My blog today concerns why people make music at all. If you have read many blogs from me before you will expect two things: a stream of consciousness and that it be existentially coming from my own life and experience. You should expect the same things here.
The question I've been asking myself lately is "Why do people make music at all?" I can well understand people who are interested in making music make it because they have an irresistible urge, an itch they need to scratch. I feel that too. Perhaps they are someone who is paid to make it because they have a job as a paid musician. The reasons, I suppose, could be as great as the number of people who want to make music.
I wonder, however, if anyone makes music to challenge themselves? Now, whether it is true or not, I like to see myself as some kind of goad or irritant to better habits in those around me. I'm the person who will ask you the questions that maybe you won't ask yourself or the one who will suggest a contrary way, method or motivation to the ones you currently have. I was educated, academically I might add, in biblical studies (the exact number and type of degrees I have being lost in the mists of irrelevancy) and I'm very used to the idea of prophets - not people who foretell the future but people who are a pain in the ass of human conventions. I guess I have absorbed the historical characters a little too much.
So what do I want to criticise here? Well, I guess its musical laziness, habit, resting on your laurels. Now let me add straightaway that this will be more of a problem for the prolific than the studied and steady musicians amongst us. If it takes you 3 years to produce one song then your problems are more than that you repeat yourself. And I know that in music there is no law and people are free to do exactly as they wish. Even if its remake the same track for the rest of their lives.
The thing is, why would you want to remake the same track for the rest of your life? And its not that I see musical development as linear from bad to better to best either. In my own musical timeline there are failures and successes all along it. I've done bad, good and excellent work this year in my own mind. But at the same time I think and believe that we should be trying to develop ourselves in terms of musical education. This is in at least two senses: by broadening our experience of what is out there musically and by developing our own sound, methods and techniques. After five years of making music you should be someone who can make music that the person five years earlier couldn't have dreamed of making.
Strange things have been happening to me lately. A couple of weeks ago, via listening to, and learning about, the soundtrack to the classic sci-fi film "Forbidden Planet," and its composers Louis and Bebe Barron, I came across John Cage, the experimental American musician of the middle to late 20th century. Just last night I spent around 8 hours listening to what is termed in the English-speaking world "Krautrock" (but by Germans themselves as Kosmiche - "cosmic") - bands such as Can, Neu!, Popol Vuh, Amon Düül ii, Ash Ra Tempel, Faust and Cluster. Two more well known bands that began slap bang in the middle of the same genre are Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. They would later become much more famous for other things.
These new auditory experiences in the last couple of weeks have radically altered my musical bearings. They have changed for me what music means and had an affect on how I understand how one type and period of music is connected to another. David Bowie now makes a lot more sense to me, how he could exist and why he sounds like that. More modern bands like Goldfrapp are suddenly contextualised for me. I feel that I have suddenly found a missing link and things that were just there before now make a lot more sense. This is all part of an on-going musical education. And, in me at least, I want that to be overt. I actively want to learn about different types and styles of music, different time periods. Its about understanding the musical terrain and understanding, to your own satisfaction at least, where you stand and where everything is in relation to you. You can only utilise the sounds and experiences you are aware of. So increasing awareness is a basic step it seems to me.
This leads into my second concern: developing your own sound, methods and techniques. I hope I don't have to argue here that people should want to develop and, to their own satisfaction at least, "get better" - however you might want to quantify that. I don't want to be prescriptive about how anybody might do that. That is for each one of us to decide. But I do think we should be doing it as creative people. And its in that context that I regard habits as bad, as traps. There is an attitude which I often see of simply being happy to make the same thing over and over again. Whilst realising that it is phenomenally easy to do this (and that some people seem very happy with it), I can't be and since this is my blog I can write here that such an attitude irritates the hell out of me. Repeating yourself over and over lazily makes you an irrelevance in my mind. If I've heard it once I might want a re-hash once but ten times is probably too much. Some people make careers out of it, of course. But not from me they don't.
In my own musical life this opening up to new musical sources leads into a thinking about my own methods and practice and to an exploration of experimentalism. This is not to say I'm doing things no one has ever done before. But it does lead to things I have never done before. And that, surely, is the point. "There is nothing new under the sun" is a saying (and a biblical one too if I remember correctly) but there can be something new for each of us as musicians - if we seek it. Hence why my last album "Dark Visions" was made using a Cagian exploration of randomness and chance - and a number key was used to make all the musical decisions for me. The results were startling. I made music I never could have made previously. I feel like I have moved to another level. It was only possible because I was not content to stay the same, doing the same things over again. But, of course, having done that I must now make a new move. For the explorer there can only be forwards motion.
And so what I myself seek to be is an exploratory musician, an experimental musician, one not content to repeat myself. I want my next album to be something you would never imagine I could make. I want you to hear things from me and think "He never did that before". I want to challenge myself to be different because this is an aid to creativity - creativity being the highest good. This is not to be novel for novelty's sake. It is to be experimental, to be a musical explorer, to not be content with what I can do with my eyes closed because I've done it so often before. Try it. You might be amazed where it takes you.