David Lynch’s studio is a sleek concrete fortress embedded deep in the vertical bedrock of a Hollywood hillside.
Words by Jessica Hundley
The space consists of a main tower, rising grey and clean, and a scattering of outbuildings, all connected by a meandering, maze-like path lined with succulents and sage. It is his ‘set-up’, the kind any creative needs in order to fully explore a range of expression. Having just celebrated his seventieth birthday, Lynch remains the multidisciplinary master, prolific across mediums. He still paints and draws. He produces albums and makes music. He sculpts. His iconic filmmaking enfolds all of the above into work always thrilling and wonderfully strange. The cord that spirals through it all is a lifelong practice of transcendental meditation, which Lynch acknowledges affects his work on every level. ‘It’s an unbounded ocean of energy that runs the whole show,’ he says of the practice, ‘and it’s right there within.’ Over the last decade Lynch has become deeply involved in his global organisation, the David Lynch Foundation, which teaches transcendental meditation to underserved and at-risk communities around the world. His book on meditation, Catching the Big Fish, has become a worldwide bestseller.
Let’s talk a bit about meditation. Obviously it’s useful for all of us for stress but can you speak about how it integrates with your creative work?
Yes. First of all, transcendental meditation is a stress buster but it’s much, much more than that. When they say transcending is a holistic experience, they mean all avenues of life will improve. One of the qualities of that ocean of pure consciousness within is creativity, so within every human being is unbounded, infinite, eternal creativity. You get wet with that when you transcend; you’re going to get more creative. And being more creative means you’re going to catch more ideas that you want to catch and you’re going to be able to realise those ideas easier, better. You’re going to have more energy to do your work.
Is that what happened to you? You started meditating very early on. While you were still in art school, before you went to Hollywood.
Yes. That’s what happened to me. I had ideas, I was creative before, but looking back I say I had a weakness. I felt like I was not self-assured. I felt like, looking back, if I hadn’t started meditating, I could have gotten just so killed by the film business. You need some inner strength to get through in any walk of life. It’s right there within. Also, I say negativity is the enemy to creativity. Negativity, depression, anxiety, and stress—all that stuff squeezes that tube those ideas flow through. When that thing is squeezed and that heavy weight is on you, you don’t think so good and you don’t feel so good and you don’t have the energy. [Meditating] starts opening that tube and that heavy weight starts lifting. It’s such a feeling of freedom. You feel happier; you feel better in your body. The world looks better. The world looks better every day. It’s beautiful.
So creatively, meditation allows you easier access to ideas.
Yes. The ideas tell you everything. So sometimes you get an idea, and when you get an idea, like a cinema idea, and I’ve told this story so many times, but you get an idea and, for me, mostly, it’s a fragment of the later whole thing—just like one little fish, I say. But you see it obviously—you see it in your mind’s eye, like on TV in your mind—and you hear it and you know it and you see the mood of it, even if it’s just a fragment. Or if it’s a character, they start talking. It’s like you don’t make it up; the idea comes to you and then you follow that idea and, I always say, you write that idea down in such a way that when you read those words, the idea comes back in full. It’s all mostly common sense, the whole thing, and when you translate that idea, you just keep trying to check back and see if it’s feeling that way. Then, if you get ideas along the way, that’s frosting on the cake or it means the thing isn’t finished yet, so you stay open to ideas as you work.
When you’re thinking up a project, how does meditation play into that process?
You just use yourself and your own intuition and work from there. There’s nothing else you can do. I say intuition is an ocean of knowingness. So intuition is kind of knowing when something is correct or not correct—and if it’s not correct, intuition is knowing the next step to try to make it correct. And then when it marries, you feel it. For example, fitting a piece of music into a score of a film. You try a piece of music. This one doesn’t work, this one doesn’t work; you love the music, and it doesn’t work. Then this one here, it just marries to the picture. It does the thing. This is another place where meditation, that field within, is what you want to experience. That field within helps you so much in the work and in the life.
You spoke about music as a kind of intuitive form. Let’s talk about your process when scoring films.
In the early days, if you can imagine, they discovered this camera that took many, many pictures, and you crank it and then you can play it back and things move. It’s incredible. People started working and they came out here to California and they just sort of figured it out and they had a blast. They worked when it was sunny, because there’s a lot of sun here, and they’d have fun making stories. Then it got real compartmentalised and unionised and all that stuff. There are so many rules, you cannot believe. It’s a nightmare. So what happens usually is that there’s some composer somewhere and the filmmakers show him some footage and he writes the thing and hardly anybody’s talking, you know? How is that necessarily going to work and what role does the director have? It’s a little bit absurd. It’s like having an actor do the part and you just cut it in—you don’t even talk to him. If it works, it’s kind of a miracle. That’s like that film company, called Miracle Productions, and their line was: ‘If it’s good, it’s a miracle.’ But music, of all the elements, is critical. And as director you need to have control and input. If you have a certain thing going with a project and one element doesn’t fit, it blows everything.
You’ve also made albums. That must be a liberating thing, to be focused only on the music and have a little bit more control.
Yeah, yeah, it’s really fun. I’m not a musician and yet I’m in the world of music—but it’s always an experiment. We don’t go on the road, we don’t perform, but we make music in the studio. So I have super respect for musicians, and love musicians. I always say it’s just great, it’s unifying. You can have all different types of musicians and when they start playing, they’re one. It’s so beautiful. It’s incredible and it’s abstract. How does it go? You change one element and it goes a different way. It’s so magical; it’s just incredible.
You have so many disciplines. When you get up in the morning, how do you choose?
You follow the ideas, whatever you’re working on, and then you might get an idea and that’s why I say you need a set-up. It’s so hard to get a set-up. If you get an idea for something with wood, you need a wood workshop. You may not go in there very often, but when you get an idea you’re in there until the project is done. It’s so fantastic to have a set-up, and it takes a long time to get a set-up, but then you can do the ideas.