Contemplation

Lions at entrance to subdivision Williamstown, Massachusetts

I recently advised my friend, John, to call Apple for advice on migrating from his old eMac to a new iMac. That recommendation was mostly for time-saving, selfish reasons but John has spent hours with his new friends at Apple and recently thanked us for the recommendation. He stopped by the other night to borrow an old operating system so he can reformat his old machine before putting it out to pasture and he wanted to bring a few things to our attention, things he had learned from hours spent in his “library.”

He had book-marked pages in the recent “Genius” issue of National Geographic and he read those passages aloud to us. “The aha moment, the flash of clarity that arises at unexpected times—in a dream, in the shower, on a walk—often emerges after a period of contemplation.” His experience in stewing over a problem has found this to be true. And, although I didn’t say anything, I have found the same. I’d spend hours knocking out logo designs under a deadline and then hop in the shower to have the winning entry reveal itself. So, us common folk can at least recognize the concept. There’s also an “Age and Achievement” graph in the issue that charts peak output of a dozen geniuses and makes it pretty clear that in most cases that point is around thirty or forty. But what about Philip Guston?

Next passage, read aloud, voice of John: “This may help explain the astounding performances of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. Jarrett, who improvises concerts that last for as long as two hours. When he sits down in front of audiences, he purposefully pushes notes out of his mind, moving his hands to keys he had no intention of playing. ‘I’m bypassing the brain completely,’ he tells me. ‘I am being pulled by a force that I can only be thankful for.’ Jarrett specifically remembers one concert in Munich, where he felt as if he had disappeared into the high notes of the keyboard. His creative artistry, nurtured by decades of listening, learning, and practicing melodies, emerges when he is least in control. ‘It’s a vast space in which I trust there will be music,’ he says.”

Esperanza Spalding, a professor at Harvard University, where she teaches composition and performance, plans to record her next album in a 72 hour live stream. She tells students that in order to speak honestly in your own voice, you have to control the urge to plan everything out. “Only play in response to what you just played — and if you lose your focus, then only play in response to that. This helps them focus on a conversational flow, maintaining contact with the energy of the moment rather than wandering through some calculated narrative. They get in touch with what they already have going on. Which is a lot.”

“I foresee that creating before a live audience will add excitement and extra inspiration energy. Knowing someone is watching and listening to what you’re making seems to conjure up a sort of ‘can’t fail’ energy. The necessity to keep going because it’s live draws up another depth of creative facility that can’t be reached when you know you can try again tomorrow. Having such limited time to write and record 10 songs will also force us to rely on improvisation and first instinct. Not allowing us time to judge, second guess, question, or alter the initial hits of inspiration that drive the creation of each song.”

One Response to “Contemplation”

  1. Martin Edic Says:

    When I was writing my first novel I had no idea where it was going from day to day. And it surprised me. So I started reading about the writing processes of my favorite writers, people like Murakami and Ondaatje. Did they plot? Not at all. Both started with a scene and let it unfold. The English Patient, a complex story, started as nothing more than an image of a man in bandages in a ruined Italian castle towards the end of the war. Our subconscious is working on stuff even as we are distracted by our chattering surface mind…

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Martin Edic