Art and Music

I’ve talked quite a lot so far about the thinking behind my decision to radically change the way I compose.  I haven’t spoken very much yet about the nitty-gritty of how I intend to work.

Although I’m now working in the field of electronic/digital music, I’m not interested at all in using equipment costing thousands of pounds, having huge banks of all the latest sounds at my disposal and a plethora of other gadgetry.  I’m much more interested in using what I currently have at my disposal to create something of interest.  So, what do I use?  I currently use Sibelius and Cubase software.  In my work so far I’ve been working in Sibelius to create fragments of music in score.  Suitable sounds are chosen and these are saved as sound files.  I should say, once again, that I’m not interested in using orchestral sounds to sound like orchestral sounds.  I have no interest in a clarinet sounding like a clarinet.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I use a number of effects in order to manipulate the sound and create something new and different.  These sound files are then pasted into Cubase where I begin to use them rather like a collage artist, placing them, layering them, manipulating the sound further.

As I’ve said before, I’m something of an art lover, and art is something which I find particularly inspiring.  I see so many overlaps in the creative process of both art and music  –  colour, texture, etc etc.  One artist who has inspired me in recent times is Harald Vlugt, a Dutch artist who, among other things, creates the most extraordinary collage art.  One such piece which I’ve seen close up is pictured below.  I love the idea of being able to do in music what he does in art!


Morton Subotnick

In focusing my attention on the world of electronic/digital music, I have recently unwittingly stumbled upon the music of composer, Morton Subotnick.  I absolutely love this man’s music and I can’t believe I’ve lived as long as I have, listened to so much music and studied so many scores, to have missed out on knowing about this musical genius.  I feel that I have now not only identified a genre of music in which I would now like to work (after many years as a composer working in a traditional style for standard orchestral instruments), but I have also found myself an inspirational musical “hero”.  I have not had such a hero since my teens when I was enormously taken with the work of Sir Michael Tippett.  I listened to everything I could by him and studied many of his scores.  I did, in fact, meet him in the end, which was a great privilege.  Another semi-hero of mine was Toru Takemitsu, who I also met at his 60th birthday concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

My acquaintance with Morton Subotnick’s music is still at it’s early stages  –  but it seems to me that he is an extremely versatile composer.  He writes for acoustic instruments as well as composing electronic music.  Just listen to these excerpts from “Jacob’s Room”.  The sort of tonality he uses and his use of counterpoint sends shivers down my spine.  He’s also ultra-modern and ultra-cool  –  so it appeals to me on many levels.

Music Of Its Time

In my last post I spoke about the need for originality as being imperative in the acquisition of a new compositional voice.  Another aspect which I think is important for art to speak to the people of its time is for it also to be of  its time.  I sometimes wonder in which medium any of the Great Masters such as Mozart or Beethoven would be working now, if they were here today.  It seems to me that they would be creating wonders in the field of digital sound rather than continuing to compose for the standard orchestra, which, with the odd possible exception, seems to be rather “frozen” in time.  At the very least I think they would be working with a fusion of the two media.

These thoughts lead me to the conclusion that I must, at least to start with, work with electronic/digital sound.  Of course, there are many, many people with far more experience than I in dealing with music technology  –  but I would like to at least hope that with all my years of experience of composing in a traditional style and for traditional instruments, I might have enough skill in manipulating sound to create something of interest, something of value, and most importantly of all to me at the moment, something original!

Thoughts on originality…

In my first blog contribution I spoke about the impetus for me to find a new compositional style after years of composing in quite a traditional way.  But the reasons for this are far more that just because of the increased competition of so many more people “having a go” at composing music (the availability of music software making the production of music available to so many more people than before who don’t necessarily have the formal training previously required to compose music) and the imperative to get one’s head above the parapet, so to speak  –  to be distinctive.  I now have a fundamental feeling that the artist who wants to make a real contribution to the art of his age and to move creativity forward needs to find new ways of doing things; new ways of expressing himself.

I’m something of an art lover as well as a lover of music.  Even if one looks at the art currently being produced, let alone that of the past, it is the work which moves art forward to new forms of expression that is seen as being of the most value, artistically speaking.  An artist might have impeccable technique in drawing and painting but unless the art is showing us something new, quite frankly we’ve seen it all before!  It is doing nothing to expand the limits of our collective creativity.

This, really, is my main purpose in attempting to discover a new voice for myself.  But it must be more than this  –  it must be, as much as possible, a new way of working in the world of composition generally.  Of course, this is quite a tall order, and the goal of originality at all costs can lead one straight up an artistic cul-de-sac.  It must be balanced by allowing one’s imagination to run wild  –  yet honed by the craftsmanship gained over years of working in a more traditional sphere.