Where does it come from?

I’ve been asked quite often how I go about writing a new piece of music. People it seems are often fascinated with the process a composer, especially a songwriter, go through to create something. And the answer is… I don’t know.

If I’m writing a song, do the lyrics come first or the music? Sometimes it’s one, sometimes, it’s the other. Sometimes they appear together. There is no hard and fast rule it seems.

And if I’m writing a piece of instrumental music – where do my ideas come from for melodies? For the harmonies and instrumental mixes and timbres that make up the piece? Well, that may be a little easier to pin down. I’m a great lover of film music. And I often start, as a visual artist as well, thinking about the images I want my music to create in the listener’s imagination. And I listen. I listen to music from all sorts of traditions, and when I hear something that I like, I listen to it again. I work out what the composer has done to create the particular effect which has caught me. What instruments has he or she used? What rhythmic patterns underly the whole?

That’s not to say I copy. They say there is nothing new under the sun. That’s true of music. But let’s say that I try to hide my sources! I guess by drawing from a number of different influences, from classical, film and popular music, I create my own amalgam. Yes I am sure you can hear the influence of John Williams – the man is afterall a semi-deity and who wouldn’t want to imitate? But I hope too that in coming through my modes of expression, I create something fresh and new.

But here’s the thing. When they say it’s 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration, they’re not just spouting a cliche. It’s a long process of editing. Sometimes the idea I first came up with is unrecognisable in the final iteration. But that, for me, is part of the joy of the process – the slow shaping of a song or a piece, sometimes having to be cruel and carving away great chunks of what first inspired me, to create something that, in the end, works and speaks on its own.

Where does it come from? Who really knows? But the journey it takes to get from the first inspiration to final piece is often much more easily traced.

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