A few days ago I got a message from India's leading inspirer / motivational speaker / personal brand expert Dr. Amit Nagpal expressing his interest in interviewing me for his highly popular blog "The Joys of Teaching" and it's been published here: http://www.dramitnagpal.co.in/2012/04/ananda-sukarlan-interview-with-piano.html . Now I am sure he expected a positive attitude from me and all other things that would encourage the readers to achieve success with hard work.
I am of course deeply honoured to be interviewed by him, but interviewing an artist or musician for positive motivational purposes is a bit against our nature of being since artists are more (hyper-)sensitive and therefore usually are pessimistic beings. Just remember Gustav Mahler who was obsessed with death (that includes the death of beauty, death of music as we know it, and of course his own physical death). Therefore when a dictator is rising in a country, the first people he gets rid of are scientists and artists: scientists because they know too much, and artists because we sense too much. But anyway, we did the interview and I did quite well (hopefully Dr. Nagpal agrees.. ?) as my first ever interview for this purpose. I expressed my honest opinions about life and music. I might not be the most optimistic person he interviewed, but I didn't predict the end of the world either :)
A big chunk of a work of art is a product of our subconscious mind. It has tremendous treasure in it, of course, but it is also there where phobias, paranoias, pain and other scary things (why do they always start with the letter p?) are hidden. Composing means letting ourselves delve deep into it, which means bringing all our darkest elements to the surface too. As any artist can tell you, when we are stuck with a huge block in our brain at some point while working on a piece, the best solution is try to forget it for a few days, and one day the block disappears by itself. I dunno why, I dunno how, and honestly I don't wanna know. The only problem is the approaching deadline of course, but that's why I try to work on pieces long before their deadlines are due (and I do finish many of them far before the deadline too, although there are some others which were finished, ehm, much after the deadlines were over) so we allow our subconscious minds to solve our mental blocks.
But it is due to our pessimism that we artists continue working. It is a catharsis to our negative feelings inside, even a cure, so that we become more human outside. By putting those dark thoughts on paper we reduce their existence in our subconscious mind. Yup, lots of darkness between those notes, guys! Gustav Mahler was so obsessed with his irregular heartbeat that he could only feel relieved after he wrote it down in his 9th symphony. Of course composing for him was also the cure to the great pain caused by the death of his daughter in 1907 (Mahler himself died in 1911). Mahler's music could sound like that thanks to all the pain he's suffered in his life. In other words, we now enjoy great works of art thanks to the sufferings of the artist. Thanks to Mozart's dad who abused him to overworking, we now have all those great masterpieces!
Talking about being a pessimist or optimist, what is clear to me is that I am not (anymore) a person who wants to change the world. I now realize only politicians can change the world -- to worse. It's due to their similarity to baby diapers: they're always full of sh*t and therefore they should be changed more frequently. If you want to make things better, the first thing is to make yourself better. That's why I never vote during elections, although they always say "vote me to make things better" ; no, no, we vote only to determine who are gonna take our money away. For unknown reasons. During campaign of course there are many promises in the air, but there's much air in the promises too.
I don't even know the secret of success. I am an artist, and an artist is very different than an entertainer. The difference is that an entertainer's job is trying to make everybody happy, while an artist should give his audience his honest expression and the highest possible quality of artistic product, which many times is not what is considered "nice". Just listen to Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" based on that very explicitly politically incorrect poem by Wilfred Owen, and tell me that's it's nice and entertaining! To make listeners happy one should make a piece of music which is easy listening (which means singable and repeated melody and not too many changes of chords), simple text of words (usually about love) and of course a short duration, while an "artistic" piece of music can be anything from a short piece for a piercing piccolo solo to a (more than) hour long symphony for big orchestra and even choir.
When we are feeling low, listening to great music can help us heal the pain. Imagine life without music, and nowadays without your CD players, radio or iPod. So, don't underestimate composers & musicians, eh? One can't realize what one has until one loses it. In this matter, composers have a great advantage: we listen to music all the time in our head. Of course the disadvantage is that we can't turn it on and off whenever we want to. Now you understand why we musicians hate those shopping malls with music blaring from every shop, right?