Between thought and expression

When Lou Reed sang “Between thought and expression lies a lifetime” the context was Margarita speaking to Tom about kinds of love.

The phrase caught my ear because it applies to one of my personal preoccupations. I’ve been thinking about the music creation process for a while now, and the topic is percolating as I prepare another batch of pieces for release.

The music creation process can be broken into many steps. One variation:

– initial creative impulse (composer)
– make general decisions about how to express the impulse (composer)
– decide which notes to use – create the composition (composer)
– convert the notes to sound – perform the composition (performer)
– transmit the sound in performance, recording, or broadcast (the acoustic and/or electronic medium)
– receive sound (audience)
– absorb and react to sound – interpret (audience)

What keeps surprising me is how wide the gulf between the initial impulse and reception is. Even when the composer and performer are the same person at the same time, and the audience is intimate, as in a spontaneous live improvisation, what is received by the audience may have little relationship to the initial impulse.

I’m currently recording my colleagues for the new project, and it is exciting to hear what they do with the pieces – often the music comes out very differently from what I originally imagined, which is delightful. There’s something fecund in hearing the initial impulse take on a life of its own, like watching a child develop its own personality.

Lou Reed made a memorable turn of phrase describing the gulf between thought and expression. That what he was describing is different from what I’ve taken from it is testament to its truth. His thought was about love between Margarita and Tom, and I receive it as speaking to the music creation process – a lifetime-wide gulf indeed.