Since July 2012, I’ve had the privilege of being on staff at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance – actually, it’s just The Institute for short. It’s a vibrant educational community, filled with loads of inspiring people. The one problem for me when I considered working there was its location – Kilburn.
Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have anything against Kilburn. It’s just that firstly, it’s a lot farther away from the streets of Surrey than I would like. Second, its ‘urban’ feel was slightly daunting to me now that I have lived for about 13 years outside of central London.
Yes, it’s a little dirty and a little cramped at times. Just walking the street from the Tube station to The Institute can be a challenge given the number of people. However, a strange and unexpected thing has happened. I began to pick up on a distinct energy in the neighborhood that was not only interesting – it was bizarrely rejuvenating.
How you may ask? Well, the answer for me was eloquently laid out in a book that I’ve read recently called Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. He has a number of interesting things to say on the subject of creativity, and I really recommend the book. In one of the chapters he posits that the friction of interaction in a city is one of the main catalysts for creative ideas. It may not always be pleasant, but crowded spaces force us to interact and not become isolationist. And it’s this type of interaction that can inspire ideas and innovation that would not have happened otherwise.
One of Lehrer’s main proponents for the urban life and its creative benefits is David Byrne of the Talking Heads. There are plenty of quotes from Byrne in the book on how his New York city lifestyle has profoundly shaped his music from its mixture of ethnic sounds – everything from funky Latin beats to jangly Nigerian bass lines to CBGBs style punk. He says about his music, “The city definitely made it possible. A lot of what’s in the music is stuff that I first heard because it was playing down the street. Those are the accidents that have always been so important for. And the just happen naturally in the right place…In a vibrant city, you can get just as much from going to the barbershop, or walking down a crowded street, as you can from going to a museum. It’s about letting all that stuff in, so that the city can change you.”
So – do you want to expand your creativity? You could do a lot worse than Kilburn. Open yourself up to the possibilities and let those ideas flow.