Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The School of Design

Design students who desire to stitch fantastic clothing and arrange physical space with furniture and light for theater works come to the Tisch School at NYU where they draw and paint their fucking asses off. This is because at every step in reaching their great statements in costume and set design, they have to visualize the end result and more importantly, communicate that vision in a way that everyone involved in the collaboration can understand. I am always awed and astounded by the ways ideas are concieved and developed, and witnessing the energy of it happening here is kicking my ass.

This is one large lesson for me as a music maker because collaboration with a band can suffer from not drawing pictures clear enough to demonstrate what can be. Often what is referred to as "vibe" is the result of having left much to chance and hoping for the magic to just "happen", which is one reason why many records feel half-baked. It takes great skill and the work of a focused group to make doors big enough for God to walk through, which is the kind of collaboration great producers and directors are capable of. The skill rquired, as near as I have found, start with great meditation and preparation, and not a kind always made obvious if its done well. By time a recording has started, all the preparation should be distilled into a gesture as simple as plugging in and rolling.

Of course, in the realization of the art, the results always become something of an odd potato toss, with the best parts never planned, and some disapointments arising from what was expected to be the high points. Always at some stage you find yourself outside the vehicle using a tire iron for a broomstick. At these moments, the objective needs to remain clear and communicable: where are you headed? Visualization is a living thing. Even as it remains connected to the original intent, it has to change as the work comes to life. And as they say in the army: no plan survives first contact. Everyone has to stay connected. I have discovered this to be one of my greatest challenges - how to ride the incoming waves and also communicate direction and changes to let everyone know what is now, at this point in the journey, possible to achieve. Sometimes I want to say, "okay, so this is really what we've been doing all this time" but that would sound like I was masterminding it. As Peter Brook says, the experience of finduing your way to the end is something more akin to breaking a horse.

One thing is for sure, though: when communication stops you are dead in the water, and the worst experience is to feel like you are the only one pulling. Moments like this can inspire great epiphanies of hindsight, realizing that you may have been focusing on things that left you unprepared for the place you now find yourself. Regroup. Move forward.

Demonstrate. Design. More now than ever I seek to learn the tools and languages to make the art of music making happen more fully. Pro-tools and effects and microphones and mic techniques are part of the bag of instruments that I have learned little about up to now, and I at least need to know what I don't know. Records and friends and books and experience are the resource. Nothing can be assumed, I tell myself, at all times speak simple and directly to the matter. Avoid the urge to make grand sweeping statements. Above all, give great attention to the inner voices of everyone as they are communing at all times with the emerging life being created.

Yeah, sure, right? Or so I think anyway. But I finish this post dissapointed at my focus. To begin with, there are far greater collaborations than bands. Wives, family, and friends all deserve at least the same attention. I suspect if I ever absorb the wisdom of these lessons, I will not be so consumed by a need to declare my findings or distinguish the media and discipline entailed. But for now, like the great souls awake in these halls, I am weighted by the sense of all I haven't learned yet. Like them, I yell for an echo. Like them, I advance with ambition and the few tools I have, in every way a student.

And like them I get back to work.

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