As we tumble into 2011 I realise I've barely managed to update this page more than once a month over the last year - because I, like so many of my fellow human beings, am ridiculously lazy. Always have been, even when my life has seemed full-to-overflowing with diverse activities. Given the opportunity I will prevaricate, procrastinate and waste my time in a manner so profligate I might as well be a domestic cat - although without the concomitant unfathomable attraction said felines apparently hold for vast swathes of the female population. In all honesty, I'm a Russian baritone of under-achievement accompanied by a chorus of poor excuses - "I'm a single parent", "the weather wasn't so great", "I'd have had to spend 10 minutes tidying stuff up & plugging cables in so I never quite got round to recording that symphony".
This is particularly unhelpful behaviour since I'm probably already at (or past) the half-way point in life, and definitely not getting faster, cleverer or indeed, prettier (which isn't good unless you're starting out as a freakish combination of Usain Bolt, Archimedes & Brad Pitt). Which doesn't help my pathetic need to try to create music that people might find slightly interesting. As I decline, and my mini-primates grow up, time (not to mention space) in which to "achieve" anything becomes more and more precious, and prioritising is vital. For instance, I'd love to own a digital SLR camera (if I had the money for one), but couldn't justify devoting the time and attention necessary to learn to use the thing properly.
This collision of personal idleness, increasingly-desperate desire to be taken seriously as a musician (yes, I know, that's the best gag I've done in ages), and relative time poverty means that I've developed a strict daily routine in order to get any practice done.
Once the kids are in bed, the kitchen has regained some semblance of tidiness, and a load of washing is on the go (usually about 8.30pm, if I'm lucky), I pick up an instrument. Then I turn on the TV in search of practice material for the next hour or so. I find films are best - if the music's especially interesting (& varied), then it's play-along time, which is usually easier with a fretless bass, where you can compensate for any painfully 'odd' tuning in the studio orchestra. Otherwise I just click on the subtitles and compose an alternative soundtrack - maybe take a single phrase and try modifying it to suit different moods, play in a set key or time signature, or (if I'm fully brain-dead from child-wrangling) work through assorted scales & arpeggios, right-hand techniques, etc,etc. When the washing machine beeps, that's it, time's up...clean off the strings and back to domestic meniality.
This year I've been doing this while watching a lot of "Wallander", (melancholic Swedish crime drama with plenty of snow - what's not to like? Prefer the Krister Henriksson ones, but Rolf Lassgård's infinitely better than Kenneth Branagh - the BBC-made ones are best avoided), which has the added benefit of forcing me to play without looking at what my left hand's doing - my (very) lazy and sporadic study of Norwegian means I can only understand about 1 word in every 5, so staring at the subtitles is essential.
It may well also have influenced some of the music I recorded & released earlier this month - although much of that probably comes from somewhere a fair bit further north-west (ish) of Ystad. Certainly I must thank Bar Bien (apologies, their website's only in Norwegian) for allowing me to take photographs for some of the artwork. Perhaps I'm quite lazy musically, too, since I usually rely heavily on improvisation around a simple harmonic structure, rather than writing everything out with more care, detail and precision. Maybe that's a reaction against all the years I spent playing classical music, following assiduously some long-dead genius' dots and instructions? Or it could simply be it's a quick way of working that allows me to beg indulgence for unpolished moments by claiming they're "part of the authentic performance experience", or some such self-justifying flannel?
I couldn't possibly comment.
Sport's pretty good for this sort of practice, too - rugby more so than football, since there are more changes in the pace of the game, slow crescendos of intensity, and individual moments of immense physicality within wider patterns of movement that lend themselves perfectly to expressive instantaneous soundtrack creation. Of course, if it's a dull slog of a game, there's always mindless two-handed-tapping (or clichéd "whiteboy funk" thumb-slapping, whichever you prefer) available as a musical version of a "Mexican Wave".
Anyway, although this method doesn't entail concentrating fully on the instrument to the exclusion of all else (as we all know, deep down, we really, really should when practising), it does mean I've been able to catch up on a few great films I'd otherwise never have got around to, such as "Offside", "Looking For Eric", "A Serious Man" and "Gran Torino" (not even spoiled by Jamie Cullum's warbling). Which just about makes up for not being able to play "Donna Lee"...
Which pretty much wraps things up for 2010. Inevitable summary of the year? Well, internationally, many parts of the world still hate other parts of the world, professionally, although I released two collections of noises, I'm flat-lining, and personally, the year went from "crap" to "wonderful" and back to "crap" again. Initial indicators suggest that 2011 is most likely to be very much more of the same - except probably without the "wonderful" part.
Merry 2011, folks. Hope y'all have a good one, and that eventually we can start bombing each other with food and kindness for a change.