Creating Art With No Plan

My wife and I have been watching Dear White People on Netflix (great show BTW!) One of the characters is a film student in a university. She’s working towards her big final project – producing a documentary. One problem…she has no idea what her documentary is about. But to stay productive, she wanders her campus filming random things…nature, people, etc. In an episode, she has a presentation to her faculty advisors where she’s expected to outline a plan of what her documentary is about. Since she has no plan, the whole scene is quite uncomfortable for all the parties present. In a state of mild frustration, she pleads with her faculty advisors that her process is explorative and that the random material she collects will eventually lead her to a specific path/theme/thesis. The reaction from the faculty advisors was disappointment as they saw this as a copout and/or lack of focus.

I empathized with the student filmmaker because I feel very strongly that a clear path/process in creating a new piece of work is definitely not necessary. I have many compositions in my portfolio that had their start with absolutely no plan in mind. Or at least no conscious plan. In their completed form, they have a certain spontaneous quality that makes them unique.

For me, spontaneous music-making comes in the form of improvisation. While improvising, I have no intention about what will happen…very free-form. I record these improvisations and then spend much time editing the contents striving towards a final composition. To respect the process, I very rarely delete large sections or even re-order them. Instead I focus on fine-tuning, melodies, rhythms, counterpoint so it has a polished feel. Walking that fine line between randomness and meticulous creation is intriguing to me and can create very creative results. I find that when I veer too much towards one or the other, the result is not as gratifying.

In various aspects of my life other than composing, I have OCD Type A personality traits. But for some reason, that does not apply to my music-making, which makes me happy. Sometimes it’s important to just go with the flow especially when you want to get started. Life is a journey. So is creating art.

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