top of page
  • Writer's pictureJamie McCarthy

Making Music - The Gardening Metaphor.

21st February 2017.

I’ve been thinking these last few days how sometimes the way I approach making sound / music is like gardening. The results often feel more like weather, but I think the method is more like gardening. Of course, I’ve never particularly been a gardener (apart from a few plants on my balcony), so it may be more like what I imagine gardening is. But, even if it is a fictional version of gardening, how is it like that?

Well, I find with certain sorts of pieces, I plant bits of sound material - seeds if you like. The ideas don’t necessarily grow immediately after that, it’s more that I then spend a lot of time observing them, seeing if I can perceive certain aspects of what they are. So, in a way, at this stage, it’s not the seeds, but rather, it’s my perception that grows. The parallel with gardening here though, is that it can take a lot of time: sometimes the ideas hang around for a year or two, sometimes it’s a lot less time, but it still has a similar durational feel to having to wait for seeds to sprout, grow, flower, bear fruit.

But yes, at this point it’s definitely my perception of the material that is the think that’s growing and when the time is right and I have the right ears to hear what’s in the material … then in a way, I do treat it like a plant. I notice what sort of plant it’s looking like it’s going to be and I make decisions about where to put it in relation to other plants / sounds. Also, sometimes a number of seedlings close together have to be separated out for then to have more space and nourishment to take root.

At later stages, it might be that I have to prune a well-established plant way back so it doesn’t take over, or so it fits into the garden as it is now arranged, taking into account the other plants and how it can live alongside them. Sometimes the pruning is so the plant can blossom more profusely.

The thing is, that the things I plant in the garden are often mystery seeds – or I might know it’s a flower, or a bush, or a herb or something, but I don’t know exactly what’s going to come out of the seed that’s planted. So, it’s really a kind of ‘mystery gardening’ and that’s why observing is even more important than usual: “Ah – it’s turning out to be that kind of sound – right. Hmmm, I don’t think that belongs in that part of the garden, or even this garden at all – maybe it needs a new section of the garden or a completely new garden, or maybe that sound is never really going to get past the seedling stage. Some sounds also stay at the seedling stage for ages and ages and ages until I find a space or a garden that suits them.

I think the real parallel is the time though, and letting things grow – both my perception of them and letting them grow themselves. When I need to make a piece of sound or music for something, it’s like I make a new garden: the seedlings might have been hanging around for a long, long time, but having got to know what they are, I bring them together to make something where they can co-exist in a satisfying way. In getting the garden to work as a little eco-system of its own, sounds have to be placed in relation to all the other sounds and then they will grow differently to some extent according to where they’re placed in the garden and what’s growing next to them. I might want to trim something back to give space for other things, or I might train them in a certain direction, or I might just let them grow as wild as they want.

There’s another thing, that isn’t like gardening, or it’s more like a sort of magical gardening: sometimes I notice a little kink, or nodule in one of the sounds and then I’m able to take it as a ‘cutting’ and a whole new plant based on the little imperfection grows. I guess it’s more like a very fast time-scale evolution.

Hmmm … I wonder if my attention is like the seasons and the weather that comes with them: a particular plant won’t grow until my attention / season / weather is right and that’s why time is necessary.

34 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Process Thoughts 1st March 2024 

Like a lot of other people in ‘the arts’ right now I’ve not got any work at the moment. Nothing since December and nothing on the horizon until the end of May. It a fuckin’ awful state of affairs righ

They Are Ghosts – Let Them Pass Through You.

I woke at 4.20 again this morning. I thought it was the light coming through the curtains that was waking me and keeping me awake, but this morning, even with eye covers I still didn’t get back to sle

Shoures Soote

Although I’ve done a couple of small things, I am returning for the first time since my brother John died in late December to beginning work on a piece of music of my own. When my brother first died,


bottom of page