Emergent Style

The mind is largely a black box that is inaccessible to its owner—Timothy D. Wilson, Redirect, 2011

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience, but it is true: you know far less about yourself than you feel you do.—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2011.

Since my mid-thirties my sense of aesthetic style has been guided primarily by my intuitive responses. Since then I’ve worked with whatever idiosyncratic mixture of materials keeps me fully engaged in the work at hand.

The traditions that most influence my compositions are those of Western art music, and my principle artistic interests are concert and theater music. I was classically trained as a performer (French horn), and my works are composed with classically-trained performers in mind. But I also enjoy a number of other kinds of music, and my compositions often meld together elements from diverse traditions, whether folk, popular, or art music.

Many of the composers whose works I most admire have done the same, and I often use the music of these composers as touchstones. Key examples of composers whose works I’ve studied in this regard are Monteverdi, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Berlioz, Chopin, Bizet, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, early Stravinsky, and late Bartók. I have enjoyed and studied the music of many other composers (including current ones), and I have also studied some jazz, folk, and popular music, particularly American roots music and Latin American music.

But studying works by the classical composers listed above has proven especially helpful in identifying some of my deepest aesthetic preferences. I have had numerous peak experiences while listening to their music, and studying particularities in their scores helped me to identify a number of stylistic qualities that (for me) trigger strong physiological responses. These responses occur not by intellectual choice, but spring from sudden, unanticipated visceral excitement.

Trusting my Unconscious

As my process of composing became increasingly intuitive, the resulting works increasingly reflected these deep-rooted preferences. Early in this more intuition-driven process the musical ideas that emerged from my unconscious felt so remarkably different from my previous work that I was sometimes bewildered. (See Rebellious Muses.)

But being bewildered was also intriguing. Somehow, what was happening felt right—more like me. As I began trusting my cognitive unconscious, I realized that my unconscious mental processes incorporated years of study and experience—so I loosened the reins.

Working this way has been exhilarating and liberating. Not fully comprehending the workings of my unconscious helps keep the creative process wonderfully mysterious and unpredictable.

Through this process an overall sense of personal style has gradually emerged. Giving my intuition more freedom to lead the way began creating an accumulated history of related choices—choices that, like the brush strokes of painters, began creating stylistic fingerprints.