Is music composed, written or created?

Short while ago, I came across a TEDex talk by Arne Dietrich. He’s a professor of cognitive neuroscience. Steven Kotler has even named him “one of the brightest thinkers on planet”, so he’s a guy worth looking at. But he grabbed my interest with his idea that, so called, higher states of mind are actually lower states of mind. I already had this idea in the back of my mind, but I had never come across a scientist who would support this idea with some kind of research.

Mr. Dietrich had been studying our brain performance in moments of deep meditation, when you get the feeling that you are “one with everything”, when things become “timeless” and so on. Same things you would experience when getting high on weed. Long story short, in states of deep meditation, what happens is that you actually just switch off certain usual functions of your brain. Therefore, reaching a relaxing, timeless feeling, thinking that your broadening your consciousness… Just check out his TEDex talk, and you’ll get the idea.

So, I decided to find out more about Arne Dietrich and set out to read his book “How Creativity Happens in the Brain”. A “must-read” book if you’re a brain-nerd like me.

I came across a passage, where he mentions a term “Cartesian Theater”, centuries old idea about a little guy or soul (whatever you call it) in our mind/brain that is driving us like a tank, making decisions, falling in love and making even more bad decisions and so on. But to fully understand how our brain functions, you have to switch off this idea and forget for a moment about any intelligent little guy in our brain who’s controlling processes. It appealed to me, ‘cause most of the processes in our mind are simple and insignificant, although we apply a huge importance to them. Think about your lungs. You don’t have to deliberately think about breathing or multiplying cells or getting rid of bad cells in your lungs. These procesess are there and taking place no matter what. Lungs know how to do it. So, why wouldn’t it be the same with our brains? They already know how to come up with ideas.

It happens in your mind when you are looking for a solution of some problem. You have some background information, you have some skills and you can put together some strategies that may or may not solve the problem. Sometimes you can think about it for days, then forget about it and, suddenly, have an “Eureka” moment, coming up with a solution.

And it got me thinking about making music. Do I really compose or write it? Not really. It is more like problem solving. I have a problem – I want to write a song, let’s say, about war. I have some background information – I have heard a lot of songs about war, so I can put together something similar. I have skills – I have basic knowledge about majors and minors, and scales, so I can put together a decent melody.

And that’s exactly what happens. I have these ideas brewing somewhere deep inside me. Very often I just forget about them. And then, suddenly, I come up with some phrase or melody. And it is enough to later sit down and write a whole song with lyrics.

So, I’d say – music is composed or written afterwards. It is created first, not by me, but by a simple process in brain that uses existing background. And there is nothing divine or spiritual about it. It’s just like moving your lungs when you breathe.

But it is extremely important to remember that there is no conscious “Cartesian theater” guy pulling strings. There is no God sending you the music from above. Brain is an excellent composer. Just let it do the job.

Once, I spent 24 hours in extreme hallucinations. It was scary and weird, but during this time I constantly heard music, that I had never heard before. And it was the best music I’ve ever heard. But there was nothing divine about it. My brains were just functioning in an altered, unusual state, producing musical ideas and playing them out in my head.

Unfortunately, it is quite dangerous to be hallucinating for a longer period of time. You may never come back. But it gives you an insight of how a mad man’s brain work. And it gives you an insight of usual brain processes – just with a little bit of overdrive.

When I was working on “Monkey Behind the Leaves”, there was a period of time when I had almost no contact with outside world. I wasn’t listening to any other music. So, little by little, any concepts of “how does a good music sound” or “what do people want to hear” disapeared from my mind. I became blank. Also, I wasn’t really pushing myself hard to come up with musical ideas. I just let the brain work the same way my lungs work. I created a problem (I need a verse for a song about funeral) and next day or few days later I woke up with a clear solution for the problem.

For years, I have searched for God, some higher intelligence or some Great Architect, but it seems that he’s never around, but there are millions of predefined processes around that do their job just fine. All they need is a guy with flesh and bones, and little bit of brain (and a bit of background), and he can make music, build bridges or write books about creativity in brain. So, all it takes is to gather enough informational background, feed the right definition of the problem in the process, and the process will do it itself.

Oh, yeah, and here’s a link to Mr. Dietrich’s talk. Check it out. It’s really good:

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