The Art of Displacement and Finding One’s Self
by: The Short Films
On March 21st 2012, I had the great privilege of attending TEDx Waterloo, a speaker series geared toward innovation, creativity, and connection. The title of this series was “DisconnecTED”, which is very fitting, considering my article’s content for this week.
Disconnection and displacement are approaches to self-development (and artistic/musical development) that often go unconsidered, but can be a great source of innovation, inspiration, success, and understanding of one’s self. For the purposes of this column, I am going to gear my discussion towards music.
Let’s take the example of the gigging musician. Many musicians that I know tend to focus their musical development in one geographic area (whether that be a city, a province or a country), attempting to break into the scene and build a following through constant gigging and touring. However, many of us start from scratch, and our audience makes an impression of the music based on whatever they happen to hear at whatever developmental point the artist happens to be in during that audience/musician interaction. Once an audience has made an impression of a musician, it can be difficult to break free of that impression. I know many musicians who are very well-known locally, but tend to stagnate, exhausted in their efforts that have perhaps won them local recognition, but not allowed them to really gain acknowledgement from a wider audience outside their immediate geographic region. Musicians also tend to plateau in their development, unchallenged as the musical elite in their region, without outside sources of inspiration to push them to further improve and refine their style.
We often hear stories of artists who have had greater success in Europe or other far off corners of the world. Perhaps it’s that people in other countries have a greater appreciation for arts and culture, but when I sat down with acclaimed Canadian folk musician and 2012 Juno Award nominee Peter Katz during TEDx, he had some other interesting perspectives to share.
Peter Katz focused his early musical performance career touring Canada, playing as often as he could to constantly refine and improve his style, to write and perform as often as possible, and to push himself and his writing further and further. He told me stories about playing at several open mic nights each week in Toronto, challenging himself to write a new song for each new open mic night.
Peter recorded his most recent album Still Mind Still with local Kitchener-Waterloo producer Rob Szabo. The pair took a different approach to this recording than Peter’s previous album (also produced by Szabo). Instead of using a traditional studio, they drove out to a secluded log cabin to record all of the tracks. Peter discussed how this process affected his performances, his perspective, and the final product of his album:
“As far as going out to this cottage in the middle of the woods and having no internet and no phone and that kind of thing, for me, it’s such an important process because life is so crazy…there’s a million things to do, and that’s a difficult place to be in to try to connect with yourself and connect with these emotions that you’re trying to convey and these thoughts you’re trying to get out…as soon as I drove down that gravel road, I knew I was leaving that of all behind and I was just there to do this one singular task. For me, that’s such an important space to be in…trying to go deep, connect, and give intimate performances.”
When I asked him about touring and his success in Europe, Peter said that he felt that, because he’d been able to work so hard in Canada to refine his craft, he was able to go to Europe with a clean slate, with the audience having no preconceived notions about him, and he was able to present himself in a very professional seasoned manner. He was able to demonstrate his most refined work and performances to a fresh audience, and to be well-received by that audience.
“When I started touring in Canada, that was at the very beginning… I was playing shows for the first time… my very first songs… early incarnations of CDs. I don’t think it was particularly refined… By the time I got over to Europe I felt like I had a CD that, if somebody was inclined to like this kind of music, maybe they would like this… I was more comfortable with an audience by that point… I had a fresh start because I was able to come out and present myself closer to the way I had imagined wanting to present myself but hadn’t been able to. In that sense I sort of hit the ground running and have been able to build an audience a lot quicker.
There’s also a certain exoticness just to being from somewhere else. People have sort of an exotic bias towards somebody who’s from somewhere else, ‘they must be ok if they’ve come all the way over here to do this’. People give you the benefit of the doubt.”
Peter raised some excellent points, and I would like to make a few of my own along similar lines. Being in a completely new environment is a surefire way to push yourself outside of your typical comfort zone. It may have the natural side-effect of putting your mind on overdrive, processing all the new stimulus (new venues, new culture, new audiences, new musical colleagues with their own unique styles and backgrounds). Naturally, this would accelerate your development dramatically during your initial period in a new location, and it would be sure to give you a lot of inspiration for new directions. From this perspective, it may be true to say that the musician you are in this new environment is not the same musician who left your familiar territory, right from your first performance on foreign soil.
That said, not all of us can leave everything behind and travel the world in search of new inspiration, and to build a great reputation with a fresh audience. Listening to (and covering) music that is outside of your typical repertoire can introduce you to new ideas, new musical styles and new approaches. Touring around within driving distance of your home can introduce you to new audiences. Playing in bands of a different genre can also expand your skill set and writing style. If you happen to be planning a vacation or trip, bring your instrument with you and see if you can line up some jams with local musicians. I have a backpacker’s guitar, and have taken it with me on trips to Portugal and Costa Rica. Although these were recreational travel experiences, not tours, it was still an eye-opening experience and a real treat to have the opportunity to jam with local musicians and other travellers from different places. In each experience, I learned something new about myself, and something new about my music.
Peter Katz will be performing at The Starlight Nightclub on April 26th. For more information on Peter’s music, please visit www.peterkatz.com.