I used to fetishize the personal and idiosyncratic in musical composition. I still maintain that cult and outsider artists collectively represent a beautiful art form that America has perfected, and reading the history of American music you encounter a parade of bizarre and wonderful individuals who pushed things along and in unexpected directions by sheer force of personality.
But is this our task today? Any project we undertake is colored by the immense surplus of content compared to demand for it. We have the most creators in the history of humans, and people's cultural consumption meanwhile is coming from a narrower set of channels. There is almost nowhere a sense of prioritizing the local, and fewer and fewer generators of content are necessary to fill people's time and level of interest.
So I guess we have a choice. We can get weirder and weirder as individuals, sink our creative practice further into the depths of idiosyncrasy in hopes of catching a bit of attention. Or we can approach the task with some hope of leveling, of reaching the people directly around us and building something from there.
I used to think the highest end I could achieve in composing was creating something so unique that no one else could have done it. Given the aforementioned pervasive issues of surplus, it makes sense to arrive at this conclusion. But what about creating something so simply and straightforwardly communicative, something so retroactively obvious, that it seems anyone could've come up with it?
Or at least maybe anyone else in your town could've come up with it? Because, on some level explicit or implicit, it reflects something of an experience that is not unique to just you?
Maybe it's time to make something that comes from looking across the room rather than at one's own navel.
Among the most common critiques of abstract expressionist painting, or of the giant monochromes of Rothko or Klein, is the age-old "I could have done that." A teacher of mine used to reply, "of course, but you didn't."
Similarly, John Cage was once told by a non-musician critic, "if this is what music is, I could write it as well as you." And Cage said, "Have I said anything that would lead you to think I thought you were stupid?"
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