I like to think of some of my favorite things as time machines. As a kid, I was fascinated by the idea of getting into a time machine & walking into another world – like Philadelphia in 1776, or the New York Worlds Fair in 1939.
When I started really falling in love with the sound of classic blues recordings, I also used them as time machines. I could look at some photos of Chicago in the fifties, put on Little Walter, close my eyes and just go somewhere in my imagination.
I have an old one speed cruiser bicycle that is another one of my time machines. I recently got this thing back on the road after a long period of storage. The tires are almost bald, so I am riding it close to home and the game is how long can I ride this thing till one of them blows…
When I am on this bicycle, I am ten years old. I am discovering how it feels to crank up hills, race down hills, and feel the wind in my hair. I wear a helmet now, so I pretend that it is some sort of Captain Heroic headgear that only the right sort of kids can have…
I also secretly want someone to notice how cool the bike is and by extension, how cool I am.
I also have old Marine Band harmonicas that I use as time machines. I deliberately leave these harmonicas as close to stock as possible. I check the tuning and make small adjustments to the reeds, but that is about it. They are tuned to pure just intonation, the velvet smooth chord sound of most of the harmonicas that ended up on the classic blues recordings from the fifties.
My goal with these harmonicas is to use them to go into the time machine part of my imagination. Once I am in that part of my imagination, it becomes like the plot of a science fiction story:
Enter Space / time coordinates – “Maxwell Street, Chicago, 1954”. “Activate time travel”.
And then I play along with something like the original recording of “Juke”.
When I play the harmonica in this way, it is like riding the old cruiser bicycle. I am in another world, I am Captain Heroic, and I secretly want to be on stage, connecting with an audience, admired, enjoyed.
I imagine what it must have been like to be Little Walter in front of an audience that was riveted on him, swept up in the magic of his playing,. And the feeling of this experience begins to seep into my playing. It is part of my practice.
When I use my imagination creatively as part of my practice, it changes from something I “should” do into something I want to do, can’t wait to do.
Instead of practice being one more damn thing to try and squeeze into my already overcrowded life, it becomes a refreshing way to travel into another world for a little while.
The important part about time travel as a practice method is using your imagination like you did when you were a kid. Then you can turn whatever you have into the props, the tools. It can be your secret world.
But if you want to tell me about it, I’d love to hear from you.