On Inspiration

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First published in Future Music June 2005.

I’ve taken to contemplating inspiration lately. My own is foremost in my mind. Or the lack of it. It is the ingredient most essential to creativity and we are utterly powerless to control its flow. Do you know where your most creative thoughts originate? I don’t. We’re intolerable when creatively blocked. Which is most of the time. We make ourselves as receptive as possible. What’s your poison ... alcohol, crack cocaine, a new plug-in?

“Good morning Sir, can I help you?”. “Yes, I don’t suppose you have the new Steinberg inspiration plug-in upgrade?”.

Of course when times are hard we have craftsmanship and stealing to fall back on ...

“Yeah, I’m really inspired by Miles' late 60’s work and Trevor Horn’s mastery of the gated reverb”.

Thief. I know music makers who think it is essential to be intimately acquainted with the current production styles of best selling records. And as we all know, Jimi Hendrix was constantly popping down to the local record shop in a vain attempt to understand and emulate the startling pop success of Herman’s Hermits, whilst he languished in talentless obscurity. Not.

No, I’m talking about real inspiration. The unexpected and original thought or idea that pops into your head faster than a speeding bullet. Once I was sitting in the bath and a complete and, trust me, brilliant lyric came to me out of nowhere. So I jumped out and wrote it down. I have no idea where it came from, but I do know that I took full credit for it and pocketed a handsome publishing advance shortly afterwards.

Despite being a confirmed and vocal atheist I still understand the appeal of the divine intervention theory ...

“... and I’d like to thank my family for supporting me through the years and finally God for the inspiration and love to make this record”.

Picture this. God is looking down on his children ...

“Ah yes, Steveland Morris, it’s your turn ... go forth and produce Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fullfillingness First Finale, and Songs In The Key Of Life”. (Gasp!!!!) “ ... and let me see now ... Mr Bacharach, your talent shall know no bounds ...... for the time being.”

Continues >

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(There follows a short interlude of a few years and then) ...

“Hello it’s God again, the 60s are over Burt, time to write the Benny Hill Show theme and not much else (yes really! he did!). And Stevie Wonder, you can’t run from the truth any longer, you’re going to have to release "The Secret Life Of Plants” (Ouch!). Paul McCartney, sorry mate but I need the inspiration AND craftsmanship back, there’s this guy growing up in Minneapolis with the unlikely name of Prince I like the look of”.

Are you beginning to see the appeal of this thesis? We are simply vessels through which the Lords work is revealed. Have you a better explanation?

I’m sure that like me you soooo want to believe that you are the author of your ideas. Because from great talent follows recognition, admiration, adoration, money and sex with people who are better looking than you. PLEASE GOD CHOOSE ME!

The trouble is, the Lord has favored Stephen King and Clint Eastwood for so long that there isn’t much left over for music makers. So while we wait, we go about our days discussing this and that piece of electronica. The next purchase of which will enable us to fulfil our creative potential. A quick-fix short-cut through that deep dark forest we call No Ideas. Paid for on credit. Actually, I have no problem with those that purchase equipment for its own sake. I have long since acknowledged the simple fetishistic pleasure of acquiring software and hardware that I will never fully use. It helps fill the days and pass the time while I wait for inspiration to strike.

So yes dammit I admit it. MY NAME IS MATT OTTEWILL AND I AM A GEARAHOLIC! I believe in the healing power of the software update. I want to discuss dual processing over endless cappuccinos. I have seen the promised land and it is a G5 laptop. I may be the most uninspired musician this side of the Thames Barrier but ... my studio is a world I’m in control of and I LIKE IT!

© Matt Ottewill January 2005