Welcome to Earlobe Calming: a collection of desperate, vulnerable, and collaborative acts.
This is the sound of my voice recorded using the microphone on my headphones
This is the sound of my voice recorded on my condenser mic
This is the sound of my voice fed through my laptop
This is the sound of my voice modified in garageband
This is the sound of my voice.
This is the sound of some kids in music class singing outside my old apartment. The first ways I learned to create as a kid were singing and dancing, ways of creating that don’t require anything more than your body. Beyond all the barriers to living as an artist, the tools we use to make work can be prohibitively expensive for many would-be creatives. Within dance and singing, lessons and training can cost a bit of money but unlike other disciplines, there aren’t any material barriers to using your voice and your body to create.
This is the sound of my trumpet, the first creative tool I learned to use. My parents bought it for me in the 4th grade for I believe $400 dollars. I’ve only owned this one trumpet, its bell is dented and its a “student instrument” so I would probably get some strange looks if I tried to audition for a serious ensemble with it, but tt still makes some nice sounds for me.
When you look at a brass instrument its easy to see that, beyond the mystified category of “musical instrument, its really just a tool, a machine. This is the sound of my french horn. It has pistons and tubes and its made of metal like a lot of tools. You put air and energy into it to create something new just like you would with a machine. My french horn is a “professional instrument,” a rose gold Conn 8D my parents bought second hand from a graduating horn player in my high school for $2000. But the fact that its a professional instrument doesn’t necessarily mean it makes better sounds than my trumpet. In fact, both instruments can make a lot more sounds than you would initially think. It all depends on how you use them.
The reason you’re able to hear any of these sounds is due to my laptop and my microphone. I can’t show you what they sound like but you’ve been listening to them this entire time. I bought my laptop before my sophomore year of college for $1000 and I’ve been using it since. This is the sound of water in a wineglass I recorded in 2017, its I use for the intro and outro of each Earlobe Calming episode. This is the sound of me getting distracted by a conversation just before I tip over the wine glass and spill the water over my keyboard. After that didn’t have a working computer for an entire year because it took me so long to scrape together the $700 I needed to repair it.
When you’re making music live in an ensemble, the only tool you need is your instrument and maybe a nice dress to perform in. But making and sharing music outside a concert venue needs more tools, namely something to record yourself and edit those recordings. Until fairly recently my headphones were my go-to tool for recording myself and the world around me. In addition, my friend Ayo had a little studio set up in her house she allowed me to use while I was dog sitting for her. A couple of years she bought a higher end mic than the one she was using and was kind enough to give her old one to me for my birthday. Its only a tool of course, it can’t do everything, but its because of this mic that I can capture such high fidelity sounds and record instruments like my horn and trumpet which don’t work so well on my headphone mic.
This is the sound of the DJ software I use. Its called DJay Pro and I came into the program sort of by accident. My friend Cosi had been dj-ing for a while and when we were living together we had the idea to collaborate on a couple of sets using the software on their computer. In the midst of our collaboration Cosi’s computer died so they used their license to put DJay Pro on my computer and I ended up as the keeper of the keys. Now that we don’t live together I’m mixing alone so I guess I kind of half was gifted half stole DJay Pro. I was talking to Cosi the other day about this and they mentioned how software like DJay pro, since its fully functional with just a laptop, allows folks to get around purchasing an expensive set of decks to mix music. A lot of DJ dudes would look down on people who don’t have higher end tools at their disposal but, as Cosi pointed out, a lot of those dudes don’t use even half the nobs and sliders they have access to.
Most all creative disciplines have a required set of tools that form a barrier of entry. Depending on what you make, you’ve probably invested in expensive paints, pencils, canvas, film & chemicals, clay, software licenses, or server power. So what do we do about this situation where the tools folks need to create can represent material investments of multiple thousands of dollars, without even a vague promise that those tools can be used to help you survive? Government investments in creative libraries is a start, allowing folks free access to keyboards, microphones, movement studios, and software and those programs should be expanded to include darkrooms and usable materials like paints and canvas. Creative co-ops and other networks of support are helpful as well, but only work if those involve already have money to invest. Perhaps the most important thing is combating gatekeeping based on the tools at someone’s disposal. Because whether its a student horn or a professional one, Logic Pro or GarageBand, a studio mic or a pair of headphones, in the end they’re only tools. Just ways to amplify the sound of your voice.
I was going to end there, but then last week I was given another tool, my boyfriend gifted me an acoustic guitar, his father’s guitar in fact. This is what it sounds like. Playing around with the instrument I was thinking about how almost every tool I have at my disposal has been a gift from someone: my brass instruments from my parents, my mic from Alicia, software from Cosi, and now this guitar. I wouldn’t have been able to purchase even a fraction of these tools on my own. I’ve come to realize that this is a big reason why I keep making things, because the people I love saw something in me, passion or talent or just happiness, and decide to grow that. In many ways making work with these tools is me honoring that investment, those gifts, that care. These folks have done as much to shape my practice as I have. Making work with people for Earlobe Calming is much the same. No one creates work in a vacuum and the care others show us, whether that is through material or monetary investment or just kind words, is just as important as the idea you want to put into the world. And with all the love I’ve been given, how can I not make something out of it? So to all the folks who have given me a tool, a helping hand, a caring word, to all the folks that listen to this project: thank you for your help.