Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Milk Diaries: Oblique Strategies

I remember it was in the great musical text, Isle of Noises: Conversations with Great British Songwriters where Ray Davies encouraged the use of unfamiliar instruments during pop composition. I think about this a lot, that when you are adept at playing an instrument, whether that be piano, guitar or violin, your fingers tend to fall back in the same places.

The idea that Ray Davies presents offers hope to those who are not particularly dexterous on their pop instrument of choice. It relies upon that theory that creative acts can actually result from technical or physical limitations. On a personal level, it warms me to think that ridiculous contortions to avoid barre chords could ultimately result in something interesting and unique.

I recall Brian May saying something similar, that he preferred to make up melodies away from the guitar as he had shared a similar tendency to return to the same, comfortable places. The concept led me to think that perhaps what is pivotal is not what you can play, but what you can imagine. It reinforced a theory I developed when I jammed with vocalist Marcella back at Casa Hawksburn.

What impressed me most was her incredible ability to instantly invent and vocalise a melody over any given loop or chord progression. It was akin to a stream of consciousness practice, where all expression is experimental, yet still thoroughly valid. The process was be inspired yet straightforward, where the memorable melodies were later developed into full tracks with synths and lush string arrangements.

On some level, these songwriters might not have a scientific understanding of their own creative process. These musicians might just be offering oblique strategies for the pop curious. Perhaps it is a naive thing to suggest such things, particularly when pop can be broken down into its most formulaic components. For me, however, there is some comfort in the idea that regardless of your musical skill, it is the trust in your first thought which might be the most inspired thing.


Margaret McCaffrey said...

I love your description of the writing proce, C&CM. It's fascinating and informative.

Eleanor said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Margaret! It's much appreciated :)