I think inspiration is overrated; I think work is what is important. You can only make music if you make music. You can only paint if you paint. You can only write if you write. If you make music, then when you are done you have made music. If you don’t, you won’t have. In general, you won’t get better at it, or at anything else, unless you do it. And so you do it. I think being inspired really happens in the midst of work, not before the work. You might not even feel all that good when you’re done, and you may not even realize that you were inspired until much later. So, you start working and at some point you feel inspired, and then you go from there. And even if you don’t feel inspired, you keep going.
The Junto prompts are sometimes called inspirations, but they’re not intended as such. They’re practical. They’re intended as projects to do, so that in the process you will at least have made music, certainly have exercised your skills, and maybe learned something along the way you can apply at a future date. Perhaps you’ll feel inspired, too, but I think concerns about inspiration can be a detriment to creativity. Inspiration suggests, to me, some sort of pleasurable dopamine experience, like an epiphany. That’s great if it happens, but it should be a byproduct, not a goal, and certainly not expected as a starting point. Anyone who waits to be inspired before doing something isn’t going to do much, and they’re likely setting themselves up for disappointment.
I teach my students about keeping a sound journal. If they write about sound four days a week, if they dedicate themselves to it, then by the end of the semester, they’ll be a lot better at it. One of the key things I tell them is that if you don’t know what to write, then start the journal entry by writing, “I don’t know what to write and” and then continue from there. What, then, is the musical equivalent of a blank piece of paper, or a blank screen? There isn’t a direct comparison in music. You can play chords and improvise on and with them. You can record sound and play with it. But many people need more than that, which is fine. The point of the Disquiet Junto is that it’s there when you have time and interest, every week, from Thursday to Monday. It gives you a project to complete, and along the way you may get inspired, or you may just improve your muscle memory, or your workflow.
And if nothing else, there are some interesting people you might meet online, and in person, along the way. This relates to one other key thing I’ll say about inspiration: for a lot of people, it helps to know someone else is doing what you’re doing at the same time, even if they’re doing it separately. It’s the reason lots of people sit in coffee shops or libraries, or hang out on social media while working from home. For young children, this is called parallel play, but it works for adults, too. Even doing something at a distance alone at home, knowing someone else is doing the same Junto project is a form of parallel play. I think that factor is essential to the Junto’s existence and its utility.
The above originated as my answer to questions (“What do you feel like you’ve learned about music-making or the process of inspiration through all the years of helming this project? I imagine you must have some interesting takeaways after seeing how all these different people respond to all these different ideas?”) posed to me by Colin Joyce for an article he wrote for the online publication I Heard It In A Magazine (hii-mag.com).