Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

24 JULY, 2012

Tchaikovsky on Work Ethic vs. Inspiration

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“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

I recently stumbled upon a recurring theme articulated by both Jack White and Nick Cave, a concept that flies in the face of our cultural mythology about how creativity works — the idea that just showing up and doing the work, or what Jonah Lehrer calls “grit,” the same quality that Ira Glass says separates mere good taste from great work and Anne Lamott believes is the secret to telling a good story — is just as important as the notion of “inspiration” in the creative process.

All of this reminded me of a fantastic letter legendary composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck, dated March 17th, 1878, and found in the 1905 volume The Life & Letters of Pete Ilich Tchaikovsky (public domain):

Do not believe those who try to persuade you that composition is only a cold exercise of the intellect. The only music capable of moving and touching us is that which flows from the depths of a composer’s soul when he is stirred by inspiration. There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.

A few days ago I told you I was working every day without any real inspiration. Had I given way to my disinclination, undoubtedly I should have drifted into a long period of idleness. But my patience and faith did not fail me, and to-day I felt that inexplicable glow of inspiration of which I told you; thanks to which I know beforehand that whatever I write to-day will have power to make an impression, and to touch the hearts of those who hear it. I hope you will not think I am indulging in self-laudation, if I tell you that I very seldom suffer from this disinclination to work. I believe the reason for this is that I am naturally patient. I have learnt to master myself, and I am glad I have not followed in the steps of some of my Russian colleagues, who have no self-confidence and are so impatient that at the least difficulty they are ready to throw up the sponge. This is why, in spite of great gifts, they accomplish so little, and that in an amateur way.

Here is Jack White, echoing — unwittingly, no doubt — Tchaikovsky:

Inspiration and work ethic — they ride right next to each other…. Not every day you’re gonna wake up and the clouds are gonna part and rays from heaven are gonna come down and you’re gonna write a song from it. Sometimes, you just get in there and just force yourself to work, and maybe something good will come out.

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20 JULY, 2012

Good Morning, Mr. Orwell: John Cage, George Plimpton, and the World’s First Satellite “Installation”

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Countering George Orwell’s dystopian vision with improvisational music and experimental art.

In a comment on the recent celebration of John Cage’s creative legacy, a reader flags this superb segment from the 1984 TV special Good Morning, Mr. Orwell — the first international satellite “installation” by South-Korean-born American artist Nam Jun Paik, a conceptual rebuttal to George Orwell’s famous 1984. Besides Cage’s improvisational performance “playing” cacti and other plants with a feather, an antecedent of more recent experiments with unusual instruments, we hear from legendary Paris Review co-founder and editor George Plimpton, who hosted the show.

It’s been said that listening to John Cage’s music is like chewing sand.” ~ George Plimpton

For more on the famous Cageian magic, don’t miss the recent gem Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

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09 JULY, 2012

Celebrating John Cage: 40 Years of Visualizing Music Notation Around the World

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“To be an artist, you must immerse yourself with great passion in all that surrounds you.”

Last week’s exploration of John Cage’s remarkably inquisitive, spiritual approach to music reminded me of an old favorite: Notations 21 (public library) — an homage to John Cage’s iconic 1969 Notations, originally released for its 50th anniversary and seeking to inspire “open communication between all fields of study.” The vibrant 320-page tome by composer Theresa Sauer explores how 165 composers and musicians around the world have experienced, communicated, and reimagined music visually by reinventing notation in the past 40 years, deriving inspiration from Cage’s work.

In this short film from Streaming Museum’s John Cage Centennial Tribute, Sauer captures the essence of the project beautifully:

I believe that to be an artist, you must immerse yourself with great passion in all that surrounds you. We can decide if our communication, experiments, processes, and risks that we take have the courage to face being different. But I ask, in my work, the questions — and, as John Cage said, it is about whether the questions are good ones.

John Cage’s influence on our world is unable to be measured, and yet he planted seeds of thought in our minds — and the most amazing seed of thought is the concept of asking questions. The composers and artists represented in continue to ask questions about communication, sound, creativity, our environment, and our experience.

Notations 21 is absolutely exquisite — take a closer look here.

Thanks, Paola

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