Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Really rockin' the house entails all three of the title-declared motions: shakin', rattlin', and rollin'. I spend a lot of EM's ink expounding on the

Really rockin' the house entails all three of the title-declared motions: shakin', rattlin', and rollin'. I spend a lot of EM's ink expounding on the nature of the creative and production experiences and ways to take on the project work called for. This month I want to discuss an insight I have attained concerning the structure of these creative and production projects as it relates to rockin' the house.

Before I continue, I'll make this explicit: the words production and project are important because they suggest that the ultimate outcome of the situation is a work of some kind. Many of my comments would have no relevance to an Einsteinian “thought experiment,” for instance, because only ideas are being worked on; nothing is produced.

That said, the structure of creative and production projects breaks down into three areas: aesthetics, technical issues, and logistics. The relationship between those is complex and bizarre, like something out of a wildlife program on TV.

Ideally, aesthetics should drive the whole effort. After all, the idea of the project is embodied in the aesthetics that are applied. The technical and logistical must serve those aesthetic ends — to some degree. And there, as the masseuse said, is the rub.

Although technical and logistical considerations must support the aesthetic, they impose constraints, frequently harsh ones. Constraints can be greatly beneficial and devastating to a project, both outcomes stemming from the fact that constraints force a project to change shape to fit within them. That change can be good, bad, or some combination. It is essential to understand this paradox of logistical and technical issues providing succor and rancor because it can be a defining force in a project. Yet until a name is put on the forces at work, it can be obvious what the problem is (“Nothing in this patch bay works! I can't get anything done!”) but totally unclear how to attack it.

So, how do you attack it?

You already know my answer: pre-production and planning. My strategy for keeping the effects of logistics and technical aspects beneficial is to nail them to the wall with forethought, research, and documentation. When nailed securely to the wall, they tend to get underfoot less. My hammer and nails are my word processor's outline mode and a good database program.

Naturally, everything won't go exactly as planned, in which case, you fall back on your other plans: the contingency plans you made beforehand, knowing something would goof up.

When you think things through in advance, the aesthetic can even shape the technical and logistical. For instance, the patch-bay frustration could have been avoided if the patch bay had been tested before starting work, but testing patch bays can be a huge task. The extensive planning, however, defined a writing and demoing phase before serious recording. The aesthetics of writing dictate that speed and ease of operation are more important than absolute sound quality, so only one or two synthesizers, an electric guitar, and a vocal mic are used. You need to test far fewer patch-bay connections before starting the demo. If you aren't doing a serious multitrack recording session, the patch bay can be tested and troubleshot in chunks as needed before each type of session.

A case of the aesthetic distracting from the technical and logistical is not easily found. The other way around is the battle most often fought, and it isn't won by brute force: it must be finessed by anticipation and an ability to roll with the punches.

But I did say the relationship was complex and bizarre. Although I have described the most forceful plans of attack against logistics and technical issues, everything I have suggested, with somewhat different interpretation and weighting, applies to managing the aesthetics, as well.

Others may have equally good strategies for handling projects, but know thy motions, thy shake, rattle, and roll, and verily thy project shall rock the house.