this post is less a question than it is my current thoughts on creativity and composition. i'm curious to see if anyone has similar or contrasting views on the subject.
i have for several years been trying to hone my composing skills, and have only very recently (in the last 8 months or so) gotten to a point where i can produce songs i'm happy with. as i've improved, i've been trying to occasionally step back and make observations about my own creative process.
i feel my creative process (and probably that of others, too) is a combination of two components. one i consider a black-box, one which i consider a rational process. the black-box aspect of creativity is that part of you that spits out ideas (be they rhythms, motifs, whole choruses, etc) seemingly from your subconscious--from out of the blue. this aspect of creativity seems largely beyond one's immediate control. however, one can train this black-box over time by listening to new music, critically analyzing music, practicing things repetatively, etc. over time, one can add depth to this black-box, but at any given time, this box is entirely a sub-rational, subconscious process. this is the aspect of creativity that i call discovery. discovery, because i really don't feel capable of taking a lot of credit for the output. true, it came from me. but it was almost as if the idea came from elsewhere and i merely happened across it, or discovered it.
the other aspect of creativity is that which i call invention. this consists of a set of more rational ideas. this is largely the set of "rules" you know. when i'm trying to work up an arrangement of a piece, i know lots of rules like "on a seventh chord, one's right hand can play a triad a minor third down and it'll have some nice tensions" and "when you play a minor chord, sometimes the kenny barron voicing sounds good", etc, etc. this body of knowledge is more explicit, and can be enumerated in some sense. if asked to, you could list out lots of the rules you know. these are the means by which you invent.
i've noticed that composing, for me, is an interesting combination of both discovery and invention. very often the discovery is the seed for me, and without that initial discovery, i can't force anything. often this is frustrating, as the discovery (as i mentioned before) is really beyond my control. i can often "prime the pump" so to speak, by choosing a different instrument than i'm used to, or by turning on some drum beats. after this intial discovery (perhaps a short motif, or several. maybe a melody. or maybe a sequence of chords), i usually run out of discoveries that seem worthwhile, or i just decide to turn off the discovery process for a minute and try to invent. once i've got some paint on my palette, so to speak, i like to try to do something "intelligent" and "rational." add structure, place the ideas into a known form (sonatta, fugue, aba, blues changes, etc).
i think this dichotomy also represents roughly the distinction between how many 20th century western composers differ from the few eastern composers i've met. my professors at school, and many of their predecessors (cage, scheonberg, glass, etc), seem to believe that one can only create "new" music by ignoring one's black-box creativity, as that creativity is often simply a mirror of what one hears in the culture within which he has developed. these kinds of composers seem to rely heavily on the invention aspect of creativity, and less on the discovery side. the few eastern composers i know, on the other hand, seem to fall more toward the discovery side of the equation.
alright, i'll stop blabbering..
can anyone else comment on their thoughts?