Gear Lust

Creativity & Discipline
Creativity & Discipline

and limiting creativity

As musicians, we need two main traits in balance: Creativity & Discipline. One without the other leads to either indecipherable rubbish or no output at all. The other without the one leads to passionless filler or again no output.

A precursor of Creativity is being Inquisitive. Without seeking the new or inquiring into the existing, there can be no true creativity. A precursor to Discipline is Learning. With no skills, or technique, ideas cannot be realized; a building with no foundations and all that.

I could end this article here a happy man but you may have no idea what I am talking about especially after that title; so let me expand.

As musicians (or any kind of artist for that matter so read on even if your curse is to paint, plant or scrapbook) we have to balance the main drives so that we can produce an output. A painting is an output, a completed piece of music or song is an output, I still have no clear idea what scapbookers do but I’m sure there is a point when a project is finished and presented to the public.

Something that we musicians are prey to is Gear Lust, the overwhelming sensation that getting a new instrument (or other device with knobs) will suddenly expand our ability to make music and open new vistas that our existing tools could never let us explore. Sometimes that is literally true like when a new type of instrument is created but these moments are rare. Wendy Carlos got to break new ground with “Switched On Bach” but after that getting new modules for her Moog didn’t create any new explosive moves in the art form for either her or anyone else*.

This doesn’t mean that people who followed with different instruments and minor advances in the technology of their instruments, like Tomita, Vangelis, Jarre, Kitaro, Kraftwerk and Gary Numan, didn’t add to humanity’s opus. They did but they had to do it with only their talents (not to denigrate Wendy as she did a stellar job). Not all of us have the luck of timing to be able to be pioneers, we have to do something else and it is in balancing the traits that we can break our own ground. We all use the same 12 notes and the only difference between Ludwig Van (Beethoven) and the Sex Pistols is in how they arranged those notes. The rest is illusion.

Gear lust is a case of being Inquisitive in hopes of greater Creativity but a sign that Learning and Discipline are in decline or missing. A new synth, guitar or knobby box will rarely make a sound that is so radically impossible from existing tools if the parameters and possibilities are well explored. If you find yourself thinking that a new toy will expand your creative universe then stop a moment and think that maybe the Creative idea has just been had, your muse has heard a new note, and it is up to your Discipline to drag it over into the real world. Maybe, just maybe, a new tool is needed but I bet a bit more dedicated learning and technique will help you better realize your art your way.

* Don’t try to talk to me about sampling or turntablism being revolutions as they weren’t; they were incremental and anachronisms in that order. Both techniques had been well mined before most of the claimed greats of those 90’s sub-genres released their first works. If you doubt me then look and listen carefully to records from the the mid-70’s to the mid-80’s and hear sampling, and even cut & paste using record players all in place. “N-N-N Nineteen” and “Pump Up The Volume” were interesting as such overt deconstructions of greater art but didn’t lead to greater forms in themselves. Footnotes – but really cool ones I will admit.

0 thoughts on “Gear Lust

  1. Gear lust can be interpreted the way you do in your article, however:
    Because there is a supply / demand balance in the marketplace for ‘gear’, doesnt mean it’s always a case of

    “all I need is new gear, then I can create whatever I want” (not quoting you!)

    I buy a lot of new gear, but the motivation for buying is only indirectly related to my / the creative flow…

    ‘Gear’ is ‘tools’ and both are used to materialise the creative flow, to externalise the internal process.

    Ill immediately plead guilty to ‘gear lust’ but I see it as a good thing… ((((-:

    When I take possession of new gear, I am excited… yes! No shame!
    But after the initial excitement there is a melding, blending, merging process where the new ‘tool’ settles in to my brain. There are few scenarios that can then take a follow-on effect.
    There will be something (or some technology detail in my process) that calls for its use.
    The tool in itself triggers a new external expression format for the idea
    The tool triggers new ideas simply through its technical capabilities (what it makes possible)
    The tool surprises me and through some serendipitous mishap, I stumble on a gem.

    Just as there is an argument to be made for gear lust as a silly folly (and people should learn more, then they will find they dont need new gear), there is also the aspect of ‘this tool represents a new aspect to (and could be of interest for) my creative process. Why not get the best of both worlds (if you can afford it)…

    So Im saying:
    While I agree with much of your post (and keep ‘m coming coz they are thought provoking) I miss the aspect of ‘gear love’, namely that gear can bring me happiness, inspiration, and well-being without being a music process panacea.

    1. Hi Eden

      I do agree with you as a new toy does open up new thinking but sometimes that is the “too easy” path. I keep a bit of an eye on new toys but I rarely buy em (at least compared to many others) as digesting the idea of the new toy allows me to do that thing with existing tools. Or even better, get it spectacularly wrong and get a completely new result.

      New toys are good and fun but I hate seeing the endless posts crying that without a Kesplurgeefast Plugin, good music is impossible. The Beatles, Kraftwork, REO Speedwagon… all made good music without even the thought of a Kesplurgeefast. I am amazed when I see people making tutorials and they have 10 Limiters, 15 Compressors and a bag, even Santa couldn’t carry, full of odd tools and I wonder how they could really generate good art in all that clutter.

      Knowing how to make good music and then adding that amazing new toy, well there is a far better path to my Spartan/Zen riddled brain.


      BTW still enjoying your album.

  2. Just wanted to say I much like you post and agree. I am a guitar player still using one of his oldest guitars for over 30 years. I have so much to explore on this instrument, that’s really the deepest thing musically I can think of myself. Soundwise it’s perfect. I am the limiting factor. Skill lust for sure 🙂

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