Music 256a, Reading Response 4

Recently, while listening to an audio production-focused podcast, I heard a musician make the following suggestion: "Forget expectations, forget form. Don't write down the word 'verse,' don't write down the word 'chorus.' Just listen to your intuition, and trust that it's right." At first glace, this may seem a vague and unhelpful piece of advice – how does one start creating, if not from expectations culled from existing works? – but I think it points toward a unique dilemma for creators/designers. At some point in artistic development, one finds oneself with a great deal of knowledge regarding past creative decisions. As discussed in my previous reading response, past works can be inspiring jumping-off points; however, creating only based on established rules and tradition can be a sort of cage. With this approach, creativity can give way to rote appeal to expectation, with every verse followed by a chorus and every guitar sounding like... well, a guitar. Our most practiced and cherished methods of design can betray us, becoming predictable and stale. What are we to do?

Chapter Four's discussion of programmability provides, I think, a compelling answer on page 194. Using the computer as an "agent of transformation" allows us to implicitly throw away expectation, embracing spontanaeity and perhaps even error. I readily admit that I am a very nascent coder, at the beginning of my experience with programming and algorithmic thinking. But in the context of creation, that means that I am constantly trying new things, attempting to implement a sound or concept from my thoughts. Sometimes my bumbling around leads me to unexpected places – many times, the sound that emerges from my nearly-incompetent code is far more interesting or suggestive than what I had originally envisioned. In these cases, my interaction with the computer hijacks my creative process, steering my intuition to somewhere completely new. I have found myself considering the computer almost as a collaborator, a glitchy companion that offers wacky complements to my more conventional ideas.

As a musician, I am ideologically inclined toward unusal sounds and experimentation. I love, for instance, when guitar players take an unconventional approach, making their instrument sound akin to a different instrument, or altogether foreign. But my sometimes lazy inclinations toward the familiar preclude ideological purity. When taking advantage of programmability and embracing the unexpected results of computer collaboration, I understand the podcast musician's advice. While still biased toward what I've heard before, computer-mediated sound design forces me to let go of base, and often arbitrary, aesthetic rules, accepting sounds that my ears haven't heard in order to create something unknown.