I often spend hours at night staring at the curtains blocking the yellow lamp outside my window wondering what I might’ve been. This is a ridiculous exercise… Thinking about it isn’t going to change anything except to hijack my emotional security… Secondly, I like to think that a sliver of my experience is influenced by the stream of realities that pours forth at each moment of possibility. If that’s the case, then I’m experiencing all those realities regardless. It’s like a trout jumping out of the stream and getting a broader view of the spiraling river water but falling back in and continuing it’s course. Or, more accurately, a fish that’s caught and thrown back in, robbed of an otherwise transformative experience. Like being eaten.
Tying this back into my musical life, I find myself doing this sort of headwork around styles and influences. I’ve spent much of my life with open ears, and a listener today cannot avoid a global polystylism. How in earth could you avoid it? You can hardly spend a day in the world without witnessing centuries of music across all the continents. I wonder what it was like for anyone before recording.
All of this serves me wondefully/terribly. When I sit down to write music, half the ideas that come are earworms noodling amongst my synapses. And once I work through that, I often question whether the ideas are perfect for that project or if it’s just whatever comes up at that time. I just hope whatever project I’m working on is served appropriately by my daily diet of randomized musical influences.
I know there are stories of Bernstein locking himself in his apartment and avoiding all recorded music and concerts when embarking on a project. I dream of that. Just like I dream of coffeeshops without music piped throughout.
One way or another, I’m compelled to compose, and whatever doubts arise around the material I’ve no choice but to continue, or fail. And who is to say whether the cheesy electronica car commercial from last night’s TV watching, or the Beck album that’s on in my present caffeinated whereabouts, or the elevator spewed Muzak version of Barber’s Adagio is influencing the scalar rise in my mind, or the particular phrasing that currently has me locked?
So how useful is it to ask of someone’s influences? Just another way to conceptualize music into a box that couldn’t hope to hold the abstraction that is music. And with the Internet, you might as well just go listen, instead of trying to pinpoint which Radiohead record that person listened to a year ago and how that could inform their character somehow.
This begs the following questions: What if Thelonious Monk was listening to Webern the day he wrote ‘Round Midnight? Would it be the standard we know it to be today? What if Chopin had heard “Poor Johnny One Note” the day he began writing the Db prelude (raindrop)? Or if Messiaen heard a crow on the day he originally wrote his first birdsong into a piece? Was Beethoven secretly listening to Gesualdo?