Writing music through meditation

I’ve been meditating on and off for a few years now. Recently it’s become more of my regime.

Now, I don’t suppose I’m the first creator to have noticed this, but I’m starting to see that cool things happen when I take an idea and then meditate – not forcing the idea but just plopping the idea into my awareness, then meditating as usual and forgetting all about the music (at least, on a conscious level).

The first time I experienced something of this way of composing was with the song cycle of Philip Larkin Poetry I wrote many years ago. (I bet I also that the tower of stuff I wrote as a lonely teenager sitting at my paper-round purchased digital piano came from this subconscious realm – except of course as that teenager I was so self-conscious I daren’t have even shown the ideas to myself). In this case I took the Larkin poems I wanted to set and just sat down and stared at them for a while. But that was more of a focused attention and not a meditation, although the music did come surprisingly quickly and easily (putting all the dots down was the hassly bit). I remember my composition teacher at the time – Martyn Harry – saying to me “how did you go about writing it” and I said “actually, it was more like it wrote me.” Martyn thought that was very twee and pretentious of me – it probably was – but it was my best stab at describing the process.

Thereafter most composition came about through necessity – deadlines and promises. But one significant (for me) such occasion was a track called “Give”, which I wrote a year or so ago. The opening riff had come to me years ago, but I while meditating, the rest of the song sort of spewed forth unbidden – especially the lyrcis and sound of the track – which some might describe as abstract (actually their meaning is very specific). Again, the hard part was actually laying it down.

The latest of these meditation pieces came about the other day. I wanted to write a mass for men’s voices – as I know there is a bit of a lack of that stuff out there (contemporary, I mean). So apart from knowing I wanted to write one, I was just meditating as usual one day, and the the Sanctus turned up in my awareness, unbidden but written. It’s pretty simple so I laid down a rough version at home. Excuse the singing quality – I’ve a cold at the moment (i.e. no resonance and strained voices, which makes me sound even more Mr. Bean than normal) – but it gives an idea of things to come.

On the one hand this is quite exciting – for the rest of the mass I can simply engage my intention to set the other words, and what comes will come. On the other hand, I don’t want to get too excited about it, because I’ll just end up assuming meditation will bring the goods, therefore I’ll have the piece in my awareness when I meditate, which is not the trick.

This engagement with the subconscious mind interests me as it seems to pull ideas out of thin air. Of course, I don’t attribute this to anything supernatural (the piece is fairly derivative and it clearly did come from my head, via the influences of others). But the fact that I couldn’t sit down and consciously write it is very interesting.

I saw a fascinating Horizon documentary the other day about consciousness and the conscious mind, and how we can show that being conscious of something is well behind being subconsciously aware of it – especially something like decisions, such as deciding what note to chose. Skip to 51:50 or so to see Chappie McBlokey realise that his decisions actually happen up to 6 seconds before he actually believes he makes them. But what the hell, watch the whole thing, if you are interested in your own mind and self-image (who isn’t?)

In my uneducated opinion, by meditating after having thought about wanting to write music (but not thinking about it during meditation) I can somehow tap into my unconscious mind more readily and access the wealth of influences and information in it.

It’s like when you come up with an idea in the shower, except it’s more reliable and you don’t have to get wet.

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Author: Phil

Film composer, concert composer, sound designer, choral composer, arranger, song writer, musician.

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