Pure And Easy

Posted on September 28, 2017

A column about musical procrastination. Written for Guitarist, 2012.  RECORDING ON TO TAPE began back in the 30s, so almost all the guitarists we’re interested in are available for us to hear whenever we like. Even the dead ones. The history of music is almost always told through tales of making this album or cutting that single. Rarely do we hear the story of live dates and events, other than peak moments like Woodstock or Live Aid or … well, just those two, actually. Performances in front of an audience are ephemeral. You can’t sift them and study them and analyse them like you can recordings. That’s the beauty, I would say: there goes the music, into the air, and now it’s gone and disappeared for ever.

It’s never been simpler to collect impressions of yourself. Digitise; catalogue; defer the moment. It’s easier than ever to record every move you make, every break you fake, every glide through every A-flat, every ripple on your strings. The technology – in your pocket, on your desktop – makes it a dozy doddle to capture all your stuff, in a way that not too long ago would have required a mobile recording truck to follow you around everywhere. That was a state of affairs it would not be easy to describe as practical. Hello dear, sorry to interrupt, it’s the engineer downstairs again, he says should he settle up directly with Mrs Bloom next door about her crushed Mini? And can he please come in and have something to eat, or are you honestly ready for take 128?

Today, thankfully, it’s just a matter of making sure you haven’t filled all 666 hours on the disc yet and then … pressing record. It’s great, isn’t it? You can use your eager little pal to compose, if you like, or it can assist you in sharing a nice, clean, edited version of yourself with the world. Also, with luck, it can help you to become a more intuitively self-aware player. This is all good! Being able to constructively criticise yourself is one of the things that separates the toweringly great from the pathetically average. But consider this. You might in fact be losing something valuable along the way, despite all the apparent gains.

Neatly packaged up with all the help comes one big hindrance: you’re putting off decisions. It’s just like the digital camera revolution, really. You know very well that it’s almost easier to take a few dozen snaps of something, or anything at all, than not to. And edit later. Hopefully later. Well, you know, I’ll definitely get around to it some time. I really will. Just like I’m going to find that half-hour of recordings of me trying to get my fingers around ‘Anji’ and give it a good old listen. Ah, here it is, you see? How convenient. But hang on, it says it’s 648 minutes. Really? OK, I’ll put it on my to-do list. If I can find it.

The big danger in this soothing tech-fest of digital comfort is that you might be losing the joy of the moment. The doing it for the sake of doing it. At the back of your mind, perhaps you’re deferring the simple feeling to be had from all these notes you’re playing, right now, deferring it off to some imagined future where we’ll all have endless time to do everything we ever wished for. Including listening to hour upon hour of pain with ‘Anji’. But let’s not get too existential here. As Iron Maiden put it so well on ‘The Man Who Would Be King’: “As he journeys across mountain passes, insignificance sweeps over him.”

Maybe you’re sitting now with your guitar in your lap or close to hand. Just hit a few notes, and listen to the way they soar into the air around you. I promise not to make you burn incense or jingle any bells, OK? Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive, as that bloke said in Zen And The Art Of Guitar Maintenance. “There once was a note pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by,” sang The Who on ‘Pure And Easy’. A note in the air. Why not just enjoy it for exactly what it is? Here one moment, gone the next.