With my last post on this blog having been written three months ago, it seems that I have failed in my ambition to write several articles about the start of my compositional process; indeed, with the deadline for the draft having passed on Monday, the process is nearing its end. So this post constitutes less of a look forward to what issues I plan to explore, and more of a summing-up of what I hope I’ve achieved.
I’ll start with the common-sense observation that the more a given musical object contrasts with the music around it, the longer the time for which the listener will remember it. If a loud chord appears in the middle of a sequence of other loud chords, it will be forgotten almost immediately; at the other end of the spectrum, if it appears in the midst of quiet music, it will be remembered for the duration of the piece (or, at least, for the duration of a three minute piece).
In my previous music, I have been at pains to smooth over all the seams and create continuous structures where one event follows the next as naturally as possible; loud chords are worked up to and down from, never appearing from nowhere. This approach makes for music that is satisfying on a moment-by-moment basis, but which, I think, lacks tension: ‘music that flows naturally’ is ultimately another way of saying (or even a euphemism for) ‘music that does exactly what the listener expects it to do’.
In my piece for LSO, I am playing explicitly with the idea of surface disjunction for the first time, in the hope that it will prove a useful device for creating tension over the course of a musical structure. If the music does not immediately answer the questions that it asks (a loud chord asks the question “Why am I here?”; the surrounding quiet music fails to provide an answer) the listener will continue to ask that question until an answer is provided. If that answer is not provided until two minutes later, the listener experiences a level of anticipation which is very hard to achieve if the music flows continuously; and the resolution – the answer – is all the more powerful for having been withheld.
And yes, you guessed it. My piece does indeed include a loud chord in the middle of quiet music.