When I write music I think in landscapes.
I recall meeting up with Austin artist Joshua Thelin who explained that, for certain projects, his canvas has to be extremely taught. Joshua tightens his canvas so much so that on occasions the canvas emits an ‘A’ note when he hits it.
Atwood Magazine related a great conversation with artist Brian Coleman who listens to music while he paints. ‘All of the sound helps; rhythm, lyric, and tempo all have different influences while creating. For instance, tempo determines if my brushstrokes and pencil lines are aggressive or free flowing; lyrics head me into happiness or pain in the past or in the now; rhythm influences fragmented or sometimes more content geometric and organic forms within my work’.
For me personally, I use imagery in the songwriting process by transforming what I see in my mind’s eye into actual words and music. However, I use it in another way: I apply it to create a visual interpretation of a song’s structure and arrangement.
Songwriting is like painting: when I write a song and record a simple vocal and guitar in my home studio, the bare bones of the song is akin to an artist sketching his outline on a canvas before applying paint.
Once the foundation of the song is in place, I then explore the other melodies in my head, voices that naturally reveal themselves over time. The key here is to record these melodies and only then determine whether they remain as vocal parts or whether they become instrumental parts. Selecting which category each belongs to is similar to a painter choosing which paints to apply to convey the mood of his painting.
I then go into the recording studio and it is here that the painting truly begins to reveal itself. Instruments have different frequencies: bass notes and drums have lower frequencies than vocals. Here is a visual example, known as a frequency spectrum:
Now try to imagine the above frequency spectrum as a landscape painting (shown below) whereby the low-frequency notes are at the bottom of the canvas (grass), the middle-frequency notes – like strings – are slightly higher up (hills), and the vocals are higher still (sky).
A slight scattering of percussion or individual guitar notes would be represented by individual strokes rather than solid blocks of color. The length of the painting equals the length of the song. Essentially, a song is only finished when the mental painting is complete. If something is missing it is this visual overview that helps me complete the song.
The ambience of the song is a further dimension. The landscape painting above, with all its soft contours, could be a pastoral classical piece, or a ballad. A jagged musical composition, perhaps folk-rock or pop in style, would have sharper edges and have much greater highs and lows, such as valleys and mountains.
Here is an audio example. “NOW” is a song on the next album entitled Double Take comprising six songs each with two versions: one acoustic, one pop. You’ll hear the same piece of music but the first half is pastoral and the second uptempo.
Question: Do art and music go hand in hand? For me, they are inextricably linked, creative brothers in arms, forever entwined.