As part of my course Your Creative Self, I’ve asked the students to set a creative challenge for themselves, and to write about it in the online discussion forum for the class. They have to post about starting it, and a few weeks later report on progress, then near the end they write about how it has gone. They also comment on each others’ posts.
Since I was asking them to do this, I thought I’d better do it myself. Seemed fair. And it’s quite good to have a challenge, not in some kind of competitive sense, just the thing of being held to account – I’ve told myself and others that I will be doing this thing, so, I will have to do this thing.
Here’s what I wrote:
Hi! I thought I’d better do this task too, since I’ve asked you to do it.
(a) What is the thing you are working on?
I want to create a finished music track, that I am satisfied with, which will be sort of ambient but interesting, using two pieces of music equipment I acquired recently, the Soma Lyra-8, and the Moog Subharmonicon, neither of which I have managed to do much very satisfactory with so far.
The Lyra-8 makes gravelley soundscape and drone kind of sounds, with a lot of texture, but perhaps not very ‘musical’ to listen to. The Subharmonicon is, surprisingly, basically a 4-note sequencer and I sort of thought it would do more than it does. [Note: this is unfair. The Subharmonicon is complex and charming and I just don’t fully understand it all yet]. But if I harness the limitations of both, that’s always a good plan – and I think they will work nicely together. But that remains to be seen! I imagine the Subharmonicon will be doing some low bass stuff as well as some high twinkly stuff. The Lyra-8 will be making strange textural noises. I do want it to be somewhat melodic though, and nice to listen to (!).
The image at the top of this post reflects the thoughts I had about what it might be like: gravel + mist + pink sunrise. That’s what I thought of.
(b) Why did you start it?
I started making music overall when I realized that you could (!), which seemed magic, and it seemed like a good idea to try to get better at something I’m not very good at.
At first I just tried to make anything that sounded OK, but they were just instrumentals without much structure. Then I tried to make tracks that were more like self-contained tracks or songs. But I wasn’t planning to sing, and still haven’t, but I might. Anyway at this point we swerve back into wanting to do an interesting instrumental track, but it might be quite long and maybe like something you could fall asleep to.
(c) What is your goal for this term?
The goal, as above, is to make a track that I am sufficiently happy with. One of the challenges is that I want to do something gentle, but it’s hard to avoid the pull to make something ‘more exciting’ by adding in extra elements, and/or beats. ‘Less is more’ is something that I know to be true in theory, but I’m not very good at that in practice, and maybe I don’t really believe it anyway. Less is good – but not too little.
(d) What do you think you will learn from the process of doing it?
We have to wait and see! Certainly, presumably, I’ll get a bit better with these two instruments. More broadly I want to become more free to play (and record) ‘live’ and keep the best bits, rather than trying to program everything from scratch. So it should have a bit more of a human touch, being actual performances, edited, rather than everything set up and sequenced in a way that it is sort of assembled but never really performed.
But we shall see. I do learn things from making music, but I don’t think you can anticipate what those things will be in advance.
Extra (added a week later):
I talked about this with Sofie Mikhaylova, the music artist/producer who runs the independent label Biblioteka Records. She asked if I was going to use only these two instruments, highlighting the power of deliberate constraints – so that was a great point and a very good suggestion. And when I mentioned the challenge to try to keep it gentle, rather than falling into the temptation to add more things to make it more ‘interesting’, she suggested that I should actually aim for ‘boring’, and then that should keep it in the gentle place (while, presumably, the temptation to make things interesting should pull it at least as far as not actually being boring). Another good suggestion! So I will keep those things in mind.