Newsletter 64: Radiohead, Chinese Jazz, Being an Outsider, Keeping a ‘Spark File’, and More

Arts & Culture

Twenty five years in Chinese jazz

Jazz is about improvisation, changing to be in constant motion. It can’t be reversed, much like a Chinese calligrapher must continue to draw one continuous line without stopping. But Jazz is also a Western product, something that only the Chinese intelligentsia admit to appreciating.

Some Chinese like Jazz because it’s a welcome break from China’s rote learning system. Jazz permits risk and mistakes. Playing live jazz offers the chance to be imperfect, a welcome relief from China’s creative hesitancy.

“That’s our problem. We’re taught from a young age to play correctly, like good little children. We’ve got to learn to break the rules. To be motherfuckers.”

The Searchers

This piece was written before In Rainbows but may be the best piece on Radiohead ever. Radiohead is the Apple of bands, an outsider group that retains its creativity and sells to the masses without selling out its brand. It’s all about taking music to the next level.

“Radiohead remain a magnet for misfits everywhere, but their outsider status is only a part of their appeal. What fans seem to like, even more than the content of the songs, is the sense that the band members have labored over every aspect of the product.”


Philosophy & Productivity

The Power of the Marginal

It’s easier to create when you’re on the outside looking in. You get to make what you want when you want to. Fame can get in the way of creative freedom. Instead of making what you want to, you try to deliver on other people’s expectations.

Doing the work is the most important part of a creator’s personal growth. Delegating the work to someone else misses the point of learning through experimentation.

“So if you want to beat those eminent enough to delegate, one way to do it is to take advantage of direct contact with the medium. In the arts it’s obvious how: blow your own glass, edit your own films, stage your own plays. And in the process pay close attention to accidents and to new ideas you have on the fly. This technique can be generalized to any sort of work: if you’re an outsider, don’t be ruled by plans. Planning is often just a weakness forced on those who delegate.”

The Spark File

Keeping ideas, “hunches,” and brain farts all one place is key for writers. More important than taking notes though is ensuring that you go back to look at them ever so often. Past thoughts or ideas may not be useful now but they could be tomorrow.

“This is why for the past eight years or so I’ve been maintaining a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books.”


Social Media & Tech

Shouty

Social media is a lot of noise. When everyone is ranting at the same time, opinion loses its signal. So-called media professionals act like amateurs.

“I fear the social Internet has done one better — it has created unlimited airtime and instead of talk show hosts, we are the shouters. No one is listening. I turned off radio and cable because they lost their soul. Social web too seems to be going that way.”

I wrote more about social media’s problem in a blog post.


New Music

Episode 74 | Tunes of the Week

  1. PEEV “Bentham Panopticon (Reese V)
  2. Wondercore Island – Natural
  3. Changing Faces – Inside Your Mind
  4. Overcoats – The Fog
  5. Freddie Gibbs – Extradite
  6. KaYu – Near Extinction
  7. Oshi – Pink

Listen


Thought of the Week

“I don’t ask for perfection. All I ask for is goose pimples.” – Duke Ellington

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