Philosophical

The War of the Roses

117/365 - Multiflora Rose
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aidras

I have been battling monsters.

Given the topic and focus of this blog, you might be assuming that I’m speaking metaphorically, and that the monsters in question are some kind of inner/psychological demons that thwart creativity or productivity and that I’ve found some devilishly clever way to keep them at bay.

Nope. I’m speaking literally, and the monsters in question are members of the plant kingdom, but they are monsters nonetheless. They are roses. Known as ‘Multiflora Roses’, ‘Baby Roses’ or ‘Rambler Roses’, Latin name Rosa Multiflora, they are native to Eastern Asia and considered, here in Nova Scotia, an aggressive invasive species.

I’m currently visiting my parents in the countryside, and their large and lovely property has been invaded by these plants in what I can only describe as a hostile takeover. I have set myself against them. It’s war. But, as always, there’s a creative lesson to be learned here… More

Keep it secret! Keep it safe!

My preciousnesss
Creative Commons License photo credit: lrargerich

I read a short blog post a few days ago called ‘Creative Privacy‘, which posed the question “Do you agree that it’s best to keep your creative projects private until you’re ready for input and criticism?”… here’s what I posted by way of a comment:

This is a thorny one. I think it really depends on what you’re looking for by ‘letting people in’… and on your degree of artistic confidence. If you’re looking for approval or validation, because you need those things in order to feel OK about your work, then I think there’s danger there for sure. If you’re looking for criticism to hone your ideas, and you’re confident enough to handle that, it can be a healthy part of the process. It’s not necessary – some people create in a very private way, some in a very public way. I’ve experimented with both, and have pretty much arrived at a place where I’m confident enough to have a very open process; the project I’m immersed in now is a relatively public one, where I put out works in a very raw form and I’m not much bothered by how people respond to it. I’m really just happy if there is *some* response as opposed to deafening silence…

Predictably, there was a range of other responses, ranging from the somewhat paranoid (“what if someone steals your idea?”) to the more blustery (“I’m an artist. I don’t care about input and criticism!”). Some found an ambivalent middle ground; I guess you could put my own response in that category.

I think it’s worth examining our responses to this a little more closely, because they say a lot about our relationship to our work…

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Creative Connections


Creative Commons License photo credit: downhilldom1984

We’re travelling in Canada just now, and we just got back to Montreal (our home base when we’re back here) from a week-and-a-bit in Ontario. One of our stops was with some old friends north of Toronto; since Ed, one of the friends in question, has also been a lifelong musical collaborator, it seemed natural to try to make a little music together to mark the occasion.

This is nothing unusual; despite our lives taking very different directions over the years, we’ve tried to maintain our musical connection with fairly frequent collaborations of one sort or another – I’ve sat in with his band on a few occasions, which is always fun, and played some tracks on a couple of his albums, including the superb new double album ‘Oracles and Ice Cream‘.

However, this time we flipped things around a little – I invited him to contribute to an installment of my ongoing ambient/electronic project, Sound Fascination. I really had no idea how this would turn out – we’ve never worked in that style together, and we weren’t even playing together per se, I was simply trusting him to jump in and find something cool and interesting to play over a ‘bed of sound’ I’d prepared. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

Connect the dots

When I posted this track (called ‘Melancthon‘ after the township Ed lives in), I included the following in the description:

“It’s always amazing to me how after so many years we can still find the connection point so easily and organically…”

… and this got me thinking about creative ‘connection’ and what that might mean, and how one might go about fostering such a thing. I’ve written here before about collaboration and what an important role I think it plays in creative life and development, but I’m talking here about that natural, effortless mutual understanding that sometimes ‘just happens’ with someone – and makes collaboration that much easier, deeper, more efficient and satisfying.

While it’s not so surprising that I should have an easy and ‘organic’ musical connection with someone I’ve known all my life and indeed, with whom I learned much of what I know about music (at least, much of what I think is really important), this kind of connection is something I’ve felt with people I’ve just met, and people who work in completely different creative arenas.

So I’ve been thinking about what might lie behind this. How is it that sometimes we just ‘connect’ with other people and sometimes we don’t? Is it a matter of some literal or figurative ‘chemistry’ we cannot hope to understand intellectually? (I’m talking about creative connections here, primarily, but of course people ‘connect’ with each other, or fail to, in all sorts of ways). Is there some common factor in all these different kinds of connection? More

On Commitment, part 4: Why aren’t you out mowing the lawn?

Backyard Hair Cut

Creative Commons License photo credit: seantoyer

In the last post here, I mentioned an interview by a producer/engineer named Scott Solter, and while I was looking it over again, checking it to make sure I had the ideas right, something else caught my eye and subsequently became lodged in my mind. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, probably because it relates directly to both the creative project I’m immersed in right now, and also to a theme I’ve touched on in these pages before: namely, the idea of commitment.

It turns out that this notion is also rather important for Mr. Solter, and in the interview (it’s really more of an introduction to his work and the ideas that inform it, in sixteen short and somewhat oblique chapters) he describes what it means for him. I no longer have the article at hand, being on the road just now – I’m writing this on a train from Berlin to Amsterdam – but here’s what I can recall, and a few things it’s led me to think about…

The interviewer is inquiring about his (Scott’s) recording methodology, on a practical level, whether he prefers to use tape or computers, that sort of thing. With most people working in the audio field, that kind of question will usually lead to discussions of the merits of analog frequency response versus those of rapid, non-linear editing, or the positive effects of tube or tape saturation versus the amazing creative potential of digital signal processing, or the warmth and dimension of analog summing versus the flexibility and accuracy of mixing in-the-box.

If you choose not to decide…

Not so with Mr. Solter (although I imagine he has opinions on all the above, or at least is not unfamiliar with the arguments). For him, the central issue is one of commitment. The problem with working in the all-digital, non-destructive, we-can-always-change-this-plugin-later mode so common in audio production at this point (hint: it’s very much the mode I tend to work in) is that it’s all too easy to defer decisions, to end up not making real creative choices in the moment when we’re creating, which is probably when we should be making them.

To put this in more concrete terms, he illustrates the point with the example of recording a bass part for a track: “If you don’t know what the bass is supposed to sound like, why are you tracking the bass right now? Why aren’t you outside mowing the lawn?”

Being in an audio-industry magazine, the interview was intended for an audience that is more familiar with the technical background, so I’ll embellish a little with my own interpretation and response to this simple but, to me, deceptively powerful idea… More

Lego Spaceships

(or, the importance of having the wrong tools for the job…)

Tree Ark
Creative Commons License photo credit: pasukaru76 (move prep)

“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

Sound Fascination!

blue sonar
Creative Commons License photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

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