This was originally posted on my blog on April 12, 2012, in direct response to release of Journey.
I believe that an artist creates as a function of their personality. We are a product of infinite unique variables and experiences, and thus our art is too. It’s immensely subjective, and that’s what separates art from documented reality or some otherwise literal data gathering. The entire point is that art be a manifestation of the artist’s perspective. I would term this the ‘what’ of creating art, but for the moment I want to focus on the ‘why.’There are a handful of reasons why I write music. I started when I was kid, just past ten years old. The reasoning was simple: the joy of creating. At the time, music didn’t particularly stand out from my other creative passions (like writing stories, drawing comic books, etc). Of course pretty quickly I felt an affinity for it that surpassed those others, soon taking center stage in my life overall. But the point is thatmaking music was reason itself for making music.
Probably about age 12 or so, with my awesome half-tailed cat Minus
At that time, corresponding to starting high school, my music-making expanded to composing for the school’s orchestra. Suddenly being a composer didn’t mean working out ideas alone at the piano, but instead sharing it with my musician friends (usually from the vantage point of the conductor’s podium). The motivation behind creating music also evolved and I found myself writing music because I loved sharing the experience with the orchestra. That collaboration and partnership between composer and performer was the central passion in my life, especially as I became close friends with many of them and would build aspects of their personalty into the DNA of the music. The music became a product of “us,” the musicians, and no longer “me.”
Conducting my high school orchestra, age 17 or 18
Shortly thereafter, during college, I started composing professionally (writing for no/low pay for chamber ensembles, student films, spec projects, etc).
At NYU, recording my very first student film score, ~age 19
My collaborators were now filmmakers, writers, game designers, visual artists, and other non-musicians, and I loved it. Of course my prior motivations were not lost: I still loved creating for the sake of it, and I still relished the musician-to-musician collaboration, but now I found myself writing music for the purpose of contributing to something bigger. I was working with others with the aim to produce a piece (be it an event, a film, a game, a show, whatever) that was bigger than each of us, the sum of its parts. I had the immense honor of scoring some films early in my career like Captain Abu Raed and Grace, and of course thatgamecompany’s first game flOw, and these experiences really drove home this new-found motivation.
With Russell Brower (left, moderating) and director Paul Solet (middle) doing a Q&A for GRACE in 2009
In the past several years I’ve been immensely fortunate, across the board of my activities writing concert music, film scores, game scores, etc, to receive some very flattering and complimentary messages about my music. Whether it’s a simple email or tweet, or being approached by someone after a concert or talk, the shock of having my music complimented never seemed to wear off or even dull. At some point, I came to this realization:
I do not have fans. My music has fans.
I make the distinction because in many ways (here drawing inspiration from my dear cousin Sonja Eisenberg, who everyone should spend some time beholding the work of), I can not easily explain how I compose. There is certainly technique and craft, but so much of it is trying to avoid those skills holding back the spontaneity of expression that separates art from Art. So whenever I manage to create something that resonates with people, I often feel that I’ve done this in spiteof myself, thus the mantra above (this aligns closely with the wonderful conclusions of Elizabeth Gilbert).
All of this said, Journey has crystallized for me a long-brewing further expansion of my “why.” Beyond the joy itself, beyond the endlessly stimulating growth through collaboration, the real reason I compose music is the hope of connecting with someone. The music itself is actually non-existent, instead functioning more like a synapse catalyzing a connection between people (either me to you, or one to another). Composing has become a vehicle for exploring life in all its facets, but ultimately coming back to a fundamental desire to bring people together. It’s another, higher form of collaboration: that between creator and audience. It’s no mere transaction: me on stage, you in below chairs with the music flowing a single direction. It’s a shared event in which both sides have equal claim. The motivation is not something by “us,” the creators, but instead something which is intrinsically “all of ours.”
Journey has illuminated that sometimes one is lucky enough to actually achieve that (I emphasize that it’s luck because I can’t really explain how I / we did it). Here below are just a few of the messages I have gotten from people with regards to Journey. I post them not because they compliment my music, but because they show Journey is not “mine,” (shared of course with thatgamecompany and Sony), but truly belongs to everyone. For having been part of that, for these quotes below, and for the many space won’t allow me to post, I am beyond-words grateful:
“This piece touched me beyond belief, especially now. On April 7th 2011, just a day shy of my birthday, my mother passed away from cancer. Hearing this song so close to the anniversary day of her passing makes me feel so hopeful–that despite all her pain she passed away into something ethereal. I’m so thankful for this song.”
-imnikoolkan (via YouTube)
“My mom works as a nurse at an assisted living facility for adults who are severally disabled both physically and mentally. Because of their disabilities some of the residents can be difficult to work with and act out. On Tuesday night my mom was working with one resident who gets frustrated and agitated quite a bit and tends to yell, a lot. Mom usually has music playing on her phone while she works, and that night she was playing the Journey soundtrack. When she set the phone down next to the resident she quieted down, and sat still for the entire duration of the soundtrack, smiling and giggling the entire time. She obviously enjoyed it very much.For that short period of time your music brought light into her world. It’s a small thing, but I also think it’s a beautiful thing, and I thought you should know.”
-Amanda Schulpius (via email)
“The set of events that occurred next could not have been scripted more beautifully. As I turned to make my way to the exit, my lost friend who I had given up hope on slowly descended in front of the gate as I was about to approach it. Showing me that he was still there with me. This moment was a life changing one for me. It made me realize that no matter how dark it gets in life, and no matter how alone you think you are, the ones you love are always with you. They may not always be there in a physical sense, but what they have done for you is more powerful than any force on this planet. When my father passed away, one of the biggest regrets I had was not being able to hear his voice one last time. The experience I had with Journey, as stange as it sounds has allowed me to share a final moment with him, that I never thought was possible. It taught me more that no matter how much distance is put between us, that he will always be by my side.”
-James MacEachern (excerpted from his review of Journey)
“I’m composer and musical producer and you proved to me that my biggest dream is possible. To create a music that touch people hearts so deep that you even need a name for this feeling. You know that feeling is there, your body react for it and you become eternally gratefull to feel it.”
-Vinicius R. Diaferia (via email)
“I thought I would never experience something like this… this game has wiped all the hate from my heart.”
-Bethy Fairbanks (via YouTube)
Finally, this last one I have reproduced exactly from its source because I don’t believe I could have adequately excerpted, and also to preserve the original formatting. It is a succinct and perfect demonstration of everything I am trying to say here today:
“Never in my life, have I listened to such a song as Apotheosis.
The first time I listened to it, while reaching the top of the mountain. I had felt such a rush emotions. My chest felt heavy and my vision was haunted with the scenery.
This combination was such a shock to my senses.. That whenever I listen to it now, I can’t help but cry. Not the sobbing, or sniffling kind of cry. But more of the silent kind, where I forget I need to breathe and tears just flow out.
I could not describe the emotion I feel when I listen to this song. It’s not happiness or sadness. Not rage or forgiveness. Not envy or compassion. But if I could try to describe this to you, I feel like it would be emotion of knowing I am meant for something. That I have a purpose and a direction in which to go.
It’s like the feeling of knowing you are truly alive.
That I have a beating heart and a soul. That I am human. And because I am, I can accomplish great things. That I can create and destroy. I can build bonds or choose to walk in a different direction. That… I am able to love and be loved… that I am able to give life to another.
I’ve never had this happen to me because of a song. Memories of my Journeys with strangers who I’ve come to love flash over and over through my mind mixed in with important events of my life here on this earth, an at the end, all I can see is the light on top of the mountain, knowing my own real journey is not over.
But all I know, is that when it is all over, whenever that will be, reguarless of my trials or however high the mountain..
I will not be finishing it alone.”
As a last thought, looking back at the continuous evolution and expansion of ‘Why I Compose,” a curious pattern has emerged. The very first comment I made was that I believe that what separates Art from all else is its unique ability to embody the subjective viewpoint of its creator and that I think that’s wonderful. I therefore find it strange, if somewhat paradoxical, that my own path has led me progressively towards removing my “self” from the process. In terms of why I write music, the joy of creation itself begat the joy of shared creation, which begat contribution to a greater whole, and which has culminated in a truly shared experience that all but eliminates the boundaries between creator and audience.
How is it that what I value most from Art (its being a manifestation of the Artist’s perspective), is the thing I appear to be least motivated by?