Dec 25

My Creative Process 12-25-2010

From Sam Rosenthal | December 25 2010 | Last year I started a Projekt holiday tradition. Rather than an eList filled with things for you to purchase, I decided to give something back. Some insight from Projekt’s artist. In 2009, I gave you our thoughts on Success. I really liked what was said. This year, I asked the artists to share a bit about:

“My Creative Process”   

10 Neurotics

Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape For A Blue Girl and Projekt  

I was out with a painter friend; she was telling me she hardly remembers making her paintings. She goes into a chaotic / productive state and works without thinking. That’s really different from how I create music. For me, it’s a very orderly process (editing, thinking, refining, working with all the other musicians, etc). However in reading what my friends wrote, I see elements from each that makes perfect sense to how I create. I especially relate to Michael’s idea of “play” — because for me, making music is fun. “It is fun to play,” perhaps, is as good of reason as any for creating. It is fun. It is joyous. It is making something exist that previously did not exist. Creating something that I enjoy listening to. It is an opportunity to go from nothing to something, without ever really knowing WHY it happened. Mystery.

I wrote this to Steve Roach, one day last month: It is pretty amazing how humans train ourselves (and our kids) to use our brain in a very specific, and generally logical, way. Everyday, we put a lot of energy into being practical, thinking “like a human,” putting our pants on before we leave the house. We kind of take it for granted how amazing our brains are. That we can do all of this really complex stuff, and do it again tomorrow……….. I was in the studio this weekend, working on a song. “That volume needs to go up. That needs a bit more high end. That needs to end a second sooner.” It is such a strange process. What makes us “know,” in advance, what it is that needs to be done? What guides us to know, without question, that without that slight volume adjustment, the piece just would not be correct? And we make 10,000 of these seemingly arbitrary choices every time we make music. It might come to us all very naturally. But making art is such a high-form function of our brains. And it is such an amazing process of cellular / animal evolution, that we wake up to this reality every day.<
The Blood of My Lady

Michael Laird of Unto Ashes   
Sam asked me to write about “My Creative Process.” I’m not really sure how to address that, but here goes: Usually what happens is that I will pick up a musical instrument of some kind. This is easy for me, because I make sure to have lots of different kinds of instruments all around me all the time; for instance: acoustic guitars, mandolin, dulcimer, hurdy-gurdy, autoharp, even a viola da gamba. Some of these instruments are not easy to play, but they all have different characteristics, and all of them are welcome distractions for me. I really enjoy taking some time just to *play* music, without any expectation about the end result. I suppose the operating word here is “play.” I am now inclined to believe that this is similar to the kind of “play” that children do: they simply “play” and that’s it. They don’t have to know why they do it; they don’t need to have any kind of finished product to show for what they do. They just play.

Similarly, I might sit down with a musical instrument and just play for awhile until something develops that sounds interesting to me. If I like what I hear I’ll play it over and over, and just let the music go where it wants. Then I’ll put the instrument down for awhile. If, after a day or so, I can’t stop thinking about that particular musical progression or sequence, I’ll come back and play it some more. When that happens, it means that there’s some music out there that wants to find expression of some kind.

That’s when the *work* begins.

For me, the “work” may involve developing a real song structure, thinking about lyrics and actually writing them down, creating parts for other instruments or other voices, thinking about harmonies, and so on. I enjoy this process, but it does take some work.

If I haven’t abandoned the song by this point, then I need to record it. This is a process that also involves “work.” Don’t get me wrong: I love to record, but it can be a lot of “work” (as compared to “play”). It’s time consuming, it can be exhausting and even expensive. But I still enjoy doing it. And if I don’t have a lot of fixed ideas about what I want to accomplish in the studio, then the recording process is a lot closer to “play” than it is to “work.” It’s still work — but I’m not complaining! In fact, I think I like “working” on music even more than I like “playing” it. But that’s just me.

To summarize, I would say that my creative process involves a flash of inspiration while “playing,” followed by a long process of “working” towards the realization of that which inspired me initially.


Erik Wøllo   
My creative process has always been divided into several stages. The first phase is where I am preparing and collecting ideas. This can be collecting sounds, writing patches for my instruments or just rehearsing. I am kind of setting up an environment where I can be inspired. The next phase would be just trying to create something. Letting my conscious and subconscious mind work freely. This is a very fragile stage and I try not to be interrupted by things around me. And if I am lucky, I am given these moments where everything seems to flow: The music leads me, not the other way around. The next stage is where I do an evaluation of what I have created so far. Like doing the arranging, editing and the mixing. But I always try to follow that first, original impulse or idea. Not forgetting why I saved this particular song.

Mark Seelig
My Creative Process: recording initial tracks for Wachuma’s Wave and Disciple in India. I was lucky enough to slip all my recording gear past Indian customs and had set aside about 6 weeks to stay in an Ashram in India to practice my bamboo flute with my Indian teacher, and do some recording. Indian musicians like to chew ‘Pan’, a mixture of Bethel Nut with some other ingredients. It gives them a small high and lots of stamina, kind of like the Coca leaves people in the Andes use for their arduous lives. After having tasted ‘Pan’ a couple of times I decided that all it really does is give a steep rise in blood pressure and energy. I wanted to offer my Indian flute teacher, who is from a remote shamanic tribal area in Manipur, East India, something better and more fun and told him about the San Pedro Cactus (native name ‘Wachuma’ or Huachuma). He was thrilled and said he definitely wanted to try it.

We both ingested a fair amount, and after some time of playing our flutes, with him explaining things in his heavily broken English with that special Indian twang, the cactus started taking effect. We keep playing, and after a while he pauses, grins at me and says: “Veddy nice feelink coming to de head.” I smiled and noticed his reserve (he is from an aristocratic tribe in Manipur). We keep playing, getting deep into the Ragas with closed eyes, losing all sense of time, and then after a while he pauses again, and now with a wide unbridled smile across his Tibetan looking face he says: “Now REALLY nice feelink coming to de head.” I laughed out loud in delight, continued playing after he left, and eventually started toning with voice and playing the flute interchangeably, laying down some basic tracks which later found their way into Wachuma’s Wave and Disciple in the collaborations with Byron Metcalf and Steve Roach.

Scott of Autumn’s Grey Solace 
My creative process involves using my guitar as an instrument to bring that which is in my being into the physical world. I almost always use one of my nine guitars to start creating a composition. Each guitar has a unique tuning and string arrangement, so they help ignite my creativity and allow me to come up with exotic guitar chords. Also, having a wide range of guitar effects and accessories like EBows, capos, etc. can spawn new ideas when writing. These things help to bring out the music that’s inside me. I usually start with something chordal, either arpeggiated or rhythmic, and compose a series of progressions or riffs which become the structure of the song. I then construct a rhythm section around that and then overdub some more guitars as embellishments. That’s my part, and then Erin composes all of the vocals, vocal overdubs, and lyrics. Erin:  The creative process: a chance to express what’s in my imagination by putting together abstract thoughts into something that can make sense, like pieces of a puzzle that show a bigger picture than what’s on each puzzle piece. The process for me must stem from somewhere inside my mind, heart or spirit. External influences that mean something to me like people and nature can paint impressions in my thoughts. I store those impressions inside my head to be used later when I decide to work on music. When I create words with melodies over Scott’s music, I pull from my mind the words and piece them together using what my heart feels and what my spirit is in the mood for. Sometimes the external influences are superficial and that is when I lose my ability to glue together a song because when there is no depth there is no mind, heart or spirit to create with. So with some discipline and drive I proceed with the creative process with careful intentions on using my mind, heart or spirit to feed my imagination.

Spiders, Aether & Rain
Ashkelon Sain of Trance to the Sun / Soriah / Blade Fetish / Submarine Fleet
I devote a good deal of my visualization process to thinking about what I would like my album to sound like when it’s finished. What elements should each song have in common? In what ways should each song stand apart individually? This helps greatly in deciding how to proceed with new song ideas.

The Hours
Federico, (Viola, Fabio and Stefania) of All My Faith Lost… 
Sam asked us to write and describe the creative process behind their music. We think this is a nice way to give our listeners another point of view on our art. However, we admit it is not easy to speak about and describe what sometime “just happens.” Probably the best way to explain our “Creative Process” is to pick up one of our song and trying to remember how it came to life. We have chosen “Notti Bianche” from our album The Hours just re-printed by Projekt Records and originally released in 2007. “Notti Bianche” – The creative process

Let’s start by saying that this is not the creative process happening for every song. Yes, it is the method we follow most of the times but not the only one. When we composed The Hours we wrote all the lyrics before the music. The Hours is a concept album on literature: we took the authors we love and we wrote about their life, their books and their words. “Notti Bianche” is our personal reiterpretation (in music) of the novel “White Nights” (“Notti Bianche” in Italian) by F. Dostoevskij. Why the title in Italian you ask? Well, “White Nights” sounded too much as a Christmas song title to us.

I remember our studio was full of books, sheets with handwritten lines from our favourite novels. We attached photocopied bookpages on the walls, we hanged pics of Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf and Pier Paolo Pasolini. We created a small world made of paper, ink and music.

“Notti Bianche” was born inside this small world from a guitar arpeggio. Most of our songs grow from guitar lines or arpeggios. Not sophisticated ones. I have to find the “right” one, the one that sounds good in my head, the one that makes me think: “this is the one!” Once the guitar line was done, me and Viola satrted working over the vocal parts and we easily found them out. We spent a little time trying to understand how to split the parts among the two of us and we decided the right thing it was for me to sing only some shorts parts together with Viola. At this point, the song was done … or better, the bones of the song were all put together. The subsequent work was all about the arrangements we were able to do by ourselves. Viola found a warm synth sound, as we wanted an electronic part to overwhelm and sustain the acoustic guitar. We found also an additional guitar part and some other small electronic parts and piano notes.

It was now the time to call Martina Bertoni (Cello) and Fabio Polo (Violin). They listened the song and composed the strings parts. First one to record was Martina and then Fabio added his violin. We think they composed and recorded some lines that give a delicate and at the same time strong feeling to the song.

So, you now know how the creative process of one of the best songs on our album The Hours. I really hope you like this short explanation and I hope it helps tu understand better what there is hidden after a few minutes of our music. The HoursWe wish you all a great Christmas and a happy New Year.

A World We Pretend
Todd Loomis of The Twilight Garden
Usually for me, things begin with a great sound or a great riff – or really anything inspiring. It could be a lyric idea or a mood I have in my head at first, or a reaction I feel to something happening in the world. Then, I may spend quite a bit of time making a sound or tweaking a synthesizer, or rewiring my guitar effects until I find something I think is really neat to complement the idea. Once I discover it, I’m usually pretty excited by it, and that excitement translates immediately into the creative process. I’ll end up jamming around – working and refining it into something I can actually recreate. Once I have the idea going, I can find another sound to complement the first one; and I can do the same thing again – create a part that works with the first part and layer them together. I can do this over and over to build up a piece of music both vertically in textural layers, and horizontally in time. Eventually, I’ll pull the lyrical ideas together and build the song around the idea and the vocal. Also, I should say that improvisation is a great way for me to instantly connect emotion inside my head to sound in the world outside my head. When I improvise – whether on piano, guitar, vocals, etc., it’s always the same. If I can let my mind wander, my playing will reflect naturally what I might be feeling inside. Usually, it comes really naturally. I just play what I feel. If I find I’m thinking too much, I just go do something else besides music. If the mood is right though, I’ll just play and let the ideas grow into a song. Because I’m just reflecting things, I don’t really even have to try; it just happens when I put myself in front of an instrument and play. Also, I can reflect anything really – so the creative possibilities are endless. I could probably write an ode to mustard if I was in the right place mentally. Anyway, improvisation for me is a way of generating things with very little effort. I find it forces me to relinquish control and to let the notes flow naturally without correction. If I’m a good enough musician, those notes will speak like words in a sentence or paragraph – the idea will be cohesive, and they will not need editing. Of course, if the recorder is running, then a song is in the works.

Dies Irae
Alessia and Massimiliano of Atrium Animae
(a new Projekt signing, from Italy, with their debut coming in April) Well…the creative process takes place through a series of steps in which the instrumental and vocal parts are designed according to an initial idea. Typically, the tracks are conceived as a score composed of several parts, sometimes very different to each others. We devote much attention to the process of transition between all the parts. It’s a very long process, because the tracks are composed of over 40 different elements in some cases, and very complex vocal parts. It’s strange, because the creative process is on the one hand very intimate and friendly, but at the same time a long process of refinement is required to arrive to the final result. For example, Alessia has in mind the final harmony in her head. But only when she sings the different melodies she instinctively understand how to combine them. Meanwhile, the instrumental parts are combined with the voices and the song refined….. and again, with other voices… and again, changing parts… and again… until the reaching of a “stable state.”

At this point, the song is put in a state of “waiting” for a period of time, and we concentrate the attention on other songs previously in that state, in order to listen to them and evaluate if they need some refinements. So, at the end, hundreds of revisions of the same song are produced in some cases! In addition, we are two different people with so different ideas about the project and the themes treated in the project. It’s just like a mutual influence. Both of us want the total control of the whole process. It must be perfect…. and remember that we are a couple in life, so there’s a strong relationship between us. But we believe that this dualism creates the right combination and chemistry, and our creative process is linked to our frame of mood, our suffering, our questions about the existence of this state of loss and despair… and the album has all these questions within…

Forrest Fang
I have a somewhat chaotic process for creating music. More recently, I’ve tried to give my instincts full rein, at least in the initial stages; I go through an extended “demo” phase, where I try to record as much raw material as I can, without thinking too much about it. Sometimes this involves creating ambient textures, other times, fragments of a melody or rhythm. A lot of material is just experimentation that doesn’t stand on its own, but may give me idea to record a variation on it later. The hard part is listening to all of this to catalog the most interesting bits. Sometimes this stage takes longer than the original recording. I then try to conceptualize an entire album from these sounds, by thinking of the textures I want to appear at different stages of the album. The recording I do after this is more structured, but often the recordings end up being more appropriate for other projects! This might be because I’ve tricked myself into playing more spontaneously by not caring if it gets used. An example of this chaotic process is “Little Angklung” off of my Phantoms CD. This piece started as an experiment with an algorithmic program called “Angklung.” Over the course of a year, the direction of the piece changed when I junked what was the “backing track” based on Angklung, and replaced it with a gamelan improv I had originally recorded for another project. This new backing track suggested other instruments, which I added, but I kept much of the original ambient material I had recorded over the original backing

Makaras Pen
Doug White of Makaras Pen 
Makaras Pen has been hard at work recording a follow-up CD. After a summer of area shows and some out of town road work we are 8 songs into what we think might be an 11 song full length. Videos have become a really great creative outlet for us so we have a new high end one in the works for our song “What’s Really Happening” that we are super excited about. We hope to have it back from the film company to release in early January. Our creative writing and recording process has changed a lot for this new CD. Our drummer Dennis really likes to hear a final product before he decides on drum takes. Of course in the process of indie/shoegaze recording there can be so many layers it’s hard to tell early on what might be the sound and arrangement in the end. So Val and Doug have been writing and recording full songs to a click and having drums go down last as the finishing touch. This has really gave a new element of power and creativity to the new Makaras Pen material. Emma has been deep in lyric writing mode. It’s been a great release and outlet for her thoughts and emotions. It is really nice to watch somebody become more comfortable writing and expressing themselves through music that they love. Some of her new melodyies have given us shivers.

There is a deep friendship and bond with Makaras Pen band members that is hard to describe but we hope to portrait it in our music to fans. We sure appreciate all of the overwhelming support and mail we have gotten. It is truly satisfying to hear from so many people who enjoy what we do.

Moments in Time
Johnny Indovina of Human Drama
I’ve never sat down to work on songs. Like, it’s time to write… I only sit down when I feel something, and hear that feeling musically. Then I try to complete the task of getting it on tape. Sometimes it starts with a phrase, sometimes with a mumbled melody. Sometimes it starts with looking into a stranger’s eyes. Also, I never try to finish. I let it finish when it wants to. “This Forgotten Love” started at midnight and was finished by 6am. “King of Loneliness” started in 1991 and didn’t finish ’til 1998… One more part of my writing is that I never have written a song based on who I thought my audience was. I think a writer must write for himself (or herself), complete the idea so that it best captures the original feeling, then send it out. The song is an extension of the writer. Let the audience come if it moves them.

I enjoy the process, but I cannot say I enjoy a lot of the feelings or themes I write about. But that is my work.

[a lantern carried in blood and skin]
Joshua of Lux Interna 
Weave my skin on the spiritloom tight
Fill my flesh with the blood of light
Oh, come down, Oh, draw with up
On creating.

In my experience many of the best songs seem to come out of nowhere, unawaited. They appear as gifts or guests: spectral entities needing a body. And often, the truly difficult part is to find a form fit for their invisible light. In this sense, I often think of the post-inspirational aspects of songcrafting as steps in the construction of an holy space. One can never force a presence to present itself, but one can prepare, furnish, and decorate a space in order to make the presence welcome. Indeed, especially of late, I’m learning the importance of waiting and listening, treating the song as a subject rather than merely an object upon which I am acting. One of the most exciting parts of creating, for me, is when you hear or feel something in your own creation that surprizes you because it seems to exceed the contents of your own private subjectivity. It is a beautiful – if somewhat eerie – experience to feel that you have somehow been a conduit for something other than your own ideas.