The desert island

I’m beginning to acquire a practical understanding of just how futile artwork is in a vacuum. I believed it before. I knew it in my mind. But I now feel it sinking into my gut. Actually experiencing it is something else entirely.

Although I would likely dance on a desert island, and probably clang coconuts together, I would not “compose” music. I would scribble lunatic poetry into the sand with carefully carved sticks. I would roast clams with the care of culinary craftsman. If I had a piano I would play it, if I had a soccer ball I would kick it, and yet if I had staff paper I would likely burn it.

Despite my affinity for creation and particularly my penchant for musical expression, composition, to me, seems empty and pyrrhic without some lucid notion of how or when such a work will be realized into an actual performance. I find no solace in note-driven pencil pushing, or in the fastidious, isolated, and supposedly autonomous justification of conceptual self-referential architecture splayed out across note heads and ledger lines. I would gather no satisfaction from sitting back in my chair generating overly-mentated masterpieces on paper that have no relation to the physical and social phenomenon of music making. Dehumanizing the process dehumanizes myself.

The end of the work is what pulls my means along.

Interaction with and feedback from fellow creators in crime (choreographers, conductors, filmmakers, quartets, and oboists) is what both drives my work, and assuages my artistic needs along the way. I work for the joy of creation, and when it comes to actually writing my music down, that act of creation is not complete until my sounds are heard by another. I like to share. In this way, each and every work is a collaboration, and any romantic fable of artistic independence is a pretentious fiction.

It is my artistic and disciplinary interdependence that endows my work with meaning, and there is nothing I resist more earnestly than engaging in a work which is meaningless.

There is a reason why desert islands are deserted.

3 thoughts on “The desert island”

  1. What a wonderful ritual to engage in with others!

    When I think about why I would argue that writing and crafting is not necessarily for sharing, I have to back up to consider my performance history. Not having heard most of my pieces in performance, I’ve made a habit of treating new works as entities independent of sharing in concert or salon. One might consider this a case of sour grapes, as I do find performances and even informal sharing deeply rewarding, but I don’t think I could help but fill those manuscript pages on my desert island.

  2. I like your thoughts, Qian.

    Ever since this post (and your response) I’ve been thinking deeply about my relationship with my written music. I don’t think one’s relationship with their work should ever be taken lightly.

  3. Wonderful eloquence. Yet I find your comment to be pretty self evident and not all that a profound an observation once one steps away from history and sees what is actually happening around them in the present: in life, in aspirations , in music. Although self reference is just as human of a necessity as any other gregarious human creativity. I never believed that music ever really was or will in the future exist in a vacuum, or as an end for literally the self of one. As you said ( in more words), doing so is sort of ego chauvinism and “fictitious”.

    Consider what might happen when you finally step out of the nucleus of the academic into the whole body process of life… the observations that await might suggest that the desert has learned to fill itself with things that appear to have life, but in fact are just as empty as the sands beneath them. Meaning, the very few who would care about what you have created may end up just building residential additions to the desert island. However, I tend to think that if I make an observation about the life around me as an active participant and I have as my paint brush the strokes of sound, then why do my observation require as an axiom another active host in creating such, to live in the relevant now? I am just suggesting that self reflection is just as vital as gregarious participation in such reflection; which ultimately in my view is self reflection as a participant in gregarious experience of life. Perhaps there is a necessary distinction between the highs and lows of total self creation and “interdependent” creation. In which case, I would agree with you that there is such and that one in general might benefit more from the latter. I know that I enjoy creating more when around others to share in the process. But not in reaction to any disdain when creating by myself.

    I am curious what force moved your artistic mass to pen such a comment? Is this from practical experience, as you suggest in your comment?
    I wonder what painters and poets think of your comment? Are they really creating alone? Am I? Are you? Is this described reservation about creation only relevant to music? To whom do you refer in either history or the present that believes composition CAN live in a desert island or vacuum?
    Finally, don’t misunderstand what i am saying. I am with you totally when you say that a piece is never finished until it has been given host to its proper medium: sound through the visceral human experience. This to me is the axiom.

    I know i’m not separate from my world around me. therefore whether i write alone or with other is not so much an issue with me personally. They really are the same. It is more important to me who I am writing FOR and where my creations end up… which for most of us just might be that vacuum…. sadly

    Best wishes Sam.

    I was linked to your website through Sq21 about the MiND ensemble. Exciting stuff! Miguel and I worked with some psychologist and physicists on a very similar project using experimental biological feedback interfaces through medical biologic feedback computer music. But nothing quite like what is happening with the MiND group. I’ll keep a neuron or two open to what is happening there. 😉 WAY COOL!!!

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