impedance to expression

I took the above photo of my good friend Casey Jo, just before she was about to say ..

As time goes by, and I create more and more through many different platforms, programs, and processes, I’m beginning to notice which are most successful and why.
At one point I believed I just “wasn’t feeling creative” when I sat down in front of my computer and failed to blog the 150 photos I would take with my DSLR from the weekend past, complete with descriptions, post processing in photoshop, upload via FTP, and a written summary of the experience. I also decided I wasn’t “feeling motivated” to write music, which meant sitting down and composing, arranging, effecting, mixing, and sometimes mastering a track, all on a computer screen.
Some time around September of last year, I picked up an iPhone 4. It has a couple cameras on it, both vastly inferior to the DSLR I have, much like the Sony Ericcson phone I had before it. I made some notes on the difference between taking photos with my iPhone and DSLR/Computer. Nothing from that has really changed. But all those steps involved with the updating from DSLR suggest a higher level of impedance to my artistic expression than the iPhone. For that reason, I quite often use my iPhone more than my DSLR.
Applications like Instagram, MoreLomo and Tumblr get heavy use even though they are not as technically full-featured as alternatives on the desktop. In these cases, less process is exactly equal to more creative output. That is to say, less steps equals more usage. There is less impedance between my creative experience and the subsequent expression.

On that note..

Extending this lens to music making, there are remarkably far more steps to writing a compete song in Reason than there are to singing a song and recording it. To be clear, I am not saying one is easier or requires less skill. There are all sorts of classes one could take in singing to hone the expression of it. However, the state of expression largely will remain the same (just more refined and sophisticated). The same cannot be said for an art form which is proportionately more technical in nature, such as electronic music production, which is at the mercy of the software developers and how they interpret our workflow, if we are lucky enough that they do so at all. Relating it to singing, this means that there can be many busy-work computer-based steps before intent meets voice. Impedance.
Recently, as an experiment, I tried making a song in Ableton Live from start to finish, instead of the back and forth I usually do between Ableton Live and Reason. While I am very proficient in Reason (and in my opinion, that software is really, really well thought out), I found I was spending a lot of time (and process / steps) in Reason getting sounds that I really liked, whereas I was spending relatively little in Ableton Live. I ended up finishing a song I was happy with in 3 sessions over a weekend; compare that with the 1-6 month process I spent in Reason on each song, and you get the idea.

What happens when an idea takes a long time to express?

I find the longer an idea takes to express, the more it is at risk of losing its raison d’être; that is, each idea has a reason for existence – an essence. Each revision can either make it deeper and better, or wider and weaker – less focussed. A lot of musical and design ideas have depth in simplicity from the get-go, and more time spent on it can be equal to the gradual destruction of the idea itself. Does this sound silly or does it sound like science? I’d be curious to hear other people’s ideas on how to preserve idea integrity for maximum expression.

How broad is this topic?

I realized that when I had been thinking about this topic over the last two months, it’s pretty deep, and I likely will not be dropping it after I make this post. I am sure I will be revisiting this as I apply the concept to different areas.
One area it got me thinking about was today’s Federal Election. I saw some numbers from the previous election which mentioned there were more Canadians on Facebook than there were at the polling booths. That said a few things to me:

  • Canadians are addicted to facebook
  • Canadians could be apathetic about voting because they think everything is fine
  • Canadians could be apathetic about voting because it’s too annoying to go out and do it – we can do our taxes online, why can’t we vote online?
  • Canadians could be apathetic about voting because they think they cannot have an effect on change anyway – the process has the ability to hide their opinion

That list could go on. I’m sure there’s lots to add. Having voted in the Advance Poll last week, I am not standing in lines in the rain to do so today, but I can see how unappealing that would be to a lot of people. Last week I went to the wrong polling station and barely squeaked in before 8 PM to the correct polling station, a 15 minute walk away from where I was (which was 5 minutes from my home.) I don’t consider going out to vote to be a big deal, but with everything else online, why isn’t voting yet? I get the points about security, but I’d counter with the fact that there are some pretty smart security experts out there who could get it done right. I figure that the less steps there are to formally expressing yourself in a modern democratic nation, the better the process will reflect those who it must serve.
Today, I’m not so sure the lack of online voting is a problem, but it might be a part of a Gladwell-esque tipping point scenario. At this stage of my life, most of the friends who I’ve talked to who do not vote are doing so to make a point – they do not believe in the system or the process. I’m not sure how much I do either, but I do see the opportunities for improvements.

Join the Conversation


  1. Heya.
    -sneak in creative concepts with easily accessed media.
    – if it merits – revisit with the big art canon’s.
    That has been a format this past while for location scouting and concept forming. I know it may not apply to what your saying all the way – but I have realized that the concept sometimes doesn’t need to be fully formed to be enjoyed and processed mentally.
    Unfurling the idea – finding out if it has wings – and then mobilizing to mine out more is typically an exercise of widening, or eliminating most of or all of my original idea. Start with an idea, follow the mistake, or happenstance, or discovery – and let it create itself.
    My iphone has been integral to keep me engaged and is a direct pre-produciton tool to the greater projects. I like the little one too – but wow does it help to go – SHIT! – look at THAT! take a shot – take a note – and back in the lab start thinking about how it may work in other ways too.
    Facebook gets me involved and closer to people I want to be closer too. Industry people in other countries I would not normally meet, the adjacent disciplines. Its all relevant in creating steam about the work. I find I can’t get much inspiration from local work sometimes, and so yes, my artistic/ professional development is enhanced by social media.
    I’m ranting. I’m sorry. I love you.

  2. I’d also be interested to hear others’ thoughts on how to maintain integrity/intention over time, and through many iterations/edits/distillations….
    I’ve heard that good writing/design/art/whatever is less about the quick passionate dumping of thoughts, and more about revise, revise, revise, distill, distill, distill….. but I also have a hard time maintaining the nugget of truth that triggered the passion to create in the first place.
    Involve a CLIENT, and the process becomes even more difficult to control, but unfortunately, unlike music or art, design is almost never practiced for the sake of the design itself, so those pesky clients are here to stay…

  3. This isn’t as lofty as writing music or taking beautiful photos the way you do, but my form of self-expression for a long time was through blogging. And then came Facebook and parenthood, around the same time (mid 2007). I’m not sure if there’s a chicken-egg thing going on there, but over the past three years I have become progressively less active on my blog and more active on Facebook. (Thank heavens for blog/note imports).
    Facebook is much faster than blogging, for me. I’m already logged in much of the time, and I only have to come up with a few lines of half-baked notion instead of a more defensible or descriptive set of paragraphs.
    As for the online voting thing… this year the Census will be available to complete online. Maybe they didn’t need to ditch the long form after all!

  4. I’ve had the same realizations about impedance. There is a striking difference about how much I get done using Adobe Premier vs. iMovie. One involves a lot of process, one is quick and easy. Perhaps this is related to the increasing speed of communication and lowering of attention span. The quick transitions or shots from tv, radio, techno and a busy life has given us less time to focus on the creative. I always adopt simple, easy to use technologies whereas when there is a steep curve I know that there will be resistance creatively. Thanks for the insightful post.

  5. I think I can summarize your thoughts, your feelings towards creative impedance and why Canadians don’t vote to the degree they use Facebook with one word:
    Its thick-as-mud disabling of me prevents me from doing a lot of things, save for thinking about it. I’ll sit on my arse and wonder why I’m not doing something I like doing, rather than just thinking about it. Once I’m actively participating I wonder why I wasn’t before, and if it will be easier to just get up and do it the next time. Inertia is a powerful obstacle, and it is only our motivation and energy for doing something differently that breaks us free.

  6. …and further to your point, if there is an easier or shorter distance to cover between inaction and achieving the goal of your action, the easier it is to break free of inertia.
    Such as is your point between shooting with your iphone (which is in your pocket and instantly uploadable despite quality loss) versus dslr.
    Moreover, why people like you and me are more inclined to tweet and facebook than write blog posts these days… That’s the case with me at least. Too. Much. Work. I feel like I need to stretch, have a meal and zone-in before blogging, and thus it happens rarely these days.

  7. I totally agree with Michael: sometimes a good idea just needs immediate execution/documentation, regardless of the level/depth of fidelity, and then the follow-up and development of the idea—the exploration of it—happens under more scrutiny and greater, more intentional focus. When I think about it, this has always been the process of any creative pursuit I’ve ever embarked upon or participated in.
    We are first inspired by something loose and raw, and then we find ways to refine it and evolve it as the idea itself evolves our consciousness. We develop a relationship with it as we peer through different and more powerful lenses at it… and it peers right back at us.
    The only way we can maintain any level of integrity is to retain that initial spark of curiosity, and stay true to our vision. Obviously this is an abstract process, and the methods through which it is performed are unique to every individual.
    The key is this:
    In all my own studies in graphic design, music, and the organisation of any kind of information, the bottom line is always to remove everything except what’s absolutely essential.
    Then, just put it out there. Hit Return/Enter.

  8. The main way I express myself is through blog posts. I want to become a game designer and writing blog posts helps me flesh-out some of the ideas and concepts. Though sometimes I feel that some good ideas do get perverted by the essay structure, especially if it is a persuasive piece. I think it has more to do with the versatility of the medium than the work-flow complexity.
    For example, if I were advocating the use of game-play structures as a narrative and/or emotive agent. I might be inclined to pitch the idea in simple terms before actually explaining the idea properly. In addition, explaining a mechanical/artistic concept to someone is very difficult (when you apply your own way of looking at it, you develop your own vocab that no one else knows) and actually persuading someone of the feasibility of a complex concept using connotations is even more difficult.
    I find that the language tends to impede more than the creation process. Sometimes the creation process actually helps the idea to evolve.

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