Tuesday, 5 March 2013

music is my firewall

I've been thinking and writing here for years now about the reality of managing or balancing different creative media. At the age of 12 I was asked to choose between music and art, and the question sat on my shoulder for many decades. One of the results of this question, which is a deeply culturally-engrained one, was that I ended up all those years doing neither, convinced that I didn't 'have it' sufficiently in either field.

More recently, in the last few years, as I try to explore both, I've become irrationally upset at people reflecting my 'artistness' back to me but ignoring my 'musicianness'. Which is not surprising really, as I've had my art on the internet for quite a while now, and there's not a recording in sight there. Or even a performance in the physical world. But for me, they were equal; equally vital, their very differentness speaking to different aspects of myself. Being performance-shy hasn't stopped me from playing away at violin, viola, and now piano as I write my songs (on number 6...). Music seems to be a response to life for me, regardless of whether or not I take it outside for public approval/disapproval (though I would love to share it).

This week I thought that finally things had resolved themselves a little when I was offered the possibility of an exhibition of my paintings. As my head started to fill up with painting-related ideas and practicalities I thought, ah, ok, that's clear now. The art has priority, and I can stop angsting about what's happening to my singing voice, or why I'm not playing viola very much, or why it's so hard to sing my songs to people.

But yesterday I realised that though the music may not be ready to 'go out there', for whatever reasons, it has a vital function within the dynamic, changing whole that is my human existence. A function that is not only 'equal', but somehow more than equal, different to equal, because it has a balancing function. When I get fired up by ideas, which particularly happens when ideas have to appear and resolve themselves in some way within a limited time-span (like submitting a paper for a conference, or having a show...), I can find it difficult to unfire. I know now that this is a physical response caused by the sense of pressure of the deadline - the feeling/sense creates adrenalin and cortisol, and then the adrenaline/cortisol in turn create a sense of pressure - horrid little feedback loop that may make me productive but can also make me feel trapped in a cycle of amplifying shit.

When I was working at the university, I used to swim to relieve this feeling. In recent years, I've mainly avoided situations that give rise to it in the first place. Now, as I begin to integrate these extremes (exercise may be good, but it's no solution in the long term to toxic pressures...), I learn that music is where I go when I need to stop using my mind - or relieve my sense of pressure. Yesterday, feeling a bit strung out, I found myself drifting over to the piano - which, as it's not 'my main instrument', I do very regularly, as there's no resistance there. I'm always working on a song of some kind - songs tumble out and play like puppies in the sun. Yesterday I found that I wasn't even finding a song, but just creating the simplest little descending melody that I could play over and and over.

And it felt like sitting on this balcony in Kerala listening to the waves and the wind in the coconut palms.


  1. I love the term, toxic pressures, and suffer the same agonies myself. Good luck, I do believe you can find a workable balance but it's a big challenge. It's really interesting to read about your struggles.

  2. For some bizarre reason I haven't every really thought of this as a struggle, which I admit sounds pretty weird. I suppose I think of it more as just part of the many strange kinds of learning that humans have to do! What interests me specifically in terms of this blog is to notice how the need to create, or the activities involved in creating, weave themselves into my wider life.

    Yesterday I suddenly saw music in a new light - instead of something to strive for, or try to improve etc etc, and invariably linked to performing, I suddenly saw it as having an almost magical role outside of all the normal things I might associate it with....

  3. Or do I mean...how my life turns out to be tightly woven into my need to create, and the activities involved in creating....

  4. Creativity is so complex, there are no rules and it involves lateral thinking which can encompass so much, I find it is through the doing that I can move forward and build my own knowledge base and language. The whole notion of blogging and social networking has had a positive effect on my art where the virtual world opens up dialogues and an audience which helps validate your expressions to some extent. The weaving in of all the different elements is an exiting prospect and how it alters perceptions and re-defines roles.

  5. Yes, I really like what I can do in this space. When I started this blog it was partly a statement to myself about standing up for myself as an artist - a kind of 'being seen' that was never required of me in academia. It was quite scary. It doesn't bother me whether or not people respond, but there's something in the sharing of reflections and thoughts in a potentially public space. It doesn't seem to matter whether the being seen is actually going on or not, the potential alone seems to be enough to make it very different to writing a private journal. When responses come, it's a whole new layer on the cake!



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