Since March I have been keeping a notebook of musical inspiration for the new work Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas, whenever I had an idea for some composition I jotted it down in the book. The first month (March 2013) of this process was very productive with fifteen entries but then the intricacies of balancing a full-time job with part-time study slowed down the inspiration. Only thirteen ideas written down during the next four months but during this month (August) I have already notated nine new creative thoughts.
The ideas have different attributes, some are melodic, some rhythmic, some harmonic, some are descriptions (an example of this is a sketch for a texture of sound with various indications of how it could be achieved) and some are fully scored, complete fragments for future development. When I started the notebook I made the decision not to return to look at or re-work any of the ideas until there were enough to complete the composition. The main reasons for this were to avoid any distortion of new ideas (when I am working on a musical project I find it often influences other music produced at a similar time) and to give me some sense of how my creative musical activities work over a long period of time. I was interested to discover if there were developments in the jottings, if certain ideas reoccurred in different guises during the time (how frequently) and how (or not) they altered, and are there identifiable patterns evident when generating original thoughts that can be quantified and taught to students in creative subject areas.
A recent skim through the notebook did not immediately show any evidence of common ideas or developments but I will complete a full analysis once the process is complete. This may take another month or a few months, it just depends on how many ideas come to mind and how often they appear.
When I consider my initial thoughts there could be a flaw in the whole analysis. I had a concept for the final work with one of the main methods being to avoid repeating musical material and it could be I am making an effort not to duplicate or develop existing ideas. I have rarely looked at any of the previous material in the notebook and if I have it has only been to see what keys or time signatures have been used. It could be that this conscious (and in some cases unconscious) thought process is affecting the results. A more detailed account of other influences may be more relevant to this type of research, what was I listening to at the time, where and how did the idea arrive, what other events were happening..? There are a number of different parameters that could have an impact on what is being produced and how can all these be taken into account and what influence, and to what extent, could they have? Thankfully my research has taken me in a different direction in the doctorate study but as a composer these questions are important and some research in this area (if it is at all possible) could help inform future composition students and professionals.
The question “where does creativity come from?” has been, and is still, asked many times by writers and inventors and there is no definitive answer. There are a number of biographical accounts that consider the individual’s experiences and how they have influenced their creative process and these give some clues. For many it is interaction and often accidental happenings that are the spark that inspires some original thought(s). From my brief experience of noting when the ideas arrive it is evident that creativity cannot be turned on and off but the environment that the creator inhabits may have some effect.
Composer Matthew Herbert in his P.C.C.O.M. in article 5 writes; “The inclusion, development, propagation, existence, replication, acknowledgement, rights, patterns and beauty of what are commonly known as accidents, is encouraged…” http://matthewherbert.com/manifesto/. Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt published the first edition of their Oblique Strategies cards in 1975 as an aid to creative thinking, various editions and formats later (including an app) the contents are still inspiring people today.
Each of these approaches has the fundamental expectation that each day there is engagement with the subject although not every day will be a creative one. Nowhere do they imply that a spark or bolt of an original idea will just arrive, there have to be days of revision and refinement as well as the days of originality and excitement.
For me March and August have been good months, I do not expect something to happen but I am ready if it does and I hope the inspiration continues for years to come. Putting myself in the best environment to make it happen is difficult in the current situation, the full-time job with part-time study is not an ideal synergy but it is how the system works and I will adapt creatively as best I can.