If there is one word that best describes how I felt after listening to Frances Whitehead’s talk last Friday it would be anxious. This also seems to be the reoccurring theme of the week as I get to know more about my fellow MFA students and the anxieties we all share, the familiar burdens we all seem to struggle with. Anxiety is most definitely not a foreign concept to me; if I was to introduce myself it would be as anxious. However, upon a critical reflection of Frances’ august proclamation, I was left wondering what it truly was that was making me feel this way and as the anxiety slowly turned to pangs of guilt, I realized what had affected me so. It was the discussion regarding collaboration; the abolishment of both authorship hierarchies and the culturally conditioned perception of an autonomous, isolated artist involved in a predominantly studio based practice. The way Frances advocated collaboration, no matter how powerful or passionate the delivery, created a deep anxiety within me because it brought into question the very motives for which I was so inspired to pursue an MFA in the first place.
Collaboration has always been an integral process in my creative practice as both a musician and composer. In a way, I have known nothing but collaboration for as long as I can remember. Nearly all of my creative endeavors have, in some form, involved composing and performing with someone else, for someone else. Even if I am writing a piece in isolation, it is never realized to its fullest potential until shared with a group. This is where the majority of the magic happens; through the extraction and recontextualizing of ideas, albeit with a little experimentation and improvisation (also commonly known as the ‘jam’). As much as I love writing and performing music with and for others, I have recently noticed a dynamic shift in both my thought processes and the feelings present when reflecting upon a particular gig or recording. Part of me doesn’t feel fulfilled performing music and I no longer get the same satisfaction I once did. I somehow convinced myself that I needed to love music because it was solely responsible for forging my identity, my purpose. There was a piece missing and I have felt a strong pull from the universe (fuck this is getting woke lol) telling me that I need to nurture my creative independence and develop a stronger individual sense of my own vision. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I want to spend the next few years of my life being creatively selfish and not have to feel guilty about it.
Being in a band really does make explicit the connotations of collaboration and what it means to share the authorship of a work with another human. In all honesty this has felt like a double-edged sword, manifesting itself not only as the sharing of a transcendental performative experience on stage but also as the political struggles surrounding commitment and contributions off stage. In my experience the role of leader tends to oscillate between band members and the weight of certain songs carry particular significance for some members and not for others. This can lead to a feeling of alienation from your own work. Sure, you can always find a happy medium but sacrifices must most definitely be made (no way am I going to stop playing sick minor 9 voicings because you think it makes people uncomfortable). Vision that was once full of eager promise begins to become oversaturated and stagnant as multiple voices are attempting to be filtered through one constantly shifting paradigm that can’t seem to decide who the music is even for anymore. What agreements are respected and understood inside the band dynamic might not hold up or be valid in the courts of the public audience. I always felt a sense of guilt that maybe I was being too precious with my sense of ambition and authorship in the collaborative process. That maybe I need to bite my tongue and work as a collective towards a common goal. Maybe. Maybe the lack of a lucid vision was draining my motivation to dedicate and give myself wholly to a project. Maybe I just want to experience the creative process on a more individual and personal level, on the opposite side of the river per se, and to understand what it is that I truly wish to say.
If it wasn’t obvious from meeting me over the past week, verbal communication isn’t my forte and I prefer to express myself with sounds that don’t involve the English language. I see these responses as a good excuse to create succinct musical improvisations to keep honing the craft that I have spent years refining. At the moment these extracts seem assume the form of musique concrete, a compositional concept and technique that I have been exploring and one that seems relevant to the recent conversation surrounding authorship, autonomy and hierarchies.
Each improvisation is created by treating and manipulating a single audio recording using various methods of experimentation to explore the sound’s explicit and implicit potential. This first piece ‘uses’ the recording of birdsong within a lone tree amongst a concrete jungle located near the water front. The amount of unique and contrasting bird voices within this tree was overwhelming.