By Trent Rentsch
While cleaning the apartment the other day, I re-discovered an important Creative tool that I had not used in some time. Being an older tool, it was hardware based, and as I traced my hands across it, I remembered all the amazing Creative discoveries I’d made with it over the years. In fact, considering how useful it once was, I was surprised I had discarded it at all. Did I still have the stuff to make it sing? I took a deep breath, placed one end of it to my lips, and blew a victorious, “TO-TO- TOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!”
As you’ve probably guessed, in my cleaning frenzy I had gotten to the end of the paper towel roll. When my Mother would finish a roll of paper towels when I was a kid, I found it cause for celebration. To me, it was a new toy. Other than the cardboard roll trumpet, there was the cardboard roll telescope, the cardboard roll marble and/or plastic solider shoot/chute, the cardboard roll flute (much less melodic than the trumpet), and, of course, the cardboard paper roll microphone (my parents should’ve seen the whole radio thing coming). Sometimes I’d add rolls and make the ever so sneaky (though totally useless without mirrors) cardboard roll periscope, or string rubber bands around it to make the cardboard roll guitar, though these advanced projects required tape and rubber bands, both of which my Mother was a bit stingy with back in the day. Still, I managed to Create quite a few cardboard roll diversions that might not have been the real thing, but certainly did the trick for my imagination as a child. And really, is there anything more satisfying than ripping off a “TO-TO-TOOOOOOOOOOOT!!” through an empty paper towel roll? Okay, there might be “Tooting” through an empty Christmas paper wrapping roll, but you know what I mean.
It really is amazing how little it takes to make us happy when we’re little. It’s even more amazing how a child’s imagination manages to take what’s at hand and “fill in the blanks.” When exactly do we lose that, where does it go, and why? I blame it on STUFF, and its accumulation. In 3rd grade, I wanted to join the school band… being a drummer was the goal. It was also the goal of 18 other kids that year, so the Band Director asked if anyone had other instruments in the family. Alas, wanting to please, I raised my hand. Thus began a painful 3-week journey down the road to never learning to play a real, live trumpet. When the Band Director and I both agreed to wave the white flag, the trumpet went under my bed, only to be given a new lease on life with a cousin a few years later. Looking back, the only loss I really grieve from that time is that I never made a cardboard roll trumpet again, until last week… got stuff, discarded it, discarded the imitation.
Now, I am not going to complain that we all have “too much stuff.” I’m a pack rat, and I’m comfortable with that, especially when it comes to all things audio. I like all my recording hardware and software, the mics, the mixing boards, the synthesizers and drum machines… hell, to me that mishmash pile of cables behind my computer desk is a badge of honor! It means I’m ready for any type of audio project anyone throws at me -- I just have to find the end of that one cable and attach it, well, somewhere; might need an adaptor from Radio Shack. The point is, for me, stuff good. I will, however, admit that I sometimes strip away the stuff when I need a fresh perspective on my Creative.
As a baby radio Creative, I had less. Sometimes, a lot less. I was making “multi track recordings” with the audio gear equivalent of empty cardboard rolls, running audio from a playback cart, one reel-to-reel, one turntable (the other was only good to lay copy on) and my live voice on the mic, all to a record cart deck. Some of you probably did it with less than that; I had friends with only a mic, a turntable and a cart record deck… and some didn’t have a production library to play on that turntable. Still, we did the job, and more importantly to the subject at hand, I knew many Creatives who could put today’s top producers to shame with this bare bones approach.
Sometimes, you have to strip away the stuff. Sometimes, less really is more. Stuck for an idea? Tell yourself that all you have is your voice… and your mind. How will your words, your voice, be compelling… without all the other stuff? Sometimes, all you need to do is blow your own cardboard roll horn, long and loud.