Thursday, November 9, 2017

Improvisational Songwriting: Dipping Into The Jibberish Of The Creative Mind




















As a songwriter I routinely utilize improvisational sessions to sort of jumpstart the creative process. This always involves sequestering myself away in my basement where I record. I have a busy schedule which for me kind of helps stimulate the ideas that eventually become the fodder for my music. I personally thrive on the urgency of having to create within a fixed time. For me that time is usually late at night during the work week and the fact that I do not have the luxury to write or play for hours and hours seems to distill my creativity into a kind of furious compression of feelings and thoughts. I am someone who needs a reason to do something and oftentimes I will force myself and maybe trick myself into just being able to write a minute of music so I can post an improv on Instagram. This forces my creative hand and usually some piece of music do happen and more times than not results in full fledged songs.

Once I start playing and set myself on a chord structure and tempo my self imposed rules are simple: power through with melody and words or sounds even and just keep going from verse to chorus to verse and if I feel adventurous a bridge as well. It is a funny and tenuous exercise that feels as much as making up a spur of the moment story like I used to do when my kids were small or telling an entertaining thing that happened over a weekend to friends. The music dictates the atmosphere which in turn dictates the emotional tone of the melody and improv lyrics and when successful wonderfully builds on itself.

If the made up words moves in one direction those words trigger the path of the lyrical content in my mind and because I want it to make melodic sense and lyrical sense and I am recording the live performance there is that sense of instant creation of kind of bullshitting too in that "I meant to do that" sort of way. By the way, in improvisational songwriting you must, MUST, record at all times because the creations are so fleeting that you can easily lose them. I also try to shoot them on video if possible because more than once I have written and recorded songs that I cannot figure out weeks later. I am not one to write chord structures down and simply recording the improv with a camera can save you hours and hours of frustration later.

Songwriting and Live performing on the fly results in a fair amount of jibberish too. I am fine with that as the melody and sounds of words made up or not is what fuels the emotional edges of the song. Once the song is created and whether it contains musical deadends or sentences or words that make no sense whatsoever it can serve as a template for a finished composition. It is funny how the jibberish contained in some of my improvs sound like a foreign language. I have to admit that part of me wants to create an album of improv songs with no editing whatsoever. The jibberish will become part of the art form.

 In the song "Pieces" which I improved back in October the fervent pace of the guitar progression to me lent itself to a kind of internal dialog like someone talking to one self, an introspection that could veer into neurosis. The resulting improv flowed the whole way through. Sometimes this is not the case and I will stop and jot down the lyrics as I go. The cadence like a train just kept going and one passage of words or sounds built on itself.

One of the constants in my songwriting seems to be finding oneself, emotional and passionate connections and battling ordeals in life, overcoming pain and such so it is no wonder that the first line "You said you caught a scientific mind" would be followed by "of the romantic kind" as the edgy guitar dictated the tone and romance and passion and the vocal cadence of "scientific" and "romantic" seemed to fit like puzzle pieces.

"You're coming in a controversy" exited my lips without thinking and to be quite honest, "coming" at the time in my mind was sexual as in "cumming" and the following passage, "the look cannot shake a modest thing" inexpicably followed without thought. The sense of opposites, the explicitness of cumming bookended with modesty is interesting. The nature of saying all these words on the fly makes me wonder about the subconscious and conscious mind.

I could venture a guess on where the direction and words come from but something are too private to share. Nevertheless improvisational writing can feel at times like laying on a therapist's couch and spilling your guts. Sometimes the song can move and out run the mind and this is where the jibberish part of improv enters the picture. When words will not do, fake words, sounds have to stand in for the real actors to play the parts later. Also, syntax and grammar take a back seat and in the same way that I will trade dead on on key singing for passiong and feeling, grammar is less important to me then the tonal sounds of words and phrases and how those sounds may (or may not) convey emotional feeling and more importantly emotional cues. My ultimate goal in songwriting is not to display my emotions as much as pushing buttons in those who listen to my songs and making them feel things.

The improved song can exist as an exercise to fuel creativity or to fuel the end product itself. The lyrics and melodies can be massaged and honed. The jibberish can be turned into real poetry or can stand as an advante garde structure itself. Even a foreign word or set of words can make you feel something.

Below you can listen to a live raw performance of "Pieces". The short song is a rare example of a totally improved piece of music from start to finish with not one word or phrase jotted down prior to the performance. Totally off the cuff full of flaws, sounds and made up words, bad grammar and all. It is quite possibly a little car wreck of a song that I hope you will feel the need to crane your neck and check out as you drive by. I haven't decided if it is one of my improvs that I will dress up with real words and such or if I will track record with the jibberish intact. I may not even track record or develop. Maybe it is what it is and nothing more.

The EP - AGE OF DINOSAURS by Donker
Drops on December 15th.

-
Robb Donker






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