Collaborative writing – music and words

Nicolas Chapel (of Demians) on music and writing:

In a band you always compound with the egos of the others. If you write a book you don’t leave the choice of the verbs to one author and the choice of the adjectives to another one.

The context for this is that he sings, writes and performs all the music of his albums. Live he has a band, but not on the recordings. He does manage to make it sound very organic, with interplay between the instruments that is difficult to achieve when it is one person. I’m not sure that music and literature are entirely different although it’s certainly true that there are few co-authored novels or poems. What’s interesting about his quote is that he doesn’t seem to see the ‘writing’ and ‘performing’ for an album as separate – there are plenty of bands with a single songwriter, so his point has to be about the entire creative process. In books where there is a distinct division of labour, because different skills are needed – illustrated books, for instance – collaboration is much more common. To take one example, I didn’t draw the maps in Terror and Territory.

I’ve done a little collaborative writing, where the words chosen were shared between two or more people. This has mainly for a few journal articles, though the State, Space, World book of Lefebvre’s writings was effectively co-written, in a way that was noticeably different from other co-edited books or translations. My rough criteria for a collaborative venture are that it’s something I want to write, but can’t write on my own. If either of those are not the case, then experience tells me I should avoid it. I’ve never been involved in a collaborative project where the work required was simply the total work for an article divided by the number of those doing it. Usually it feels in the region of 75% or more per person, so collaboration creates extra work, because of the need for discussion, compromise and revision. So it has to be for good intellectual reasons, with a recognition that it probably won’t ‘count’ for much. State, Space, World has received very little attention as far as I can tell, and there was no chance of collaborative articles being included in an RAE or REF submission. (I appreciate this is different in different disciplines, or even parts of disciplines – such as physical geography compared to the areas I work in.)

To return to the musical parallels, my main ‘band’ is my single-authored work… collaborations are like side-projects. They are no less valuable, sometimes produce better results, and generally lots of fun, but they are not the main event. They are chances to try out different things, different styles of writing, ideas and so on. There are perhaps three or four collaborators I’d really like to work with again, if time allows.

I am sure there is much more to say about this.

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3 Responses to Collaborative writing – music and words

  1. Max says:

    Hello,
    The correct quote (taken from his myspace bio) is:
    “But the way I see music is like writing a book: it would not be better if one author picked the verbs and another one the adjectives”.
    The “it would not be better” part i guess is the most important, and makes the interpretation different. I’ve seen many interviews where he is just saying that his way of writing is not better or worse than any other, that the ending product would not be better but just different if it was shared with other people. I think it’s important in the way he describes, because he never implies that collaborative works are bad.

    Just saying.
    Best

    • stuartelden says:

      thanks for this. i think there must have been an earlier translation up there before, as I simply copied what was on the page. thanks for spotting this.

  2. Pingback: Collaborative writing via music | Thinking culture

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