Thoughts on Focus and the Experience of Composing

I’ve been thinking a lot about composing lately, specifically my working process and the importance of focus. I have been working on a larger piece for the past few months but had slowed down about a month ago, partially due to waiting to see what comes next but also just losing a sense of the piece as well as momentum. It also to some degree involves my own ability to focus while composing.

I had taken a week off from most of my other projects to focus on Distant Stars as I had a deadline approaching, something which always seems to make focusing easier. It was really an excellent experience to work on it as it was very focused and enjoyable to work. The constraints on time were worrying at first, as the past couple of pieces before I had spent a great deal of time listening to drafts as I worked, a process which I enjoy and use to make sure to myself that the work really has substance and not just initially something fresh which I liked at the moment. Working this way I have found that I enjoy the results of the work very much and continue to enjoy listening to these pieces long after finishing them.

However, sometimes when listening to drafts too much it can be too easy to lose focus. Other work and aspects of life can interrupt the focus, so a good amount of time is spent in just returning to the piece. Getting myself back to the experience of the piece is not alway easy. I have many thoughts about needing to bring the best of one’s self to the table when working on music which this relates to, and it’s not always easy to be at one’s most focused self when you happen to have time to compose. Focus and having a clear mind is just so incredibly important…

Having a limited time constraint to work on Distant Stars meant not having all too much time to review, but through the experience of composing I found that it also meant drawing upon intuition very strongly to make each compositional move and trusting the actions. This was a very rich experience and I find happens when one stops thinking about the piece and simply listens and acts.

I think it also happens as there are many different technical ideas I’ve experimented with over time that I know somewhat how they work, so that in the moment when I am working I can act intuitively from past experiences. This makes me think I should spend more time regularly sketching ideas and playing in realtime, getting these experiences, good or bad, to become deeply understood, so that I won’t have to think of them when I am working and can work more from intuition.

Also, I found that when I was slowly going through the larger piece and then switched focus to Distant Stars, it was really quite refreshing to work with differents sounds and in a different context. It makes me think back to my college days when I had a great amount of time and not so many responsibilities, that I often worked on more than one piece at a time, primarily focusing on one piece, but whenever I found myself exhausted and needing a break, would move over to another sketch or piece. Doing so often helped illuminate things going on in the first piece I was working on, and vice-versa. Already returning to listening to drafts of the larger piece was refreshing…

I find that there is a parallel to my recent composing experiences and my general programming experiences. When programming, I often find myself working on a project and when I find myself exhausted or at a stopping point I naturally move over to another programming project. I also find that with all the experience in programming I am often programming somewhat intuitively, as I have a lot of experience to draw on to simply know what to do for a large number of situations.

I had in mind to make Distant Stars a part of a larger project entitled “Explorer II”, based somewhat on ideas from my earlier “Explorer I” project. I think it will be a good thing for me to continue on with this series of smaller pieces while working on my larger piece. I have taken the past few days off after Distant Stars to take care of other non-music projects as well as some general music programming and sound exploring, and am looking forward now to returning to the larger piece. Looking at my recent experiences has been helpful to see where I am and evaluate how I’m working and I hope to take the lessons learned and apply them carrying forward.

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