: the thing that is measured as seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, etc.

: a particular minute or hour shown by a clock

: the time in a particular area or part of the world


An obvious choice to represent time is a clock but I want to always push these illustrations beyond what’s expected. I thought about other concepts to communicate time: seasons, sand timers, and even a metronome to fit the theme of the project. The idea of time as change resonated so I added a musical twist to show an evolutionary slice of how we listen to music.

Note: This project is kicking off a very special series. The letters T-Y have been adopted by newsletter readers (you can read more about the why and how here). Dan Toyama, a product manager and friend through the Design Dream Lab, selected the word “time” as his project. I know you’ll find his take on Alpha Projects as fascinating as I do!


Time is such a huge and wide ranging topic. So, I decided to focus on something very specific: How time changes our perception of people, ideas, art and specifically, for me, music.

Things I didn’t necessarily care for (not that I disliked but didn’t especially identify as something I liked) sometimes become pleasing decades later. Maybe they come to represent that period, or something good that was lived/experienced at that time. I recently came upon a vintage Casio (toy/amateur) musical keyboard that I used to have as a kid. It brought back a certain period in my life that was certainly good. But, what struck me was the sounds the keyboard made were very pleasing to my ear now. I remember playing with it as a child but never thought about whether the sounds were particularly beautiful. It was essentially a toy. As fun as it was, it wasn’t a serious instrument. Today, the limitations are part of the charm and there are fans and creators of “lo-fi” music who seek out these sounds. I guess I’m one of these people now.

It’s partially nostalgia. But that doesn’t seem to be the main driver here. I didn’t even really like it that much the first time around. And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate something that was high quality, because it isn’t. Something about the time in between changes our perceptions.

What is it about the time in between that makes us change our point of view? The good experiences? Bad ones that make us long for simpler times? Growing up and getting wise? Deeper appreciation of things and a more detailed attention to our surroundings? Having thought about that over a couple weeks, I came to the conclusion that it’s all of it. Our experiences, our age, our wisdom, our being. Time is life.

In music, we tend to like repetition at every level. Record labels make sure you hear their top artists’ latest hits over and over on the radio. A typical song has a verse and a chorus that repeat at least twice, if not 3x or more within 3 or 4 minutes. And most hit songs these days have beats that are one or 2 measures repeated throughout the song. We often use delay effects (echo) to make guitar solos and vocals sound good.

But we don’t always want exact repeats. We want slight changes, a little variety to keep it from getting too predictable. That’s one formula for liking something. Repeat it until it feels familiar, and change it up ever so slightly. Come away from it momentarily (in a song, the bridge serves this purpose) then return to it to make it feel fresh.


With part of the inspiration being rooted in the toy keyboard I had, it seemed natural to involve it. So, I decided I would create a short track representing Time using only the sounds from the particular Casio model I had (which I bought on Craigslist last month). I didn’t want it to be something typical of what might be done with the available sounds. For this project, I wanted to avoid retro video game music reproductions, anything too squarely in the electronic genres, or something too kitschy. Though I’m not sure I entirely avoided these. (For the record, I’m not against any of those things. Far from it! I just wanted to avoid what might be obvious for this project.)

I also didn’t want to add too many effects and “cheat” my way into making something much more complex or beautiful than might be generally possible with a non-professional keyboard. But, I did use some delay. In particular, an effect called tape delay, which is a digital recreation of old delay machines that used magnetic tape in short loops to record what you played and play it back milliseconds later to produce echos. Those mechanical tape machines were not 100% precise and caused some warbling in the echoes. People liked it, somewhat like the crackling of vinyl records. This seemed a perfect metaphor for changes in perception over time and a fondness for things repeated.

With the concept of Time, it seemed easy and natural to come up with something slow, contemplative, with lots of space, ambient sounds with lots of delay. I decided to challenge myself and do something that’s outside of my comfort zone. So, I chose a faster tempo, using the simplest rhythm pattern on my Casio MT-70 (“March”) and just started playing a bass part. The rest sort of fell into place. Strangely, enough, after I was done I realized it was basically done in a style that’s called the Minneapolis style, created by musicians Prince and the band most closely associated with the sound: The Time. (Seriously, I didn’t plan it! At least not consciously.)


In following my inspiration for this project, I went down many tangential rabbit holes that I had a hard time suppressing. Nostalgia, memory, repetition and the familiar, the many aspects of “time” in music, vintage Casio toy/amateur keyboards, procrastination (which I fell victim to), and the idea of not having enough time (I took an extra week!) As with any project that might be considered “non-essential”, making time was a big factor. But it always feels good to be creating and not just consuming content. I really enjoyed setting the boundaries of time, concept, gear, and style. It’s too easy to be paralyzed with options. I realized my recent obsession with these semi-toy, semi-amateur keyboards from the 80s is partly due to being overwhelmed by the amazing pro-audio gear that can be had fairly inexpensively these days, that can do so much. I could easily spend all my time just researching and learning the gear and never get to actual producing.

Also, I took this opportunity to learn some basic video editing. I’ve always wanted to do it, but never had an urgent enough reason. So, thanks yet again for that! Sorry for the amateurish video with random wave effect. Seemed appropriate for the weird delay part at the end, lol)!


Editor’s note: When I first read Dan’s write-up, I was filled with so much joy and it was hard to wipe the grin off my face! I wasn’t sure what would happen when I opened up Alpha Projects to others like Dan. Reading this was confirmation of how awesome of an idea it was to let others try the framework I’ve been using to create this year. 

It resonated when Dan said, “I could easily spend all my time just researching and learning the gear and never get to actual producing.” I’m also struck by how we can sometimes create something and later discover a version of it exists in the world; somehow we’ve tapped into a creative consciousness, arriving to a similar destination despite taking a different path.


Reminder: the project and write-up was submitted by a guest contributor, Dan Toyama. You can follow Dan on Twitter and Instagram: @dantoyama.

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