Story: Dr Rob Smith, musician, composer, collaborator

Author: Robert Smith

As creative people we tend to know what we want to do, what we want to create and wish to be left alone to get on with it until such a point as its ready and then we would like to everyone to come flocking to us to see and hear what we’ve made. That’s a kind of traditional, individualist view of the artist with some elements of deeply unromantic commercialism thrown in.

Me, I prefer to collaborate, although I have, do and will continue to make work in relative isolation. There are three reasons for me to collaborate:


I get my ideas challenged and shaken up. Collaborators do things their own way. This is often different to my way. I get too comfortable with my own processes and procedures. I get locked into my own routines. Collaborators will ask difficult and awkward questions and force me to think differently, take new directions or, at least, articulate and justify the reasons I do things the way I do. These are all productive challenges and can result in me making different kinds of work, or taking a different route to making work. Either way, they make me think and create differently.

I often leave gaps in my music (did I say I was a creative musician/composer?) for others to fill. I like to work with improvisers who flesh out my often tentative structures and inhabit them with their own ideas. This, whilst being a bit of an intellectual property minefield, can result in some great music as the composer’s shell idea is populated by the creative contributions of its performers. I wrote a piece in this way in 2006 for the Bath International Music Festival.

Actually, this area of creative collaboration is where western classical music starts to become a bit weird and esoteric. Apart from the lonely solo arts such as writing novels or poems and painting or sculpture etc., most of the performing arts are fairly collaborative in nature. Even the most auteurist of film-makers has their ideas fleshed out by designers, cinematographers, actors, costume-makers etc. In the performing arts collaboration is the norm and the fact that marketing people like to sell it as the work of one creative genius doesn’t alter that fact. The expression ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ is often used to describe the fruits of these necessary collaborations.

If you collaborate you usually have access to the networks of people who like, or follow your stuff, as well as your own (which of course your collaborators will have access to too). So, making art, whatever your discipline or medium, is all about communicating ideas, desires, emotions, opinions. The circulation of these is accelerated and widened by collaborations.

So, come on everybody, lets collaborate.

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