Occasional Ramblings on Sound and the Creative Process
I have to admit it: I’m stuck. I’ve got some great sounds for my Faery Project, but have been spending too much time thinking and not enough time working! I need to get out and make some field recordings of natural sounds to use as the ground for my high-pitched, super-dense glass sounds. I’m thinking fire cracking, leaves crunching (it is afterall Autumn here in upstate New York), bees buzzing in their hive (I have access to an apiary, lucky me!), geese honking, and a water moving. I need wind sounds too and something to evoke flight and fast movement.
Meanwhile, this one snippet of my glass-sounds has been bopping around my head for months now. It’s a rhythmic high pitched loop, perfect for a faery processional.
I can’t seem to forget about this loop; I am drawn away into my imagination by even the memory of it, drifting through my head at odd moments. Which is of course perfect, because I remember all these stories of faeries luring children off into the wilds… I suppose that the reason I am interested in these mythic creatures is because I want to exert the same kind of strange force, luring the listener into some vivid, trance-like space. I want to lure and be lured into magical spaces.
The problem is, this project is proceeding a little bit ass-backward – that is to say I’m putting concept ahead of the bulk of the creative process. So it is taking me forever to get anywhere! At the outset of a typical piece, I normally traipse out with my field recorder in hand. The drive behind making the piece is really just that dialog between me and the sounds and my tools. It is only after the piece is finished that I find what it is about – or at least how it speaks to me. Still, listening to the way 19th century composer’s tried to pin down the sound of the faery is providing a good model for my thinking.
Here, for example is Mendelssohn’s interpretation of a Faery processional (From the Midsummer Night’s Dream suite):
In art school, I learned technique and honed my skills, but struggled to grasp on to the ability to make work about something. I certainly have things to say, and there is a powerful undercurrent in all my work (no matter how diverse in apparent subject matter) that could be deemed my “concept” – that is, the sense of the magical in every day life and a need to find peace and healing through ritual and aesthetic experience. But I’ve finally realized I can’t really make work about these things – these are just the context my work sits inside. This is why I make art, but not what I make it about. Listening to Mendelssohn though, I can sense how he used sounds very specifically in order to evoke a sensation of movement and flightiness. His overarching aim may have been to transport the listener, but more specifically, he and other early composers working in this conceptual vein used technique to flesh out ideas about minute worlds, inaccessible to ordinary human awareness1. They were thinking about romantic notions and science as they were composing, creating music that reflected popular ideas about the fae during that era and nodding back to mythological stories. Now I endeavor to do the same, except that I am focusing on a more personal conception of the fae and experience of “faery magic”. You can see why I have been a bit lost in thought when it comes to this project! So many dreams and childhood memories to sort through, so many fascinating readings within the modern new age oeuvre.
I think though, I have only to get back to the sound and I will find my way. After all, it is a set of sounds that got me started on all of this. Time to put a field recording day on my calendar!
1Brittan, F. (2011). On Microscopic Hearing: Fairy Magic, Natural Science, and the Scherzo fantastique. Journal of the American Musicological Society, 64(3), 527-600.