Artists live miserable lives

“Politics is like being an artist. Have you ever seen how artists live? They have miserable lives”.

Ever since I was 15, I composed music. It started with a korg analogue synthesizer and a portable tape recorder. The problem with writing music on analogue equipment is you are forced into having massive studios or composing using simple loops that evolve slowly. It’s hard to have complexity when each note is a button, cable, or a fader. Computers gave analogue and digital synthesizers new life; whole compositions could be visualized, edited, and reproduced in endless variation. For the composer, a computer obliterated the need for a medium or vessel (the musician), and put every aspect of the piece under your direct control. Amplitude, pitch, timber, rhythm; all composed with direct input at every second and throughout.

With unlimited freedom and control, mental barriers rise from the creative ash. How do you lay out a song in a plane of pure openness? At different times I used different methods. I could start with a loop, which I would dissect, process, destroy, and reconstruct across time. Starting for simple melodies, variations are derived and woven together in a fabric, like an electronic fugue. At its core though, my method always had one constant. With each phrase, I would repeat and loop a section varying elements slowly until they fit. A note moved here, a different chord, a pause inserted there…slowly changing each element one at a time. Sometimes what I was writing was a song that been composed spontaneously in my mind, one that I had woken up with, but often that experimentation created new melodies and timbres I didn’t expect.

To any outsider listening, this sounds insane. The same loop potentially for minutes let alone hours is like bizarre torture. Often it is boring. Worse than boring, it can be intensely depressing and frustrating. Being unable to overcome creative barriers in composing can sour my mood for days, and make it impossible to do anything at all.

This society pushes us to be passive consumers in every facet of life, seeking out entertainment and consumption of mass culture from which we’re alienated. Our stories were created by professionals in an industry creating them for profit and market share. We have no idea how the band recorded that song, the director created the film, or the author built her novel. We’re alienated from the process and content. Yet our experience of art is one of pleasure, emotional release, and enjoyment.

For the musician or artist, creation involves boring mind-numbing discipline both in gaining the skills and in creation. Artists are people that feel satisfaction in that struggle, but it’s a different pleasure from that of people who just pick up a cd, a book, or a picture.

In politics, people are often frustrated at what is asked of them in developing their ideas, creating new projects, and finding a voice to build. There’s a desire expressed for things to “feel better” and sometimes crassly to entertain. We should learn from the artists; politics demands building muscle, learning languages, and practicing instruments. People don’t find it fun to listen to new saxophone players, and no one has toned muscles when they struggle to pick up weights at day 1 or day 5. The beauty and fulfillment we will find comes not from the packaging or parties, but from our creations and the journey and struggle we get there with.