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Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The primary purpose of my life, as I have always felt, is to create things. To society I say, "I am a composer," but in reality my status internally is more accurately described as, "I desire to be a composer." I WANT to make something which—though related to the things around it—did not exist in the world before.

I am here. I make something new. World different.

So far, sounds fun.

Yet desiring this and succeeding at this are two different things, and this is where egos cause problems. After something is created, an artist declares they are "done," that they have "made" their creation and that the world is different. By making this simple declaration, the artist must also cross a line, using ego to back up the claim. At this point, the audience or observers use their own egos to judge if the artist is correct. Many times, (as in the phrase coined at, "hilarity ensues."

My favorite piece of recent art is the Damien Hirst "shark" piece, as everyone simply calls it, first shown in 1992 at the "Young British Artists" show at the Saatchi Gallery in London. (The actual sprawling title is "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.") Here it is:

It has since gone on to become an iconic work, defining something important, and everyone under the sun has weighed in on it. I'm not going to add to the pile (I've barely read anyone else's opinion, to be honest), but I do want to point out I loved this piece right from the start, before it "meant" anything.

I can go toe-to-toe with anyone discussing classical music and what things mean, but for what it's worth my relationship with the visual arts is less informed and more self-serving. Visually, I like something or I don't. I don't expend energy arguing right or wrong because it is futile in the end.

I like the shark.

As a composer, I want to make my own shark. I know I haven't even come close. Everything I have composed so far has something in it that kills my shark. I begin every piece with a seed inside me, where I think I am finally going to make my shark. (And this is how it feels, right here): When I take that first note and add the second note to it, I already know it's not a shark anymore.

When I create, and when I am deciding what to do for that second note, I think for a moment I am on stage, of looking out at an audience of all the people I have ever known in my life. They are a diverse bunch, complicated, endlessly contradicting one another, a total paradox acting as one upon me. There is no second note that is exactly right to make my piece a shark this time, so I simply pick one as close as I can get, then go forward in this manner until I have wandered off somewhere else entirely.

So when I saw the shark for the first time, I was jealous as a composer. I have always been jealous of those who can simply make a shark and then walk away. I worry too much about what the next note is going to mean, how it will be perceived. But maybe now I have one less tumor in my head and—finally—I can make a shark.

THIS JUST IN - My brother JUST sent me this photo of me, after I wrote that.  I am the little boy on the right, without the cap (click on the photo for a higher resolution to see the look on my face, for what it's worth):


  1. And now it's time for another Good Idea/Bad Idea.
    Good idea: Making a shark.
    Bad Idea: Jumping the shark.

  2. Great visual image of a concept!

    Useful to use the image to cut through all the static of the creation process and focus directly on what makes it unique and effective.

  3. Shark as archetype, image of ego-infused perfection imprinted on the soul almost before it is born into the person. Truly remarkable!