Some thoughts on being creative

These are notes to myself to keep me inspired in making music. I originally wrote them 29.10.95 but gave them a recent re-edit. At least some of these nuggets are humbly recommended for general creative motivation and cogitation.

i. Spontaneity vs craft
I like to keep up two distinct types of activity, firstly spontaneous one-take performance (not necessarily recorded) and secondly to build up painstaking layered tracks. These activities aren’t distinct, as the improvisation can have pre-rehearsed elements, and spontaneous elements can occur on the carefully crafted multi-track. In practice my favourite result is a tension between the two – beautiful meaningful form containing rogue moments of chance and provocation.

ii. Experiment
It’s healthy to experiment, though some experiments only really do the experimenter any good, and perhaps is not appropriate to then keep and inflict on audiences. I like to indulge in experimental activity, but I’m well aware that it is often something covered already, some years, probably decades, ago. It can still be a good exercise in self-enlightenment, and may add something to the personal expressive vocabulary. Failing that, it’s just great fun.

iii. Richness
If nothing particularly exceptional is happening in the music, something worthwhile may be going on in the lyrics, and so it doesn’t matter – or vice versa. Dare to get sparse, and even stop and give way to silence. Alternatively, try piling it on, create an embarrassment of riches, a sensory overload of eventfulness – you can always strip it down again. One specific idea is to build up a wall of sound by adding many threads, but then go into each track with a magnifying glass as it were by briefly sliding the volume up, lingering for a moment and then sliding it back into the knotty mass. A metaphor for the individual soul existing both separately and as part of the whole of humanity disappearing in the aeons of history.

iv. Self belief vs old hat
Believe that there is no limit to what can be done. So what if it’s the same old chords on the same old guitar. No-one played them just like that before, and with those words, with that expression. There is always another corner to turn, with something that might surprise. Without this belief there is a danger of living in an orbit of awe around your favourite influences unable to create your own pull of gravity.

v. Convention and cliche
Play naturally, don’t bow to convention. I don’t have to have drums on my music. I don’t have to fill up every conceivable space in the listening spectrum. I don’t have to make the lines scan, rhyme, mean something, there need not be a chorus. Use cliche as another tool – it’s not ruled out, but it’s strong stuff and should be used carefully. Over-use is like cooking a really subtle dish, and then pouring half a bottle of vinegar all over it. Conversely, don’t hack a perfectly good piece of work to bits just out of a stubborn need to sound different. Walk the tightrope between convention and obscurity – I’m not saying it’s easy.

vi. The ideas bag
Over the years I store up my ideas, and now I have many song and instrumental snippets awaiting their turn in the limelight. Old ideas no longer of interest lie slumbering like inert rocks, but you never know when they might be blown into action by a seismic shift from somewhere – then they suddenly make sense and slot in to place. Attention is best paid to those ideas which are most engaging, inspire one at the time, seem to fit in with one’s present mood and direction. But those seemingly unpromising scrag-ends can be dark horses and surreptitiously come into their own.

vii. Just do it
Do make time to come to the tape-recorder (or computer or mp3 recorder) occasionally empty-handed and open-minded, even blank-minded. So it may result in nothing, but you may serendipitously spark off a brilliant new direction.

viii. Oblique Strategies
I’ve never actively used them, but I love dipping into Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. Some of them are echoed by what I’ve just been rumbling on about. They can plant seeds of creative direction from random fortune-cookie sized snippets of elliptical wisdom. If not, move on… There is one that has always lingered in my mind: Honour your mistake as a hidden intention. I simultaneously revere the advice and take it with a pinch of pepper.

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Create and procreate

Dad in hat

Wear a hat when you tell your baby about the world.

I have very recently become a father, with all the mixed blessings that state brings. Yes it’s exciting and shattering helping to look after a brand new personage. However I am a creative soul, and I think it’s important I don’t let the fruits of my noddle wither on the poetic vine. This is why, inspired by Andrea’s doodle-a-day at Big Gay Dragon blog, I am determined to come up with some sort of create per day over at Elbowroom. This could be sound/music/writing or photography, though it’s usually going to be a doodle. Here’s some of the best so far:

New Year Periscope It wouldn't do to let them know you care Fancy Clothes Policeman Flaming Portal What do you know about the moon? Memento Mori Cabinet with no Discernible Door Mr Make-It-Up Delicate Rain Measuring Everyman Stares I like to think I can think

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Annual glimpse of advents

A quick rundown of this year’s online advent calendar shennanigans:

As usual (for the 15th year) there’s the Bristol-based Watershed’s marvellous array of short films from young people worldwide, at Electric December.

Not quite so excitingly, The Economist are posting one of their most popular 2013 infographics each day – but since infographics has become a interdepartmental buzzword at work, I might cast a half-interested cursory glance.

If you want something rather more spiritual, why not try out Rev Mark’s humble and sincere offering for some more church felt ruminations. And here’s something of interest from Embrace the Middle East, whose remit is “to provide health, education and community development programmes for the most disadvantaged people in the lands of the Bible – regardless of their faith or nationality” – very laudable Christian activity.

But,
Tate the cat‘s not on again this year – Penny Schenk’s delightful, warm-hearted stories featuring a French cheese-maker and his cat. Enjoy an old one instead.
Or take a cosmic breath of fresh space on Hubble 2010.

Or splash out on a whisky calendar!

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Made up pop charts

When I was about 7 I had a year of pop obsession, and wrote a hit record chart of made up names…”Now the Time” by Igloo Band, “Window Box” by Player, “Runaway Horse” by Clapper – that sort of thing, very off the top of the head. Number one was “Oh the Eagle” which was the first and only song I wrote back then.

After the euphoria of 72-74 I gave up on pop, but my radio taping began again in earnest in the ear era of Elvis Costello, Squeeze & Blondie. Not only did I start making up pop charts again, this time on a weekly schedule, but I filled in the detail of album track listings and LP covers. Here’s a sample:LP designs

This may for some have been a harmless phase of obsession, but I was driven on very soon to the next step: actually recording some of the albums. To start with, I had only a tape recorder, and assorted ‘found’ percussion, and my timid voice, and often barely more words other than riffing on a title. My school chums joined in raucously, not really aspiring to greater things, but I went on – adding a second tape recorder for primitive dubbing extra tracks, and getting my first acoustic guitar for Xmas ’80.

There was something liberating about coming to the blank cassette canvas with just a list of track titles, and an assortment of things to hit, rattle and scrape. The results were quickfire and shot through with the odd moment of inspiration – but only really for my lugholes to patiently discern. Nothing was likely to impress my contemporaries, though they may wonder now at my sheer obstinacy to keep plugging away…years later, with added chords and properly worked through lyrics.

If I’d been on track, I should have been gigging and recording with a band by the late 80s, but as a shy, slow developer it has taken me a lot longer to get out there. At least I have a set of home-taped artifacts – albeit DIY, but a precious trove of originality. The years drop away, and I’m still chipping at the coal face of my art. I hope I always will be, but it would be great to haul myself up to the next level (me, and the band now).

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New York Torque: part 2

torque2A lovely Autumn ’12 in New York had us walking down from our base in Harlem through Central Park in glorious weather – 3 weeks before a hurricane was to cause mayhem to the city.

We took a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty (it’s still there), we saw a show on Broadway (actually we ended up plumping for a broody Ibsen play instead of any sort of razzamatazz), and we got the lift up the Empire State Building – the view is worth joining the deceptively reasonable queue for (when you think you’re getting in, you’re just joining a new hidden giant snake of a queue).

Landmarks, good food, and a generous plentitude of art and artefacts were the order of our days. Here are some arty moments…

MOMA
Sculpture by David Smith View in MOMA Telephone direct to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
All the way through the modern art story, with famous things like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Rauschenberg’s Bed. Highlight for me was a special exhibition of the Quay Brothers‘ work, including very off-beat commercials, and their better known animated films like “Street of Crocodiles”.

American Museum of Natural History
My weight on the moon from the Hall of African Peoples
Stuffed animal vistas, old fashioned but impressive. Some great quirky African masks and costumes. We took the “escalator to the Big Bang”. There were far too many dinosaurs.

Guggenheim
Yours truly at the Gugg  Life forms swarm around larger than life Picasso bust
The best thing at the Guggenheim is the Guggenheim itself – the shape and the space, the gentle coiling slope like a perfectly peeled fruit skin. Photographs by Rineke Dijikstra, plus her film of Scouser school kids trying to get to the heart of Picasso’s Weeping Woman.  Lots of Picasso in the Black and White show, some great, some sketchy, some great and sketchy.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Egyptian photocopier I think this is by Milton Avery Kenneth Noland painting in the distance
This place is HUGE – we spent at least 5 and a half hours here, from medieval art through Tiffany glass, Egyptian artefacts, armour, Oceanic totems, African fetishes, buddhist garden, and yesteryear’s pop art.

Out and about
IMG_6167 IMG_6071

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New York Torque

New York TorqueLast October before New York got battered by a hefty storm (we didn’t plan it that way, just lucky) my fiancee and I visited America for our very first time, spending a number of days in the big apple city itself. Although it was her birthday do, it was my choice of destination, partly because of all the galleries and museums bursting at the seams with great art, and partly because it’s the handiest bit of America to get to from old Blighty (Britain).

These days you can spend a whole trans-Atlantic flight fiddling with onscreen video games and films – prodding away at the back of someone else’s seat, so the time flies by. We flew over Canada and checked in at Nigel Kennedy airport. I jest, it was Nigel Havers airport.

Hospitality Harmony House

Our base was the quirky old Harmony Hospitality House in Harlem – and very alliterative it was too. It was charmingly run by Cynthia Nibbelink and her husband, who described themselves as educators, artists and social activists, and were involved in a city garden project in their street. We ate our complementary muffins and listened to the loud chirpiness of ‘opinion’ radio, the nation being gripped by Presidential-debate fever. One commentator explained to another pundit “You’ve just flip-flopped!”

The room was small,  a bit rough and ready, comfy enough, quirky and on the back of the house, looking out on to many other backs with their famous NY fire ladders. If I’d had a string vest and a clarinet, I’d have gone out there for a stereotypical tootle. We often shopped at local uber deli “Best Yet” on Frederick Douglas Boulevard. They have a massive choice of everything – if you want something in 3 different flavours, they got 9! The fruit and veg was kept fresh by little shower jets. We bought some Puffin cereal and retired in a haze of jet lag.

Andrea Way @ the Pierogi

We met up with an artist called Andrea Way who was down from San Francisco arranging an exhibition at Brooklyn’s Pierogi Gallery. I know her through my art-blog Elbowroom, which she serendipitously discovered and liked. She’s a proper all-day-every-day artist, John looks at Andrea Way artand she does great work. I had a document wallet bulging with doodles to show her (my work is very portable) and she tried to get Joe of the gallery interested: “He’s a musician, he does doodles on sort of crappy paper, the titles are really witty…” Actually he resisted because usually artist’s book well in advance to see him, and I resisted because I needed 10 cherry picked pieces and a more articulate background to weave around them – caught on the spot. Anyway, I was mainly there to see A and her work, which I’d only seen on the web. You can see how much I was absorbed by it in the pic!

The Pierogi is a very special gallery, and Hugo Crosthwaite - Cupcake Inspector, Carnivorall Series, 2012I can see why Andrea though it would suit my work. They keep a collection of works on paper called the Flat Files, which now contains portfolios representing over 700 artists. Painting, drawing, print and photography are all included, and you can pull a file out and peruse the artists’ work with white gloves – or indeed online without gloves. I was also drawn to the black and white ink drawings by the Mexican Hugo Crosthwaite on show at the same place. Here’s one of his enthralling Carnivorall series.

After this lesser known nook of artful interest, the rest of the trip was taken up with the more obvious tourist trek through MOMA, Central Park, Guggenheim, Metropolitan, lift up the Empire State Building, and boat around the Statue of Liberty. We HAD to do these things! I guess that’s more than enough to save for New York Torque part 2

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Bedecked Sharklet

Bedecked Sharklet

A recent piece of doodle art. 95% of my art at present starts in a distracted moment in a work notebook, and gets a good finishing at home, hence the stray word like Bayboro which has nothing to do with the bedecked sharklet, except it does because it shares the same paper space.

I hope to catch up with things on Twisty Lanes. There’s New York, End of the Road, the Many Few, printmaking, and the usual thoughts about this that and everything. This IS a blog after all, although blogs are so 2006…

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