(or, the importance of having the wrong tools for the job…)
“To speed up the terraforming process in the Eridanus sector, giant pine trees were grown. Riding massive ion beams, each tree would carry billions of micro-organisms to a target planet, and there serve as an initial beachhead to kick-start the conversion process.” *
I used to build a lot of lego spaceships. First as an eager student with my older brothers, and later on, with my kid sister, as a wise and experienced teacher (though of course she’s taught me a lot along the way as well)… it was the late 70’s and early 80’s, the first trio of Star Wars movies were all the rage, and spaceships were pretty much the only thing we wanted to build.
However, we didn’t have a lot of special spaceship-lego, it was mostly simple old blocky stuff, and certainly if there were any official spaceship kits in the collection, they were dispersed and the instructions were lost and to be honest, we never had that much interest in building them in the first place. The real fun was in making new, innovative, original spacecraft out of whatever pieces we had at hand.
Intrepid readers may already have guessed where I’m going with this… especially since I’ve already written about observing the innate creativity of my young son, about the pour-the-blocks-out-and-get-into-it spirit of creative adventure that permeates everything he does. If you’ve read any of my previous posts (and of course, if you’re new here, I eagerly invite you to do so!) you’ll know that most of what I know about creativity does not come from reading lots of books on the subject, but from observing myself and other creative people and thinking about what seems to work and why it might be that way…
(Mind you, I also have a shelf full of books on creativity, but by and large they mostly give me other perspectives and ways of thinking about things I’ve already observed; hopefully, the things I write about here can do that for you, too!) More
Creativity is a peculiar word. It’s a noun, and its basic meaning is something like ‘the capacity or tendency to be creative’ – that is, it’s directly related to the adjective ‘creative’, as applied to people or actions. So we’re given to understand that what we’re talking about is a quality – and therefore, that people who are creative are inherently and/or always creative, and that they do creative things. But the reality is that many people who are quite capable of doing creative things (i.e. everyone) actually spend a lot of time not doing them. Witness, for example, myself.
I have called myself a composer for quite a few years now. Not because that word is a perfect fit for what I do (when I do it) but because I’m not aware of a better one. I have made a bunch of original music, which didn’t exist before I made it and afterwards did, and I guess that process is called composition. I don’t have any kind of ‘legitimate’ training in composition per se, but I do have a fair amount of knowledge about how to put notes and rhythms and textures and ideas together (some of it even acquired in a formal educational context!). Does this make me a composer? I’m not exactly sure. Does it make me creative? That I can answer: no, it doesn’t. Why not? Because I haven’t done much of it at all for a long time now.
Creativity, in my mind, should refer more to the verb than to the adjective. That is to say, I’m more interested in creating than I am in ‘being creative’. But I cannot say I’ve done a lot of the former over the last while – at least not in the realm of music, which is after all my home turf. So I’ve determined that it’s time I started walking the talk again… More
Two heads are better than one…
I’ve heard a few people say that there’s nothing like getting interviewed to let you know what you’re really all about, and I’ve recently had occasion to discover that there’s a lot of truth to that. There’s something about the format, just replying to questions from an interested person and trying to make some sort of sense about things you normally take for granted… it seems to bring out unexpected insights.
I mean, as a professional musician and someone who’s had it in mind to be one since childhood, I’ve thought over the kinds of things I might say in an interview many times, though opportunities to deploy these musings have been thin on the ground thus far. And of course it’s not exactly the same, because the things you think someone might ask are often the things you already have in mind, whereas the things someone’s actually likely to ask might be completely different.
So it’s with some pleasure that I can now send you to an audio interview I did recently for a new series called ‘Mix and Master‘, where my new friend and colleague Oleg Mokhov will be talking to a variety of independent musicians about how they make it work, what makes it worthwhile, and probably many other things as well. I was honored to be his first guest, and I hope you’ll find the resulting conversation worth listening in on; it was definitely a lot of fun and an interesting experience for me. (There are a few audio dropouts and glitches here and there, but most of the essential points come through). More
Whoa. Almost two months with nary a post here. Those who do this more, ummm, seriously/successfully would no doubt consider that a bit of a boo-boo, but… well… all I can say is, time flies when you’re having fun! The show I’ve been playing has been somewhat more all-consuming than anticipated, on both the time and energy levels, and so my whole online life has taken a bit of a back seat. So it goes.
I’ll return to that subject in a moment, but first: happy holidays! At least, for everyone that celebrates some sort of holiday around this time of the year. Not being particularly religious at this point in my journey I’m not tied to any particular celebration, but I did grow up with a strong family tradition of celebrating Christmas and, well, old habits die hard.
I definitely do feel that it’s important to take time when the days are shortest (and here in Berlin, they get pretty short, but I know there are lots of folks who have it worse!) to think about and connect with friends and family both far and near, and to mark those connections with gifts, feasts and festivities.
And so we have done. I hope you have been able to as well, and that it has been full of peace and love – as life should really be, and not just at holiday time.
Anyway… I’m really just writing to kind of dust things off a bit and say that I’m going to be back at it here in 2011, as much as time allows – my performance schedule is a bit less gruelling, anyway – so hopefully a few of you will remember me and stop by from time to time. As always I’ll try to make it worth your while.
To that end, and in the spirit of giving that the season is known for, I’ve cooked up a little musical project, called ‘Switched-On Yule‘ – a little homage to the wonderful old ‘Switched-On Bach‘ record from 1968 that had a huge influence on me and arguably drew me into electronic music in the first place. More
I bought a new keyboard recently. And I don’t mean the one I’m typing on – which could certainly use an upgrade, to be sure, but I’m referring to a much bigger one with black and white keys that makes music. It’s quite a serious one, a real professional tool with bells and whistles, not to mention buttons and knobs and flashing lights, galore. Oh, and the whole thing is fire-engine red, and made in Sweden. If you’re a serious keyboardist like I am, this is something to drool over – and in fact, I’ve been wanting one for years.
So why am I doing this now, rather than years ago? Well, for a number of reasons really, which I’d like to explore here as a kind of framework for investigating the third type of creative commitment: to the tools and techniques that take our work to another level. We have to be committed not only to the idea of creativity, but to the reality of it as well, and this often requires investment in money and time that may not return directly for years or decades to come.
While I am a self-confessed gear nut and can get pretty ‘into’ music technology, amongst a number of other varieties, I have been on a low-acquisition kick lately and have have been pulling away from this kind of thing for a while. This has been educational, to be sure, and liberating in a number of ways, but due to a confluence of factors – first, I landed a steady gig for next winter (not the one I auditioned for last month, but in the same vein) for which I will need a solid reliable and professional unit; and second, I found this one about to go very, very reasonably on eBay. So I jumped.
It’s not the first ‘serious’ keyboard I’ve owned, of course. I’ve been buying and selling gear on some level most of my life, and in and of itself on a purely monetary level I can confirm that it has been a disaster of an investment strategy. However, not all ROI (Return On Investment) is measurable in purely quantitative terms and if I start to think about how all this gear has affected my creative journey over the 25 or so years I’ve been pursuing music as my life’s calling, a very different picture emerges. More
(This article contains reworked material from a post on my previous blog, ‘Cliffjump!’)
Steven Pressfield wrote a post yesterday called ‘Do It Anyway‘, which got me thinking. It’s about powering through the “first I have to…” conditions and excuses we create to justify putting off our creative work. I wrote a comment:
By giving any playtime whatsoever to the ‘first I have to’ demons, we are giving ourselves permission to delay, hedge our bets, stew a little while longer, and generally talk ourselves off the ledge of doing something that might put us at risk of being laughed at. This is directly at odds with the permission we actually need to give ourselves, which is to get on with it, to try and (possibly) fail – or, just as possibly, ace it.
… And then I realized I had more to say. I’m not sure it’s quite as easy as Just Doing It. If it were, a lot more work (creative and otherwise) would get done. The fears that hold us back are more complex than that, they are deep and deeply intertwined. And they become even more insidious when we reconstruct them into habits and systems of rationalized Resistance – to use Pressfield’s own term.
I am not convinced that brute force is the best way to break through these barriers. The excuses we make often cover up old, deep, or very raw wounds, and simply tearing off the bandages might not be wise, or even possible, for everyone. It might work sometimes, for some people, but for many I think it may take more than sheer force of will.
Set up the dominoes
I’ll be discussing this more, and offering my own ‘program’ for getting past barriers, in the upcoming Cliffjump! Manifesto. In the meantime, I’d like to offer one remedy that is perhaps a little easier to put into action than simply not making the excuses you’re currently making.