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Ramblings About Creativity

If you were to ask me why I became a literature student, I really couldn’t give you an answer more detailed than “I just knew.” Something just happened at 14-years old that said to me, yeah English is what I want to do at university, and so that’s what I did, graduating with an English degree 7 years later. 

Truth be told I was never interested in the literature itself; it’s a joke in my family that I rarely ever read, and I find I rarely have the patience to get involved in fiction. At the moment it seems every year I have a spell where I can read two-and-a-half books. The first one captivates me, usually a subject I have a prior interest in. The next I’m also interested in and it will captivate me in the same way, if not more, than before. By the end of the second book, I’m a self-defined reader and so now I just want a habit. Typically the third book I read to instil the fact that reading is now a part of my personality, but before 100 pages pass I’m done. It happens year-on-year. 

Put that aside and return to the point, I was never interested in the literature, but instead the culture that surrounded it. Shakespeare was boring to me, but I enjoyed learning about 17th century England through the words. I was fascinated by King James I and his ascension to the throne, as well as the cultural change it brought that eventually led to the civil war, and beyond that the Enlightenment. Those topics essentially defined my academic experience at university. 

Now I’m a full-grown adult trying to work for myself while occasionally serving customers in a Snappy Snaps in North London. I’m no longer involved in academics, but I do still have that fascination with the relationship between arts and culture, so much so I want to write about it. 

More specifically I’m interested in the wild ways perspectives can be shifted through art and literature, and the wider impact they can have both on a culture and an individual perspective. Below are just a few examples I am absolutely fascinated with. 

Literature and Perspectives.

Back to when I was student, something drew me towards John Milton and Paradise Lost. When I was 16, it was the most daunting thing to understand. 12 books of poetry written about God, the Devil and the story of Genesis. Milton deployed a great range of techniques that, while clever of him to do so, were more geared towards giving me a headache than sparking a fascination in English Literature. But there was something about what he was doing that captured my imagination. 

Milton took what was the most popular story, one that belief and almost all of English history and society was built upon, a made one tiny shift. Instead of taking the traditional standpoint of being a external observer, he chose to write from the perspective of the Devil himself.

There are academics out there who can tell you a lot more about this piece of Literature, but in my own words this was a radical idea. Writing also at a time of political divide, where Milton himself was a parliamentarian, he essentially made a pretty dangerous move publishing this piece. But it’s impact was unbelievable and echoes through so much literature over the last 400 years, in both overt and divert ways. 

It was this that made me fall in love with the horrifically complicated book. You’re basically invited to read from the one perspective you are taught not to believe, and the various ways in which this perspective is written also makes you often distrustful of what is being said. But at the same time there is a great poignance to what he is saying. In Book IX, when lusting after Eve in the Garden of Eden, he has this one line. 

Who aspires must down as low as high he soars. 

That line has never left my mind since first reading. There’s a heroism to his pursuits. My reading of this shows a humility in him to know that great achievement comes at great cost. Another reading might take it more literally, that if he is to be successful in the fall of mankind, he will have to become a serpent, whose entire body is positioned on the ground. 

Now I will say I don’t want my compliments to suggest that I’m also thinking “maybe this devil character is alright”, but this shift in perspective I find really interesting as a way to subvert normal status-quo reasoning. I guess in one sense I admire the rebellion of it all in what Milton’s doing, but also the way in which he is kind of creating a level playing-field where everything is a matter of perspective. 

This fascination continued when I did literary theory at university and learned about structuralism and post-structuralism, something that blew my mindset wide open. 

In short, Saussure wrote about language and how every word has a specific meaning that is arbitrary, a study that is the foundations of structuralism. In response to that came post-structuralism, which challenged that arbitrary meaning to then question the very nature of objective truth. This basically blew open the world of cultural theory and interpretation and opened up that idea that there are lives that exist beyond conformity. 

From this you have people like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault who have been quite instrumental in writing about counter culture in the 20th century. One I was particularly fascinated with Roland Barthes and his writing about the role of the author in art. 

Roland Barthes essentially challenged the relationship between art and artist, and where does the meaning derive from. Once a piece of art or literature is out, is its canon and lore entirely determined by the person who made the original literature, or is this beyond their control?

An interesting modern case-study would be Star Wars now it’s acquired by Disney. Originally, you would expect George Lucas to be the gatekeeper of the whole universe because Star Wars is accredited as his invention, but now it’s in the hands of Disney the whole narrative landscape has expanded beyond and the canon is now under the control of the big-minds at Disney (For better or worse). Funnily enough I would say this is the basis for the whole issue of the sequels. 

When you talk about that you can just as easily apply this to Game of Thrones and it’s questionable end. 

I absolutely love this idea that, in reality, when a piece of literature enters into the hands of the public, interpretation and storytelling is now in the hands of those who interpret. On the one hand, it opens up discussion within communities. Back to Star Wars, you have the question of “Who shot first?” But the reality, George Lucas only provided the foundations, you as the singular audience member have the ability to create a world from that literature that is as big and expansive or as little as you really want. Objective truth, in that way, is entirely your own. 

There is a previous blog I’ve done on RAMMELLZEE, which to talk about here would take another 1000 words. I want to move on, but here is a link to explore my writing on that. It was essentially where all my studies in English Literature led to. 

To Creativity and Beyond 

One of my favourite musicians ever is Josh Homme. Known best as the front-man of Queens of the Stone Age, I find his approach to music fascinating. This is best culminated in the various projects he has headed, such as Them Crooked Vultures and Eagles of Death Metal. But I think the best thing he has ever made is Desert Sessions. 

An idea started in the late 1990s, Desert Sessions is essentially a once in a blue-moon event where many of Josh’s friends in the music industry come together in Rancho de la Luna to make music entirely for the sake of making music. Homme doesn’t believe in the idea of genre, saying it is just for teenagers and record store owners, this project manifests that mindset. 

There are stories here of songs being made within minutes of two artists meeting, or songs that have a final recording of 40 hours plus. Some songs have grown and developed to become larger pieces of their own, namely “Make it wit chu.” 

I was about 21 when Desert Sessions 11 and 12 came out, and I loved the music for the way it opened up my imagination. Two songs specifically, Noses in Roses Forever and Far East from the Trees, I could keep on repeat even now. I’m still guilty of listening to them all the time. The latter, has such a weird blend of sounds and ideas. In part it sounds kind of like a heavy Arabian sound to it, yet it also has this feeling that it belongs to the Mighty Boosh. I can’t describe it fully at all, but I can definitely rave about that song massively. 

Essentially what you have then is an entire body of music that is made almost purposelessly. While certain types of music come and go, and musicians and bands bring certain types of music to prominence, and others bring new experimental sounds that can define a new culture (i.e. Punk or David Bowie etc.), these kinds of projects that sit on the peripheries will always look to explore music purely as an art-form. Sometimes they are picked up by the pretentious who act as custodians to their “different tastes,” but it seems their whole point of existence is to showcase that art is fundamentally an expression.

One of my fascinations around this subject centres around Jean Michel Basquiat’s musical outfit Gray, something I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with frontman Michael Holman about in past blogpost. 

Gray is one of the most intriguing bands I’ve ever come across. In short, it’s music made by people who won’t call themselves musicians. If you were to listen to their more modern productions and live events, you could definitely call what they do music. But the stuff in their original Shades Of… album, it’s definitely more experimental. 

What they’re doing instead is playing with sounds. Drum Mode is the first to come to mind, with the whole piece being centred around the sound of a cymbal being hit, complimented by sounds of drum kit pieces being hit and tapes being removed. The closest this gets to music in the traditional sense is a solo bass riff that underscores the entire piece. 

It’s weird, but it’s an experiment in how sounds can be manipulated. It takes what you consider “traditional music” and strips it of its core components to give you something entirely new. It’s creativity, it’s art in a more distilled format. You’ll find other pieces by them that are centred around single soundbites, raw recordings and even an interview with Ashley Bickerton (I hear there’s a fantastic film made about that somewhere?)

Creativity and Cultural Change 

As I said previously, my interest in English Literature wasn’t so much because I enjoyed reading, but I enjoyed learning about the history of cultural change. Well then let me now ramble to you about how creativity helped create an incredibly giant cultural shift in Germany in the 20th century through bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! 

German Krautrock, known natively as Komische Musik, began from the Student Revolution in the late 1960s. Given the history of Germany, there was a tension among the youth that arose. It was a movement away from a unfavourable recent history, and collective decision to depart from the strong American influence in West Germany. 

In the town of Dusseldorf, the Kling Klang studio became ground zero for a new type of music that would take the world by storm. Kraftwerk’s sounds were based in simplicity and centred around industrial change. Like Gray, it stripped music down to it’s core component of sound, but with the design that surrounded it and subject matter the music approached, this creative endeavour became the face of a brand new culture in Germany. 

There was irony, creativity arose from simplicity. The first three albums were named Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, and Ralf Und Florian (The two mainstay artists behind the idea). Beyond that, the music centred around German innovation and technological advancements. 

Autobahn was an album whose principal song, named Autobahn, was 20-minutes long with extremely simplistic lyrics. 

Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn

(We drive drive drive on the highway)

Vor uns liegt ein weites Tal

Die Sonne scheint mit Glitzerstrahl

(There is a wide valley in front of us,

The sun shines with glitter rays)

Fahrbahn ist ein graues Band

Weiße Streifen, grüner Rand

(Roadway is a gray band,

White stripes, green border)

It’s hardly poetic, but it was this simplicity that defined Kraftwerk’s sound, and yet the impact it had was huge. 

Not only did it inspire music that defined the later decades of the 20th century, but it helped bring Germany into a new era where it would be celebrated for its innovation in arts, bringing back styles such as Bauhaus. In fact, much of what has been seen in the art world today can be traced back to what happened in that era in Germany. Not just in bands like Kraftwerk, but also off-shoots like Neu! 

From the minds of Klaus Dringer and Michael Rother, former members of Kraftwork was even more experiment with music that helped inspire the likes of David Bowie, the Sex Pistols and Sonic Youth. 

What creativity did here wasn’t just shifting a cultural and national narrative, it was reinventing it entirely and letting the public know that, what you knew before no longer exists. 

We can be thankful to Germany now for almost all our modern arts and culture. There are people like Karlheinz Stockhausen who is known as “the Father of Electronic Music” as well as Giorgio Moroder, an Italian who took his artistic talents to Germany and showcased how amazing synthesisers can be for dance music. It’s all fascinating. 

In short, that is my fascination with creativity and its ability to influence and be influenced. While a lot of the things I’ve written about have had an effect on a pretty grand scale, I love when people explore it in a very individualistic way to satisfy themselves or show how creativity can be nothing more than just creating at times. 

That is all. 



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