Friday, October 12, 2012

The layers of creation

Talking to a musician recently, I was able to hear about the creative process of songwriting, making me wonder how the process compares to story writing. This songwriter defined himself as a lyricist rather than a poet and explained the difference. The band creates the music first, and his lyrics are a response to it. While he might have ideas he jots down now and then, most often, the lyrics form as they're playing and he's feeling the pulse, the moods, the journey of the music.

Sometimes the lyrics are quite spontaneous, reminding me of what Jack White once said about writing "Ball and Biscuit," playing in a studio and asking what kind of microphone it was they were using. It was called a ball and biscuit and, to him, it must have rang with a sound or sense he felt fit the music. Spontaneous connections. Subconscious reactions.

When I write I like to lose myself, my awareness of writing, and get into a state where I'm reacting to the events unfolding as a character in that moment, exactly. I was originally likening that to the lyricist reacting to the music. But really, first creation for these musicians was instrumental; somehow they were collectively drawing on verbally unexpressed emotions and experiences playing out on each instrument, meeting and understanding each other, going another step, creating "plot," movement, mood, and theme.

Is this more like a writer's first development of a setting with a character, meeting another character, reacting and taking another step? The various personalities forming in our minds might be the meeting of these musicians, feeling, learning, growing off each other.

So, then what is the stage when the lyrics come forward? Is this more like a writer's next draft? When we go back and read what we didn't even know we were writing? And we begin to place meaning on it? Fix setting, rearrange plot, adjust dialogue to convey the mood? Like the lyricist putting some of the instrumental themes into words?

Hmmm, I'm not sure. I wonder if the lyricist finds himself once again in first creation stage, subconscious reactions to the music being played. But then ... even in revision I find I can get lost again, be sucked in again and lose myself, as if the subconscious revises on the next layer of creation. A developmental process, each time perhaps more refined or defined, an added cymbal brush, a piano key tapped, a vocal note extended; a setting drawn out, an image sharpened, a tightened exchange of dialogue. Each time still finding spontaneity, surprise, waiting for the layer that says it's finished.

At least temporarily, until it sucks us in again, and the mind recalls an image, a feeling, a sound that can bring to life the next layer, the future that lives in what we already know but need to say, sing, play.

My thought then: maybe revision isn't as calculated as I often think, if we're not conforming what we wrote to a marketable formula, but instead, trying to intuit and create it to the next layer of understanding.

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