70+ Tracks Written | 10+ Years Writing | Only 6 Released | Why?
Where to begin when discussing the end? A lofty question to illuminate the difficulty I have had in finding the right place to start with discussing this project. By researching, reflecting and discussing the question “When is a piece of music finished?” through the lens of my compositions and creative practice, an intricate web of interconnected nodes has weaved itself into a fairly hefty structure. There are threads of music psychology, musicology, identity and perfectionism (to name a few), all connecting to each other and branching elsewhere. It’s been an ongoing process that has been refined and continues to do so, so finding where is best to begin has been like picking a static point on an object in flux. So dear reader, before I present an overview of what to expect from these Tales, please keep in mind that I will be making no declarations of objective truth, rather I am hoping that by sharing the development of my music and my research, it will contribute to the ongoing conversation and generate some discussion.
Having written a substantial amount of music over time, but not actually releasing any of it, the question “when is a piece of music finished?” seemed a worthy line of artistic inquiry into my creative practice. As will be discussed in further blogs, this core question, applied to my creative practice, revealed several other questions to ask of myself and my music:
If not now, when?
Who decides when it is finished?
Can a piece of music be finished?
To break this down briefly, for this project I have been looking at the self, music and the dialogue in between (Me, My Music & I). When looking at myself, I question my perpetual pursuit of perfection (it’s a great goal to strive for, but it must be tempered with the acknowledgement that it cannot be attained). When looking at my music, I ask can a piece of music be finished? And when looking at the connections between myself and my music, I ask if not now, when?
From my own experience, I have found my own compositions to be an extension of myself, some sort of set of sonic self-portraits. But the self is not a fixed state - we are constantly growing and developing in relation to our environment. So if who we are is in a state of flux and the music we write is an extension/expression of who we are, then the music we write will never be finished for the same reason that there is not, and never will be, a finished version of who we are.
Through all of the Tales in this project, I will be mentioning the term musicking several times and although it is a relatively simply concept, its implications have had a significant impact on the formation of this project. From my own experience, I have found my own compositions to be an extension of myself, some sort of set of sonic self-portraits. But the self is not a fixed state - we are constantly growing and developing in relation to our environment. So if who we are is in a state of flux and the music we write is an extension/expression of who we are, then the music we write will never be finished for the same reason that there is not, and never will be, a finished version of who we are. Further to this, if we look at music as a process rather than a final product or as Christopher Small puts it, “music is not a thing at all but an activity, something people do”, then it begs the question can it be finished? (Small 1998).
This links to the painter Paul Klee's idea that, “form is the end, death”, and, “form-giving is life”(1972, 269); when you force something that by its very nature is in flux to be in a fixed state, it is no longer the same thing. Deep and rigorous analysis of a story removes the opportunity for discussion and thereby you sentence it to ‘death’. Much in the same way, a piece of music cannot be finished for then it becomes inert, and since music is not static, it is an activity, it will consequently flatline when reified into a fixed and final form.
The discussion of the hylomorphic model of creation in Thinking Through Making connects to painter Paul Klee’s view that when something is form, it is the death of it, and conversely, form-giving is life. During the making of this project, this line of thinking aligned with my own as I felt it explained why I never ‘finished’ a lot of my music. On the one hand I believe it cannot be finished; it is process (a living thing) that can be revisited through different lenses as me, the viewer, develops through time, but if it were able to be finished, that would be a tragedy since it would be the death of it. The point of making music is not to rush to the end of it, it is about the process or the journey the player and listener go on together during its performance. A fitting analogy for this would be Alan Watts’ view on the point of dancing;
“When we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point.”
Although perhaps a rather colloquial analogy, the core of the idea resonates with the shift in perspective I had while attempting to ‘finish’ my tunes for I was perceiving music in such a way that restricted my creative practice. Thinking through the making of my music brought forth the revelation that the music itself can be seen as a living thing; in hindsight I am bewildered that this way of thinking was never clear to me, especially since I have seen my music as an extension of myself. I will be expanding much further on these notions in the following writing, but I will first be taking an introspective look at some of the restrictions I had placed upon myself and how, through working with my music, I was able to develop my creative practice and consequently uncover and overcome them.
With all this in mind, instead of confidently declaring that I will be releasing finished pieces of music, I would prefer to frame it as my Tunes are a complete collection of captured musicking. This distinction I've made here is very much a work in progress so I will be expanding on this and a great deal more in the Tales to follow.