Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Art of Being Unusual

Now more than ever, we are surrounded.  Surrounded by more sounds, visuals, and creativeness than we ever have been.  We live in a world where we look at screens at an ever-increasing rate, and the outside world at a diminishing rate. What that means is that we are surrounded synthetic, curated environments as much as we are surrounded by buildings, trees, and other people.  Even right now, instead of typing this into a blank word processor, I'm typing into something that was designed by a professional, housed in website controlled by a major corporation, hosted by a totally synthetic construct of millions of creative contributors.  Design and architecture is now something that consumes most aspects of our lives, rather than merely our home and our cars.  Creative design inundates our work, our communication, our relationships and our time-wasting. 

This, in a way, is a real plus for the creative community.  Given my work as a recording musician, I am presented with more opportunities for work, because music is still a big part of creative design.  Even if it's barely noticeable, music must be thoughtfully composed for ads, phone apps, websites, bumpers, trailers, games, etc.  Because of that, I can work more.  I am very grateful for that market, because I like recording music for a living and would like to continue doing it. 

I think what I appreciate most about this creative environment is the strain it puts on higher art forms.  It forces the artist to look for hard-to-find sounds and emotions that can elevate music above the fray of the music we're surrounded by.  On the one hand, we have thousands of extremely competent musicians and composers working on the music that is "used" on us throughout the day, and on the other we have "artisan" composers who look to entertain us in the more pure sense of music appreciation.  There's still a major element of competition for our ears, but it cannot be won by one musician being more technically skilled than another; no, there are more than enough A-level musicians out there. 

One thing an artist can do, and what seems to work on me, is finding the art in the unusual.  The off-beat sensibility finding its place in the on-beat part of the brain. 

Speaking from a drummer's perspective (as is my only real musical expertise), I can see it happening more and more.  Drummers are no longer judged by speed, or how hard they hit, or how good they look with their shirt off.  (Not that those things don't matter, especially the last one!)  Now, a great songwriter needs a drummer who can think outside the box, and apply an unusual spin on the typical "backbeat on the 2 and 4".  Having a strange, makeshift drum kit can help, mixing in a snare that sounds trashy, or rocking a broken cymbal, or deliberately avoiding the obvious pulse in favor of an oblique approach. 

I've heard many attempts at the unusual sensibility, and much of it seems completely arbitrary.  Deliberately playing without variation for 5 minutes is hardly a substitute for art, neither is hitting a piece of plastic instead of a kick drum.  Art does not exist because you're doing something weird; art only exists when the unusual hits a note in the brain that makes some kind of perverse sense.  To make this work, a musician needs to look outside of his/her own role, and find something that fits the song more than what's obvious.  To find something that works on a level that no one else would be able to figure out.  That's the vision that an artist has that a "practitioner" does not.  That's the vision that I and many others strive for, and practice towards.  Art certainly isn't defined as "unusual expression", but on some level it has to be.  If anyone can do it, why would it capture our imaginations and make us feel something above the ordinary?

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