Once again, school is starting where I’m an adjunct professor teaching live-sound mixing one day a week. My task is to take a bunch of highly talented musicians and singers and teach them how to mix music that will make lots of listeners happy. The only problem is, their playing is so perfect from years of regimented practice that their music often sounds boring. It really does.
I was thinking about this yesterday when one of my former students sat in on our pre-semester meeting with the other department heads on things we’re planning to do this coming year. And this student, Danny, was discussing experiments he was doing on sound effects for mixing, specifically a reverberation chamber he had built from an empty room. A reverb chamber makes sort of a big cave echo sound that’s popular with modern music. His observation was it didn’t sound “perfect” like a computer program that “simulated” a reverb chamber, but he liked the imperfect sound a lot better than the perfect simulation of the computer.
That began the discussion of “soul” and “feeling” in music, as well as life experiences. In music, we really don’t like the sound of a computer playing drums and say that it lacks “feeling,” which is very true. Human drummers have imperfections in their playing, often on purpose, which makes the music sound more alive or have more soul. And I teach that while we expect a certain level of perfection, beating yourself up to be perfect at the cost of losing the soul of the music is counterproductive and detrimental to the art form.
The same can be said for the other art forms, such as painting and sculpting. While a photograph can offer a perfect image, it often lacks the soul of the subject. That’s why a great deal of effort and expense often goes into painting a portrait of an important person. A perfect photograph just won’t do the subject justice, but a painter can use artistic license to create a portrait with soul or feeling. Just look at the enigmatic painting of the Mona Lisa, which my wife and I saw in Paris during our last trip. Everyone who looks at it wonders just what’s behind that tense smile. We can actually get a little glimpse into her soul.
The same goes for the Water Lilies paintings by Claude Monet. Linda and I saw them up close and personal in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, where they occupy two entire circular rooms. We had no idea that these paintings, which show up everywhere from wall prints to your credit card, are HUGE and were painted in Monet’s actual gardens at different times of the day.
By standing in the middle of the room and rotating you can see what Monet saw (and felt) in the morning light, or afternoon sun, or at the evening sunset. My wife, Linda, who is herself an artist and considers Monet her favorite painter, actually started shaking and crying when we walked into the Monet’s Water Lilies room for the first time. We had no idea of the size and impact of his most famous series of paintings. Standing up close they look like nothing more than a bunch of blobs of paint. But step back into the center of the room and you’ll see that all those imperfect brush strokes by Monet add up to something way more powerful than any photograph could possibly be.
So what does this all mean for you, that traveler? Well I think it means to embrace the unexpected. Sometimes your trip may not go as planned and you end up on a strange road or in a strange town, doing something you never planned to do. While my own parents would plan our camping trips down to the letter, knowing exactly where we would be on what day, I find it more enjoyable to not sweat the details as much and be more tolerant when something goes a little wrong on your trip. My parents had their RV rear-ended by a drunk driver out west and ended up staying on a friend’s ranch for a month while their trailer was fixed. But there are pictures of my dad riding on a 4-wheeler helping to herd cattle (really) and my mom visited places and museums that she would NEVER have put on her original “flight plan.” Rather than sit in a hotel and complain about their misfortune, they got out and did things that made their down-time, fun-time.
Just like the great Tom Petty, who could hardly play a guitar lead the same way twice, be willing to experiment and embrace the imperfections in life. Maybe it starts with something as simple as ordering Huevos Rancheros for breakfast when you’re in New Mexico instead of your usual pancakes. Instead of perfect circles of perfect batter, much of what was considered to be peasant food (in this case, rancher’s eggs) has a lot to offer, in spite of all its imperfections. If you don’t like them, or you put on too much hot sauce, then that’s another life experience you didn’t plan for. But if you don’t try to step out of your comfort zone you’ll never experience a bunch of imperfect things that you might REALLY like.
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 40 years in the industry. Visit NoShockZone.org for more electrical safety tips. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.