Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Collage and Music (Part 1)

I am fascinated by collage as an art form – first becoming obsessed with Ray Johnson after seeing the documentary “How to Draw a Bunny.” The soundtrack consisted solely of Max Roach playing snare and hi-hat with brushes behind shots of his collages. I was mesmerized. The film is built around interviews with friends, artists, and art dealers who knew and interacted with Ray. He was an immensely prolific artist and enigmatic man who predated Warhol but clearly had an enormous influence on the NYC art scene in the late 1950s through the 1960s-70s. There’s lots of footage of his artwork, and it’s powerful to see on film – so I can only imagine what it’s like to experience it close up.

More recently I watched another excellent documentary, “The Secret Life of Lance Letscher.” Again, I was drawn into the power of collage as a mode of expression – these two artists could not be more different in their use of the medium, yet there are also similarities. The incredible, time-consuming attention to detail, the use of found objects as the granular foundation of their expression, combined with an obsessive work ethic. It reminded me of music.

Even though I began as a performing musician, practicing and playing instruments, eventually I started to write music out of samples of sounds – some I would find through commercial vendors, some I would record myself from the environment, and some I would program from software. This process was very time-intensive, and, like collage, there was an element of not being quite sure where the whole thing was going to end up. You had to surrender to the process.

For a long time, I felt like this approach was somehow inferior to music being played in real-time by master musicians – which was (for the most part) the only way music could be realized until roughly the 1980s. Throughout history, composers would write their music down, but it essentially only lived in their head until it was performed by musicians.

But after seeing the work of these master collage artists, I realize that’s not true. Any form of creative expression, developed and executed at a high enough level to express your vision, is art. And no one form is any “better” than another.

I just love the idea of idea of creating something out of fragments of culture. It’s like inventing new worlds out of found objects. The raw materials are everywhere – you just have to look for them and be open to how they speak to you.