Some musings for tonight...
Music is something that a lot of people including myself enjoy listening to while they work. And for some, it's fun to play and compose new works--no doubt it's an artform! Nevertheless, being a former trombonist and now a drummer, I can attest that jazz is one of the toughest music genres to master. Appreciating it isn't too difficult unless you ventures into realms a là free jazz and the avant-garde movements of the 1950s, but playing it well is something else entirely. Whether it's slow vocal waltzes or Mach-3-velocity bop, a dose of funk or on-the-feet swing, the phrasing and structure of jazz is often extremely technical. For starters, the 4/4 time signature is sometimes discarded in favor of 3/4, 2/4, 7/8, 12/8, or some other combination of fraction that composers and conductors love to mix between songs and even individual measures. Mastery of key signature changes and phrasing, playing within standard chords and out, and providing an unpredictable--yet often structured appeal underneath--separates jazz (and orchestral ) players from a lot of what we hear on the radio nowadays.
To me, one aspect that stands out the most in jazz is the improvisation. Instrumental and vocal solos are commonplace for other types of music like progressive rock, metal, pop, and country, but not many place emphasis on off-the-cuff playing. And this is what draws my connection and love between jazz and mechanical design. Because what makes good mecha what it is, is just like what makes good jazz what it is. Though the following list is nowhere near complete, here are a few connections I've felt:
1. They require a solid technical and foundational understanding within that genre. "Chops" are not only defined by the parts of your body that plays the instrument, but also the knowledge of the theories and techniques that go into using the tools and media available. Playing in tune and in rhythm, listening to one another, reading and memorizing sheet music (if required), and proper posture, just to name a few. And in mechanical design, knowing the styles, the components required, perspective, line/color/lighting theory, layout and composition methods, and anatomy all help form a solid base to build...
2. ...a desire to improvise, and to improvise well. When I played in a jazz combo, understanding core scales, dynamics, phrasing, and the sheet music were just a few of the elements key to a successful solo. Yet creativity ultimately drove the solo at performance time, with the band's background playing as support and inspiration. Designing mecha feels much the same, with the "performance" in showing your best effort, being inspired from what exists, drawing from the imagination, and simultaneously pursuing improvement for future works.
3. When required, the ability to form a cohesive voice within your band. In the chorus sections, unintentionally sticking out like a sore thumb is hardly desirable (hearing myself playing far too loud in a post-concert recording is not pleasing!), but playing too quietly can draw attention to the lack of an assigned role too. Though most mecha designers I've met prefer to work solo, this is akin to having parts merge into the design and ultimately the entire composition (background, foreground, focal points, etc.), without having one element unbalance the entirety.
4. A drive to learn from one another. This affects all three of the above aspects, and quite a lot more! A closed-up mind is one of the least-desirable traits you and I could hang onto if we wish to better ourselves. And an open mind that is willing to accept help and constructive criticism not only helps the student, but often benefits the instructor, too. Doing research and brushing up on current techniques with regular practice wouldn't hurt either!
Whoever says that playing jazz isn't ever fun is probably doing it wrong, and whoever says that mecha design isn't ever fun is probably doing it wrong too. Because one of the greatest rewards is knowing that once you've attempted and honed a new ability within your genre, it suddenly opens up new branches to explore and develop a personalized "voice" within. And though the practice sessions and client requests might drag on far too long, testing your patience and your mettle's limits, there is an underlying knowledge that it's ultimately worth it.