Gee, it’s Wednesday night and time for me to send in my latest weekly column for NewMusicBox. And I haven’t a clue what to write about.
I need a little inspiration. Maybe I’ll sharpen my virtual pencils, move some items around on my desk, and sit and wait for the light bulb to turn on.
OK, here I am.
This has happened to all of us, I’m sure, at one time or another. A school assignment where you can’t even decide what the topic should be, or a newsletter article, or perhaps most relevantly: that commission. That commission! Dammit—the players are hoping to get their parts real soon (a.k.a. now), and you haven’t the slightest idea what you want to do. Your mind flips between absolute blank and stretching for an idea that, when it comes, just inevitably seems lame. So you’ve been hoping and maybe praying for a visit from a muse. As of the present, none have even dropped by to say hi or borrow five bucks. You’re in trouble. Whether you believe inspiration is a divine frenzy, as Plato did, or from a political unconscious, à la Jameson, the fact of the matter is: It doesn’t come with an “on” switch.
We can be trained in almost anything, but inspiration is independent of technique. Isn’t there something wrong when an artist, who in principle should rely totally on inspiration, has to deliver “product,” be it a portrait or a film screenplay or a sonata, by date certain? Still, that’s reality. As Michael Corleone said to Hyman Roth, “This is the life we have chosen!” While we can’t expect to have brilliant Eureka! moments every time we sit down to create something, when we are called upon to create something as professionals, we should create something, and it should hopefully be something worthwhile.
So, what do you do when, Edison’s formula of genius being one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, you’re still short that one percent? When deadlines attack, a feeling of desperation can couple with frustration, and soon one can feel overwhelmed. It’s necessary to try to break out of such cycles.
And that’s my question. What do you do? What techniques are there among you Chatterers that get the juices flowing and that compositional ball rolling? Not necessarily producing a Eureka! moment, just getting you off the ground. In my case, sitting at my desk straining and squirming is completely counter-productive, and I suspect this is the same for a lot of people. But the proverbial walk around the block, which some people swear by, doesn’t usually get results for me. One acquaintance actually suggested listening to someone else’s music, which when I’m (in principle) composing but coming up empty, is the last thing I want to do. Another friend, pretty much a radical experimentalist whose work eschews all traditional notions of harmony and rhythm, told me that she finds it a useful trigger somehow to listen to something from an earlier period, say Hopkinson Smith playing on the theorbo. Who would have thought? Generally speaking, I find that a lot of people have tricks and tips for jogging their medullary neurons. One of my colleagues here in Japan said that he likes to take a break and watch a film. He has found that somehow loosens him up. Someone else said something about omelets.
How about you? I’m quite interested to get your advice. Because I need your help. I have a column to write.