I’m never sure whether to call myself a “composer/performer” or a “performer/composer”. I generally don’t put too much thought into the relatively meaningless distinction, and I won’t get into the complex correlations between the two now. Suffice it to say, my compositional process is merely a controlled attempt to regain the ecstatic moment of creativity that happens instantaneously on a stage. Obviously, the two are achieving very different things; live, I’m going for an energetic rawness, embracing every blemish and every momentary synapse connection; at the composer’s piano, I create much more carefully evolved layers and palates, weaving a story less reliant on energy as it is form and color. But both create arcs, both create narratives.
Even though I’ve been writing music for almost exactly as long as I’ve been performing, I have much more professional experience as a performer. And as such, I have a tendency to find my most creative moments in a single instant; an entire composition can make itself clear to me in less than a second. Of course, it’ll then take several days to fully flesh the piece out; but usually it happens in the very same way a musical idea makes itself clear to me while on the stage : one single synapse connection.
So now we come to the process : how does one make that “synapse connection” happen? On stage, there are a variety of situational surroundings that aid in the process. The fellow musicians, the audience, the energy, your mood, etc. But the compositional process has a completely contradictory environment. The trick is to let your brain free of any constraints. Most people have different approaches. Mine, generally, goes something like this:
I’ll sit down at the piano and dick around for anywhere between a couple of hours and a couple of days, depending on how much I’m composing at the time. The more I am immersed in the compositional process, the faster the ideas flow. After a few hours, or a few days, I have come up with some motifs that I like, a tempo, a vibe, an energy. Different pieces of music require different amounts of “first material”. This “first material” is NOT the piece — it is merely the cornel of the idea, meant only to blossom into a piece, eventually. The REAL process, for me, never happens at the piano.
Usually, it happens in the shower.
The shower works as a mini sensory-deprivation tank. The sound of the wooshing water clears out any confusing noises; the sight is a blank, blurry white of the shower walls and curtain; the feeling is a warm soothing uniformity. In this womb-like place, the world melts away from me. And there, in my dissolving mind, far away from the defining world, I piece my compositions together; I stitch all of the fragments and ideas and melodies that float aimlessly around in my head all day and all night, cluttered and blocked from me by the incessant humming of schedules, groceries, train schedules, phone bills etc. etc. etc. And in the shower, like on the stage, it’ll hit me, in an instant. A pure synapse connection. And I’ll know what the piece is, where it’s going, and roughly how it will get there.
It doesn’t happen this way for every composition of mine. But I will say this : if I’m working on a piece, and I’m stuck, I take a shower. And, every time, I work a problem out, I solve an issue, I connect a story line.