By The Landlord
Is there anything more satisfying than a well-ordered wall of tools? You never know when you’ll need that angle drill, that biscuit joiner, crimper, dolly, edger, fork, grinding ball, heavy hammer, industrial pipe bender, jack-jig, knife, leaf lopper, mattock axe, nut drive, o-ring, pruner, quarter-inch ratchet, ruler, socket set, torque trimmer, utility belt, volt meter, wrench, xpelair, y-filter, or zip. There now, that feels much better, ordered here in a way that’s nothing like the chaos in my own tool box. Now I think about it, this list is like a song Johnny Cash could have sung. Can’t find the tool or material you want? Perhaps if you really want to get some supplies, the only true way is to drop into Ronnie Barker’s DIY shop:
Tools are a natural extension of what we might do with our hands, but also, of course, our minds. Buying lots of tools to make you feel better about yourself might be utterly impractical and stupid. But actually choosing and using the right tools is a true sign of intelligence. And this is why watching animals and birds do this is endlessly fascinating. It’s evolution in action. Parrots and crows smash nuts with stones, and some crows have even been known to put nuts in the road, using cars as their shell opener. Octopuses can open jars, and use coconut shells as protective shelter. Dolphins use sponges over their faces to shield them from spiky objects when searching for fish on the sea floor - a natural mask. But perhaps the most amazing example is how crows can use three different tools in sequence:
Our closest cousins, chimpanzees, use sticks to fish out ants from holes and also use rocks to open things, not to mention smashing each others faces in. Perhaps here’s where it all went a bit awry:
As Marshall McLuhan put it: “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” Arthur Miller echoed it: “Man must shape his tools lest they shape him.” Bones aren’t just for bashing each other though, they were also great as drumsticks, and perhaps that’s where music began. So your song suggestions might reference all kinds of hand tools, but tools could, in theory also be extended to creative and almost any other equipment. After all, reference tools are key to this blog, and the internet, as well as a tool to watch cats leap about, or naked people to, ahem, in turn play with their tools, is also something that brings people together to create something new. Like playlists. And strange noises. And fun.
“If you get stuck, draw with a different pen. Change your tools; it may free your thinking,” said the advertising creative, Paul Arden. In parallel terms Tom Waits has often said he likes to pick up different instruments to unlock creativity. Meanwhile to get in the mood, or even Moog: “I’m an engineer. I see myself as a toolmaker and the musicians are my customers... they use my tools,” said the synth and organ innovator Robert Moog. But when creating music, there has also been much debate about the rights and wrongs of technology and software, giving us too many options, and therefore shrinking our imagination. Can we be over-tooled in the modern world? Now that thought is attracting a whole raft of artists to the bar:
“Once an artist explores the vast variety of tools and features available on the great programs, we're hooked,” says Buffy Sainte-Marie. Now here comes the great Quincy Jones: “I have all the tools and gadgets. I tell my son, who's a producer, 'You never work for the machine; the machine works for you.’”
So, careful with those tools. Here’s Brian Eno: “Software options proliferate extremely easily – too easily, in fact – because too many options create tools that can't ever be used intuitively. Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part of the brain, leaving the rest of one's mind free to respond with attention and sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment.” And now even Bjork’s come out of the Icelandic wilderness for a swift half at the Song Bar, and while she's also no stranger to strange instruments, she also has something to say about software as a tool: “The good thing about Pro Tools is you can actually hear what you're working on, so it doesn't just become this intellectual idea. But Pro Tools can be dangerous, too. It can make things sterile.”
Perhaps then, as creative, sharing people, as well as knowing when and when not to use tools, we can also be positive form of tools for each other. Radiohead’s bass player, Colin Greenwood, puts the analogue process rather well in describing a jazz great, doing what software now does, but with his colleagues: “John Coltrane would do what you'd get a Roland Pro Tools module to do but with a group of jazz musicians.”
And so then, I’m delighted to announced that we have another seasoned song-related tool talent taking their debut turn at the bar, the marvellous Mnemosene2, who will handle all of your tool songs with care. Search thoroughly in your musical sheds for all your tool-related tunes, and put them in the box below before time is called on Monday evening. A reordered shed of playlists will appear on this site on Wednesday. Let’s get to work, and play …
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...
Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.