Creating by habit
We’re past the halfway mark now, and I truly thought this blog was going to be something else by now. I imagined jamming it full of images, concept, funny anecdotes and sound files. Given the generous amount of time I have had, I don’t have a very good excuse for not posting more often. That said, the true purpose for this blog was just a means in which I could get my thoughts out and straight.
Ok, here are some new revelations. I’ve been reading an awesome book on the subject of creating as a habit. It has been both enlightening, and comforting. The author is an accomplished writer and choreographer in New York, has had numerous Broadway successes, and has been profoundly observant about her process and how it has worked for her.
In some ways the book has helped me understand why my creativity seems to be a little choked here. It talks about routine, and familiar environment. My studio back home, albeit a little grungy and messy, is still my home for composing. It is quiet, secure, and I know where every single thing is in that room. It is really no wonder why I might feel off balance here on the opposite side of the planet, working on a new computer, new keyboard, and even new software.
The dorm room offers up a new set of distractions, most of which emanate from outside it’s walls. Uni students are loud, any every possible sense. I’m sure it is the same worldwide, and if anything I would have to say that american youth here seem to be much more polite than their Aussie counterparts.
Getting back to the topic at hand, the trick has been to find a routine. Even if not by design, we all naturally find a groove in which to live. Once we had got our bearings here, and my wife had established her obligations with classes and other peripheral things, we could begin to enjoy a slightly more predictable existence. This sounds boring, but in actual fact I think we need this ingredient in our lives, especially we artists.
With an office job, there are inherent routines and repetitive actions which drive a lot of people crazy, but for the most part, these people make up for their humdrum work life by partying on the weekends and evenings. An artist has what would seem to be an enviable lifestyle of unpredictability (I generalize terribly). Our jobs are never exactly the same, our hours of work are rarely regimented. The problem with this is that there is no foundation. Personally, I need some kind of stability, predictability in my life. I was certainly raised with a healthy dose of this. Our family’s routine was solid, safe. It was probably what enabled me to learn the discipline of music. Like this new book says, repetition is the key.
So boiling down to the essence of what I am trying to say here, is I need to allow a daily routine and ritual to settle, so I can begin to create.
All this said, I have managed to break the drought, as I have indicated in earlier posts. I have a handful of good pieces now. It looks as though I have not done anything radically different to “Pictures” as far as tone goes, but hopefully productionwise they are far superior…..one would hope.
Regarding subject matter…..
I’m very dumb sometimes. I don’t see the obvious. Something which made the compositions in “Pictures” work, was the fact that they were all based on something or someone. I set out to paint musical pictures of these people and places. If my main gripe is that I’m not starting with a seed to grow these new compositions, then I’m not doing myself any favours if I’m just trying to make noise without even a picture in mind.
The funny thing is, that I don’t think I even need to care about the picture, and the final piece of music may not even be about the picture. It’s more about creating a place in which to launch. I liken it to flying a kite. You can run for miles dragging the damn kite behind you, but until you catch an updraft, or get the help of a gentle push from someone or something else, then it ain’t gonna fly. Once in the air though, you can invent all kinds of stunts.
So I did something which my wife has begun to do too. I began to start each piece by giving it a name which was topical in our lives at present. In her case, most of these titles were that of frustration, isolation, stress etc. Who care where the titles came from though. The point was it was a launching pad for her.
When I was writing music for “Pictures” I was very turbulent emotionally. You would not have thought so if you met me. I was one of those Gen X kids who seemed indifferent about everything. I would never want to relive those years even though I was younger. I wonder if the reason many artists (especially in music) burn out in their 30s, is because they drew on the angst of their late teens. When they sorted themselves out, suddenly there was nothing to write about. I have fallen for that! But now hopefully I have worked it out.
I tend to observe and ponder people quite a lot. My wife would attest to this. After meeting someone, I often find myself analyzing them, and categorizing them (kind of arrogant really). I know that it is my way of trying to understand someone. I try and work out what their motives are, as I believe we all have motives, both noble and otherwise. If someone seems to be aloof, or complicated, or repellent, I ask myself what is motivating that. I usually start with the premise (I might be wrong) that most people are insecure and their prime motive in life is to protect their reputation, or at the very least their own idea of who they are.
It’s funny how I ‘backwards engineer’ music in order to create faithful reproductions for backing tracks, and it would seem I do the same with people.
My point to these last 2 paragraphs, is that I should use this to compose to.
I also can see how human suffering and pain make up most of the subject matter in contemporary songs. It’s the easiest and most abundant resource. I find myself gravitating to the sad, or solitary, or damaged individuals as a source of inspiration for music. Is this bad? The funny thing is that I inevitably ‘lighten up’ the pieces in the end, thinking that I don’t wish it on these individuals. In a way it’s me trying to say “It’s not all that bad”, or “You’ll be ok.”
I’ve always felt very responsible for the effect I create with my music. I have also become annoyed at composers and songwriters who don’t seem to care. It’s human nature to gravitate to a song if it resonates with your own emotions and opinions. If you’re depressed or angry, you’re more likely to put on an Eminem CD rather than the soundtrack from “The Wizard Of OZ”. Eminem is a freaking millionaire. He relates directly with people who need to be understood. This is all great for him and explains his success. The part I have trouble with, is that he leaves them with it. If anything, he accentuates and amplifies their state, but offers no help. As a global society, I think very few would disagree that we are unhealthy…mentally, physically, politically etc etc. I sometimes feel that a powerful medium such as music has a profound effect on us. It either reflects where we are at, or it predicts where we are headed. As a composer I’d like to think that maybe in a small way I can lift the tone. I feel that is should be the responsibility of all broadcasters of music and art to raise the bar a little. By this I don’t mean singing about lolipops and rainbows, this is plain denial. I mean keeping it real, but then offering up a more ‘survival’ attitude, a higher standard, a better quality of life…the kinds of ideals offered up by the great composers, even if by no other way but through excellence in their work. Our music has become just as naive, as clunky, and as irresponsible as we have as a species. Someone has to rise above this surely!
That’s my rant for the day. 🙂