Sunday, March 4, 2007


MENTAL RISKS IN THE MUSIC COMPOSITION PROCESS - presented at BİLKENT's Music conference at Istanbul in 2005

by Ali R+ SARAL

Abstract---This article will discuss the mental risks in the music composition process from the points of responsibility and psychology of creativity.

Today, many professions do not have a standard for training and educating its fellow workers about the risks of health they will face during their career. Currently, the student or the young professional is driven to the edge of its ability by incentives. If he/she can survive the fierce competition both he and the society wins. If he can not, he fails in health and goes down, and society tries to compensate with the insurance policies if available. At the end, society drives itself forward but at what expense?

An early warning system embedded in the professional education would not only give the individual the right to choose but also it would bring a flexibility to the system. If individuals had the possibility to choose to play a long term game rather than serve short term needs, they would have a better chance to be more successful personally and be more beneficial to the society.

What could be a profession's early warning system of health risks? Giving information, educating the individual before things get bad could give his instinctions an immense chance to make healthy-appropriate choices. Being informed could also reduce the pain at the most critical moment of the health problem, the first acute crisis. Can you imagine a person experiencing for the first time, hearing voices speaking to him from the radio, or on the street? If he new what hallucination is and if he were prepared, he would not get terrified...

Music composition is prone to psychological risks like any other creative profession [Jamison]. The composer has to hear sounds, melodies or even orchestral music in his/her mind. How will he describe his experience? From a spectrum of sensation to hallucination: here-and-now, re-centering, projection or stereotype, hallucination, inner image [McKim, p. 50].

In the preface of his book, The Paranoid Process, Meissner indicates that "the psychotic processes of much more primitive and disturbed patients was also identifiable in relatively healthy and far less maladapted human beings". He goes further to add " I saw that my patients and I were dealing with similar problems, utilizing our common human resources in attempts to define and resolve basic problems of human experience and existence from which none of us could escape" [Meissner, preface].

In my pristine article, you will be able to find some of the mental risks of the composer caused by the composition process such as ‘imagining moods’, working with different sensory modalities, extreme abstraction, designing large systems, issues of creativity, interaction with the environment and society.

In this presentation, I would like to focus on two of them related to creativity because of their facility to describe verbally.

Tizian’s picture ‘Bravo’ of 1520 describes a a killer or stealer holding a man from his cloth close to his neck from his back. The stealer holds his knife at his back down at his belt.
The blade of the knife can not be seen because it stays out of the frame of the picture. The name of the picture ‘bravo’ stands for skillfull stealer or killer in Italian. When one hesitates to draw conclusions, it is possible to believe that it may not be a killer because the knife cannot be seen.
The picture actually shows a man taking something from an other one standing in front of him and giving it back or down with his other hand…

What Tizian inspires me is a crucial aspect of human creativity. As a composer you have to take from your predecessors both by their teachings and studying their works. On the other hand you have to pass some to the people coming after you while building a strong castle for your own individuality. The knowledge of humanity, our reservoir is not endless. While knowledge creates more knowledge there is no rule that creation and consumption rates should be the same. Also the ambition to create effects the quality of the work created, sometimes with detrimental effects to the material used… During the composition process, the composer is faced with a conscientiousness dilemma, ‘Shall I steal this or leave it to others who will be at the right time for it?’ or ‘This is gorgious, shall I let it go, shall I pass it over?’

Michelengelo’s Pieta shows ‘the crucified Christ lying in his mother's lap’. I believe, the mother holds his son in such a feeling that, she comes to the grips with the reality of her son’s death. In fact she holds what she has created, her own work with the deep looks of appreciation and acception for the finiteness of it.

Through all his work the composer has to come to similar grips about his work, on how finite it is. Actually, this is a common problem between people that deal with Large Systems. There are articles on ‘When to stop testing’ in aviation or air traffic control systems. Also, even when these experts decide to stop testing, they always have the same look as Maria Magdelena… Regardless of the physical and real safety created, the creator has a special psychological mood at the end, similar to a mother holding her newly born child with an unrelenting question at her subconscious.

Sometimes a psychiatrist needs 2-3 years to understand his patient truly. While there are some broad categories or psychologic ilnesses, there are still many new developments in the identification of subgroups which may have specific curing approaches. Sometimes this may cause the doctors to use the upper limit of medicine doses, specially in acute cases as a remedy for the loss of time.

Anybody who is trying to become a successful composer should have him/herself checked at the beginning and during the education, specially during counterpoint, fugue, styles analysis studies. It is natural to have an athlete live under doctor control when preparing for the olympics. It is exactly the same for a composition student or a composer involved in heavy production.

- Jamison, Touched With Fire, Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, The Free Press, A Division of McMillan, Inc.
-Robert H. McKim, "Experiences in Visual Thinking", Stanford University, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1980
-Meissner, "The Paranoid Process", Jason Aranson, Newyork, 1978
-Ray E. Ebarts, "User Interface Design", Prentice Hall
-Miller, G. (1956) "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information", Psychological Review, 63, 81-97
-Michael W. Eysenck, Mark T. Keane, "Cognitive Psychology", Psychology Press, 1995
-Baddeley, "Human Memory", Allyn and Bacon, 1990