maandag 30 juni 2014

The Joy Of Creation

Razormane Blogpost #26 | June 19th - July 4th 2014

Lately it’s been hard for me to come up with things to write about in regards to Electronic Dance Music. April and May have gone by without me having produced a single blogpost! You could argue one should only write when there is something to write about but my silent goal of making one blogpost per month has failed (again, just like last year). First of all, the World Cup is in full effect and my, my, my… SO many goals already (tasty!)… Then there’s the fact I’ve just been lacking my usual typing fury/passion/whatchamaycallit (which I guess can be blamed on current personal circumstances: 2014 has been a shit year so far, privately speaking). Yes, I know: there’s never been so much to write about like now. The ridiculousness of EDM through the whole ghost producing hype, the Aiden Jude hype, the drug abuse at festivals hype, and so on. The other day mr. Thrillseekers made a comment about so many jumping the “138” bandwagon. He said he didn’t mind but he asked for people to remain creative. I had a semi-paragraph reply ready, was about to hit <enter>, when I was struck with that “naaaaaaah, f*ck it” mood. Why bother?

Why bother to shine my light on matters which every other amateur and/or professional blog is writing about? Why not write about something more personal? Something I experience myself on a frequent basis? Why not write about one of the greatest joys in music: the creation of that very music? I am merely one of your million bedroom producers, an amateur droplet in an ever expanding sea of wannabe-pros that work on their own tunes, most hoping to one day break through and ride the Wave Of Fame. Back when I just started making my own noise I held the same sentiment. Over the years I’ve moved away from that ambition. Sure, I want to reach a (semi-)professional level of music production but as it is now, I mostly want that for myself. There is a certain thrill to sharing something you yourself created with those around you, especially when the feedback is positive. And when it’s not, you take that feedback, swallow the disappointment and back to the “drawing board” with renewed determination UNTIL your creation sparks more positive feedback. It can be a rollercoaster with many ups and downs but it’s one of the best rides the world has to offer in my humble opinion…

Got some spare time? Kick back and allow me to share my experience with my greatest passion to date.

Music Inspires Music
One of the most common departure points to start working on a new tune is quite simply achieved by listening to the music by other people. Specific genres don’t really matter: I’d say moods are more important. I can listen to 10 Michael Jackson funky upbeat songs in a row and feel the need to recreate the mood these songs give me by aiming to create a Housey tune. I would say that the older the music, the bigger the inspirational impact can be, at least for me it has often worked that way: I am a Man Of Nostalgia.

In that regard, Jody Wisternoff’s Intensified Podcast has been responsible for triggering inspiration countless times. Imagine a warm summer afternoon as you sit on your bed all lazily, laptop on your lap, browsing the web whilst checking out for instance May 2014 Intensified. As the lush beats and spacey lyrics come and go, the groove slowly takes control of you. You feel happy, laidback when suddenly *snap* you veer right out of your bed and head to your desk, turn on the computer and open a new FL file. BPM is dropped from the default 140 to a sloooooooooooooooow but funkalicious 114… A simple “untsuntsunts” rhythm with a kick on every 1st 4th and a hihat on every 3rd 4th is often enough to get the creative juices flowing even faster, after the initial caused “spark” by mr. Wisternoff’s excellent podcast. As the day goes by you work on a new tune and as you are piecing this new “musical child” piece by piece, you increasingly get to enjoy yourself, especially if you manage to come close to capturing the mood you originally envisioned.

It goes without saying that Rank 1 has undoubtedly been my biggest source of inspiration throughout the years as well as my biggest example in various production-related aspects. There is always that one track which puts you at a loss of how to execute a certain part in the arrangements. Often I’ve turned to my heroes to hear how they handle certain segments in their tracks, how long they let a breakdown last or how they implement a climax. In the past 8 years their tracks have always had small details that you might not even notice until the 30th or 80th listen. All in all, Rank 1 tracks are always fun to listen to, to experience and to dissect to bits, especially for a Rank 1 fanatic like yours truly. For myself however, details don’t always matter. I lack the patience/know-how to implement cool background sounds though sometimes I attempt to. For me the bigger picture is most important. Sometimes that picture just won’t make sense though and I need a little guidance from the masters. That said, I think they’ve been most important as direct inspiration though. 7 Instead Of 8 motivated me to make a track with a 7/8 time signature myself whilst Benno’s live performed Symfo breakdown sent me straight into a new FL project trying to mimic the enhanced note sequence he used to play that breakdown. This flash of direct inspiration eventually l.e.d. me to discover something of great value: If you get your chords right, you instantly have a ton of new melody alternatives at your disposal! Piet & Benno always say that they are seeking to improve their previous efforts and every once in a while they will try something unusual (which can refer to their music scene at large or to their own discography). These adventurous tracks have often turned out to be the most addictive, innovative or enjoyable to listen to (Top Gear, L.E.D. There Be Light, 7 Instead Of 8 and more recently 13.11.11). Just as they seek to expand their boundaries, I try to do the same. Not just because it’s fun but mostly because it is educational and can lead you to new direction that allow you to better enhance previous tracks.

Now, Inspiration From The Greats is nice and all, but what would a paragraph about music inspiration be without mentioning inspiration received at a festival? It goes without saying that every successful partynight/afternoon I’ve visited resulted in at least two following days full of adrenaline and hunger for music, with tons of inspiration to boot! Meeting Benno at a party last year and getting to see him and Piet perform some of their coolest tracks of the past years alongside a line-up of Classic Trance heroes like M.I.K.E. and Johan Gielen gave me such a rush and SO much inspiration that the next day I found myself in front of the FL screen again, working on a new track with much excitement flowing through my veins! I just wanted create a dancefloor destroyer that would bring me that happy rush I had heard during so many Classics the previous day! The very first Electronic Family Festival in 2011 gave me loads of inspiration too, the fact that Piet dropped my request during his epic B2B set with Jochen Miller played a keyrole too. Getting to meet and chat with him the next day at a Beach gig took the joy to new heights and it goes without saying that I wouldn’t be bothered with a lack of inspiration for a while after that epic festival weekend! Come to think of it, it was somewhere in that period that I’ve constantly been working on new projects, steadily opening new ones before even finishing old ones, effectively putting me in a sort of steady production flow that has yet to come to an end (ignoring small pauses caused due to life circumstances like work and the like). The only downside about this constant stream of productions is that since I take a long time to finish a project in general, I end up with a lot of unfinished work. That said, I have plenty to fall back on and I grow more and more skilled in distinguishing which tracks have the potential to be revived/finished one day and which ones don’t.

Inspiration to create music is easily obtained from the people/organizations involved with that very music on a professional level. But there are other ways to start your creative engines: they reside in each and every one of us and are called emotions.

Emotion, That Other Engine For New Soundscapes
Of course, one of the most important aspects to any music experience is emotion. Emotion can drive a track to great heights, regardless what mood it is set to capture or amplify. Since the start of my amateur works in December 2005, there have been three examples of tracks that would not have been the same without a specific emotional injection.

During Summer ‘08, frustration motivated me to make an angry Techy track I named “Thunderbolt”. The frustration was caused by a rather (in retrospect) silly factor: the football squad I rooted for lost their match in the Euro Cup quarter finals (at the time I felt it was an unfair defeat). Silly or not though, frustration was high at the end of the match and I had to get rid of that negative energy. By channeling it into Thunderbolt I ended up with something positive out of the negative.

During Spring ‘10, a moment of supreme joy simply had to be translated into a track which turned into “Celebrate Life”. The creation process of Celebrate Life took that joy and multiplied it, throwing me into a cycle of happiness as the track came together piece by piece. Up till now, I’ve never worked on another track with that same amount of happiness, it was smiles all over, all the time! Sure, I’ve been happy to finish all my tracks, especially those of which I felt I managed to extract their full potential at that time. But Celebrate Life was different. The track was like a self-fulfilling prophecy! It was to be a tribute to life itself, a celebration of it, but its very creation process embodied that which it was supposed to symbolize for me. I’ve never experienced any track quite like that anymore and I hope to have another such wonderful experience again someday…

During the end of Summer ‘13 I was struck with grief unlike I had ever felt it before when my grandmother (Mom’s mother) passed away. I was having trouble processing this loss until I turned to music to help me out. Curiously enough, shortly before her passing, I had started working on a track called “Nothing Beats Nostalgia” which I couldn’t get quite right, no matter what I tried. When grandmother passed away and the grief manifested itself, I suddenly found a way to turn the track in the right direction. I greatly slowed down the tempo, I shortened the overall structure the track and changed the layering here and there too. The last crucial change was replacing the typical dance beat with more humble percussion. Shortly before that I had opened a new project to actually make a track that was meant for me to grief with. But it was too sad, too depressing… Curiously enough, it was the “happier” Nothing Beats Nostalgia rework that did the trick. I renamed it “Maezinha”, which is how Mom called grandmother. When I uploaded this track to Soundcloud, I could slowly start moving on. The therapeutic effect amazed me really, I had no idea it would help as much as it did. It didn’t erase the pain but it softened it.

Anger, happiness, sadness. Through the creation of music all of them manage to become something positive or take the original positivity to brand new levels. Discovering this has made me love (creating) music ever more. As I write about all these departure points I kinda get the feeling it is nearly impossible to NOT be able to create music since there are so many stimuli around us to trigger the process at any given time.

Every Light Casts A Shadow
However, to the many great aspects of creating music there is one tricky flipside that can cause the very opposite of the usual joy/satisfaction. Sometimes a track is simply not meant to be great or simply doesn’t have the potential to be more than a filler or stepping stone to a better track in the near future. And sometimes you should just take a break after a long session instead of pushing it to the limit. :P When you are unwilling to accept these facts however, creating music can become a downright nightmare. It’s the same with writing or anything based on (individual) creation: you just can’t force creativity. Often enough I open up a project with a lot of goodwill (whether new or under construction) and end up closing it a couple of hours later with nothing but frustration and disappointment. Whereas being able to recreate or approach an “image” in your mind is one of the greatest joys I know, failing to do so is equally bitter and hard to take. Luckily, nearly ever frustrating night or afternoon has ended up with me taking enough distance so that when I re-open the project a (couple of) day(s) later, the initial disappointment seems highly exaggerated. If anything, it shows that…

Creating Music Is A Learning Process
Passion can get you a long way. When I started producing my amateur works, I didn’t do so because I dreamed of gracing the Wheels Of Steel one day in the world’s biggest clubs/arena’s. Well, I did start considering it at one point (come on, which bedroom producer doesn’t dream about it? Especially after seeing festival footage with your favorite genres of music??). Also, I didn’t do it because my parents were always filling the house with lots of music like you read back in nearly every and any artist biography. I didn’t do it because I had a knack for music in any way. I started producing out of boredom. Pretty lame huh? But that’s how it all began. I was bored out of my skull and I had seen my brother playing around with FL5 two months prior. Though I was already listening to Trance more and more, I had never even though about giving a shot at producing my own tunes. But I just needed new experience at the time. A few quick tutorials later and I ran into a brand new hobby that quickly evolved into one of my greater passions. No longer were gaming/drawing/reading the things to satisfy me the most. And looking back now I notice a very interesting parallel. Back when I was a kid, my greatest passion was anything Lego. You see, Lego is the perfect catalyst to let your imagination run wild and create new worlds at your whim. Without a doubt Lego deserves the title as the greatest toy for children EVER. If I compare it to creating music, it’s nearly the same: you create something out of nothing (or just rubble). In a way you could say creating music is the audio counterpart to the visual satisfaction of playing with Lego. In both cases you build with cubes/squares to create something ever greater than the mathematical logic embedded in both practices. The joy at the departure point and the joy at the end of the creation process merge into a greater level of happiness (though I admit ending a journey of creation that was great fun in and of itself can feel a somewhat bittersweet). The sky is the limit… Though that’s not really true. There are limitations. First and foremost your formal knowledge of productions techniques and tricks. Then there’s the technology itself. Working with a very outdated FL has on the one hand forced me to make the most of less resources, at the same time it has prevented me from making big leaps forward like most amateurs that produce for a longer period. I don’t have a great pace I’ll admit.

Still, knowing that every limit to the music creation process is something I owe to myself is encouraging as it forces one to move ahead and improve at all times. As an amateur I believe the greatest achievement for a musician is to NEVER create that perfect track, to always be just one step behind it. “What is the use to chasing a dream you’ll never realize?!”. Simple, it keeps you going. With each track you try to reach perfection, with every failure to do so you are motivated to keep trying. In the meantime your “discography” expands and who knows? You might even pick up a fan or two along the way. If you play your cards well, one day those two will be hundred, then one day they might be a thousand or more! Keep at it and one day your fans are indulged in great tracks that span a decade, maybe two, maybe even three… And you know what?

That’s might just be one of the best, positive side-effects of creating music: it simultaneously creates dreams for you to chase. A never-ending Journey :)

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