Music as a creative environment

Sometmes setting the stage means listening to echoes

It was only when George Winston died, almost exactly a year ago, that I paused to think of him as a musician. I had gotten to know him through his music—particularly his albums named, somewhat like Vivaldi’s, as Autumn, Forest, Plains and Summer, which often formed the orchestral heartbeat of my study. Until that day last year, Mr Winston was to me a musician, seated inside my speakers, making music that happened to have made itself an integral part of my surroundings. The lines between the man and the music had blurred. The lines between the music and my work had also blurred.

This essay is a contribution to the IndieWeb Carnival for May 2024 with the theme ‘creative environments’, hosted by Juha–Matti Santala.

It was not that I sat in my study to do my research, it was that I sat with a specific set of songs to which I did my research. Likewise when I sat to work on my photography or write code, I played different music. I sat on the same chair, at the same desk, before the same computer, and yet I found myself in a different environment. They were all creative endeavours but in different creative environments. It was not the physical space that defined my environment but the music that transformed it.

To me, music is a creative environment. When I work I have a set of albums or a playlist I listen to that plays a specific type of music. But when I run too I have a playlist that I switch on, called ‘Workout’. It is almost exactly one hour long and defines the temporal boundaries of my environment while I workout. Is it a creative environment, though? I happen to think it is. When I run, I stumble upon some of my wildest ideas; my mind runs free, almost losing itself to the music, and I gain an incredible clarity and a strangely satisfying influx of ideas, my inhibitory senses arrested by its familiar beats. By every count my evening jog is a creative environment.

Creative environments need not always be defined by output. Sometimes they are environments where creativity is a need, even a source of everything else taking place within it. My most memorable example of this is from when I directed Chimera, a short film, and throughout principle photography listened to a single song on repeat because it helped set my mental stage for the film. It gave me an emotional direction, a steady stream of thought, a strange familiarity that bred comfort. It was a song to which I likened my script, and it was the creative environment that only existed in my senses, within which I managed to realise my directorial vision. It was my isolated creative environment that nevertheless existed within the dreary confines of reality. (The song was Alan Hovhaness’s ‘Khorhoort Nahadahats’.)

Creative environments can also be passive. When I sleep, I still think; and I often think absurd thoughts, disconnected and partially inspired by the day’s events. As I lie in bed, impossibilities become fleeting realities. I float into another dimension and think unshackled. And I am sure I am not alone in this. Science has shown us that such a resting phase is ‘essential to mental processes’ and that ‘the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower’ (Archimedes?) This is then a creative space that each of us visits. And in my case I play some white noise: the music of oceanic waves striking a rocky beach under the circular fullness of the moon. It is rhythmic, it is rich, it envelopes my senses, and it is beautiful.

But is it music? Once again, I happen to think so. This is an example of a passive creative environment—not unlike the shower—where thoughts come and go, ideas form and decisions may be made, all in the safe cloister of the rhythmic rush of water in its many forms. Some prefer the rain, for example, but it nevertheless forms their creative environment with the same end results.

While it may appear that my day has annoyingly ceaseless music, that description is not always true. Sometimes I prefer silence. But silence too, in its own beautiful way, is musical. Sometimes, silence can be hauntingly musical. Especially when engaged in some creative endeavour—like writing this essay— it would not be unwise for me to sit in precursory silence and let my thoughts flow. During such moments, the silence defines my creative environment.

Our creative environments rarely exist independently of us. We need to draw them out of thin air. We need to understand that every moment has the potential to spark a creative endeavour. We need to appreciate that every moment deserves a creative environment. We therefore need to create them from nothing to persist as a rich, meaningful, safe and vitalising condition that lets us run free: a creative space defined in space by the extent of music, and in time by the existence of music.


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