In 1975 Keith Jarrett almost refused to record one of the most successful albums in jazz history. He didn't know that at the time, of course. What he did know is that he had to play a concert in Cologne, at 11:30 at night, to a sold-out crowd of 1400, with a piano that didn't work. For whatever reason, the concert organisers had presented Jarrett with the war-horse of a piano normally reserved for rehearsal. It was so out of key that it took hours to tune the point of being playable. Many of the bass keys barely produced a note. The pedals didn't even work properly on this thing. This piano was the kind of object that you look at and recognise death. Jarrett refused to play.
But thanks to the pleading of the 17-year old organiser of the concert, and some good will, Jarrett got on stage anyway, and put finger to key. Who knows what was going through his head and heart in those first moments - how do you approach a lover you are not attracted to at first? But something happened in the space between Jarrett's brain and the piano's wonky strings, and that something was magic. Because of the extreme limitations of his instrument, Jarrett was forced to negotiate new sounds from his music, focusing on the piano's middle range (which simply worked the best), and rolling his fingers over the bass notes in order to enrich their tone. The piano, somehow, worked. in fact, the recording - known simply as The Köln Concert - is now one of the most infamous jazz pieces in music and led to a record-breaking LP.
Limitations are the artist's friend. In fact, I think they are the human's friend: they forge canals for creativity to flow through, guiding ideas, turning down beautiful but distracting thoughts that would dilute the essence of the work. Limitations force us to understand our relationship to our art, our life; they discipline our attention, and in doing so, they refine our ability to create. Watching the Köln concert has inspired me to think: how can I adopt limitations in my filmmaking that enhance, rather than detract, from my scene creation? Are there any limits on limitation itself? And how, in a normally-collaborative medium, can we all settle on a set of limitations that works for everyone? It's certainly a question that the technology and money-obsessed denizens of Hollywood actively flee from, so afraid are they even to consider the possibility of serious constraints to their creative process.
Don't let them fool you. The next time your camera can't focus, or the @ key doesn't work on your keyboard, consider yourself blessed. You've just stumbled upon your very own, authentic Köln piano. Time to create.