“The magic isn’t in the answers, it’s in the question” Trago (2022).
Before I bring this to project to some sort of conclusion - although, much like my Tunes, these Tales have the potential to be revisited, my ideas refined, and thus I am reluctant to condemn them to death in a final form that lacks rigidity and opportunity for change - I would like to first go a bit further back than the Story So Far, to get a proper run up to my closing thoughts.
"There's No Life When You Make A Living"
When I was in my early twenties, fresh faced and hot off the press out of my undergrad studying Popular Music at Napier, I had it all planned out. Three albums before I was thirty. That was the plan and all in fairness to Past Neil, he did have it all figured out; the first album was written and notated for a seven piece band (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, ukulele, drums and vocals); the second one was half written in the same way, with the rest deliberately left unfinished for involving other musicians to contribute their creative juices; and the third was just the bare bones for the same reason as the unfinished tracks of the second. However, as the old adage goes, if you don’t make a decision yourself, the universe will make a decision for you. In this case, the universe had decided to skelp me with six simple words, immortalised by the infamous wordsmith, Rihanna, “work work work work work work.”
To begin with, I kept working full time driving a delivery van, scooting about Scotland dropping off car parts to garages, all the while putting my newly honed skills from university into practice. I tried my best to balance full time work with being self employed as a guitar tutor, performing musician and recording engineer for local artists. Alas I ended up burning myself out and came to the conclusion that when I was pursuing a creative career choice, having the financial pressure of earning a living sucked the life right out of what I enjoyed most about music. So I was, retrospectively, rather naive and as a result, I made the decision to work full time and keep my music as my passion (cue the shudders of cringe at those last three pretentious words!).
Regardless of this hardening I experienced from the world, music remained my constant; I have No Doubt that it was (remains to be) the crucial element that kept me on an even keel as well as providing a great output for myself in terms of expression of the inner and disconnection from the outer. A safe space to reside in; a self constructed creative oasis that I could retreat to in times of need or to simply to enjoy the the time spent there. It was not until my research in the first trimester of my master's that I discovered how much this concept aligned with Tia DeNora's idea of musical asylums:
"My aim was to rehabilitate the concept of asylum, suggesting that asylum is not a place made of bricks and mortar, nor a set of clinical health practices or treatments, but rather a conceptual space, an anytime/anyplace of health promotion and maintenance and a set of practices for achieving (locating, maintaining, discovering, inhabiting) this place.
On the one hand, I suggested, asylum is a making of room – for creativity, expressivity, flow and flourishing; on the other hand, it is a way of gaining distance (space) from pathogenic factors that foster distress, pain or oppression. This idea of asylum as space for and space from led me to develop the further distinction between two forms of asylum, both understood as responses to the social environment" - DeNora 136.
In a similar vein, I realised that I had been entering what Csikszentmihalyi Mihaly terms 'flow state' (from my experience, an almost meditative state where the self is so completely absorbed in their activity that they can lose sense of time and their mental focus is solely on their practice) in my creative oasis. I mention these two concepts, not just to draw attention to the impact that music and creative practices can have on our well being, but to highlight what a gargantuan part of my life music has been and that this connection between myself and my music explains my Trepidation with releasing my Tunes.
So I continued to write my music throughout my twenties, and the more I wrote, the more pressure I felt to start releasing them, but that pressure was compounded by the feeling that I needed to perfect them for them to be truly finished. This pressure began to attenuate as I entered my thirties, but it fluctuated throughout the duration of this research project. All the previous plans I had for my Tunes were reworked, discarded, combined, refined, brought back and discarded once more in place a paradoxically new and improved plan. However, in the words of the renowned Scottish poet:
“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, gang aft a-gley” - Robert Burns.
An important reflection on my own compositions’ journey to completion, was the realisation that the quantity of music that I was bringing to completion would not contribute much insight to the discussion of when a piece of music is finished. A better approach would be to focus on the quality of the tunes I was sharing, as opposed to the quantity. Despite reducing the parts from four (acoustic, electric, small production, big production) to three (acoustic instrumental, electric instrumental, songs with vocals), opting for a nine singles over twelve EPs has proven to narrow the focus which has allowed for a more meaningful, manageable, focussed, and deeper academic dive.
My initial aim was to use the project as catalyst to force me to release my music out into the world for all to hear. As a musician returning to academia after eight years, having a practical element to the project made a lot of sense and a portfolio of varying compositions allowed for a range of academic research potential related to the music itself - production techniques, compositional variations, lyrical themes etc. However, during the process of bringing this portfolio to completion, investigating when a piece of music is finished provided me with the opportunity to critically reflect on my creative practice and interrogate my established beliefs of when I deem a piece of music to be finished.
As I have made apparent, my main research question has become void as I have brought my tunes to fruition. The project itself has changed substantially and so have I as person. I have chosen to briefly acknowledge this to highlight one of the greatest aspects of this project and the power (for lack of better term) that music can have; change is good because it is the quintessential component of life because change is fundamentally a process, just as we are. Change is paradoxically the one of life’s constants. Before I started this project I was waiting for the right change that would put me in the opportune position to finish the perfect portfolio, but I was missing the point. The question I had chosen for my research question was indeed a great impetus, however the following section reveals the one that allowed for me to complete this project (a static whole that is subscended by its parts that refuse to remain at rest).
“Pardon me, do you have the time? When do you mean, now or when you asked me? This shit is moving, Ruth.” - George Carlin
The question, "if not now when?" has been a significant impetus for this project and I have finally landed on the answer - when you are ready. It is not about being finished or achieving completion for the reasons I have discussed throughout these nine blogs. It is about the artist being ready and from the combination of my research and consistently implemented reflexivity, I have gleaned the insight that the creator’s creation can help the them achieve this state.
So, to definitively answer the central research question itself, a piece music cannot be finished and this is due to its fundamental nature; much like we as living people cannot exist in the same capacity when we are finished (a mildly morbidly analogy to have in a conclusion, but if you’ll allow me to be a bit facetious, it simultaneously fitting for this thesis is a few mere sentences away for its completion).
Through an autoethnographic study of my own Tunes, I have come to the conclusion that a piece of music is just as alive as the musician who wrote it, and the relationship between the two entities can become a mutual one when it is consciously thought about paired with a perspective that is impartial to both; reflecting on both elements without the preexisting biases associated with either.
The musician gives life to music and musicking gives life to the musician. This sonic symbiosis can provide meaning, purpose and a deeper understanding of who we are, and that is I feel is a Tale worth telling.