“Surely, it is true that creative intentions are dynamic and subject to change throughout the creative process”
- Patrick Grafton-Cardwell
Lighting the Fire Below
To continue the theme of the self not being a fixed state and how the objects we work with change during the process of developing them, let’s take a look at how my project started, how it’s going and the reasons for refinement.
The 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 8 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 was alluded to in The Story So Far, I enrolled into the master’s last September with seventy five tracks written and forty four to record for the project. I’m now at over eighty, but the project has been distilled to nine tracks - three parts with three tunes in each, a trilogy of trilogies.
Selecting forty four was based around the idea that since I am finally going to release my music that has been written over ten years, why not just release as much as you can and make the most of the university facilities. The sheer scale of this gargantuan quantity of music is not lost on me; it’s a borderline insane amount of music to be recorded and released within a year. To break free from my initial idea of putting out a great quantity of music, I had to reflect and reframe how I perceive my music and my relationship to it.
One of the original ideas I had for this project acting as a catalyst was to set a deadline for its completion and to have a countdown timer on my website. Although I never followed through with the countdown timer, the idea of having a set deadline has remained, since, on a simple level, it scratches the itch of when a piece of music is finished - it will be done by this date.
And Then There Were Fewer
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, and so began the Great Refining of forty four to nine. 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 and deeper academic dive.
The process of refining this portfolio has taken me until a month before the deadline to realise that it’s not about the finished parts (the songs), it’s about the finished whole. Realising the potential that a piece of music may never be finished, does not mean that they can no be part of a collection that is finished - a complete container of ongoing works.
So the project can be seen a completed work of captured musicking, a snapshot of sounds representative of my current beliefs and abilities as an artist. This is by no means implying that the completed whole is more important or of greater value than the collection of tunes contained within, but rather it is more aligned with the view that the whole could be a fixed and finished state. This finished form contains objects that are malleable, subject to change and be replaced - this partially exemplified in the reduction of forty four tracks down to nine, as well as those nine tracks developing during the process despite my belief that they were ‘finished’ upon starting the project.
The project was always going to be an audio anthology, a container of musical objects that is larger on the inside than it is on the out, or to put it another way, a collection of tunes that are greater than the whole container they reside within (think of the TARDIS or Mary Poppins' handbag). Shifting the focus from individual tunes to the container to allow for a more coherent view of completion that aligned with my refined plans. An argument could be made that the project is greater than the sum of its part since the track count has reduced from forty four down to nine - the parts within are replaced, but the whole remains intact and consequently greater. However, this view of mine was brought into question upon the discovery of subscendence.
Reflect, Refine & Repeat
Before joining the master’s course, I was always interested in the idea of Gestalt (defined as 'an organised whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts') theory where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A rather common view that we have taken for granted. It wasn’t until trying to wrap my head around Object Oriented Ontology and subscendence (a term used by Timothy Morton), that I began to question whether that was actually the case.
This mental flip was only achieved after learning about subscendence (a new concept to me) and critically reflecting on why I had previously gravitated toward transcendence. To be frank, Object Oriented Ontology and subscendence has been difficult for myself to fully comprehend, but I do feel I am onto something with this concept and its relation to my practice. It has allowed for a repositioning of my awareness of myself and my creative practice. The project whole will be done but the parts and my reflections are ongoing - the parts may seem smaller but they can still still be engaged with and developed long after the completed whole is submitted as a finished work and becomes inert.
This reflective process of questioning myself and my beliefs brought forth a view that allowed me to be more comfortable with the project I was sharing. To know that the project itself will be a complete whole, but contain objects that are not in a fixed state. As I mentioned, these musical objects have changed both in quantity and in their instrumentation/structure as I have brought them to completion. The portfolio that is acting as a container for these musical objects will be completed and submitted as part of this course, but the tunes can be revisited and developed in the future that will be a reflection of my development as an artist. This relates to what could be called the 'curse of the creative' (more on this idea in my Good Enough blog - coming soon), where the skills we utilise in finishing a piece of art are strengthened through the process and thus upon completion, we have improved our craft to the point we could have produced a better work of art. This perpetual cycle is rooted in the pursuit of perfection, but the pitfalls of that unattainable goal is a tale for another day…