It’s a steal


This week I have been thinking about how a composer (or any creative person) is inspired to produce a new work and where the ideas come from?  Are the ideas stolen or assimilated and refined or do I consider how to produce a new process?

My ideas arrive at various times as is evident from the entries in the notebook or sketchbook I have been keeping during the past months.  Using this method of having something with me all the time to record these snippets of inspiration has made me more aware of the music that is in my consciousness each day.  Some of it can easily be attributed to the environment I am in, songs on the radio or catching some sounds as they drift from someone’s listening somewhere out of sight, but other music that appears does not have that starting point.  In the past I may have not noticed or dismissed these sounds but recently I have started to concentrate on them and consolidate them so that they can be recorded in the book.

The result of having an instant, 24 hour, approach to collecting inspiration has given me a new impetus as a composer with ideas for a number of different works already in the planning stage compared to the more hit and miss approach of past years.  What inspiration am I getting and how original is it? is the next part to analyse.

This part of the process was a concern when I started keeping the notebook, would what was written down influence the next moment of inspiration and to counter this I made the decision not to regularly review what ideas were in the book.  I have looked at the results, after a few months of jottings, and the ideas are a mixture of styles, tempos and convey different emotional responses to me as the composer. 

I have a very good memory for music, themes and textures (but never lyrics) and quickly analysing the ideas shows that they are original but some are obviously influenced by other composers or styles of music and some are in my style, that mix of influences that becomes recognisable as your own.  In the past I was wary of using material that had similar traits to that of others but during my research into the methods and processes that composers have used I am now more confident in using all the ideas.

Igor Stravinsky talked of great artists “stealing” rather than imitating.  The combination of ideas from others with a personal twist creates an evolution of sound that has a new originality and is then developed again by others to give the progression that advances musical development.  There have been some academic composers that have chosen to oppose this progression and develop systems of composition that oppose the established theories and methods and unfortunately these few have been given more airtime and commentary than their opposition deserves to the detriment of those following the evolutionary approach.

As a composer I am an “evolutionary” and a “stealer” and there are still so many combinations of sound, pitches and rhythms that have not yet been explored that I will continue with this philosophy for many years to come.


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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