“What kind of music do you make?” While socialising at parties, I quietly wish sometimes that I don’t have to answer that question. My elevator pitch is hopeless. Because where do I start? It would be really nice if I could just say that I work with one style, one instrument, one band or ensemble. How do I explain in a few words what my solid classical music education, combined with a fondness for soul and electronic music, led to? It’s not a clear and uniform sound, and the choices I make are not logical to everyone.
Sometimes people criticise me that I don’t have a clear style. It is true that my creatures are moving into all kinds of directions and they are not always easy to label. With me, you never know what will be next. And this is not clever when it comes down to marketing. But as a human being, I am constantly evolving, and so is my music. I used to think that maybe I am still trying to find ‘my style’, and that whenever I find it, then I will stay with that. Until I realized not so long ago that my development will probably never be ‘finished’. Does this mean I might never stick to a clear style?
In the past few months I studied a course about positive disintegration by Lotte van Lith. Positive disintegration is a personality theory by Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski, and has similarities with the theory of self-realization by Maslov. Positive disintegration is a quest from the ego to the self: the development from an individual to a personality. A strong individual operates when he conforms to a group, education or society. A strong personality is self-created, self-determined, self-aware. This development is stimulated by inner conflicts. According to the theory, you should not try to eliminate conflicts, but rather see them as an invitation to learn, grow and become more self-aware.
The theory distinguishes different development layers which are influenced by different factors. One of those factors is a hypersensitivity to stimuli. This sensitivity and the experience of associated emotions gives room to talents, such as creativity and empathy, but also to a certain vulnerability. In this light, labels like ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, burn-out and depression are not illnesses that we have to heal, but rather signals that something important is coming through and asking for attention: personal values that have not yet been seen and lived, but which are likely to come to the surface.
Conflicts as a driving force for personal development, with an important role for emotions in this process. When I read about this for the first time, I connected the dots. The struggles in mine and other people’s lives are not useless! They serve a wonderful purpose: to find meaning as a deeper, firm layer under temporary experiences of happiness or grief. A process which reveals what really matters in your life, a movement from survival to openness to experience. Especially since the past ten years, I recognise positive disintegration as an active force in my life. Also in my musical development, and I would like to demostrate this with a few examples.
My time as a classic soprano. Classical music is rather high-brow, but fully integrated into society. But it comes with so much history and tradition, that generally only a few artists can afford to diverge from the standard. The Floating Diva was an original idea in itself, but within the singing repertoire there was little room for interpretation with my own musical creations. The audience expects Puccini and Mozart in the way that ‘it should be’.
After a couple of years, I got the desire to create music myself again. But there was also hesitation. Could I really do that? Am I not just a nice singer, should I not leave composing to others who are so much better? Who am I, that I suddenly want to start doing this at 33? In the end I surpassed my own expectations and did something I never thought I would ever do: release a CD with self-written and self-produced songs.
Cool, I have my own CD now! But in the music business, you have to fight for your place and media attention. Before I knew it, I had become my own marketing agency and dragged my piano back and forth to play shows. There was no time anymore to write new music. I was busy trying to adapt to what the music industry expects from musicians: perform as much as possible and manage your online presence; make sure to show that you are successful and doing well.
Performing on my own with just the piano I found a bit boring, I missed the rich arrangements and the grooves. Then I discovered the loop station. This revealed a new way of composing to me and I enthusiastically started to experiment. From now on, the creative process was number one. In my lyrics I suddenly started to question social issues. I found out that this music was much closer to my own truth, but had less connection with the mainstream audience. This was pretty confronting.
In the meantime I had created an inner compass that told me: this is exactly what you have to do now. You don’t know yet where it’s all going, not everyone understands this, you don’t yield recognition, but it is the only way. Going back is not an option anymore. I followed my creative instinct, started developing other skills and was no longer concerned with what might or might not be successful. If you want a lot of views on YouTube, you can be clever and record a cover of, for instance, Lade Gaga. I chose to record a cover of 4hero.
And in the meantime I also took another turn. To experience ultimate flow, I also like to make disco and rare grooves edits.
To be honest: creating something new gives me more satisfaction than being on the stage with the same show over and over again. But the good thing is, thanks to the internet you are always just a mouse click away from your potential audience. If you belong to a niche, you can search the whole world to find like-minded souls. This way I connected with the international live looping community, made memorable musical trips to the USA and Mexico, and felt empowered by them to keep doing what I do. And gradually I am developing a more and more self-aware, autonomous and authentic style.
I am a soprano who sang in night clubs and on the water, as well as a singer-songwriter who prefers to play with electronics rather than an acoustic instrument, as well as a producer of edits who is not a deejay herself. It may seem like I’m searching, but nothing is less true. My personal process is so intimately connected to what I make, that the divergent and changing aspects of my personality will always continue to resonate through. And to me, this is the intrinsic value of the creative process.
In this result-oriented world it is not always obvious that the personal, creative process is valued in its own right if it has no economic value. Sometimes these two coincide very nicely. Sometimes they do not, or not immediately. But that does not make it less worthwhile for yourself to go through such personal development. Everything I experience and go through may simply ‘just be’, and does not always have to be explained or result into something.