Great music comes with great design

Good music, is good design.

It’s important to realise the virtues of design in music. While “design” is a term used very loosely by almost everybody I come into contact with nowadays — some use it to refer to presentation slides layout, others use it to talk about architecture, and yet others refer to the development of curriculum courses — they all boil down to something really very common — to make sense of our human-human & human-object interactions. Yes, that would also mean that without a carefully thought-through design, music would be senseless.

That sounds like quite a lot of work to do as a composer. It is. But once you get the hang of design, work becomes simpler and faster. However, it is still imperative even at a high level of proficiency, and a skilled composer should continue reaching for greater heights in musical design, not stopping at an any arbitrary level.

While it’s an abstract concept, musical design basically means well-planned, well-thought through process of creating, crafting a musical work. I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking and self-searching lately about how to leave a stylistic fingerprint in my works, and I think design would definitely be one of the ways for a composer to leave his signature in his works for others to appreciate. Perhaps if it’s too hard a concept to grasp, let us look at musical design analogically from the perspective of industrial design.

I’ve read / watched videos about Industrial design — mainly focusing on product design which can be mass-manufactured for millions of peoples’ consumptions. One of the product designers whom I hold great admiration for is Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun. The reason I look up to him is because I see him as an enlightened designer who can qualify very specifically idealistic features of product design, and really implement it into his craft. People have compiled a list of 10 of his quotes on “Principles of Good Design“:

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design makes a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design makes a product understandable
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is long-lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

Good design is not at all mutually exclusive from music. Composers should see themselves as musical designers. It would not be far-fetched for me to base the ideals of good musical design on Ram’s principles.

Good that I am thinking actively and asking myself what I am really doing in music composition. This happens whenever I start working on pieces and composing seriously. It’s amazing how much there is to learn, and how much there is to refine — all the details — within just a single piece of composition. I think, if I do not discipline myself and set a deadline to complete a piece, I would probably never ever be able to finish it in time before I leave this world! True enough, there are so many fine details within music that culminates in a refined ideal listening experience.

Because music, ultimately, is a shared experience.

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