I have this conversation with myself quite often. Don't worry, I keep it inside my own head most of the time. I lie awake at night trying to figure out what comes next for me musically. I struggle to develop an approach or concept that will drive the next batch of songs and set them apart both from my previous work and somehow allow them to stand apart from all music past and present. I'm not doing too well with those struggles and that bothered me quite a bit until I wrote The Pursuit Of New.
I feel a little better now. See, music can't always be completely new and absolutely unrelated to the music that preceded and surrounds it. Every musical work (and really any creative work) is a melding of influences both internal and external. Just the internal component alone pretty much guarantees that what I create will be different from anything ever created. There never has been and never will be anyone just like me, and if I simply channel who I am into the music, it really can't end up being like anything else. Then, on top of that, if I draw on the music I listen to, a unique, eclectic collection of influences, how could my next works not end up standing on their own?
It's amazing how music works that way. Most music is restricted to 12 notes, often 8 or less. Most popular music leverages 4-6 instruments, including the human voice and even orchestral music relies on a very well-defined, centuries-old collection of instruments. And yet, every song and every performance of that song is unique. Much like the complex genetic and developmental process that guarantees each of us are unique, similarly every musical performance stands alone. There are so many elements even when a power trio gets on stage, tempo variation, slight pitch variation, room response, audience response. Every single song performance is unique.
By the time I come to the table with a song that I've written... By the time I find other musicians to help me capture that performance live or recorded... By the time that performance reaches your ears... It is guaranteed to be unique. It may not be brand new and entirely unrelated to the music I've heard before. Maybe if I chose to play nothing but reggae-infused quarter-tone polka, leveraging only power tools as instruments, then maybe I'd completely distinguish myself from everything that came before. Even that, however, would not be completely unrelated. It would draw on reggae and polka; other musicians have composed with quarter-tones and power tools have been used as tone sources.
The more I listen to and enjoy music, the more I realize it's not about reinventing yourself. Food tastes good not because the latest big-name chef has decided to throw away all known ingredients and cook with only what is mopped off the floor at your local auto repair shop. Nope, tomatoes, potatoes, salt and pepper still taste good after all these years. A chef can cook a unique meal using known ingredients, without needing the chemists of tomorrow to continuously concoct brand new ingredients. Music is the same way, guitars, violins, drums and the human voice still make great music. Not everything needs to be newly synthesized and modeled, but it can be. It's more a question of how you put it all together.
I've got access to all the ingredients I need and can generate something uniquely David. Not only can I, but I will and I look forward to experiencing the results along with all of you. I also look forward to experiencing all of your unique creations. Life is fun when we experience things. That's really what newness is about, it's the freshness of experience. The more we can find in our day-to-day meanderings that we view through fresh, open eyes, the more interesting each day is. Some of those experiences aren't always fun, but the freshness is still a valuable source of drive and stimulation.
While you're out there experiencing each day with a fresh outlook, let me know what you discover. What are the key things that make your day interesting, and what music serves as the soundtrack?