Creative Strategies: Multiples

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multiple—having or involving several parts, parts, or members

One of the most useful concepts in creative work is the concept of multiples. There’s no hidden meaning here—multiple simply means having several parts—but there is hidden power.

The way to apply the multiple concept to your work is simple: conceive of and build multiple versions of whatever you’re working on. For example, if you’re writing piece of music for say, marimba and violin (a nice combination of timbres and short-long note durations), start with one piece and finish it. But while doing so plan to do at least three or four, or even better, ten or twelve more pieces for the same instrumentation. This achieves a few things on different levels of conception and execution. First, it forces you to figure out if your materials or your concepts or your process is repeatable. Can you stretch the initial concept? Clone the basic idea? Reproduced the aesthetic? Thinking in terms of multiples forces you to critically consider the rigor of what you already have. Second, multiples encourages you to think in broad strokes. Maybe this means moving beyond short melodies or chord progressions you’re invested in, towards more general notions of call and response, mutual filigree, or harmonic dissonance. While your fantastic melody might be a one-time thing, these more general concepts of musical form and action are easily multiplied—who knows what you’ll find! This connects to a third effect of multiples, which is that it directs you towards the endless interesting realm of variations. Variation is the ur-key to creativity in that “new” works often take shape in the form of variations on an older theme. Finally, multiples directs your attention to the future, giving you something to look forward to. Tomorrow will arrive and with it you can resume your marimba-violin pieces, or whatever project you’re working on.

I’ve been applying the multiples concept for several years. With music, I work up as many pieces as I can around an idea until I’m tired of it or else can’t seem to find anything new. For my recent recording, Quietudes (2018), I composed twenty pieces around the idea of quiet music for a string keyboard sound: a solo chordal lead and two accompanying melody parts. Following the multiples concept I generated as much as I could. Then at a later date, I returned to the pieces and narrowed them down to the seven that made the final recording. An even more recent example: as I was writing this post I began brainstorming other creative strategies that relate to Multiples. Here are a few: Framing, Distance, Doubt, Belief, Stillness, and Derivative. How to do they relate? I haven’t figured that out yet, but the important thing is the process of trying to multiply the multiple concept.

So: think in multiples.

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