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Positive Feedback ISSUE 2
august/september 2002


A Response to "The Creative Art of Recorded Music–Translation, Transduction, and Transformation, by Rick Gardner and David Robinson"
by Srajan Ebaen


I enjoyed the dialogue on the creative art of recording music, and felt inclined to offer my own rap on the subject of creativity. Calling anything an art immediately, and by implication, invokes the process of creativity. One translation of creativity is "giving life to," i.e., giving birth to an idea or vision or sensory input such that it can be perceived and appreciated by others. Like healers, creative people are usually aware that inspiration or ideas—the equivalent of true healing—aren’t their own. Rather, the artist has learned the knack of tuning in, of entering a zone wherein inspiration happens. Translating inspiration into form depends on the artist’s craft, the part he can—as a result of training, practice, and experience—rightfully claim as his own. Inspiration and craft need to conjoin to produce results. It is more accurate to call the creative process an act of co-creation, or "creating with," since the original impetus—inspiration and motivation—is beyond the control and volition of the artist, and is in fact not a result of self-effort. If "giving life" (bringing into three-dimensional manifestation) is the raw principle of the creative force, then creative acts of any sort call upon a religious component, and people engaged in any act of creativity become actively religious by this very definition. How so?

Surely, none of us are self-created. We find ourselves in bodies given to us, endowed with feelings and thoughts mostly not of our own conscious design, and living in a material world that existed before we showed up to perceive it. Being creative means entering into partnership with the creative force at the root of all phenomena. Calling it "divine" or "life force" or "The Great Unknown" is merely citing unsatisfactory conventions, failed attempts to point at something real yet elusive. It becomes real only through the process of participation, and remains forever elusive to attempts at dry conceptualization.

Existence presents us with a body-mind to experience with as we see fit. It also provides us with impulses, ideas, and visions that play upon this psychophysical mechanism to trigger certain responses. The creative process we call art is a dance that requires two. As artists, our contribution to this dance is our craft and the prior willingness, need, or desire to become available to inspiration, to pursue it, to make space to invite it again and again. With these ingredients in place, inspiration can grab us by the wrist and tango across the floor of our inner space.

What underlies our willingness to join this dance of creativity? A desire to share. Ask any artist—the need for an audience, even of one, is very powerful indeed. Why would that be so? Perhaps because the process becomes still more rewarding when it continues, like water that goes on flowing rather than stagnating behind a dam. Art then becomes not only a co-creative act with That Which Inspires Us, but offers those who participate in our creations their own co-creative avenues in turn. Surely, the uniqueness of sensory perception between individuals, how these perceptions are interpreted, and what they stimulate in response, are themselves acts of creativity, albeit unconscious.

Look at our subject. The audio arts involve machines. Humans invented machines to do what we couldn’t or no longer wanted to do ourselves. Over-reliance on machines tends to de-stimulate the twitching of our own co-creative muscles. Undoubtedly, the recording artist is fully aware of his co-creative powers and responsibilities, in that he actively interfaces with the equipment and musicians. In the studio, he’s concerned with where and how to place the players, what equipment to assign to each. He’s actively involved in calibrating, monitoring, and adjusting his gear. The equipment becomes a tool in the service of the creative process—the writer’s keyboard, the painter’s palette, the dancer’s body.

The listener in possession of the recorded product also needs equipment to translate this creative testament back into the domain of the senses. However, his active involvement with audio components stops once he’s completed his purchases and has them set up to his satisfaction. Now he hits "play" and considers his job done. The audiophile obsession with gear is likely a subconscious remembrance that the listener ought to engage in the co-creative process. While his components are unquestionably a necessary part of the equation, the other vital part is his body-mind, his attention, and his emotional participation in the listening process.

When we speak about the music lover, we really mean the listener who is naturally or automatically inclined to enter the co-creative process. As Tom Davis points out, this inevitably involves a kind of transcendence of the persona (literally "mask"), to enter the realm of becoming a palpable part of Being. This entrance always has the flavor of ecstasy, of "standing outside" the limiting notion of self, of being a conscious part of something greater. That’s the meaning of the word participate—to become a part of, to partake. As part, we’re naturally smaller than that which we’re a part of. This very cognition—of our own insignificance in the face of vastness—is strangely liberating. Call it a healing perspective. Strangely enough, we’re also pretty significant. Without our showing up for this experience, existence wouldn’t be recognized. It needs us to find itself in our experience.

When we speak about the audiophile, we point to the person who is perhaps overly fixated on audio components, as though by themselves they could create the powerful emotions that induce self-forgetfulness and states of happiness or deep feeling. Obviously, audio components cannot do that. Machines don’t create feelings. Audio machines can certainly trigger them, but the listener endowed with the buttons the components are supposed to push needs to establish the hot-wire connection. His place in the dance of two is between the sound emanating from his speakers and the musical message embedded or encoded in the sound. Sound translates into music that plays upon his feelings. Viewed as such, we can appreciate the passing of the buck. Something is passed along from the musician to the recording artist to the listener. It’s an invitation to participate, to become creatively involved. As surely as entering a room changes the number of people in it, participation changes that which is participated in.

An audience affects the performers. A recording artist adds his imprimatur with the choices he makes. A listener enters the same stream each time he plays that record. Unlike the musician or recording artist, the listener may remain unaware of the creative current he’s standing in. If so, he will remain a discontent audiophile who places the entire burden of the co-creative process on the machines. A music lover tends to be less interested in the equipment. In many ways, he has assumed responsibility for his experience. It makes the equipment a very secondary ingredient, one he may barely acknowledge. When he enters states of depth, happiness, or ecstasy simply by listening to music—temporarily transcending the strangulating personality—he accomplishes something that traditional meditators have entered monasteries for, signing up for lifetimes of navel gazing and austerity.

It’s perhaps not too farfetched to consider the recording artist as a kind of modern priest. He’s the mediator between the divine and the human, the Divine in this case the creative process begun by the musician. Without him, the original event would be nothing more than a brief flicker of light. Without him, the fading afterglow in the hearts of the audience would mean the dimming and eventual extinction of that light. Through his craft, the recording engineer keeps the light alive. However, as encoded on a CD, this light exists as a mere potential. To be rekindled and stoked to heated intensity requires the appropriate gesture by the listener. It’s his participation that lights the wick. You could say then that for the music lover or the properly oriented audiophile, the listening room becomes a temple, the equipment a sort of altar, or focus—a meeting ground for deep experience, with music the catalyst. Ask any meditator. He deeply appreciates the helpfulness of an environment in which to pursue such experience, shielded from the challenges of the noisy marketplace. The habit of listening to music in the seclusion of one’s home is, in many important ways, more conducive to this experience than the life event, with its natural distractions. If properly approached, music listening is a natural form of meditation, with meditation understood as a process that results in a fading of the persona temporarily overlaid or brightened with a sense of emotional expansion.

This is the key point. It suggests that conventional notions of religious or spiritual life unnecessarily and wrongly abstract this process, placing it out of reach in the heavens or persons of uncommon orientation when, in fact, it’s something enacted and enlivened each time we enter creativity in its myriad forms. But before we limit creative endeavors to popular notions, let’s remember that the motivating force of creativity is sharing, and sharing itself is motivated by love. We can now say that any acts carried out with love and a desire to share are creative. They bring something out of the unmanifest realm and into form. Truly, it’s not so-called artists that have a monopoly on creativity. Each person who participates fully in that which life presents has entered the co-creative process. People that live their lives in fullness—however it manifests—are Artists of Life. Doesn’t that sound a hell of a lot more fun, and juicier, than whipping your back with thorns or retreating into some clammy Yogi cave?

If you think your life is lacking in the spiritual dimension, consider that all the ingredients necessary to enter it are already in place. The only thing required is to say yes, yes, and yes again, to participate fully. Challenges tend to stimulate creativity far more strongly than endless beach vacations with no inherent demands. Should you suspect that your audio system is lacking, you can put 1 + 1 together and admit that if you lubed some of your emotive buttons and picked the right music at the right time, your rig might not be to blame at all. Thanks are then due to all the professionals who have made it their mission to capture such a surprising likeness of the sonic dimension of the original event. Getting triggered is really much easier now than it would have been in the bygone days of crappy audio and scratchy mono records.