inspiration n

  1. stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc., to special or unusual activity or creativity
  2. the state or quality of being so stimulated or aroused
  3. someone or something that causes this state
  4. an idea or action resulting from such a state
  5. the act or process of inhaling; breathing in

From English Collins Dictionary – English Definition & Thesaurus

Inspiration is a pretty essential requirement of getting the most out of the job as a film and theatre composer. It’s definitely possible to compose music without it, but where’s the fun in that? Inspiration is the moment where the idea flashes into your mind that gets you all fired up about the potentials and possibilities of the project ahead; it should the motivation behind your actions.

So what inspires you? What is ‘breathed into’ you that makes you want to create?

Sticking with the science fiction theme, as I probably will do for the next couple of weeks (more on that later…), the new issue of New Scientist arrived yesterday, and there are a couple of articles I’m going to use from there to get me composing something with a more dystopian, contemporary edge. The issue is full of doom and gloom about the inevitability of global warming, seas rising, extinction of species, lack of political will to do anything about it – which should really get me into the right mindset for the kind of emotions I want to evoke with this next piece of music.

Other sources of inspiration come, most obviously, from listening to other music. Sometimes a melody or a choice of instrumentation can jump out at you and spark all sorts of ideas about possible directions. Watching a film where the music was used in an unusual way or just evoked a really strong emotion may inspire me to experiment a little more to see what effects I might be able to create. A painting, a short story, an article in a magazine, an advert can all be sources that kickstart the cogs of your mind.

The best source of inspiration in my line of work as a film and theatre composer is, quite simply, the project and its creators, the writer, producer and director. Their enthusiasm, obsession, vision and purpose when discussing the project with me is often infectious and thus a constant, if not primary, source of inspiration.

A clear blue sky on a sunny afternoon is often the simplest of inspirations for me. I can look straight up and feel that there’s nothing but a tiny bit of air between me and the vast reaches of space, and I feel more than a little awestruck 🙂 .  And, conversely, there’s nothing less inspiring than a grey, rainy, cold morning. Though you’d think I’d have gotten over this some time ago, growing up in the North of England, it really does drag me down a lot. Which leads to the question…

What do you do when you’re completely uninspired?

I do one of only two options available to me: 

  1. Plough through, regardless of the lack of inspiration, instead relying on past experiences of what’s worked and what hasn’t, bits of tunes from previous pieces reworked, throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s difficult but I really do have to force myself not to make value judgements as I go. The next day, I can go back to this set of sketches and I may even like what I’ve done!

  2. Go and do something else. Just getting away for half an hour, with a distraction or an errand that needs to be run, can jumpstart the inspiration – something you see or hear along the way, or a random train of thought as you’re walking to your destination, or a conversation about something entirely unrelated, could be the ticket you were looking for to the next direction in your musical or literary composition, or edit, or stroke of the brush.

    If you have the luxury of a distant deadline (it’s rare but it does occasionally happen) sometimes you just have to write off the day. That simple act of mentally letting yourself, of taking away that pressure, might actually fan the latent flames of reminding you how to write just for the fun of it. Allowing your mind to recharge with a good night’s sleep makes a world of difference to your brain’s receptivity to new ideas and trains of thought.

Over to you: where do you draw your inspiration from?

(P.S. Still waiting on the go-ahead to announce the sci-fi project and my involvement publicly – which should be given some point this week! Stay tuned, listeners!)

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