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Creatively controlled chaos

Controlled Creative Chaos


I like riding roller coasters. I like the feeling of falling out of control, getting pushed into my seat  and the wind in my face. It’s controlled chaos. I like the feeling of being out of control a little bit,  and I suspect we all do to a certain degree. Who doesn’t like surprises? But how much chaos is too much chaos? It’s one thing to have the illusion of being out of control on a roller coaster, and to walk away from a great ride unscathed, but quite another to endure chaotic destruction.


So my last blog post was about the role of randomness, luck, in life and in my creative process. It is very much controlled chaos. I choose the parameters. In generative music, the rules are based upon the probability that the next note isn’t too far away from the current one. Some surprises like a note off key, or in another octave are welcome, but they have to be rarer than what the ear “expects” to hear. Similarly, in a visual art work, I sometimes try to limit the number of colors available to the computer to a palette more pleasing to the eye, or limit the number of shapes available, or what exactly a certain pixel can do. Again, controlled chaos.


I know a few who are fond of Fredrick Nietzsche’s quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I don’t know about that. I broke my right wrist when I was kid and because I never got it set, my right arm is considerably weaker. 


Here’s another, more heart breaking personal example. Our first son was still born at 36 weeks due to a rare condition called a silent placental abruption.  There was no sign anything was wrong until the doctor couldn’t pick up the heart beat. It was devastating. Twenty some years later, I still have a hole in my heart. Stronger? No, I don’t think so. It’s a hard luck scar, akin to my somewhat healed over, but considerably weaker broken wrist. 


“So it goes” Kurt Vonnegut would write at this point. In my case, it’s not so much as a fatalistic response as an acknowledgement of my powerlessness. 


Some things just happen for no reason. That’s chaos. Controlled or uncontrolled. Since powerlessness and chaos are a part of life, how can it not be part of my tiny, little slice of life I call my creative process? Roll the dice, see what happens. But not ALL the time…..

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