I’ve been thinking about musical subject-matter and what it might be when one writes music that seems to have no subject beyond itself.
What has particularly brought this to mind has been the experience of working on a new cycle of works for voices, Brave New Worlds, and a set of clarinet pieces, these other birds. As its title suggests, Brave New Worlds is concerned with Utopia and subsequent imaginings of perfected societies, so the music is a response to images conjured up by Thomas More, Aldous Huxley and Thea von Harbou. these other birds began as a response to other images, Picasso’s series of dove paintings from the 1950s, but has become a collaboration with the poet Kate Wakeling, both us trying to articulate what it means to create work that turns in on itself, reflecting on its own making.
I had already been circling around the subject of subjects in other recent works, sweet and salt and Paralogos, the former a cycle of nine movements for the singer Sarah Dacey and the Riot Ensemble, the latter a set of three duos that are intended as abstractions of other music. When I began Paralogos I was imagining them being played simultaneously with the premiere of sweet and salt but it is now probable that they will appear first on a CD, played by two wonderful Israeli musicians, the violinist Yael Barolsky and the cellist Dan Weinstein. We have just recorded them and it turns out that this music is about how Yael and Dan make their instruments sound. Perhaps the most human music is music that has no other subject.