Some people enjoy the process of discovery. They want access to niche communities and discrete resources, trying to “get it” before everyone else.
These people are also the incubators of trends, filtering the good from the bad before deciding what goes mainstream. Naturally, the edgy curator loses interest as soon as something becomes a commercial sensation.
But the internet flips the trendsetters on their heads. The so-called cratediggers become an uber tribe of their own. Take a walk around Brooklyn, where hipsters run rampant.
The arrogance of taste consumes the hipster, ultimately conforming to a cohort that shares similar interests and looks the same. Uniqueness becomes standardization.
Meanwhile, the closet researcher remains individuated in digging up abstract art for themselves and for their little circle. For them, popularity is rarely a barometer of what matters.
The difference between standing out and fitting in lies at the center of who we are. We are all collectors and explorers of each other’s artifacts. We are also free to throw away, remix, redefine, or tweak that which sturs us.
As influential physicist Richard Feynman reminds us, “You are under no obligation to remain the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even a day ago. You are here to create yourself, continuously.”
“The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain…Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves.”
Music is also capable of suspending fear, pain, and doubt. Your workout playlist can push you the extra mile. Ambient noise can boost your concentration and thus productivity levels.
In short, music can free your mind so you can do anything from dancing with fear to get stuff done.
“Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation,” wrote Sacks. Like laughter, it is intuited — it needs no further explanation.
There’s something instinctive about music that tugs directly at the heart. It needs little if no processing. As the plants tilt toward the sun, so to do the ears.
“Language is used every day, and easily becomes shopworn, and it takes a poet to recall it to its freshness, its ability to embody eudaimonistic insights in a meaningful way. Music is not as shopworn, and thus may cut straight to the heart.”
It had that barbershop vibe, the relaxed atmosphere where people kicked back, dug the crates, and talked music.
There were posters and promotional displays but they couldn’t outshine the album artwork. Marketing started from the bottom up. Consumption was based on peer recommendations.
The record shop was a place of giver’s gain, where the information shared upfront by one crate digger to another got reciprocated down the road.
Back then, music collecting was truly social. Today, social algorithms make recommendations.
While the data is getting smarter, popularity reigns because the wisdom of crowds leans popular, making music suggestions more mimetic and less random. Pop music exists because people are too shallow, lazy, or genuinely uninterested in looking deeper.
You only need to listen to a few DJs and curators to know what’s good. These are the same crate diggers you used to speak to in the record stores which are now mostly nonexistent.
Taste is not universal. It’s personal yet relatable and trustworthy, especially if it’s coming from a respected source.
Stepping into a particular record store once meant openness and experimentation, the willingness to try new sounds and share tracks with others.
In the absence of music shops, music lost some of its frequency and culture fell on deaf ears.
Upon winning the MacArthur Fellow award for creating unconventional, immersive opera experiences, Yuval Sharon didn’t feel like he was a ‘genius’ in any sense of the word.
The fellowship is also known as “the genius grant” although the organization steers clear of using the term in its to describe MacArthur Fellows ““because it connotes a singular characteristic of intellectual prowess.” Yuval Sharon felt the same way.
The Foundation probably takes pains to say this because so many people find something deeply uncomfortable about the concept of “genius” — its exclusionary implications and air of elitism; a Romanticism that seems out of step with contemporary (let alone everyday) life; the affirmation of canonical standards set by … who exactly? Any person mature enough to strive for self-awareness finds the moniker embarrassing, and only an unstable narcissist could ever self-apply the title without shame.
But no genius is truly original, as Brian Eno alludes to. A genius is merely part of what he calls a ‘scenius,’ a community of fellow artists who share similar interests and collaborate, helping prop up the most notable. Says Yuval:
Moments, ideas, a single poem in a collection — a work of genius, no matter how individually wrought — is never the product of a single individual. We should stop thinking of genius as an attribute and instead start to think of it as a condition, a circumstance.
Genius is social and participatory
This notion of a sole genius reduces the collective nature of people. The world participates in the process of creation no matter how one artist tries to individuate their craft. Yuval sums it up nicely:
I spent part of the day reading about the other Fellows in my class and found myself feeling so inspired by their dedication and accomplishments in fields far removed from my own. The world seemed bigger. This may be where the “genius” moniker is still useful: by calling out examples of how and where the endlessly searching attendant spirit still visits the world. Because anyone, anywhere, can participate in it.
The Financial Times sat down with “musician, artist, thinker” Brian Eno in the studio of his Notting Hill home. Here are my favorite snippets from the interview:
On the transactional value between art and bitcoin:
It is not so different from bitcoin. Art is the ultimate cryptocurrency. What the art world is doing is engineering the consensual value of something, very quickly. It only needs two people, a buyer and a seller.
On fusing music and art vocations:
I had this real struggle inside me, on whether to do music or art. I worried about it a lot. And then one day, I decided I didn’t have to do one or the other, I could do both. I glimpsed the possibility of making each one more like the other, a sort of fusing together.
On ‘how simplicity can produce complexity’:
When I first came up with the idea of utilitarian music, it was very, very unpopular. It meant muzak. It was music reduced, stripped of its fundamental cultural importance. And that was my biggest hurdle. Artists were supposed to want people’s 100 per cent attention.” What interested him instead was, “what was the least that I could do with music; how much could I leave out? What if I made music that was just like an atmosphere?
He criticizes pop musicians for being too close-minded, using the metaphor of a light bulb: “nobody looks at the bloody bulb. And that is what has been happening in music. We’ve been looking at the bulb.”
Eno illustrates the complexity from simplicity theory on paper by drawing out what it isn’t. He draw a pyramid and inserts lines from top to bottom:
This is God, or the Pope, or the orchestra conductor. And information flows this way only. There is no feedback, other than something dramatic like a revolution.
The symphony: it is inspired by the divine; it enters the composer’s head; he writes it down and passes it to the conductor, and then the leaders of the orchestra, then the section principals, and then down to the rank and file. There is this idea that the music is already in existence, in the mind of God or the composer, and it is our purpose to realise it.
Now, as a working musician, I know it doesn’t happen like that. I have seen a lot of music come into existence. It is a mess. It is a lot of complex things bouncing off each other, until suddenly something beautiful and intricate exists. It wasn’t in anybody’s mind. Nobody had conceived it up to that point.
On the left’s provincialism and the urge to speak out against the rise of nationalistic tribes:
“But now there is engagement with politics. I have so many American friends, they were so apolitical. Politics was something you never admitted to doing, like masturbation. But that has changed now. We all thought these [Trump and Brexit supporters] were this little bubble of weirdos. But we discovered that we were the ones in the little bubble.”
Talent is overrated. Hard work, discipline, grit, and consistency are attributes that increase your chances of getting what you want.
Luck is a matter of being specific about your goals and two, putting yourself in a position for good things to happen. It is the accumulation of small and steady risks that make the biggest difference and change your life.
For Henry Rollins, that meant taking a bus from DC up to New York to see his favorite band, only to go on stage and sing with them. To his surprise, they called him back later for an audition and became the band’s lead singer. In other words, he caught his lucky break and escaped a life of minimum wage jobs.
Some people get lucky by default. Their network leads them into opportunities because of the sheer dazzle of their last name. For others, hitting the jackpot it is the result of striving to achieve a very specific effort and finding those luck circles that help you make it happen.
Luck draws on the law of magnetism
Luck may be a random phenomenon but it works like a magnet, gravitating toward those hungry enough to take chances.
Success is an accumulation of little efforts that build on top of a grateful perspective, a practice of modesty that keeps you doing what you’re doing. Says Rollins:
“I don’t have talent. I have tenacity. I have discipline. I have Focus. I know, without any delusion, where I come from & where I can go back to.”