David Mills has a diverse personality – he is a Canadian based bass singer, poet, composer and actor. His creative work can be found across all styles of music, David believes that improvisation is the key component that distinguishes a live performance from a sound recording. Combining live music with dance only enhances the experience of being there. Therefore the composer David Mills is self proclaimed as a staunch advocate for live music, and to that end, he draws upon his knowledge and skill as a guitarist, teacher, composer, producer, and instrument designer. Musicologist Ona Jarmalavičiūtė talks with the musician about his approach to music making and compositional process.
What are your thoughts about the structuring of the creative process?
Improvisation is the act of spontaneous composition. Even a composition that has taken time to work out began with a moment of improvisation. One can often tell what instrument a composer plays. Ragtime music comes from out-of-tune upright pianos. Bebop jazz from the hands of sax players. The blues from a guitarist who can play a minor pentatonic scale straight across the neck.
I talk about improvisation as the source of all compositions. In “DoSo Freestyle” I play duets with musicians with absolutely no preconceived structure. No key signature, chords, nothing. The compositional work comes in the choice of the performances. With the more mature, virtuoso players, the work done by them in developing their skills is a huge part of the pre-composition work. In all situations, my guitar playing is half the equation, and therefore, gives a continuity – an identity to the style and feel of the music.
What are your thoughts about this quote: “Works of art have been compared to icebergs: what is visible is but a small part of the whole. An artwork might seem to exist in splendid isolation, but that impression is misleading. Cultural products inevitably arise from a context, a submerged landscape that is often not easily accessible”?
When we are evaluating a musical composition we are looking at a “fixed” product — a recording or a score — and yes, the bulk of the work was done out of sight. The fixed product is an entirely different art form. Listening to music played in “real time” is music. In memory a portion of a composition that was repetitive will hold the same “time weight” as a portion that changed rapidly. My compositions always include room for the musicians to improvise so the audience is getting “real time” inspiration moments from the musicians on stage.
Which part of creative process would you see as the peek of an iceberg, and which the bottom?
The quality of the peek is what matters, and that quality depends on what is underwater. Even in a highly improvised music, such as, Indian classical music, the quality of the peek is dependent on the amount of work – often many years – of practice the musician put in to develop his skill.
Do you have certain patterns, structures when it comes to your creative process?
I have written songs for 56 years – since the age of 12. Essentially, some inspirational sound or story presents itself, and then it is just a matter of working it out.
What is the most fun and the most boring part in the compositional process?
Music, even with lyrics, unlike poetry, is a social art. It is fun to work with people to create something special. Even writing a song with a 5-year-old pianist is a fun activity. The laborious, not necessarily “boring” part, is scoring the work so others can play it.
Define inspiration – does it exist?
Yes. Inspiration is often accidental.
How do you usually create a new idea of a piece?
As said before, a new idea often comes from improvisation – alone or with others.
How does the process of forming an idea looks like?
As the most experienced person in my musical relationships, it is usually incumbent upon me to structure the composition.
How do you transform the abstract idea into material – sketch, notes?
Ultimately, I start putting notes into a score on the computer. I am not usually compelled to write something down immediately because I trust that I will remember an inspirational idea if it is worthy of being fleshed out.
What form do your notes and sketches take?
Occasionally, I will just write down a few words reminding myself to work on a piece that is already swilling around in my head.
What is your purpose of music sketching?
Music sketching provides reminders of inspirational moments.
What do you do to get into your creative zone?
To do the bulk of the work, the part of the iceberg below the surface, just requires that I schedule time to work on it alone at the computer.
How does the initiative process of music making looks in your creative process?
As stated above, the initiative process is spontaneous, as looks like fun.
When do you decide that the preparation (precomposition) period is over and now you will start to actually compose?
The preparation process ends when I think I have something worth repeating either in the form of a score that others will play or in the form of a recording that is now a fixed work of art.
Please describe your state of mind when you are creating something
Creativity is a constant state of mind for those who are open to it. A creative cook can make a fine meal from whatever ingredients are available. An interesting conversation between any two people is a creative act and perhaps worthy of transcribing.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
A piece is finished when it is ready to pass off to others to hear or perform.
When you hit the “Submit” button.Do you critique your own work?
Yes. I know when something I have created is really good. However, to be a creative person, one must constantly create even when you think an inspirational idea is only mediocre. By doing this you will be prepared to work on something that truly unique.
Do you identify with your creative product?
All composers can be identified by their work. We all have technical preferences that come through in how we structure the inspirational kernel.