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Sharing the Music in My Mind's Ear
A new song that recently composed itself through me, with accompanying thoughts on tending the creative flame
Welcome to The Living Dark. I’m Matt Cardin, and this is my blog/newsletter on waking up at the intersection of creativity, writing, religion, horror, nonduality, apocalypse, dystopia, consciousness, and culture. You can subscribe by clicking this button:
Over the past three weeks, I was visited by the interesting experience of having a new song suggest itself for completion through my hands on a piano, some 14 years after I did any real compositional work. Here it is, followed by the story of how it happened, accompanied by broader reflections on my musical history as a whole:
If you choose to click and listen, please be aware that I’m still getting acclimated to the touch and tone of the new piano that I recently acquired (see below), so the recording doesn’t necessarily represent my best playing.
Here’s the story:
Recently I acquired a new piano that replaces my beloved Yamaha Motif ES8, which has been my instrument since 2005, and which was in turn a replacement for the 1930s Chickering grand piano that I grew up with. I sold the Chickering to buy the Yamaha because I was gripped at the time — possessed, you might say — by an inner musical upwelling that wanted to be realized and recorded. The result was my instrumental album Daemonyx: Curse of the Daimon, which Mythos Books shipped with copies of my second book, Dark Awakenings, that were purchased directly from the publisher.
That album began as a set of musical motifs (no pun intended) that began playing in my head shortly after I went to work selling musical instruments in 2004 for a business in Springfield, Missouri, that sold, and still sells, Yamaha grands and digitals. Whenever I wasn’t minding and cleaning the store or working with customers and potential customers, I would play the various instruments in the showroom. Before long, I began to hear a constant inner soundtrack of new music as I went about my days and nights.
This had happened to me before. Beginning at age 8, I took nine years of classical piano lessons, and in my teens during the 1980s I acquired a Kawai analog synthesizer and a little four-track recorder that used mini-cassettes, and with these I devoted many hours to making electronic music. This continued throughout college, where I majored in radio and television production and composed the scores for my video projects.
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By the early 2000s, the sophistication of digital musical instruments had increased to the point where, for the first time, I could record fully realized versions of the music that had always played in my head, surpassing the limitations I had always previously felt with my gear. And as it turned out, something within me had been biding its time until a situation would manifest that would put me in touch with those very instruments, and that would put my hands on pianos and keyboards every day.
In 2004, almost from my first day of work at the music store, I found that the environment stoked the coals of that inner musical engine. The music began playing vividly in my mind again, and soon I began to snatch moments throughout each workday, and then to stay for hours after closing, to experiment with, figure out, compose, arrange, and record that music, which I heard quite vividly in my mind’s ear. Often it would start with only a few bars, or sometimes only a brief, repetitive, looping tune, beat, and/or motif. If I let this establish and clarify itself for a day or two, then when I finally sat down at a piano to find out what it looked and felt like on the actual keyboard — what key it was in, what notes were involved, and so on — the music would move on and let me hear the next portion, and then the next, until eventually it produced a finished piece.
A few months in, I used my employee wholesale access to buy the Motif plus a Yamaha AW16G audio workstation, after which I ended up finishing the eventual album at home over the next two to three years.
That period from 2004 to 2007 represents far and away the most intense period of musical creativity that I have ever experienced. I have continued to play the piano regularly since then, sometimes in connection with churches, sometimes devoting many hours per week to playing privately. It’s an enduring part of my life. But I haven’t composed any new music.
Until now, that is. A month ago, after I acquired the new piano and spent several days getting to know it, I realized with considerable surprise that the inner music had started playing again almost immediately. The first result of this development is that piano piece above, which I haven’t given a title because I have no idea what to call it, and which is extremely simple, to the point of being simplistic.
Interestingly, it’s the first solo piano piece that has ever come to me. By contrast, the Daemonyx album was all multi-instrumental stuff plus a number of embedded movie audio clips. The following track, which represents the album’s thematic heart, is typical:
Years ago, in college, I read Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight, and I have always remembered his opening note to “The Langoliers” with its description of how that novella delivered itself to him gracefully and easily. He said it began with a mental image of “a woman pressing her hand over a crack in the wall of a commercial jetliner.” This stayed with him in his psychic idea file for some time, unexplained, without context, until:
One night, while I was lying in bed, on the edge of sleep, I realized this woman was a ghost.
I remember sitting up, swinging my feet out onto the floor, and turning on the light. I sat that way for a little while, not thinking about much of anything . . . at least on top. Underneath, however, the guy who really runs this job for me was busy clearing his workspace and getting ready to start up all his machines again. The next day, I — or he — began writing this story. It took about a month, and it came the most easily of all the stories in this book, layering itself sweetly and naturally as it went along. Once in awhile both stories and babies arrive in the world almost without labor pains, and this story was like that.
The phrase “layering itself sweetly and naturally” has remained vivid in my memory ever since I first encountered it. And it describes how this new song emerged. Shortly after I acquired the piano and spent some time noodling around on it and learning its capabilities, the basic motif for this song suggested itself in my inner hearing, including the 3/4 time signature, the G minor key, and the melody. When I picked it out with my fingers and started exploring it, the whole song composed itself within an hour, including touches that delivered themselves ready made, such as the D minor transitional chord near the end, switching from the earlier D major chord, that signals the movement into the concluding section. Then I left town for a couple of weeks to attend the World Fantasy Convention and the World Food Championships with my wife, and the song kept playing itself in my head the entire time, suggesting a few slight revisions, refining and finishing itself. When I arrived back home, I recorded it. I have no idea why any of this should have been the case. I just know that’s how it happened.
In keeping with what I wrote in the conclusion to A Course in Demonic Creativity1 and in my article for Lateral Action about working with a muse,2 and also in harmony with Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous words of wisdom in her classic TED Talk about “the elusive creative genius,”3 I don’t claim responsibility for this new musical manifestation, including its quality. It just is what it is. I unpacked and cultivated the seed idea that was unaccountably delivered to me, and this is what resulted.
Unrelatedly, I still have CDs of the Daemonyx album that I can sell if you’re interested. Get in touch by email or, if you don’t have my address, through the contact form at mattcardin.com.