February 22, 2014 - composition / workbook

It’s taken a while but I think I’m beginning to find a solution to the problem of generality and specificity which has been bothering me for a while. I posted on generality last year, and gave a talk about it at Goldsmiths in October, but essentially the concern is that as a composer I make a number of arbitrary decisions which do not materially affect the way a piece works, but allow it to be articulated in a certain way. I could make other decisions, so why these? This has led to a process of stripping away material, mostly resulting in verbal scores which define a process or relationship of some kind. This has been, for me, an engaging thing to explore but I’ve missed making pieces and working with material. I still very much have that urge as my other interest is in exploring sonic possibilities of objects (including instruments), so clearly want to find a way to integrate the two.

I think the solution has come about through discussions with composer Luke Nickel. Luke has been making a number of meta-pieces, each of which may generate or relate to other pieces. There might be a shared characteristic or defining principle, sometimes with a hierarchical structure. It’s also related to my view of multipart series. This seems like it might work for me. My verbal scores define general principles and processes. The pieces exist in this form, and have been performed using these prompts. There might also be specific versions of these pieces which take, for example, the the structure but then additionally provide a specific context or set of materials which are used to articulate the idea in one way, where the general piece provides options.

I’ve just started doing this with my orchestra piece things whole and not whole (2011) in advance of a performance in London in April. I’ve made a new piece titled on bare trees which takes the same flocking mechanism but specifies a sequence of pitches to use to articulate it. In the original piece, any sound-producing means could be used, but in the new version it is any pitched instrument. Each phrase is worked through via a circuitous route by the players before they settle, perhaps like roosting birds, on a common pitch, and then begin the process again.

I think this might be a useful way to proceed for the moment, and I may rework some other pieces in this manner.


  1. […] old and new pieces for flexible ensembles, including a new quartet so many territories and a new version of my flocking piece. Then on 11 April Robert Blatt is curating a performance of with paper at Gallery 1412 in […]

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