The gift

One evening, I was listening back to a track I’d been producing at Conway Studio in Los Angeles. From out of nowhere, I felt a rush, a great intensity surge through my being. It was like a tidal wave of dopamine- in an instant, all my senses became heightened. My muscles clenched and my teeth gritted. I became aware that the sound coming out of the monitors would do whatever my mind dictated. I could transpose the music, hear it orchestrated with different instruments- I could splice it and move sections of it around. I heard it with strange effects on it- echoes, reverbs, phase shifting, flanging. I could even see it moving in various speeds and different directions or imagine it in different colors and color combinations. My perception of what I was listening to seemed to shift into other dimensions and other worlds.

The rest of the people in the studio began to melt away. The control room I was in started to shrink until all that was left was my consciousness and the monitors with music cascading out of them. I was completely engaged, owned, possessed by this sensation which seemed to go on through infinity. I felt, saw and heard every individual note of what had been recorded, I saw every sound wave generate and vibrate from the instruments and every corner of the room in which they had been recorded. And I was aware of some kind of connection into me- a passageway, then a gateway to something vast, unseen and infinite. I felt some tremendous and indescribable energy source, which necessitated that this moment I was experiencing come into being- that where I was at that precise moment was exactly where I was meant to be. The gateway I perceived looked like a ring or an entrance constructed of clouds made of light, surrounded by darkness.

I felt that I was being accelerated past the point where any known gravitational force had dominion, as if I was in a rocket hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds. My teeth gritted almost to the point of breaking and I felt a tremendous wave of joy pass through me. I felt this joy enter into every crevasse of my body and consciousness- it was all-encompassing and orgasmic.

Then my ego kicked in. I began to think how fortunate I was to be experiencing moments such as these- that no one else could know this sensation but me. It was all me- it was all mine.

And, like that, the experience ceased. All things around me returned to normalcy and, having no way to quantify what had just happened, I proceeded to put it out of my mind, as if it had been some sort of dream or flight of fancy.

Nonetheless, I’d find myself walking out of the studio every night with a rough mix cassette of each day’s work. I’d race to my car and even before the car was running, the cassette would be in the player. I would proceed to play whatever I’d been working on multiple times- over and over at devastating volumes. I was ravenous- I wanted to digest every millimeter of the music on that tape- I wanted to know every pore of the image we were bringing into focus. I’d listen for tuning, for tonal qualities, for parts, for perfections, for imperfections. I’d listen to hear the hiss of the tape.

I’d listen to the tracks I was working on in this way, sometimes for hours. I’d drive all over the city listening to these work tapes, completely shutting out the world and all it’s mundane activity. I’d drive into the Valley, to Malibu and back listening over and over, until my mind was unable to process anymore and my body begged me to stop. Then, I’d drive back to the hotel, go up to my room and watch TV for a few hours in order to cool down my hyper-stimulated brain. Sometimes, this process was so intense that I’d wake up the next day with a hangover.

I’m not exactly sure why I would listen with such intensity to the rough mixes, but I have some ideas. There is always a central emotional theme to music that I work on and I’ve had a sense that the sounds (or combinations of sounds) in a recording would tremendously enhance this. The right sonic combinations cause a piece of music to emotionally resonate and I’ve always been intent upon unlocking that code. It’s something which is felt, rather than something which can be spoken or described and interesting tonal/ musical solutions would often present themselves by working this way. I would use this approach while listening to a production in order to have a deeper understanding of the music- and a connection to it. By doing so, I would be able to experience all the subtlety and the nuance in a recording- the shadings and subtexts. I would gradually feel the people who’d written and performed the songs, and their personalities. From this would also come ideas regarding how to represent these personalities through the music being recorded.

And, there was something else. It was that indescribable sensation I’d encountered (and would encounter again on occasion) in the control room at Conway. Moments such as those underscore the reasons why creative people go into a work space and do what they do. When we experience a connection with a greater intelligence/ consciousness than our own (or anything we can comprehend), it reminds us that we are in the right place, doing the right thing at the absolute right time. It’s there to tell us that whatever our endeavor is and whatever it’s outcome- at that moment, we are in sync, in flow with all of creation. It’s a message from someplace outside, and yet, from within. In that moment, we are tapped in to the source.

When I drove around in my rental car, beating music into my brain, I was also attempting to recreate a precious moment and the sensations of this connection. I was trying to recreate a feeling I’d had which was so pure and wonderful that nothing else could ever compare to it. I would sometimes feel sad after listening in my car so intently and have no idea why. I think I do now.

In truth, trying to artificially replicate what I had experienced was simply an exercise in ego. An experience such as this couldn’t be and never will be recreated at will- certainly not for the sake of experiencing it (or the accompanying sensation) again. Something that precious happens only once in a great while and those beautiful sensations are merely peripheral to the experience itself. That experience is unexpected, comes unannounced and leaves of it’s own volition. It’s simply there to remind you of where you are at in the present moment- like a lovely, ethereal milestone in space which swells, radiates and fades away in gentle ripples.

It’s a gift beyond words- the memory of which is as utterly vital and essential as it is utterly without meaning.

2 responses to “The gift”

  1. Hey Michael,

    I actually just had a similar experience; it had been a while. It was so intense I was dizzy afterward. It is an infrequent but always welcome momentary lapse of sanity to delve as deep as possible (or as high as possible?) into the music and the moment. It almost feels like an out of body experience. Anyway. The results always surprise in a positive way. All the best, niki