Open House: Nightports on collaboration and creativity

by Rachel Cook

Last month it was time for another Open House, this time with a musical twist. The story that our guests told us was a little bit about making new kinds of music and a bigger bit about different ways of approaching creativity.

In now classic Open House write-up format, we’ll get the awkward introductions out of the way and then skip to some utterly steal-able thoughts on how you can make a collaborative creative process an easier beast to handle, as well as some rather interesting insights into their creative process…

  • Meet the maestros

    So. Say hello to Nightports, aka Messrs (and Doctors of Music) Mark Slater and Adam Martin.

  • Their CVs are as long and impressive as my Waitrose receipts, so I’ll summarise…

    They’re both clever chaps, lecturing in music by day and making nice music by night. Like the creative version of Batman and Robin if you will. As Nightports they create samples from the sounds made by a musician. Then they mess around with them afterwards to make very lovely music. It sounds quite ambient, sometime glitchy and a bit trip-hoppy at times, and as it happens it’s doing rather well (Gilles Peterson is a fan, apparently). Check out how that actually sounds here.

  • My simplified description probably doesn’t do them justice though. Mark’s explanation of their manifesto is infinitely better:

    “Nightports is based on a simple but unbreakable rule of restriction. Only sounds produced by the featured musician can be used. Nothing else. But these sounds can be transformed, distorted, translated, reprocessed, stretched, cut, ordered and reordered. Nightports is about amplifying the characteristics of the musician and their sounds. It’s about finding new sounds that nobody else can make.”

    Unsticking the sticky bits of collaboration & creativity

    Nightports is a personal project for Adam and Mark, although they’ve lectured on the subject in some rather awesome places, so I was really interested in hearing about the way in which they make this work. How do they work together to make stuff that sounds so beautiful, that pushes them both, while keeping the enjoyment? I know from my own personal projects that if you don’t get right, it can spoil a potentially wonderful thing.

    The key is creating collaborative approach that works for all involved, centered around a few key principles that all agree to. Though that’s a tricky beast.

    Adam and Mark, these experts in collaboration, are separated not just by their busy schedules, but also distance, being based in Leeds and Hull respectively. This means their working method has evolved to include solo work, remote collaboration and infrequent face to face sessions. Here are some of the themes that have emerged from their working process that work for them, and that really stuck with me:

    1. When being creative, don’t be critical at the same time.

    This, as the Nightports chaps explained, is really important for the flow of ideas. In practice this means that when you’re generating germs of ideas, you should try not to think about whether something is good or not. Just get it down, move on and then decide later whether it’s worth keeping. Or, better still….

    2. Let someone else make decisions for you.

    When involved with generating ideas, it’s all too easy to become so devilishly stuck in the process that perspective is lost. It can become tricky to tell the difference between an idea that you might want to toss aside that another will love, and an idea that you’ve talked yourself into thinking makes perfect sense but is actually a bit dodgy…

    Letting someone else make decisions for you can help. Adam told us that he’ll often create his sparks of ideas but then leave the decision-making to Mark. He lets him sort the wheat from the chaff, and trusts him to spot the gems when he might not himself.

    3. Restriction can be healthy

    Nightports is based on an idea of restriction, and yet the result is arguably not at all restricted. Yet this practice isn’t something we play with much in a commercial context, which had me wondering if we aren’t missing a trick.

    Creating rules in creativity is nothing new, of course. For example, at the start of the 20th Century Austrian composer Schoenberg and his musical mates began to dabble with serialism, a method of composition whereby the composer was restricted to using only the 12 tones of the Western scale in a particular order… Well, it’s a long story and Wikipedia will explain better than my long-forgotten dissertation, but the point is that we’ve long since embraced the idea that by imposing restrictions, it forces you to be creative in new, potentially exciting ways.

    What I find interesting is that although their approach is brilliant creative, the product they create is entirely commercially acceptable. I have no proof but I bet that Gilles Peterson wouldn’t have put them on his compilation for their approach alone; it also happens to sounds beautiful and interesting. In short, doing something weird doesn’t always beget weird results. Instead it can just loosen things up, shake them up and give you a new perspective.

  • Lasting impression

    Like many of the people we meet doing Open House, the Nightports gents inspired me with their dedication to the thing that makes them tick. They’re busy, working professionals, with commitments, families to see, lives to live, and yet they make time to create because there’s fun in that, too. They’ve found a way of fitting it into their lives that might not be the swiftest but that gives them the time and flexibility that they need to make it great. And if they can do it, surely so can the rest of us?

    Ooh I do love a good Open House.

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