Living With An Idea

One of the many lessons I learned from my time studying with JM was the importance of taking the time to live with an idea. What that means to me took quite a while to discover, and the process of discovery is ongoing.

To me it means letting the process inform the outcome. It means life and experience in a unified sense being just as much a component of the process as the material aspects of the work.

Living with an idea from the outside looks something like doing intense work for a fairly short period, then doing nothing at all for a while – sometimes quite a long while, even years.

The intense work in a short period is easy to understand and digest, but the doing nothing for sometimes quite a long time is more difficult to grok.

Rather than try to explain that right away, let me describe the other side of this coin, which is the habit that took me a long time to break, and I think a basically normal way to work in a capitalist world that values productivity deeply, almost to the point of moralization.

This side of the coin looks like conceiving of an idea, and then working (usually as fast and efficiently as possible, so you can move right on to the next idea) until it is complete.

In the software world this kind of looks like the “waterfall” method, where the software is designed and formalized in total before a single line of code has been written, or a single person has used the system.

That approach can work beautifully for highly known problems. Do I need to live with a rote counterpoint exercise where the process is highly defined and the input is well known? No.  Do I need to live with every study or attempt to learn and improve by doing? No way.

There’s the mythic image of the solitary composer deep in thought, maybe laboring over an idea at a piano, but generally inventing something from the depths of their Grand Genius – and the execution is simply a matter of writing things down. This fantasy of total control leaves little room for consideration during the process of execution.

If your idea is simple enough, maybe living with the idea isn’t that important. The pre-compositional work of dreaming up the idea is consideration enough sometimes. Better to get on with the doing and move directly to experiencing the work (performing it, posting on your social media feed, etc) where it can live in the world and potentially generate the insight and consideration of others.

Living with the music means re-evaluating (even sometimes from the ground up) the work as it is produced. A first attempt may get to the point of some initial realization of the initial idea – this is the time to evaluate, listen, and then put it away for a little while and do other things.

Pick up another piece to work on, or engage yourself otherwise with life and the world. Read a book, sit and think under a tree, go have many conversations with friends.

Living with an idea means putting it into the world as a fragment, discussing it with the people around you, friends you trust, strangers you meet, and letting those experiences inform your next steps with the work.

Living with an idea means totally forgetting it for a while sometimes, only to find while life is engaged that you’ve stumbled on some synchronicity or point of inspiration that can inform the next steps.

Living with an idea means to an extent trying to erase the lines between your musical practice and the act of being in the world with others.

Living with an idea means surrendering your ego somewhat, maybe even to the point of total erasure in some cases. It means losing control and having a conversation with the world instead of dictating to the world.

Living with an idea means abandoning at least somewhat the quest for optimal productivity in your life.

Living with an idea is an aleatoric methodology.

At least that’s how I see it, after living with the idea for a while.