Perfect Sound Forever

CREATIVE DEAD ENDS IN MUSIC

Composers and musicians talk about how they confront it
by J. Vognsen


Students of creativity face a version of the so-called file-drawer problem: Artists tend to share the works they find successful, not the ones that they consider failed.

That's as it should be, of course. But there is probably as much to be learned about creativity from looking at when it fails as when it succeeds. Why does some music end up not in the ears of listeners but in the dustbin, or perhaps never leaving the mind of the creator in the first place?

To approach this topic, I reached out to a number of composers and performers to hear if they would share something about parts of their creative process that went nowhere. I presented them with the following:

What are one or more examples of creative dead ends you've encountered when making music? Something that, for whatever reason, left you so unsatisfied or uninterested that you decided not to explore it further and never made it public. It could be an idea, an approach, a technique, an act of abstinence, a variation on something, a way of presenting something, a score, a recording, a particular completed piece of music. Why did you leave it behind? Why did you decide not to share it with the rest of us?
Reactions below.

for comments and ideas, thanks to Michael Mørkholt
Anders Bach Pedersen






photo by Holimage

TONY BUCK, drummer, percussionist, improvisor, guitarist:

Sometimes creative projects, approaches or ideas never quite get past the initial drawing-board stage. I feel there are as many reasons as there are these creative dead ends - usually simple pragmatic reasons - don't have time, too complicated, don't have the resources, life gets in the way...

- The project has run its course, for whatever reason. You lose interest and it's time to move on the other things - bands break up, pieces aren't finished, the project seems exhausted or irrelevant.

- You feel you've overreached. The idea is too ambitious or difficult to actually pull-off and has to be re-imagined, postponed or simply abandoned. Sometimes, these creative ideas or endeavours come to fruition much later on and in quite different or adapted form reflecting the idea that the idea, in itself was OK, but you, as an artist, had to go through a bunch of other stuff until you could know how to proceed with the original idea, in which ever form it might now take or evolve.

- Other projects and work take over and the initial idea is never developed, to the point that it becomes irrelevant to you - time has been against you and the creative motivation has vanished.

- On closer inspection, the idea isn't really that good or the theory is nice, but in reality, it really doesn't 'hold-water.'

- The whole thing is taking too long and suddenly seems like an idea from another period in your life that isn't really what's happening now.

I think I've had a few creative dead-ends that fit any of these instances, and possibly others I can't recall. Projects including forming bands to writing 'big' pieces, to recording ideas or moving into new areas of creativity that you perhaps have no expertise in or indeed aptitude for. An idea is that perseverance and tenacity are perhaps areas of diminishing returns.


STASH WYSLOUCH, guitarist, singer, songwriter:

I have had many creative dead ends. One of them is developing what I would think of as an interesting instrumental-solo repertoire of original music.

I still hold out hope that it will unfail and I still chip away at it, but it's going to be a long time.

I've written a lot of music, lots of scores, lots of demo recordings, and nothing has stuck to my satisfaction.

I attribute it to two main causes:

1) Trying to imprint somebody else's idea or model directly onto my creative project.

Example: One day I'm reading an inspiring account of another composer/songwriter's approach to a piece of music I really like. They talk about improvisation and composition in mystical terms, you can almost see their vision of God in their description of the music. Maybe in the moment I want that in my music and I am even cocky enough to think I can do it. I'm seduced by the end-product. I try and trivially apply what I imagine are similar ideas to a piece and it falls flat to my ears for whatever reason. Diagnosis: the creative project was over-seduced by an abstract idea and the initial aim wasn't strong enough to overcome technical hurdles.

I've been seduced by Derek Bailey, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell's ideas of solo performing a lot.

The explanation for reason #1's failure is tied into reason #2:

2) Not having enough patience to master the medium/craft that the imagination asks for.

These 'mystical' and abstract intentions one can aspire to when reading of hero's accounts of 'transcendent pieces of music' are usually informed by the composer's life-time of work and experience in a field. The audience and maybe-eventual-imitator often overlooks this experience and work. I know I certainly do all the time.

All this being said, until one dies, it's never too late to un-fail a project, so I'm always optimistic that a life situation will present a new shock to inspire an extra bit of work to fill in the work and experience to achieve what was started, I just need to stay open to the fact that it won't be the static form my musically seduced brain projected initially.



Photo by Gregory Massat

SAMUEL ANDREYEV, composer:

I don't know that I have run into anything as concrete as a 'dead end' in my practice as a composer. I have made many course corrections, but very little of what I have done so far has led me nowhere. Most of the time, if a particular approach or technique has failed to bear fruit, it has still been useful, if only as a negative example -- showing all the more clearly where exploration cannot productively continue, thus allowing me to recalibrate my direction in future projects. It has been more akin to a long process of sorting out the essential from the contingent and momentary. Over the course of nearly 25 years of continuous creative endeavour, I have gradually refined my approach, and, I hope, gotten somewhat closer to my ideal. I would describe this as a music that is strong (even--especially--when transparent and delicate), forcefully directed, and imbued with a symbolic resonance that cannot easily be put into words.

While certainly not dead ends in and of themselves, there are a few technical elements present in earlier pieces of mine that I have not pursued farther. For instance, most of my pieces up to about 2015 used microtones in some manner or another. Since that time, I've found myself not needing them -- perhaps because the tools of tempered harmony already offer sufficient complication and subtlety without needing to drastically increase the range of possibilities. Consequently, I've mostly reverted to using the tempered chromatic scale in my pieces. Similarly, I have generally found little use for the mass of what are usually referred to as 'extended techniques' in my work, for much the same reason. While it can be useful at times to explore the fringes of what is possible on a given instrument, most of my more recent work has been fairly classical in its approach to instruments.

Over the years, I've found that the less I make use of such things, the more my work has the potential to mirror the sensations of extreme strangeness that I seem compelled to explore. The strange is the complement to the familiar, and it seems to me that the familiar must be present in abundance in order to give shape to the strange.


SAM KULIK, trombonist, singer, composer, improvisor:

When I'm struck with an idea for a project, it usually comes to me as a complete concept; most often a straightforward and simple one. Then, my job becomes to figure out a path to realizing the concept and what part of that path will be the part I share with the audience. If I share a fairly early part of the path, my experiments, discoveries, and imperfections will be part of the audience's experience alongside mine, which is usually what I prefer to do. I value the freshness of musical discovery and have never stayed with material for years in an attempt to create a fully polished recording or magnum opus. But one idea has had me stumbling for like 15 years because it does need that mastery and polish. It's a recording project as straightforwardly clear as others I've had, but one that I don't think will be interesting or successful unless it's done extremely well, and it demands engineering and playing techniques I do not yet possess. I've purposefully taken on other projects that edge me closer to where I think I need to be to really get started but I don't know when I'll ever fully begin. By the time I do, the core idea might change, and the process of working on it might also force me to change the concept. Maybe I'm afraid that will happen and that's why I've never started! My beloved idea can remain perfect if I never try to actually pull it off.

PHIL MINTON, vocalist, improvisor:

Back in the 1970's, I participated as a singer and trumpet player in several performance art groups productions.

On one occasion, we had a few days residence at an art centre in the Hertfordshire country side that had a field attached where performances happened.

I was always happy to just concentrate on sound and music and was never much involved in the visual production of the groups.

'But look at this piece of overgrown land.' What's needed is a hole dug, where I would plant myself before the next production, a group member would rearrange the weeds and turf mounted on a wooden frame, so there was no hint of the 'hide' just in front of the performance area. I had a small hole for air and sound - and as the performers did their stuff above me, the very ground beneath them would burst into glorious song, a brilliant idea.

There were to be other spots in the field where performances happened, so I could sneak out of my hole, after a few minuets of quietness from above. I didn't want to destroy the magic of my performance.

What I had not grasped was, most of the performers above were not aware of my presence below them, they were improvising, were very noisy and not a sound from me was heard by anyone.

When fishing for compliments in the discussion after the show, I swear I heard someone say, "a damn silly idea if you ask me" and that was about it.

We won't talk about the giant helium balloons, raw mackerel and a famous church.



photo by Lutz Diehl

NICK DIDKOVSKY, guitarist, composer, music software programmer:

One microexample of this came up when I was arranging my piece "Vox Requiem" for Häßliche Luftmasken. I think it's a pretty good example because it has all the elements of the process of creation and rejection without any distracting grandeur or drama; it's just about a melody. I thought it would be effective to have a harmony join the opening arpeggio after a couple of repeats, so I started playing around with it. I spent a fair amount of time working on this harmony, because the passage itself is challenging and has a few twists and turns in it. I remember the feeling of being pulled into it, as a problem that was disconnected and independent. The creative process sometimes doesn't really care what exactly it's working on as long as it's doing something interesting, as the problem/solution/effort/reward cycle during development sort of propelled me along. There's a tendency to become increasingly committed to keeping the results of a creative effort, that is in some proportion to the amount of effort you put into it, and I really starting racking up some time on this harmony. When it was done, I was pretty proud of it, and decided to give it a rest and sleep on it. I listened to it the next day and it immediately just sounded like fake Judas Priest to me, and I ditched it without a second thought.

Another example was when I abandoned one approach to composing new material for the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet. Fred encouraged the ensemble members to bring new pieces to the repertoire, so before every tour, I'd experiment with different ideas and approaches and compose new tunes. I'd use traditional techniques like coming up with material on my guitar, transcribing it, arranging it, developing it, etc. People who know my work might recall that sometimes I write software to generate raw material for compositions, that I then develop into final pieces. I've written a number of pieces that way for my band Doctor Nerve for example (first appearing on the CD Did Sprinting Die?) and Bang On A Can All-Stars ("Amalia's Secret"). Try as I might, nothing came of this approach when I applied it to the guitar quartet. I don't know if the homogeneous sounds of four synthesized guitars being performed by software was just too uninspiring, or if there was something bigger going on, but I abandoned that approach after a few noble attempts to squeeze something out of my software. I probably have files of the raw attempts kicking around somewhere, but they are likely in an ancient file format that would be incompatible with any software I currently use, and would take real effort to decode. Let's consider them gone forever.

One sort of oddball recent example is the genesis of my guitar duo CHORD with Tom Marsan. Tom and I have been casually collecting guitars for years. It began during the recession of 2008 when the price of used vintage guitars plummeted. We'd sort of egg each other on and help each other decide whether or not to go for a particular guitar on Reverb or eBay, and whenever a new guitar arrived we'd get excited about it, get together, explore it, put it through some paces, try different amps with it, sometimes resell it, etc. During most of this time, we never really took a step toward actually playing together; we'd be more into exploring the newcomer guitar and then of course we'd play them in our own projects, but not really creating music together.

Then a couple of years ago, we got the bright idea that we should grab a couple of our favorite guitars, hook up some effects pedals, plug into our favorite amps, and just make funny psychedelic music without caring too much about how it would turn out, as long as it was in the spirit of kitchy '60's psychedelia. That was the plan anyway. Tom even found some VHS tapes on eBay with some promisingly awful party scenes (teens dancing and tripping, crazy parties with swirling lights, anti-drug ads, etc.). The plan was to make cheap sound tracks to these and just post awful videos anonymously to YouTube as a goof, just so we could have a project and play together and have fun.

Anyway, we finally got together, and I plugged straight into a Marshall Super Bass, no effects at all (completely neglecting the 'effects' part of the plan), and Tom plugged into a Marshall JCM800 with just a few pedals, and ended up only using one, the Swollen Pickle which is a killer fuzz box. He had an echo unit but never used it (actually, he kicked it on almost by accident for about two seconds which you can hear on our first record, but that's it). When we hit the 'record' button, we got into it without even referencing for a millisecond the funny druggy effects orgy that we had so much fun talking about beforehand. So strange, it's like all those pre-production conversations never happened. We just sunk into this deep listening thing for hours, and all the conversation afterwards was excited chatter about this music we were discovering. It really wasn't until a couple of weeks later that we even remembered that we'd intended to do this dopey satire music. I remember we just sort of laughed about that for a second and then got back into the stream of conversation about this music that seemed to unfold on its own. Then we set upon the task of further understanding what CHORD was showing us it wanted to become.



Photo by Ellen Lande Gossner

MAJA SOLVEIG KJELSTRUP RATKJE, composer, performer:

This question is extremely difficult, as I see all those failures along the way as inseparable from the results that actually meet the audience. I can't recall at the moment anything that has had no creative value or hasn't been changed into something or been taken apart into something where components have been included in new work over a long or short process of shape shifting.

I have heard people comment that I seem to have a lot of ideas, and it surprises me, because ideas come to me slowly, and sometimes over long time spans. It doesn't feel like I am bursting over with ideas at all. Doing free improv concerts as a performer is extremely fruitful, as it requires openness to the moment of performance and its surroundings, including fellow performers and audience, and connects you directly to your creative palette, to what you know and the potential of that.

When invited to compose a work, a commission for an installation or a scored work, I often go back to previously unused ideas to see if they match the frames. It's as if the ideas are stored in some kind of mental scrapbook. Sometimes I have started to develop a work that didn't come to realization due to practical or financial issues (certainly a 'dead end'), but I keep finding myself reusing parts from those processes in new works when new frames allow it.

It is only a few times that I already have a clear idea that match a commission. Ideas can of course be triggered by the frames of a commission, for example when making a site specific installation. Also, ideas come without any outer initiation, and if not possible to realize now, then wait for an opportunity!

I like to think that composing is an intuitive interchange of new and old ideas, and being open to that flow of exchange between the conscious and subconscious, you can't avoid already used creative trails to be a part of the play. I often don't see, until after a new work is done, that it is a continuation of something I had touched before, something that even could have been called a 'dead end.'

Being invited to realize a new work, I have learned over the many years of living off my art, to trust that creativity will happen, that the process will work, even though commitments still fill me with fear, afraid that I have nothing to come up with. There's always something, and nothing is entirely new ground.



Photo by Lars Just

LIL LACY, composer, musician:

An example of a creative dead end that I have encountered when making music is if the music I was working on didn't resonate with me the day after - or if it didn't resonate with the people I collaborated with - be it other musicians, singers, instructors, dancers, actors... The act of resonance is very delicate and sometimes you feel it, but then that feeling can change even though nothing in the piece you worked with changed.

Also the opposite can happen that something you lost your resonance with (dead end) suddenly picks up on you again. It is a very unpredictable system - but it is very clear when you feel it. Like an atmosphere in a room that you can sense is just not right - or a taste of a meal that just doesn't suit you even though the food, the company or the atmosphere here might be good.

I have a strong experience of the opposite also - that when something really resonates within me, that that precise same either specific tone, change of harmony or sound of the specific instrument, in that millisecond often will also resonate with others. And that is always puzzling for me how that can be... a kind of universal tuning to energy, space, time and sound traveling across a room and us as human beings...

Sometimes it is good to let ideas rest and not share them with others before they "got it" - they were ripe to share. Sometimes an idea can be left behind for years, sometimes they can be taken up again, other times they are completely forgotten. It can be notated music, lead sheets, memos/recordings, videos or something that you suddenly remember in your memories... the air turning.


JON MUELLER, drummer, percussionist:

For many years, I have been interested in ideas - not just music that existed for its own sake, but music that was part of a broader parameter of my own making (ex. Death Blues, Tongues, Metals, etc.). Sometimes, when beginning with an idea, I would make music that seemed appropriate for the parameters of the idea, even though it wasn't something I might play otherwise. And in some cases, this ended up feeling odd, like I was playing something that wasn't necessarily coming from me, but fulfilling the "job" of the project, if that makes sense. In these cases, I would stop and think about what I could do that felt more natural, and often, that would be the best solution. The natural inclination of playing is most aligned with one's current state, approach, etc.

However, relying solely on one's natural inclination doesn't necessarily move one forward. I discovered that if I defaulted to this way of playing, it can easily become redundant, etc. so all of one's output starts to sound and feel very similar.

To avoid this, I've found it important to incorporate both a natural response to playing, but finding some small way to push things in certain ways - developing a type of meditative stamina, pattern duration, and refining a language. By relying on general sense of natural comfort, I feel better prepared to push things in certain ways without feeling like if I fall short, the entire work will collapse. This practice has allowed me to reach certain states of playing I never would have had I just had an idea and responded with what the idea seemed to demand, right from the start.

In response to your question, I'm not sure I ever left something behind entirely. Usually, if I hit a wall, it was based on the situation I just described. After a series of shifts and adjustments in both thinking and playing, some resolution would always be found and the project would be fulfilled. Having an idea and parameters from the start helped make this possible. If the idea was good/important, that would be the inspiration to help the music find a way.


HAN-EARL PARK, guitarist, improvisor, constructor:

Every piece I do leaves behind detritus of a creative life: abandoned exercises, studies, mockups, etcetera. A lot of my time and energy as a performer, specifically as an improviser, is spent in preparation; off-stage, in practice and in study. Testing things out, sometimes speculatively, sometimes with a particular goal in mind, sometimes creating studies to more clearly define a problem or problematic; these exercises and studies can help me hone in on a particular technique or strategy, they can help me discover better ways of getting from A-to-B.

With very few exceptions, these studies were never meant to be shared, and a vanishingly small number are finished to a quality that I would be comfortable presenting to the public. They are by no means a secret, but it was always going to be auxiliary to any public presentation. Like a warm-up, or low-level component test. I don't know- do travellers want to know the decision-making process behind every choice of nut and bolt or rivet that holds their vehicle together?

But sharing these studies were never the point; it would be pointless as some aspect of these tests and studies, even in the form of the absence of certain techniques or approaches, are enrolled in some way into the final project.

But sometimes the creative detritus can be unplanned and have a greater impact--a greater impact on energy expended, on time and effort. With my most recent piece, "Of Life, Recombinant," my initial plan was to create an improvisative suite with both certain formal considerations (to do with forward and reverse playback, with a somewhat palindrome-like structure), and, inspired by the works of Bong Joon-ho and Jeff VanderMeer, the manipulation of genre and the transposition of the grammar and tropes of narrative forms. But the piece refused my efforts, and so my hard disc is full of many hours of audio, each one an abandoned attempt at this piece.

What emerged in its place was unexpected, with an opening that I resisted for the longest time, but I eventually came to understand as the piece became something I had not intended, but I came to understand. As I wrote at the time: "There will be other pieces and other opportunities. For now, this piece is what it is."


CARLA KIHLSTEDT, composer, violinist, singer:

Cultivating My Compost
My creative life has been, and always will be a series of alternating AH-HAs and OH-SHITs. The A-HAs are full of innocence, ingenuity and optimism: Everything is possible. Time stretches and expands. Fabulous hybrid mythical musical creatures are born with the legs of a thought, the body of a dream, its head full of questions and a poem on its tongue.

The OH-SHITs are earthbound and dense--heavy little things that make a leaded thud when they drop. Some sit there for a second, shudder, dust themselves off and then try again. Some stay down for a long time. Some never get up. But even those--the ones that truly fail--eventually they disappear into the soil of another project. They're compost.

Really, they are both aspects of the journey of a single idea. They just illicit different exclamations depending on which direction they're headed. It's a variation on the particle/wave conundrum: when they're upward-moving and buoyant, headed for the clouds, they are AH-HAs, and when they're speeding towards the ground, pulled by gravitational reality, they're OH-SHITs. But the up-and-down ride is the trajectory of the evolution of an idea until the bounce settles into a wobble and it ends up in a comfortable orbit--a new planet all its own.

My creative failures--the ones that never get airborne--fall into three basic categories: The Hollow, The Half-baked and The Missed Marks. Here's an example of each:

The Hollow:
In the early '00s, I had this thought that I'd make a solo violin record. It would be part Ligeti Atmosphères, part Bartók "Solo Violin Sonata," part Crumb "Four Nocturnes," part Ives "Central Park in the Dark." See the problem from the get-go? It's not just the confluence of influences -- It's the lack of a center. It's all orbiting moons with no planet to connect them.

Here was the plan: I'd have a first session in the studio (recorded by guitarist/engineer Myles Boisen in Oakland, CA). I'd improvise textures, colors and flights of fancy. I'd take those tracks, layer them, push and pull them to make a kind of psychedelic funhouse-mirror portrait of myself and my violin. There would be a second session to add detail and depth to the sound sculptures.

Needless to say, I never found my focus with it. After the first session, the whole thing began to feel like I was baking a cake with no mold to pour the batter into. I didn't know why I was making it or what it meant to me, or to anyone. There was no discernible relevance or resonance--nothing generous in it--nothing to care about beyond my own hubris, some aspirational associations and a healthy pinch of vanity. I also couldn't make sense of it because there was no container, no parameters, nothing to give it form, and so it languished.

Somewhere I still have those tracks. If I could take them out to the fire pit and burn them, I would... not out of any sense of shame, but to mark the evolution of my understanding of what music is for and why I'm here making so darn much of it.

The Half-Baked
In 2014, I was invited by the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts to embed with the Environmental Sciences Department at Dartmouth College. The second part of the invitation was a commission to take what I'd investigated and write a new piece for the Brooklyn Youth Choir. The piece would be called "The Understory," based on an exploration of the cultural and natural histories/stories that are written into the soil we live and walk on. This expanded to learning about the mind-blowing inter-species communication that happens underground.

While "The Understory" itself was not at all a failure, the score--the actual information on the page - was half-baked. It was the beginning of my continuing exploration of combining traditional notation and improvisational frames. In my bands and in my own playing, I cross that border with hardly a thought, but to find a formal visual language that conveys and enables that shift of engagement to a complete stranger--that is a whole other thing.

The end of this story is not yet written but here's the basic plot: computer-reluctant girl hears beautiful sounds in her head--a whispering forest of voices. She tries to cram the whispering forest into the limited 2-dimensional visual language of her notation software, which she is only moderately comfortable with because of said computer-reluctance. Stubborn girl doesn't think that perhaps her love of ink and paper might save her. Again. Thankfully I'm still that stubborn girl, and so now that I have thought of it, I'm opening up the score again all these years later to solve that puzzle better. I was thrilled with the BYC's performance of "The Understory." We created it as a forest of singers that the audience wandered through, surrounded by sounds at all levels of audibility. Though we "found" the piece through weeks of working together, it was in spite of the score and not because of it. I'm still working towards a score that conveys the piece to a roomful of strangers without me there to help.

In general, I do my creative work on paper, writing messy sketches that no one but me could possibly decipher. Once I feel the flow of the piece, I'll migrate to the computer and indulge the linear logic it demands. But any time I get that tight feeling as I stare at staff lines on the screen stretching infinitely out into the future, and the sounds in my head begin to fade, I do two things: I move to my other desk, far away from the computer, and I get out a giant piece of paper (sometimes staffed and sometimes blank) and I start drawing, looking for a language of shape and form that could be a coherent invitation to another human. If I'm still stuck, I visit with one of the many choral scores of R. Murray Schafer to remind myself of the brilliant translations possible between the realms of sound and sight. He's a master of visual onomatopoeia. Schaefer's scores are things of beauty on their own, but more than that, they are intuitive. Their visual language may be 'experimental,' but they are precise, evocative and descriptive. You get a more visceral sense of what each moment sounds like just from looking at it than you ever could from any score notated only in the traditional western language of dots and stems.

The next step in my notation journey is to upend my process in the computer entirely and to use a graphics program as home base for my scores, pulling in 'traditional' musical elements when and where they're useful--that and a joyful retreat to handwritten scores.

(A note to creative music educators: we should all be exposing our students to creative and graphic notation right alongside the standard traditional western notation. Standard notation should be one of many tools, and not the automatic default. More and more musicians consider themselves interpreters, creators and improvisers. Let's evolve our language of notation to keep up!)

The Missed Marks
The opportunity to write for other people is one I don't take lightly. Someone else is giving their breath and time to your ideas. They are inviting you to use their resources to make something to share with their audience. It's such an honor. I always start with a giant throw-down wrestling match against the maximalist omnivorous side of my musical instincts. I'm the kid in the toy store. I want it all! But I'm also the exasperated parent, making myself choose the ONE thing that will anchor this exploration. What's the ONE question that will open up the whole process?

The first thing I do to get out of the wanting EVERYTHING mode--a mindset cultivated by a life spent in a consumer culture obsessed with things, ownership and property--is to remember that the piece I will write is a verb and not a noun. It is not a new shiny toy to be paraded around the living room in front of your siblings. It's a space to visit, hopefully over and over again. It's a living gift.

I've missed that very first mark, sometimes by a mile, and sometimes by just a few degrees. There are pieces I've written for people where I know I've squandered that opportunity... not that the piece is an outright failure, but that it's just... fine. Or worse... nice. Or, it has a few holes in it so the energy I thought it would convey leaks out the sides. That, I can usually work with. But the former--the nice pieces that talk too much at you but never open the door to let actually you in--those I bury in the yard or add to the compost heap.

In the end, I love my failures. Not the pieces themselves--they make me queasy. But I value the humility they keep teaching me. I carry them with me much more than I do my successes. My successes (I use that term knowing full well how very subjective it is) I cast off and don't think much about once they're out of my hands. My failures? They call to me, not just to taunt me (though on a bad day, they do that too), but to remind me that I'm not done with them yet. They are picturesque propaganda shots in a travel brochure of places in my own land that I haven't yet fully explored. Like a brochure, they don't mention that the journey there will be long, stinky and exhausting. But if the pictures aren't lying, the air will be different, the colors richer, the tastes fresher, and the dialect will carry a whole new sense of nuance and poetry. I'll spend my life making those journeys--sometimes successfully, sometimes not.


ARON DAHL, composer, improvisor, songwriter:

I tend to think in opposite terms, why would I share this with the world, is it necessary? Is this useful? There is so much stuff out there already.

The main reason I'm able to finish anything is because I have deadlines. Unless I spend a very short time from idea to 75% finished work I'm gonna get unsatisfied and disinterested before a piece is done. It can feel like kneading a dough too long, it stops living. I then try to change it up so it becomes new to me again somehow.

I love the feeling of an idea presenting itself to me, like it's not my idea but a gift I am given. Entering an imaginary world and finding out what lives there and what the laws of physics are in that particular place. But it can be hard for me to sustain interest when the novelty has worn out, when I have learned what I came to learn. Where is that quote from, Once you receive the message, hang up the phone?

About 5 years ago, I wrote a piece for 2 electric guitars, 12 amps and these specific hexaphonic pickups that only consisted of AC/DC riffs. Kind of like a heavy metal version of "In C." At that point, I had been writing very quiet music for a while and I think it was expected that I was gonna write another quiet minimal piece, so the piece didn't really have anywhere to land. I also decided to build all these specific effect pedals myself, like 12 pedals or something, and I was terrible at soldering and it was just a nightmare. I think only 1 or 2 of them worked? A disaster. I couldn't shake the feeling like it was a failure even though it would have been totally fine and probably better to perform it without effects.

I finished the piece but didn't have it in me to actually make the effort of getting it performed, and I was already on to the next thing. I guess in the end, I didn't feel like all of the technicalities and logistics were justified, like it wasn't that great of an idea. I would still love to hear it though, if someone ever decides they want to perform it.




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