on my mind

Sometimes universities and conservatoires invite me to talk about my music and in the last year I’ve been using the title ‘sustainable music’ for these lectures. A few weeks ago at York University I got close to defining what this might mean: a way of creating music that grows out of musical material itself, whether that is existing music or more general acoustic phenomena, and that involves as little redundancy as possible.

Some examples from recent pieces: in Topophony the harmonic progression across the whole work is determined by sum- and difference-tones; in untouch-touch the percussionist makes a series of gestures, the first time to trigger sine-tones, the second time to strike six gongs whose six strongest partials have provided the pitches for the sine-tones. senza misura is a piano work for Philip Thomas in which the time is taken by groups of notes gradually sounded all over the keyboard – the music sounds both completely consistent and yet never the same. Flauto inverso grew out of Karin de Fleyt’s wish to ‘re-imagine the flute’; it uses the modern flute, homogenised by Boehm in the 19th century, and gradually takes it back in time, perhaps even out of time.

On my desk now is fantasma, the first (but the last to be written) of three Canti del carcere, madrigals for EXAUDI setting texts by Gramsci. It’s taken some time to work out what must happen but now I understand that it’s music that grows its own history or, as Gramsci says, ‘an attempt to synthesize as a doctrine what was only poetic material taking shape’. I’m also working on music for piano with video, and finishing Other times, other places, a work that assembles field recordings in the way that the makers of Stonehenge assembled stones, with live musicians too, playing composed and improvised music; an Open Space residency at Snape Maltings in May will provide some days for preparatory work for performances of the piece later this year.

When I remember I also try to gather a collection of my writings about music for a book.


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