The joys of ‘found art’ for writers

There is a lot to be said for ‘found art’ – something true for writers too.

Let me explain. I once heard a wonderful story about the time Rick Wakeman – then keyboard player for Yes – was sufficiently unimpressed by the artwork for their 1978 album Yes Tor that he hurled a tomato at it. The net result was a new title – Tormato  – which was released complete with the remains of the fruit on the cover. As a kind of artistic statement it worked very well.

I remember the album mainly because it featured Wakeman on the Polymoog synthesiser, the first polyphonic offering by Robert A. Moog’s company. I remember playing the original Polymoog myself as a teenager in the late 1970s – it was more a hybrid than anything else, because the sounds were based on presets, and it produced (to my mind) a rather weedy sound via the same frequency-divider technology as a Farfisa organ.

It got better if you pumped it through a guitar distortion unit – as Gary Numan did to get the classic ‘Numan’ sound on most of his early albums.

I once tried that myself using my Roland Alpha-Juno 2 and a Boss multi-pedal unit. The results were…well, interesting (the Roland was a proper analog synthesiser with full waveform control, unlike the Polymoog). I still have the recording, and no I am not going to post it online.

Matthew 1988 recording session
This is me during a 1988 band session with my Roland Alpha Juno, some time in my mis-spent youth. Notice the Morris Minor boot lid, and my Korg MS-10 to the right.

There is a lesson for writers. What am I getting at? Wakeman hurling a tomato at the album artwork and Numan doing something unexpected with electronics both led to something new – something that nobody had thought of. Something different, and something creative.

In both cases they did it with dissonance – something outside the parameters.

What followed was an emergent property of that dissonance: new artwork and a new title; and a new sound.

It seems to me that this is one of the things writers, too, need to aim at – to create something unexpected, something new, by embracing those qualities of creative dissonance. It gives the material an edge that it wouldn’t otherwise have had – makes it distinctive.

Exactly how to do that – well, that’s a long story. Watch this space.

And if you want to find another sort of found art – you know, an author’s Facebook page, jump across to mine and please ‘like’ it:

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


5 thoughts on “The joys of ‘found art’ for writers

  1. “Do it with dissonance”…I think you’re onto something with this phrase, Matthew! 😉 Of course, your point regarding writers creating the unexpected is exactly that, reaching outside the comfortable. Great post as always.

    1. Thank you! I think some of the most unexpected creativity comes out of dissonances – something that runs counter to our usual sense of the artistic. In this I’ve been inspired by Frank Zappa who was a master of it, musically, and the same sense of ‘dissonant thinking’ emerged in words, in his autobiography, ‘The Real Frank Zappa Book’ which was deliberately prepared as a kind of literary dada. The only real problem, I guess, is that if pursued to its limits (as he did) it becomes so strange as to be uncommercial to the point of not selling at all. I guess the same is true of writing – I always haul out Kerouac’s approach with ‘On The Road’ in that sense, which had to be pegged back in order to make the book initially saleable. The problem today is making the products of dissonance not merely saleable, but discoverable – the real challenge these days for writers. I don’t know the answer to that one.

  2. I never understood the Tormato cover or the title; now it all makes sense. Dissonance in design is something I’ve been drawn to and when studying landscape architecture in the late 80s/early 90s bought into deconstruction in a big way. Back then Daniel Libeskind was a one building wonder and Peter Eisenmann was driving everyone mad. But deconstruction put a methodology onto a way of designing I couldn’t define at the time.

    I try to do it with the writing, but the old nerves still draw me back into a more orthodox style. Maybe I need to do more with the short story format.

    1. It’s worth experimenting with a short story, for sure. I guess the arbiter is the extent to which the dissonance infused into it is enough to give interest without seeming so weird it drives readers away.

      I’m reading the first of your Toten Herzen novels, incidentally – right now. Very cool! I should have got on to them before – being a metal fan who’s kicked around on the fringes of the NZ music scene on and off for years. Must admit, some of the metal today has a LOT more to do stylistically with old-school prog than the metal of the prog era, I suppose because some of it draws pretty much directly from the same classical traditions (I’m particularly thinking Epica here).

      1. Thanks for giving the novel a try. It’s aimed at a more mature market than the genre has chased in recent years. The music is a vehicle to investigate ideas that interest me and whilst readers don’t need to like rock to enjoy the stories those that do will have that extra layer of interest.

        And yes, the symphonic metal scene has embraced the grandiose ambitions of the prog era. I was disappointed by Nightwish’s last album, but discovering Xandria, Epica and Sirenia more than made up for it.

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