Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Making Crazy Beautiful Perfect

Something struck me recently about people who are experts in their field: they make decisions immediately, without a second thought, and those decisions tend to be right on. I observe the smooth ease as they turn a question or problem into something satisfyingly perfect and beautiful, and I think, aha. That's why we all do what we do, why we follow our individual paths and hearts' desires, why we become specialists and know-it-alls. Knowledge, when delivered without labor or hesitancy, allows others to trust. It's a beautiful loop, like a platinum engagement band. Experts deliver knowledge effortlessly, and curious minds bow in trust.

I never studied how to compose. The closest I came, perhaps, was completing my theory assignments in the car on the way to my piano lesson. I didn't dislike theory--it's just that it came so easily to me that I put it off until those twenty minutes en route to my lesson. I was genuinely surprised when my piano teacher corrected the assignments and remarked that my "composed" antecedent or consequent phrases were quite lovely, correct and creative at the same time.

Now, decades later, I find myself creating music for dance. This music will be heard by a lot of people, and you can bet I'm giving it more than a commuter's casual attention! Composing "in my computer" is a far cry from writing Bach-like harmonic progressions and Mozartean question and answer phrases, yet I realize that I could not do the work at all if it weren't for the thorough classical training I've received. That training, as far removed as it seems from the "type" of music I'm making, allows me to make decisions instantly. I arrange snippets and samples in a GarageBand "score," give it a listen, and without thinking twice, begin to push things a few seconds to the left or right. My rhythmic sense is intuitive but rooted in a training of "counting aloud," "count while playing hands alone," "conduct while singing each voice of your fugue solo." And, of course, there were those love affairs with one metronome after another. Strict rhythmic study eventually becomes a habit that, to a listener, simply comes across as "good timing," and I like to think that I arrange my musical materials with a savvy or demented or sophisticated sense of timing. There's not a lot of melody in my digitally derived "music," but perhaps I create a melodic structure by timing things in a way that was once informed by original antecedent/consequent ditties.

I never really associated elegance with speed, but lately it seems all around me, from how city planners and building inspectors interact with the public to how certain moto-racers I know drive around town with more surety and calmness than some of my friends who drive every day to work. I observe how people's intellectual expertise allows them to make a split second decision and thus nourish the most crazy, imaginative, or spectacular idea. (Sometimes choosing to NOT drive on the freeway is a spectacular idea!) Randee, too, summed it up: I may make "crazy beautiful perfect sound for [her] dance," but it's only because the ideas are filtered through years of discipline, practice, curiosity and performance. That's what she's really placing her trust in, whether she knows it or not!

Hmm...a new theory anyway.


Hi -
I mean to come back and read some of your blogs properly because this one is certainly very interesting. I just want to say that I think a good sense of rhythm is the most important attribute to have as a musician - whether as a performer or as a composer. Years ago, when I was a music student I used to get hang-ups over my weaknesses but now I understand that I've got one thing important thing going for me: a sense of rhythm. I don't just mean that it's important to know how to count crotchets and quavers, etc, but also to feel the weight and importance of whole phrases or harmonic ideas. I wish you well in your composing ventures.

By Anonymous Elaine Horner, at 11:25 AM  

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