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"We Are All Mozart"

A project to create
new works and change
the perception of the
music of our time.

Mantra Canon score pages Dennis

previous   October 20, 2006   next

David said it was exactly what I was railing about, and he was right. He was talking about a new piece written today, and here's the background. Earlier this week, a local orchestra's manager called for a recording date; they were giving two concerts and auditioning a conductor, and wondered if both concerts could be recorded for the price of one. Bargaining is not my strong point, but the orchestra's manager, a cellist, suggested that if I wrote a cello piece, they could play it at the concert. Would that entice me to record both? Yes, it was a joke, but she did want a piece, so why not call the bluff in the most realistic way possible, by composing a piece for her to play? And that's what I did today, having some fun, getting into the spirit of a very traditionally shaped composition, full of chords and arpeggios. The piece was finished by late afternoon, three minutes of sweetness and fluidity in a song without words. The score and demo recording went out via the cyber post. (There has been no response, but it's Friday night.)

So what about this railing against music that is traditional and unadventurous? Is it the exemplar of hypocritical practice? Does this have nothing new to say? Perhaps that is true; in fact, it's likely that it's true, save for the fact that it's a new kind of expression for me -- which by itself is not even sufficient justification. No, it's more about taking pleasure in the task, the pathway, the expressing, the results. Most of the time being a composer is a terrible burden, with the fear of having Nothing To Say always ready to ambush ideas and wrestle them into the bushes, robbing them of value and leaving them bruised and disheveled. The fear loses some potency over the years, but is still present at the creation. It so injured the first version of Icecut that the piece did not survive, and a new one had to be written from scratch. So fear bides its time and seizes its moments.

On the other hand, I am in love with sound. Composers who fascinate me are also in love with sound. You can see their eyes hunt around an unfamiliar room, and they will touch objects in the hope that sound will be produced. They listen to conversation for the sound, the rumble, the buzz, the musical babble far more than for the words. Their eyes are defocused, their demeanor attentive and absent at once. If there's a musical instrument in the room, though, they will look past it; that sound is familiar, uninteresting, without compelling sense. (Composers can make lousy social musicians because playing feels purposeless, covering old ground again. "Play us something!" is met not with polite and modest dismissal, but with a certain revulsion. Group play, improvisation, now that's something different. Interaction rules.)

The field was split -- may still be split -- between the composer in love with the imagination and creation of sound and the composer in love with the theory and process of sound. I have often said that I am naïve, and that's not mere self-effacement. It was during a stretch in Europe that such a distinction became evident. Because I had jumped from college directly into the rough-and-tumble of what for lack of a better word I'll call 'public composition', I failed to grasp the hypnotic spell of theory for so many composers of the Seventies. The theoretical spell was still strong in Europe when I arrived in the early Nineties, with theoretically-driven compositions spooling out in great number, whether their source be computer generation, algorithm, tuning theory, or spectral management. Apart from testing the discernment of their theory in action, many such compositions were not for the act of listening at all. They were treatises in sound.

Treatises, experiments, testing and simple play are creative acts. They explain to, experiment with, test, and play with the creator, the theory, the creation, and the audience. Where the tests are successful or the play is rewarding, subsequent creations may result and the way of creating music shift course. (No, detailing the principles of artistic success will not be risked here, not today.) And other music? It may offer a different perspective or emphasize an existing one, it may put the theories to work, or it may be mere imitation of the well-known. Such pieces can also arise from play, from personal experiment, or from the simple joy of picking skills off the internal workbench of the mind and putting them together into a bit of musical furniture. No, it's not art, but art has surrounding it a room, a studio, a chair, lighting, wire, a hook, a frame, as well as time and geography. They are all the artwork's frame, and as such an even-present environment in which the artwork comes alive.

Without the frame of many creations, there is no context for engaging in a truly remarkable experience. In all the dreary treatise compositions, a few may explode with brilliance. In the context of so many ordinary works, a handful will capture the imagination and not let it go. So I raise my glass of Scotch to a truly rewarding day of cobbling together a composition at my workbench, something better than middling, but something that will live in a friendly corner of the nonpop homestead, an acoustic frame for the works that fear finds worthy of a healthy ambush.

Oh. The piece. It's called Winter's Stealth, and you can grab a (not quite cleaned up) copy of the score or listen to or download a demo.

That's it. No attempts at profundity today. I'm just going to revel in the sound and enjoy this wee glass.

David Gunn and copy
Speaking of David Gunn: At the left, David's publicity photo from a few years ago; at the right, a cheap imitation that recently appeared on Sequenza21/. Who's the real artist? You bet!

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