My yellow notebook #6 – On the essential difference between sense and purpose

I

I can get to the top of a mountain in very different ways. For example, I can hike for hours or days. Once I get to the top, I’ll be tired. I’ll feel my whole body. It’ll be simultaneously heavy and light and I’ll feel every step of the way. My soul will be with it and my senses will tell of the wonderful panorama, the amazing air and the incredible stillness up there. Maybe I’ll then lie down exhausted and fall asleep only to wake up, hardly able to believe where I am. And then I’ll think about the long walk down ahead of me.

Or I could take a cable car to get to the top, pose for a selfie, post it to various social media and rave about how amazing it is up there and how it inspires me to write a new piece.

Even easier would be to remain in my gated community, and simply steer Google Earth to the peak and stare in fascination at the 360° panorama view. Wow!

II

The musician Jon Hassell once said: “The audience is only interested in the result. They don’t care whether you need twenty years to do what you do or whether you just sampled it from a disc.” How true! I can add, most artists are also only interested in the result as well. They are clever enough to have internalized the ubiquitous laws of the market and obey them automatically.

All well and good. Over the years I have increasingly learned to consistently pursue what feels right for me. The measure of my decisions is the SENSE and not the PURPOSE!

Which brings us back to climbing mountains. Making music as the slow, sometimes laborious, but gratifying endeavour that I pursue I can view as a decision in favour of the THING-IN-ITSELF. Making music can be seen as a long, multi-facetted development process. I am in open dialogue: learning, reflecting, constantly finding new approaches to an idea during composition. My ambition is to translate a thought, a thoroughly complex idea, into as simple a musical form as possible.

III

As a composer, I do not initially consider the difficulty of playing a piece, but rather focus on the message. Consequently, I have to later switch into the role of the interpreter who executes the composition that lies wrapped up in the notes. In contrast to electronic music, for example, the point behind (classical) compositions is not simply that these can be heard but that they can in principle be played 1:1 independently of me. Therefore the next step involves checking, does the piece fit well in the hand, is it fun to play, does it encourage you, as the musician to engage with it?

Nowadays the art of “practising” – assuming you are not a professionally trained virtuoso – leads to an absurd contradiction in terms in this day and age of rationalization and maximising effectiveness to make best use of our time. This is because the point behind “practice” cannot be to “save time”, to arrive at “fast” “results” or to complete something as “effortlessly” as possible. Rather the point behind it must be enthusiasm in its own right, the sense of joy from being able to make your own decisions about your time without condition and thereby mastering the challenges. This has a lot to do with patience and overcoming those moments of frustration.

Everything has its price. That is clear. As a composer, the fact that my work can be copied in a second and pirated is something I have always had to live with. Likewise, I also have to live with the knowledge that in the time available I could be fifty times more productive, given the right technology and work attitude. But what does that change about my own attitude, the conclusions I draw and my own life?

Nothing!