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
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
(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
Greetings! Once again I find myself writing here after a much longer absence than I had planned, which is unfortunate – but also, in this case, instructive… Cutting straight to the chase, I have been struggling a little with motivation, focus and productivity lately. Well, actually I’ve been struggling either quite a bit, or not enough, depending on how you look at it. In any case it’s something I’ve been giving a good deal of thought, and I think some of it merits sharing here. So, on with the show!
A fine kettle of fish
To clarify, I should explain that I have a number of interconnected projects, initiated over the past couple of years, all of which I’m quite invested in but all of which are also somewhat ‘stalled’ in one sense or another. While none of them are exactly poised on the brink of completion, let alone massive success or return on the considerable time and energy investment I’ve put into them, I do feel they all have significant potential in one sense or another – whether on an artistic or business level – and so I’m quite attached to them.
So besides the obvious – too many things on the go – part of what is going on is probably the paralysis that kicks in when I get close enough to something to realize that the stakes are high and failure, possibly public and highly disappointing, is an increasingly real possibility. I seem to suffer from a kind of allergy against going the distance, finishing what I’ve started. A sort of disconnect creeps in and my attention drifts.
How is it that we (assuming this affliction is not unique to me, which strikes me as unlikely) can become so disconnected from meaningful work that we’ve spent valuable time and energy starting, thinking through, imagining and problematizing and re-imagining? 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