How do you stay innocent?

Hi, I recently listened to episode 78 of Jamie Lidell’s podcast Hanging Out with Audiophiles in which he had Kieran Hebdan/Four Tet as a guest. I found it very inspiring and there were a number of talking points that I could relate to.

One that I found was interesting for further discussion here was recognizing Innocense and Experience as two different poles. The idea being that when we’re young, innocent and inexperienced we do things naively, fresh without much afterthought. We crave to gain experience – and as we mature in our arts and crafts, learn how things work and get better – we miss the innocense we once had.

I was reminded of some quote by Picasso where he said (quoting from memory): “It took me three years to learn to paint as Raphael, it took me a life to learn to paint as a child”.

So, if anyone find this interesting. What’s your experience? Is there a conflict/tension between experience and innocense? And if yes, how do we stay innocent as we move along?



Don’t overthink it. Simple as that. Knowledge or experience is not the issue but critical thought. To have the mind of a child you have to be easily inspired and just flow with the go. Don’t create art but self expression. Do it all the time in your mind, not just when you sit down to make something. After a while you can slip into that midset without thinking.

Also keep in mind that some times life will take you in a different direction so if you have too much of an agenda you might spoil it for yourself. Speaking from experience here.


I think the reason gas is such a big thing and the gear cycling in the synth community is people often try to achieve this feeling with new equipment. For a few weeks/months you can have the experience of being ‘innocent’ with regards to that price of gear. The unfamiliarity promotes play and exploration, key things I think to creating as a child.
I don’t think you need new gear to achieve this though, I think anything you can use to interrupt your ‘experienced’ workflow can lead to ‘innocence’. That could mean using non western scales, structures or rhythms, or starting at a different place in your workflow (always shape a sound first, then sequence it, then add effects? Try sequencing some effects first instead) Ask yourself how someone would approach your sound making devices of choice if they had been only given the bare minimum of information, and try to emulate that.

Basically, ask yourself what you can do to make yourself unfamiliar with music again. What can you do to promote a feeling of exploration and play.

For me, because I process a lot of acoustic instruments in my music, introducing unfamiliarity usually involves building some kind of ancient folk instrument (I’ve made occarinas, taglharpas, ancient Egyptian Reed pipes, simple whistles and flutes…) Magic usually happens when I am exploring an instrument completely new and unfamiliar to me!

I also often don’t produce any shareable work in these states of play (when was the last time you actually listened to an album made by an 8 year old??) But those ‘innocent’ musical play sessions usually inform my more ‘experienced’ music making, mainly because they remind me that the ‘correct’ way of doing things is often not the only way.


I recently found an old ipod which has my collection from circa 10-15 years ago on it right at the time I was touring in my band all the time, meeting loads of new bands and, critically, the ipod contains loads of small bands first releases and so that’s all I’m listening to at the moment.

It always strikes me how powerful a bands first release often is is. Raw, imperfect, lyrics that resonate without being overthought. You can almost hear the lack of thinking about who the listener is - there is no listener when a band makes their first EP or album.

So I think that’s one aspect that stays with me - forgo any preconceived ideas of who the listener is and what they might expect. Do what resonates with you. Be selfish. I keep trying to do this, with varying success.

Worst case scenario, you make music no one likes, except for you.


Oh, I struggle with this a lot. I identified as a “forever young” person for a long time, but a couple years ago I took a self-reflective turn and found myself feeling bitter, cynical, and hardened. No fun. And it doesn’t look very good on me.
My first thought brings to mind Zen teachings like Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” or Seung Sahn’s “Only Don’t Know.” Jiddu Krishnamurti has also written about this.
Mostly I think about eschewing “knowledge” which would be sort of like taking experience as proof of lasting truth, and instead learning to say “it was like that before, it’s like this now.” With an emphasis on the now. Trying to keep a fresh perspective.
I think as a child we are constantly learning new things, but novelty isn’t the only influence – there are usually people intentionally giving us a playful environment. Culturally (for me) growing up has meant getting more serious, and I’ve always hated that. But my life is no longer oriented towards fun unless I make it so. I try to spend time with people who help me feel playful, and work jobs where I can be playful. It seems to me that the dominant forces of adulthood are awfully serious with lots of energy enforcing that seriousness, and I need to put comparable energy into promoting childlike and joyful behaviors in myself.
There’s an activity in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way which involves taking one’s inner artist/child on a date once a week, and nobody else is invited. This has been particularly difficult during the pandemic lockdowns, but it can be as simple as playing with paints or stickers, or going on a walk and collecting five things I see that “spark joy.” Something that makes me feel like I’m having fun and allowing myself to play.
Also, therapy has helped me a lot!


Wow, how wonderful to see Seung Sahn mentioned here…

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to study with him and some of his students in Cambridge when I was in high school, and later when I spent a year in Providence at RISD…

Truly an amazing teacher!



I work on the assumption that our soul doesn’t have an age. I think that’s why many of us don’t believe we are old until we look in the mirror or sit in a chair.

Passion is a driving force which is why at 66 I can still climb mountains in the winter and ski down them. Usally I climb around 200,000 vertical feet during a ski season. A bit less than I used to however.

I have a friend at 72 does about the same and is an inspiration to see him still at it.

If music is your passion, you will keep at it and keep exploring new territory.


I like your attitude!

61 here and still going (relatively) strong!!!


I’ve thought about this in relation to what I think I know and don’t question while creating. Doing things “the way they’re supposed to be done” even when it feels a little off is lame. I have to remind myself that music theory is explaining music that worked in one culture, not guidelines to follow rigidly. Making an effort to ask “Why?” for the things I think I understand as often as the things I know I don’t understand.


Good to see so many chiming in. It’s interesting to hear your different perspectives and angles on this.

I find the word innocent interesting. I assume that the linking of innocense with children has some religious origin, such as innocent = free from sin. Innocent is also what we use for “not guilty”. Which makes sense, since a big part of experience and growing up is about learning the different rulebooks in life, what’s good and bad practise. Children are forgiven for not knowing better.

So, breaking the rules could be one way to stay “innocent”, or at least pretending to be. I have a book by adman Dave Trott called “Creative mischief” which sort of implies that creativity is about stretching the limits of what’s acceptable/good taste and so forth.

There’s something very interesting about keeping a beginner’s mind. And as always I see an opportunity to link this discussion to Brian Eno’s ideas of control/surrender – which seems like a fitting analogy to experience/innocense.

(Today I also stumbled across last years thread The Joys of Talentlessness which has quite few thoughts that touch on this.)


Be daft and have a laugh. Think Aphex Twin is a good example of this, although his music is technically very impressive - it’s mostly
melodic silly nonsense - which is dead fun. His most well known track is a pisstake of prodigy isn’t it?


Speaking of exploration and asking questions, I’ve been recently considering how this quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty relates to the process of making art in general and music in particular:

We just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put. ( §341)

Along these lines, it might help to consider: What are the questions I am asking when I am making music? That is to say, what am I bringing to the listener’s attention in my music? What are some other questions I might explore? In the questions I’ve been asking, what are the assumptions I’ve built into my music? How might these assumptions be uncovered, possibly by turning them into new questions that will be hinged on other assumptions that I can then later explore (and so on and so forth)?

As I understand it, Wittgenstein wanted to fix a lot of philosophical practices that were arguably based on a bunch of very bad assumptions, mostly about language. Among other things, applying the lessons of Wittgenstein’s thinking about language and philosophy to the process of making music interests me because it makes me wonder about the difference between what we are doing when we are making music and what we are doing when we are not making music (e.g., just “living our lives”). Perhaps there is no difference. Or perhaps our assumptions that create this difference have some issues that need to be uncovered (here, I’m especially thinking about John Cage’s work). Or perhaps there is a fundamental difference nearly as fundamental and immutable as logic itself. Perhaps this difference relates to art’s ability to uncover assumptions that we normally take for granted, assumptions that prevent us from seeing the world more truthfully.

Coming back to the question of innocence and experience (or the experience of innocence?), I am reminded of Sergei Diaghilev’s challenge to Jean Cocteau: Etonne-moi! (“Astonish me!”). As a child of a developmental pediatrician, I can say with very little authority (but a good amount of imagination) that children experience the world with innocence because, aside from all the tremendous amount of stuff they got from nature, innocence is what they got. What children express of their experience is frequently expressed with a great deal of astonishment. A child’s astonishment about their world and their ability to express their astonishment so beautifully is this thing that artists seem to value so greatly. However, I feel compelled to remind us about the things children do not express for whatever reasons, the things that remain secret for better or (more often than not) for worse. When thinking about childhood, I strongly believe we must always remember that, in addition to being beautiful and amazing, being a child can also be full of really, really fucking scary experiences, experiences that some of us have not and maybe will not ever recover from fully.

Coming back to the topic at hand, I would like to suggest that the great value of art, of art that astonishes in particular, does not arise simply and solely from the expression of something new and unique, created from a standpoint of innocence. Instead, or in addition, I imagine it comes from the expression of something deeply truthful, truthful not in some abstract way of thinking but in some deeper, more worldly, concretely rooted, entangled and messy way of being, of consideration, of care, and of love.



Just do what I do - don’t practice, be lazy, don’t strive, stay clueless. Basically be crap. Easy to sound inexperienced when you don’t have any :slight_smile:

Being serious - it’s very hard. For my job, I am required to stay fresh. To be the innocent irrational person who’s not afraid of trying anything and doesn’t self filter. It takes its toll and leaves me mentally exhausted each day. I’d love to find a better way.


I just tend to never stick at one thing long enough to get ‘good’ at it - but I have perfected that ‘close enough for rock n’ roll’ attitude to most things artistic over the years, with imperfection being its own form of perfection. Have fun, don’t overthink it, and then move on to the next interesting thing when fun number one turns to work.


Whenever I managed to maintain that “innocence” you speak of, I think it was in moments in my life where I also did these two things: 1. Keep listening to new music, there’s always something interesting out there that will eventually spark your curiosity. And 2. make time for music in your life and keep some energy so that the work that’s inherent to developing a craft doesn’t end up feeling like a chore. I also listened to that episode you mentioned and found it super inspiring - it was nice to hear someone talking about electronic music-making in a way that makes you just want to make music, rather than purchase new gear :slight_smile:


Remain vulnerable and unafraid to explore and not only ask questions; but have the patience necessary to discover the appropriate answers.

Attempt the impossible at times and neglect that some questions cannot be answered.


Thanks everyone!
I appreciated reading your responses. Sometimes a look from a different angle can give you a fresh idea on an old subject. In a way, I can feel that stumbling across the Innocense/Experience and being amazed by the profoundness of it – was in a way maybe childlike and naïve. Just like small children go around in a state of wonder pointing at an ant and say: Look!

My naivety is often something that embarrasses me, but maybe it is indeed a gift. Ever so often I stumble over the same old I-IV-V progression and feel like I’ve struck gold. Maybe it’s a good thing, not to have the talent for picking things apart. Surrendering to the whole and not being able to control the pieces.

Summing up your main thoughts in some Do/Don’ts I got:
Don’t overthink it
Don’t create art, but self expression.
Don’t have too much of an agenda.
Don’t get too serious.

Interrupt your “experienced workflow”
Get lost in scales, structures and rhythms that are foreign to you.
Ask yourself, how could you be unfamiliar with music again?
Explore an instrument you don’t know.
Allow for time to “play”.
Forego any preconceived ideas of who the listener is
Try to eschew knowledge.
Try to keep an new perspective
Take your inner child on a date.
Follow your passion and keep exploring new territory.
Be daft and have a laugh.
Stay astonished, keep a sense of wonder.
Allow yourself to be crap.
Make having fun the first priority.
Keep discovering/exploring new music.
Remain vulnerable and unafraid.
Dare the impossible.
Accept that you won’t know.


Also remember - children play. Being playful is so easy it’s no wonder it’s difficult if you analyse it. :stuck_out_tongue:

If you really want to learn the secrets, spend some time with them.

I’m sure you know all this, as well as being innocent is not all there is to it. I’m quite guilty in fact, so I hope so at least.

All the best of everything to you. I hope you find your flow. :slight_smile:


I want to print out this list and put it up next to my instruments.

Fantastic topic. I just wanted to add in another small story. I had been tasked with a sort of sound design side project recently which got me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to learn an ton of things about software, plug-ins, mixing, sound design and so on. I wouldn’t have ever investigated all of this stuff unless I was tasked with the job to go learn it, experiment, and explore different sounds. I wouldn’t have found this opportunity had I not collaborated with someone else on the internet, so collaborating with another person who has a very different background from you helps a lot in interrupting an experienced workflow.

Through this side project, I dug more into Mr. Bill’s tutorial series for Ableton which has a ton of gems for sound design. I was excited to have a reason to dig through all these tutorials and apply them to my sounds to start experimenting. Then I learned he had been doing a podcast recently. In one of the episodes I put on he said that he had been losing the magic of music production since he had been doing it for so long. Stuff that used to sound novel and magical sounds mundane since he has looked behind the curtain so much. It was a funny contrast to be literally feeling that exciting beginner magic and gratitude for his tutorials while also hearing him say he’s lost a lot of that same magic.


A friend of mine point out recently that I’ve started referring to things I’m sharing with him as “experiments” rather than “beats” or “tracks” or other similar synonyms. He said he was concerned that I wasn’t viewing them as having value because he thought I was dismissing them or downplaying them by using the phrase “experiment” when in fact he felt they were the most interesting things I’d done basically forever & they sounded like I was developing a really strong individual identity that wasn’t beholden to what I’d done before.

I hadn’t thought about it consciously, but I have since realised that my approach to music really has changed with the material I’ve been creating in the past few months. When I sit down to make music - which occurs daily, at some point - I’m no longer thinking about making a track for any particular purpose or release, but rather I’m posing myself the question “what if?” and just going from there.

What would happen if I made two looping phrases, one of which was 2 bars long and one of which was identical but cut off 1/16th note shy of 2 bars? (for example)

It reminded me a lot of what @eblomquist has spoken about before regarding Zen in music and in particularly the concept of beginners mind. It’s an incredibly empowering, joyful way to experience music making and I’m at the point where I have been starting to keep notes of ideas that occur to me during the day because I literally can’t stop thinking of all the things I want to try.

I’m aware that it’s very unlikely any of the ideas are remotely new per se, but they’re things I haven’t previously tried myself and they’re things I’m often doing with iOS applications so perhaps the format is somewhat new.