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On Creativity and Style

11/17/12 by samulis
Updated 11/17/12

Music has always been a field full of many different genres, styles, composers, new theories, old theories, and everything in between. When a composer, or any creative artist, sits down to write a piece, they draw from either preexisting forms or, in very rare cases, their own abstract form (shout-out to Harry Parch (sp?)). In painting, there are set styles- Realistic, Stylized, Abstract; just as Music has its baseline styles- Instrumental and Electronic. Within both, there are hundreds upon hundreds of varied forms, elements, aspects, genres, sub genres, and so on within, forming this huge mess of classification that often times has overlap among components.

The result?

No two genres are exactly alike.

No two composers are exactly alike.

Although similarities may exist between the sounds of a certain genre, each person brings to the table their own experiences, just as each painter may have their own skill level, brush control, and favor regarding the type, style, and size of brush and technique of application.

Among each Genre are common statement beliefs that are held alike. For example, we all know a Dubstep song has to have "Dem Wubs", or that Church music is generally modal. These form and underlying framework of understanding that we each apply and use to classify music, allowing us to have these "genres" in the first place.

Here comes the real biggie... you remember how I mentioned that no two composer is exactly alike? Well, nor is any two people's perception of a genre. For one person, the velocity of the bassline in a dubstep song should be a certain amount, while the other might think it should be higher- perhaps because of our ears, or our minds, or our own experiences with music (or even just life) in the past.

As result, many people end up comparing pieces to their own ideals for their own perceived classifications. While this is not wrong, nor unexpected, it can lead to some confusion with the artistic vision of the artist. Just as some people might see some modern art as "a bunch of splattered paint" (like me), others can draw extraordinary creative jumps from it- it's about their deceased great-great-grandfather or so on. The unique prospective of the artist, and his or her unique combination and "REMIX" of styles and genres will result in something that is often times not expected.

So many reviewers react by saying the work is inadequate or that the artist is still developing when the artist feels he or she is further along, but really in a different direction.

This gets tricky because music, like painting, is mostly a subjective thing.

Many composers are excellent emulators who enjoy doing that. Hey, power to ya. However, those of you who are and/or feel all composers should be emulators, I urge you to consider this- just because someone up there or from long ago did something a certain way doesn't mean everyone else needs to, or even needs to follow their lead. The works of our ancestors and our contemporaries should be our inspirations and our interests, but they should not be our measuring sticks to measure up each other to. They have come across their styles their own way, just as we all have, and there is no reason any composer should expect themselves to write the same way when writing personal pieces.

In the world of scoring, being able to emulate is however a key requirement. Sometimes the producer wants a certain sound or can only furnish for a certain style or orchestration. However, that doesn't go to say you shouldn't add your own touch to things. Many contemporary scores are the same set of magic tricks arranged once again by the same set of magicians... We all can sit and point out that motif from Holst's Planets there, or that thing that sounds like something Wagner would write, or say how that score sounded like John Williams, but the real scores that win are not emulation, but the NEXT step in the creative process- combination.

I will point out now the score to How to Train your Dragon. Those of you interested in scoring who have not heard it, I strongly urge you to listen. It combines elements of Videogame music, elements of Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian folk, classical, traditional Cinematic effects (dat waterphone sample and dose typical wild french horn counter-melodies in the epic parts). However, it does this in such a way that is original and very broad. It sounds like John Williams meets Howard Shore meets Bagpipes meets Richard Wagner meets the Videogame scoring industry.

Next comes the issue of "fullness".

Most people seem to expect Orchestral music to be close, powerful, and strong- even the gentle stuff. They fail to recognize that there is beauty in restraint and in a flowing, rubato quality that doesn't even fill your ears that much. When I say that I spend three hours on a piece and people give a fuss about me rushing and it not feeling complete, it is because they expect a certain fullness that is only achieved with weeks of slow work, years of musical training, and actual DAWs (or compression). I chose to write a SIMPLE style. I CHOOSE to partially embrace Minimalism- I'm not going to stick my face in a textbook and write a Piano Sonata in G Minor with the proper key changes, timings, and form. I'm going to write music that inspires and transcends form- music that can get to the point without the fluff and the pomp. Music that you can hear and say "Samulis wrote that". The other day, I was speaking with Bosa and he told me one of my pieces sounded "like a Samulis piece". That made me smile... that is what I want people to say. I don't want people to say "that sounds like Hollywood!" or "That sounds like <insert old arcade game here>!" I want them to judge my work, and the works of others, for what they are- melodically, harmonically, and symbolically. Although it's nice to be compared to something larger than me, I am neither developmentally that far, nor of the same chain of evolution.

My ultimate test is if a piece can move me, and let me tell you, cookie-cutter cinematic doesn't- I have simply heard too much of it for that to work... and this doesn't only apply to orchestral. It works with jazz, country, electronic and so on.... If I can smile when I listen, it's good music... and that's what the fans do. Sometimes it is just the tiniest little fragment, or a single chord change, but it can affect the listener greatly.

So what's my point?

It doesn't matter where my music or your music lies in the grand scheme of things, it matters how much of your creativity and ingenuity is showing. Measure the music to its composer, not your idea of what it should sound like. Hey, if you think you can do better, message me and I will send you the full MIDI and let you arrange it to your contentment (I'm completely serious). Sometimes you have to think beyond mere notes to get the message, and sometimes it takes more than mere patterns or "laws" to create a GOOD message... other times, there isn't a message for a reason.

Everything I do in my work is either symbolic or following a personal "law" of a genre. Pretty much everything. Although I might not perceive that symbolism until the work is finished, it is there. Motifs pop in early in simple form, chimes ring on certain beats or at certain points, patterns repeat until certain times. Sometimes you just need to step back and read the music like a good reader would analyze a good book- take it line by line, follow each instrument, follow just the emotion of the music. When you start doing this, and when the mere concreteness of notes and chords disappear back into colors and emotions like it was before you learned all that theory, you will have gone full circle and now have a greater understanding of the workings of music.


Comments

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DivoFSTDivoFST

11/18/12

Great speech, it got me thinking...
Are you sure you are 17 years old?? xD

11/18/12 samulis responds:

lol... I THINK I am... XD

I'm really glad it got you thinking period; more people considering these points will make things work better for all of us, I feel.