Letter Zero.53
Dear <<First Name>>, 

My preferred definition of creativity is taking two unrelated things and watching what happens when you force them to collide with each other. I like this definition because it strips all the mythical, talent-based baggage away from the creative process and presents it as a practical exercise anybody can do. And in fact, it is something we all do regardless of whether we consider ourselves to be creative or not. 

The output of idea collisions is always creative, but it’s not always high quality. Quality and creativity are two different things. The skill of producing something that is both creative and high quality involves learning to distinguish the good ideas from the bad ones. That’s not quite right. It’s the ability to live among the nearly infinite low quality creative possibilities to find the rare pearls of high quality hiding there. How do we do that?

Consider a piano keyboard. There are an infinite number of ways to combine notes and most of them sound bad. The easiest way to generate high quality sound from a piano is to recreate sounds that have been proven to be high quality in the past. In other words, we learn to read music. This lets us generate high quality sound even if it isn’t very creative. Don’t get me wrong, there is still room for creativity in how you interpret the written notes, but the range of creative possibilities is tiny compared to when you attempt to write your own music. Without pre-written music, you’re likely to sit in front of the piano bewildered and overwhelmed by uncertainty. How do we overcome this?

This is where idea collision comes in. Maybe you start with a familiar melody and set it against a different rhythm. Or perhaps you mimic the sound of animals or nature. This is what Trent Reznor is doing when he reaches for his Luminist Garden. It’s what Matmos is doing when they press their microphones against their washing machine. But enough words, what does it look like in practice? Let me share a few videos with you. 

Len Solomon's Musical Contraptions
Len’s studio is filled with inventions, tiny experiments that he has built to test his ideas. He is improvising, letting his imagination run wild and then letting his ideas collide with the practical constraints of instrument building.

Martin Molin's Marble Machine
Martin’s YouTube channel if full of videos documenting the evolution of his instrument since he first went viral in 2016. If you haven’t seen the marble machine music video, start there and then fall down the Wintergatan rabbit hole.

Ali Spagnola' Doorstop Keyboard 
Ali's spring doorstop keyboard is a fun example of idea collision. I love how much energy she generates. In User Zero I talk a lot about energy and feedback loops. A side effect of the idea collision method is that it can be the spark that produces a chain reaction, a nearly infinite energy source.

I’ll write again soon. Stay creative.

Your friend,
Copyright © 2021 Adrian Hanft, All rights reserved.

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