Saturday, May 12, 2007

The piece that got away

How critical should you be about your work? What stays put in the sketchbook or gets tossed into the circular file or erased from the hard drive? When not working on a more substantial project, I try to complete one small piece, an exercise really, but something with a beginning and an end, each day. It could be conventionally notated, or a prose score, or a recording, but it's something finished. A very few of these pieces are keepers, or, with some further working-out, will become keepers, but most are just exercises, written to be abandoned, internalized as ideas or materials or technique, but let go all the same.

But sometimes pieces get away by accident -- a misplaced page, the stolen valise, a ruined bit of recording tape, failure to save before a program crash, embedded in antiquated technology, or even a page of manuscript placed in an open windowsill before rainfall. Some pieces were made to be disposable in the first place, and there is no loss. Other pieces can be reconstructed or even improved, so there might even be some virtue in such accidents. But when a piece is both good work and irretrievably lost, reconciliation with the loss is hard, and you'll find little sympathy for your story about the one that got away.

Hard-learned advice: Save you work, save it in several places and in multiple formats, and when something is lost altogether, it's a opportunity to practice your coolest composure and start all over again.

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