The Parabola of Life

Written by peterkienle on October 28, 2014

Around 2006 I read a book by Ray Kurzweil called “Fantastic Voyage”. Somebody had recommended it. There are many recommendations in there about how to lead a healthier life and how to live long enough to get in on the “singularity”. Kurzweil is part of a group of people who believe that technological developments will rapidly accelerate towards a point when there will be true artificial or machine intelligence and, more specifically, when it will be possible to upload a complete human consciousness into some sort of electronic brain – this is referred to as the “singularity”. As I was reading that book I did get sucked into the idea, although I admit that I liked the possibility of living a radically extended healthy life of 150+ years better than being stuck in a computer.

This whole idea has a lot of critics and many books (science & science fiction) have been written which point out that the practical application of such longevity could be full of social, medical and technological complexities. No doubt about that. The funny thing is that during the time I fully bought into the “singularity” I started living healthier. One of the takeaways in “Fantastic Voyage” is that in order to get to the “singularity” as healthy as possible you better start now. So I lowered my calories and carbohydrates. Added fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables whenever possible. Cut any ice cream and cookies and started exercising. Since then I have lost around 20 pounds of waist line and I have been feeling healthier than in the past 30 years.

Soon after I finished reading “Fantastic Voyage” I started making attitude changes in my life. Really unconsciously at first. I started thinking about my “new” 150+ year life. Would I want to stay in the same house, the same city for 150+ years? What about my so-called career as a musician? The idea came to me that maybe now would be a good time to actually go to college and get a science degree. All of a sudden all these possibilities popped up. Ideas that had flared up at some time or another but rapidly flickered out again because there was a perception that the time was just too short. In the months after the Kurzweil book I did become much more skeptical of the “singularity”. At the same time I noticed that it had really improved my life in many ways. Now, my thinking was, chances are that I would die somewhere on the upwards leg of the parabola of my life and not when it plateaus or starts descending.

Or, in other words, if I would live to be 80 years old I would die on the up-slope because it would only be a little more than half my life-span of 150+ years. Of course you could ask “What good would that be? It wouldn’t change the facts.” Sure, but it would change my attitude towards the facts.

And it’s an interesting exercise to imagine to live twice as long. How would you change your life right now if that was a fact?

Another such thought experiment has to do with money. We are not a poor family by any means. But in our yard money doesn’t grow on trees and the prospect of paying for our kids’ college education fills me with fear. Now imagine: What would you do if there were no money problems in your life? How would you change your life? But, maybe that’s a topic for another day.

The morning-after-blues

Written by peterkienle on October 26, 2014

This past week I was brutally reminded why being a musician is so hard. It’s not because of the need to practice (although you have to do that.) It’s not because you basically starve if you have no other job, or your spouse loves you very much and has a good gig with health insurance. It’s not really because it often sucks hunting down gigs and then often end up playing at venues that are “wrong” for what you play – although we are getting closer now.

This past weekend blatantly displayed to me the stark reality. The story started about two years ago when my friend Lothar, who lives in Tübingen, Germany, mentioned that he just started a big band – called the Wüste Welle Big Band. He asked if I had done any creative arrangements they could play – just something different from the ordinary fare. Well, I hadn’t. And I never had arranged for big band before and I wasn’t going to either. But Lothar kept bringing it up again and again. He was especially interested in music from my “fusion”, i.e. BeebleBrox years. Somehow that did ring a bell. Over the course of two years I arranged a handful of music for big band. And, believe me, that was like pulling teeth! Although I am proud I did it.

After two concerts with the big band in the summer of 2013 Lothar went for the high hanging fruit and applied for the opening slot of the “Jazz & Klassiktage Tübingen 2014.”  At first it looked like they were going to play my tunes and my arrangements with their regular guitarist but then it turned out that I was going to be the featured guest!

Due to all sorts of time and budget constraints my trip was only four days long. I left Bloomington on Thursday morning. Arrived in Tübingen for rhythm section rehearsal on 10am Friday. Full band rehearsal late afternoon and evening. Short night sleep. Breakfast with my mother. Dress rehearsal and soundcheck. When we started playing the first tune I was running on adrenalin. Some excitement was added due to the fact that I was tasked with making announcements! Apparently they weren’t too bad, or at least entertaining enough as people were laughing tears. The gig went by, the playing was great! More compliments and people coming up afterwards to shake hands than in all of the past decades. Short night again. Sunday return to Bloomington and then……

Monday morning. All the magic is gone. No more big gigs on the books. It’s the Monday-after-the-big-weekend-blues.

It’s not that I haven’t experienced these before. Back when we were trying for “bigger” things and actually got as far as opening for acts such as “Tower of Power”, Yes, Santana and then some. Every time when the big gig is over and Monday rolls around you realize that you are at the bottom again and will have to climb up that mountain for a quick but exciting dash down the hill – lift tickets are not available. I guess over the past ten years or so I have played so many background music gigs that I kind of forgot. It’s like climbing the mountain only to discover that there is no snow!

And yet, that up and down seems to be a very essential part of an artist’s life.

Also, my mom was at the concert.


Copyright © by Peter Kienle