Search For Absolute Zero
Search For Absolute Zero is a collection of music tracks by multi-instrumentalist Keith Levene (formerly of The Clash and Public Image Ltd). It's also a fitting soundtrack to a new age of empowerment for artists and musicians.
The 'search for absolute zero' references a scientific Holy Grail; the long-standing quest to achieve the Zero Temperature Point of -273 degrees Celsius. The search unwittingly reveals the 'Twilight Zone' of particle physics giving rise to such strangeness as multiple dimensions, infinite probability, and the revolutionary assertion that at the quantum level the observer influences the outcome of an experiment by the simple act of observation...
In the early 20th Century, Einstein, representing the scientific establishment, was outraged by all this and coined the term 'spooky action at a distance' to describe the effects of quantum entanglement.
Why should you care about any of this..?
Well, a finger at the establishment always raises a laugh... but whether you take it literally at the quantum level, or metaphorically, at a philosophical or political level, it mirrors the 21st Century change in the 'Laws' of artistic production; power bases have shifted, old certainties dissolved—there's a new potential voice on the airwaves... it’s yours.
The world wide web gives a platform to practically anyone, anywhere, and technical innovation has provided relatively easy access to myriad means of creation.
It's an uncharted universe.
And this is the time to go boldly where many don't...
As a creative maverick Keith Levene has travelled 'off-world'. He has a story to tell. You can learn from him and S4AZ is a compelling soundtrack to the formative journey of the 21st Century artist in search of meaning.
But back in 1980 he pre-empted the revolution by audaciously stating that Public Image Ltd were not a rock 'n' roll band but a Communications Company.
He was decades ahead of the curve, but the central aim of self-empowerment through creative, technical and fiscal independence was the spirit of punk taken to the next level. 30 years later this is not just a possibility but a genuine option for anyone wanting to merge meaning with economics.
Today we're armed with the internet, search engines and social media; iPods, iPads and iMacs. We're in the midst of a new cultural revolution, an explosive wave of opportunity. This is your time if you dare to believe but you need to show up—you need to take action. You need to act in a way that self-aware creatives traditionally don't: apply your art to your life through the filter of pragmatism and become your own communications company.
Put your probability drive into gear, target a dimension of yourself buried in a forgotten moment of your possible future and take a quantum leap...
What follows is a 5-step action plan.
1. Own your story
Decide what's true. Then write your own story before the internet writes one for you
Keith Levene helped form The Clash. He was instrumental in extracting Joe Strummer from the 101ers and played a significant part in the execution and production of that first classic album.
But Keith walked. He was never a 'Clash man'.
That route was way too formulaic. While The Clash were intent on providing answers, Levene was far more interested in raising questions.
He formed Public Image Ltd with John Lydon after the Sex Pistols had crashed and burned and went on to co-create, in First Issue, Metal Box and Flowers Of Romance, some of the seminal sounds of a post-punk generation.
Keith created a slice of history.
History is a movie we're all playing in our collective mind's eye and you need to decide whether you're an extra in the 'big picture' or main protagonist in your own focused and very personal screenplay.
Keith creates personal meaning at the interface of masterful technique, artistic integrity, and canny distribution—he owns his story.
When you own your story you manage perceptions, your own included which is crucial in attracting the allies you need to support progress along your path.
In the 21st Century bullshit detectors are on full alert. Modern brands are realising that 'manufactured romance' no longer convinces. Your best story is you. Grasp your moment, a sense of destiny and a sharpie. Decide what you want to be known for and work backwards.
Your time is now.
2. Grow a network
What used to be called 'fanbase' is now 'community' and it's your greatest asset
Keith has a 'profile' in the industry. But it wasn't always that way. Everyone starts somewhere and roadie for Rick Wakeman's Yes is as good as anywhere. Then emerge at the epicentre of a cultural explosion while developing your fret work and you're on to something good.
Back in the day there was no YouTube or Spotify to give you a lift and if you hadn't been signed by a major label 'word-on-the-street' made your name. That street has evolved into a super-highway. Today's 'word' can cross the globe in a heartbeat. You don't need orange hair you need a decent wi-fi connection.
Then you need an audience.
As much as it might feel like it oftentimes, you are not alone. There are people doing what you're doing and people who desperately want what you have to offer. Get to know who they are and you have access to a mutual support network as well as a potential revenue stream. In an uncertain universe community is the 'ripple system' your brand negotiates. A collection of touch-points which grow along differing strata of awareness.
Community building may be as obvious as an email subscriber to your website (you have one, right?) or follower on Twitter. Or it may involve 'spooky action at a distance'... some of your most valuable connections are distant and invisible and have already been made without you even knowing. Some will move fast some slow but your job is to nurture by being consistently authentic, and giving—paradoxically, empowerment increases as a function of what you give because you do not own your brand—your brand exists in relationship.
The modern 'consumer' is self-aware and they're looking for truth, or it's soundtrack. Become the best version of yourself on your terms, hit 'share' and be surprised. The shock and awe generated when we realise the actual value we have on offer is more than satisfying it's life-enhancing. It'll build confidence, a sense of expectation and ultimately your bank balance.
3. Become a master
Master your craft but extend your mastery mindset to your channels of production and you self-position as an authority
When Keith formed PiL he signed on as guitarist. By the time he left he was multi-instrumentalist and had co-created the soundtrack to the lives of a whole post-punk generation—and just like life, much of it is not an easy ride. Great art makes demands on its audience who grow by meeting those demands. This is the gift, worth way more than the price of a download. Listen harder and you'll grow faster, it's your half of the deal. Levene never lets you off the hook… but it's for your own good.
This is also known as artistic integrity and, take note: in a world of mass marketed 'X-Factor' it's the kind of thing people will pay good money for.
Becoming a true 'master' involves continuous technical improvement. You need to become expert in your field. But the musical world is full of 'experts'. Without the burning need to make something real, from a place of personal passion, you're just producing covers. Would you have the confidence and self-awareness to leave The Clash at the moment they were exploding..? That was no 'romantic gesture'. It was all about integrity and needs.
You have to think as wide and deep as possible. Think beyond your form. The traditional approach is failing because barriers are collapsing, the music industry is no longer just about music. It's video, movies, books, art. Go wide, go deep. A mastery mindset doesn't just think outside the box, it owns the box.
To meet and satisfy needs you have to develop awareness: of yourself (get intimate with your personal strengths and weaknesses) and people, people who might be able to help you (research the major and minor players). Then get to know the systems that work for 21st century creatives. It's a different world now, you're not 'Waiting for Godot', you're taking control of your destiny and your 'taking control' is what defines your authority.
Develop a complete understanding of the diverse channels of communication open to modern creatives.
Your toolset isn't just the guitar or your amazing vocal range, it's time-management and communication skills, it's Google, Twitter, email, WordPress, Photoshop... the list goes on. But don't be intimidated, you don't have to be an expert you need to be flexible, and if you don't know just enough to get you to the next step find someone who does.
Focus and learn, fail quickly and evolve. Aim for self-mastery and remember: amateurs go loud, professionals go deep.
4. Think different
Your 'Think different' is not just a tagline, it's your 'call-to-radical-action', the wormhole that travels you light years from 'ordinary'
When 'difference' becomes something you can define, package and sell it stops being difference. It becomes a commodity. Actual difference is not a thing, it's a process—it's your differentiator. Keith Levene was never limited by 'genre', and while many of his contemporaries have slipped into obscure mediocrity or self parody he continues to plough his idiosyncratic furrow by doing the thing he does best: being Keith.
S4AZ is not meant for all ears, it's meant for those that can hear it. This is not to be obscure or elitist it's to underline that you don't need to please everyone, you need to please your audience and your audience will know if you're selling them short.
As we slip quietly into the future and creative industries evolve into something unrecognisable, the world and his wife have increasing access to the most extensive creative toolset ever known. The result is that 'artistic output' begins to look and sound increasingly generic.
Have you heard that riff before somewhere..?
This is not to be cynical it's to be astute. It's to know that a tool is always just a tool and that the artist who can successfully tap into her very personal well of unique experience can pull off a coup.
To make 'Think Different' more than a tagline takes hard work, application and a self-awareness that positions from within. 'Experts' call this "personal branding" but it's what real life creatives have been doing since they first heard of Robert Johnson's encounter at the crossroads. It's not about cynically 'applying a brand' it's about becoming who you are.
While corporate brand identities implode under the glare of social media scrutiny and increased awareness of possibilities allows a deeper search for meaning, authenticity is becoming the social currency of our age and transparency its more than willing bed partner.
In our post post-modern world Keith Levene creates a personal 'modernism'. But there's no elitism here, no separation. Modern personal branding is all about relationship and is fundamentally linked to community. You're in not because you worship the brand, buy the merch or wear the hair, you're in because you speak the same language: you get it.
5. Have a system
Control your processes or they'll control you before they bite your ass and kick you offstage
When your fertile imagination makes friends with practical necessity you're creating more than music or art you're successfully aligning with your inner PiL — 'Purpose in Life'.
When Levene labelled the Public Image Ltd project 'a business not a band' he was deadly serious. It was an assertion ahead of its time and several steps beyond the punk ethos of 'anyone can do it'. It also pre-empted modern sensibilities by some thirty years.
The 21st century is (potentially) a more level playing field than ever before. If you have the talent and the desire you can actually realize your aspirations. Of course the downside is that more folk are giving it a go. So in order to rise above the noise and grab more than four minutes of YouTube fame you need a system; in modern parlance, a strategy for success or a business model. Apply business principles to your artistic endeavour and you're creating the potential for massive success.
This is creativity from the trenches of real life. It's the spirit of punk but not as you know it. Einstein was aghast at the 'chaotic' implications of quantum theory—equally aghast is the music industry in the face of artist-empowerment.
There's a revolution in progress and in a landscape of expanding potential, S4AZ is a worthy soundtrack.
This is the time of the geeks, the freaks, the musical mavericks and the creative right-brainers. This is your time. Become who you are...