The Art of Subtraction

Like most people, when you are young, you tend to want to overdo everything. That's especially true if you are a musician. Many young male musicians seem to be fueled equally by a desire to create music and testosterone. This mix can often produce a steady wall of sound, whether it's in a rock band, jazz band, or even playing Gongs. Intensity has a great effect, but like construction noise outside of your window, after a while it gets ignored.

I'm all for intensity, but after a while, I got tired of it. I used to often play a solid wall of sound for an hour or more. It was big, intense, glorious; but so much the same thing. Over time I got tired of it. I also found it less than interesting because it was so one dimensional.

Over the years, I've steadily subtracted notes, all the while adding more sounds to my set up. I've also learned to appreciate and use space more. Space is as important, if not more important than the notes we play. Space allows the notes to be heard. Without it, the notes are just one big wash of indeterminate sound. This is fine in short bursts, but after a while we want to have a sense of clarity, a sense of differentiation. 
Space is the place. - Sun Ra
A big part of this whole process is maturity, both as a person, and as a musician. This maturity looks at the music differently, seeking to refine it to its essence: clearing out all un-needed sounds in order to make the ones heard more prominent. It's also a process of learning to breathe the music. Just as our breath goes in and out, so too should the music. 

Exercises to try:
  • Follow your breathing, making the music flow with it.
  • When you are ready to make another sound, DON'T! Wait. Wait a few more seconds/minutes before you make that next sound.
  • Listen to the space between the sounds. Find the beauty in that.
  • Learn to trust the space as much as you do the sounds.


The Master, Frank Perry, demonstrating the Art of Space


Embrace the space.


~ MB


Chop Wood / Carry water / Play Gongs™ / Make Space







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