Today I’ve done a lot of thinking about my Creative Pact and what I said yesterday about carrying on with Lilies even though I suspect it’s wrong. And the more I thought about Lilies, the more I feel it IS wrong. I feel like I’m an Italian-speaker trying to give a speech in Spanish and getting all hung up on the minor language differences when what I have to say would come across better if I just spoke my own language. I really REALLY want to do this piece (well, A piece) for Carla – but the quarter-tones – and feeling I NEED to use the quarter-tones – is really getting in the way, even when I try to approach them as embellishments on a primarily 12-tone structure. My brain just seems to have hit a brick wall here.
I spent about 4 hours sitting in a park thinking about this and re-reading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (awesome book. If you are any sort of artist or inspiring artist – and most definitely if you are any sort of discouraged artist – you need to read this one). One of the passages I read that particularly resonated with me today was this:
Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work
The salient part of this, for me, right now, is the second part. I can see that I feel I have to use the quarter-tones (because why write for quarter-tone alto flute if you don’t?) but quarter-tones haven’t really been part of my own language up till now. I’ve used them in a couple of pieces from Lucky Dip, both of which were specifically written to experiment with them (among other things). On the one hand, I would like to learn how to integrate quarter-tones into my compositional language, but I’m really feeling lost as to how to do that. None of the approaches I’ve taken yet seems to have really worked for me. On the other, if I focus on writing the piece that I’ve imagined Lilies on the Silver Sea to be, I’m beginning to suspect it may have no quarter-tones in it. Would that be a problem? I don’t know – I’d have to ask Carla. I do still want to try with the quarter-tones though.
Contrary to what I said last night, I’m beginning to feel that it’s a waste of time and energy to push on the way I have been. The music I’m writing doesn’t fit the mould I’ve created for Lilies and the direction it’s taking won’t ever. Which reminds me of another bit of Art & Fear which struck me today:
Joan Didion … said ‘what’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone’.
It’s the same for all media: The first few brushstrokes to the blank canvas satisfy the requirements of many possible paintings, while the last few fit onlythat painting – they could go nowhere else.
I feel like I’m composing myself into a corner. Objectively I don’t mind what I’ve written so far, but it’s not what I wanted this piece to be. I’ve one final quote from Art & Fear which is also relevant:
Meanwhile artists who do continue [through the fear of only pretending to be an artist] often become perilously self-conscious about their art-making. If you doubt this could be a problem, just try working intuitively (or spontaneously) while self-consciously weighing the effect of your every action
This disjunct between the intuitive and the self-conscious is exactly what I’m experiencing here. I always work intuitively. I go where a piece wants me to go and mostly that works out just fine for me. However, continually reminding myself about the quarter-tones and also trying to use a particular scale (octatonic) because I wanted something that wasn’t going to be plain old major/minor is, I think, continually reining in that intuition and stopping the piece from leading me.
So instead of forging ahead, I’m going to let this piece lie fallow for a few days. I’m going to ignore what I’ve already done and try to come back to it with a fresh view, possibly to work on it using my usual methods (Finale, some piano work) to see what happens, possibly ditching the whole Lilies concept and going back to my original interior-design-based idea.
Oh, and in notes-based news, yes the notes I added to Ladders of Escape last night using the iPad piano are just fine, although I didn’t get to add any more today.
Also I saw one squirrel and a load of lovely busy bees in the park. And there were old men cheerfully playing lawn bowls in the sunshine. It was nice 🙂