Why I love constraint

04th January 2010

Why I love constraint

I wrote this piece of music about 15 years ago when I was a music student at York.

It’s still my favourite composition and was technically fairly advanced (for me) considering witemhat I had at my disposal at the time. It was a ‘thematic representation of the exhileration of reaching the summit of a snow covered Himalayan peak’ according to my nonsensical pretentious write-up at the time.

This was during the good times :) . The age of the Atari 520ST, booting from a floppy disk. The time of hardware samplers (with more floppy disks). Before the PC came along and muted me with its baffling and overwhelming array of sounds and infinite possibilities. I used to dream of the audio and processing power that is possible today with even a budget laptop.

Producing White Mountain (with a stupid look on my face) Producing White Mountain (with a stupid look on my face)

In beautiful rose-tinted glasses, I can honestly say I was so much happier with the limited choices I had at the time. I worked within the limited sound set I had and used creative techniques to enhance what was available to me. I produced music.

Today I open my sequencer (when I can decide which one to use), fire up say, a piano plugin and am stifled by a choice of 20 different Steinway piano presets with a billion variations and parameters. I fire up another plugin to choose percussion, and have so much choice, literally thousands of drum sets, that I just want to give up and go for a walk. Trying to create music today I spend all my time experimenting with different sounds, but there are so many options I can never decide if I have found what sounds the best.

The result is a bit like my personal website. I get nowhere. Too many options have completely stopped me writing music.

Recently though I have considered how I still manage to stay fairly creative and productive in the visual realm where I spend most of my days. I think the difference is that my options and scope are limited by client needs. I suppose in comparison, this is like limiting the sounds or plugins available whilst creating music. Clients impose constraints, and those constrains allow the creativity to grow to fill the given space.

It sounds odd to hear myself say it, but I LOVE constraint. It allows me and more importantly, it forces me to be at my most creative.