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I’ve never used artists sketchbooks. Back when I was studying composition I would have a pile of loose sheets at the top of the piano with random notes. At (ir)regular intervals when I was tidying up the room I would just throw it all away. Maybe save two or three notes but they would most likely be trashed the next time. Instead I’ve been depending on my imagination and memory.

I believe I have a strong long term memory concerning what I’m working on and what I’ve been working on and thinking about in the past. That was trained while I was doing the master thesis in geophysics. That was the time I got more and more involved with music. Gradually I spent less and less time on my thesis and more and more time playing and composing. I trained myself to remember exactly where I left off on the work on the thesis so that next time I could pick up where I left off without having to spend time refreshing my memory. The master thesis stretched out in time and instead of the expected 1 1/2 years I ended up using 4 years. At one point I had a 3/4 year break doing nothing but music then walked in sat down and continued to debug and test the subroutine that I’d been struggling with last fall.

My imagination was trained studying counter-point and orchestration. I read a book on counterpoint that emphasized the importance of being able to imagine the cantus firmus mould it in memory and then write it down. Similarly when it progressed to first species counter-point second species and so on it kept challenging me to as far as possible be able to crate all of the counterpoint without the aid of pen and paper. Orchestration in a similar fashion was useful for training the memory of what sounds are produced by various combinations of instruments and an imagination of how new combinations would sound. For a composer this is an absolute prerequisite. You don’t have day-to-day access to musicians and in general you have to do the whole composition without being able to properly listen to it along the way and adjust. A strong imagination hence becomes vital to avoid major disappointments when you’re finally able to test it with musicians generally shortly before it’s going to be performed in public.

As I turned from composing for musicians to work on electronic sound I’ve kept working along these lines. I’m quite dependent on listening to the sounds I’m producing but at the same time those sounds tend to be very rough and not pleasing early in the development of a new work. I don’t like presenting it to others in particular the artists I’m collaborating with at a too early stage. While I might be able to imagine what kind of potential the sounds have for further development and refinement they generally tend to sound dull boring and disappointing to others.

The early tryout phase of a project tends to produce a bunch of spaghetti Max patches while testing new techniques. But the closest I get to sketchbooks and the only ones that I’m ever going back to are this blog and the e-mail in- and sent mail boxes.


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