What to do when you're really losing it?

Sorry in advance for a less than positive post.

I had a couple good shows in 2021.

Since then, a combination of a heavy workload and (mainland China) covid-control stress have left me basically unable to move forward musically.

Fairly often, an opportunity to spend some extended time with the machine ends in at least one bug report. (Yesterday: Classroom full of students, desktop app menu disappeared, couldn’t open anything. Today, sample player VST broke again in VSTPlugin. Like… what is happening here? Has it always been like this?)

So: My head is not in a good place. The tools are not flowing creatively. And where I live, there are few people doing what I do: no local support. A large amount of my communication is mediated through technology, which is its own frustration (is there any mobile input method that truly works?).

I find myself unable, on my own, to pull myself out of this.

Instinct says to go back to basics. I’m not sure what that means but it “feels right”…? So far I’ve been dissatisfied with the results (the trap there is to end up with just one layer, can be useful as an etude but it isn’t really a complete work).

I need some help. Today’s crash comes at a bad time mentally and leaves me feeling like the environment around me is against me, work pressures are against me, and even the tools are against me… it’s a mental trap but that’s where I am, today, and right now I don’t have the energy to fight it. I guess, take a nap and see how it goes tomorrow.


PS This might also suggest that I need to take another hiatus from answering questions here. It’s quite depleting actually.

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I find face to face talking a lot more invigorating since online communication is vastly coloured by the self’s current mental space.

That may be an excellent explanation of why lockdowns have been so bad for so many creative people… something I wondered about, I mentioned to some of my closer colleagues how I’m feeling and they said basically everyone they know in China is having similar problems (because, especially in the last 6-12 months, getting out and about has been harder, not impossible where I live but just that extra bit harder). Fortunately those controls are finally lifted but it’s hard to get out of the isolation frame of mind.


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Thanks for sharing @jamshark70 - I’m really sorry to hear things are tough right now. I’m recovering from a long period of burnout myself and what you’re describing (and the way you’re describing it) sounds very familiar.

Perhaps a break from the forum will help; perhaps a break from work in general will help even more (if feasible, of course)! For me, it always helps to take some time to re-establish reasonable exercising/eating/sleeping/socializing routines before I can come back to creative work without it feeling burdensome. I imagine restrictions in China make some of those things more complicated than they need to be, which must be very frustrating.

For what it’s worth: you’ve been a pillar of the SC community since I joined the mailing list in 2014 and your inspiring contributions have brought me out of creative slumps many times. Between your work here and your teaching, you give so much to so many people - I hope you’re as generous to yourself as you are to others! I think I can speak for many of us here on the forum and say that you’ve got a whole gang of computer music nerds that would love to be able to help you in the way you’ve helped all of us!

What do you think would be most helpful for you at this time? Social connection? Sharing creative work(s) or inspiring ideas? Silly cat memes (those usually work wonders for me!)? :slight_smile:

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Hi James, I am very sorry to hear about your situation. Technology can be a real bitch! Maybe take a break from the digital realm resp. keep it to the minimum required for your teaching. Play around with some analog electronics or acoustic instruments. Or maybe even try some other artistic/creative endeavour unrelated to music? Or take a creative break and instead read books, watch movies, listen to records? (That’s something I have been missing myself for a long time.) If you need someone to socialize, freel free to reach out any time.

Really appreciate the thoughts and kindness here.

That’s significantly less of a problem now. 'Round about the end of November, they abruptly stopped nucleic acid testing and over the next couple of weeks, switched off basically all of the covid-control apparatus… and… pretty much everybody got sick by the end of December (including myself), but now it’s basically, come and go as you please.

But the mental habit of staying home rather than hanging out, and not really doing a good job of maintaining friendships… it’s harder to pull myself out of that than I thought.

This really helps to hear… you’re never sure how far the ripple effect goes.

One thing that is on my mind is: Answering questions here is sometimes a displacement for taking control – that is, creative work is not necessarily a controllable process (and I haven’t been in a good place with that), but answering a question has a very high chance of a good outcome, in, oh, 30 minutes or so. So it becomes a bit compulsive, and that isn’t healthy.

Ironically, that’s what I was trying to do (sort of… except, digitally). My school surprised me on Tuesday with a brand-new 1 TB SSD – a-ha! I can keep sfz sample libraries on that, not clutter the built-in hard drive, and have access to sonic resources I haven’t used for a while. So I thought, maybe I just play some patterns on a nice piano, through a nice reverb, not pressure myself with synthesis… but… sfizz crashed in VSTPlugin… which came a day after a major window-manager f—oul-up in front of a classroom of 50 students (app menu became inaccessible, couldn’t open anything, frantically searching Linux forums on my phone to find ctrl-alt-F2 magic to get out of that). On another day I might have handled this crash better, but I had just about had enough at that point.

(Btw I don’t blame VSTPlugin – it’s just an unfortunate coincidence. In any case, at least temporarily, it looks like I can use Plogue’s sfz player in wine – at the same time, I’m aware of the potential risk of a relatively complex VST system plus a highly complex OS pseudo-emulator :laughing: – initial test was stable, let’s see how it goes.)


that is, creative work is not necessarily a controllable process (and I haven’t been in a good place with that), but answering a question has a very high chance of a good outcome, in, oh, 30 minutes or so. So it becomes a bit compulsive, and that isn’t healthy.

Ha! I can totally relate to that. That’s what I enjoy about developing software – it is a series of well defined steps with a (more or less) clear goal in front of you. Basically the opposite of composing music, at least for me. I am a chronic procrastinator and writing software is the perfect excuse. Fortunately the outcome is often useful in the long run. (Just as your forum activity is tremendously useful for many people!) On the other hand, I sometimes think that I should probably create more music instead… It is definitely good to recognize such unhealthy patterns of behavior and reflect on them. The harder part is to change them :slight_smile:

So I thought, maybe I just play some patterns on a nice piano, through a nice reverb, not pressure myself with synthesis… but… sfizz crashed in VSTPlugin…

I would suggest to use a mature DAW for such things. I cannot recommend Reaper enough. It is just rock solid.

EDIT: Just realized that with “play some patterns” you probably meant SC patterns, not manually playing patterns on a keyboard…

Dear hjh

First, thanks for sharing. I think it is good for a community (us) to know that its lifeline support is stretched, and you are such a strong part of it (here and on gh)… but at what cost it seems! So indeed taking a moment (or two) to replenish the (creative and other) batteries is definitely overdue and you’ll be welcome back whenever you feel it is right. Not that you need anyone’s approval to do so, I can just tell you how greatful I am for your help, and that will not go away if you take a break!

I often have had a similar feeling over the years, and no moment in front of a computer helped. As you say, post covid made it even worse, as we stayed in more, and looked at that screen for everything. We use those machines to do the worse part of our lives (institutional admin in my case) and also the best (musicking) and also in between (fixing bugs and helping other online)… On the latter, I have ambiguous feelings - I thought I was alone but the science of attention seems to confirm I am just human. My tricks to help, not that you asked for them, but in a spirit of candid sharing:

  • digital detox (1 week at Christmas, 1 at Easter, and 3 in the summer, completely offline - no smartphone either, just paper, books, and other things that that flat surface with a keyboard)

  • on a day to day basis: practice of an physical instrument (again no screen) ideally before the computer / digital presence is switched on, to put my day in perspective

  • when I musick on the machine, I often switch off the internet connection (until I’m stalled, and seach this forum and ask for help, but then again I shut it as soon as that problem is fixed)

Again, I thought I was weak and alone to need this, but what I read on attention research is fascinatingly confirming that it is just attention hygiene - helping to stop mental energy depletion.

I hope you won’t read this today, as you will have switched off :smiley: but if you do, I hope it feels supportive. You are such a generous contributor to this place, it would be sad that you felt you cannot take a break from our demands…


I haven’t :laughing: but this – “no moment in front of a computer helped” – was very important to hear, thanks for that. I’m not in a position where I can fully digital-detox, but I will remember this.

“practice of an physical instrument” – gosh, was it almost 10 years ago now :astonished: – yeah, 2013 – I heard a conference paper about the differences between computer vs acoustic improvisation. I don’t remember whether that paper put it in exactly these terms, but my take away was that computer work (including live coding) is highly cognitive, whereas playing an acoustic instrument is less cognitive, more neuromuscular.

So the point is well taken that, if one’s balance between cognitive and neuromuscular is out of whack, doing more cognitive work is unlikely to resolve that.

I expect to struggle with this… e.g., the multichannel thread from yesterday, where it was claimed that VBAP requires a regular speaker array (at least in Scott Wilson’s implementation in sc3-plugins, it does not), and the responses before mine didn’t mention that sc3-plugins includes VBAP objects… 2 minutes for me post a link, vs how much wasted time if I don’t… but at this point, I have to draw a line starting now.

Will be back later, don’t know how much later.

Thanks again for all the supportive words.


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ping me when you do. we can pick up that discussion again. In the meantime, forget about us :slight_smile:

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Saw this a bit late (I have not been as active here lately, for my own reasons), but just wanted to add my own note of appreciation, James, for all your replies to my questions over the years. Much of the SC I’ve learned over the years (since 2012) has been deepened by your thoughtful and detailed comments on the old mailing list and this forum. Not to mention ddwMixer and other ddw tools you’ve shared with the community.

I see from the other comments on this thread that you (we) are not alone, I can absolutely relate to your comments, and to those of the others that already replied! I’m thankful for this supportive community (even if it lacks the face-to-face element). Thanks again and talk to you later (whenever)!

Hey James, I can’t help you out of your SC predicaments, but I’m here for any moral support. ICMC is in Shenzhen next october. I’ll head down there and take you out to dinner. This semester working on algorithmic comp at the conservatory, but at the moment we’re having fun with detailed signal path stuff inside a mixer (showed video on no-input mixer stuff). It’s a nice break from the code. I compare the hardware signal path routing to the beijing subway. Hang in there! Ken