Sunday, December 14, 2008

Life And The Creative Process

I attended a talk on wednesday at The Interdependence Project, and it was all about Buddhism and the creative process, centered around two books: The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, and Coming From Nothing by Lee Worley.

Lee Worley says there are 4 stages of the creative process:
1. Be open to a new idea or experience with a fresh mind
2. Trust and go with the experience for a bit rather than trying to
fit it into a pattern you are familiar with
3. Keep taking chances with your actions even after doubt and second
guessing has creeped back into your awareness
4. When a project is complete, let it go, to give room for the
next thing to arise

I was seeing that this creative process is helpful to your life as well as your art. It's an approach that is chasing synchronicity -- an intuitive and open way of approaching experience; a Couldn't Care Less Mind; the Taoist approach of going with the flow, and the Zen approach of doing without doing; no big deal living. When you are open to new experiences, don't pigeonhole those experiences into old paradigms, keep taking chances when doubt comes, and let go of the past, you give yourself the opportunity to make connections with new people, get out of your routine, and really live.

Central to this approach is the importance of awkward space. Like that moment when you're sitting on the subway but you're not listening to your iPod or reading your book or doing some other distraction and you're not trying to avoid everyone around you. It is awkward for a few minutes but then someone talks to you and you make a new friend, all because you let that empty space open for something to happen. Awkward space can be hard to live in at times but it lets new and good things unfold into the breathing room you create in your life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The DJ

I was thinking about techno/DJ artists and their particular strength, in comparison to other musicians. DJs tend not to create original material, and yet they are every bit a musician as any other type of artist. But they are specialists. In making any song, there are certain elements that when put together could be said to make a great song. This is not a perfect list but it works for this mental exercise:

1. Lyrics
2. Melody
3. Performance
4. Sonic quality
5. Arrangement

It's important that a song have good words and a catchy melody. I'm okay and lyrics and have a knack for catchy melodies so I make a good singer-songwriter; this is my specialty I'm also a good singer but my instrumental virtuosity is limited and spread out over multiple instruments, so I make an average performer. But my recording engineer skills are barely passable and my equipment is low-end (though decent these days due to the speedy improvement of home recording technology), so the sonic quality of recordings I make aren't the best. I'm also not that great at arrangement though I'm learning to arrange elements to build energy in a song.

What makes a DJ unique is that the DJ has specialized entirely in Sonic Quality and Arrangement. A DJ masters equipment and software that allows him to create interesting sound effects and improve the presentation of the material, to levels that regular analog sound engineers can't touch with live music. And the DJ spends countless hours learning how to arrange beats and sound samples in a way that builds up, releases, and rebuilds emotional energy. Anyone who has listened to U2, Fat Boy Slim, or Daft Punk knows how well their songs build in emotional power and intensity through the song. This is the musicianship of the DJ -- they have abandoned Lyrics, Melody and Performance completely in chasing down what may be the underlying backbone of all music -- Energy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Three Jewels Applies To Any Pursuit

In Buddhist philosophy, monks take refuge in The Three Jewels -- the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. These are the three foundations of Buddhist Practice -- the Buddha, his teachings, and his community. But in general The Three Jewels can apply to any personal path.

1. The Buddha
This means setting someone to aspire to become, and to believe one can become. This might be a hero or inspiring person in that field, a teacher you study with, or a vision of yourself at a later time. So for instance, if you are a bass player your Buddha might be Flea, or if you are a businessman it might be Steve Jobs. In any case you don't worship your Buddha; rather, that person is an inspiration and helps you keep sight of the person you wish to become by your efforts.

2. The Dharma
This is the body of teachings in a given area. It means that you must be constantly returning to the well of knowledge to grow and develop yourself in that field. For a bassist this might mean lessons, instructional videos, and practice; for a businessman this may mean trade journals, conferences and seminars, and books. Your learning becomes a personal resource to turn to as well as a way to connect to the field and the role you play in the larger picture.

3. The Sangha
This is the community you get involved in -- colleagues, clubs, friends, bands, scenes. Even in seemingly solitary pursuits it is important to find and form communities in your field. They provide a place for learning, teaching, and networking; provides external motivation and support; and perhaps most importantly, connects your pursuit to the outside world, making it take on a meaning larger than the strictly personal. Finding a Sangha and broadening the context of a pursuit beyond your own personal world, while sometimes scary or intimidating, can also be more fulfilling, as well as lead you down rewarding paths you may not have run into otherwise.

There are, of course, risks to each Jewel. Picking the right inspiration, the right teachings, and the right communities is just as important as choosing one at all. And if a group, person, or methodology does more harm than good, drop it and find what works for you. The whole point is to become engaged.