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Authors at the Water Cooler: We Inherited Music

what if it turns out music is writing the musician?

The musician’s power of expression is founded upon a prior obedience. To what? To her teacher, perhaps, but this isn’t the main thing—there is such a thing as the self-taught musician. Her obedience rather is to the mechanical realities of her instrument, which in turn answer to certain natural necessities of music that can be expressed mathematically.

-- The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (affiliate link)

When a musician strums a guitar, or strikes a drum, they attune to the instrument as it is in reality, they constrain their creativity to the instrument's real physical properties. The forging of sound is in reality riding the stream of sounds, reacting to the tones and intonations of vibrations of air. Predicting how to change these air vibrations to match your intention as an artist, your goals, is what it means to create in a world that waits for you to be clever.


To be sure, if one inquires historically, one finds that cultural forms are products of human will as exercised in the past; someone had to invent the mixolydian scale. But from the standpoint of any particular individual in the present, they are experienced as a horizon of possibility that has already been set (they are an “inheritance,” to anticipate the theme of Part III).

-- The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (affiliate link)

What happens when constraints are loosened? What happens when a musician leverages a new technique on an instrument many hundreds of years old? Are they finding something new? Or are they merely discovering the next logical step?


Much like the glamorous, long-haired heavy-metal guitarists whom I worshipped as a youth, the most compelling virtuosos are often boring nerds who sat in their room for ten hours a day, practising their scales.*

-- Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen (affiliate link)
If there is one thing I have learned through my long music career, it's to choose the style you want to get exceptionally good at and don't lose focus.

-- Music Habits - The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production: Finish Songs Fast, Beat Procrastination and Find Your Creative Flow (affiliate link)

Unfortunately, reality rarely gives up its nuance so easily. We as creators must attune to the constraints of our art form, attune to the constraints of our audience, attune to the constraints of our goals. Focus! Focus!

To say what needs to be said, we need to listen to what we have, and what we're missing.

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