Let’s try an exercise. I want you to think about writing a song. Any subject you like. Every instrument is available to you. Take as long as you need.
Depending on who you are, you might currently be paralyzed, with no idea where to begin.
Now, what if I said that you had five minutes and a kazoo, and I want you to think about writing a song in honor of the long-lost alien race that once inhabited Planet 51 Pegasi B?
Odds are you're breathing a bit easier (or at least you know what questions to ask yourself getting started). Why? Because for many of us, when given constraints we find ourselves more capable of creativity.
“It’s really awesome to be limited [when making music] because it really forces you to think outside the box… you end up sampling with your keyboard — trying to get it to twist and turn into a way you haven’t heard a keyboard sound before.”
Paradoxically, when we are given complete freedom to create, we tend to find ourselves wholly uncreative. Our brains instinctively focus on coming up with a solution inherently designed around what’s worked best before. Why create a new path when, historically, there’s already one carved out for us?
Of course, this isn’t unique to humans. Everything takes the path of least resistance: water, electricity, gravity. . . Google maps.
However, an interesting thing happens to our creative output when when those well-paved paths begin to be bound with limitations. When we have less to work with, psychologists have found that we actually begin to see the world differently. Constraints command our brains to see things in unfamiliar ways, to connect unexpected dots, and to explore uncharted territory.
It’s hard to imagine that things like a smaller budget, fewer resources, or less allotted time could be factors that would actually create a hotbed of innovation for a creative person. But for Music Producer, DJ, drummer, and EXPLO Instructor-in-Residence Stephen Levitin, creative outcomes happen most frequently in spaces designed with constraints and limitations.
Here are some really interesting (and some just fun) links that we have been recently indulging in to learn more about creative constraints.
- A strangely therapeutic video on how a classic constraint, the chain, is made. 10/10. Would recommend.
Famous — and hilariously charming — Amy Sedaris gives us a treasured video tour into her theatrical one-bedroom home where she discusses how small living arrangements allow for healthy risk taking. Rabbit chews your couch? That's cool. Don’t get rid of the couch. Turn it into art. I’ll let Amy take it from here.
For all those wondering why “STOP” was inserted in the old fashioned telegrams at the end of sentences, look no further to learn about this unexpected limitation.
Practice creative business management in Dinosaur Island, a board game where you’ll hire research and marketing specialists, construct park enclosures, shops, and restaurants, and mop up the blood as your dinos inevitably run wild and maul visitors into a fine pulp.
Looking to unlock any door? Practice the basics of lock-picking.
- For the up-and-coming DJ, these percussion and synthesizing pocket operators are small, ultra portable music devices that allow you to make studio-sounding tracks on the go. Mind=blown.
At EXPLO, liberal arts takes many forms, exercises, and events. Just a few EXPLO experiences that encourage students to empower their own ideas include:
- Course: Collaborate with Stephen "Apple Juice Kid" Levitin in out of-the-box ways during your Beat Making + Music Production course (grades 10-12)
- Weekend Trip: Try out rock climbing for the first time, a sport that prides itself on having very few paths of least resistance (grades 4-7, 8+9)
- Workshop: Discover the power that improvisational theater has on cognitive development, problem-solving, and creative risk-taking during your afternoon workshop (grades 4-7, 8+9, 10-12)
- Course: In Game Theory in the Real World, explore the art of conflict and cooperation through the lens of mathematical models (grades 10-12)
- Activity: Participate in Morning Workout League, where the only control is showing up on time. Your coach will take care of the rest (grades 10-12)
- Weekend Trip: Learn about the city of Boston and its rich history through an unusual — but surprisingly very informative! — lens: a world-renowned pizza tour (grades 4-7, 8+9)
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