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Music As Creative Juice: What’s Your Pleasure?

September 9th, 2009 2 comments
Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

When I was a teenager, my father once punished me by taking my stereo away because I wasn’t meeting certain academic expectations. I think it was by far, the worst punishment I received. I could be grounded or anything else, but to be without music was like being without light… or water. Thank God for music. I don’t mean to sound trite or to make an inane remark, but I think it’s worth noting what an effect and impact music has on the creativity of others. Now that we have passed another Labor Day, so marks the unofficial end of summer, and with fall comes different flavors and smells, somber colors, different pastimes, and a different spin on creativity. And while even the music we listen to might change somewhat with the seasons, our need for the inspiration and comfort it lends, does not. From Jackson Pollock to Paul Thomas Anderson, Creative Beasts of all kinds have been and will continue to be driven and influenced by the power of music.

I would also like to once again note the cyclical nature of creativity, and in turn; pause for a moment to consider how Creative Beasts need and affect one another. Art in any form and at any level is something that stimulates us and inspires us–an idea–a spark–a birth… created by an individual. It seems that many artists and/or scientists are multi-talented and explore their creativity in multiple facets; for example, a singer-songwriter who also paints, such as John Mellencamp, or a scientist who draws and paints, like Leonardo Da Vinci–or is it the other way around? You get my point. Creative minds are excited by ideas, by freshness, by wonderment and discovery, and by the ability to bring something that encompasses these things to fruition–and to experience the creations of others. That said, it makes sense that many creative types have multiple areas of focus, and multiple passions in their lives. Music makes order out of chaos–even chaotic music. It combines sound and rhythm with thought and puts it in a frame to create a structure. I know that music has a tremendous impact on me and my creativity. I can’t imagine my life without it.

Jackson Pollock was heralded as the leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement in art and pioneered what became known as “action painting.” It’s a well known fact that his art was largely influence by the modern jazz music of his day, which seems to make perfect sense when you view his work; especially in person. He was particularly a big fan of Charlie Parker’s and Dizzie Gillespie’s, but in general, loved rocking–and painting to bebop. Listen to this gorgeous piece titled Autumn in New York by The Bird, himself; Mr. Charlie Parker. Perhaps it had a hand in the outcome of Pollock’s piece shown above.

Additionally, and throughout the history of cinema, great directors are naturally influenced by music, and are keenly aware of just how intrinsically it becomes part of the art which is film. A few of my favorites include Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and last but definitely not least, Paul Thomas Anderson, who states that he indeed, “writes to music.” He freely admits that the screenplay for Magnolia could be called “an adaptation of Aimee Mann songs.” The film is among my favorites, dark as it may be; and is absolutely brilliantly crafted–and so, might I add–is the music. The following quote from Anderson is taken from the introduction of the shooting script for Magnolia.

The connection of writing “from the gut” and “writing to music” cannot be found any clearer than in the “Wise Up” section of the screenplay. I had reached the end of Earl’s monologue and was searching for a little vibe–I wrote as I listened–and the most natural course of action was that everyone should sing– sing how they feel. In the most good old-fashioned Hollywood Musical Way, each character, and the writer, began singing how they felt. This is one of those things that just happens, and I was either too stupid or not scared enough to hit “delete” once done. Next thing you know, you’re filming it. And I’m Really Happy That It Happened.

Here’s that amazing scene [WARNING: This scene contains adult situations]:

Here, Scorsese takes a very different approach by using the cheery 60s sound of The Crystals, followed by Scottish artist, Donovan’s trippy Atlantis, and juxtaposes the music with a disturbingly violent portrayal of Tommy, played by Joe Pesci [WARNING: This scene contains adult language and graphic violence]:

David Lynch writes in his book, Catching the Big Fish,

The music has to marry with the picture and enhance it. You can’t just lob something in and think it’s going to work, even if it’s one of your all-time favorite songs. That piece of music may have nothing to do with the scene. When it marries, you can feel it. The thing jumps; a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” kind of thing can happen.

Here is a shining example of how David Lynch “marries” music with cinema:

So. How does music affect you? And your creativity? What are your influences? Where do you get turned on to new music? Do you have a theme song (And yes, I stole that notion from a scene from the cheesy old show, Ally McBeal, in which Dr. Tracy Clark demands that Ally choose a theme song for herself. What can I say? It stuck with me, and I must give credit where it is due)? My theme song changes, but I think for now, it is Passion Pit‘s Moth’s Wings (is it just me, or does Michael Angelakos remind you of Peter Gabriel?), which I first heard on 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. I can’t think of a better song to lead us into fall.

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