Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Artistically, “more” is for me a means to intimacy. I strive for more detail and more activity which allows me to revel in a thing’s fullness. I wish to know the world more, so I feel lazy when I do not push myself to my present personal brink of understanding and rendering. So I always try for that brink, that more. I used to be an athlete; the drive to push was likely fostered there.

John Cage famously said that he did not understand why some people were frightened of new ideas, as he was frightened by the old ones.

More is a means to newness which becomes a means to revelation. It is not about novelty but about discovering new paths. What I find often contradicts my prior ideas of who I am or where I am headed, so I re-imagine myself. I have revised my conceptions enough times that I have come to stop trusting whatever lines my mind draws. It still draws them out of habit, and at times I follow them out of habit, but then I find a gap and walk right through. This is a game that I am lucky enough to play with myself because I am healthy and housed and well-fed. I hope to learn the game well enough to play outside of plum conditions. I am so very grateful for the chance to do so, to learn what and where and how else I can be.

I do not have to resolve incongruities in art. This is one of art’s powers: to hold a contradiction without needing to change it, to hold more.


Excerpt from the score of “Narratives,” solo for e flat clarinet.

Sifting through the more in my work becomes a meditation. It is a turning over of stones, but I create the stones first before I discover what is beneath them. Often what is underneath is very different than what covers it. In “Narratives”, my solo clarinet piece, more was a beginning, an entrance into the piece’s world that came in a rush of ideas tripping over themselves. This moreness surprised me by resolving into quiet affirmation without any coaxing on my part. I arrived at sounds that I could not have initially recognized as where I was headed, but which in retrospect seemed so very at home in the whole.

Perhaps they could not have been planned at all. This reminds me of Heraclitus: “After death comes nothing hoped for nor imagined.” I did not expect the more in “Narratives” to die in such a way, but this unanticipated arrival was more right than I would have been comfortable hoping for.


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