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Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent

March 21, 2016

It’s just over 33 years ago that New Order’s Blue Monday was released – 7 March 1983, and its cutting-edge electronic groove had a major influence on popular culture. But what would it have sounded like if it had been made 50 years earlier? In a special film, using only instruments available in the 1930s, from the theremin and musical saw to the harmonium and prepared piano, the mysterious Orkestra Obsolete present this classic track, as you’ve never heard it before. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHLbaOLWjpc

The song has been widely remixed, re-released and covered since its original version, and became a popular anthem in dance clubs. It is the biggest-selling twelve-inch single of all time with total sales standing at 1.25m in the UK alone. At nearly seven-and-a-half minutes is one of the longest tracks ever to chart.

The song begins with a distinctive kick drum intro, programmed on a synthesiser, which fades in a sequencer melody. The verse section features the song’s signature throbbing synth bass line, played by a Moog Source, overlaid with Peter Hook’s surging bass guitar leads. Bernhard Sumner delivers the lyrics in a deadpan manner, almost a hark back to their founding Joy Division days.

After a lengthy introduction, the first and second verses are contiguous and are separated from the third verse only by a brief series of sound effects. A short breakdown section follows the third verse, which leads to an extended outro.

The 1983 edition artwork is designed to resemble a 5¼” floppy disc. The sleeve does not display either the group name nor song title in plain English anywhere -the only text on the sleeve is “FAC SEVENTY THREE” on the spine. Instead the legend “FAC 73 BLUE MONDAY AND THE BEACH NEW ORDER” is represented in code by a series of coloured blocks. The key enabling this to be deciphered was printed on the back sleeve of Power, Corruption & Lies, the album released in the same period.

The single’s original sleeve, created by Factory designer Peter Saville cost so much to produce that Factory Records actually lost money on each copy sold, due to the use of die-cutting and specified colours. Saville noted that nobody expected Blue Monday to be a commercially successful record, so nobody expected the cost to be an issue. The artwork was so late that Saville sent it straight to the printer, unreviewed by either the band or the label.

New Order appeared on the BBC’s Top of The Pops on 31 March 1983 and insisted on performing live. The performance was dogged by technical problems, and was unrepresentative of the recording. In the words of drummer Stephen Morris, Blue Monday was never the easiest song to perform, anyway, and everything went wrong.

At the time, and even in retrospect, they were leading edge innovators and creatives. If I think about creativity and what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his unkempt hair all over the place, Edison with his light bulb, and in Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck jumper introducing the latest iThing device.

For all the innovators who have impacted our lives, it’s not just about that romantic Eureka! moment, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea in terms of getting it accepted and implemented.

Thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality. Then again, the risk-takers and the risk-averse must co-exist otherwise an organisation veers too far to one extreme or the other, and either jerks all over the place with the push-and-pull, or simply moves nowhere at all.

An effective and productive culture of innovation is like a good homemade vegetable soup – it needs to have the right mix and balance of all the ingredients, otherwise it’s unbalanced – and downright mushy.

Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons early on. Then when you hit puberty they take away the crayons and give you books, on algebra and calculus (which I liked better than crayons, but that’s a different story). Suddenly years later when get the creative bug, you want your crayons back.

Many creative geniuses are driven by anxiety and self-doubt, yet the way they create stuff, despite innovation seeming to be a random, messy outcome, is methodical. Many have routine or process that is disciplined and ordered. I discovered this disciplined approach a couple of years ago when I came across the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. In it he examines the schedules of 161 painters, writers, and composers, as well as philosophers, scientists, and other exceptional thinkers.

He hypothesised that for these geniuses, a routine was surprisingly essential to their work. As Currey puts it A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. He noted several common elements in the lives of the geniuses that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine.

Here are the highlights of structure, routine and habits that seem to enable a creative genius to do what they do:

A workspace with minimal distractions Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky door hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. Mark Twain’s family knew better than to breach his study door. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office, only his wife knew the address and telephone number.

A daily walk For many, a regular daily walk was essential to brain functioning. Soren Kierkegaard found his constitutionals so inspiring that he would often rush back to his desk and resume writing, still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick. Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck.

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed me to see the amount of time the people in Currey’s study allocated to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon). Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. Ernest Hemingway always tracked his daily word output on a chart ‘so as not to kid myself’, but left dedicated time for letter writing.

A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck Hemingway puts it well: You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. Arthur Miller said, I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.

Limited social lives One of Simone de Beauvoir’s friends put it this way: There were no parties, no receptions, no bourgeois values; it was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work. Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier borrowed the idea of Sunday as an ‘at-home day’ to enable undisrupted painting, and kept themselves to themselves.

This last habit, relative isolation, sounds much less appealing to me than some of the others, and yet I still find the routines of these thinkers strangely compelling, perhaps because they are so unattainable for me, so extreme. Even the very idea that you can organise your time as you like is out of reach for most of us.

Nancy Andreasen is a leading neuroscientist, who has studied the science of genius, trying to unpack the elements that make up the brightest creative minds. It’s not a high IQ that indicates creative genius, she’s found. In her research, Andreasen has explored the link between mental illness and creativity, finding a strong connection between the two.

In a 2014 study, Andreasen scanned the brains of 13 of the most famous scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers alive today. Her subjects included Pulitzer Prize winners, and six Nobel laureates – and filmmaker George Lucas. Andreasen delved into their family and personal histories, also studying the structural and functional characteristics of their brains using neuroimaging.

The study was challenging given how hard it is to pin down the creative process. Creativity, of course, cannot be distilled into a single mental process, and it cannot be captured in a snapshot—nor can people produce a creative insight or thought on demand she stated.

Andreasen hooked them up to an MRI scan and gave them different word association, picture association, and pattern recognition tasks. The essence of creativity is making connections and solving puzzles, she said. In her findings she has distilled some key patterns in the minds of creative geniuses. They include:

Creative people like to teach themselves rather than be taught by others. Think of all the creative geniuses who dropped out of school – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. Andreasen found that her subjects were autodidact, they preferred figuring things out independently, rather than being spoon-fed information.

Because their thinking is different, they often express the idea that standard ways of learning and teaching are not always helpful and may even be distracting, and that they prefer to learn on their own.

Many creative people love both the arts and the sciences. There’s a mentality out there that you have to choose between either the arts or the sciences in your studies and career, but Andreasen found that some of the greatest creative minds are polymaths, sharing a love for both.

Creative people persist against scepticism and rejection. When you’re coming up with new unheard-of ideas, you’re pushing against the status quo. Rejection and scepticism are inevitable. It’s what you do in the face of those that matters most.

Andreasen found that creative geniuses are resilient when presented with such scepticism. They have to confront doubt and rejection, and yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. What this persistence might breed, however, is psychic pain, says Andreasen, which can manifest as depression or anxiety.

So reflecting back 33 years and the epic release of Blue Monday which went on to serve as an inspiration and influence for countless bands and is still frequently covered and sampled, we may never know precisely where creativity comes from, why some people use their creativity more than others or why some people are most creative during specific times in their lives. How does one person end up with the right balance of brainpower, intelligence and creativity?

So you’ve got the itch to do something. Go ahead and make something. Make something really special, something amazing. Dust off your guitar, and sing in your own voice. Don’t walk in silence, don’t let a new dawn fade, I’m sure you’ll find some unknown pleasures in your creativity.

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