Music as Hypnosis

There’s a well-known page of The Animator’s Survival Kit where a young animator asks an older animator what kind of music he likes to listen to while animating, and older guy responds (this is such a great series of drawings), “Of all the s-s-s-tupid god-god-god-damned questions I-I-I-I’ve ever heard! I-I-I-I-A-A-A-F-F-F-Stupid question! Iy-Iy-Iy-Iy-I’m not smart enough to think of more than one thing at a time!”

Ah… yeah. I’m not that smart either, which is why I should really know better than to write code or draw or animate or do anything, really, with a browser window open. Physically unplugging my Ethernet cable is sometimes the best thing I can do for myself. No one is as good at multitasking as they think they are.

That said… I need my music in order to do pretty much anything creative – write code or draw or animate. I do turn it off when I really need to concentrate, but I find it next to impossible to get started without it.

First off, it alleviates the fear factor of staring at a blank page. I don’t think anyone ever really gets over this. We just get better at dealing with it. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – the absence of fear is a pathology. Courage is the ability to persevere in the face of fear.

Second… I think I need music in order to tap into my own personal wellspring of intuition – that subsurface layer of thought I depend on so heavily in everything I do, from code to math to language to art. The frustrating thing is, I can’t query that layer on cue. When I try, I usually draw blanks. That’s why it took so long to come up with the list of computer science metaphors that’s since started to evolve into a computer science etymology. I really couldn’t directly query the mental database – I had to wait for the words to bubble up of their own accord, in my own daily stream of consciousness. Unlike the main characters in High Fidelity, I am simply incapable of thinking in top ten lists. Off the top of my head, I have no idea what my favorite books, movies, or music are. But give me an an opportunity to quote one of them in a conversation, and the house-elf in the back of my head will happily supply the source before I’m even aware that I need it.

So what does music have to do with it? I think music immerses me deep within that subsurface layer of intuition. Instead of hovering above it, as day-to-day life forces me to do, I’m floating within it. It takes the house-elf out of the equation. Much as I love, trust, and rely on that house-elf, he is at times an intrusive middleman.

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