Make. Do.

Of late I've come to hate sitting at home in the evenings. What with particularly nothing fantastic happening in life of late all the choice one has is to leg it to the terrace and watch the sun go down, with a scowl.

It was thus with best interests at heart and also with the aim of taking in some freshly polluted air from exhaust pipes of the various beings that ply the roads that I put on my famed (in local circles) red tee and set off with no apparent destination in mind.

A long road with scant traffic (owing to yet another hartal being on the prowl). Thiruvaaranmula krishna. The song was being played off some temple speaker in the distance. The Sahaana raga on which it is based, is a lovely, soothing one - best played off a contemplative veena and best heard under a banyan tree overlooking a pond.

Pots. Earthen pots - of all sizes, stacked on top of and next to each other in a precarious fashion. The city would be witness to an unbelievable amount of faith, smoke and women once the Attukal Pongala happens. I dodged the ubiquitous Pulsar-riding chap and crossed the road, reaching Attakkulangara junction. The three-doored temple with the Paala tree - the priest stood by, lazily observing the growing traffic, with his pot belly blocking a full view of the dark stone idols - Black figures adorned with the brightest of marigold flowers. One of the earthen-pot-sellers was wiping the sweat and dust off her brow with the end of her saree. Honking and chaos everywhere.

I wonder if the entire creative process - art, music or anything similar, is any different from the process of doing something else productive. It certainly does not feel similar to the logical thinking that happens when one is writing code, for instance. Superficially, the latter requires you to keep track of what is going through your mind, while if you want the former to yield good results, you have to keep your powers of observing each word of thought or creation at bay. Infact, the process of making music - singing an alaap in a particular raga for example - is hard to explain logically. I believe an artist or a sculptor would feel the same way about his work too. But to believe that the two are different things just complicates matters.

Glancing up while walking past the red South-Fort revealed that it was built in 1891. To think I had never noticed it before. The entire structure is perhaps taken for granted, and the only thing motorists have in mind is that the passage under its strong beefy pillars is that it a one-way road. Plaster peeling off in places, it reveals the bricks laid many years ago under the decree of the ruler of Travancore. Unlike its counterparts in old Delhi or Hyderabad, this fort does not have to bear the brunt of paan stains, fortunately. I daresay Trivandrum is easily more hygienic.

Things in the world have to boil down to something. Just like the fort is made of bricks that are revealed in a quick inspection, we have come to know of atoms and molecules. The brain is thought to function as a result of impulses - exchange of chemical and electrical energy between neurons - that in some strange code or manner, represent everything we do. The key to understanding how we work, or how we think, is to decode how the impulses correspond to thought processes. My knowledge of biology is limited to high school level but I believe that the means by which impulses trigger physical activity is already well known - and similar to sensor-actuator-systems in the world of engineering. However it is still fuzzy how thoughts work. How exactly is it that we come up with something? Are 'random' ideas completely deterministic, ie determined by a function of all knowledge and experience we have, or is there some probability element to the way an idea 'sparks' off?

To say that there is a mysterious element governing how our thoughts proceed sounds a bit superstitious, and maybe a bit spooky, like quantum mechanics or something. Maybe it will help if we consider the way we look at how water flows in a stream. From outside, the flow is utter chaos - a totally random gush to a casual observer and perhaps a tad beautiful to the poet. However, the water molecules are behaving in perfect order, and in perfect compliance to the laws of physics. It is just that they are moving too fast for us to notice them individually and work out how they behave, in our mind. Another example would be arcane, but might make more sense to some: It is like observing the sleepers on the adjoining track from the window of a moving train. If you let your eyes fall casually on the track, it appears to be a blur. However if you look at the speeding track carefully, you can make out individual sleepers passing by. Speeding past in a whizz, but observable individually for a brief moment.

To someone who is utterly engaged in his work - an artist applying colours to canvas, a sculptor chiselling out a statue or a pianist with his fingers playing over the keys while his glance is turned up to the heavens in a dreamy gaze - what if they are thinking just the same way a chess-player thinks, but thinking too fast for their own observations to follow the process, just like looking at the water flowing through the stream? The more I think about it, the more it seems probable. If you could indeed slow time down to observe the brain churning out something we call a creative effort, it would perhaps be observed that the neurons are firing in a certain order, and that the entire process isn't necessarily random or truly divine as we would readily believe.

If this is the way it is, then it must surely be possible to codify it. We must be able to, at some point, come up with some rules that represent how this creation takes place. How the notes just present themselves in perfect harmony with the raaga during the aalap or how the artist thinks when he is drawing some abstract figure. (However, to say for sure that *this* is how something works is not really the spirit, for all we can offer is *one* way in which some phenomenon can be explained. The very phenomenon that can be explained with Newton's laws of motion could also be explained with the one word - Magic) If it is indeed true that whatever we come up with could be a function of solely our past experiences and knowledge, we could then, come up with something that could simulate the whole creative process itself.

In short, we should be able to make a machine that is creative.

The Pazhavangadi temple was as crowded as always. A twenty-something-looking female walking ahead of me caught my attention. A middle aged guy who happened to be standing by the side of the road locked his gaze onto the lady. I watched him as his eyes followed her as she passed him, finally turning his neck by no tiny angle as she disappeared down the road. Stark act of public chick-watching by a mature man. I made the disgust apparent with a frown as he passed me oblivious to the amount of judging he had just been subjected to.

The road that leads up from Pazhavangadi, onto the parallel road to Vazhapalli is an interesting one. Apart from being flooded regularly in the monsoon season, it sports a wide variety of shops all along its course. Being a hartal day, most of them were closed except for a paanwallah. Kaviraaj Traders - dealers in Ayurvedic medicine. Maha Chips - the closed shutter betraying its interiors by giving out the tempting smell of sweets and good snacks. A few residential colonies, walls lined with movie posters.

Talking of the creative machine, once we are able to come up with something that would produce art, or make music the same way we do, the first reaction would be of all hell breaking loose. Ofcourse, there is no doubt about the fact that, as soon as we are able to explain how something happens we should be able to simulate it by means of a computer or some such thing. If not a computer now, maybe something more powerful many decades later - later, but surely yes.

The question now changes to - if we did, then, have a way to churn out pleasing stuff like music or art by means of some algorithm *exactly* the same way *we* as humans came up with them, would we know it?

The wall was filled choc-a-bloc with movie posters. The old ones having been beaten down by the rains or prised apart by some passer-by in a pissed-off mood. Sleaze. Muscular arms, six packs. Some beautifully designed ones made lovelier by pretty faces.

Aren't humans subconsciously plagiarising, or using some 'formula' at some point or the other to keep going? Look at Bollywood. Start with a romance plot, add some twists and turns, some comical characters, show some navel and cleavage and we're set. That's artificiality right in your face. How often do we actually come across truly *inspired* pieces of work every year? Perhaps the line between artificial and natural creation is, as are lines between everything, truly blurred once you start noticing them.

If that's the case, then maybe nothing would happen. You could have design-generators. Photoshop bots. It would just creep in, just like what the keyboard or the digital age did to music. It would be a known fact that artificially generated stuff did exist, and then decades later we would probably venerate experts who could distinguish between two very cleverly similar samples. But what is the point of it all? It would become disillusioning. Then the lines between what people perceive as good music and bad music would start to blur. Wasn't music, or art intended to impart pleasure rather than be subjected to a critical analysis?

Total chaos. Not in the world, but in the mind. Sense of good and bad being influenced by factors other than the experience of the thing alone - factors such as facts and decisions.

The road that leads to my house from the SP Fort hospital was exactly the opposite of the one I had just walked past. Chaotic. People thronged the lone tiffin centre that was open, sipping watery tea and biting into bajjis hot from the pan. Traffic bursting at the seams, moving in one dizzy, flashy blur that sometimes paused for a moment when you looked at it directly. Smell of smoke. Dried leaves burning. People shouting. The orange LEDs on the Volvo bus flashing rhythmically. Or was it random?

Music, or any art, for that matter, is truly profound when it is intended with the sole aim of its being there. It's that simple. You sing because you like what you are doing. You feel it is good because it makes sense. To you. Some of the best paintings would have never made it to public exhibitions simply because they meant so much to the artist himself. You may charm a crowd with your guitar, but the reaction of the crowd will not replace the feeling you get when you sit alone under a tree and strum some chords - to ease your mind, to please it or to just express your innermost moods through what you play.

The world may like it or not. It doesn't really matter. Create, with the principles of creation alone, and for yourself.


Influenced by a series of high and sober musings on the same subject, some good conversations and the narrative style used in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance.


/urgu said...

I knew it!! I'm reading Zen and... myself. Allow me to compliment you on a piece well-written. Also, "Magic" - CnH reference! (Reference-spotting is awesome)

But I must disagree with the conclusions drawn. I'm too sleepy to analyze it right now, but I'm sure my counter-arguments would have something do with the phenomena of sheshmidjnes and that oh-so-fucking-delicious process of arriving at something you've been trying to remember very hard, after a long struggle. We still dont understand how the brain works in its entirety, and so aiming to decode the creative process itself is a very ambitious feat indeed, leave alone making a sentient and creative machine!

Even if you have such a machine and it begins to churn out stuff indistinguishable from human-made stuff, then how the "question change to ..." I'm sorry, I just don't get the line of reasoning. Maybe cos I'm sleepy (i think i already said that).

The process of creation, as well as the point of creativity, primarily is catharsis. The need to make one's thoughts/feelings expressed. Need for recognition, for money, etc are secondary factors. I think we agree on that much.

Anyways, I loved the post. Nice descriptions of the old Fort area! :)

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hollowmaniac said...

I second with your line of thought, brother, even though, Urgu's comment leave no lines for adding anything extra, and you know I actually have to live there to get the full feel of it.

But yes, I loved the anarration, It's puts you in the middle of everything, and you feel like an intelligent observer. And that's some effect.

I'm glad you are back to writing big ones. Thw way you crossed all the fields that you have touched in refrence to the explanations, be it software, coding, to art, craft, train-faning. You are a true genius with the Keyboard. Keep em coming, bro.

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Niranjani said...

It was only yesterday that me, Sundar and his mother were talking about artists performing for the crowd and for themsleves. His mother being a musician herself was echoing your sentiments when she said that the peace and satisfaction she gets when she gets a note or a song right can never be compared to the appreciation she gets while performing on stage. Different people, different places, similar thoughts.Beautifully written :-)

totalliemeh said...

I don't know what else to say, it is hard to pick up a conversation which you already had with the same person from where it was dropped. But like I said, or did I say that I honestly hope that Creativity is not something which can be made to follow rules? A creativity machine, the idea sounds frighteningly plausible. why not? A few codes must be able to creative genius works of art and music and science.

But only if we successfully decode that particular subtle hazy abstract way in which the brain works, right? Even I cannot recreate the feeling or the vigor with which I used to write in the past. There are a lot of elements to consider. But I agree with your point that all that is around is in a way an imitation, or simply following an old recipe with just some difference in the ingredients.

this was the scariest post you have written. Also one of your best as well. While writing this comment, I can somehow see the dots you will be connecting in the future. I see all you feel-all this "nothing fantastic happening in your life of late" just as a part of a plan.You are going to look back upon this time and realize this made you what you are. :)

Also tee famous in local circles and thiruvaaranmula krishna. :)

also, awesome style of narration. aa vazhiyiloode njaan nadannappol enikkithonnum thonniyillaalo eshwara.... see, my point exactly.

vanwinkle said...

first things first. lovely,lovely style of narration man.composed,yet rambling. betrays your enthusiasm:)
now,see,the thing is,the seed to all that we find awesome today were ideas,ideas that were simplistic,yet singularly marvellous,,and in my honest opinion,some things are best left shrouded in that aura of mystique,lest they should be robbed off their charm. cheers:)

Akanksha Pandey said...


Written with compelling flair! Not to mention Trivandrum came across as being oh-so-interesting!

P.s:I'm surprised I didn't come across this earlier! :-? I really have been much too..*OFF* on the blog-o-sphere!!

Srivardhan said...

Beautiful post. Relished going through this thought-stream.
'Music, or any art, for that matter, is truly profound when it is intended with the sole aim of its being there' - couldn't agree more!
I guess there comes a certain point beyond which all objectivity and all subjectivity blend into each other and it is then that something truly beautiful is created.