Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0147, November 18, 2017


  The Joys of Inadequacy

     "Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma"

Copyright 2017 by S.W. Paul Wyszkowski

     A musical mind is a mystery to me because I do not have one. A fact which my mother, a professional musician, brought to my attention early in my life when she tested my musical potential and having found none promptly lost interest in me. At least as far any musical training was concerned.

     Well, sir (or ma'am, as the case may be), in a classically perverse twist of Freudian resentment and rebellion, I spent much of my life doggedly (and unsuccessfully) attempting to master a musical instrument, piano in particular, that being the instrument my mother played. I was bent on proving her wrong and to a certain modest extent I think I did. I do appreciate, intensely even, certain kinds of relatively uncomplicated music. I am not entirely unmusical. Just not up to my mother's standards.

     This led to an interesting development. When I moved out on my own and no longer had access to a piano I looked about for some feasible substitute that would be as musically challenging while occupying much less space and being a lot more affordable. Classical guitar seemed to fit the bill. Having acquired a cheap one I quickly discovered that if I were serious about playing the guitar I needed something actually playable. I also discovered that good guitars can cost as much as a piano.

     Well, sir (or ma'am), that did not deter me. I decided to build me a good guitar myself. How hard could it be? I had some precision woodworking experience having built, together with a friend, a wooden airplane (full size, not a model). So I did, despite the fact that there was very little useful information available how to go about making a good guitar. (That was then, a few decades ago. Now there exists a good body of literature on all aspects of lutherie (string instrument making) to which I have also contributed.) I consulted some local luthiers who helped me with basics. The result was a surprisingly good guitar which, however, fell apart after a while due to bad workmanship. So I made another one which did not turn out as well. Now I was hooked. I was out to solve a great new mystery: how to build a good guitar. In the end, I built nineteen guitars, apprenticed with some great luthiers, wrote several articles on acoustics and aesthetics of classical guitar, and actually built a couple of good ones. I even got a trip to Spain out of this adventure, with my sweetheart, to celebrate the 70th birthday of Jose Romanillos, a renowned luthier whose seminars on guitar building I had attended when he was in North America. At the party I discovered that my sweetheart was a former girlfriend of the guitarist Pepe Romero (who had organized the party) but that's another story. (Btw, I never got much past the beginner's level on the guitar.)

     The point of the story is that having solved the mystery of making a good guitar, I lost interest in lutherie. Besides, I had no real talent for it. I was a better researcher and reporter than a builder or player. Music still remains largely a mystery to me.

     I have done better in the visual arts where I actually have some above average skills. Drawing is not one of them, unfortunately, but I have been working with photographic techniques from the day I could afford my first Kodak Brownie camera ($2.89 back in 1949). Discovery and invention of images had become my main work and joy. But, even though I have not yet run out of creative possibilities for using the photographic image, I am beginning to feel in need of a fresh challenge.

     Which may explain my current fascination with a zombie camera recently come back from the dead, and its remarkable though now obsolete technology (as reported in the last M&R). The challenge is to find a way to extract aesthetic virtue from its technical limitations and inadequacies, taking advantage of its unique qualities. Come to think of it, that sounds kind of autobiographical. I asked Prickles, our resident psycho-biographer and a perceptive hedgehog, what she thought. "Kinda," she said.