Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Process of Writing 3

There's a famous story in the history of science, of the chemist who was trying to work out the chemical structure of benzene (an organic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon [PAH] now used in a lot of modern technologies). Benzene had been discovered as a byproduct of oil refining, and they were trying to figure out its chemical form.

One night, this chemist went to bed, thinking about the problem. During the night, he had a dream of a snake chasing and eating its own tail. This is the classic Ouroborous symbol from alchemy, an image of a snake or dragon eating its own tail, constantly creating itself. It's a complex symbol, and is found in more than one mythology.

In the morning, when the chemist woke up, he realized that the central part of the benzene molecule was a carbon ring. This carbon ring, which is a hexagonal ring in which the carbon atoms form a circle with points for other atoms to attach at every other carbon atom, is the central molecular structure of all PAHs, and is why they're aromatic, work well as industrial enzymes in organic chemistry, and so forth. (Also why they're very toxic.)

So the chemist had a dream that solved his creative chemistry problem.

Last night, lying half-asleep sometime near dawn, after going back to bed after having gotten up to use the bathroom, I lay there and the first two pages of the final form of the new music commission became clear in my mind. Clear in every detail, all four chorus parts and the basic form of the piano entrance and accompaniment. I knew exactly how the piece was going to start out; and part of this I knew would recur as the opening of the final movement of the new music, harking back to the opening as an echo and return. (Another dragon or snake closing in one its tail, perhaps.)

So from a near-dream state, I have the piece's opening finished. I'm writing it down on score paper today, although it remains very clear in my mind.

This isn't the first time I've dreamt a poem, or piece of music, or visual image, and woken up with it vivid in my mind, waiting only to be transcribed and written down. I once had a dream of a powerful solo performance on cello; in the morning, I was able to get down the basic notes of the main melody, if nothing else. It left an impression that lingered a long time, though.

I'm sure I'll have more dreams that are completions of musical questions. Not the first, not the last.

Update, a day or so later:

I wrote down what I saw in the dream, and the sketches of piano accompaniment patterns and ideas. More ideas keep coming, now. Another moment of laying half-awake, half-asleep, gave me another module of music that could follow the initial opening of the piece. Other ideas keep coming.

At the same time, during the waking hours of the past few days, even while writing these ideas down on staff paper, I've been coping with some frustrating medical issues—a quest for clarity and certainty and answers where they may be none, or none that I like. I found myself in the waiting room at the doctor's office, music sketchbook in hand, writing music down. At least it's better than sitting there just stewing and brooding. It's funny how things get all tangled together. I feel like another poem might be coming on, soon, too. One surge of creativity in one arena often is echoed by another surge in another arena.

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Blogger Kane said...

Art Durkee! I am impressed! You dream of your art? Wow. It sounds so... beautiful. Like they came from somewhere else. Or maybe sleep allows your mind to relax and see things clearer.

I enjoyed your stories about writing. Cheers sir!


7:28 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Never happened to me. For years I could never even recall my dreams and I was always envious of those who could. Now I dream most nights, usually about work, jobs I’ve done, and family, mixing up the two, but nothing I’ve ever dreamed has made its way into a poem and I also tend to avoid having dream sequences in my writing although I did include one in Left.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

It's not something you can rely on happening regularly, or very often, but it does happen. Dream content has always been a significant component of my creative work.

I'm hardly alone in that, there's a long tradition of dreamwork art. You can find it in the anthropological and psychological literature alike.

I would love to get a copy of Jung's "the Red Book," which was his book of visions, dreams, mandalas, paintings, and writings, mostly material from the unconscious, interpreted as art. Truly inspirational.

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The chemist was Kekule. After this discovery he was called to a chemistry professorship at the University of Bonn in Germany. The chemistry instute at the time was the largest chemistry institute in the world. The building is still in use, and a part of it houses the university institute for Microbiology (I happened to study there) in the section which used to by the living quarters of Kekule. Tlaking about living in grand style......

In front of the building is a statue of Kekule, which is target of many student pranks, painting it, adding fashion outfits etc.

Now back from student days to your regularly scheduled present.


Thomas Simon

3:34 PM  

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