Constraint is good fodder for creativity.
This is the premise of a YouTube series called Against the Clock.
The format is simple – each musician is given exactly 10 minutes to compose a track. In most cases, they end up with an 8-bar or 16-bar loop that becomes the basis of a longer piece. The producers of the channel do a good job of inviting composers from diverse genres and musical styles. Some are acoustic leaning, while many work exclusively with computer-based digital audio workstations.
This is where Masayoshi Fujita‘s approach stands apart from the crowd. He starts with an instrument that he is comfortable with – the vibraphone. His expertise of the instrument is evident in his effortlessness.
But he not only plays the instrument, but also plays ‘with’ it – bowing, bending the tubes, scratching the vibraphone bars. That this exploration is effortless too is displayed by the nonchalance with which he slides his violin bow into a quiver hanging by the corner of the vibraphone.
(His exploratory approach is very similar to one of the first TED videos I ever watched.)
Then, Masayoshi pushes the envelope – he adds an additional dimension to the music he just recorded with electronic instruments that border the eclectic.
And, he does this in adiabatic steps.
When you make live looping music, you overdub over the 8- or 16-bar of pre-recorded music. You make mistakes, you make it part of the music. Interestingly, looped music is forgiving – musical repetition smooths out errors (and more). But still, elements need to be added carefully.
In art, there is often a directed endeavour to tell a story using the medium. Or at the least, towards the creation of a scaffolding that would allow the interpretation of one. Masayoshi’s approach stood apart – for him, the structural constraint was the means for exploration, which is cognitively dissonant, and yet, not.
Series like Against the Clock reveal the differences in creative approaches. Some build on loops (incremental), some rely heavily on structure, but in a few rare cases you observe emergence.
Is there then a cognitive taxonomy for the levels of creativity?
I am no expert in this area, so if anybody knows anything about this – pop me a line!
PS – Masayoshi throws a curve ball towards the end. One of his electrical contraptions has many switches, which introduce what I will call ‘purposeful’ mistakes – glitches, distortion, noise elements added in quick succession. Clearly a calculated risk-taking strategy for pushing the boundaries of his expertise.
You can follow Masayoshi on Twitter @MasayoshiFujita
Adiabatic steps by Srikanth Sugavanam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.