Thursday, July 7, 2011

Crossing the Streams

I realize that I have used the term "crossing the streams" a number of times now on my blog and in my tweets. An explaination seems long overdue so here goes. First, two other expressions I use are related: "moving outside the box" and various allusions I make to the movie "The Matrix" (one of my favorites). I am not that crazy about the other two but the first was great.

What I like about the movie is the idea that one's own mind can become a kind of prison. While I am just using this idea as an analogy I do think that we get stuck in ruts in whatever profession or art form that we we are involved in. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone tell me that the reason that something should be done a certain way is because that is the way it's always been done and that is a kind of matrix. It limits creativity and in music, that is 90% of the ballgame.

To give you an example, I love the scene in Amadeus when Salieri, after killing his rival Mozart, is asking his therapist if he recognized a few songs. The one he recognized was Mozart's who he despises as a kind of musical creature. The song he did not recognize was Salieri's. Why? Because Salieri's was in the box. It was not bad music but it tried to stay in the lines. In music lines become cliches and music becomes stale if it does not break "out of the box". To break out of the box (or the matrix), the music an/composer must free his/her mind of old cliches. I truely believe that most pop music today is some of the most cliched music every. One person likes a certain sound and then follow it and then it becomes a genre. For example, I just recently learned what dubstep is which is really just a certain sound.

Now realize that I am a gear head and techno geek. I have three hardware synths and who knows how many soft synths and effects not to meantion Moogerfoogers and a few other guitar pedals. Moogerfoogers are not really guitar pedals, they are more like modulare synth modules but I won't get into that here. I also have a few mics and field recording equipment. What I try to do in my music is get out of the box. Now don't get me wrong, if you don't know where the box is, then you risk music sounding totally unintelligible. Believe me, more than once I have crossed that line. In some sense, to know how to go somewhere, you have to know where you have been. It's why I try to study music both its history and its methods. I always am open to learning from the works of the great masters be they classical composers, jazz music ans, rock musicians or the many other talented people making all sorts of wonderful music.

So to get away from the lines, you have to make a bridge. You have to plot a course. That is where all the techno stuff comes in. A ship for example can't just drift aimlessly. It has to plot a course so I watch demos and read manuals and ask questions. "What if I did this" is a common one.

Some of you might know about Alvin Lucier and Karlheintz Stockhausen. One of my mentors if only on paper and in sound. Both Lucier and Stockhausen asked the musical question: "what if I do this" but with musical compass in hand. They had some idea where they were going.

Another movie I really like is "The Perfect Storm" except for the ending. I actually hate the way the movie ends. Not every fisherman in a terrible storms died. I love the spirit of the captain who wants to chart deeper waters which in this movie is the Flemish Cap. You can look it up but its way of the coast of Canada and known for its good fishing but also bad weather. So finding better ways of doing things means risk.

So when I make music, I go out to the Flemish Cap of music as I believe Lucier and Stockhausen did. Well, not every time. Sometimes I stick closer to port. Not every time I go into deeper waters do I find what I want. I get a great idea but sometimes the reality and the idea don't match and I just turn around and come back to port. Music to me, at least the experimental music I write, is musical fishing. It's moving way outside the lines and trying to find a good catch, something that people will listen to and say wow, that's taking me somewhere I have never been, into uncharted musical territory.

So to get there, I try many tools. Psychology, psycho acoustics, technology, music theory, harmony, music history, even math. I don't draw what I see as arbitrary lines between these disciplines. I am not interested in creating a matrix to capture my mind but rather, searching for deeper musical waters and trying to create a new musical ocean in which others can also explore either by listening or creating themselves.

So "crossing the streams" is really about erasing lines not creating them. It's why I keep inviting music therapists and others into my world of music. I am trying to share what I have experienced good and bad. And hopefully, by breaking down those lines and sharing experiences, the music, music therapy and many other disciplines can benefit and we can fish in deeper seas.

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