Audio Gung Fu

Aug 1, 2022

Audio Gung Fu is a blog where scientific understanding and artistic expression come together under an umbrella of synthesizers and sound design.

The foundation of my continued learning, Audio Gung Fu, is outlined below. It is inspired by Bruce Lee’s three stages of cultivation and training which are rooted in the Dao.

Gung Fu (or GongFu 功夫) is discipline and practice which teaches one to express themselves through a medium.

Gung fu is so extraordinary because it is nothing at all special. It is simply the direct expression of one’s feeling, with the minimum of lines and energy. Every movement is of itself without the artificiality with which we tend to complicate them. - Bruce Lee.


1) The Un-learned, a primitive stage.

In sparring, dancing, or when designing sound, before any learning commences, a novice student expresses themselves in a sincere but often chaotic and discordant manner. Their technique is raw, erratic and unrefined. Full of emotion and intent, their audio is full of pops, their Sfx hollow and tinny or somehow lacking.

For me, this was a period where I would wantonly twist pots on a synth, slam random faders, and haphazardly throw mysterious sounding plugins on fx chains. While free-flowing exploration is an integral part of the journey, during this phase my understanding of envelopes was merely as something to place letters in.

2) The Apprentice, a mechanical stage.

The student may obtain a scientific understanding of a process or knowledge of sequences and forms which build to more complex movements, but become constrained by technique. While 'intellectually bound', flow between intent and expression can be lacking.

We lose some expression in the process of repetition or when following rigid forms and memorizing pure patterns. In this phase, a learner might strictly adhere to a scale and play chromatically in a mechanical manner with improvisation to come only later with a degree of mastery. An understanding of the bottomless depth of a discipline forms in this stage as unknown-unknowns become known-unknowns.

I understood how ADSR envelopes functioned and I could utilize them in basic patches but I lacked understanding for how I could creatively implement them. I was unable to 'feel it'. While my use of envelopes was constrained, my appreciation for the skill of audio masters grew considerably.

Humans, the living creation, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style. - Bruce Lee

3) Mastery, a spontaneous stage of ‘artlessness’.

Flow state or Fluency. When tapped into the moment, the master doesn’t think mechanically about forms or patterns. They have learned techniques, chiseled away at non-essentials, let go, and are left unconstrained in state of fluidity. This is the formless form which Bruce Lee would sometimes reference. As in the first stage, expression is sincere and individual unique styles emerge from a foundation of deep learning.

The process of learning and then un-learning continues as we make the knowledge of a thing our own and incorporate it into our fluid expression.

Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is it the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery — a process without end...
It is inevitable that you’ll experience frustration during stage 2, especially when you’re trying to achieve stage 3, but being frustrated and then overcoming it, actually shows that you’re capable of doing. - Bruce Lee

4) Continued learning and unlearning.

Audio Gung Fu is an iterative and non-linear process; it expands beyond specific disciplines such as synthesis, mixing, or Foley. The cycle of learning and flow between stages 1-3 continues as one branches outward; here, with Audio Gung Fu, I am documenting some of the branches from my studies.

Gung-Fu is not preoccupied with breaking bricks and smashing boards [...] We are more concerned with having it affect our whole way of thinking and behaving. - Bruce Lee

Gung-Fu is rooted in a philosophy for moving through the world with a goal of returning to a state where life flows together into a harmonious whole. It is more than a process to just 'get good'. At the bottom of the page are links to further reading if this resonates with you [1] [2] [3].

During 2020, I went through a Kung-Fu phase while participating in a philosophy reading group that focused on Eastern thinkers. For a period, we read a composite of Bruce Lee's ideas [1] and I learned that Lee held a philosophy degree in addition to being a Gung Fu master. My learning about Daosim and Gung Fu has been rewarding in numerous ways and I am excited to share my audio explorations with the community. I figure, what better way to kick things off than to lay some zen foundations with this post!

PS. 'Return to the 36th Chamber' is among my absolute favorite Kung Fu movies – definitely watch it if you get the chance. It’s a real treat! 🥋✌️🎋

[1] Little, J. R., "The warrior within: the philosophies of Bruce Lee to better understand the world around you and achieve a rewarding life", (1996) Chicago, Contemporary Books.

[1b.] Little, J.R., Forward by Linda Lee Cadwell. "The warrior within: the philosophies of Bruce Lee to better understand the world around you and achieve a rewarding life" (1996) Chicago, Contemporary Books. Library of Congress Record.    

[2] Hansen, Chad, "Daoism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

[3]  Ibid. Hansen, Chad, "Important Daoist Concepts".