Menu Close

Category: About Music (page 1 of 15)

Activation Energy

I’ve had a post about Activation Energy mulling in my head for a couple weeks. Then I thought, I wonder if I’ve written about Activation Energy before? And guess what?

I have.

In 2008. Six and a half years ago. It’s something like the 20th post on the site—of more than 1200 at this point. I suppose that means the topic bears revisiting?

Activation Energy is a concept I coopted from Chemistry. Coined by Swiss scientist Svante Arrhenius in 1889, it refers to “the minimum energy that must be input to a chemical system with potential reactants to cause a chemical reaction.” In my usage, it refers to the amount of mental energy required to enter the creative state.

For example, how much must I procrastinate before I am filled with fear that I will not be able to meet my deadline? Or, how long does this idea need to gestate before I can execute it properly? Or, what do I need to clear off my plate before I can adequately focus on the task at hand? Creativity is the reactant. Creative work is the chemical reaction. And these efforts are the energy input.

To extend this metaphor further (and forgive me if botch the chemistry a little—I failed that class), chemical reactions produce either an endothermic reaction or an exothermic reaction. That is, reactions that absorb energy (endothermic) or reactions that release energy (exothermic). In Chemistry this is usually expressed as heat. An endothermic reaction is typically a cold reaction, whereas an exothermic reaction is hot.

Sometimes your activation energy is just right and you explode in a wild torrent of output and things are great and everything is amazing. That’s exothermic. Like an explosion.

Other times, it’s not so great. Anyone who has ever struggled on a creative project knows that you can find yourself in the perfect motivated place to do whatever you need to do, but very little comes out of it. It often feels like a failure. That’s endothermic.

Luckily, more times than not, the energy was not wasted. You just gave yourself a little more time to think about what you need to do. It’s all still there, ready to come out the next time in a different way. Sunlight is absorbed by plants allowing them to grow large, which is an endothermic process. Then, the larger plants catch fire and release all that stored up sunlight in a tremendous wildfire. The same is true of our creativity. The only thing that actually gets in its way is not overcoming the activation energy hump.

In my previous post I wrote about myself as a high activation energy sort of person. I don’t think that is totally true. Sometimes getting myself into that perfect state is like pulling teeth and sometimes my activation energy is so high that I will just never get there. But other days, it comes quick and easy.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the better my mood, the higher my activation energy. If I’m feeling super good and in the black on the anger spectrum (more on this in a later post), you’d have to nuke my brain to give me enough activation energy no matter how much I wanted to work. But if I am fuming pissed and stewing and far into the red, well, then all you have to do is get out of my way and I’m cranking through whatever I need to. Go too far, though, and it’s all lost. It’s a delicate balance.

If I’m well rested, nope. If I am too tired, nope. Somewhere in the balance there is a sweet spot where my brain isn’t bouncing around, fresh and rested, or dull and lethargic with exhaustion. Just tired enough not to be a spazz, but not so tired I can’t think.

If I’ve not been working at all, nope. If I’ve been working too much, nope. Again, balance. If I am not working at all, I fall into an inertia hole and I am dull and uncreative, but if I am working too much, all my creative juju is used up by projects at work with little-to-none left for other things.

The real question is, what is the proper life-work-emotional balance to lower your activation energy to a place where getting the reaction going is relatively easy? That balance is, of course, different for each person and for different types of projects.

With work, I need to procrastinate until that moment when not starting means not finishing in time. Up until that point, I’ll dawdle and distract myself, while feeling progressively more guilty and by extension progressively angrier until the equation tips and I blow through whatever work I have to do.

On personal projects, it helps me to be beholden to a partner. Someone expecting something on a deadline will put me into the creativity cycle I referenced in the previous paragraph. If no one is waiting for anything, then I fall into a procrastination spiral that resembles the cycle above but over a much, much longer period of time.

Take this post for example: I started it on the 21st of May. Today is the 10th of June, nearly 3 weeks later. What have I been doing with all that time? Working, mostly, and a bunch of work social stuff, all of which affect the balance. But today I finally reached the place where my activation energy equation worked to my advantage and I’ve written ~750 additional words so far. Not too bad. I can finally stop thinking about this post lingering my drafts, unfinished, and move on to another post I will start and then finish weeks later.

I’ve always been impressed with people who have seemingly low activation energy, the types who can just sit down, get their focus on, and crank through the work. I am definitely not one of those people, but by knowing what affects me and my creative process I can, and to a lesser extent have, learned to manipulate myself into that low activation energy state. In the end, if to lower the barrier to reaction I must do all this additional work and put myself into the perfect life-work-emotional balance, then maybe I am a high activation energy creative person after all. Maybe I was right back in 2008. Funny.

A thing I love about metalheads.

A little bit ago, I was listening to the stream for Defeated Sanity’s Passage Into Deformity and reading the accompanying article. I had a thought which I expressed in a comment on the post.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 5.45.01 PM

Nevermind the typo, the point is totally true. How many times have I sat there chatting with my brother or a friend or whoever and said things like, “I think The Bleeding is the pinnacle of Chris Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse. ‘Stripped Raped and Strangled’ is an amazing song.”

Or, “Braindrill’s ‘Forcefed Human Shit’, for all its brevity, is a masterful piece of death metal.”

Or, “When it comes to old school proto-grind, you can’t argue that General Surgery is basically just a very competent Carcass-clone.”

I’ve said things like this thousands of times over the 20 years I’ve been listening to metal, and I don’t foresee it stopping. As metalheads, we are so accustomed to absurd song/band/album titles that it becomes a total nonissue for us. We can talk about Once Upon the Cross by Deicide, or a band called Torture Killer, or whether or not you think Goatwhore is a solid example of the New Wave of American Black Metal without thinking twice about the actual words you are using. I am sure that an intrepid explorer of old blog posts could find tons of examples on this very site.

We can say absolutely vile things unfazed because we’re used to them. Quickly scanning my Spotify death metal playlist reveals the following song titles as perfect examples.

  • Remnants of the Tortured
  • Let The Blood Spill Between My Broken Teeth
  • Trapped, Terrified, Dead
  • Swamped in Gore
  • Regurgitation of Giblets
  • Boiling Vomit Through My Veins

That list took me about 1 minute to compile. Consider it a random sampling of bands that start with the letters A through D. A THROUGH D. THAT IS AS FAR AS I GOT THROUGH THE LIST. And I didn’t even dig into me black metal or grindcore playlists.

No one whose idea of heavy metal ends at Metallica could say the song titles above without being acutely aware that the words they’re uttering are just not normal. But metalheads? Nope. No problem. And there are lots more where those came from.

And I will say this in closing, I’ve only ever really listened to Broken Hope’s The Bowels of Repugnance, but recently gave Grotesque Blessings a listen and, man, that is a good record.

Metal for life.

The Theme for 2013: The Year of No Pressure

Before I discuss my theme for next year, let’s talk about this year a little bit. Though I built up a little steam toward my 100,000 word goal, I only made it about a quarter of the way through before life got in the way and threw my ability to think about my writing to the wolves. Indeed, The Black Laser wasn’t free from that either. Loyal readers saw the quantity and quality of posts here gradually decline as life got in the way of things. But, you know what? So it goes.

I don’t feel bad about it.

Because the truth is I also did all sorts of interesting things personally and professionally this year; they just didn’t have a lot to do with writing. I made a bunch of dance videos with my now-fiancée. I edited all sorts of commercials for the old boob tube. I edited a death metal concert video and an experiment art narrative short film. I was made officially official at my company. I got freakin’ engaged! Holy crap!

So what if I didn’t write as much as I set out to? Who really cares? I accomplished a lot of things that made me really proud and I fed my brain with a lot of new experiences that can ultimately be writing-fodder. It’s not as if I sat around all year playing video games (though I did do some of that), wasting my time and feeling bad about it. I made things and friends and learned. I am very happy with 2012. I think a lot of that has to do with letting myself be free from my theme about halfway through the year. I remember consciously thinking, “Ok, I can grind out the next 75,000 words and be all stressed about not being on schedule, or I can just go with the flow and see what comes out of the year.” And that is exactly what I did.

In the past I’ve put a lot of emphasis on structure and deadlines, hoping that being beholden to something would keep me motivated. Go Head. Read about it. I’ll be right here.

Ok. All finished? Great.

To a certain extent being beholden to someone does keep me motivated, but I’ve learned that I have to be beholden to someone who is not myself. I just can’t do it. I make too many excuses for myself, and I find that I am always really willing to cut myself slack for those excuses. I am my own worst enemy and my own best advocate. A complicated relationship to be in with yourself.

This year I want to try a different sort of experiment. Though I have a whole lot of things I want to do this year, I am not going to put any pressure on myself to get things done by a deadline. Instead I am going to do things as they come and let my own productivity flow organically. I am under constant deadlines at work, so perhaps being more laissez-faire with my creative goals will allow me the wiggle room at the end of the day to do things as I can, not as I feel I need to. With that, I present the theme for 2013…

The Year of No Pressure

That’s right. No pressure. No pressure to hit a certain word count. No pressure to produce a certain number of stories. No pressure to do anything to a certain amount by a certain date. Just let things happen as they happen. That is not to say I don’t have goals for this year. Quite the contrary; I have a bunch of things, broad and specific, I want to accomplish in 2013. I just don’t intend to put any undue pressure on myself to get them done before they happen naturally.

What are they?

  • Get married – Giant duh on this. I asked her to marry me and now we need to figure out exactly how that is going to work. Apparently, people expect you to know the date you’re going to get married as soon as you are engaged. That’s news to me. Besides, I’ve neither been engaged before nor have I planned a wedding. There is a lot to learn.

    As a bonus for you all, my good friend Matt Toder of Vox Critica fame has asked Sarah and me to write a series of articles about our experience getting married. I’ve already started one on getting engaged, so keep an eye out for that, friends. I promise it will be good reading.

  • Rebuild my finances – 2012 was a very expensive year. During 2013 I would like very much to reign in my spending and rebuild the next egg I worked through this year. Don’t get me wrong; the money was spent for a very good (personal) reason and I would spend it all again in a heartbeat. Nevertheless, it is a priority of mine to keep to a budget and try to dig myself out of a bit of a hole.
  • Pick up the pace of The Black Laser – I feel bad when I don’t update for the 10s of you who read this site. I like to put my thoughts out and share cool things I find and I hope that you like it too. For 2013, I’d like to get this place back on track. This post is the first step toward that goal.
  • Pick up the fiction train – This ties into the previous goal a little as my fiction posts have always been a good source of original content for this site. And I like sharing that stuff with you guys because it scares the hell out of me to put myself out there and that is fun. It is fun to be scared. I have a load of fiction ideas built up, little snippets of ideas, barely formed thoughts, bad ideas, good ideas, stale ideas, fresh ideas. Whatever they are, I have a ton of stuff stewing in my brain that needs to be released. I’m going to release it at you all. Be ready.

I think that’s it right now, but I am not going to stress about adding or removing things from that list as I see fit. That’s just how 2013 is going to be. Stay tuned and get excited for it, friends. It should be a totally smooth, comfortable ride.

It’s Christmas music season again!

Which means it’s time for The Black Laser’s annual post of the best Christmas song ever performed: Joseph Spence’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

Though some have argued it should be titled “Sanny Corr is Cunninghhh Huuhnnnn”, I prefer the original title.

Pug Destroyer: the best t-shirt inspired by pugs’ pig vocals ever

This morning Pig Destroyer posted this awesome t-shirt on Facebook. I shared it with a bunch of friends because it is ridiculously awesome and then took the plunge and preordered one. Why? Because I am a grown up and can make my own god damned decisions, thank you.

What’s better is the video that inspired it of pugs doing pig squeals to a death metal track.

Here’s the original post from Animal.

This is so great.

I ask you one question about this: Why?

The other morning, I was lying awake in bed with Sarah and this song popped into my head.

Why? Where did it come from?

I mean, I know, but why at that moment at like 6:30 in the morning, all half-asleep and warm and comfortable, did Deicide’s 22 year old song about the film Evil Dead pop into my head?

I just don’t know. I’ll never know. But, listen to it and feel free to add it to your own repertoire of self-song-raping songs. You’ll be glad you did.

2012 Gathering of the Juggalos video

“We’re self-thinking survivors here…just like you.”

Well now doesn’t that just say it all.

This is the fourth Gathering of the Juggalos film I’ve posted here on The Black Laser. It is remarkable how time flies when you aren’t paying attention, isn’t it? This year’s crapfest clocks in at a lean 23:15, nearly four minutes shorter than last year’s abortion.

“Nothing but endless love over here.”

I wonder what possesses those who make these videos. Do they think, “How badly can I do something? How poor can my taste be? What is the most awful creative decision I can make?” Does Sugar Slam wake up in the morning and think, “What I do has creative merit. I am contributing to this world.”

The video looks like something an impaired 13 year old in sweats would dream up. I just can’t imagine being the sort of person to whom this would speak. Oh yes, I am so excited that the Psychopathic Boner Clowns are performing! Rap parties in the woods? Great! Being spoken to like I am a retard? Thanks!!

And then you see the line-up and are forced to consider that this is where a career goes to die. Sure, the Psychopathic Records roster is there, but they actually have other people you have heard of. Why would anyone choose to do this to themselves?

Holy shit! Mushroomhead is playing?!? I just ordered my tickets.

Further thoughts on Ihsahn’s Eremita

I realize that I forgot to use the word “jazzy” yesterday when discussing the new Ihsahn record. How terrible of me! The record is definitely jazzy as fuck. It is the best proggy, jazzy, post black metal, Norwegian metal record I’ve heard in ages. In fact, it might be the best metal record I’ve heard since Protest The Hero’s 2011 release Scurrilous.

Unlike the Protest the Hero record, however, Eremita is not a record that will sway non-metal listeners. Indeed, this is a metal album for the truest of the true metal nerds. If you know the difference between Goregrind and Slam, this record might be for you. If you know the difference between Cascadian Black Metal and the New Wave of American Black Metal, this record is probably for you. If you have an intricate knowledge of what made Emperor stand out amongst Black Metal bands in the early 90s and why this is relevant at all, then this record is definitely for you. If you fall into that last camp, you’re already listening. Julian Knöx, I am looking at you.

I was also totally wrong yesterday when I described the record as less heavy than 2010’s After. Eremita is just as heavy, but perhaps more varied, more dynamic. Eremita is a metal adventure

If I was forced to sum it all up with a clip from the Simpsons, I would use this one.