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I have recently finished composing my contribution to the upcoming Black House Collective new music workshop, Diana’s Hunt. This time around we are pleased to add a featured soloist into the process and performance. I am certain that our flute soloist, Mary Fukushima-Kirkendoll, will be amazing and has already been very helpful to me as a collaborator. I have sent her multiple drafts of the piece in progress as I was working on it and she would reply with her impressions, what she likes, what she doesn’t like, what she wants more of, etc.
Using past experience as a guide, and taking into consideration the amount of time we have to work on everybody’s pieces, I made a decision to limit the total length of this music to around 7 minutes. I think the end product is challenging enough to be exciting for the players to work on, but not too difficult as to preclude the possibility of a polished performance. I would venture to guess that to date it has taken approximately 50-60 hours of work to arrive at what we are going to read through for the first time this coming Sunday, Feb 23. My usual practice is to start working on music as soon as I wake in the morning (after achieving the appropriate level of coffee), and can usually sustain a good zone for between 2 and half to 3 and half hours before needing to take a break. By zone I am referring to the mental state of ‘flow’ that I can establish while working with my full attention.
I have been at work seriously composing music for the last 15 years or so, and it has only been in these last 4 or 5 that I have really been able to readily reach those states where I am able to let the work come vomiting out of my brain without the need for conscious effort. To put it another way I become the vehicle for this thing, this program, this auditory creature to come into existence through. And let me tell you, its an absolutely ecstatic feeling when everything is working right.
Taking all of this into account, I am always slightly nonplussed at the letdown when I finish the writing of a piece. I know that there is still plenty of work to be done, but as far as my mind is concerned, the ‘creative’ part of making this work is finished. complete. done. fin. Some part of my brain disengages from the emotional highs that you can get to when entrained in flow and shifts its attention to ‘ok, now you have to practice this, you have to work on the technique necessary to make this piece of paper with dots on it actually come to life and breathe on its own. Now you have to put in the hard work.’ This is slightly frustrating because part of me always wants to be tinkering, redrafting, to be coming up with ever cleverer arrangements of dots on the page, but another part knows that it doesn’t have time for that nonsense right now, there are more pressing issues to deal with. And so this cycle goes for piece after piece after piece that I compose. Create-Practice-Perform and repeat.
The thing I am doing differently this cycle is that I am concurrently writing a wholly different piece, a string quartet, that will be premiered approximately a month after the upcoming Open Studios event. So now I have two cycles co-occuring in my head and the frisson of being in two states of the cycle at the same time will help mitigate the slight depression that always comes whence a piece is performed for the audience. The night of the performance many of us in the ensemble will be painstakingly high on endorphins and usually the next day or two are brutal for us composers while you wallow in that perennial existential-crisis favorite “what next?!?!?!” I would imagine it’s much like what I have read of the come-down from MDMA, where having blown all of the neurotransmitters in your head in one night of debauch, you feel like crap the next morning because you jacked up all your brain’s receptors and need to flush it all out in order to feel like a normal person again. More romantic leaning people might say YOLO or some other such witty neologism in response to the idea of chemical enhancement of one’s mind but that’s not my point here at all so perhaps I shouldn’t have made that reference.
The point of this post is to share with you my fascination with the ways in which minds works, and how coming to a greater understanding of what exactly it is at the electrochemical level that my brain is doing when I am ‘feeling’ or ‘remembering’ or ‘planning’ or ‘zoning’ has helped me become a better composer and, hopefully, human being. The mind is what the brain does after all, we’re all subject to its whimsy.