Writers, Unblocked 

The Immersion Composition Society helps musicians overcome creative hurdles.

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This is precisely what allows Wig Lodge member Steven Clark to turn ideas that begin as silly little sketches in ICS sessions into serious pieces performed by professional choirs and orchestras. He has employed sequential ICS sessions to craft operas about video games, Star Trek, and Dionysus — each of which has, in turn, been performed at venues such as San Francisco's Goat Hall Productions and Oakland's Metro Operahouse. Unlikeliest of all, he composed an overblown requiem for a Passions soap opera character named Timmy that, when completed, was commissioned by a friend in Vermont for adaptation into a requiem for choir and organ. It was eventually performed during a real mass, where only the friend and members of the choir knew its true origins — the priest and parishioners hadn't a clue.

Clark believes this gets at the heart of what the ICS is all about. Achieving a lack of control is one of the main benefits he gets from sessions. "You want to shut off your inner dialogue. After eight hours and sixteen cups of coffee, you start to just throw out whatever-the-hell," he said.

The ongoing success of the ICS eventually moved Dobson to enlist Coryat, a writer and editor with contacts in the publishing world, to help write a book about the society's philosophy and exercises. The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook: A Radical Guide to Cutting Loose, Overcoming Blocks, & Writing the Best Songs of Your Life was released in 2006 on San Francisco's Backbeat Books, owned by massive music publisher Hal Leonard Publishing. The book received wide distribution in major bookstore chains across the country and around the world at Amazon.com.

Of the thousands of copies sold, many have landed in Europe. Meanwhile, Mellender's proselytizing of the society during Sleepytime Gorilla Museum tours there and continued growth of the society's web site and forum (it currently boasts more than 220 registered users and 4,500 posts) have increased the scope of its visibility overseas. This led to a rash of new lodges in England, France, Finland, and the Netherlands over the past couple years. Twenty-three-year-old Reinier Loopik (ICS title "Ubiquitous Shrieking Being and August Patriarch") founded the three-member Clutter Lodge in the Netherlands early last year. "The ICS is like this network of weird avant-garde nutcases," he wrote in an e-mail, "and that makes me feel at home."

After reading about the society on Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's web site, Joseph Escribe of Paris, France founded the lodge Cromorne 13 last summer. It currently includes seven members and meets once a month. "It's all about dedication to the music ... to you and the music," he writes. "It's about assuming completely your will to create a music, no matter if it's good or not."

Steve "Prog Steve" Inman founded London's Limey Lodge also last summer. His is one of at least three lodges currently established in the city and contains eight to nine regular members. "For me, it's a chance to be excessive and uninhibited," he writes. "The range of emotions and the speed to the changes is bewildering the first few times you play — like suddenly unplugging a huge reservoir of ideas and trying to catch them with a tea cup!"

If they began as frustrated and unproductive social outcasts, Dobson and Mellender are today content, settled, and highly functioning social outcasts. Sure, they can be geeky. Sure, they harbor a faint weariness toward the outside world. But they've also solved their productivity problem. They are massively creative people now, functioning efficiently within the insulated construct that is the ICS. Inspiration is no longer a hurdle, but an inevitability. Monthly and bimonthly meetings over eight years have trained their minds to think rapidly and honed their songwriting and performing capacities to produce album-worthy tracks in a matter of minutes.

For Dobson, who doesn't play in any bands but makes part of his living writing commercial music, ICS sessions have afforded him expertise with countless modes, genres, and instruments. After hundreds of recording sessions and thousands of tracks, he can produce just about anything. Additionally, the process has taught him to accept randomness and embrace spontaneity, serving as a partial remedy for the anxiety he has experienced since childhood. "The society has enriched my life," he said simply.

Even for those in successful bands, such as Mellender, the society remains a valuable tool for priming the songwriting pump and getting at ideas that later can be fleshed out in the full band setting. "It's only gonna help every other thing in my musical life," Mellender said. Where once the ICS was a songwriter's salvation, it is now a moral mission that he perpetuates simply by participating: "It's just to remind people of the limitlessness of music and that's a very, very good thing."


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