Sunday, April 11, 2010

The realm of infinite possibility

When I was in college, I imagined something I called the realm of infinite possibility. It contained every word, every note, every everything, in every possible combination. I liked to think about this when I needed to write a paper for class. Writing was always a struggle, but somewhere in the realm of infinite possibility, the ideal paper already existed. I just needed to discover it.

I found this idea comforting.

It didn't occur to me until years later that, if the possibilities are truly infinite, there's more than one version of whatever it is you're trying to create. I realized this after I started writing songs. The process is so random.

For instance. The song I'm currently working on has a melody and a basic sense of what it will be about, but almost nothing in the way of actual lyrics. Tonight, while taking a shower, I thought of a few lines for the last verse. They involved hiding from the world by locking myself in the bathroom and taking a bath.

Obviously, my immediate environment inspired the lines. If I had been somewhere else, or if I hadn't been thinking about the song at that moment, the last lines would have turned out completely different.

Some physicists believe there are alternate universes for every potential happening. In this universe I stopped at Trader Joe's after rehearsal, but in some alternate universe I went straight home. If it were possible to observe myself in the alternates, I'd spend half my time thinking, "Wait, the song isn't supposed to go like that," or, "Shoot, that's better than the way I wrote it."

I find this idea disconcerting.

When I write a song, I try to chase down the best lyrics possible. If some other me could think of something better, or even just as good, how do I know when to declare myself satisfied with what I've done?

This is the point where I decide not to think about it anymore.


Jannie Funster said...

Cool thought on those alternate universes, they are infinite, I guess?

I try no to edit myself at all when new song is coming in, just let as much flow as possible. Then my real work begins when I tell myself it's time to take all the brainstorming and hone. There are onny a few songs, even after recorded i think are done. I probably need to get over that! :)

I love how bathing can let ideas in, back to the pre-birth us, I suppose all cocconed in water. :)

Hope all is awesome in your realm!


cinderkeys said...

My realm now contains Singing for Dummies, thank you!

I think my head would explode if I tried to make myself not edit. But yeah, the shower is a great place to think. It's also a great place to not think. This is why it's impossible to take a shower that's less than 15 minutes long. :)

kylben said...

This reminds me of an Onion-esque article I once wrote based on two premises: first, that any piece of information, text, audio, video, etc, can be mapped to a set of numbers by any of an essentially infinite number of algorithms (this is what computers do, except they use one of only a few standardized algorithms), and second that any random string of numbers has an A of X odds of being mappable to some given piece of information (a million monkeys/Shakespeare).

If you have an infinite string of numbers, there is a 100% chance that somewhere in there is every piece of information that ever has or ever will exist, you just have to figure out which algorithm.

So in the article, the world was in a mad rush to find, for instance, nude pictures of famous historical figures in the digits of Pi, academic papers on future technology in the digits of the square root of two, etc.

So, start calculating "e" (2.718....), your next song is in there somewhere if you just find the right algorithm for teasing it out.

David Powell said...

...and even if you don't find a song, you might stumble upon the FTL jump coordinates for Earth.

cinderkeys said...


I've wondered if there was a way to compute, for really real, the probability that two people would write a song with the same melody and the same lyrics.

When unknown songwriters have accused famous songwriters of plagiarizing their stuff, the defense has been that the famous songwriter simply came up with song independently. I'd love to know the probability.