Recreating my musical self with the aid of (community) gravity and other invisible forces

Comet Donati by Bond 1858

Image of the Comet Donati taken by W. C. Bond in 1858. The comet leaves its trail as it passes on its elliptical path through the solar system. Periodic activity can feel like long-period comets but perhaps not everything needs to follow such a long orbit.

I have had a somewhat unsettled relationship with making music for a long time. It has always been a passionate one, but it has often been difficult to the point of not being an active musician for many years at a time. I always seem to return though and I’m going through that process again now.

Perhaps because I’m a bit older and more self-reflective, if not wiser, I find myself watching this process as it is occurring and trying to make sense of it. When I was younger it didn’t need to make sense, it just happened, but perhaps I’m not as trusting or brave as I was then.

I have been prodded out of my comfortable isolated process by an interesting, intimate and introspective article by Clutch Daisy. Where’s Your Head At? looks at the effect of an increasing level of self-awareness in his creative process. (That’s my take on it anyway and I hope it’s at least partially accurate)

Clutch’s article has resonated with me because my current musical state is redolent with self-awareness. I haven’t made much music for ten years and the process of restarting is not an easy one in many ways. Simply justifying using the time is no simple thing as I could be spending that with my family or looking to fill it with more remunerative work.

In so many places heightened self-awareness inhibits action. Like a teenage boy in a new lumbering graceless body I’m contemplating the dance-floor and wondering how I’ll move. With my interrupted musical life it is simply a fact that needs to be dealt with though so I’m trying to incorporate the meta-process into the process somehow.

One profound difference between this iteration and those preceding is the development of technology. The most interesting thing to me is that it is not the technology associated directly with creating music that is having the biggest impact on me, but more generalised communication technology and social media.

The confluence of online communication, particularly through Twitter, and the rise of independent self-directed musicians publishing and distributing through the internet have given rise to communities of people being musicians together in a fascinating and powerful way.

As with so much social media use there are overlapping sets of people who for me form a web of musical activity that I am a, very, small part of. In the older world I think these groups would have been much harder to gain access to and would have had much harder edges to them. They would have been defined by geography and specific activity, serial composition, guitar music, electronic composers and so forth. Now it seems that there is a much broader conceptual grouping largely defined by being self-directed, articulate and clever at building online communities.

I am fortunate to have found this world and I gain a great deal from it. Broadly it is a sense of belonging and a particular kind of easy attachment with little or no expectation of contribution, either in terms of kind or frequency. Due to the large and overlapping nature of this group there is no central hub. There are people with more gravity but the whole is not dependent on any individual. For me this has been wonderful by allowing me to gently ease myself into a peripheral orbit where I can begin to spin my musical cocoon.

A crucial tool for me has also been two of the people I follow releasing stems of their music for remixing. This has given me a powerful kick to both make something and, probably much more importantly, to share it. Crowdsourcing, open licenses and using these remixes as a community building tool are new things made possible, or at least practical, by the internet and I am deeply grateful for them.

She Makes War — (Love) Like Liars (Just Remix) by rubken

Matt Stevens — Big Sky (Cirrostratus Remix) by rubken

Being able to build on something created by people I admire like She Makes War and Matt Stevens has drastically lowered the threshold I needed to get over to make music again. It takes some of the pressure off to know that there is a strong armature underneath whatever I make and there is a sense of purpose and participation that is very easy to access. It also helped me overcome my inertia knowing them through social networks.

These weren’t just songs they were songs by people I knew something about. It is easy to trivialise platforms like Twitter but many months of little glimpses into people’s lives, as moderated as those glimpses might be, show you much more than would be possible through the music and press release style communication in big sculpted clumps of information. In consequence I felt a kind of responsibility mixed with excitement as I hacked their music up and put it all back together.

I am aware that this process is ongoing and fragile. There is a long way to go, or at least I hope there is. This time around I’m hoping to make something out of the journey wherever it leads me. At least I have a solar system to reference my cometary orbit to. Gravity is not a strong force but it acts over great distance and being in it’s grip feels agreeable.