On Communicating Ideas

I’m rarely at a loss for musical “ideas”.

They tend to arrive in my imagination with all instruments and “orchestration” as a finished snippet. An excerpt. A needledrop.

I can easily morph them or push them around into other ideas, or imagine them with different instruments. Slower, faster, folkier, more “classical” or more “modernist” or more baroque / renaissance. I can throw in a hip hop beat or a breakbeat or a four on the floor dance beat and mash them up. It’s all very easy to move around, in my head. I’ve practiced this with directors when working on sound design for live theater or when working with choreographers or on my own musical theater productions.

But these glimpses of what could be are usually only short snippets.

And they are only ideas; possibilities.

Sometimes they appear as a result of some suggestion; a brief I am reading from a publisher, or a memory or conversation or overheard phrase I can turn into a lyric.

When I’m close to sleeping, or walking and something “pops in” without planning, I usually want to simply experience for a little while … and these can be a bit longer…. I tend to “listen” to them for a while to see if I want to grab a phone and TRY to pin them down with my voice.

If I try to make them manifest in the physical world, they are extraordinarily mercurial.

Trying to “catch” them feels like trying to look directly at something that’s always on the periphery of your vision. As soon as you look at it, it’s already moved. Almost like a cat in a box, it’s state seems to change as a result of being observed.

As soon as I play or sing a REAL note, one that vibrates physical air at a given frequency, the “playing” part begins.

I get to PLAY with the idea, and it continues to morph and change whether I like it or not.

Sometimes I “capture” it but whether I do or not; sooner or later I question whether or not what I’ve produced in the physical world is something I prefer to let remain or keep trying to “hone in” on what it could be….

For this reason I usually prefer to start with capturing rhythms. I’ve found that rhythm frees me a bit, to explore possible melodic or harmonic directions to take the idea. But they suggest the idea and help me remember it vaguely as a sort of inspiration.

To be more concrete and specific I don’t always get the intervals and notes correct when playing on the piano or guitar, and I certainly don’t always know what inner voices should or could be. I usually focus on the rhythms, melody and bassline and by that time I’ve already continued exploring variations of the original idea anyway.

I try not to get too tied to the initial idea or inspiration. Not only because it seems to move or change when I try to make it manifest — but also because I have so many [ideas], and I need to “find” the best ones for the current project.

In conclusion, I no longer get obsessed with bringing “the music in my head” into the real world. It really doesn’t matter what musical “ideas” are in my head.

Similarly, pictures I’ve never drawn, words I’ve never spoken, houses I’ve never built and gardens I’ve never planted don’t really matter.

What matters (to me) is the music we can share with each other. Not what’s “in our head”.

o/t — I’ve thought a lot in my life about what it would be like to “connect” to another person (by means of some sort of sci-fi neural networking cable?) and share thoughts instantly. But the reality is all communication (words, images, sounds) is a gross, stylized abstraction, barely able to capture even a tiny fragment of our thoughts — much less communicate them to another person. The other person will always immediately envelop whatever futile scribbles we put forth (no matter how “developed”) with all THIER thoughts and their reactions and their experiences, of which we may never have conceived. So the best we can do as good communicators is to listen. Try to listen to what other people might have been trying to put forth, without polluting it with our own observations and reactions too quickly. It’s a near instantaneous act but something we can practice.

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