Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the creative process and you

So here is some insight into the creative process.  Actually just my creative process.  I learned long ago that I am an expert on only one thing, me, and not that much of an expert on that.  Anyone that claims to be an expert on anything other than themselves is suspect in my opinion.

Like many artists I find inspiration for creating from real life.  My first real encounter with that was in music theory class as an undergrad.  I have never been good at composing on demand and filling in the blanks, like theory assignments often require, and found many of the assignments about as interesting as doing math homework.  As my mother can attest, that was not one of my favorite things to do.  Our professor, a brilliant man but not my favorite teacher, gave us a counterpoint assignment.  I don’t recall the assignment exactly but I do recall the feeling I had when he handed it out… dread.  

I got back to my room, made some coffee, took out manuscript paper, and stared blankly at the page.  Music theory assignments can be very ‘paint by numbers’.  I could have just plugged stuff in and been done with it.  I was feeling something bubbling deep inside though.  It might have been the cafeteria food or the really strong bargain coffee I had just brewed double strength. 

Wait, double strength. 

Let me explain.

First brew coffee as directed.  Discard the used grounds.  Add fresh grounds to the basket.  Pour the coffee you just brewed back through the coffee maker.  Voila… double strength.

Anyway, I had that burning feeling in my gut.  I started to recognize it as anger.  Anger at what though?  I knew it was related to this assignment but what was the big deal.  My rational mind was just telling me… plug and chug, plug and chug, plug and chug.  My creative mind said fuck it. 

My pencil hit the paper and it was dripping with sarcasm.  I started thinking about the most musically sarcastic response to this assignment.  I wrote all kinds of silly rhythmic variation, extended harmony, unrecognizable melody, and broke every theory ‘rule’ I could think to break.  When I was done I went to bed with a deep sense of satisfaction.

The next day I put the assignment in a spiffy report cover and practically skipped to my professor’s office to drop it off.

Needless to say I got a pretty bad grade when I got it back but I learned a few very valuable lessons.  I learned that I knew the rules well enough that I could break them and get a poor grade.  I learned that intentionally getting a poor grade was not the best idea.  I learned that I needed a reason to compose even if that reason was malicious.  Finding that reason was key.

A few years later I submitted the piece for publication in an arts and literary magazine.  It was accepted.  I won’t say that I felt vindicated but I did get a little chuckle out of the fact that something could be so poorly received in one place and so well received in another.  I guess I also learned that venue matters.

Take a listen for yourself.  The piece is called Diminuation.  http://walkeast.bandcamp.com/

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