Edutainment Sketching

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If there was a teacher at school who you remembered for good reasons, it was probably a performer. Someone who was comfortable enough in themself to dress up as a historical character, or sing in class, or raise the awareness of the room. The ones that really stood out had a way of imparting the knowledge with humour, zest and passion.

I keep saying I want to be a musician, because I’m attracted to the idea of reading music as if its English, of hearing the melody in my head and being able to instantly play it, of having improvisational and compositional skills. Of being a performer that inspires people, that jogs them out of routine. But as I enter year 32, I am becoming aware that the door is closing on me being a young, standout star performer – or a young any type of performer! I have a feeling that my true calling has as much to do with music as education. Edutainment. In fact, it’s more than a feeling now. It’s a where-to-start moment. 

Most where-to-start moments are followed by the realization that you’ve already started. I already get more excited by being able to answer questions about all this sophisticated music technology. I’ve already debased myself with a short series of facetious, thought-provoking videos (remember Is A Blah Blah?). I have already dissociated myself with the tired old image of the superstar, lights-and-make-up musical star. I mean, honestly, how boring, right? I want something new and exciting. I want to hold workshops and impart this knowledge, show how to practically apply the skills that I have learned. 

If I was formulating a plan on how to go about this – and draw some kind of salary from it – it would begin with the most important question: who’s the market? In this case, I believe the market is ripe and flowering. Thanks to an already over-saturated media landscape, we have a generation of teenagers who know that they want to try their hand at making music. Specifically, electronic music, because, let’s face it, it’s the avenue with the lowest barrier to entry. That means numbers, which is all a potential sponsor or advertiser wants to hear. So focusing on how to make what Ninja Tune calls ‘the broadest beats’ (ie best beats), we have the potential to reach outwards into communities and gather willing youngsters into music workshops and training sessions with the intention of qualifying them for future achievements. 

I believe something like this is percolating somewhere in South Africa, and I believe I am partly responsible for making it happen. 

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Eating Dog

Cycling down the western spine of mountains on the Ho Chi Minh Highway one day, I once trickled into a settlement which I can’t be bothered to look up on a map. It was small. The “Internet Here” caught my eye. Vietnam is famously disconnected. This could give me a chance to research my next leg. Fuck yeah.

I had a travel lifeline. A pretty, English speaking Vietnamese mom had translated the following emergency English onto a piece of paper, the back of some crap:

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The idea was that one of the more literate locals might be able to assist in times when the circumstances had abandoned me to some isolated backwater between my left palm and a palm tree. Perhaps I should have put in a food clause because by the end of the evening, I was eating the fine, powdery flesh of a dog.

It was an odd settlement, directly off the highway. Peaceful for the world leaders in head-on collisions. Most traffic opted for the parallel Highway 1, on which I also had the grisly misfortune of spending some time. Trucks overtaking other trucks while being overtaken by buses, that kind of thing.

The hamlet featured not bamboo huts, but a grand, palatial house. I wheeled the bike into the open property and propped it up alongside staircase leading into the spacious, tiled porch. Wooden doorways, high ceilings, a family of ten. Bizarrely un-Vietnamese. It must have once been the abode of Catholic missionaries, and from the porch I could see an even grander cathedral across the highway, silhouetted against the falling darkness.

Then, it was time for the “fallen alien” routine to take place. I would arrive. The first local to notice would giggle and rush off to call for backup. Four to six units would arrive. Step one was repeated with exponential effect until a leader was reached. Then, I would escort twenty-seven people across a courtyard to an Internet room. I would log onto Gmail while a younger, braver would unit pull at the magical golden hair on my arms, legs, and sometimes head. Apparently, it’s good luck. I would check messages from my girlfriend as they stood over my shoulder and practiced reading English. I couldn’t dispel them. They were legion.

The pants of the household, a sturdy matron, accepted my fumbled request to stay. I paid her around $8 for a room before I noticed that there was no door. As I changed out of my underwear, as soiled today from the 100km ride as the same pair had been the day before, they watched TV in the background and glimpsed over every so often to check on me. It was comforting. It was disturbing.

Dinner time. Ooooh, what’s this what’s that. We all sat around an ankle-high table on mats on the porch. There were a few dogs ambling around in the darkness nearby. That’s nice, they keep pets. You know, they’re actually just like me, aren’t they? Mmmm, this spoonful of fragrant rice, garlic beans and beefy meat is delicious! Dark and fine and it reminds me a bit of liver. What’s that? Oh, no thanks, no more. I have enough. What’s with all the over-persuasiveness and giggling?

Pointing to the nearest dog and the food in my place, I shot her a questioning look. She exploded with laughter, pointing and affirming. The family followed. It was a fun-fest! Watch the blonde alien gorilla eat a dog! The mirth, the stories we’ll tell. The camaraderie. A blonde gorilla! A dog!

Fun times.

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Jacobland

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Present for my li’l nephew in Australia. Good to be doing these again, been a while.

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Insulated

A good word is ‘insular’. As in ‘insulation’, the property which separates and protects something from its surroundings. The essence of the word is separation, disconnection, and comfort. Warm, insulated roofing. Tearing off layers of asbestos as you admit to yourself that everyone has a story to tell. 

Here, by the heater on another Friday morning, I have what I want. I am employed, but not 9-5. I negotiate deals on events, teach English in the evenings and chase various other small, infrequent video production, feature writing and creative jobs. I’m insulated. I have a lovely family and partner. 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I announced to 5 people at the show last night, “Due to multiple technical failures, I am unable to complete my set.” That was that. Today I feel stung by failure, but able to continue. If I give myself this warm day of storytelling. I’ll make something of it, goes the story. The moral is that hard work pays off, and that’s how I’d prefer it to end. Stick to the script. 

Strange mood. Insulated.

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:)

GSU1

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Leverage

I recently did this video about something that’s completely been missing from all of my musical pursuits. It’s the answer to the most common question asked of an artist – ‘why should I care?’ – and it’s the key to credibility and all that comes with it. I lack leverage.

I have a talent, according to my friends and family, and more believably, according to the kind strangers who have told me so at the small, infrequent, poorly attended shows and performances that have characterized my career as a performing violinist / dj / musician thus far. Thanks to them, I have been able to transcend the idea that people close to me are concealing the truth because they love me, and I go on.

So I’m kinda stuck in the middle right now. I am way past the immature temptation of blaming Cape Town (let’s face it – most people don’t have the money or transport for music shows), and I’m also done with blaming myself for a lack of talent, time, equipment, etc. I just don’t see these negative thoughts as useful to anyone with a serious intention.

But on the other hand, I also don’t feel like I am anywhere musically. I have one friend – Emile – who regularly expresses interest in using music to change the circumstances of his life. All the other musicians I know seem either not interested in making anything of their skill, or worse, starry-eyed with the idea that they’re gonna be the next big thing. Meanwhile, the quicker you rise, the quicker you fall. I’m going for a once-off permanent switch thanks.

So my average week consists of only around 4 or 5 hours practice. I intend to say ‘per day’ at some point, but for now, it’s not enough. The rest of the time I’m doing everything from tutoring Koreans to uploading web content to documenting this journey, even to selling donated chess sets in order to pay my somewhat living cost – R6000 per month. Half of that expense is the rent, a beautiful farm cottage with rehearsal potential, but not being used! How can I capitalize?

So I need to make some changes. Suggestions? How am I gonna break out of the catch-22? What do I have to do in order to make something extraordinary?

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What It’s Like To Dream (Boring Life Story)

Studio

The room in which I now sit has been the subject of my daydreams for the past decade. Around the age of 20, when I first started cautiously entertaining the idea of becoming a ‘creative’, among my lecture note sketchings was the image of a room with two large speakers mounted on stands, one to the left and one to the right. Also pictured was a large workbench, upon which was laid out the tools of my trade – a laptop computer, computer keyboard and various MIDI devices. As time crawled slowly on, as it only can in your twenties, the images became more detailed, including various other instruments, cables snaking along the floor, and eventually other musicians to adorn those empty corners left in my playful imaginations. It was all a bit of harmless fun, really, like a teenager singing into an empty toilet roll.

But the idea that I could become a performing musician and self-employed music producer has just never gone away. It is a thread that connects me to the unreal, the impossible. I haven’t studied music since I was 16. I never performed in school plays, or did really good impressions and accents. I have watched others form bands, and recognized with muted envy the face of my contemporaries in the sleeves of beautifully packaged CDs. I managed a to put together a band practice here and there, and every so often played an open mike, but ambition makes for a lonely and frustrating bedfellow. Everything I have done is tainted with amateurish inadequacy. I want to be free to do all these things on my own terms, and my imaginary thread is all I have. I grip it tightly.

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Jump For Joy

Jump 4 Joi

For the last 4 months, I’ve been living out of a suitcase. Now I’m back in Cape Town catching up with good people and preparing for the next stage: a farmhouse music rehearsal and production studio. Keep posted for musical updates from my various personas.

The Wheelbarrow Lie.

Family Moment

Motorcycle storytelling in South East Asia is practically a competitive sport.

Family of Five: Points for mentioning the baby.
Impossible Objects: “I once saw a guy carrying a whole fridge…in front of him!”
Originals: Whole Bonsai tree nurseries, stepladders (carried horizontally), even other motorcycles, blah blah. It’s all about the flavor you choose to give it, and the timing of the story.

So I got one. There were two guys on the motorbike ahead of me. The passenger was facing backwards trailing a wheelbarrow behind them. The wheelbarrow was empty. Kinda cool. Kinda whatever.

It gets a few chuckles, but it’s just a runner-up, innit. There’s something missing. How about another man, sitting cross-legged in the wheelbarrow while it’s being towed, like a small child getting a ride in a supermarket trolley, except from his friend, backwards and on a highway? Fudgin’ A.

The problem is that it’s simply not true. I want it to be, because that would be funnier. But still the little red flag goes up.

But lying is this co-operative act. We prefer everyone to spice up their stories. It’s what we expect. In fact, we demand it. Shun the boring. Reward the exciting. Harmless fun, haha! (Until the storyteller begins to have a personal investment in others believing it, and entertainment becomes d-d-d-d-deception.

So if people start asking for story details, wave the third man goodbye. Rather be honest than desperate.

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I am just a man

and men in this world carry the burden of decision-making. In relationships, men are seldom given the benefit of the doubt. Loyal men are given a small nod for adhering to what they believe is right, but never praise from other men for being loyal, because men don’t publicly salute each other for doing the right thing. Instead, we remain inwardly respectful, and the moral barometer is assumed to be self-orienting. Men are silent about their beliefs unless challenged, and being faithful to your long-term, long-distance girlfriend is something that you gain nothing, ever, from defending to others. So, if you’re a man who can’t remember when he decided to become so disciplined yet knows it’s simply a part of who he is now and forever, I salute you.

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