Is it vain to review your own past work? Is it no more than clutching at past glory days? Mmm, could be. I've known and read of many creative musicians and artists who never listen to their old albums or view their own works, and I can appreciate the momentum gathered by hurtling ever forward in time and personal development. Unfettered by pressures to duplicate what has already been done, the artist's evolution can veer in any new direction that catches his or her ear. Sometimes it is driven by developing a genuine dislike for a sound favored earlier. The evolution of many musical pioneers is marked by such restlessness.
I have always supported the idea of pioneering, but I feel a little differently about hearing my old work. I can't say I listen to everything I've recorded; some things should never survive on tape. But the body of work I've built includes many good projects of which I'm proud to have been a part.
A few times a year, I'll pull out a recording or video I've worked on and put it on. And what do I hear? Well, of course, I hear every flaw and clam in the thing. That's the toughest part for me, frankly, but all I can do with that is swear I'll nail that stuff the next time around. (Here you see me trying hard to cheerily apply my philosophy of "pragmatic perfectionism.")
Beyond that, however, I hear a snapshot of my creative world captured in a few minutes. Earlier influences jump out at me, tricky maneuvers that worked pop up in memory as they fly by, and sometimes unrealized ideas come back to me, perhaps to finally be brought to fruition. We each establish our own personal traditions, our own musical roots. I enjoy staying in touch with mine because of the perspective I get seeing the continuity of my own inspiration.
The way I look at it, some elements of past work are simply trappings of the time or whatever the specific project was, but well-expressed creative ideas are like insights. They make up the mystery and grandeur that can be produced with sound and music and retain both their potency over time and their richness for further exploration. (Cloaking a good musical idea in different trappings holds as many possibilities as recasting a period theater piece in a different historical and cultural period.) The type of creative ideas an artist has defines the core of his or her style.
By this point, I may have convinced you that I am indeed rationalizing a distinctly unhealthy attachment to past projects. Mmm, could be. My work keeps me pretty close to the state of the art in tools, and I work a lot on interactive products, so I don't feel stuck in the past. But I admit to drawing on the past. The understanding I gain of my own creative direction serves as a foundation on which further evolution can be built.
After all is said and done about the creative benefit I draw from my past work, there is also the simple fact that I did many of these projects because I liked what we were doing, and I often still do. Some of this stuff actually came off better than I remembered it. Checking out things I made in years past strengthens me, gives me enjoyment, and fires my inspiration to continue hurtling forward.
Would I say it's a better way to go than leaving earlier work behind?
Will I laugh the next time I see that video where I throw myself backward off the drum throne at the end of the song?
Mmm, could be.