Several people responded to Randy Nordschow’s recent Chatter post on creating music in a very short period of time by pointing out that when people are forced to come up with something quickly, chances are they’re relying on ideas that they have been addressing for a much longer period of time. But whether or not such projects as MATA’s eight-day composer immersion, Kalvos and Damian’s three-hour composer combat, or any other strategy (compositional or improvisational) are able to inspire completely new ideas raises other questions.
If being forced to work quickly doesn’t guarantee that you’ll create something outside what you normally do, what would guarantee such a result? Is it really ever possible to escape yourself in your work? And is this ultimately a worthwhile goal?
John Cage famously claimed that he was attempting to remove himself from his music in his indeterminate compositions, yet that very removal is in fact a stylistic trait. I can almost immediately identify a piece that is by Cage in the same way I can identify a piece by Beethoven or Wagner, two composers whose egos are present in every sixteenth note they penned.
Of course, many others have attempted to create “outside self” music. The Surrealists’ game of “exquisite corpses”—where a work is created by a group of people, each of whom knows very little about the work of the others—became a springboard for some bizarre free improve experiments in the early 1980s. I still remember an LP I’ve never quite warmed up to called Exquisite Corpses from the Bunker in which music created separately by a group of 30 Downtown improvisers was multi-tracked into something quite different than what any would have imagined. Maybe the first time this was done it was music that does indeed manage to escape its creators. But once it has been done, recreating such an experiment guarantees a certain result: the sound of 30 improvisers creating independently of one another sounding simultaneously. Ultimately, even the most completely new idea you can dream up is the result of a great deal of trial and error and, more often than not, is connected to a much larger history that preceded it.
I once remember someone saying that all music is experimental, but perhaps, paradoxically, no music is experimental as well.