced teenager this room is not quite sure of what it is yet. The dinner table gives some structure and purpose, but there are also bedside tables in the corners, a bean bag at one end, and what was designed to be an office cabinet along the wall. My fish in his tank greets me each morning for food. I assume he is a he, and not a she. More confusion in an adolescent room.
The light in here is lovely in the mornings. While the air is still cool, the sun pours in to light up the dining table for breakfast time. Strangely we never take advantage of this as we are generally in too much of a rush to sit down and eat in the morning.
There is also a door in one of the walls, next to the bean bag. This leads straight onto a flight of stairs and is remarkable for not having a landing. Instead one has to step up into the open door at a different level to the room. Perhaps not the best design, and apparently illegal for health and safety reasons. Oh well. The teenager stumbles through life until it figures out what it wants to be.
When we first moved in, this was my music room. My favorite room at the time, I filled it with jazz, rock, blues. There were movies and computer games. Speakers and amplifiers. A turntable and cds littered the floor. These days my beautiful children turn it into something different every day. Sometimes it is a race track for scooters, sometimes a camp site, a beach, a mountain top for epic adventures. Sometimes we even eat at the table. I’m just glad my amps and speakers are not in here.
The garden waste piles up each week in the corner of the property. Each time the gardener cuts the grass, sweeps up the leaves, or cuts down a branch he puts the waste into bags, and these bags pile up until a truck is organized to cart it off for composting. As the owner of the property this system can stress me out. Watching the relentless growing piles of waste sometimes feels like one of those awkward “white lie” situations – you know the one – you’ve told a little lie or made a transgression which is never confessed. The lie gets bigger and bigger, worse and worse until there is inevitably a release. Either you and your lie are found out, or you tell the truth. The pickup truck taking the waste away feels like eventually telling the truth.
Great music is just like my home’s waste management system. When a song is well written, a tension builds for the listener. The verse builds up to the chorus. The verse places bags of musical notes and dead ends in the corner of the listener’s head. Repeated phrases and hooks. A story in need of some resolution. Eventually the tension is too great and a switch to the chorus is like a clearing out of all the accumulated rubbish. The verse is the lie and the chorus is the truth.
This is most obvious for me in blues music. Think of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”. The verse is simple and repetitive to the point of ridicule. The harmonica’s five notes over and over moaning and groaning that Something huge is coming. Trust me he’s coming. Gypsy woman told my momma. Muddy is coming. Just now……Wait for it. It’s almost unbearable until Muddy grants us sweet relief with “But you know I’m here!” The chorus plays and all the rubbish in our mind is cleared away. Then the cycle starts again with verse 2. What a song.
When I was 11 years old, I changed my handwriting in an effort to be cool. I wanted to be more like my friend. He wrote with far more flair than I did. His pages had words that stood out at you. They were all in in neat rows, but they looked artistic and full of purpose. His paragraphs were all in joined up writing and each word was at an angle. His pages looked like they came from someone interesting. Mine just looked like they came from a bog standard 11 year old kid.
I remember clearly deciding to write an assignment in this new style – with my new found flair. The words were all at a painful angle across the page. It took me ages to finish because I was more interested in how it looked than what was written. I put my name on it and handed it in. I felt satisfied and liberated. My new, cooler, more angular identity was emerging.
When the teacher handed our marked papers back, he stopped when he reached me. I got a poor mark. He was disappointed with me, he said. And what on earth was wrong my handwriting? He could barely read it.
I couldn’t hide my blushes as I mumbled some sort of response. I reverted back to myself the very next class.
Happy Sunday chimps. To thine own self be true!
If you follow me on Instagram (@chimpwithcans) then you will have seen I am finalizing the man cave (man-chimp-cave, maybe?) and it is giving me great joy.
A space that is yours alone in a busy family is a wonderful thing. It allows for expression of your interests and your designs without impacting the rest of the family. We are lucky to have the home space for it, and I have big plans to build my chimp empire from this room.
I have no doubt that incorporating your own spaces into your living arrangements is good for your health.
I feel better already.
Today we had sun and swimming and family. A good day.
Happy Saturday chimps.
Odd title, let me explain.
In reading about the impact of design and space on our wellbeing, I have come more and more to believe in well designed homes as a source of wellbeing. Conversely poorly designed homes are bad for our long term health. Certain spaces will create stress or isolation, and others will create relaxation and communion. Healthy spaces should account for all stimuli entering the brain through all the senses.
So far so good. I imagine, dear reader, that you are with me on this…or at least you are willing to entertain the notion that a room full of comfy couches, mellow music, warm lighting and sweet lavender smells is better for our health than a damp, dark basement with odours of rat poo.
But this is where my mind makes a weird connection, so as Samuel L Jackson famously said about the dinosaurs: “hold on to your butts”.
I recently came across this quartz article which looks at the impact of headphones on media and pop music: link I found myself nodding to the words throughout the article. Media has become a certain way (mainly bass heavy music or intimate chats in the form of podcasts) because of its main mode of consumption – headphones which have tiny speakers and offer a private signal direct to your brain. The design of the headphones affects the media in exactly the same way the design of your house affects your wellbeing.
Think of wellbeing as a piece of amorphous art you need to try and shape with whatever you have at your disposal. Just like the music that is shaped by the arenas, churches or headphones in which it is played. Life is a song. Life is art. I’m sure those are old, cheesy sayings but they suddenly make a lot of sense to me.
Christmas is upon us like a tidal wave now. I have started to crank some soulful Christmas carols and hang some sweet smelling decorations for my family’s wellbeing and communion if nothing else.
Happy Friday chimps.
Yesterday my two year old got her first report card from pre-school. A glowing description of her progress made me so happy. She has done so well.
The report makes me think about how we measure progress after school. An obvious metric is money made, but that doesn’t seem enough. My daughter’s report paid attention to aspects such as social cohesion, personality and communication skills development and other “softer” measurement than her grades or her salary. Her earning power is pitiful 😉
If my own schooling was any indication, after kindergarten (which measures very interesting markers for progress) we are pushed down a narrow path towards industry and conformance. We probably need to do better.
Some ideas for metrics other than salary and position to measure progress as humans after school:
- How do we measure our contribution to the culture?
- How aware are we of our own true nature and personal development?
- How much do we know about where we come from?
- How strong is our network?
Happy Thursday chimps.
Designers will tell you over and over – if you are creating something, the question that should come up most often is “what is this for?”
This applies to all creative pursuits whether it is writing a paragraph, cooking a meal, or fitting a bathroom sink. Any choice you make needs to have an answer if it is to work and avoid a clumsy creation.
So what’s this blog post for? It’s for expressing myself, for practicing my writing and for spreading ideas that I think will matter. And for community – for finding people like us who do things like this.
Happy Wednesday chimps.
Good design can help you escape your own personal jungle. These are some of the cool people I follow on Instagram for design stuff:
Studio Dylan Thomaz: @studio.dylan.thomaz – interior design in Cape Town SA with a focus on happiness through design.
Tone Alexander Design Studio: @tonealexander – Interiors and gardens designed locally here in Cape Town.
Fern & Roby: @fernandroby – Industrial design and Audio (speakers and turntables mainly) and beautiful furniture made in Richmond, Virginia, USA.
Happy Tuesday Chimps.