Produce accidents and cultivate disorders. As much as you might want to be in control of the creative process, your most powerful skill is finding ways to produce accidents of timbre, rhythm, melodic/harmonic juxtaposition and relationship, and arrangement. For example, musical accidents might transpire when two rhythms are misaligned, when a melody’s counterpoint is inverted, expanded, or compressed, or when a snippet of an arrangement is repeated into a new groove.
Cross-reference ideas and concepts. Sometimes powerful sounds emerge from finding themselves in unusual sonic situations. Consider, for example, a combination I’ve been working with lately: synthetic and dry percussion against voices floating in a reverberant space. The percussion feels electronic-robotic, while the voices feel medieval acoustic. In terms of cross-referencing, the ideas informing each soundworld meet halfway to create a unique kind of soundstage.
Discover Preferred Centers. As you work, take note of your preferred kinds of sounds and structures. Are they slow attack and soft timbre, or hard and sharp? Do they evoke the synthetic or the acoustic, the artificial or the natural? Are you friendly towards loops, or do you seek longer, meandering phrases?
Discover linkings which result in the unexpected. What happens when you connect two of the same sound processing devices—say, two reverbs, each with different settings (e.g. one in wide stereo with a long decay, the other in narrow mono with a short decay)? Taking it one step further, what happens when you connect these linked reverbs to a distortion that crunches their results?
Discover ways of formulating musical problems so that heterogenous things relate to each other. Many of our cherished composite musical timbres relate well to one another in part because they have been used for centuries. The orchestral string quartet, the brass section, or bass and snare drum combos in the drum set have histories of playing and repertoires that make the sound sets sound sensible. In electronic music production, one has a significantly larger timbral palette with which to work. Thus, we’re always wondering: What can go with what? Can this sample work with this saw wave? Can this beat accompany that amorphous resonance? How can these radically different musical things get along?
Cultivate combinatorial possibilities that were never anticipated. This connects to producing accidents and cultivating disorders. By combinatorial we mean thinking about—and trying out!—combinations of a limited set of sounds, effects, and structures. For example, if you are using a pad, a bass, and a lead, how many ways might they trade their roles, share their parts and their effects to create new combinatorial possibilities? Thus, one way forward is to reshuffle elements rather than add new ones. Before bringing in new parts or effects, remix what is already in play to create a sound you didn’t know you wanted to hear.