Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Or is it a myth ?

Did you ever dabble with any drugs and find that your compositions improved ?

I am including all legal and illegal, from caffeine upwards.

Does a cigarette help you to concentrate.

Did you write a great tune while stoned ?

And listen back to it the next day and decide it was garbage ?

Didn't the Beatles' music improve after they discovered weed (Rubber Soul) and LSD (Sgt Pepper etc) ?

Did composers of the classical period get high in German coffee parlours ?

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Everything I do now is straight. I'm very boring.

However, it could be said that once you've taken certain drugs you're never the same person again.

I'd like to say that I think slightly differently now as a result of what I did in the past and that in turn influences my musical output.

For me the experience was an awakening, but for others it is just a case of feeling mildly drowsy.
Listening is a "trip" (ha ha) when under the influence. As for composing...There's this one piece I wrote using the progarm Ballade when I was in college, I'm pretty sure I was high most of the time I was writing it and you know what? It kinda sucks! I could usually play guitar better, er well, improvise better, or thought I could improvise better on the reefers. I did write a number of songs with an old buddy of mine while influenced. They turned out sort of weird, you can listen here if you want:

http://www.myspace.com/pissketti

The psychedelic experience has certainly inflluenced some of my compositions. I like to make subjects melt away into swirling colors at times.
Beethoven spent the last months of his life suffering from what we now believe was probably lead poisoning. He was in great pain, he had to have his stomach cut open in order to release fluids ( no anaesthetic). He refused any laudanum - an opiate used for pain relief etc. Why? Because he would rather suffer torment than dull his mental capacity! He lay on his death bed making amendments to the 9th Symphony. Oh yeah he was stone deaf too. Now that's an artist!
This may annoy people but it is easy to doodle around on an instrument, write a jazz head, get a groove going, jam, play around with your DAW, while you're under the influence of whatever. But symphonic or large scale orchestral or indeed chamber music requires all the powers of concentration at your disposal. There's no doubt things may sound better when you're zonked but your jokes seem funnier too. LOL
I cant even write a little buzzed let alone on drugs. That might work for a jam session or that hippie song writer, but for concert composers it would be an absolute handicap. Since I write for performers and the concert hall, I need to be able to not just get my ideas down on paper, but notate it correctly, write it in the range of the instrument, spell what ever chords I use correctly so that it can be read, and a multitude of other things I cant imagine trying to do while under the influence.
You might be able to jot down an idea or two while high, but when it comes to the finer details I can imagine anyone being able to do that, or at least to it to the best of their ability.
You've never taken drugs I guess, Mr Zinos ?
Ok, the consensus is that drugs don't help when you are scoring a complex piece of music, but there's no doubt that some of the best jazz players/ composers ever were as high as kites a lot of the time. The question is, did it aid their writing ?

There are also people like Jimi Hendrix and a whole host of others in "low" art. Could we imagine the music of the 1960s without the drug influence ?
Lennon said that Avante Garde was "the french word for Bulls@@t"

Which is kind of ironic considering that his partner Yoko Ono did performances wailing and barking in a bag.

I think that there is a secret history concerning drugs and music. Because the topic is controversial. we don't really know which "moments of inspiration" which seem to define great music were produced under the influence.

I'm probably talking more recent times, and I'm not suggesting that JS Bach wrote the Chaconne in D minor whilst stoned.
haha I'm stoned right now and let me tell you, you can't compose when you're high hahahaha. You can write songs (probably really only at guitar, piano, or computer), but you can't compose. Up till now I've mostly written songs haha, thats changing though. The stream you need to get notes to paper is just not there, you have no short term memory or train of thought. I can barely do theory homework high and it takes me twice as long. Drugs do typically help your playing and/or performance, if used in strict moderation. Its probably a good idea in general to keep your stuff in line though.

--My Theory--

Drugs could help you understand things better if you get so good at composing that you don't have to think about the difference between what you hear and what you write, that it just happens...as writing english does. Even then it would only be good for sketching ideas I think, not by any stretch full on final copy orchestrations. Kind of goes to what kris said about not exceeding what you actually got.



About habitual users: what you and they (the audience) feel ain't the same, if you are always screwed up you're in a different place than they and are unable to really connect...unless they are habitual users.
True Confessions (true confessions, true confessions, echo, ,echo)

I actually used to have a bit of a problem (that's the beauty of using a screen name that is not my real name, I can come out with this stuff). I stopped a little over two years ago. Magically, about a year and a half ago I started composing again and have been cranking em out like never before, and my compositions are ten times better now. I have written 4 multi-movement works, recorded a "concept album", and several short chamber pieces since May of 2009. Coincidence? Perhaps...probably not.
As far as morality goes, I don't have anything against drugs. I think they should all be legalised. However, I don't partake of them myself (I can't afford them for one thing), neither do I partake of drink (the medication that is prescribed to me wouldn't work properly if I was to drink). Therefore, the only substances that I indulge in is energy drinks, coffee and cigarettes. They are my comfort zone and I couldn't compose without them, but then again, I couldn't do anything without them except sleep and take a shower. My doctor also prescribes me valium which I take just before I go to bed. If I was to take that and try and compose, I would fall asleep at my desk and my legs would fill up with water due to the primary lymphodoema condition that I am sustaining.

However, during my A'levels, myself and my fellow music students would throw the occasional party where we would all bring our instruments, and jam through the night under the influence of many things, mainly alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis and sometimes even magic mushrooms (not useful for jamming). I personally found myself, under the influence of alcohol and speed able to improvise very well on the piano and drums, purely because of the confidence and energy provided for me by these substances.

But for serious orchestral composition, it has to be a clear head. No question.
I agree with all you are saying, except for you not classing tobacco as a drug. It is certainly one of the most addictive ever known and it does have a powerful effect to the non-initiated. (ie a non-smoker who takes a big inhalation of nicotine will really feel a rush to the head). I suspect that to the user it has a poweful effect too, but you just get too acquianted with it, like all drugs.

Nobody has mentioned the long term effect of drugs. Does anybody agree that after having taken powerful halucinogens, you are never quite the same person again and it sort of matures your approach to life ?


Adrian Allan said:
Nobody has mentioned the long term effect of drugs. Does anybody agree that after having taken powerful halucinogens, you are never quite the same person again and it sort of matures your approach to life ?

That's a difficult question because there is no possible way to compare how I am now to how I might have turned out. It's all guess work. I am more mature now, but that probably has a lot to do with getting older. That being said, hallucinogens do let you step outside of yourself and view your personality as an object, or something along those lines. It let me see how certain strategies I used to get what I wanted were pretty fruitless. But then again, everything you do changes you.

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