on my mind

After the premiere in October 2018 of Other times, other places at the soundfestival in Aberdeenshire there was a Q&A with the audience and I found myself saying that my ambition as a composer is, as much as possible, to ‘get out of the way of the music.’ In Other times, other places that meant making a score which presents various different ways of organising soundscape recordings and live musicians: ways of working that involve processes without always prescribing particular sounds.

Processes are useful because they make it possible to create musical forms that have enough internal coherence to enable us listeners to rely them on them to behave. On the other hand, they’re not necessarily predictable: sometimes they do this, sometimes they do that. Last year I wrote The calm of mountains, a piece that John Snijders has just recorded for a new CD of my piano music; it is preoccupied with a sonorous, mid-range texture that is sustained throughout, and the patterns with which the strings are sounded never change very much, but the detail of how these patterns succeed one another is always varying. General order, local disorder.

Allowing music to grow out of musical material itself is also part of this approach, whether that material is existing music or more general acoustic phenomena. In June Ensemble Offspring premiered Iron rain, for electric guitar, aluphone and piano. I woke up one morning in July 2018 with the memory of a clangorous music echoing in my head, and everything in the music I subsequently wrote down – pitches, rhythmic proportions, resonance – is based on a spectral analysis of the sound of an iron bell. It seems to me that this might be part of a more global way of being: all the ideas and materials we need to live well on this planet already exist, we just need to implement them better.

When I remember, I am trying to gather a collection of my writings about music for a book, and perhaps also write a book that might become a cross between a memoir and a musical discourse.

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