Why It’s OK (and Unavoidable) To Be Yourself

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.

3 thoughts on “Why It’s OK (and Unavoidable) To Be Yourself

  1. curioman

    Why?
    Why would you *want* to remove yourself from your music? This makes no sense to me–as much sense as literally burning off your fingerprints. As composers, we bring into manifestation our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, decisions, and feelings through music. In other words, we bring *us*, who we are, into our music. We make our mark, our individual imprint, whether we like it or not. To not do so would be to deny being human, in my opinion. When listening to a composer, I seek to know their perspective. What do they think and feel about music? How do they express themselves through this language we call music? What are they saying of themselves and their world and our world. How are *they* saying it? I have no interest in compositional anonymity, identity removal, ‘music outside oneself’, what have you. Indeed, in our reality I doubt that is even possible. As a composer, you can’t avoid your impact. I think it is best to grab it by the horns and be responsible for it. :)

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  2. bdrogin

    I have participated in two such ventures – K&D’s “Komposer Kombat” (not sure why Frank insists on using c’s) and Raw Impressions Music Theatre (back in 2002). I’m surprised that, in 2005, there are still people threatened by improvised music, which the rest of the world sees as one of America’s greatest contributions to world culture (in painting, dance, theatre, music, etc.).

    Okay, so,

    1. Yes, I’ve used the opportunity to compose stuff that I’ve never tried before. I also ended up reaching back into resources from decades ago that I hadn’t touched, which was fulfilling as well.
    2. As part of the experience, I had to do some stuff I hadn’t done in years, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see what solutions I came up with – solutions which I had never done before.
    3. In improvisation, you discover, as you go along, coincidences that everyone thinks must have been planned all along. I guarantee, my subconscious is not involved in typing words into Google and discovering amazing material to use.

    Automatic writing, automatic composing, automatic playing is a real trip. You discover a flow. Yes, I’ve worked on a piece for 7 years. I’m also proud of the piece I had to churn out in 4 days, and the other two I had to churn out in 3 hours each.

    People who think that they can only come up with ideas by sitting around for years thinking should try some brainstorming. Ever been in a theatre the day after something major, and some lines that have always been there suddenly have new meaning? You want an audience to experience the profound? That’s when it happens.

    Barry Drogin
    Not Nice Music

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