Our Creative Journey!

A magic moment in the highlands of Scotland.

So a month and a half ago, my fiancee Dave and I embarked on a voyage. Not exactly a holiday, not exactly a work trip–somewhere in the middle. It is a creative expedition. It was based on an idea that we never really go anywhere or have time for anything except when work is involved. Our best trips away together have mostly been short journeys within New Zealand to go and record sounds.

So we figured if we were ever going to go on any big overseas trips, then we should involve our work in the creative industries. Last year, we had two friends who had both offered us to come and stay at their artist residencies.

The first was from Peter Roberts, a picture editor who had a residency in Ibiza off the coast of Spain for writers. It was a house once used by famous New Zealand author, Janet Frame. This sounded like a perfect chance for me to focus on the second instalment of my children’s sci-fi adventure and Dave could work on his feature film scripts. 

The second residency was in Trélex in Switzerland. Our friend Nina Rodin runs an artist residency for all manner of creative artists and she has not had many sound artists stay at Trélex. Her husband David Rodin went to school with my Dave, so he had been talking for years about the idea of heading over to visit them, but the idea of doing art at the same time was doubly fantastic. Not only would we do plenty of sound art, Dave and I both love painting, photography, video-art and composition, so there was plenty of things for us to experiment with that we normally never have time for.

It would have been so easy to think; “Oh yes, that would be lovely to travel overseas and work on our art,” but never actually get around to it. For once Dave and I wanted to jump on such an opportunity and go for it.

Last year was a big year for Dave as he directed his first short film. And my book is in the final stages of preparing for publishing, but I wanted time to dive into the second book before the first one comes out. With a heavy work load planned for the back half of 2017, we decided that from the end of March to June would be the best chance we had to head to Europe for a couple of months. When we get back Dave has his short film screening in some festivals as well as a very exciting writer’s workshop to attend, so now is the perfect time to get things moving on the writing front.

Though we were only planning on spending two weeks at each of the residency locations, our process of creating art was one that we would  engaged with every day of the trip. We record sound every single day, no matter where we are.  I’ve been keeping a couple of creative journals with sketching and writing ideas. And of course Dave has his trusty camera  and I have the GoPro.

Sound recording in Switzerland.

We started out in the UK, spending a few days In London with some friends before driving up north to Scotland. We stopped in to see relatives I had in England, but for the most part we were travelling heavily every day and visiting as many attractions as we could all the way. All the while, we were gathering sounds, video footage and artistic photographs to inspire our art. Some highlights were Stonehenge and Avebury, the Roman baths and Lindisfarne and of course, the castles. Edinburgh and Stirling castles where stunning, but some of my favourites were the derelict ruins standing alone in the mists without tourists and gift shops. Places where you could sit and sketch and soak in the ancient landscape.

The longest we spent in one place was four days in Skye. Skye was breathtaking. Such wildness and isolation, I felt very much at home there. I guess in many ways it’s similar to New Zealand. Harsh weather and rugged landscape permeates the cultures of the Antipodes and the Hebrides with a similar fortitude. The first two weeks in the UK was so jam-packed full of excitement and adventure it felt like a lot longer than two weeks. I planned on doing more blogging on the journey and I also had hoped to start up a video blog, but we’ve been busier than I expected and quite often without very good Internet access. So I thought I should make a start somewhere. Better late than never.

Today I have more time on my hands because yesterday, I badly sprained my ankle.  There is nothing quite in injury to allow time for retrospective and slowing down to appreciate what you have. For example, I am incredibly glad that I only sprained my ankle and and didn’t break it. Today is 18th  of May and we have exactly one month left of our trip. We will arrive back in Wellington on the 18th June. The trip has been in some ways longer than I could have imagined and in other ways has flown by.

Our two weeks in Ibiza, was amazing. The warmth was a welcome change from Scotland and we made sure we explored the landscape there and went swimming in the crystal blue waters. I had a lot of trouble with asthma and sickness, and yet we still got a lot of writing done. It was so incredibly luxurious to be able to focus on writing, considering it a full-time job instead of having to cram it in around a normal workload.

Enjoying writing in my journal while sipping sangria at a cafe in Ibiza old town.

We were in Barcelona for only three days after that and though we didn’t get to see much of the city, we saw a lot of the Gothic Quarter where we were staying and had very splendid time enjoying the food and wine of that beautiful city.

Sitting by the window of our apartment in Barcelona.

Trélex has been magical. Staying with David and Nina Rodin and their family has been a privilege and a pleasure. Though our time he has been short, already we have achieved a lot. I have been painting and sketching more than I have in years, and I have gotten back into doing my audiovisual art which I’m very excited about. I’ve been continuing writing and Dave has too. He has made some great breakthroughs with his scripts and I’ve been able to help him with editing which I normally don’t have much time for. And of course we have been recording plenty of sound.

A day of sound recording adventure in the forests of Switzerland.

Switzerland is a wonderful place for recording soundscapes. There are lots of public parks and wide open spaces and lots of access to forests and mountains. There is so much more here that we could record but I’m very glad that we have some great recordings of cowbells and church bells and tranquil environments. The bells, the bells!

Our next door neighbour in Trelex and his lovely sounding bells.

 

Now we only have four days left in Switzerland, and I’m very aware of how difficult it will be moving on from here with my injury. With out recording gear, we have way too much luggage, so I hope I can lose the crutches soon. We are supposed to catch a train to France on Monday, but I have to go to the hospital for them to assess my ankle in the morning and then who knows what will happen. Though I hope it heals quickly, I also know that it will stop us from doing big and ambitious hikes which is sad, but like I said, I am very grateful for the things I do have and will make use of this time that I am less mobile by doing more art. As this is a creative journey, you have two create what you can using the tools is that you have available. Though this is my first blog entry on my journey I’m hoping that I will be more productive from now on. Until next time, get out there and create magic everyday!

Dave and I at Stonehenge.

 

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Imagining Beauty

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’, so said Keats. I wonder what each person sees in their mind what visions are conjured when they hear that phrase. Or perhaps, what they envision when they simply see or hear the word ‘beauty’? The mystery of the mind and its complex machinations is at the heart of all art, no matter how small or great. The child sitting at a desk at school writes what he or she sees of the small world that they know and the great universe they can imagine. The rulers of countries sit at their desk signing their name and attaching it to ideas and dreams they have about the future.

Too often people consume their day with negative worries and fears. So much more time should be given to our imaginings. So much more effort should be spent on visualisations of what we hope will be, what we wish to achieve. Especially if those dreams and wishes are of things that are good.

I was inspired just now about the concept of beauty when I was flicking through YouTube watching short animation sci-fi films. There is some outstanding work being done out there, especially by people who are funding the projects themselves. Often I get so caught up in reading current sci-fi work that I forget how immediate and blistering inspiration can come from sight and sound. How the vast landscapes of written text can so quickly be etched into mindbogglingly beautiful reality through the medium of film.

Short films in particular, need to infuse a ton of of ideas into the viewers imagination in a short window of time. Perhaps this gives the short film genre more license to be more disjointed and incomplete than feature films. They offer only fractured glimpses of another world just as short stories do, without being bogged down by the constraints of character development, story arcs and plotting that larger works depend on.

This seems like a great excuse for me to offer a plug for a sci-fi short film I worked on in 2010. I co-designed the sound for a film called Abiogenesis. As the blurb states; “In this breathtaking science fiction spectacle, a strange mechanical device lands on a desolate world and uses the planet to undergo a startling transformation, that has profound implications for an entire galaxy.”

You can buy it here on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/abiogenesis/id644210102 or preview it. There is only a trailer of it on YouTube that doesn’t feature my sound sadly, nor the actual musical sound track by Rhian Sheehan. It has won numerous festival awards that has put it in a position to be eligible for an Oscar award in 2014.

Shameless plug aside, another film I just watched that sparked my interest was one called ‘The Gift’ –

The complexity of the world building and sheer beauty of ‘The Gift’ is laced with a sense of mystery that utterly captivated me. Though it is only a few minutes in duration and barely scratches at the surface of a compelling view of a futuristic Russia, it draws me in and leaves me craving more. The key character is a creepily well animated robot butler with porcelain skin. He is chased and hunted down by police for stealing a strange metallic box containing what we are only told is a ‘unicorn.’ When the film concludes, I know I should be disappointed for not finding out what the ‘unicorn’ actually is, but instead I’m glad. The puzzle is left open for the viewers imagination to toy with. My mind twists and turns over what the ‘unicorn’ could possibly be and what the motives of the people who wanted to obtain it are. As one of my favourite film makers David Lynch once said, “The more unknowable the mystery, the more beautiful it is.”

A riddle unsolved, that is the spark of inspiration that I crave constantly. Like a book not quite completed, the painting I imagine myself creating before I start, a quiet afternoon spent pondering what I will do next year.

When I was younger I used to think endlessly about the universe and what it meant to say that it was infinite. I used to end up feeling scared, intimidated and helpless. When I thought too long about it all, I always wound up thinking that perhaps there was no meaning to life? Then one day, I had a revelation. A moment of relaxation…of letting go. I realised that if we knew the reasons, the limits, or all the answers then it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting or profound or beautiful. Though every day the sun rises and sets, everything is always changing, always fresh. Transformation of matter and energy is endless and so is my daily appreciation for everything that I see, hear, taste, smell, think and feel. Beauty is just that to me, endless mystery.

How about you? What does beauty mean to you? I’d love to hear since only through sharing our stories can new idea be born.

Life is Learning

I finally mustered up the courage to send my manuscript off to someone for an editorial pass. A momentous step indeed. Not so much because I feel this is a step towards success as a writer, but because it’s a step towards me taking my work seriously and accepting that I need help in order to get better and better and continually more betterer at writing.

As you can see, I openly admit that I have a lot to learn. I realise this will be a long haul.

As much as I would like to be an instant success and receive great acclaim for my writing, I know this is not likely to be the case. I wish I had some magical powers, some mystical bardic charm that enchanted anyone who read my words, enticing them to throw money and accolades my way. But I have been down this road of creative discovery before and I know better.

I remember when I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be good right away. I wanted to be able to express all the musical ideas that were in my head and it was frustrating to have to wait till I was any good to do so. The poetry and the melody  was trapped within me and I had no musical skill or language with which to express it. The thought that it would take me years to be any good at guitar was so daunting at the age of 18. I was in such a hurry to express myself and achieve greatness. Of course, time flew…as it does…and playing guitar comes relatively easily to me now. Though, strangely enough, I do not seek greatness as much as I seek fulfillment and satisfaction. I know that ultimately, there are more important things than living up to expectations of others or following markets and trends. Being comfortable to express myself is my main priority, even if that means not producing something that is seen as marketable.

Right now, I’m experiencing this same beginning phase with my writing and while I think it’s important for me to constantly strive to be better, I can’t get lost in worrying about what other people will think of my work.

Ever since I was a child I have loved writing and though I have always kept it up, only recently have I started to take it seriously as a skill to be trained. My wordsmithing muscles are just like my guitar fingers and they need constant exercise. And just like learning an instrument, I need to be more comfortable with the language of storytelling. I need to learn from others about the rules of the craft, just like when learning music, you have to know how the rules work before you can bend them.

There is no better way to do that than to get someone else to help you. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, someone outside yourself who can form an opinion about your art. It’s time for me to take on another step of learning by opening up myself to constructive criticism.

It is also important to realise that we are never too old to learn and never too old to receive advice. When I used to teach guitar, I often would take on mature age students and I was surprised at how many of them felt embarrassed about picking up the guitar in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or whatever! They all had a touch of shame when they first sat down and admitted that they were probably too old and should have had lessons years ago. The only shame they should feel is for thinking that their age should determine the goals they set for their life.

There is nothing, I repeat….nothing, better in life than finding a way to express yourself, be it through art, through music, through writing, through exploring, through conversation, through your day job even. Communication is the essence of human experience and it is never too late to pick up a new tool, take a few lessons or ask for help or advice when discovering a new way to create the art of your life.

How many of us out there have ever put off doing something we dream of for ages, only to find out that when we finally make that leap, it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be? What dreams do you have that you prefer to keep as abstract goals rather than tackle the challenge of actively seeking to realise them?

The Artistic Journey

I am on a journey. Like my characters who are sailing off into space with a collection of misfit aliens on a dangerous and often mismanaged quest.

I am on a journey of my own. A journey of discovery. I’m learning how to take the reigns of my creative project and slay the dragon of resistance.

Self publishing is all about being the creative director of the book, its not about finding an easy way out of traditional publishing paths, it is about taking control. It’s about having choice.

I have always loved art, and Turner was one of my greatest inspirations. The work above is one of his. A painter, like a writer is subject to the styles and tastes of the period he or she is in. Likewise, the state of the artistic ‘market’ will always determine his or her success. However, when an artist paints a picture, do they then submit the work to a bunch of other people, (some of whom are not even artists themselves), to shape it before it goes into a gallery or is put up for sale. At least I don’t think it usually works this way for Artists. Why should writers have to jump through such hoops in order to see their work on the shelf?

I understand that publishing by traditional methods sometimes works great and can be very rewarding. But I also wonder why has it taken so long to accept that if people want to produce written works by themselves, then they should be given the opportunity to.

If you have put the time and the effort to into your work, you should be allowed to TRY and sell it. It seems that in many ways the notion of self-publishing has only just become a viable option for authors. I knew about self publishing about a decade ago, and like many people, I thought it was just something that people did if they really couldn’t get published NORMALLY…i.e. they weren’t that good. Now though, in the last couple of years, we see evidence on the net and in the media, that the stigma associated with not being traditionally published is slowly becoming alleviated. It seems absurd that publishing has taken so long to catch on to this concept.

However, I think it is critical  to realize how important it is to not do it all yourself. Have your writing properly edited by a professional. Get the cover and formatting done by a professional, and take the time to revise things like structure to ensure that the book is the best it can be before it goes out into the world.

This is where the indie-author is not just the creator, but the director of a creative processes. Getting other people involved in the development of the project, editors, designers and revision peers who can give critical feedback, gives the project more strength. More people become invested in the project and their interest in it’s success will propel it forward.

So, this change in my thinking has somewhat alleviated my fear of – “what if I don’t get published?” because I know, that no matter what, I will start to think of myself as an Author – or else! I will publish my books – or else!

Now that I’m not worried about failing, I can focus on writing and write for myself and what I want to read, not for some pigeon hole in a market.

Regardless of how I choose to do it – self publishing – traditional – eBook – audiobook (heck as a sound designer working on films, you bet I’m going to try this out.) My books will take over my world!

Now, if I could just finish that first pesky manuscript.

Everyone’s journey is unique, on the high seas of artistic adventure. There are currents that flow faster than others and their are courses that are easier follow, so I can choose my own path without having to worry about compromising on what I feel is important about my story. Through the internet, it has become even easier to share our journeys with each other and to see what our options are. We can learn from others mistakes and celebrate in their victories. So tell me your story…fellow adventurers. No matter what your vessel is, painting, music, dancing, Kung Fu…whatever! We all have a tale to tell.

‘Once upon a time…’

Happy writing everyone!

Life is Art – This is My Day Job

It’s been a while since my last post…is this because I have been so busy writing?

No. My father has been visiting me from Australia and so I have been occupied with drinking coffee, going for bush walks and painting. Sounds rough I know…all that ingesting of cake…

Now that he has gone home though, I’m left to try and motivate myself to get back to my work.

Work for me at the moment is two fold – writing my books and sound design.

It pains me to admit that I’m struggling to crack into two separate industries. I have had a few really good sound gigs that have given me some decent credit and I love the work, I love even more that I can earn a living off it. But at the moment I’m busy on a number of short films and it’s hard to find a solid income from it and hard to find mental space to work on my writing. When I’m on a sound job, it absorbs a huge chunk of my creative thinking power and a good chunk of my time.

Short films can be incredibly rewarding, especially as the short film director is fulfilling a little dream of his or her own that they have been working on for years and as the sound designer, I get to be there to put the finishing touches on, the icing on the cake. I get to see how excited they are when their brain child is delivered on the mix stage and all the effort is finally paid off. It is a great feeling for them and for me and I always feel so glad to be a part of some art that goes out into the world. I am blessed to have work in this industry.

However, more and more I am aware of my desire to finish my book and establish myself as a writer and I feel jealous of the directors that hire me to work on their near complete film. While I’m working on someone else’s project that is coming to fruition I am aware of the fact that I’m not working on my own project. I realize that wanting to be an author has more to do with a desire to fulfill my own creative ideas and projects than it has to do with me preferring writing over sound.

As a child I was never sure about what I wanted to be, because I wanted to do so many things. I would write my own little books, draw the pictures and staple them together, I would write little songs on the piano. I loved drawing…I loved writing…I loved music, I loved dancing. I wanted to do ALL art without having to just commit to ONE and I wanted to be free to just create whatever I felt like.

So, as much as I love working on sound, at some point I want to see myself putting my creative energy into my projects 100% and I see writing as a good outlet for that.

I have to just keep at it and stay positive. Finding a balance between doing work for myself and working for others is an important part of being in an artistic community in any medium and ultimately, every job we have in life adds character and experience to our lives that is invaluable. I don’t want to think of sound as my day job; the thing that gives me money and writing as my pie in the sky dream job. I want everything I do to be done with passion and conviction and all my work must reflect my belief in the power of creativity to realize dreams.

Job is a nasty word people use to describe something that should be a manifestation of their life’s energy. I was passionate when I was a guitar teacher, I was passionate when I was a student…I don’t think I could admit to being a passionate shelf stacker, but even that job gave me insight to all the jobs I would rather be doing.

Sound design, painting, singing, writing, composing, running, sharing, gardening, cooking, playing, loving. There are so many different ways that I can express how wonderful it is to be a human in this world. Why should my career be any different.

Life is art.