I’ve been hitting a block with regards to creating music lately. Rather than use a sketching exercise to get the ideas flowing, I decided to do something different.
I went on Twitter and asked for a mood board so I could compose a tune based upon it.
Interior designer, Heather Jenkinson obliged by sending me three. The first one I opened was the one I used. I looked at the other ones, but I forced myself to use the first one so I wouldn’t be bartering with myself as to which board might be easier or harder. Here’s what it looks like:
And here’s the song Sepia and Blue
So how did the song come about?
First, I sat down and looked at the image. I listened for the mood, listened for emotion, what colors came to mind, what movements, words and hence what instruments. I even started writing some lyrics. But then, it became clear that I was overcomplicating matters, overcomplicating the music and the words. There was a simplicity present and I was fighting it, trying to fill in the spaces as opposed to letting the gaps speak. Before I could come up with lyrics I just jotted down random images and feelings. Eventually, one line became the inspiration and the basic pattern for the song’s sparse lyrics. It was distillation to the max:
(It says: Sit with me, we’ll watch while sunlight floods fills dance across the room. A filigree in sepia and blue.”)
It’s interesting how this developed for me. Certain instruments needed to express their voices – there needed to be some guitar, piano, some female voices, some introspection and reflection. Sepia and blue came out naturally. They were actually the first thing that came out of process. BING! And the words/concepts were there.
Things that weren’t in the picture popped into my mind as well: lilacs and Port wine to name a couple. Ultimately, I backed off, trimmed and combined. There needed to be space – space to move, to breathe.
Ultimately, constraints provided impetus and direction. Since I had never done this before, I was forced to go down an entirely new road, enjoy the scenery, and above all, listen to myself – or more precisely, my response to the mood board.
Interpretation held Experience’s hand and on occasion they wrote together, at other times independent of each other. It was a combination of play, sketching (musically and verbally) and design; trying to see what worked and what didn’t.
For example, the female harmonies originally were just after the intro synthesizer sound. There were no lyrics at that time. There were also two other orchestral string tracks that hung around for a while but were eventually cut. The lyrics started with that one distilled phrase above. I didn’t even have a second verse for a long time and was seriously considering not even having one…then it came:
“Look with me,
through leaded glass and memories,
Sit with me,
in sepia and blue.”
I liked the fact that ‘sit’ appeared here like it did in the first verse – a kind of closing out of the thought from the first verse – coming full circle. But, even though sitting was part of the first verse, so was dancing light. In addition, the filigree theme needed to stay and a filigree is, visually speaking, a dance of sorts. So, “sit with me,” became “dance with me,” and that was that.
Finally, I felt like there needed to be a crescendo of sorts after the last sung verse. Everything I tried was too complicated and instrumentalized so I used a short track of a string section with some syncopation.
Even though my goal was a song, there were some other ideas that popped up. One of them was to make a digital mood board and assign an instrument or instruments to various regions. They would play when you hover over them with the mouse pointer so the song and mood board would be an interactive experience. This could be a cool future project.
The key take away from this is that designing music (or anything for that matter) is an iterative, recursive process. The depth and breadth of the act of creating increases with the novelty of stimulus. In addition, different stimuli cause new connections in the subconscious and that helps with creating new ideas long after the exercise is complete.
So challenge yourself; throw yourself a curve and flex those creativity muscles. Sure there’s some pain and frustration associated with bringing together disparate ideas and thoughts.
But, ultimately it’s not about pain…
It’s about creating….