Monday, June 6, 2016

Confession of a Metaphysical Atheist

I'm not sure if that title is quite right; but I'm not sure how else to say it. In just about any conventional sense you can frame, I don't believe in God. Nor then, do I believe in Satan; this should go without saying, but there are people who've convinced themselves they can somehow have it both ways. Why don't I believe? It's not for lack of societal pressure, I can tell you. It's simply that it doesn't really make sense to me. I don't believe it because I can't.

Regarding larger cosmology: the idea of a universal being or mind which is solely or primarily concerned with us is preposterous to me. The universe is just too big for us to be of primary concern to something in charge of running all that.

I could see the possibility of a more localized non-physical (not matter-encumbered) system somehow looking out for us or keeping things running smoothly; but to think that we actually understand the workings of such a system, based on our limited and one-sided knowledge of what it might be, is equally preposterous to me. I would say it makes a lot more sense to start with sociology and history, and understand reasons why belief systems might have taken the forms they did, reasons which have more to do with immediate earthly influence than with what may have been at the core experience of their prophets and saints.

Mystical (contemplative) experience is one thing; religion is another. And religion is essentially sociological. It is the product less of a mystic, and more of a social response and resulting framework for the mystic's observations. It is always destined to depart from the meaning of mystical experience, and head in directions never intended by its core observer. Internal and external methods of governing are incompatible. Where one flourishes, the other inevitably declines.

Because religion involves the social, and as such is not particularly mysterious to me; and because it is near and dear to a good number of people in my life who are very important to me, I have chosen to not go further into that than I have just done, and I'm not interested in ridiculing or tearing down belief. People's beliefs are their own business. Belief only becomes my business when it impinges on me. My friends aren't like that. Were they to become like that, they would not stay my friends for long. Understand also, that by stating my lack of belief, I am not "going after" my friends or family or anyone, really. It is not my business to tell anyone else what to do or think, if they are doing no harm.

As I have said elsewhere, I believe the word "supernatural" should be thrown out of the dictionary. It too does not make sense. There is nothing above or outside of the natural world. It either exists or it doesn't. It may fall outside of our knowledge, but that's different. There is the explained, and the unexplained. Unfortunately, there is also the "explained away". And it's there that this article will soon go, because I have a big problem with this. It's a problem that has everything to do with science and nothing to do with "belief".

I forget who said "Belief atrophies the mind", but it's a good quote. You may remember the poster in the office of the show "The X-Files", the one with the picture of a UFO on it, and underneath it the words, "I Want To Believe". Here's the thing: I DON'T want to believe. I don't need to believe. I want to KNOW.

Throughout my life, seemingly through no fault or intent of my own, I have run face first into odd things. Over and over and over again. I am convinced that many of them have explanations beyond the simply psychological, and beyond coincidence. Because my efforts to ignore such events, and thereby make them go away have been unsuccessful, I have spent years studying what literature was available to me. I have paid very close attention to the details of my own experiences, in an effort to learn and understand. I don't "believe" these things happened. I know I experienced them. On what level and to what extent they are physically real, and not a product strictly of psychological processes, it has not always been easy to say. In order to explore that, I have had to be both objective and open-minded, willing to be self-critical as well as having a critical eye on my sources. This is not an easy way to go, but it's a must. It is uncomfortable to lay a trap door under yourself-" I know x, y, and z, but I may be deluded just the same and everything I know may be wrong and I might be nuts".  I see no other way to keep one eye always open for the truth. That said, you would have to prove to me how and why I am not in my right mind. The interest alone is not enough, nor is the sense that real things happened.

Some people may be critical of my insistence on the validity of subjective experience. I believe all science and knowledge and exploration starts there." Observation! It's what's for breakfast". But because observer will almost always have some effect on what is reported as observed- in other words, acting as a filter of the objective experience- I do not believe you can get by entirely without taking the observer's psyche and biases into account. These things don't always influence the observation. But they can, certainly, and need to be figured in, to form as complete a picture as possible. This is especially important when dealing with things that can't be physically observed at will, repeated in a lab setting, etc.

It also means that the unremitting bias of many skeptics must be considered as important as that of any starry-eyed believer. Unless you can treat an unknown as just that, you are at a huge loss when it comes to having what it takes to find the facts. I was disappointed to discover that the SPR (Society for Psychic Research) had an agenda to go along with their telepathy experiments: they were searching for proof of the soul. Feh! Just focus on establishing facts! One thing does not establish anything else, that's a different set of experiments and proofs. It did the entire field a disservice and cast a very bad shadow on what was otherwise some really useful and good work. On the other side of things, you had the French Academy of Sciences denying the existence of meteors all the way up to late 1700s. This, despite massive physical and observational evidence; or medical science's initial resistance to recognizing the existence of micro-organisms and the need for sterilizing techniques before surgery. It seems very real and natural now, but the idea was first met with much derision by the medical and scientific communities.

Often, criticism will come regarding these "unknowns": they make no scientific sense, there are no known technologies which can do such things, etc. Such criticism ignores a very simple fact- we don't know everything. If something is observed repeatedly, by people all over the world, people with different cultures and different sources of influence, and have been observed in much the same way for centuries, I contend it's not wrong to assume there is some basis in fact for it. It does not disprove anything to say that we do not currently understand them. And it proves nothing to say that because we have no proof such things are possible, that such things cannot happen, and the observers are all liars, delusional, or dishonest. How then, to handle such things? Examine the extant reports and theories. Collect and report new data. And theorize anew, because we know more know than we did, say, a hundred years ago. Know where the line is between speculation and something repeatable under controlled conditions, and act accordingly. And remember that things which are now proven were once speculations too. Last, never, ever, get so attached to one explanation that you become unwilling to keep an open mind to new info.

So it is the non-religious, odd experiences that interest me. Telepathy, precognition (and other time-related phenomena), remote knowledge/viewing- these things have all seemingly happened to me at various times. My experiences have forced me to theorize, because they were intense enough that I could not simply let them go. I hold out no hope of converting anyone, but if I open a mind here or there, that would be nice.

UFOs interest me. I had a sighting in 1979, and it was not a high-flying amorphous dot of light in the night sky. It was very visible, and very obviously not any kind of conventional craft open to common knowledge. I do not have an explanation for what I saw. I have speculated a lot, as is natural when faced with an unexplainable experience. I do not automatically equate UFOs with space visitors. I honestly do not know what they are, and feel good in stating my lack of knowledge clearly. I wish others would do the same. A guess is not proof. The one thing I detest more than automatically assuming these things are from outer space is that they are all hoaxes, misperceptions, or the products of overactive imaginations. Read the literature amassed over the last 70 or so years- the best of it, the rest of it, as you like- and you will see: something has really been happening something beyond the psyches of the witnesses. We don't know what, but that doesn't mean anything beyond itself. There are definite patterns, some of which have never been particularly obvious, in an "everybody knows those stories" kind of way. There are almost as many theories as there are theorists.

A parting, summarizing note now. Not believing in God does not mean I believe we know everything. We most certainly do not. I think a realistic approach to things formerly and wrongly painted with the brush of "unreal" is a worthwhile thing. I do not want to believe. I want to know; to the best of my abilities, limited though they are. I'm fine leaving questions open until thoroughly answered. That's exactly as it should be. That does not remove the questions. It only challenges us to keep looking for answers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Noodles on my noodle we are. (Tap, tap. Looks down at floor, over at wall.) Yep. Back.
(Clears throat.)
(Coughs. Clears throat again. Deep breath.)
Guess I'll, About. Something.

Music? Yeah, OK, that's easy enough.

Work continues on the current project, "Noodles". Up to a couple of days ago, it consisted of three instruments- drums, Hammond organ, and nylon string acoustic guitar. I was going through and doing what is essentially a combination of editing and mix; each track put as close to even volume as possible, then adjusted manually a section, a phrase, or a note at a time, whatever's necessary. Panning is done at this point too (placement in the stereo field). Nothing' fancy going on there anymore- I usually just pick a spot for each instrument where it helps everything get heard properly and then I leave it there. That's especially relevant to this kind of project, where it's supposed to be as close to a live situation as a multi-tracker can manage. The idea then, trying to evoke a situation similar to a jazz session. (Or Paper Bag/Jugalbandi, etc.) It was a really cool recording session. The drum tracks were assembled first, left over from a few different sessions, including one with multi-instrumentalist/filmmaker Jeffrey Von Ragan on congas (and me playing his kit). I had the order set up, master at the ready; ran the headphones over to the Hammond, turned it on and let it warm up for a half hour. (It's a lot like an old car in that way.) And when it was ready, I got the recording rolling and improvised organ through the album in one go. When it was over, I ate lunch and set up for the nylon-string guitar, then did the same thing there, hit record and just ran through the whole album. There are five pieces in all.

Problem is, a few nights into the mix/volume editing, it hit me: this sucks. Not a pleasant thing to hit one, smack dab in the middle of the creative process. But I don't ignore these things when they come to me. And it came: this sucks.

Now, I was also not likely to just take this little realization, which was more of a snide remark by my inner devil's advocate, at full face value. It was late- really, really late- and I hadn't even made it into the studio before having a 15 hour day of child-rearing and domestic duties. I was falling asleep in my chair and couldn't really focus. So I knew better than to buy into this too much. And yet I also knew it would be dangerous, creatively speaking, to simply ignore it. So I stopped and decided to come back to it when time permitted, and when I was awake and as fresh as only strong coffee can make me.

When that time came, I tried the usual stand-bys to save things. Check levels; try changing the panning. See if some dynamic shifts were either ignored, buried, or not supported. Also, try taking sections of tracks out, muting them, to bring a more definition to things. You might think something with such simple instrumentation wouldn't need to be scaled back, but I played the hell out of every instrument, the result being the sonic equivalent of NY cheesecake in the stomach at 4 a.m.- dense nearly to the point of uncomfortable. I fixed everything I could, and it was better; but it was not enough. So now, it was time to consider adding to it.

I did not want to. It ran contrary to the entire concept of the album. The point of compromise would then be, keep it simple, as simple as possible. Maybe one instrument played throughout, as with the previous 3 tracks? What would work?

For the first piece, I tried piano. And it worked! Swung like a bad bitch! Really cool, I was relieved. Did some level balancing, found a proper place for it in the stereo field, which meant having to do some quick re-panning of the guitar and organ; but it worked. Phew.

When it came time for piece no. 2, however, it did not. It might have, had I been patient enough; but I was not. I started playing it against the existing tracks, and was immediately rubbed the wrong way. Meh. Next! What now? It was very late so I couldn't get  loud. I thought I might try a more exotic acoustic instrument, maybe a homemade. But the idea of waking people put me off. I tried various virtual instruments, and they were as unappealing there as the piano had been. And then at one point, my finger slipped and an instrument came up when I was not actually trying to turn one on. My spider sense got tingling- these kinds of 'accidents" were often auspicious. I played the default sound and right away felt this would be the case. The program was "Scandalous", and the default sound was pretty much pure sine wave, monophonic. I've always loved that sound, but in the wrong situation it can be boring as white on milk. Not so here! It was so different- even from the Hammond- that it sat both alongside the other instruments, and stood out from them, perfectly. The interface of Scandalous is so simple that it's really easy to tweak while playing. I did here as I'd done previously, play straight through. worked. Really well. In fact, with almost no work, the sound cut through yet did not obscure, and I was able to drop the volume significantly and have it fit in even better. Yuh!

I started nodding when I started reviewing track three, so it was time to pack it in. My memory, of what I was able to stay awake for, is that this one may just work as a three piece. If so, cool! If not, I will figure something else out. The format has changed from the originally conceived simple trio to "trio with a friend" TBA per track. This doesn't bring things too far from base. Breathing easier. This does not suck. It just needed some help. I repeat: phew.

I am still a-hankerin' to do a lyric/vocal/song-oriented album, as I was supposed to do at the start of the year. My urge to do so now is warming to the point where it may soon start burning a hole in me. The recent remix/remaster/release of "Darkland Express" has really stoked this.

More later! I'm going to try to make a habit of these, ideally doing more than one a day. And not skipping a year and half between posts. If I keep the focus on music, I'll probably do a lot more yapping, I can go on, can't I? And hopefully people find them all enjoyable like.


Manny LaMancha

Friday, May 13, 2016

Well goodness me....Been a while, hasn't it? I will attempt to post more often than every year and a half. Famous last words, I know. But here we are. So what's up?

First of all, I have been doing a lot on Facebook. If you want to chat, get the latest news, see pictures of babirusa pigs and the like, go there and look me up and say hi. My news travels fastest there, even faster than on my website. Certainly faster than here!

Lots of stuff to mention since 2/15. Albums: quite a few. I think by that time the "Building" album with Bret Hart and Bob Jordan had come out. But if memory serves, "A Handful Of Ashes", my first solo outing in 8 years, did not come out until March. That one has vocals and lyrics and songs and whatnot. Then I fired my first volley of fusion interpretation in the form of "Beauty Sleep". Doesn't really sound like fusion, but has a jazz influence. Also classical, also avante-garde, also rock, etc....If I've done it right, it won't sound quite like anything you've ever heard before. That came out...June '15. Followed up late August '15 by "Skeleton Parade", another one in the same vein as "Beauty Sleep". Cut ahead to January '16 and out comes "Moving", more along the same lines...then in mid-February, "Energies Coarse And Fine", my all-synthesizer album- always wanted to do one of those. Finally in late February came "Birds", an hour-long piece of natural bizarreness featuring a synth that only mimics bird sounds, used with music concrete techniques. And during this time, I was remastering and releasing things to my bandcamp site ( So yes, been busy, getting back into the saddle.

My urge to communicate through writing never left, of course, but time is not always easy to make. I have done a fair amount of work on Facebook (!) some of it postworthy for  a blog; Hard to make time. I now have a machine that's devoted solely to my creative work, so I'm going to hope that gets me here more often. I'd like to not just rejuvenate this blog, but make it the kind of outlet I'd always hoped it would be.

So, hope to blather at you again soon. Maybe even tonight!

Speaking of tonight, the great Charles Rice Goff III has a radio show, an hour if memory serves. He usually plays a variety of underground artists. Well tonight, he's doing a show on my work! Very cool! It will be on 12 midnight pacific time tonight (AKA Saturday morning) here:  Thank you, Charles!

Find out more about Charles' music here:

See you round the ranch, kids!