I’ve got a #CHILL playlist on my phone. It gets about five times as much play as any other playlist, and I’ve heard all of its songs so many times that they’re a part of me. Forever. It’s got some classical music, some float-y ambient, light psychedelia, maybe a super minimal techno track or two. I’ve curated it totally spontaneously over the last five or seven years, and it’s become something I would be lesser without.
#CHILL goes with almost anything, but I typically play it in the morning or early afternoon, especially on weekends when I’m up with my daughter. However, I play it at work too, for as long as I may need before the blood gets pumping (and/or I’ve had my first cup of coffee).
#CHILL is like the pillow for an extra hour in bed, as I lay yawning and stretching, looking at the warm sun through the blinds — when in actuality, I’m stuck in the corner of a crowded midtown commuter train, not even awake enough to daydream on my own. Everyone else on the train has music in their heads too. I wonder if it’s #CHILL… (I know for a fact there’s a not-so-small contingent of folks waking up to the bluntest, booty-est trap, so it doesn’t have to be *my* #CHILL.) Maybe we’re all laying on the same pillow, taking our last easy breaths before we have to go to work and earn the right to #CHILL another day.
My #CHILL is kind of glowy, and a little on the stately side. There’s a lot of classical piano music — Schumann, Debussy, Ravel, Mussorgsky, Liszt, Scarlatti, Handel, Ligeti — and I think part of what lets me relax is that it gives my brain a gentle, flirtatious tickle. My neurons are electrified just to the degree I’m happy to be near the sound, but feel no particular need to analyze it (or even pay particularly close attention). Somehow, I still feel as if I’m learning something. Micro-accomplishment; subtle productivity.
You see, a big reason I need #CHILL in the first place is that it’s hard to achieve the state on my own. Persistent productivity is a cruel mistress; she can never really be satisfied, and will go for your ego ruthlessly should you fail her. What should be the basis of satisfaction for a finished project, or good progress made, becomes an excuse to deprive and punish myself for not living up to some imagined, self-imposed standard of “excellence”.
What’s never clear enough in the moment is that my brain actually needs to step back before it can make real progress. #CHILL is the great rectifier of being stuck in a grind; it normalizes the topography of stress, worry and fear into *bing* the clarity of my immediate reality. In other words, it slows me the fuck down and reminds me of who I am, and what I actually want. Hint: it’s just to be happy, healthy and a good dad/partner!
In a sense, #CHILL is also artful escapism for someone who tends to overthink. The patterns of a minimalist piece like Steve Reich’s “Octet” force my brain to shift resources from tackling problems it’s not yet prepared to handle, to simply riding along the surf of rhythmic phase shifts. Importantly, some form of mental stimulation is still the prime motivator. Reich’s consonances and earthbound, wooden percussion are natural pacifiers, transmitting long strains of data whose meaning is only truly clear to my tapping fingers, and jaw shuffling lightly in tempo.
I’ve got a little piano music by Florian Fricke, and Popol Vuh. Recently, I’ve been into Alice Coltrane, and though much of her music taps into something decidedly un-#CHILL (tho still awesome), it’s all related to the part of me that wants to be One with the cosmos– that feeling I’m just a speck in an infinite, constantly changing and expanding universe. It puts all of my foibles into perspective; all of my petty, particular problems into a small parcel in the corner. I can deal with them later, because hell, we’re all going to be here forever in some form or another anyway.
The list itself is 44 tracks, about 2 hours of music as of 2/24/18, stored locally on my phone (fuck a streaming svc if you need total control of your playlists). It has been longer or shorter over the years, but once a track lands on #CHILL, it stands to get a lot of play for at least several weeks, possibly months, or even years. It’s my rock, and I wouldn’t give it away for all the money in the world.