Thoughts on musical experiences, my own works, and who knows what else.
Rather than complete one of the many works which still need editing, mixing or FINISHING, I am taking on a new project: composing for tape and live snare drum. For the last few years I have largely been interested in acousmatic and radiophonic music, and exploring how these genres can be made more accessible and portable through small diffusion technologies and embracing non-ideal listening spaces (want to know more about that? Wait until November).
Now, I’m writing for monophonic loudspeaker and snare, which I hope will interact like two live performers do. You don’t often hear about audience members grumbling that they weren’t seated in the “sweet spot” at an acoustic gig. Rather than having a performer play amongst stereo or large diffusion sound, the mono speaker might act a little more like another solo player. Hopefully, this results in each audience member receiving a unique listening perspective regardless of where they are seated, and mitigates the risk of everyone bar one or two listeners missing out on the full stereophonic effect that the composer intended.
Many exciting thoughts and concepts to test out here! However, this piece came with many more challenges than my optimistic mind could have comprehended.
After four years of not writing for live instruments, it feels a little as if my brain has been rewired. When I think of the music I want to bring into reality, I see sound waves and track segments as building blocks of a larger texture, rather than notes running across a stave. This realisation came with a bit of dismay; it was going to be a long journey back to the world of written scores. While I am getting re-acquainted with notated rhythms bit by bit, it does feel like learning a long-forgotten language.
One of the great attractions of fixed media electroacoustic composition is control. While every aspect of my music was easily turned into the finished product by moving blocks of audio around a DAW workspace, I no longer have the immediate aural confirmation anymore. For this reason, workshopping the new work with a live performer and hearing my ideas turned into sound has been crucial for me. This middle step has helped to bridge the gap between my understanding of sound and a performers’ knowledge of the written score.
While that may sound promising, do not be fooled: a great work of art, this is not yet. The long-forgotten uncertainties which come from instrumental composition have been stirred up again, and old insecurities about my place in music have returned. This piece is not ‘good’ just yet. I am constantly temped to compose a whole new electroacoustic work, then delete bits that can be substituted with the snare drum.
But this is lazy, and not a good way to integrate two very different sound sources to make a cohesive whole.
The benefits of having a patient, compassionate workshopper cannot be extolled enough. My percussionist has not only put up with my percussion-writing inexperience, but has painstakingly improvised off half-baked sound-bites, gone through the notations for different timbral effects within the same technique, and listened to my tape draft, making wise suggestions for what he might do to respond to the existing material.
I have had to admit that this work is not my creation alone, but a collaboration, a compromise between what I want and what can be achieved and is pleasurable to perform. New music is increasingly collaborative, and the crucial role that performers play in the development of works is becoming apparent. The fact that I collaborate, take on ideas from my performer, does not make this work any less mine, but extends that authorship to my performer as well. And that is how it should be.
I think I am beginning to enjoy this relinquishing of control. Rather than taking away from what I bring to the work, we each bring our individual musical experiences and pool them to make a much more valuable musical thing.
Watch this space, there are many more challenges and successes (I hope!) to come.