Tag Archives: music

The Plan

Last September, I decided that it was time to get a programming job again. After two months of trying to find paid work (of any kind, $10 would have been great!) as a composer, I realized that it’s really hard. There are a lot of people willing to work for free, and without much of a scoring portfolio (as opposed to the “pure music” I do) I have no way to distinguish myself to the studios that have a budget. Also, a lot of games want orchestral scores, and I don’t have the hardware and software I need to make convincing-sounding synthetic orchestral scores. Also, I’m sure once I get the necessary hardware and software, I will need time to practice with it. In short, I needed money and time. I am extremely fortunate to have, in my free-flowing way, stumbled onto a skill that is valued by the economy, and so I decided it was once again time to utilize that skill to achieve my other goals. I planned to live reasonably cheaply, save up money so that I can buy equipment and support myself for enough time to build up a portfolio by doing free projects.

Now I have been programming for Clozure for almost six months. As far as jobs go, it’s great. I get to work in my favorite language, Haskell, and they give me enough freedom to experiment with designs and come up with solutions that not only work, but that I would even consider good. My fear of programming jobs was based on having jobs where I constantly have to compromise my values, either by working in crappy languages or on startup-style timelines where there is no time to lose. With this job, I feel reunited with my love of software, and my inspirations for developer support tools have been once again ignited.

And so I have amended the plan: after I have saved enough money to support myself for several years, I will not only attempt to bootstrap a career composing, but dedicate my current work week to making a reality the software ideas which have been floating around in my head for half a decade. This prospect really excites me — the reason I have not been able to make my ideas is mostly the time pressure: there’s was always something else I should be doing, and so I always felt guilty working on my pet projects. I wonder, what am I capable of if my pet projects are the main thing?

I want to revive CodeCatalog. Max and I lost steam on that project for a number of reasons.

  1. Due to family pressure, I returned to school.
  2. I fell in love with a girl and got my heart all broken. That can be kind of a downer.
  3. The priorities of the project compromised my vision. We were attempting to use modern wisdom to make the project successful: first impressions and intuitive usability came first. Our focus was on making it pretty and satisfying to use (which took a long time since neither of us were experienced web front-end developers), and that required me to strip off the most interesting parts of the project because noobs wouldn’t immediately understand it.

So I want to re-orient (3) to make it more satisfying for me. I want to allow myself to make the large strides that I envisage rather than baby-stepping toward success — to encourage myself to use my own talents in design and abstraction rather than trying to be a front-end person, to emphasize the exciting parts (what Audrey Tang calles -Ofun). By funding myself, I will not feel the guilt that comes with working on a project at the same time as (1). I can do no more than hope that something like (2) doesn’t happen. (I have a wonderful, stable and supportive relationship right now, so if that continues, that’d cover it :-)

I have many ideas; the reason I want to return to CodeCatalog in particular is mainly because I have identified most of my ideas as aspects of this project. My specific fancies change frequently (usually to things I have thought about before but never implemented), and so by focusing on this project in a researchy rather than producty way, I can entertain them while still working toward a larger goal and eventually benefitting the community.

Here is a summary of some ideas that fit in the CodeCatalog umbrella (just because I’m excited and want to remember):

  • Inter-project version control — I have always been frustrated by the inability of git and hg to merge two projects while still allowing interoperation with where they came from. The “project” quantum seems arbitrary, and I want to globalize it.
  • Package adapters — evolving the interface of a package without breaking users of the old interface by rewriting the old package in terms of the new one. There is a great deal that can be done automatically in this area with sufficient knowledge about the meaning of changes. I talked with Michael Sloan about this some, and some of the resulting ideas are contained in this writeup.
  • Informal checked documentation — documenting the assumptions of code in a machine-readable semi-formal language, to get the computer to pair-program with you (e.g. you write a division x/y and you have no y /= 0 assumption in scope, you’d get a “documentation obligation” to explain in english why y can’t be 0).
  • Structural editing — coding by transforming valid syntax trees. Yes it’d be cool, but the main reason it’s compelling to me is in its synergy with other features. Once you have the notion of focusing on expressions, holes with contextual information (a la Agda), semi-automatic creation of package and data-type adapters, smarter version control (e.g. a change might rename all references to an identifier, even the ones that weren’t there when the change was made) all come as natural extensions to the idea.

I think the challenge for me will be to focus on one of these for long enough to make it cool before getting distracted by another. My plan for that is to set short-term goals here on my blog and use it to keep myself in check. I am considering involving other people in my project as a way to keep myself focused (i.e. maybe I can make a little mini-kickstarter in which my devotees can pledge small amounts in exchange for me completing a specific goal on time).

This is all two years away or more, which feels like a long time, but in the grand scheme is not that long in exchange for what I see as the potential of this endeavor. I’m just excited and couldn’t help but to think about it and get pumped up. Thanks for reading!

Oh, despite the date, this is totally not an April Fools joke (as far as I know ;-).

What do you say when you have nothing to say? What do you do when your song is a nice accompaniment to a vocal line, and there are no words to accompany?

I could talk about my life. I could mention my new teaching job, the cosmic interference with my busking, the flood… those all seem so incidental.

Maybe silence is okay. Maybe I am saying something — I am writing a lot of music, after all. I’m feeling pressure from Amanda (my girlfriend and closest friend) — not in any way that she is instigating, just a side-effect of who she is — to say something meaningful, something important. I can’t. I don’t feel like my ideas are important in that way, in the way that they are ready to jump from my mind into another’s and have any benefit. I think only vague half-truths: a strong conclusion, a value to hold on to, feels miles away. I know personal truths, I am feeling confident in them, and it is a great feeling, but words always miss the mark. They always make me seem either more certain or more uncertain than I am, with them I don’t know how to walk the fine line where I really communicate. And if I could . . . would I put it in a song; would I write it here?

I don’t think I would be bothered if my music felt complete without words. But I have a couple of songs in the oven that are just begging for words, that’s musically obvious to me. The missing instrument is words. I see a symbol, a metaphor: my life for the song, the words for… what? But it does feel that way — my life has a great groove but is also missing something. Missing lyrics.

I would normally argue that my lyricless music is saying something — it does have a message — but, like my thoughts and my truths, words cannot communicate it. But I’m incredulous. That argument doesn’t have the ring it used to.

I –

Life as a Musician?

So, it turns out I’m not dead. How about that?

I have dropped out of school, and am busking for a living. It is tiring (especially when I forget to drink enough water), sometimes discouraging (when I play things to no response whatsoever or make $5 in an hour), but mostly great. My job is making music! And more importantly, my job is making my music, or music I am in love with — although certain pieces tend to attract more tippers than others, so it’s not truly free (what is?).

My grandmother contacted me telling me about a startup mixer so I could find a job. I don’t think she really understands my decision. I can understand that — she wants me to get a stable, well-paying job, have kids and a family, and go to church. The usual narrative. The other day I was idly contemplating being a father. Not now, of course. But I can see the draw; I can see that being a pretty special thing. The question is whether it is worth it to me. Sacrifice is part of love. But do I sacrifice for my child, or do I sacrifice a child (umm! — sacrifice having a child) for my other loves? That is not a question I am remotely prepared to answer.

I used to think — perhaps I still do — that big questions like those aren’t really worth answering, at least not rationally. I suppose this “used to” is fairly recent, as I had spent a long time on them prior, and they led me nowhere but in circles of unfulfilled dustkicking. My self-image can be so limited at times, and the rational mind is a slave to its images. What I can really do, what I’m really made of, I perhaps thought, won’t be small enough to be so easily decided — it must be eased into, made part of myself through exploration and long, gradual growth. But the liberation I feel from this new occupation of mine has shown me that perhaps at points along this process such a life decision is valuable, that it can be a beacon that reminds me that I chose this because it was important to me — more important than anything else at one time — and so gives me something to hold onto in times of uncertainty or suffering. It sounds very compelling, doesn’t it? But I am still in the honeymoon phase of my relationship with my life as a musician, so the only thing I can be sure of is that my thoughts about it are distorted.

And am I really good enough to make this a living? Maybe Boulder is the only place people appreciate public performances of amateur classical music. Maybe when I migrate for the winter I will be met with indifference or contempt, and I will be stuck in a new city with no job. Maybe when I improvise or play my originals people only tip me because I have brought the piano out, not because the music speaks to them in any deep way — I know that is not true, my second piano sonata is almost always met by applause, but it has been 10 years since I wrote that; do I still have it? A teenager passes by and plays most of the pieces I do — not as well, but not badly — and he will surpass me by my age. Will I ever have the guts to sing out there?

A thousand fears and doubts dance their rite around my dream — all I can do is to go out there every day and hope it goes well. I think it’s proof that I’m alive. I pose this question to myself: would I rather be wildly successful in a software company, or wildly successful as a musician? The latter, by any metric. “Wildly” need not even appear. Standing on a plank and singing to the jury, my heart beating a thousand times a minute, with the conviction of a soldier — this outshines any vision of a successful software idea.

I’m not leaving software. But my most exciting software ideas aren’t the kinds of things one can easily make a living on. I’m working on a browser-based programming environment which explores a new way of designing and organizing code. I don’t want to say too much about it because as I code the idea continues to develop in my mind, and I don’t want to nail it down yet (maybe ever). But anyway, to make money with that would sacrifice its beauty; this tool is not for productivity, at least not at first: it is exploring a way of thinking. It is easier to make a living making the music I love than the software I love. If my life is to overflow with love and happiness, music is the breadwinner.

Again — only a month in. But I think this is the way to do it, for me. I’m not setting myself up for a comfortable life, but comfort is a trap anyway. It is the contrast that feels so good, and without that contrast comfort is just normal. Without discomfort to prepare the contrast, comfort is dull and boring. Anyway, that’s how I see it. Funny coming from a hedonist like me. I guess I’m having a stint of long-term hedonism at the expense of short-term.

Maybe someday I won’t even feel the need to justify my choice anymore. That’s when I’ll really be in it.

Music

I define a model to be a simulation of external reality within a mind. It is an approximation, a system by which we can make some predictions that are somewhat accurate most of the time. Some confuse their models with reality itself — since I use God to inform my morality, there must truly be a God; since quantum mechanics makes probabilistic predictions, the universe must be fundamentally non-deterministic. These kinds of judgments fail to realize that True external reality is not accessible to us.

I am speaking from the perspective of a model in which there exists a True reality for models to approximate. As I have defined, the reality being approximated is not accessible, so what could I be referring to by “True external reality?” I don’t refer to the True external reality, but an approximation within my model. And the same goes for my model itself — I cannot refer directly to my model, which is a pattern of True reality that occurs in my mind, but only to an approximation of my model from within itself.

This is the problem I have with metacognitition. I have spent a great deal of time introspecting, trying to figure out what I think, what I believe, why I do the things I do. But I cannot access the True answers to those questions (are questions a part of True reality?), I can only answer them from the perspective of my model of myself. A little less than a year ago, a Bodhisattva Sirened me in to catalyze an understanding that my self-model is unsound, that I had ideas about myself that were incorrect, that I had memories which may not have actually occurred, that I had a fabrication mechanism which was creating reasons for my actions after I had already done them, or already committed myself to doing them. I lost my trust in my metacognition, and from there,

What is True? We can be like Descartes and try to deduce a sound foundation from almost nothing, but that is just model-play, desperately trying to construct a model which is reality. This is in vain, there is no perfect representation. Every word in this post echoes falsity and lack; I can’t say “there is no perfect representation” with any certainty. Logical argument is a model, relying on the framework of propositional knowledge — humanity invented propositions — biology invented truth.

Of what I know or think I know or think I cannot know, I exist regardless. This proposition is provable and refutable, and the proof and refutation are both devoid of any True meaning. Can I think myself into oblivion? or is it just that my mental structures complicate themselves until my mental structures are really complicated? Experience, not thought, is the foundation. Thought is model, language is model, thought about experience is model — but experience: that is True.

I cannot say, recall, or think with certainty (certainty itself is a property of propositions). But I experience with certainty, if you will allow the metaphor. I am not trying to communicate a truth or a Truth — this is very important — but a feeling. Can you feel this intermittent feeling of mine, this freeing, relaxing, empty feeling which the conscious mind resists fervorously? It occurs discretely, not as a lasting experience, but like the sound of a clap the instant it reaches my ear; there is no meaning yet, that comes later. The only way I know I have this feeling is through my memory, and like every truth it is not to be trusted. I now have a feeling that if I could make a continuous clap, it would accompany a continuous darkness in my mind. You could hardly tell the difference in me, and I would be too occupied with noticing it that I would not be able to report or even remember doing so. Perhaps I achieve it for great lengths of time already –

Can you believe I strive for this?! I seek my own inability to remember — should I achieve my goal, I will be on my deathbed before it is tomorrow. Life could be lying in her bed preoccupied by the necessity to one day leave it — or it could be a dream and orgasm. One is a long life in which future disappointment is love; the other is a whole river, reaching the sea the same moment it melts from the snow.

Love do not care. The mind will tire of obsessing on the contents of the black hole, but the heart will still beat to a rhythm. This final sentence arouses its beating, because I know, in every model, that I have a True love –

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