I felt like Sean Connery upon entering Ryan’s hotel room last night. In true James Bond fashion, Ryan closed the blinds, immediately cut to the chase and opened one two jet black cases lying on the floor.
But then, it all stopped being so “MI6,” for Ryan wasn’t an enemy, I wasn’t there to assassinate him and there weren’t any guns in the cases. Instead, in the cases were, guitar pedals.
Sorry to disappoint, but Ryan is far from any villain. He’s a musician and student, visiting Boston to survey prospective music schools. He’s also my childhood friend.
Anyway, back to the room. I spent the night there because we were touring Boston that day. As soon as I unpacked, he could hardly wait to show me all the musical gadgets he’d brought in those cases.
While he explained what each pedal did to alter a guitar’s sound, I couldn’t help but think about what else I had planned this weekend — finish (read: “start”) homework, write this article, attend two meetings and go to a concert. I mentally wandered to my iCal instead of devoting attention to the one person who should be receiving it.
I then quickly zoned back in. What he now said seemed like a plea for me to close my mental day-planner. He began commentating on the sacrifice musicians make when composing: apparently, today’s artists must find a trade-off between efficiency and authenticity.
He livened his opinion by pointing out the different pedalboards he’d brought into the room: some had hi-tech dials used to alter the guitar’s pitch and intensity with a flick of the wrist, while others were rather archaic, requiring more involved manipulating of dials, buttons and cords to arrive at a desired sound.
He told me that today’s instrumental pedalboards are engineered with specs that allow for facility of control, compared to other older models that, while less efficiently made, bring a sense of raw, genuine “in-the-moment-ness” that every musician longs for.
It was bizarre. What he was saying directly paralleled to what I was doing at the time: I was heuristically allocating my time to plan out my future to better plan my life, when I should have been appreciating the fact that my close friend was finally in the same room as me, having been apart for months, pouring his soul into his impassioned speech on the very tools he uses to create melodious magic.
So, I took it to heart. I closed my mental iCal app, shut up and undisturbedly listened to every word he said.
I let him tell me things about music and its limitations that I’d never known. I learned what signal degradation was. I learned that there was, indeed, a wrong way to affix pedals and their boards with Velcro. I examined the hand-painted designs on one of the pedals, and admired the craftsmanship of the others. All because I stopped contemplating on what’s to come, engaged what was, and is always, more important: the present.