Making Progress

So I’ve been up since about 3:30 AM, and I’m listening to a handful of prog rock albums that have been creeping back onto the virtual turntable a fair bit over the past few days: English Electric parts 1 & 2 (Big Big Train), Lifesigns (Lifesigns), Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (Spock’s Beard), and Dimensionaut (Sound of Contact). I’m also trying to get into Steven Wilson’s The Raven That Refused To Sing, and I’m dabbling in The Pineapple Thief, but so far, these are the five albums that have been eating into my attention this year. Of course, I still haven’t picked up a copy of Anthony Phillips’ latest  album (Private Parts & Pieces XI: City of Dreams), but I have hope of correcting all of that soonish.

What I’ve been doing with my early morning is harder to explain. I’ve mostly been just listening carefully, but I’ve also been digging through my picture archives for pictures of the gear I’ve been lusting after over the last half year or so. Not that THAT situation has improved any. Just wanted to remember the stuff I’d put on my Christmas list, so to speak, and see if any of it still jazzes me.

What I’m NOT doing with this spare time is writing, like I ought to, because I sort of hit a brick wall yesterday when I found myself writing something that I kind of feel like I’ve done before. That doesn’t happen to me too often, because I generally always take a new path in my writing. Sadly, yesterday, the story basically wanted to go into somewhat familiar territory, which bothers me, not least of which because it wants me to get deeper and more detailed, but I’m limited by my own lack of musical education.

See, I’m an experienced songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, but I’m not the most polished or professional of musicians on any of my chosen instruments. I also have some music theory study under my belt, but I have gaps that I’ve largely been content not to try to fill in, so I don’t ever become too educated and polished to write compelling, simple melodies. But when writing about a subject, you usually want to be as articulate, accurate and specific as possible.

What that means for the piece I’m writing (Perfect Strangers) is that I’ll have to do a bit of rewriting to remove the stuff that demands that I get more specific, and stick to writing the parts I know, so I don’t get stuck doing homework on scales, modes and progressions. I know about these things, but only enough to know what they are and why I don’t use them deliberately. Why this is a dilemma is because my instincts tell me I could use the refresher for what I want to do next, musically. I’ve been trying to write progressive pieces by instinct, and I’ve been running up against the twin horns of my lack of musical instrument practice (guitars, keys, bass, vocals) and my lack of compositional schooling.

Prog is actually relatively easy to mimic, stylistically, but it’s hard to do it without sounding unoriginal. You generally need musical motifs that suggest melodies and riffs the listener might already know, but that aren’t a direct rip-off. Very few Prog bands/composers are able to write completely original Prog music that never tips its hat to the past… and to be honest, it’s not as much fun if you don’t sneak in a few little clues here and there. With Prog music, there is a rich history of appropriation and mutilation, and though it usually denotes a band in its earliest stages, it’s the smartest way for a relatively new band to ‘play covers’ while still remaining true to the aesthetic of Prog to be as original as possible. If not for the financial considerations of being a musician in need of a full time gig, Prog Rock tribute bands wouldn’t exist, because too many of them would be too busy recording their own originals with liberal borrowing from/nodding to/winking at past masters.

Anyway, all of this is academic. The point is, I’m not making much progress with my music or my writing. In fact, I’m considering stopping the WinAmp and going for a nap.

But when I get back up, I’m going to tackle this story again. It can’t beat me. I’ve written stuff like this in Terminal Monday, so it’s not like I can’t do it. Finding a new angle isn’t as important as writing something compelling that people who haven’t or won’t read Terminal Monday might enjoy.

And I may do some more painting, too. Art Crawl is coming. I might not be showing anything (Dawn was invited, not me), but I’d at least like to have pictures of my current work to show people, so they know I’m not just screwing around.

Yeah, nap time. TTYL.

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