Reflections or Projections?

Reflections or Projections?

Alex Gardner’s excellent missive on “art mirroring life” seems like an appropriate opening to one of the more philosophical questions I’ve been asking each composer throughout my interviews: “Does your music reflect the world around you or project a new world from within?” I added this at first to make sure I didn’t have too many “techie” questions, but as I proceeded to ask artists what their thoughts were, it has become a valuable insight into the mindset of each composer as they turned their gaze on themselves. My thinking on this was not to goad the composer into a diatribe on external forces on their music, but rather to simply find out what their own views were on their own creativity and the effects of that creativity on their work.

While I don’t have a firm number yet of exactly who said what (with thirty-five interviews and over 100 hours of audio so far, it becoming unwieldy to do a quick survey), I would estimate that less than 10% of the composers I’ve asked answered “projecting a world from within,” and the other 90%-ish was split 40-60 between “reflecting the world around you” and “somewhere in between the two.” A case could easily be made that practically every artist is somehow affected by the world around them, either through musical influences or non-musical concepts, but the composers who did fall on the side of “projection” seemed to be very comfortable with the idea that their music was “their music” and outside influences really had little to do with the outcomes of their work. In addition, these composers tended to see their work as not having any extra-musical purposes or intent; their music was just that—music—and at least from their perspective did not need to have any additional purpose.

On the flip side, there were composers who thought of themselves as “reflectors,” but over time I recognized two types of reflecting composers: those who reflect the world around them because it makes no sense to shut it out, and those who reflect the world because that reflection (and the messages that come with it) is an integral part of their music. As I mentioned, a majority of composers fell in the middle of the projection/reflection continuum, but most of those tended to lean more towards reflecting the world around them. One might have guessed this result before the interviews began, but in my own mind I found it interesting and important that so many composers thought of themselves as “reflectors”—not in a passive or in a reactive sense, but with the intent to actively participate in the world using ideas or material from that world.

Some may ask, “Does it matter?”, and I’m sure some may say such questions or topics are irrelevant. I would suggest, however, that in order for both laymen and professionals to understand and appreciate not only the creative process of each of these artists but of the nature of creativity, we not only ask “How do you do what you do?” but also “Where do you think it comes from?”

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One thought on “Reflections or Projections?

  1. mclaren

    Some of us regard the culture which tenured PhDs assure us, in terms of punitive hysteria, constitutes our greatest human legacy, as a defective operating system, a form of unacceptable aesthetic planned obsolescence, a kind of intellectual thalidomide. In short, some of us consider American culture in the early 21st century as a type of cognitive damage, and consequently we endeavour to route around it.

    Those of us who reject the frantically hieratic assertion that early 21st century American culture (or, indeed all Western culture since roughly the Treaty of Westphalia ca. 1648) represents a valuable legacy, find a more apt and more demotic analogy in hyperparasitoids like the Emerald Cockroach Wasp of the genus Ampulex compressa:

    “Like many parasites, the Emerald Cockroach Wasp manipulates its host’s behavior for its own benefit. (..) The Emerald Cockroach Wasp needs a live, tame cockroach to feed its babies.

    When the female wasp is ready to lay her eggs, she seeks out a cockroach. Landing on the prospective host, she delivers two precise stings.

    The first she delivers to the roach’s mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head. The wasp slips her stinger through the roach’s exoskeleton and directly into its brain.

    She injects another venom that robs the cockroach of the ability to start walking on its own. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach’s antennae and leads it, like a dog on a leash, to its doom: the wasp’s burrow. The roach creeps obediently inside and sits there quietly as the wasp lays her egg on its underside. The wasp leaves the burrow, sealing the opening behind her.

    The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes. The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to form a pupa inside the roach. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its pupa, and out of the roach as well. Only then does the zombie cockroach die.

    Source: “A Wasp Finds the Seat of the Cockroach Soul,” Discover magazine, 20 April 2010.

    So regarded, Western culture compels many of us who compose music to reject its most fundamental tenets…which puts us in the category of “projecting music from within.”

    Terence McKenna discusses this conflict in the YouTube clip “Culture is not your friend.”


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