It’s easy to get bored when one lives in the country with no access to friends or nightlife. As such, the amount of times I’ve noticed myself twiddling my thumbs saying, “I just don’t know what to do!” has spiked upward. That’s putting it kindly. That phrase, when uttered silently or aloud, is really an admission that we just wish someone, or something, would part the clouds like the Red Sea and bestow from the heavens a roadmap to the future.
Yeah, I got a feeling it didn’t work that way either. But it took a few times.
See, I understand why the
Christians Puritans say that idle hands are the Devil’s playground, because, especially in those first few times, I relished in my boredom and did everything in my power to avoid being productive. But in looking back, I began to realize, “I could have been doing ____________, but I chose to ____________ instead.” What I really wanted to have done was the first, and usually the second was easily an escape method.
Then this album came into my life.
The pattern-recognizing part of my brain is confused and knows not what to do. This is the polar opposite of the fragmented, nicely-patterned structure of modern pop. And I love it. This, to me, is like people got together and realized, “Oh yeah, we can make music.” Every measure follows the one before with a childish sense of curiosity, and on the vocal tracks like “Landfill,” vocalist Elena Tonra’s voice dances and twists into and out of the meter, always just barely out of reach. There’s a lilting, Florence Welch-like quality to the vocal track in songs like “Candles,” that anyone familiar with the Machinist (as I like to refer to her) would enjoy.
However, “Switzerland” is the track that really got me. This track defines potential for me, and began to solidify everything I was experiencing.
NPR recently did a special on the Nigerian artist El Anatsui, who has some powerful, stereotype-shattering statements about art:
“In Africa, we do art for contemplation only,” he says. “There is music that you don’t dance to; you listen to it. There are people who appreciate the art for its own sake.”
Forgive my admitting incorrectness, but all of my experiences with African art up to this point have been right in line with my expectations: the music is a drum beat one dances to, the sculptures are usually in the form of masks, and wow I really sound like a horrible person, don’t I?
“Switzerland” kind of made me feel the same way. African art could be masks and earthy drum beats. But it could be so much more, too. All it takes is the artist to come forward and ask, “What if…” Even without lyrics other than what sounds like a few intoned vowels from Mrs. Tonra, much like a mantra, that’s the overwhelming question my brain asks when “on” this track. It goes back to before music was produced by a formula and connects to something deeper on the psyche; something primal, something spiritual.
You see, boredom—I discovered—is an open pathway to creativity. It’s a dark path, and unfamiliar, and as adults those two things together often mean fear. Creativity is a howling mineshaft with signs posted outside saying, “DANGEROUS,” “DO NOT ENTER” and “NO TRESPASSING.” Many times, we listen. Most times, we obey. But sometimes, when one is unoccupied enough and the familiar paths have all lost their luster, we stare into the maw of that mineshaft and wonder just what exactly lives down there.
“Every one of us has an artist in us,” Anatsui says. “Really, some may be asleep and some are fully awake, you know. So I think I have a kind of commitment to waking up some people in whom it is asleep.”
So, the next time you feel bored, or just don’t know what to do, you might take a peek at that mineshaft. You’ll have something else you’ll want to do; your mind will fight for it, beg for it, scream at you, “Anything but that!” You can choose to obey, or…you can find out what’s sleeping down there.
But it’s your choice. All yours. After all, there’s always ___________ instead.
Photo: H Dragon/Flickr