Some craftspeople are fantastic explainers of the processes “behind the curtain”. Walter Murch’s books provide an exceptionally deep and thorough investigation of the film editing and sound design worlds — with anecdotes sprouting about like lush foliage.
A Walter Murch-type is exceedingly rare, not just for his polymath mad skillz, but for his ability to break it down into its core components. Why, he’s like the Wolverine of film scenes — one sniff and he knows what all the base ingredients are!
I adore other artists with just as much intensity as I do Murch, and some of these are flat-out terrible/blank at explaining how they do what they do. And that’s fine!
Take Vangelis. You can’t wade into the electronic music waters without the hirsute Greek titan surfacing, mermaids in tow. Or at least memories of green. I enjoy reading his interviews as much as I dig his pioneering performances on ribbon controller, but it’s more to hear his philosophical perspectives than glean workflow specifics. Vangelis, you see, is like the complete opposite of Murch in terms of being able to explain his art, and that’s because his own approach (which, remember, empowers him to express himself as he does) is not just intuitive, it’s a process apparently better explained by observers than the artist himself.
Some actors don’t like to watch their own performances, either.
And then there are people who choose to avoid articulating aspects due to trade secrecy (hoarding secrets?) and other perceived insecurities and deficiencies. After examining the greats I lionize, I looked at where I fall, and the reasons for being that way… all subject to change.
A lot of my music (and further art) comes to me in dreams. I can dream lucidly, but can’t explain the precise mechanics of why some motifs recur. I also can’t explain why I am utterly unmotivated to do most anything… unless it comes to me in a dream. Which is why sleeping a lot is essential. Some artists brag about sleeping as little as possible; I on the other hand am Slumber-Powered™.
I value technical insight and I prize learning from synthesis masters who’ve graciously spilled their secrets into my satchels, but I’m not big on “gear talk”. Used to be years ago, had my fill of that. It’s like graduating from school — core threads are worth revisiting, but not this. And I reckon it bores me because so many questions have shoddy ulterior motives or come from misguided expectations that yield black/white answers, threads that play out the same way each time… rather than the elegant Zen enigmas I harmonize with, and the oblique strategies that emphasize truly rewarding fun. I used to engage “What gear do you use?” a lot before actively stating my dislike.
Realize that I do write enthusiastic (to put it warmly) fan mail to tool creators, and am an advocate for promoting more collaborations between the product-makers and product-users (and there are those who are both!). I’ll be the first on the frontlines to praise gear I love. After a long meditation, of course. I’m not one for on-the-spot reactions to issues worth contemplating.
But all too often, “What gear do you use?” is borne from laziness. Someone wants a how-to list they mistakenly think is magic and will solve their problems to make something great. It’s the worst of invisible scripts, a piss-poor lottery, like having a hundred people say “Let’s do lunch sometime” and perhaps one or two actually following up with a more meaningful discussion. Instead of playing to those barren odds, I respond to commitment that terrorizes most. I am here for the long-term, the slow burn, the anti-impulse trek. I know, and have found, others like this. This is our articulation thoughtline.
Then again, I don’t like the bromides that cluster around the opposite arguments. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: “It doesn’t matter what a great artist uses.” That’s extremist sentiment that has no practical bearing on empirical creation. Advancement of tools is what helps us progress the self-expression lifecycle, and those tools impact the end result. I could drop a thousand examples like overripe fruit, but to wit, what is a Hendrix without an electric guitar?
In effect, I embrace magicians who give us a peek behind the veil, and I also adore the ones who’ll go to their graves with their escape routines. The world needs many types to have a prosperous creative ecosystem.