What are the qualities that excite us most in a musician? The more I listen, the more I try to find music that surprises me. In a climate where any genre of music from any corner of the globe is accessible instantly, being shocked or bewildered is an increasingly rare occurrence. This desensitisation through sheer volume is a result of the music like water phenomenon once expertly articulated by David Bowie. So, in a climate like this, how can we as musicians still surprise our audience? In reality, as music and art in general becomes gradually more institutionalised, people have less inclination to take risks. Whole courses based around an ethos of conformity and compliance leave little room for the innovators. The qualities that make these innovators so unique (stridence, brashness, a playful irreverence for the rules) are incompatible with mainstream education and will in fact probably be quashed in this environment.
Part of the problem with recklessness is that it can feel dangerously close to incompetence. By operating at the edge of our artistic ability and experimenting in waters untested, we open ourselves up to whole realms of failure. It’s really a question of ego: despite appearances the innovator is often the least egotistical musician on the stage. By having a willingness to fail publicly and triumphantly, they often end up making the kind of art we gravitate towards. Paradoxically the musician who doesn’t take a risk is most guilty of hubris. By not being willing to make mistakes and clinging to a projected self-image of competence, they may never develop. Developing the former ethos, what you could call rational recklessness, is still remarkably difficult; after all it’s not enough to simply be uncontrolled. The aim is to achieve a mind frame that can help you access all of your available musical facilities but distribute them in a completely unrestrained way. Not an easy task.
Ways to develop this approach: Next time you’re in a high pressure situation, visualise you’re alone in the practice room. Most musicians I know consider themselves much better in the practice room than on stage. The lack of an audience and social restraints opens up the musical mind for exploration. Although the reasons for this seem obvious, it doesn’t make it any easier to access this freedom in public. Try taking a mental picture of your most unrestrained moments in the shed and then recall them during a gig. It’s also important to be rational about the consequences of failure. One of the largest barriers for a musician to maximise their potential is the fear of making mistakes. Just one slip up, so the thought process goes, and the whole charade of competent musicianship will slip. In reality most of my favourite musicians make mistakes all the time. They’ve just learnt to be realistic about the consequences of those mistake, namely the lack of them.
Next time you’re feeling uninspired or nervous, try and find freedom from your own expectations and let yourself veer closer to that state of rational recklessness.