On revision in creativity

revision is inherent in most creative process. but frequently this is a hidden act. the work often doesn’t get revealed until the author considers it “done” (which is a pretty nebulous quality to begin with.)

while there are examples of a lot of work that can exist re-presentation with refinement, often i feel like a revision constitutes a qualified “new work” in itself. are there cases where the work is considered the same?

i.e. if an artists releases an album and one of the tracks they consider weak-- re-releasing a new version of the album with a new take or modified track-- do people do this? how do people feel about multiple versions of a creative work existing?

it’s a given that source code evolves-- revision is typically seen as always positive. but this isn’t completely valid-- an application can change because the author thought of a different (read, not better) way of doing something. could this not apply in parallel to music/art?

so what would it mean to re-release something old that was revisited? i’d be curious to hear examples of people doing this. my own experience of this (as an audience member) is in some cases a leaked pre-release recording-- which then is strange to experience the “album” version.

of course there’s the remix. but that’s in line with describing something as new work in itself. i’m speaking specifically about the concept of replacing a previous version that is already in the public realm, which at some point the author considered “done” enough to show.

what does it mean for people to share work they’re uncertain is finished?

who decides when something is done?


I’ve had confused feelings on this subject for a while now.

I can say that recently (maybe last couple months), have been extremely productive in terms of recording things. I like to attribute this spike in activity, in part, to the decision to not worry in any sense of editing (or even properly mixing, like to think that part will come slowly…eventually) the recording after the fact. Just a stereo recording of an unspecified length, and when it feels right, that’s it. Immediately on to the next thing.

In these recodings, patterns start to appear of all the strange decisions that get made in the moment. Being able to identify all these little beautiful musical mistakes, in my own experiments and in these music I encounter, is becoming my favorite part of all this.

This is why editing and revising kinda scares me. It’s just all too possible haha


This reminds me of something I read in a Brian Eno interview recently.

John Baccigalupi: I know you had a few bands, or combinations of people
playing, during your college years. But there’s always a gray area in my
mind as to the transition from the art world to ending up in Roxy
Music. I know there was a bit of happenstance as to how you ended up in
that band…
Brian Eno: Yes. I think there are two things going on here. First of all, by the
late-'60s, multitrack recording was commonplace. It was still 8- to
16-track then. I think it was still 8-track, actually! But a new idea
had appeared, which was that music could be a lot like painting instead
of being something where you stood in front of a mic and performed.
Essentially it was all made in one moment — one time, one place; which
is what was happening with traditional recording at the time. Even if
engineers and producers tarted it up a little bit, was essentially a
record of performance. But, by the late '60s, there’d been the history
of Phil Spector and, of course, George Martin as well as various other
people. They were starting to realize that what you did in the studio
was a painting. It was painting with sound. You could make a piece over
an extended period of time — it didn’t have to preexist the process; you
could make it up as you went. And you could make it like you would a
painting — you could put something on, scrape something else off. It
stopped being something that was located at one moment in time. It
started being a process that you could engage in over months, or even
years. You could come back, change it 'round and cut and paste. Funny
enough, the people who first realized this were art students. That’s why
I’m convinced there was such an influx of art students into music in
the late '60s and '70s. It was because we were better equipped to know
how to use the medium than musicians were. Musicians, of course —
because that’s where their talents were — were still thinking of
performance. Music students in particular were way behind the curve.
They didn’t get it at all! If you look at bands from the late’60s and
'70s, you’ll find lots of art students and no music students in them.

From http://tapeop.com/interviews/85/brian-eno/

Which really doesn’t answer any of your questions (sorry).


Another answer to this question that doesn’t directly answer your questions (but may provide some inspiration) is semantic versioning.


I definitely think about this, but I think some of the concern is a ‘straw man’ issue in that it is built around the idea of an absolute “product” at the end, that revisions live in contrast to.

So the frozen ‘album’ generally isn’t changed. Code, however, exists in a more transient state, and as such revision is built into the concept/model. You don’t hear programmers waxing poetic on if the 3.0 version is “still the same” as the 2.0 because that would sound silly. Sure some features come/go/change, but the it-ness isn’t really part of the discussion. Only the variation-ness.

Music/art, I think, can exist in the same place, but because of historical reasons doesn’t (for the most part). Jazz is a good example of this being the case. “It’s about the singer and not the song”. Sure there are classic/recorded versions, but most jazzers don’t take that as gospel. Each time they play it it is fresh, it is re-imagined, it is re-created, or re-existed.
Glenn Gould even talks about performing Bach stuff this way. Always different, always living.

I guess both of these examples have live-ness in common, though not in the sense that they happen live, but in the sense that they are living things. I should qualify this by saying that I don’t think this is tied to their instrumental/acoustic nature, as the same can happen with other types of thinking/creation, these are just the examples I thought about.

Done-ness, is a whole thing into itself though. And one if the things I love about improv. Done-ness doesn’t come into it. It happened, it’s over. It’s done, by default. <—though that is a cop out


But what about repetition? You can perform the “same” improv ruleset multiple times. Over time doing so may cause conventions to arise. Those conventions could evolve over time. Some of them may even settle into something like “done”…

I don’t have especially strong feelings about that aspect of things, but I’d say that they are still different, still evolving, even if it’s a fixed composition (Bach).

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Ansel Adams is one of my favourite examples of this. In the 1970s, towards the end of his career, he spent most of his time not taking photographs, but just printing existing ones - in many cases, reprinting them.

What you see isn’t just a photographer who’s changed their mind, but actually returned to older work with their new taste. That’s not even necessarily maturity: sometimes, they’ve just changed their mind about what they liked.

But the great thing about Adams is we have it all; I saw an exhibition of his work which hung multiple prints of the same picture side-by-side, and over time it became clear that you could like either, but it was clear where the evolution in his practice was now occurring, and that all he’d essentially done was change his mind; to say or this:.

Anyhow, it struck me as an interesting prior art, and photographic reprinting is perhaps more in line with re-recording or re-mastering in a musical sense than what “remixing” has come to mean (as opposed to, say, re-mixing).


Oooh, I’d love to see that!

you’re going to think i’m joking, but one music artist who regularly releases the same tracks over and over again (though slightly reworked) is afroman! no idea what his agenda is, but he’s rerecorded and released his one hit “because i got high” at least 6 different times that i can tell. and he doesn’t just stop there, lots of albums are repeats of past ones, with a few extra verses here or there. though, of course, this might be the case for you too if you had released something like 20 new albums in the past 3 or 4 years??

i don’t know if his market is dictating his output in some way… that his fans will just regularly buy the same music literally again and again and if he’s just cynical enough to cash in on that. or if he’s actually trying to improve the songs over time. this is just pure conjecture, but from what i can tell, it seems as if he truly loves his songs and each time he releases a new version with an extra bridge or verse, he’s actually trying to make the song even better and is proud of it each time.

i like hearing all the different versions, its almost like going to a live show and hearing an artist twist a familiar favorite in a pleasing way. and in many ways every single song he puts out is basically the same song- about weed, colt 45, and touring. netherfriends is another band that is basically sticking to that same format as well with each song pretty much the same format, and is about smoking weed, being on tour, doing what he loves, and being into girls. i might get sued by him for copyright for writing that last sentence…


this really is the greatest discussion forum on music…who else is talking (peacefully) about these concepts?

before a more lengthy response i will state that my feelings on revision and “doneness” are why i dont collaborate well with others


Further on the “joke” topic, we have a non-artist-performer-comedian-whateverthefuckisthat-anywayitsfreaky in France called Dider Super who did release 3 times the same album, first produced in a very crappy way with virtually 0 money and 0 label with the sole purpose to release the worst possible album of all time, then again, on a label, this time with a more produced punk garage dirty sound, still I think, with the idea to create the worst possible produced album of all time (with stuff written on the cover like “8 euros, for that little what did you expect?”), and then again, assuming that he needed the cash, he decided to rerelease the same album, with the same title with a “2” added at the end, this time with instrumentation only made with a classical orchestra, saying that he wanted to make a version for old people so that they could think “Didier Super is like Wagner”, and he actually released it, produced by Nosfell’s producer (if it speaks to anyone here, Nosfell is everything but a joke). Anyway, this guy definitely blurs the line because at the basis of his concept are very very shitty songs (on all aspects, composition, lyrics, instrumentation) but it does in an interesting way because at some point, the orchestral album almost has some interesting moments and it’s a very disturbing experience to listen to it when you know the man.

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That sounds so sad and cynical. I hope it’s funny at times as well.

I think it’s funny in a way that, as sad and cynical as it may sound, it’s so utterly destroyed on all acounts that it can never quite reach the goals it claims to have. In the end, he didn’t sell that many records not even sure he sold enough to make a living out of it. I’d find it cynical if it could actually be a money machine, as of now it’s just a sort of broken mirror for a lot of actors of the so called music “industry” actually doing it but behind masks. It’s still disturbing and questionnable, but sad and cynical would be if it actually worked and if it was actually, well, not a disturbing joke.

(PS: to further precise, I think it’s interesting to also see that a process purely driven by ANYTHING but music, by ANYTHING but inspiration, or talent, or work, can at some point of its progression, tend to be musically interesting, would it only be glimpse of interesting things, just by mistake, just because of the rework, just because reworking on something over and over, at some point, allows ideas to emerge)

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Another great thread! Two in one day?! Too much to think about, my mind will explode… i’ll just offer this to the general discussion: I hate thinking about art as ‘work’… I never go back and revise any one piece of art because they’re all part of an ongoing process i use to shape my life. For me the so-called specific ‘artworks’ are never done because it’s all ongoing additions-to and expansions-of my ‘artlife’, which is why there’s also no need to revise or revisit them despite being incomplete, as the next piece simply builds on all the others that came before.


Aren’t both those topics intertwined actually? I’ve got an answer to your reflection that seems to fit in both but I’ll put it here.

The hidden question raised in these topics is also a philosophical question (actually quite a few philosophical question!) about what “work” actually is. It seems we all agree that genius doesn’t mean much (if anything) and is more often than not a convenient way for the listener/personn experiencing the art, to distentiate himself from the creator. If we all agree that, not matter what the original set of skills of one person is, it all comes down to work, then the true subject of this topic should be: What does “work” means, and how exactly “working” on an artistic creation challenges many aspects of the society we live in, regarding the fact that none of what we create is in any way “necessary” to the survival of the species, physically speaking. Or am I going to far here? Those are daily questions to me, and I’m yet to find satisfying answers, but I feel like asking them is, in itself, a very very important thing.

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much easier if you decide that you are a composer. in academic music, there is no problem with pieces being revisited/reinterpreted/rearranged and still be the same piece. the other nice thing about being a composer is that even a 40-year-old composer is still considered a ‘young’ composer. about as opposite from EDM as you can get.

this thread reminds me of a piece by Dan Trueman that we performed in PLOrk, called Clapping Machine Music Variations. in the spirit of this thread, here are a few of the versions (in attempted chronological order):

supposedly a new 2015 version will be here soon: http://sidebandchronicles.com/
and the paper: http://music.princeton.edu/~dan/cmmv.pdf

definitely. in fact, asking them, in itself, is like a metaphysical manifestation of art/work itself.

actually, maybe not, but it’s very… ‘meta’ for me to read this too. might not be necessary to the ‘survival of the species’, but it’s necessary to the survival of my spirit in continuing to live in general, which is probably why the work is never done lest my life be done.
to me, what we create as artists is the only reason i find ‘society’ to be worth being a part of(so to my survival, it’s pretty necessary, otherwise i’d go wandering off into the woods naked and probably die a ‘grizzly man’-like death :open_mouth: ).


Here are three videos from a very interesting artist Oliver Laric called “Versions” which he periodically revisions, and re-publishes. These three versions are from 2009, 2010, and 2012.
I highly recommend watching all three, but if you only want to watch one: watch the middle one since it confronts the very idea of versions of the same thing a little more directly. But tracing the changes in the three videos in terms of evolving concepts, language and perspectives is really fascinating.


That’s all for now, but I have more thoughts on the subject. Looking forward to sharing when I get a moment to type up :wink:


(also, just real quick, want to appreciate the irony in how i’ve revised my answers(just a lil’ bit here and there) to this thread about revision :D)