The Creative Power Of Incongruous Thinking

How to unleash your creativity by combining overtly mismatched pieces into something never seen befo


Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 5 min read

Thinking Outside Of Multiple Boxes

Universally acclaimed musician, writer, actor, and visual artist, Tom Waits, has claimed that one of his most productive approaches to songwriting consists of setting up multiple radios in a single room and tuning each one to a different station…and then just listening to the chaos they create.

One radio might play jazz; country on the one adjacent; rock in the middle; a commercial might be playing on the next, and nothing but static might be hissing out of the last. The possible combinations of overlapping sounds are seemingly endless. But how could this chaos ever possibly be used as a means of coming up with a new song? Such an unlikely feat becomes possible with the liberating power of “incongruous thinking”.

The word “incongruous” refers to something “not harmonious in character” or “inconsistent” when viewed in relation to something else. Quite obviously, overlapping a variety of radio stations fits this definition to a T. While one could argue that “music is music”, it’s still painfully obvious to the ear that juxtaposing the sounds of classic country with modern death metal, for example (and maybe adding a little free jazz in between the two while we’re at it), creates an indisputably recognizable dissonance.

They just don’t seem to mesh in an overtly pleasing way. It’s hard to follow as a whole, and your brain might attempt to single out one sound from the rest before focusing on another. It’s simply difficult for the ear to get the pieces to fit together.

And yet Tom Waits has created beautifully melodic and emotionally moving music by using this incongruous method of creativity. Waits asserts that if you listen long and hard enough, you will begin to hear these tiny flashes of harmony, these little singularities in which the cacophony begins to create unexpected and beautifully original sounds that can then be used as a starting point for something truly new.

That’s beyond cool, not to mention next-level creativity.

Easier Than Ever To Try It Out For Yourself

Given that Tom Waits was at his most active and musically experimental in the 1970s and ’80s, he didn’t have the ease of access to juxtapose a variety of sounds together that you and I do today.

For example, going about this process today is as simple as opening 5 or more tabs on your computer at the same time and playing a truly diverse array of media together. You could juxtapose YouTube videos, news broadcasts, satellite radio stations, video game streams, and a truly endless amount of Spotify playlists to create something utterly bizarre.

Imagine the weird instances of harmony that might occur by overlapping a Twitch stream of a violent video game and a news broadcast debating the psychological impact that such a game may have on its players…and maybe a Beethoven Sonata added behind it all to give it a more professional, albeit hilarious, undertone.

I can imagine that Tom Waits would have killed to have such an ease of access for these experiments during a time where it would have been necessary to both dig up, and then surround yourself with, multiple bulky radios…only to have anyone within earshot of your sonic experimentations be outright annoyed by such a displeasing ruckus.

Today, you can simply play all of these sounds on your computer through a nice pair of headphones, effectively sparing anyone else of having to wonder why you’re listening to, and laughing at, such chaos.

Fit The Most Unlikely of Pieces Together

Obviously, the overall point of this article is that this technique can be applied to any type of creativity. Moreover, this technique can even help you break out of a creative funk. It’ll get you thinking outside of multiple boxes at once, and then combining it all into one weirdly cohesive and never-before-experienced whole.

Thinking “incongruously” when it comes to your creativity (like Tom Waits has done to truly marvelous effect; listen here; and here) will get you thinking about just how infinitely endless the imagination truly is. The possibilities of where any creative project you undertake could potentially go are truly endless, no matter what type of creative project it may be.

Whether it a be a song, a poem, a screenplay, a painting, an ad, or even something as innocuous as a company memo, you just might come up with something never seen before.

You just might unleash the floodgates to your creativity on a truly massive scale.

The possibilities are endless.

Modern Examples

While it’s not common for us to think of popular art being cobbled together in such an incongruous manner, examples of exactly this are abound in our culture. Not just Tom Waits, but universally respected artists of all mediums have used some form or another of this technique, including The Beatles (The weird stylistic mashups of “The White Album”), Salvador Dali (Melting clocks and landscapes in the same painting, who’d have thought?), and Rupi Kaur (An unlikely combination of informal-everyday-conversational diction combined with poetic metaphor has singlehandedly revived a society’s dwindling interest in poetry).

Even some of the most popular modern video games and films have been created by using this technique (Think of the video game series, “Kingdom Hearts”, and its strange combination of Disney and Anime; Think of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, combining a diverse comic book pantheon into a single film like “Infinity War”).

Many of us ourselves probably do this subconsciously to some degree and not even realize it. It’s only when you do recognize just how powerful a force that incongruous thought truly is that you begin creating highly original pieces of work.

Which Pieces Will You Combine Next?

Just for fun, here’s some more cool incongruous possibilities to help get you started:

— You could play every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the same time and just listen…I can only imagine what cool possibilities there might be in hearing Tony Stark’s screen debut in “Iron Man” juxtaposed with his more developed finale in “Endgame” as Thanos tries to snap The Avengers out of existence…

— You could cut pages out of a stack of old books and staple them together to create a new story. You could change character names to add some stitch of consistency and see what happens.

— You could literally combine multiple jigsaw puzzles and see what bizarre collages you can make.

— You could “tune” a guitar by randomly loosening and tightening each string to something it “shouldn’t be” and then challenge yourself to create a riff.

The possibilities are truly endless when you abandon the rules for what does and doesn’t go together harmoniously.

Get creating.

This article was originally published by Aaron quist on medium.


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