Music 256a, Reading Response 3


At the core of Artful Design's third chapter are the concepts of iteration and recombination. Most of the chapter's case study examples take something relatively common – circles or everyday photos or frequency spectrums – and simply multiply, rearrange, and adjust until something new has been created. This process seems familiar to me, as I often find myself recording voice memos of chord progressions or melodies that, upon further consideration, clearly owe a debt to something I've previously heard.

Currently, in a folder on my laptop called "Originals," there sits a song called "Joni Marling." I named the tune this because its sparse chords with quickly moving bass notes reminded me of the work of songwriters Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling – perhaps something I imagined they might write if they found themselves in the same room. When I listen to my recording of this idea, I think of Mitchell's and Marling's music, but it also strikes me as distinctly mine. Not because I think of it as wholly mine or free from outside influence, but because it showcases outside influences through the filter of my ears. The recording is derivative, but in a way that, I hope, is unique to the way I hear these songwriters' music.

This rings true for other forms of iteration, like sampling. Sometimes I think of sampling as one musician picking up where another left off. For instance, Ernie Isley recorded the drums on "Footsteps in the Dark," and forty years later, Thundercat used that pattern for his song "Them Changes." Despite the decades-long gap, it's almost as if Thundercat walked into the room when Ernie tracked drums and said, "hmm, I have an idea for that!" Thundercat may have been using a previously created rhythm, but he heard it differently from the Isleys, using it to create a wholly distinct song.

If designers of any type ceased to use existing material as inspiration, we would cease to learn from our past. Sometimes originality can be discussed as if deigned by fate or fallen from the sky, but it's more often a tweak, a mistake, or a reinterpretation. That's why Artful Design's conception of originality is encouraging to me – because it's honest about design's existence within a continuum and a community. To me, there is a communal comfort in iteration and recombination, a sense of connection to designers who came before and who will come after. I'll continue listening to and filtering Joni and Laura, and if I'm lucky, maybe someone will hear my work and take something from it.

For me, it's easy to become overwhelmed at the notion of creating something from scratch, staring into the void. But these thoughts about originality remind me to chill out and take a step back. They allow me let go of my ego a little bit, acknowledge what I learn from others, and focus on contributing some small, personal piece to a larger body of work.