Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Source of creativity

Last night I had the pleasure of watching a movie called Moog, about R.A. Moog, the inventor of the synthesizer.  My husband had ordered the movie because he used to work for a company that made synthesizers, but I was also very interested: I spent a great deal of time in my early 20s in Dartmouth College's Electronic Music Studio, which was essentially a giant room in the basement of College Hall filled with Moog equipment, tape recorders and microphones. 

My then boyfriend was a musician, thrilled to be able to create new sounds by recording things like snapping rubber bands and banging pot lids and then stretching them out, changing pitches, and otherwise modifying them to see how they might work as tones or percussive instruments. So while the rest of the campus was protesting the war or going off skiing, climbing, studying or canoeing, we spent hours fiddling with sound waves, turning dials, splicing tapes and exploring the outer edges of what some people might not call music.  It was great fun, I have to say.

So of course it was a hoot to see the great Bob Moog in person -- I knew he'd visited the campus and knew my boyfriend's professor considered him a personal friend, but I'd never met the man; I just knew he was the genius behind all this creative electronic potential.

But that's not why I wanted to write about him this morning.  What struck me much more forcibly about this movie, far more than the nostalgic fling of seeing all that equipment again and hearing the kinds of music we were making in those days with our new discoveries, was the way he talked about his work. 

It was clear, from everything he said, that he saw himself as a channel between some higher level of energy and the music that was created from his work.  He could visualize a circuit board and hear, at some level beyond the normal senses, the music it had the capability to create.  And he saw all of the work that he did as something that some higher source outside or above himself was creating through him.

... which is exactly how I feel about my work, both my painting and my photography.  At it's best, when I have been working steadily, been committed to the work, and am "in the zone," it's as much not mine as mine: the work is being created through me, and at the same time longing to use me as a channel to interact with some as yet unknown viewer -- or, in Moog's case, listener.  He, too, seemed to feel that his work was a collaborative effort, not just between whatever that Source is that fuels creativity and himself, but between himself and his tools, his tools and his creations, his creations and the musicians that used them, those musicians and their listeners. And each contributor on that journey has something to offer.

"Everything has some consciousness," says Moog, "and we tap into that.  It is about energy at its most basic level... The more you get into material and matter, all you realize is in matter, there is energy. There is a blur between energy and consciousness. All material is conscious to some extent or another. All material can respond to some extent or another to vibrations of energy that is different to energy you learn about in physics. There's all sorts of reliable information now on people and animals being able to be able to effect the operations of machines—even of computers—and I think that has great implications for what goes on between a musician and his instrument. There is a level of reality where there is no time, and there is no space, there is just energy."

I found all this incredibly heartening.  So many creative people (I think of the current most glaring example, Steve Jobs) become so arrogant about what they bring to the table that it's refreshing to hear from one who understands that there is little point in being vain about what we create when its source is so clearly something other than our own petty minds.  And the thought that we are vessels, through which something beyond ourselves communicates with those who interact with what we create -- that is such a key component of my own work, and, at the same time, so weirdly "woo-woo" that it's incredibly difficult to define and articulate.

It does make me think of something we used to say -- back in the day when I was regularly attending church -- before gathering up our offering: "All things come of thee, O Lord; of thine own have we given thee."  I may no longer be as comfortable defining what "O Lord" means, but I still have that sense that there is some Source greater than ourselves from which all goodness comes, and to which I cannot be ever less than eternally grateful.

Thank you, Robert Moog.

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