Creation's Cold, Slow Ferment

January 31, 2022 

Sometimes I think the creative process is like an experimental batch of sourdough bread. 

I tried very high hydration – 80-85% - and wound up with an extremely loose and sticky dough, just beyond the consistency of batter. I could only do the first folding with a wide spoon. It would not let go of my fingers. 

There was a point where I was actually afraid of it. 

But you have to let it rest and let the chemistry of the gluten and the biology of the bacteria do its work. Let it sit and let it generate. Then the salting, and another two rounds of folding. Then into the fridge for the cold, slow, overnight ferment. 

The following afternoon I took it out. It looked happy at twice the size it was when I first put it in, all pillowy and bubbly throughout. It looked eager for the forming and the bake. 

Oh, yes. I was talking about the creative process. I get distracted by food. 

The creative process, that part when the initial mixture looks like it’s not going to work and you say to yourself, “This is shit.” 

I’m in good company. Hemingway said that about first drafts. 

The patient action of fermentation is absolutely necessary. Without it we don’t get cheese, chocolate, wine, beer, kimchi, yogurt, and bread, among so many other things. It’s like cross-pollination, for those of us who like to collaborate. 

Let it rest. Let it grow. 

More often than not, I have to free myself of preconceived notions of how something should go, or how I want it to go. 

What comes out, in the end, is still bread, or a song, or a drawing, or whatever. In this case, the result of rest changed my expectations. 

So out of the kitchen, and into the music room, which in my case, happens to be wherever I’ve put my guitar. 

A friend and I decided on a collaboration of ideas for our own songs: structure, chords, notes, melodies, tonal centres, and theme. “Astrophysics of the Heart” using the notes C, E, and G# (an augmented chord for you theory geeks out there). Not only that, we said we’d use both duple and triple time. 

I had a sequence already in mind, and I tried to work with it. The harder I tried, the more dissatisfied I became. (Yes, you can insert a Stones joke here). 

Nothing gelled. Frustrated, I let it alone for a couple of weeks. 

I thought, toss it. What else can I do? 

I returned to it and decided to use single notes in a melody instead of a chord sequence. 

Freed from the strictures of my own preconceived ideas of how the song should go, what began as a nod to a Django Reinhardt groove in Swing 42 turned into something sounding like a tune from a Broadway musical. I liked it. It had legs. And it’s going well enough that I have a complete melody. 

Now for the words... 

The creative process for me, then? 

Write, work with it, know when you’re working against it and stop, put it in the metaphorical cooler and allow it to ferment slowly in the fridge bottom of your unconscious. And see what happens when you take it out again. 

The cold, slow rise. Chill out. 

Oh, and the bread was, in the words of a good friend, “To die for.”

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