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So. I’m in the middle of the piece. Quite literarily in the middle. Those of you who can remember through the last ice-age to the time of my last blog entry will remember the brainwave that was A2 manuscript paper. Well, it transpires there is a downside. The piece, and all its pages and all its associated sketches have now taken over my entire flat. There is paper everywhere. I am, as I say, quite literarily in the middle of the piece. All the time.
But such things are not what’s on my mind today. I’ve been thinking a lot about colour recently. And by colour I mean timbre (perhaps that’s obvious, a thousand apologies if so). I hear a lot of new music, it’s a kind of necessary by-product of being a composer-cum-new-music-fan, and much of the time my ears are bombarded with inventive orchestration; scurrying textures and thousands of mercurial shimmering dancing fleeting glitzy showbiz gestures.
Now don’t get me wrong. All this is very seductive, believe me; I’m often well and truly seduced. Music is about sound. If you like music, you probably like sound, and if you’re looking for interesting music – you’ll most likely love interesting sounds. But, if you’re anything like me, you’ll often come away from hearing a premiere and find yourself saying things in the bar afterwards like ‘I absolutely loved the orchestration!’ or ‘Did you hear the bit with the contrabass flexatone and piccolo bassoon playing in unison – so inventive!’ (Yes, they are made up instruments).
And this is all well and good. After all, music is about sound. If you like music you probably like sound… (etc, see above). But what ever happened to good ol’ fashioned material in a no-nonsense-cum-monolithic ‘ am the composer, these are my notes, these are my ideas laid bare, I’ll transform them for you later, but just for the moment these are my notes, these are my ideas and if you don’t like them you can shove off.’ …those are the words I can imagine running through Beethoven’s head as he wrote the opening his fifth symphony.
So here I am, sat here. Covered in paper. Wondering which piece of paper has that telephone number scribbled on that I’m really going to need in a minute. And I’m looking at my music and I find myself thinking ‘Ooooh – it’s the LSO! They can play anything! Ooooh – I could just splash out and add a contrabass flexatone here, a piccolo bassoon there – Oooh now there’s such wonderous colour!’ and with that I take a satisfied intake of breath, grasp my hands together and grin….
But then I think about Beethoven writing the opening of the fifth symphony (I’m not comparing myself to Beethoven by the way, although I think it probably goes without saying that I know he’s much better than I will ever be!) and things begin to change… ‘No.’ I think ‘I am the composer, these are my notes, these are my ideas laid bare, I’ll transform them for you later, but just for the moment these are my notes, these are my ideas, and if you don’t like them you can… well… give me some constructive criticism at the interval.’
First thing’s first. I think I’ve come up with a title. I think I’m going to call the piece ‘but today we collect ads’, after a quotation from the Smithson Partnership (Alison and Peter Smithson were revolutionary British Architects), writing as part of the infamous ‘Independent Group’ of artists:
“GROPIOUS WROTE A BOOK ON GRAIN SILOS,
LE CORBUSIER ON AEROPLANES,
AND CHARLOTTE PERIAND BROUGHT A NEW OBJECT TO THE OFFICE EVERY MORNING,
BUT TODAY WE COLLECT ADS.”
I like titles. And I usually come up with the fairly early. For me, a title serves as more than merely a label to distinguish between different pieces in a composer’s catalgoue. It actually becomes part of the composing process. Coming up with a title forces me to summarise the agenda or intensions of a piece in a single word or phrase. In doing so, I have to make some decisions as to what the piece is going to be be ‘about’ or what it’s going to ‘do’. Which, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, are quite important things to decide.
I’m quite pleased with this title. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about it another time.
I’m also quite pleased with the new A2 manuscript paper which arrived this morning to help me write it. It is, quite possibly, the largest manuscript paper my desk has ever seen. At heart I suppose a small part of every composer is somewhat stationary obsessed.
More to follow.