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?

Open Sesame

I’m not going to speculate too much on what causes romantic ‘chemistry’ here, but on the subject of creative ‘chemistry’ I may have an idea or two. Well, at least one: for me, it all comes down to openness. What made my connection with Ed on our little track work so effortlessly was that we were both completely open to what would come out. I was open to what he would contribute, and unattached to a particular outcome; and he was open to whatever I might throw at him, and ready to react to whatever it was without ego, without anything to prove. We’ve built up the trust that makes that openness possible.

I think, however, that when I’ve had immediate creative connections with people I hardly know, the same factors are at work. If one or both of us have something to prove, or if we’re harbouring prejudices about the other person – particularly about what we think they may or may not be able to do – it’s bound to limit our openness to what might actually take place. I believe this may be the single biggest factor in determining our creative connection – or lack thereof.

Broken Telephone

We carry all sorts of preconceived ideas about the world around with us all the time. We think we know what kind of music we like and don’t like, what kind of food we like or don’t, what kind of art we want to make, what kind of art or artists we find interesting. We judge books by their covers all the time, and decide in advance whether we’re going to get something out of a given experience or not. Sometimes an experience (or the ‘natural’ chemistry of a connection) is so strong it can transcend these preconceptions, but I’d say more often than not we allow them to dominate. I’m afraid I do, anyway…

Imagine if we could find a way to get around them? If we could set some little internal alarm that would go off every time we were entering into an experience or a collaboration with these presuppositions, and say “wait a minute, you don’t really know what’s going to happen here, why not let down your guard and trust and be open and see where this could actually go if you don’t let your prejudices get in the way?”

I think the way to do this, like with most things in life, is simply to consciously try to apply it as much and as often as possible, until it becomes second-nature, an unconscious reaction – the way it can be when we know and trust someone deeply. Try to consciously find that openness and trust and force ourselves to manifest it even if we don’t ‘feel’ it spontaneously. Practice makes perfect, and I can’t think of a better, more rewarding thing to practice than maintaining an open, unprejudiced attitude towards life and creativity.

And who knows, maybe this will help with other kinds of ‘connection’ too…

Your turn: how do you create or maintain a sense of creative ‘connection’ with people? Do you have any ‘tricks’ for turning off the preconceptions and staying ‘open’? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the very talented Ed Roman and his wacky musical endeavours, you can do that over at his home site