Art too perfect to be passionate?

a manuscriptExpression or execution, which holds the most merit when it comes to creative endeavours? It’s a long standing question, but it’s one I find endlessly fascinating.

One of the reasons the topic is at the forefront of my mind this slightly dreary Thursday is the question asked by Guardian critic Tom Service: ‘Do British orchestras play too perfectly?’ He is not alone in wondering if this perfection has somehow drowned the vital spark of intensity that makes a good performance a great one.

black swan posterBut it’s not only perfection of a musical kind that’s got me thinking, a belated trip to see Black Swan has also set the cogs whirring. Back in the day, I wanted to be a ballet dancer very badly and I spent a lot of time not only practicing, but also reading and absorbing everything I could about ballet. I think the film does an excellent job of highlighting one of the most difficult aspects for young dancers – identifying the difference between technical proficiency and being a good performer.

So much of ballet is very strictly controlled and dependant on established restrictions that it’s easy to plough all of your efforts into getting every step, posture and gesture correct, but the real measure of success is the ability to emote and engage with your audience.

When it comes to writing, we’re a lot freer that we are in many other mediums. The constraints and conventions obviously vary depending who or what you are writing for – an article, a blog or a novel all set up very different reader expectations – but aside from the ability to somehow communicate words to someone else, I can think of very few writerly rules that cannot be broken for the sake of expression.

writing and sleepingYet, overall, it seems that very few people actually choose to break many of these rules, and I wonder whether this is because the majority of them work, and work well. But I also can’t help contemplating the idea that by making sure we pay attention to our grammar, our spelling, our arc, our character progression, our themes and cliff-hangers, are we sometimes stifling the impulses that could make our good, competent work great?

It would be easy to ask whether we are all striving too hard for our writing to be perfect and prescriptive, and therefore missing out along the way. But when I think of all of those hours of ballet practice I remember the best dancing lesson I ever learned: it take years and years to train your body to the point it will remember the rules and steps for you, and that’s the point at which you can really begin to dance.

I think the same holds true for writing, you slave away at it all for what feels like forever, until the day you can start to subtly bend and break the rules to allow you greater freedom to tell your story. The trick must be to make sure you never fall into the problem Tom describes, and allow the pursuit of perfection to become your driving force to the detriment of the art.

Writing to music: do you tune in or tune out?

skullcandy headphones

Loves the pretty Skullcandy

I like writing to music a lot, but there are plenty of scribblers that disagree with me (as verbosely as you’d expect) and it makes me wonder why there’s such a divide.

One of the reasons I like listening to music is that it acts as a way to cancel out the ‘real world’ sounds. This means that I’m safe in my little, pre-chosen musical capsule and don’t have to worry about intrusions.

The other is major reason is that I can use the music to help me set the mood of the piece I’m writing. To be honest, I know a few people who are able to use this device far more successfully than me – but I do find listening to specific genres of music can help you channel the particular tone you’re going for.

I can see why people like to avoid it, especially listening to music with lyrics – they can try to creep their way into your sentences after all and I sometimes have to switch to instrumental pieces if my grip on a story is feeling shaky – but I can’t imagine how I’d manage without the help of some kind of music.

What really interests me are the people who say they just can’t concentrate at all when there’s music playing, the ones that basically need total silence and isolation to let their words flow properly – my question to them is, how do you manage to get the peace and time you need in the noisy world we live in?

I’m also really curious in general, how does it work for you? Do you need tunes to get typing or are you a silent scribbler?

“Literature’s like coke, music’s like heroin” says Iggy Pop

Well if anyone is qualified to muse about likenesses to addictive substances I suppose it’s Iggy. The 62 year old rock juggernaut shared this quip with AFP: “Literature’s like coke and music’s like heroin! Literature sharpens the mind, music stupidifies [sic]”

The subject came up as his new album is apparently inspired by Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Possibility of an Island, also titled Preliminaires for the French audience, but is it a fair one? Music stimulates, music inspires, it doesn’t make me want to sit in a corner drooling (with some important exceptions) and it’s not an art form that needs belittling; plenty of vapid pop stars do that for us.

On the other hand, if Iggy can boost the ‘cool factor’ of reading then it’s all for the greater good. Shame his recent car insurance adverts have stripped him of much of the punk ethos that made him attractive in the first place though. Oh well, throw in a few references to drugs and everyone will take notice again though huh?

I f anything I’d say music is more likely to produce the same effects or reactions as weed – slightly unpredictable feelings of well being, maniac giggles at songs that really, really, aren’t funny and total paranoia when you find you just don’t get what it is that everyone else seems to be listening to these days

Pirate Bay found guilty

Well, I don’t really know what I expected to happen – but I’m still pretty shocked by the fact that Pirate Bay (a file sharing site) has been found guilty. The four co-founders have been sentenced to a fine of £2.4 million and a year in jail each. Actual jail. Of course the defendants plan to appeal, which will probably drag on for ages, but the whole thing seems pretty crazy.

Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi had this to say over Twitter:

“Stay calm – nothing will happen to TPB, us personally or filesharing what so ever. This is just a theatre for the media.”

“Really, it’s a bit LOL. It used to be only movies, now even verdicts are out before the official release.”

He hit the nail on the head quite nicely there. I don’t really know what my position is on filesharing. I like having physical things most of the time – but I’m also happy to pay way more for gig tickets these days seeing as I’ll listen to music my friends pass on to me without a second thought. Not so sure how I’ll feel about it if e-books continue to grow in popularity though.

On the other hand, with the rebellious attitude he and his friends sported throughout the trail, I can’t help thinking that Peter may have been courting that self same media to some extent.