Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Rush Song Vital Signs - an interpretation

Vital Signs

Unstable condition
A symptom of life
In mental and environmental change
Atmospheric disturbance
The feverish flux
Of human interface and interchange

The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed
And the balance distorted
By internal incoherence

A tired mind become a shape-shifter
Everybody need a mood lifter
Everybody need reverse polarity
Everybody got mixed feelings
About the function and the form
Everybody got to deviate from the norm

An ounce of perception
A pound of obscure
Process information at half speed
Pause, rewind, replay
Warm memory chip
Random sample, hold the one you need

Leave out the fiction
The fact is, this friction
Will only be worn by persistence
Leave out conditions
Courageous convictions
Will drag the dream into existence

A tired mind become a shape-shifter
Everybody need a soft filter
Everybody need reverse polarity
Everybody got mixed feelings
About the function and the form
Everybody got to elevate from the norm...

(Written and performed by the band Rush and taken from the album Moving


I agree with the first line in the Rush song Vital Signs, that an unstable condition mentally and emotionally, is a symptom of life, and in mental and environmental change, although it also depends on whether mental and environmental change is supportive, loving, and creative.

I agree that so-called mental illness is a symptom of life, but one which some psychiatrists try to medicalise with psychiatric drugs, and by saying that it is all due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The medical model is often used by psychiatry, instead of looking at creativity and social and life skills, although sometimes the two methods and models can be applied simultaneously in mental health and by psychiatry.

I don't agree with the next line in the song, that atmospheric disturbance, and what is described very metaphorically as the feverish flux, are of human interface and interchange, because feverish flux seems to suggest that creativity is static and opposed to change, and I think that some human interface and interchange are conducive to creativity and mental health, and that creativity can embrace and create change.

The next paragraph describes the creative impulse as pure, and by saying that our circuits get shorted by external interference, seems to suggest that social and human interaction are not conducive to creativity, when I think that they are or can be.  The external can become an interference though when there is a lot of stress, and which is not very conducive to creativity and mental health.

The next line says that signals get crossed and the balance distorted by internal incoherence.  I agree that socially and internally signals can get crossed, and that balance is very important to creativity, but I don't agree that incoherence is purely internal, because it can also be external and social.  I agree with the next paragraph that everyone needs reverse polarity.  Simple reverse polarity is sleep, entertainment, or relaxation for most people, but for very creative people it can mean connecting to the unconsciousness or the imagination, but which, like meditation, is still a knowable, explainable, and conscious method and process.

I like the line that says everybody has got mixed feelings about the function and the form, because people do have different views on what is creative, and it's important to listen to those views, discuss and debate about them, and have some tolerance and moderation.  I agree that some deviation from the norm is necessary with creativity, and because we don't have a very creative education system, culture, or society.

An ounce of perception, and a pound of obscure, suggest that creativity is somewhat mysterious and unknowable, but I think that whilst a sense of mystery is sometimes a good thing, that creativity is still very knowable, explainable, and conscious.

Process information at half speed, seems to suggest that it's conducive for creativity if the mind slows down or relaxes, because it needs times when it is receptive to the other areas of the mind, reality, and to the imagination.  Stress is not really conducive to this process.  Random sample, hold the one you need, is a very accurate description of part of the creative process, and which very much relies on some randomness, filtering, flowing, and restructuring of information.  This is also necessary for improvisation in music and for creative writing.

In the next paragraph, Rush say that courageous convictions will drag the dream into existence.  This raises the matter of whether creativity is just idealism.  I think that creativity can be courageous and realistic, and can be about reordering, and about social and political change, as well as idealism, and I think that reality can interact with creativity in the creative process.  I don't believe that creativity is all just pure imagination.

The next paragraph says that everyone needs a soft filter.  I can relate to this, because creativity very much works through a soft process of selecting, flowing, filtering and processing information.  I also agree with the song that everybody has to elevate from the norm, and I like this verse and the song in general, because it talks about everybody's creativity and not just gifted individuals.


Music, Reality and Creativity

A friend recently emailed me about his latest poetry, saying that it was like the band Genesis's lyrics, and that creativity and influences operate on an unconscious level. For me, creativity operates on a conscious, subconscious, and unconscious level, but is primarily and largely a knowable and a conscious process.

Peter Gabriel from the band Genesis said that travelling was very conducive to song-writing, and that it was something to do with lots of imagery rushing past. When I used to travel to another town by bus, I used to listen to fast, wild, complex and technical jazz, and which would influence me when I got back home to compose and write music in my band when we jammed and recorded.

The whole experience of travelling, observing, and interacting with music, life, and people, and the whole experience of music, passing life, and meeting people (like a living song and a musical reality), influenced me to put all the residue chaos, randomness, order, experiences, and influences together, and kind of form a new alchemy of sensations, experiences, and sounds. The experience of reality and the ideal experience of music merge and intermix, and are conducive to creativity and creative writing, and which in turn helps rational thinking and an understanding and a firm and strong grasp of reality.

I'm very interested in music from the point of view of reality and idealism. Does music represent same fantasy world or world of ideals?, or can music be realistic and merge and intermix with reality to form more music and emotional and social realism? The German classical composer Richard Wagner said that he valued music over other art forms, because it was the least materialistic and represented the pure spirit or mind. To me music isn't so pure or devoid of reality, because it can be influenced by the experiences of social reality and realism, and can be influenced by emotional realism as well. Music should also have some otherworldliness or idealism, but it can be also influenced by reality and experience as well. Music can also help us understand creativity and creative ability and intelligence.
One other reason why creativity is sometimes thought of as falsely largely unconscious, is that some ignorant people want to oppress and repress all creativity into the unconscious, thus making one incapable of conscious creative work, understanding, knowledge, and activity. There may be unconscious pauses in some creativity and creative processes, such as when dreams or unconscious sounds or imagery inspire us, but it is still primary and largely a conscious process and can be best understood and explained as such. This is what this article sets out to achieve and do.

Creativity and music, are both conducive to reality, as they improve rational ability, and which includes being sane and understanding and knowing the experiences and facts of life. I like to grapple and also listen to other people's experiences and knowledge on these matters, even if it is usually quite basic or simplistic; but I don't think that finding out what the processes and instrumental knowledge of creativity are in music and people are an impossible task.
I'm intelligent enough to develop and interact the complexities myself, even though I also get some creativity and inspiration from simple human interaction and learning too. I believe in creative relationships and friendships though, and believe that there is a creative skill to interacting with other people well. Simple parts can make up a complex whole, and which then interacts with my own simple and complex learning.

I very much believe in learning from music and people, and that simplicity and complexity are both important, rather than from just learning from constant instruction or books, and I think the mind and creativity very much needs various activities and a choice of them, random breaks and ordered flows, and lots of times to relax and chill out too, especially if you want to be very all-roundly creative.

Maybe I am just a very cool guy, but I don't think that stress is conducive to creativity at all. That was the trouble with my friend Steve's creative and musical ideas in our band, is that he drove us too hard in a way that created mostly anxiety and anxious music, and which was not conducive to much good creativity or good musical playing. He didn't have the sense to see this in a balanced way though, and I think that he is very much lacking in that field.

I agree that some very deep matters are beyond knowing, such as whether an afterlife or a God exists, but those are not intellectual questions, such as what are the emotional, artistic, and intellectual processes and instrumental knowledge of creativity. I like to keep trying and be positive about it, and then the answers all usually come to me one way or another, although I need breaks from purely creative thinking too, in order to re-process things clearer and better. I try to incorporate some creativity and space into my articles too for people to think a bit for themselves.

I couldn't write in a totally flowing stream-of-consciousness like my friend Steve or Jack Kerouac does. This is a creative ability of mine, and of stream-of-consciousness, but these methods and approaches could be falsely described as learning disabilities, because contrary to creative knowledge and wisdom, the mind should have sets of intellectual or physical activities or tasks forced onto itself for long periods, and/or under instruction, but which suppress creativity, discovery, and invention. I believe in some self discipline and routine, but I believe in personal and social freedom and equality too, and because creativity is very important and improves overall feeling, thinking, and artistic, literary, and scientific invention and discovery.
This is why I don't think that the entire school, or adult education system is conducive to either creativity, creative learning, or our knowledge and wisdom about it. The entire education system breeds ignorance, and politicians in particular should wise up to this and change some teaching structures and methods.

Which political party most supports creativity and creative learning, thinking, and teaching is a hard and interesting question. In some ways the Tory party do, because they believe in private education, and which can be a little bit more creative, although most private schools aren't like that in my knowledge and experience of others, and where they are creative, that teaching isn't available to everyone and so it's elitist. So I think that the other two main parties would be much more interested in creativity, creative learning and teaching, although I think that they both focus too much on creative learning, and not also enough on creative teaching. I've found that being with a good friend or a good psychotherapist is conducive to creative learning and teaching, and mutually creative learning and teaching.

I think it's disgraceful how only art is taught in most schools and not also music. I suppose music would be taught in some rich or good schools, but I very much doubt if it is taught to teach people to learn playing by improvisation and ear, instead of playing by written music and which is not the most creative way to play. It's certainly not the creative way to play and appreciate some rock and with most jazz. It's more of a conservative and classical method though I suppose, but I don't think it's a very creative model or method. I love classical music, and agree with some structure, but I still think that jazz is by far much more creative, because it's more emotionally and intellectually positive and free. Jazz is a kind of creative philosophy in itself in a way, and listening to and learning from jazz has helped me to understand creativity and things a lot better.

Regarding jazz again, I think that John Coltrane was very good at putting tunes and a lot of improvisation together at different intervals, and then blending them, rather than Charlie Parker who was very good at making lots of improvisation all from and around one fairly basic tune, and which was his expertise. Paul Desmond on the other hand, flows various tunes together in improvisation to make whole statements and pieces. He is a lot slower and smoother, but also a lot more tuneful than the others. Gerry Mulligan like Paul Desmond puts many tunes together as single pieces and harmonies, but then improvises on them.
My friend Colin's jazz sax playing, is much more like Coltrane's rather than Parker's, Gerry Mulligan's, or Paul Desmonds in this respect. I think he combines cool and hot styles, and creates a tune, then an improvisation, then another tune and another improvisation, and then puts them all together in a stream or a new flow of notes. Intellectually and technically, I think that me and Colin both use both simplistic and complex styles and methods, but then fuse the two together to make part of a song or a set piece. This is pretty much what I do also, in my musical playing and written articles, and I think we have similar styles creatively, and which are very highly creative styles.

Discussion and debate are crucial to creativity and creative learning too, although in themselves are not very creative acts. Discussion and debate includes some creativity and intellectual ability, but also some conversational and practical mental and social skills. Discussion and debate, are still not taught much as mental and social skills by the school education, psychiatric, and mental health system though, as children and psychiatric diagnosed people are mostly encouraged to be compliant, and taught and encouraged not to think for themselves much, nor to ask questions about their own and other people's abilities and minds.

I don't agree with some diagnosis of things like mania and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), because I think that some diagnosed schizophrenia, mania, and ADHD is a more random and flowing creative way of thinking, but that in some cases it gets misdiagnosed as a deficit, a disorder, and a mental health problem.

There's the whole matter of creative ignorance of some musicians and others, and whether musicians should have creative secrets. I can see a reason for having to have some creative and intellectual secrets, at the stage of the actual creative processing, because one needs some sleep, rest, personal or social relaxation, musical receptivity, meditation, solitude, or peace and privacy of mind; but then after that, I think that those creative secrets must be shared in some way, and ideally come from more than one person's inspiration and knowledge. That is what I try to do when I write, although I don't always achieve this. I think I sometimes need a kind of mental, emotional, and spiritually shared and human transference of creativity and inspiration. I'm trying to look at creativity in both an individual and a collective way, believing in both solitude and social integration and interaction.

Again, I'm interested as to how much creative processes are unconscious. I personally don't think they are primary or largely unconscious, and that by saying they are largely unconscious as some psychiatrists and psychotherapist say, are just a way of saying that you can't understand, explain, know and write and create about creativity, change society for the better for it, and learn and teach from it, when I think that you can. I think that creativity is primarily conscious, but that some rest or unconsciousness operates or comes into play with some creating, playing, or writing, and for having necessary breaks from it. Likewise, I believe that the imagination is largely conscious, and that part of the conscious process of it is to consciously bring out ideas and information from the subconscious and unconscious mind.
I had a great conversation last night with a taxi driver about music and creativity. He didn't come up with any good solutions, but it was just interesting that his idea of creativity very much involved memory for knowing and remembering many, many, tracks and pieces.
I thought that this was interesting from the point of view of how simple or false an idea creativity is to a lot of ordinary people, and that they haven't really thought about it much at all, and basically don't intellectually know or understand much about it.

After just making a cup of tea for my mum's partner Bill, I think that some manual or physical work can be conducive to intellectual and artistic creativity, because it again takes the mind of the intellect for a while and gives it a rest, but it must be work freely chosen, and as to both where and what sort of work it is. It's not like that in capitalist society though, when you are forced to work all hours, how and when you are told to, and then with absolutely no concern for your creative abilities and potential. I suppose it would be the same under a communist system too, but in a social and liberal democracy we can change society for the better in moving towards creating a creative learning environment and society.

Another thing I worry about, is whether my actual discussion, debate, and questioning of people is conducive to their creativity. I think that a lot of it is conducive if it gets them feeling and thinking intellectually or creatively, and if there are spaces of laughter, humour, silence, and small talk in-between.

I do know one thing, that creativity is very conducive to good mental health and is a healer. In this way it is spiritual too. Friendship and social relationships in terms of creative thinking, shared knowledge, and understanding means a lot to me, but I like some simple ordinary people too.

Last but not least, I have been thinking about seriousness and creativity, and because a friend called Colin last night said that me and my friend Luke were so serious about things. Maybe he just wanted to fool around, but I think that both seriousness and humour can be useful and conducive to creativity and creative learning.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Music, Creativity and Mental Health

Short-cuts to Learning and Improvisation on a Musical Instrument

As well as being a part-time writer of mental health articles, I am also an occasional jazz and rock musician, and I sometimes play in a band of friends calling ourselves Bezoomy. Our band Bezoomy use different styles of music, and everything we play is simply improvised and recorded. There's a connection between the two interests and passions, as creative innovation and the experience of creativity, have made me think about how creativity operates and how this relates to literature, psychology, and mental health.

In the literary or spoken style of stream-of-consciousness, the way the topic chops and changes, is also a bit like my lead and bass guitar playing (if you replace topic with scale of notes or melody pattern). I often chop and change a lot when I am trying to improvise more, or have lost a single flow of notes. Sometimes this creates a new flow or stream, and at other times it remains a sort of series of spliced pieces put together, at awkward but interesting angles, and which eventually fall into place and fit.

Whilst some technical ability from practice is obviously required to improvise and play effectively, cutting, splicing, and rejoining, are certainly a quick method of improvisation that jazz musicians use, and of course are used in another way by rap and hip-hop artists with scratching, cutting, and splicing.

I started off playing guitar in my early teens, wanting to learn heavy rock lead-guitar solo playing and chord strumming. After listening to punk rock, and then modern jazz, I progressed onto teaching myself some jazz bass guitar playing, and then some jazz lead guitar playing.

I haven't technically been very much influenced by jazz, as technically I am a rock musician, but creatively I have very much been influenced by the experience of listening to, learning from, and playing jazz. I've also been influenced by listening to some modern hardcore-metal and electronic or techno music, especially by trying to recreate and imitate electronic bass-lines or keyboard tunes, rhythms, and sound-effects on my bass and lead guitar playing.

My main influences for lead guitar playing are basically Hendrix and the saxophonists Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, although I am also very fond of saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, and UK saxophonist Courtney Pine. Listening to jazz and some classical music (especially Wagner), makes me aware of the humanism inherent in Wagner's compositions, and aware of the vast range of emotions inherent in human beings, but which are only very partially realised, experienced, or expressed. This also makes ones perceptions and experiences of others more appreciative and enlightening.

One or two friends have asked me how to develop on their guitar playing, as they have found that practising has become either too laborious or has not led them onto any level of progress. Although I know where most notes are on my instruments by ear, I very rarely, if ever, practise. I do however listen to a lot of music in my free time, and I study it by ear and psychologically and creatively learn from it.

The approach I use, gives what I play a special kind of freshness and enables me to connect directly to my subconscious and unconscious mind, as the music and playing comes much more from my creative imagination than from rationally worked-out and structured scale patterns. Even the scales I play mostly come from my creative imagination, and as such are not real scales in the sense of the word, but more modal or arpeggio patterns. The scales that I do know, and which are basically variations of blues, major, and minor, are used occasionally, and are more than anything things to fall back onto if my visualisation and splicing at all fails me.

Whilst a certain basic level of technical ability needs to be achieved to play skilfully and directly, there are definite short-cuts to both innovation and creativity that can be achieved and accomplished. The first, as I've already mentioned, are through splicing and splitting tunes and putting them back together in a different order. This also involves taking very different tunes and putting them together in different ways, and it is basically the way that most modern jazz musicians learn to improvise, and is a kind of trade secret.

The second method and shortcut to improvisation that I use is creative visualisation. This involves imagined patterns, rhythms, or imagined shapes of rhythms. Synaesthesia basically means the mixing or muddling of the senses, but in context to listening to music, it means visualisations such as shapes, patterns, and colours produced by the experience and perception of the music. Whereas synaesthesia involves experiencing shapes and colours as a by-product of the music, with creative visualisation, the music comes from the shapes, patterns, and colours, and so therefore operates the other way round. For me, these are mostly angular shapes, but they can also be curved.

These imagined shapes and patterns are immediately experienced, and as well as being unconscious or instinctual, can also be thoughts or emotions, again experienced directly. Mostly though, these are simply imagined and rhythmic shapes, as the transference of emotional feelings expresses itself through the physical directness and contact with what is actually played on the instrument.

The imagined shapes and patterns are either an inspiration for what I actually play, or they are literally duplicated and played on the fret-board of the guitar or bass. Being able to visualise in this way, creates an enormous short-cut of an intimacy with the instrument which otherwise comes from long and laborious practise.

The stream-of-consciousness style jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was once interviewed. The interviewer begins by saying to John Coltane that he has got to be abrupt with him, and say that his sax playing has been termed untenor-like, un-beautiful, un-just-about everything you can think of, and that since the playing mirrors the personality, he guess's that John Coltrane has some personal thoughts of that kind to say. John Coltrane replies that the critics - or at least some of them - seem to think that his playing is an angry sort of thing as well.

The Interviewer then asks John Coltrane if he feels angry, to which replies that he doesn't feel angry. John Coltrane goes onto say that he was talking to someone the other day, and that he told him that the reason he plays so many sounds that maybe sound angry, are because he is trying to play so many things in one time - that he hasn't sorted them out - and that he has a whole bag of things that he's trying to work through and get the one essential.

The interviewer then asks him if he is trying to play everything he hears, at one time, or something like that. John Coltrane replies that there are some set things that he knows - some harmonic devices that he knows - that will take him out of the ordinary path if he uses them, but that he hasn't played them enough, and that he's not familiar with them enough yet - to take the one single line through them - so he plays all of them, trying to activate his ear so he can hear.

John Coltrane concludes by saying that tone wise he'd like to produce a more beautiful sound, but that he's primarily interested in trying to work with what he has - what he knows - down into a more lyrical line. He says that this is what he means by beautiful - more lyrical - so that it will be listenable and easily understood.

What John Coltrane says here, may have some creative, psychological, and mental health implications for how we understand some things which can be misunderstood as anger, such as so-called mania or creative ability and thinking, and that the aesthetic or more rational quality of tone and a more lyrical line, can be otherwise understood as reciprocated clarification, thematic or elemental thinking, and articulation, and are what enables a person to be more listenable and easily understood.