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Month: November 2011 (page 1 of 6)

Nero’s “Reaching Out”


This rules. A tribute to the 80s in all the best ways, how great is it when the woman’s mouth becomes a spider?! The juxtaposition of the neck shot with the champagne splashing into glasses?! The neon titles?! The Miami Vice steez throughout?!

This video rules.

Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth

The other day as I was clicking through Tumblr, a network I am finding increasingly strange, I happened upon an image with three points labeled “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”. After following the tumble trail to its absolute origin, I found this: Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. Man, I love shit like this.

Originally written in 1998 by designer Bruce Mau, the list outlines his design process. But, more importantly, I think the little snippets of advice and guidance can inform any creative process, from writing to design to filmmaking to music. Whatever it is you’re struggling with creatively can benefit from some alternative perspective. You may not always take the advice, but if it causes you to think differently about the problem you’re trying to solve, then it was helpful. As I said yesterday, creativity is problem solving, and anything that helps you solve a problem is good.

And this list is filled with all sorts of good lits bits. If I were forced to pick my favorite five, they would be these.

2. Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

11. Harvest ideas.
Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

40. Avoid fields.
Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

I know, I know. That was six. I tried not to post the whole list. Get over it.

Check out the remainder of the 43 points here: Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

Number 15 on the list, Ask Stupid Questions, reminds me a lot of Leonardo’s to-do list from the post yesterday. “Ask Benedetto Portinari by what means they go on ice in Flanders”?? That is a stupid ass question. Maybe I’m not asking stupid enough questions.

The Theme for 2012

It is that time of year again! Time to announce the coming year’s theme! And I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for me to have an excuse to ramble on wildly about my musings about creativity and my own personal journey with it. I know you all love it. Or at least the three of you who read these don’t completely hate it. So, that’s good.

In previous years, the themes have been The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories (2009), The Year of 3 Music Videos and 12 Short Stories (2010), and, this year, The Year of 12 Projects (and Slowing My Roll) (2011). Of course, in previous years I had other themes—The Year of Trying New Things, The Year of Writing, The Year of Focus, The Year of Finishing Things, and The Year of Self-Care—but those have not been documented here on The Black Laser, so we’ll mostly ignore them for the purposes of this one-sided discussion. If you’d like to read more on my thoughts on previous years’ themes, go right ahead.

This year, The Year of 12 Projects, has been remarkably successful so far with 13 of my 12 projects completed at this point. I won’t go too much into my thoughts about the year as a whole yet—I’m saving that for its own year-end write up—but let’s just agree that it’s been great. And let’s also acknowledge that it’s the first time ever that I’ve met the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the year.

Wait, that bears repeating. It is the first time in eight years of giving myself themes instead of resolutions that I’ve actually accomplished what I set out to do.

Holy shit.


I think a lot of what made this year such a success was that I allowed my brain to sort of go anywhere in terms of being creative. I wasn’t limited to one specific type of thing. I could do whatever caught my fancy, and, in turn, I got a lot done. That is great. In fact, a posting I recently read at NPR’s blog about Leonardo da Vinci’s to-do list seems to reinforce that allowing your brain to wander, to be unfocused, is beneficial for getting things done. Not that I am da Vinci, but I seem to have stumbled upon the same results. It goes against years of myself trying to focus on one thing, one goal, one idea. No wonder I was never able to do a damned thing; I worried so much about being focused, driven, single-minded about my creativity that I limited what I could be accomplishing otherwise. Knowing that I do better when I let myself be free is rather refreshing, actually.

While thinking about what I wanted to accomplish for 2012, I recognized that part of my creative palette that I have been really missing this last year and a half or so is my writing. I haven’t written any fiction at all in ages. Do you, avid reader of The Black Laser, recall the last time I posted fiction here? No you don’t. Do you know why? Because it was January 28, 2010. That is terrible. A couple (few?) weeks ago I tweeted, “Do you remember when I used to write stories??? Whatever happened to that, huh??” I wrote it as sort of a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is actually kind of sad. For something that was so important to me that I was going to give up a decent career twice for it, how could it have fallen so far out of my life that the last time I wrote anything of consequence was in January of last year? It’s like having a really awesome girlfriend and then suddenly you stop talking to her at all and then 20 months later you’re all, “Hey, where did she go?? How did she get away from me????” And then after you recognize that you’re all, “Damn, I’d better do something about this because I really miss her.”

And that is what writing feels like to me: an amazing supportive relationship with its ups and downs and pitfalls and triumphs. It has always felt so much more real to me than my ventures into filmmaking or photography or drawing or animation any of the other things I’ve dabbled in. Writing is challenging and because it is challenging it is rewarding like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It feels good and it hurts and it is scary and I love it. I mean, duh, obviously, look at how I get going on things like this when I give a damn about them. I’m just blah blah blahing all up and down the East River like a crazy man with a garbage bag for a hat.

So that brings us to this year’s theme:

The Year of Writing

A question remains: how do I reconcile the success I had when I let my brain wander with the desire to focus on one specific kind of output? I thought of this, too. I think the key lies in not forcing “writing” to be any one thing, but allowing it to take whatever form I think I want to mess around with at that moment.

The astute reader will notice that this is in fact my second Year of Writing, the previous one being an abortive effort before I had any sense of how to structure these things for maximum efficacy. But I know how to do that now and that means giving myself limits that allow me to be flexible. Funny, right? Limits that allow me to be flexible. But it’s true and it works. Full open-endedness is daunting, but limit the creative sandbox a little and you’ll be surprised what you can come up with. Creativity is problem solving. Give yourself problems to solve.

So what are my limits/goals for this year?

  • 100,000 words – While chit-chatting with Lindsey on the IMs about what my goals should be for this year I recalled that at my peak output, I was writing at least 500 words a day. If I could maintain that every day of the year, my output would be 182,500 words. A massive amount. But I am not going to be so unrealistic and believe that I am actually going to write every single day of the year. Let’s don’t be ridiculous. There are going to be nights where I’ll have my face buried in the computer doing nothing but fucking off on the internet and nights where I am stuck at work late and nights where I just won’t want to write. And 100,000 is a nice, round number.

    What counts toward my 100,000 word count? Anything: letters to my brain, long articles on The Black Laser about whatever, anything for Vox Critica, any fiction, screenplays (who knows???). Basically anything where I give a damn about the quality of the writing. This encompasses quite a lot of what I do and should make hitting 100K for the year not such a daunting challenge. The only things that won’t count are when I’m bullshitting about music videos (unless I actually have something to say, my prerogative) and things like Twitter/Facebook/whatever. I mean, this thing is already 1200 words long. I’d only need to do 84 posts like this and I’d be done.

  • Dance EP – I’ve been talking about making a dance record for a long time. I love dance music. It’s so stupid and fun but can also be really beautiful in the right hands. Those hands are not mine, but that doesn’t stop from wanting to put my own music out there. And it fits under the header of “writing” quite nicely and is so different than writing words that it allows me to play around in a different medium but still be working toward my theme for the year. It will allow my brain to wander when I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say otherwise.

    What constitutes a Dance EP? Well, as we all know an EP is longer than a single but shorter than an album, so like 3 to 5 songs. I think that is about right. I just want it to be a fun project that makes people want to move and shake their asses and do all that stupid shit that people do that makes them look really funny in photos.

There you have it. 2012, The Year of Writing. 100,000 words or whatever and a dance EP.

And if you think that I think about this stuff too much, I’ll just leave this little snippet of yesterday’s conversation here for you to enjoy.

The Space Pope
4:39 PM The year I did 50 short stories, I kept a word/story count by each date I finished one so I could graph the work.
4:39 PM Jeez, I think about this too much maybe. But whatever.
4:40 PM I could keep a spreadsheet of writing by wordcount/type/date

4:40 PM You think about most things too much. :)

Now I’ve blown my little secret that I intend to graph my progress. Here’s to 2012!

Orbital’s “Halcyon & on & on”

Does anything else in the whole world put the taste of the 90s into your mouth harder than this track? Actually, I can think of one other (and I’ll post it soon), but damn. Even this video is 90s it hurts with the shitty computer effects and colors and crap? Holy shit.

Last summer at some point, Charles and I got all 4 Loko’d out and went to this really weird 15th Anniversary party for the movie Hackers—which is awful—and they played “Halcyon & on & on” like maybe 8 times over the course of the night? Luckily, I quite like the track so I didn’t find it so terrible. There was a noticeable paucity of rollerbladers there that night, unfortunately, but it was still and fun, weird party that I would never go to again. Funnier on paper than in execution, but not everything can be a million dollar idea. Still, we had fun.

Underworld’s “Between Stars”

Another day, another Underworld video. This track comes from their 2010 album Barking, which I have been listening to on the train on repeat the last couple weeks. I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing allowing me to desperately cling on to the last vestiges of my sanity. In fact, I am listening to it right now. And it is really good.

I hope you’re all back to work post-Thanksgiving and not feeling too holiday hungover. The holidays are a mess, but I hope you managed to find some joy in yours. Here’s a brief, incomplete list of things I managed to accomplish.

  • Sleep.
  • Eat.
  • Drink.
  • Talk to my family.
  • Nothing creative or productive at all.

I think those are all good things to do, except that last one but whatever. Also, I listened to this Underworld record MAYBE 10 times. Maybe more. I just can’t get away from it.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Let me celebrate with this comic from Left-Handed Toons.

Enjoy your time with friends and/or family, Americans. And watch ThanksKilling on Netflix tonight.

Pulp’s “Party Hard”

Just another amazing track from Pulp’s 1998 release This Is Hardcore. I was listening to this on the train home today and it got stuck in my head so I am sharing it with all of you right now because it is wonderful. I often wish my life were like the lyrics of a Jarvis Cocker record, and, sometimes, it is.

Underworld’s “Crocodile (Alligator)”

I’ve never seen this video before, though I have listened to 2007’s Oblivion With Bells like a thousand times. Unfortunately this video is for the radio edit of the track and about 3 minutes shorter than the album cut, but that doesn’t really matter since it’s still an absolutely fantastic piece of dreamy dance music.

The concept is simple; shoot them performing twice: once where they don’t move too much and they’re lit hard to one side, and again with a strobe where they’re moving. Sync, overlay, and intercut. I particularly like Darren Price’s sombrero. Rick Smith looks like he’s having a particularly good time. And, well, Karl Hyde, Karl Hyde is Karl Hyde, the singular voice of electronic music for me.

I was chatting with Charles on the IMs this morning about the M83 show he went to last night (he offered his extra ticket to me but I couldn’t go. Lame). This morning he said that it was a little weird for him because in his brain M83 has always been this perfect, inhuman thing, sounds that could not possibly come from a real person. He called it a “faceless future made from city lights, smoke, and slow motion.” While I don’t have the same relationship with M83 he does, I do feel the exact same way about Underworld. In 2007 they toured for Oblivion With Bells and again last year for Barking, but I never went to see them. Why not? I guess I was a little afraid that, like Charles with M83, that I would “hear the seams,” that they would be knocked from this exalted place in my brain to just a bunch of dudes who make really awesome music that I enjoy immensely.

It is funny though, that this really only applies to electro-oriented bands. The exact opposite is true of more traditional type bands. For example, the first time I saw The Magnetic Fields perform, I feel like I gained a much better perspective on their music, like somehow it made a lot more sense than it had hours previously. That is partly why I am so excited to see Jeff Magnum in January. You see it performed live, you hear the intonations, you hear the singer’s voice, you see their faces as they play, and it adds to an experience I already enjoy.

I don’t know why seeing Underworld wouldn’t be like that also, but it just feels different. Listening to Stephin Merritt play “Papa Was a Rodeo” live is different than hearing Underworld perform “Push Upstairs” live. One is a song I can digest, chords and layers and movement, whereas the other—in my brain, at least—is a sonic landscape perfectly tended and built.

I don’t know. Maybe I should just go see Underworld the next time they roll around and see how I feel.