Limitless voices in my head / audiation

i’ve been studying music as a hobbyist the past couple of years, and researching how composers create their works. there’s a lot of talk about hearing the music in your head and having to get it out in a specific shape/form. this also seems to be the slant on a lot of sales pitches for new machines- devices that can capture a beat or melody that just landed in your head at 3 a.m. when you bolted upright in your bed.

but for me, i never ever hear something in my head… and this kind of worries me as compared to this romantic vision of a creator having this flash of inspiration and then this urgent need to externalize it at all costs. i’ve found a lot of writing about the tortured artist myth, saying that these musicians don’t need to suffer in order to have these great moments, but i haven’t really found anything talking about musicians who don’t automatically hear music internally and then create it in the real world.

so when i make some music i feel more like an editor… trying to create random content that i then curate into a direction to intentionally travel further. to that end i love having limitations and have a rule to avoid DAW’s like ableton because there are just too many choices- since i don’t have a particular sound in my head when i start, the ability to twist and tweak a sound endlessly means i never produce anything concrete because i’m always thinking “what if i changed the sound in this way, maybe that’s better, etc.”

i realize that hardware often also has an infinite number of possibilities depending on the configuration, such as the new isms case. but somehow having a tangible, and physical limit that i can see and touch is more symbolic in my head than the digital world of a laptop where, for example, the internet never seems to end. so i’m just wondering:

does everyone here hear music in a particular way in their head that does not exist, and then try to make it in real life? and then related to that, how do you deal with limitations of how that sound can be made with software or hardware? basically meaning, how do you know when its done if you don’t have a very clear goal from the start?


The inspired genius is a myth. Or a notion of an artist we like to entertain. Someone different from us, with a gift. Someone we can live out our own fantasies through. Which is also connected to the notion of artist being mentally altered, or child-like, and therefore alowed to behave differently, challenging social norms.
All that is a weird bunch of crap in my opinion.

Artists have to work, and work hard to accomplish meaningful results. From that perspective, I also reject the notion of talent as something one is born with (connected to the myth of genius, hearing things in your head etc.)
There is no talent, there is just practice. And a skill that grows through practice.

And so, I am a big believer in the act of working. What you described sounds like a perfect example of thoughtful process of construction/development. I often encourage students to work this way. One does not need to have a complete, fully shaped idea or vision of the work they are creating before beginning the process. In fact engaging with materials and processes with no preconceived notion of what is to be produced can lead to new directions and ideas. Materials have a capacity to resist, and that pushback often encourages a different kind of thinking. Brian Eno is a good, legendary in fact, resource to investigate further the idea of process and experimentation in the studio, specifically sound studio.

Even further, some of my favorite art is about the process of making itself. Wher the conceptual center of the work is located in the process, rather than the final product.

Anyway. This is a very interesting conversation. Or conversations, because the question “how does one know when the thing is done” is it’s own big discussion. I think it’s about balance. A kind of equilibrium of formal and conceptual properties. Something one learns to recognize through practice as well. A structural integrity that is not exclusively related to formal elements, but stretches accross material and immaterial spectrum of the work: organization/distribution of materials, gestures, ideas and context. When these properties are well balance, that is when the thing is done.


Quite a can of worms you’ve opened. My first impulse is to say: you shouldnt be worried AT ALL

It is true that many people who are musically inclined (particularly professionals who seek to compose & write western music) hear their ideas in their head.

Some folks follow thru and try to reproduce those sounds and forms…others ignore or reject them.

I fall into the 2nd camp most of the time but i understand the impulse to channel the mental music so others can hear too and dont deny that this is a reality for a significant number of musicians.


I’ve always believed the special craft and art of the musician is to become discerning enough to recognize, interpret and communicate. I’m most creative when surrounded by noise, and can pull something out of it, like a fish from the ocean. Sometimes they’re biting, sometimes they’re not, but no one caught a fish by sitting in a boat and waiting.


limitless inspiration comes from the lines forums

you guys are awesome when I have more time to process and reply I will I have always felt like I’ve got so much to learn from the monome now lines forums.


I grew up singing in church choirs, and then playing traditional instruments and singing in school classes. When you do this, you spend a lot of time learning how to play other people’s music. Learning a new song is a struggle at first, especially if you’ve never really heard it played the “right” way before.

The biggest challenge is getting to a point where you can hear the song in your head before you play it. In some ways, hearing a recording of the song can actually ruin the process of getting the song into your head, because you heard it, but maybe you weren’t really listening to it.

Through massive repetition and correction eventually you can’t get the song out of your head. It plays back at you unbidden throughout the day. When you’re practicing enough for this to happen, it’s excellent because you start feeling driven to practice. It’s something you just have to do.

Do this for several years, and before you know it your head is full of melodies and harmonies and rhythms for many different composers. Your mind starts mashing them around like words in a language. This is where the original head-music comes from. It comes from years and years of practice.

But don’t despair! Fake it till you make it. Study music theory and realize that it’s really just a codification of intervals and rhythms that have been made familiar to humans over many generations. Using that structure = instant music. Stay within the confines of tradition and you are almost guaranteed to create something others will recognize as musical.

As time goes on and you are feeling more confident (perhaps you do occasionally wake up at 3am with an unfamiliar melody in your head) you can start to play with those rules. Start studying microsound and polyrhythm and microtonal harmony. See how far conventions can be bent and broken before it becomes unpleasant. Play with the tension between familiar and novel.

And get comfortable with the idea that you may never create your opus. But just because we can’t all be Usain Bolt, doesn’t mean we should give up on exercise. For all my words here, you might be fooled into thinking I’m some kind of successful composer. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve just played in traditional music contexts long enough to get a feel for the contours of what it’s like to learn music, to get it into your head, and to start to get it back out again for the world to hear. I’m just a baby learning to crawl.


I’m totally agreed at the disdain for the ‘inspired genius’ mentality, but perhaps the ‘noise in my head’ idea can be explained elsewise.

I definitely agree with @laborcamp that most things are about work. My perspective on talent is different though, in that talent to me is the ability to transform practice into skill – some are much more adept at this physical to mental transformation than others. Maybe this is more about what kind of ‘work’ is required though…

Outside of the academics though - I would simply say that as one practices enough and gathers enough knowledge and mastery of musical traditions, it becomes possible to create ‘random content’ in just the same way that we might sit at a piano and twinkle around. This is a big difference where the artist is able to create without a single tool at their disposal - just their own mind. The important thing to remember is that this isn’t some passive acceptance of ideas from the cosmos, but rather an active process of experimenting within, or to challenge, the frameworks they have learnt.

In my personal practice I often have a ‘sound’ that I’m looking for but this is more a conceptual idea of a sound than a map of physical vibrations. The nature of that sound isn’t my invention either - it’s something I’ve synthesized (put together) from all the other musics I’ve been hearing, from the books I’ve been reading, the experiences I’ve been having. I tend to use this sense of a sound to guide my experimentation and push it in certain aesthetic directions.

With some projects I’m very focused on process and as such have very strict guidelines as to how to generate certain sounds, but this is not so much because I know what that sound should end up as but rather I just want to pursue that process. Typically though I just choose and use tools intuitively, or perhaps ‘logically’ is a better term, based on the kind of aesthetic I’m looking to fit into. Recently I’ve been making lots of footwork music, and so I’m much more inclined toward finding vocal samples than playing classical guitar – that probably seems an obvious decision but it gets at the core of the idea. I have internalized a sense of the sounds that each instrument I own creates, and so before choosing to use it, I can guess whether it will fit into the idea I’m looking to create.

As to when something is done - I typically feel nothing is ever done until I have a release lined up at which point I try and re-engage songs to make them lean in a unified direction, be it through similar sounds, or mixing or production ideas.


[quote=“Galapagoose, post:7, topic:1977”]
With some projects I’m very focused on process and as such have very strict guidelines as to how to generate certain sounds, but this is not so much because I know what that sound should end up as but rather I just want to pursue that process. Typically though I just choose and use tools intuitively…
[/quote]I am in agreement with this

One of the best/worst things about electronic music is that it gives us the opportunity to instantly hear the results of our compositions, without having to worry about the squeak of a clarinet or the screech of a violin, inexpertly played.

It’s good because we can focus on the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms without distraction from any lack of hand-eye coordination.

It’s bad because learning that mind-body connection necessarily writes the “code” of music to a very low level of our subconscious minds.

I think it’s fair to characterize some music as “head” music and other music as “body” music. A bit more rarely you hear music that synthesizes both.

Some words of wisdom from a true mind/body adept, Thelonius Monk floated through my Facebook this morning:


I hear music in my head all the time, catchy pop melodies spontaneously materializing. Now I’m not sure if this is a result of an overstimulated mind from growing up watching television in the 90’s, childhood formal music instruction, or some kind of mental quirk, but it’s not something I incorporate (or look for) in music.

I like to play music that I’ve never heard before, that I don’t expect to create. That moment of breathlessness while my mind fumbles with the realization–“I created that?!” Otherwise, for me, everything else sounds kind of the same and done to death.

Electronic music has helped me get there.


Definitely a big topic here, but I just wanted to chime in to say that even if we take the “inspired genius” as a truth, that that is only one possible way to produce music/art.

This completely leaves out algorithmic/generative creation completely, for example. Taking meadowphysics as a concrete example of this, that is NOT the tool to sit down and work out ideas that are “in your head”.

So even in the best case scenario, that idea is not “everything”. And of course, in practice, it’s “nothing” either way.

I personally fall into a funky place with process/intuition in that I’m really big into improvisation (intuition) but at the same time I’m dubious of process (specifically things like “working through material”) since I think it’s easy to get sucked into patterns/tropes when working in a “bottom up” manner (ie material leading to form/concept). So I tend to work “top down”, where concept informs material, meaning that I use my ‘out of time’ (conceptual) brain to aim my ‘in time’ (intuitive) brain at things.


Rodrigo, do you think that works for you maybe because you have a traditional instrumental background? I guess where I’m coming from, I feel like you kinda need that bottom up understanding earlier in life, to create a foundation of “rules” you can break later in life when you start to learn the difference between rules you want to break, and rules you want to keep (for a particular composition/performance/improvisation).

late in my music-making education, after i was already quite adept making “new” music, i studied with a composer to get a lightning-course in traditional composition-- something like squishing 4 years into a few weeks. i didn’t “learn” harmony or counterpoint from this experience, but afterwards understood what it means and what these topics had to offer if i decided to really dig in, and most importantly it washed away this sort of insecurity i had regarding the work i was making.

i really encourage rapidly learning enough about a topic to decide if you want to go further. it’s easy to just imagine what some skill set might do for you (ie, learning max) but you won’t truly know what that knowledge is good for until you’ve gotten into it.


I used to think that. Meaning, that I thought I was able to make the kind of music/art I was making because I could “really do it” too (obviously an exaggeration here). But I don’t think that’s the case any more, and haven’t for many years.

At some point I realized that all art, even crazy art, doesn’t require a foundation, or prerequisites. Was it handy that I knew how to play a bunch of instruments? Sure. Just like it’s handy that I know how to cook and play basketball.

If I wanted to push what I was doing further and further, I needed to work on that stuff, and not stuff that was peripheral to it.

Now at the same time, it’s hard to separate my background from what I am/do now. And I definitely know several friends who didn’t come up with the same kind of background have a kind of chip on their shoulder about that. Wanting to know how to read/write music, or compose for other instruments, etc…
So maybe if I had a different background I would have that baggage instead of the baggage I do now. Hard to say.

I do think the top/down bottom/up thing is a different issue to this, as many of my friends (with similar backgrounds) tend to work in a bottom/up way. My partner (Angie) who I make tons of videos with is totally a bottom/up person. Big time. Several composer friends are the same.

Ooh look, a rambley response!


This is a big one.

I can totally tell/hear the difference between someone who has creative ideas that involve technology vs someone who merely incorporates technology into what they do. When you get into something, you can start having ideas that are interesting within that thing.

Though there’s an obvious rub there too in that that can seduce you into coming up with ideas that are only interesting in there.


:slight_smile: This stuff can get a bit circular, for sure.

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This particular thread is one of the most interesting to me… i don’t think i’ll be able to resist rambling in raja-rant style!

No worries: genius itself is a myth, because a genius is simply perceived as being such by those who wish they could’ve grown into that particular uniqueness within that specific time. Decades later, the ‘genius’ of that same genius is often considered commonplace knowledge.

I started learning music when i was 3 on the piano via the ‘Suzuki method’
( ).

Particularly the idea of learning music by ear stuck with me. Later when i was a teenager i took up guitar and my teacher noticed I had a knack for picking up guitar solos by ear, so he encouraged it more and more(B.B. King, Django, Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray, etc.). I played and played til i got tendonitis(first traumatic change of my musician life… which led me to electronic music).
Nowadays with electronic music it definitely still comes into play, I write most of it by ear, but recently, even max patches/software comes out by ear.
Same thing happens when i use synths, particularly more complex ones(all comes from playing with patchable hardware synths and looking at some of the basic techniques in software environs like Max and SuperCollider… gaining familiarity with how the basic building-block techniques work, like words that make up a sentence).

Basically, if you really want to hear something in your head, it could be that it might start with listening to music and attempting to imitate it: because that’s how your ear trains to recognize the math of sound, same as how your tongue learns to speak the math of a language… all about familiarity with what’s possible and shaping it into something new or old from there. I say ‘math’ not in a number-crunching way, but because it’s a bit like saying that mathematical understanding is akin to any rationally organized familiarity with experiences you’ve already had.

But it’s nothing to be worried about if you don’t do this… more modern music starts from a different kind of intuition: moving through process, or using ‘The Power of Now’ so to speak :wink:
(whereas hearing music in your head and then composing it from that prepared point-of-view is a bit like living in the past… or at least, that’s the way it feels to me personally).
I had to retrain my brain a bit in order to experiment with more of that newer kind of music, as it does afford a different perspective from which to learn newer forms of musical expression and sometimes makes it easier to work with newer, more multifaceted forms of technology too.

I’d say learning different techniques is important overall, so you can work from a place of having the most options to draw from.

Recently, I’ve fallen into a deep, dark, depression(don’t worry, though, i won’t go into it, instead, i’m setting up for the final positive take-away in my statements here :tongue: ), and my mother, so worried about me, gave me a bunch of gemstones to meditate on(she’s into some ancient Hindu hocus-pocus :laughing: ). As I meditated with gemstones in hand, a new insight dawned on me: the way in which gemstones(like diamonds) convey light energy through them in order to sparkle is alot like the human mind, heart, body, and action can transduce all kinds of energy from the universe into an overall experience that sparkles with an individuality recognized by everyone else as being the personality of that specific life. We cut the raw matter of our lives from the way in which we experience and familiarize ourselves with all the other lives around us, and form it into a specific shape which conveys the energy of the universe to everyone else in a way that is specific to us; how you learn to express yourself is completely up to you and that’s what gives you that specific sparkle.

:snowflake: (<-put another way: we’re all beautiful and unique snowflakes or some cheesy shit like that, nyahahahahahaha :blush:)


i’ll agree with most of the other guys here to say that you really have to work on writing/making music for a long time before this is going to happen. when i was making mashups as altitude sickness, i was also a radio DJ, music director, music student and a show promoter, and so i used to literally think in mashups. that is, i would hear multiple songs mashed up in my head walking around, then have to try to go put that together. sometimes it would come out mostly as i imagined, other times it wouldn’t work out. but i really think that the fact that i was listening to 20+ albums a week (and playing with mlr for 5-10 hours a week) was what put me in that mindset.

now that i’m composing my own music and writing my own lyrics, the most helpful thing in terms of translating those melodies in my head has been singing. i’m not really good enough at guitar or piano or soundplane to just ‘execute’ on a melody in my head, but i can almost always sing it. sometimes the lyrics are part of the spark too, othertimes just the music. but it took a lot of work and crappy songs for me to even get to that point, and even if i can preserve the melody now, the actual song always comes out different.

you’re a juggler - this is just musical muscle memory. work it!

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Also, do you guys know the music theme from the animated series “Wallace and Gromit”?
Well, I have had this song stuck in my head for years. Seriously. It comes back with certain regularity, sometimes remaining active for days at a time.
Having read “Musicophilia” I know it’s an ear worm.
Which by definition fits the subject of this conversation, no?


I hear a lot of new music coming into my head. It’s totally not like running a DAW in my head, maybe it is the opposite. It only comes on the most unguarded moments, when walking outside, doing the dishes,showering… Not when I am thinking about music composition or sitting in my studio, and definitely NOT when thinking about what I achieved as an artist and wanting to achieve more.
Just letting go of all the things you want/need to do and just let your mind wonder. Harvesting these sounds, ambience, melodies and textures is very hard for me. I believe you need a lot of experience to catch these moments and being able to transform them into something graspable. Most of these moments feel unachievable, as they are thoughts of what music could be. Similar as how we feel we think in a language, but it is only when we output these thoughts that they are converted though language and we can share them.

But there is also this producer side, actively thinking. Hearing a melody that fits on top of a song, the breakdown being 4 bars instead of 6, 808 kick instead of a 909, this chord should be a Major 6 instead of Major add4,… These are things that you can actively imagine with the right amount of training/work/experience. This adds value to your work because it allows you to make decisions faster and have a clearer vision of what you want.

But I believe the biggest part of the job is still: Keep trying to making music/sound. Try new stuff, but try and finish your ideas. There is no wasted time.
Get in “the zone”. that’s where the good stuff is at. It is when you lose track of time and yourself and are completely absorbed by the task at hand. You stop being overly critical of what others might think and focus on improving the song. This is were true genius is at. Getting in the zone and maintaining it. It is not something that can be forced, it overcomes you, as genie would( get it).

I do believe some people have a lot more talent then others, even in electronic music were raw talent is less important. But there also needs to be a lot of work and that can make up for being less talented. I consider myself to be way less talented then the artists I like. But I love the process of making music, becoming slightly better ever so slowly and that should push you to make great music. If you don’t like the process you are into the wrong hobby :wink: