In July I was lucky enough to be accepted to attend the Atelier for Young Festival and Cultural Managers in Shanghai with my place being supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland Open Fund. The Atelier is organised by the Festival Academy, which is part of the European Festivals Association network. The aim is of skill development and dialogue between EU arts managers and their Chinese counterparts. The whole thing felt like it had a very political context being created in the EU-China Hugh Level People to People Dialogue through the Cultural Diplomacy Platform but whatever EU-China politics was going on behind the scenes it didn’t seem to impact the day to day working.
I applied for a duel purpose – to develop my ideas around running and programming The Night With… and build personal connections both for The Night With… and for myself as a composer. I was also very interested to visit China and try and learn a bit more about the country so I booked a few days after the Atelier to explore Shanghai a little more.
The seven days of the Atelier were completely full on, too full on. Events were programmed pretty much 9am to 9pm every day. The intention was to have as much contact time with the participants as possible to get more conversations going. This did happen but gradually through the week people dropped out for a morning or a day because they just needed a break or to recover from jetlag, tiredness, illness, culture shock or a mix of all four.
Cultural and linguistic barriers were one of the biggest issues to overcome with everyone. There were 44 participants roughly divided 22 from China and 22 from Europe. English was the common langauge but the meaning of various words took a while to fully form. Terms like ‘independent artist’ and ‘art’ needed to be defined and understood to develop the discussion further. To me the term independent artist would describe someone like me, making work, putting on concerts and occasionally getting support from funding organisations. However, in China it means someone who is freelance, not a salaried artist (for example one of the actors in a theatre troupe with a permanent job for life) and doesn’t get any state support, ever. Once this was understood a conversation could develop but it took 3 days before this was clear. Equally gradually through the week the word ‘art’ seemed more weighted toward ‘entertainment’ than ‘art’. By this I mean something like Warhorse was called ‘art’ but I would call it more ‘entertainment’. Warhorse is part of the Arts and it is Art but not in the same way as experimental theatre or new music. This was not universily true but it was true enough to cause moments that were lost in translation. This differentiation had never dawned on me as being necessary in any dialogues I’ve had but it was crucial in understanding conversations and a sharp learning point for any international work I want to undertake. Now that I’ve had that realisation I think it probably is very useful to think of where on a scale of Art —— to —– Entertainment any project, festival or work sits especially from a marketing point of view. This was summed by nicely by Robyn Archer ‘if all you do is give audiences what they want then you are entertainment’.
Funding was another very interesting discussion point for everyone. Surprisingly there wasn’t really a common reference point for anyone here. It seems every country has some similar funding agencies but the structure seems very different even within Europe with various mixes of public bodies (like Creative Scotland), trusts and some cooperate sponsorship. The Chinese model is either state funded, commercial sponsorship or self-funded. There are no trusts. There was one participant from China who said his theatre is run as a real estate company not as an arts company. A bank leant them the equivalent of £4 million over 5 years to set up the 80 seater theatre. This seems insane as to cover the interest alone at 2% they would need to sell out one show every day with a £2.70 profit per ticket. This seems a completely unsustainable as a model for an arts venue unless you look at it from the view of reselling the property in 5 or 10 years. Then it becomes sensible especially considering the increase in value of property in Shanghai. Could this be a model to open more venues in the UK? Instead of presenting a business model based around selling tickets, base it around reselling the venue in 10 years after the property price as gone up. It seems like it could tie into the pop-up aesthetic that as developed over the last 10 years but you would need to develop a strong brand independent of the venue to be able to move every 5 years. It also might explain how so many venues are opening up in China at the moment.
The scale of China is quite hard to comprehend. Catharine Wang said that in 2016 Shanghai International Arts Festival reached ‘only 4 million people with 200,000 tickets sold’. Considering the population is Shanghai is about 24 million reaching 16% of them or 1% of the city’s population buying a ticket I think would be good for any UK organisation but she is disappointed by these figures an wants them to grow. By comparison attendees at the BBC Proms are around 300,000 a year and Edinburgh International Festival 450,000. I believe these figures include free events not just ticketed.
One very interesting session was run as part of a separate conference at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. This was a session where Chinese arts companies were pitching performances to international delegates. Each was given 10 mins including a 2min video, 4 min presentation and 4 min Q&A. It was very interesting to see how large touring shows are sold with so little information and that the people who are potentially interested buying them fail to read the information in the info pack and ask needless questions already answered.
As part of the SIAF there was a trade fair area. Though not part of the Atelier activities, I took the opportunity to talk to various international venues and ensembles hosting a stand. What was very interesting about this trade fair was the fact that there were very few opportunities to listen to music or watch videos, it was all leaflets. This brings up an interesting question, how do you get interest in durational arts with static media?
To conclude, some short thoughts on various discussions during the week:
Music Streaming – China has gone from a country where music is listened to live to one where music is streamed within about 10 years. This has meant there has been no label, marketing or distribution infrastructure developed to ‘break’ Chinese artists. This has meant a reliance on tried and tested (mostly western) music.
Marketing – concerts are marketed on names rather than programmes. In the Shanghai International Arts Festival brochure, and in other venues I looked at, it was filled with gushing bios of conductors and ensembles but hard or impossible find what was in the programme. The bios are true in the UK but from my experience there is always a concert programme.
Who isn’t here is as important a question to ask as who is.
Risk – Arts organisations in China seem to want to eliminate risk (not true for independent orgs) whereas Western organisations want to reduce it. This means that Western organisations find ways to balance artistically interesting work with work that will bring in audiences, Chinese orgs just want programmes to bring in audiences. Robyn Archer talked said that people take more risk during festivals than they would normally.
Themes – One thing I have been struggling with when programming The Night With… are themes, how to use them and if I even should. Bernard Faivre D’Arcier (President Lyon Biennial, Former longstanding Director Avignon Festival) gave me some insight into how he programmes with regards to themes.
The take away from my conversation with him was that themes are useful for marketing but shouldn’t be the main aim of festival programming.
‘Festivals are like a public examination of your years work’ – Catherine Wang
‘Give more power away as you get higher’ – Mark Ball
‘Buildings can make the city big, art makes the city great’ – Rongjun (Nick) Yu
‘Themes come out of programming choices. You cannot have a festival or series imprisoned by one theme’ Bernard Faivre D’Arcier
It has been a hugely beneficial experience to attend. I have made many international connections all with the potential for collaborations. Something else that I’ve become more interested in through the Atelier is the use of Culture as a soft power. Is it possible to be apolitical in the arts if you are receiving support from the state? Even if that support is coming from an arms length organisation. That might be a topic for another blog.
I thought it would be a good idea to put the transcript on my blog so that anyone who wanted could read and listen again. What follows is my pre-written talk that I know I digressed from a few times during the course of the presentation (I can’t remember where, what and how though!) but it includes all the main points I wanted to cover. Throughout it I’ve embedded the sound examples I played and at the bottom is a playlist of my other music. If you have any questions feel free to comment below or email me at mwhiteside(at)me(dot)com. Replace (at) for @ and (dot) for .
I’m Matthew Whiteside and I’m the composer involved with the current exhibition in here. I’ve been asked to give this talk as a bit of an introduction to me as a composer and also to talk about the new piece, Elements, composed for the exhibition, however I’ll come onto that later. You’ve just heard my most recently premiered instrumental piece called Well, Well, Well.
I started with it because it is a good summary of where I am sitting at the moment as a composer. Throughout and after my studies I’ve been interested in drawing together quite separate influences. The main ones are contemporary electronic music, classical music, physics and rock. I didn’t quite plan on bringing rock into my compositions but it has been there from the start because that’s what I listened to a lot when I was younger. The physics side of it has also been there since the start specifically the beating effect you get with two notes not perfectly in tune.
Now for some more music.
This is an extract of what I would call my very first piece, Quartet No. 1.
In this you can hear the same effect being used at the start with the two violins. I have used this effect in a number of pieces but for a while was searching to find ways to emphasize it. This led me to start exploring the use of electronics. At Queen’s, where I did my undergraduate, they have a whole department dedicated to audio technology and a room called the Sonic Lab with speakers placed around the whole room. It places you in the middle of the sound. If you get a chance go along to one of their lunchtime concerts they are free and open to the public.
That was an extract of Machinisit’s Visual Fallacy. It was my first electroacoustic piece. Within this extract I used a similar technique to the strings but because it is composed in the studio I had a lot more control over it.
The basic idea of this style of music is to take real world sounds and build a piece using the sounds as they are or manipulate them using studio technology. The other way I quite like to think about it is using the speaker as a veil to create visual audio. In other words you hear a sound that is instantly recognizable such as a door closing. The sound carries certain information with it meaning you can hear the space the door is in you can tell if the door is wood or metal and how big it is you might even remember a door from your childhood that sounded the same basically you can almost see it in your mind but you can’t see anything with your eyes. These are some of the techniques I used in composing Elements and continue to use throughout my work. Sometimes a climax results in lifting the veil of the speaker to revel the image behind or soundscape is created that could almost be real but there’s something not quite right niggling at the back of your mind.
Though these two pieces are about 3 or 4 years old they are still influencing what I do now.
The next piece I’m going to talk about is my Quartet No. 3 for string quartet and live electronics. This piece pulls together quite overtly all my influences in the first few seconds.
What you are hearing is a string quartet played live but also being sampled and manipulated live to create a ‘glitchy tension’ This phrase is in reference to a specific genre of music that uses scrapes and glitches (like a cd skipping) as the main musical material. The close microtonal interactions between the notes also add to this sense of something not quite right in the music to keep it driving forward. Incidentally this piece is being played in its entirety as part of the Belfast festival on the 26th October at 7.30pm in the Crescent Arts Centre. You can find out more information about the concert on the Belfast Festival website.
Now that I’ve given you a brief overview of my interests as a composer and what I’ve done I’m going to talk a bit more in depth about the R-Space commission.
Before composing the piece I knew I wanted it to be an aural interaction between Andrew Cooke’s practice and the building where the exhibition was going to take place. To do that I went to Andrew’s workspace to record the sounds of him working and anything else I found interesting. I also spent a few hours walking around r-space tapping, scrapping and hitting things to record various sounds in and around the building.
After this I had about 5 hours work of audio to listen through to and pick out interesting sounds. Here are a few examples.
I found it quite difficult to get into the piece and work out what I wanted it to do. I initially thought of having multiple sonic images and create an aural walk round a gallery but the source material didn’t lend itself to that no matter how much I tried. Then while I was cycling around Glasgow I had the idea to develop the sonic images into the 4 elements earth, wind, fire and water. I decided to divide the recorded sounds by various properties. Earth used sounds that were earthy such as gravel, scrapping the sounds of sticks, very natural sounds. Fire was sounds created by metal, glass or things that needed fire to have been made. Water referred to digging or machinery, basically sounds of things changing or moving. While Air I took to mean music or sounds that wouldn’t have been possible without all of the others combined.
I then took these 4 groups of material and started composing the 4 different sections. Here is an early version of Water.
Ultimately I wanted to make sure the whole piece fitted together as one entity rather than 4 sections. This meant that quite a lot of cross-pollination between the sections to smooth the edges.
The final thing I want to talk about today is about the jeweler you see in the glass cabinet. A number of years ago I took up oil painting and I was interested in trying to represent the beat patterns I talked about earlier in paint. Initially I did this through brushstrokes on monochrome canvas but eventually it developed into what you see behind me. I then thought it would be a really interesting idea to try and create things based on a more scientific analysis of sound.
Robert introduced me to Sarah McAleer who is a jewelry smith with a 3d printer and we developed a way to translate this flat image into a 3D model in the computer. This model could then be understood by her printer and made into a real life thing. Because Sarah is interested in developing new types of jewelery she then began twisting these into bracelets and rings creating these.
We are really excited about these because we don’t know of anyone else in the world that is doing anything quite like it. It also has the possibility of being a really personal piece of jewelry by recording someones voice, their child playing or a couple saying ‘I do’ and making it into a ring or a pendant. We have also been talking to Andrew Cooke about incorporating ceramics into the products as well and making it a really broad collaboration. At the moment we are in the initial stages of developing it but we all think there is a huge opportunity if we can market it right.
Thank you for listening and I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about me, my music and my interests. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I’ve got a CD on sale, which has both Elements, and Machinist’s Visual Fallacy on with a few other pieces.
Sometimes you have a craving. This craving manifests itself as a physical impulse, your body tells your mind ‘satisfy this craving’. Easily done if the craving is quite a general one ‘give me water’ or ‘give me food’ but what if that craving is a lot more specific? Again it can be easily satisfied in certain circumstances ‘I want an orange’ or ‘I want garlic bread’. There is third level of craving that is even more frustrating ‘I want a flavour’.
This level is the one you have been suffering, and suffer is the appropriate word. You have been searching for that one flavour to satisfy your craving. Every time you think you have it you run to the shop and buy the food you have just remembered contains that flavour. It doesn’t. It may be close; it may sometimes contain a hint of that thing you are after but not enough to slate your desire. You return home to continue doing whatever it was you were doing. Somewhere in the back of your mind there are stacks of drawers in rooms full of filing cabinets being opened, flipped through and closed as your brain frantically goes through everything it can find that might possibly resemble that one thing your body is calling out for. Occasionally it throws up an answer, a golden file is sprung open with a name ‘cheese and onion crisps!’ it exclaims in big letters. You run to the shop. No, not it. ‘Jarlsberg!’ No. ‘Egg fried rice!’ No again. Gradually the craving diminishes as the elf flipping through the files gets bored and your body realises that what it desires so much cannot be named. It might even be a new flavour or simply one experienced many years ago now long forgotten, squashed and at the bottom of one of these drawers. Either way you are getting tired and slip into bed to waken up the next morning with no such craving and, if there is a memory of it at all, a little bit of concern as to how you became so obsessed over a flavour.
The same thing can easily happen with an activity, an image, a sound, an idea. An obsession to experience an unreachable thing that seems to hang within sight but with a veil of mist covering it just thick enough to blur it’s defining features. The question is how much effort should you put into these cravings. Should the day be spent running to and fro between shop and home trying to find the flavour be exactly that, a day? Should this day represent a week, a month, a year, or even a lifetime? Where if you fail to gain what you desire there is no opportunity to waken up in the morning and feel a little embarrassed about your obsession, thankful that no one else really took any notice.
There is something in that last paragraph that could be quite telling depending on your reaction. Did you or did you not agree with the statement ‘feel a little embarrassed about your obsession’? If you did then maybe this essay is for you or maybe it isn’t and you will hate and disagree with everything in it. If on the other hand you thought ‘embarrassed by an obsession? Never!’ then you already know what this essay could be about.
The mind and body are not two separate things, as contemporary thought seems to portray them. They are one inseparable thing. One complete whole that cannot function in the fashion it does without both remaining broadly intact. The body informs the mind of its needs to survive and the mind attempts to work out solutions to fulfil these needs. It has been hypothesised that the mind doesn’t even do that. The mind is simply there to negate these cravings. It is not a system that always says yes but one that sometimes says no – a governor valve to the body’s desires if you will. Sit on that thought for a moment. The place that you believe has contained all your thoughts and desires, including the little elf with the filing cabinet of flavours and missing files, is simply there to say ‘no, I shan’t give you what you want’.
Now you are thinking ‘how can this be so, I am having this thought in reaction to the words I have just read?’ But what are those words? In their base form they are things that have a meaning only because you have been taught they have a meaning. How do you know you have not been taught to have such a reaction to that specific string of words? Obviously you cannot be taught how to react to every conceivable sentence, you don’t live in a Brave New World, but even if you did where would the first teaching have come from? But the train of thought has wondered through the mist of the mind onto another topic entirely and must return to the one at hand.
The body and mind are one. A craving from one creates a feedback loop between itself and the other. Though naming and separating them both seems to be rather wrong when described like this. They are just One. Somehow this concept of separation has seeped into almost every pour of existence. The argument is there that it is for ease of definition but it makes certain rules and concepts harder to explain. It is cultural decency that men and woman are separated in changing rooms but then why not male and female children? At what point is it wrong for a young girl to walk into a male changing room? What if that girl looks to be 15 but is only 7? Where and why did this idea of cultural decency even appear?
Another further reaching separation is that of humans and animals. You know instinctively what this means, but you are wrong. There is no possible separation between humans and animals; in fact that statement is a tautology. Humans ARE animals. This is something that conservationists frequently get wrong. They somehow see the world as if humans live on a glass floor five foot above the ground observing a static world and having no effect on it, apart from detrimental one. They are blind to the idea humans have always effected the environment they live in, in the same way every other animal effects the environment, for the better or worse, of those living in the same area. There is a tree that supplies safety to ants to enable them to remove all surrounding undergrowth and keep that tree’s dominance over the local environment. Would any conservationist propose removing all those trees because of the perceived damage they cause? No I doubt it. So why force indigenous humans out of their natural habitat simply because they are human?
You are now thinking ‘what does this have to do with craving? Is the writer following a plan or just writing what comes into their mind’. You may yet find out.
One demands something, One is distracted, One craves something, One attempts to find the source, One fails. What if this craving is a desire to explain a feeling, a feeling conjured by a word? The word is pretty ordinary and easy to find in a dictionary. You might have heard it used today by someone else or even used it yourself, its nothing special just another word. The word? Structure. You read the word knowing its definitions taught to you by countless conversations or from reading the definition in a dictionary. A definition you understand by the knowledge of the meanings of the words used to explain it learnt through countless conversations or from reading the definition in a dictionary. You understand what structure means intimately but somehow you are now concerned that this word will change. Has changed. That there is something you have missed in you knowledge and the meaning behind this rather bland but important word that somehow makes you feel uneasy.
This uneasiness is not always there when the word is used. It isn’t a Pavlovian condition where you hear ‘structure’ and you feel uneasy. Only when put in one specific context does that happen: ‘the structure of the piece of music was…’. But why?
You firstly think there must be something wrong with you but after more thought that changes. You begin to think its something wrong with them, with their use of the word. You cannot shake this feeling, this craving to work it out. Other people tell you to just accept it, go to sleep and the feeling will be gone in the morning (as in the case of a flavour), but it doesn’t. You begin to spend hours pondering this word. You do understand what they mean, why they use it but they cannot be using it right. Eventually after almost two years you work out what is wrong. After two years obsessing about one word, craving an answer you sit down at your computer to attempt to explain the conclusion you have come to. You begin typing:
Sometimes you have a craving…
Tonight I went to see Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco in the Brian Friel Theatre (Queen’s Film Theatre) because I knew one of the people involved. I had never heard of the work or even the writer but I’m glad I went. The basic outline of the piece is, to quote the QFT website, ‘When a rhinoceros charges across a town square and tramples down an innocent pussy one quiet Sunday afternoon, Berenger is unconcerned. However rhinoceroses start popping up everywhere, putting Berenger’s world, as he knows it, under threat. What will it take for Berenger to stand up to the increasing threat of rhinoceritis?.’
The idea of people turning into rhinos is absolutely absurd but also, as is intended, very symbolic (just change the word rhinoceros into sheep). First one character turns into a rhino then his boss before being followed by his workforce, apart from Berenger, who feel a duty towards the boss and follow his every whim. Eventually rhinoceritis takes hold to such a degree that Berenger picks up his telephone to be confronted by the grunting of a rhino, I didn’t ask how it dialled the number, and turns on the radio to hear the same sound.
The most effective part of the work, for me, was not this scene, but the first scene. The first scene consisted of Berenger sitting in a bar with a friend talking about him, essentially, not conforming to the norm. At some point through the scene a rhino stampedes past with all the characters running in to exclaim ‘look a rhino!’, or something to that effect, with Berenger sitting uninterested at the table. Berenger’s friend, Jean, after the rhino has passed says three or four times ‘well what do you make of that?’ to Berenger before Berenger takes the topic away from the subject of the rhino. The rhino or a different rhino, a subject of a little debate within the play, then returns and tramples on a cat. The owner runs into the bar screaming, mourning her cat, everyone clusters round talks and Jean says, yet again, ‘well what do you make of that?’
The reason I see this section of the play as the most effective and thought provoking part is that, to me, it sums up modern popular culture. You have the outside event (the rhino), people wanting to comment on an essentially unimportant event (‘well what do you make of that?’) and an outside event becoming the topic of conversation for a whole bar, and in the next scene an office, full of people (rhino trampling cat, woman coming into bar mourning and whaling). Scale this event from an absurd play into a real life situation. An outside event, say a cat stuck up the tree, becomes front-page news people talk about it because it is front-page news. Another situation, big brother, x-factor etc reality tv series, when they are on are all people talk about, they even somehow manage to get decent sized articles in respectable newspapers. So far these are two very banal examples but how about changing the example to a murder in a town 100 miles away or even in the same town? People still seem to react in the same way even though it does not directly affect them, though all sympathies go to any family that has been involved in such an event.
The problem is there seems to be no sliding scale of reaction; it’s either all out bitching, indignation or not caring. This is the reason I do not follow popular culture and news bulletins religiously, though I admit I look at a news site once a day to get an idea of what’s happening. I feel you are as likely to find out that the UK is at war as X celebrity has married Y. People seem inclined to follow the crowd, to become a rhino, in order to talk. But what is the point in conversing if what you are conversing about is ultimately pointless? Why not have a debate about which philosophy is better to live your life by, why string theory doesn’t work or which composer or writer is the greatest to have ever lived? These are ultimately as pointless as the banal subjects mentioned earlier but they require more knowledge than a 5 min read in a crappy 99p celeb magazine and they might in fact lead to a great idea or actually learning something new and interesting.
To me popular culture can be summed up as an oversaturation of utterly pointless information. I need to know and learn enough stuff without filling my mind up with useless things about someone who I have never met and who has probably done nothing of real worth or something that doesn’t and will probably never affect me. I sometimes feel like Berenger lost on a sea of rhinos but unlike him at the end of the play I have never debated becoming a rhino, I have always and hopefully will always just be me. Popular culture doesn’t interest me and do you know what? I don’t care.
As for the play and acting it was very good. If you read this, are about Belfast and are free either tomorrow or Friday head to it. Its only £6 and I think it would be worth it. http://www.brianfrieltheatre.co.uk/rhino.html
It was Schoenberg that said there is no such thing as consonance or dissonance any more. This seems like a reasonable statement to make but after almost 100 years those terms are still used with regard to music within that time period. Why? Why do these terms stick with such ferocity into the musicological repertoire? These terms make sense when used of music from before 1900 but with music after 1900 they should barely be mentioned in the same paragraph let alone the same essay! With this said they are still mentioned, even used as points of conversation within an analysis but why? Is it because musicologists do not want to be removed from their familiar phrases or is it because from a young age the musician is taught that consonance is nice and dissonance is harsh, major is happy minor is sad?
I completely agree that the young musician should be taught the fundamentals of harmony and the development from plainsong through to today but the teaching seems to concentrate around Bach and Mozart before commenting on Wagner’s chromaticism it doesn’t push forward any more than that. This in turn means that people try and explain contemporary music in out of date terms. Messiaen’s Les Offrands Oubliées is beautiful but in no way consonant, going on the younger musician’s teaching it is dissonant but its not harsh and unpleasant so this makes them question and leaves them confused. This is a fine example of why these terms should not be used but what can replace them? Unfortunately I believe the only words that can replace them are words that belong to feelings, words such as harsh or pleasant. I have been lambasted in essays for writing ‘such and such a passage feels pleasant’ yet I continue to write such terminology because I have not found anything else that will satisfy me. Feelings are the only true way to describe music, trying to distance the emotion from the sound is not right or even possible in the same way that trying to build a house without adequate foundations. Music is art, art is for emotion so is the best way to describe it not in emotional terms? Music today just is. If it has been written by the composer either with a specific idea or emotion in mind, why try and label it constant or dissonant?
The sound of silence is the sound of nature, but the sound of nature is not silence. Silence will stretch on eternally while each sound no matter how long or short is only a micro-sound in the time scale of nature. Does this mean that it is pointless to produce a sound or that sound itself is unnatural? That is like asking is existence pointless or unnatural. Some will say yes to both, some will say yes to neither yet there are some who will argue both yes and no. It is an unanswerable question but all will agree that if something that exists infringes on something else’s existence then the infringer should be reigned in, but not destroyed. This can apply equally to sound as it can to existence.
The cacophony that is modern life infringes on existence. It infringes on nature’s silence because it is pointless. Modern life has become just another radio, tv, mobile phone ring tone in the middle of the street. It has become so cacophonous that people require these constant stimuli, but why? Why can people not sit back and listen to the sound of nature? The cacophony that is produced is, on the grand scheme of nature, pointless. What is wrong with a whispered conversation over a shouted one? A whispered conversation requires more attention but have people become so used to shouting that a whisper is inaudible? Whisper a person’s name in a crowd of screaming people and you will be heard by that person, yet scream their name and you wont be. This I admit is a slight embellishment of the truth but it has a grain of truth in it. Someone will pick out the nuance of their whispered name in noise because they are attuned to the voice, the whisper and their name yet a shout would just blend in.
The world and all its noise is but a flash in the silence of nature. If we must interrupt it it should have a point, a well-defined reason for the interruption. Would you barge into a wedding, a funeral or a family sitting together eating in their own home without a reason? No, that is common courtesy. So why should we break the silence of nature unless it is with good reason? There is no need for ring tones as long as a phone as a vibrate function, there is no reason to shout at the person you are trying to talk to if everyone else is talking in a whisper.
The point of this short essay is not to preach but for me to lay down my own ideas, ideas that have changed massively over the last year. I originally wanted to write bold loud music but I have gradually been turning away from that and I think today I have come to see why. Silence is what will become and what has always been. We are a brief cacophonous noise in the midst of this silence. If I break this silence it is to create something, something that I find beautiful or pleasurable not harsh and bold but quite and delicate. This idea has not only become apparent in my dynamics but in my pitches, but in hindsight I feel that it has always been within my pitches. A move of a semi-tone makes me shudder yet a tone feels distant, I think it is my desire to create something that only just fractures the silence bleeding into my pitches but then maybe it is the other way round. Maybe it is the pitches bleeding into the silence. A note is nature and a semi-tone, or smaller, is nature but a third is artificial.
People expect the cacophony of the modern world. This expectation has bleed into music in all its forms. Electro-acoustic music takes sounds from this cacophony and re-interprets them, sometimes successfully but rarely, while main-stream music enforces in someone the desire to turn it up, listen to the drums and ignore the subtly. Would a semi-tone change of one note be noticed in a track by Lady Gaga, Stereophonics or Metallica? I think not. There is a place for this music but it is not at the forefront. The nature of these is full of volume but not full of thought. These voluminous sounds are not constrained to mainstream music but are also in many classical works. Again, there is a place for it in some cases, but not in all.
What I believe I am trying to show myself and any who care to read is that nature should not be broken. A sound should come from nothing and go to nothing; that is the natural order. A sound that is there for the sake of itself has no place in the world. Unfortunately modern life seems to be filled with these sounds. Is that music or just another radio?
My first blog in a while is more a musing on art and culture than a random babbling on what I have been doing. This was inspired by a conversation on twitter between @jamiebullock and myself from the question “contemporary classical music = university music?” from @laputean.
This is a topic that has concerned and worried me greatly over the past year or two. Is contemporary classical music simply producing music for musicians (a large number of whom don’t respect it anyway) or does it have a wider cultural place?
In the world we live in everything seems to need a price, seems to need an explicit benefit or educational advance but how does contemporary classical music fulfill this? It has nothing tangible to give other than a pleasurable experience, but because of the musical language used people without understanding or even without the desire to learn to appreciate the tonality manage to let this music pass them by. The price of art can be extortionate or less then the cost it was to produce. The rich will pay thousands for an original piece of art by a famous artist but many will squabble over paying £30 or less to attend a concert. When anyone goes to a concert of modern do they go with the tools to understand it or do they just go to say to their friends in a form of one-upmanship? Even those that go with the tools to understand the music still may not because surely the only person who understands the music is the composer. Anyone that listens will take something different or nothing at all away from a piece.
When Feldman rejected the audience in writing his 2nd string quartet (I believe it was the 2nd) he received the best reception of any of his pieces. Does this then mean that the audience wants to be rejected rather than pandered to? That is something I cannot decide the answer to. Maybe a composers thought process changes to when he thinks like this allowing his own experiences to filter in.
The composer is the only one who understands their own work whether accepting or rejecting the audience, though sometimes not even the composer understands. Music as an art that is there to broaden the mind and be the pot in which ideas coincide whether these ideas be it maths, physics, poetry, philosophy or even another piece of music or art. Every piece is the sum of experience of the composer. From this I feel music can be described as a condensed encyclopaedia or even a wiki where different people can add their spin on it but the essential meaning and experience of the composer is still there.
This was just thrown together tonight. Hopefully I will come back and revise it. I know it probably posses more questions than it answers but I felt the need to put this down and have no problem showing it to anyone that might be interested
The arts are the mirror on society. Is this why society can never accept contemporary art? Art that shows the truth that people don’t want to see. When looking back at history the music of each period perfectly fits the period’s image, to a modern viewer. The music of the renaissance and Baroque periods were reserved and followed strict tonal rules, mirroring the reserved nature of the aristocracy and the control exerted on the population. The reserved nature was mostly driven by a desire of the commissioners for music to dance to. The reserved feeling continued into the classical period but by the time of Beethoven the link between commissioner and composer had diminished. There were fewer court composers and so less commissions for music to dance to. This left composers free to do as they pleased but still kept the tonal rules, though stretched quite excessively.
Composers such as Beethoven almost completely threw away the ideas that music had to be small and reserved. During the classical period the French and American Revolutions occurred showing a breakdown of aristocracy’s dominance over the population. This is quite obviously mirrored in the music of the time in things such as the diminishing use of dance rhythms and the larger freer motivic and harmonic development. These ideas though freer than before still have more than a little semblance of tonal structure, implying that the control by the ruling class is still very much there.
Then we get into the romantic period, of long flowing free melodies that seem to wallow in their own art. This art was being imported from all over the world such as Debussy being influenced by oriental oils and carvings. The world was getting smaller, society becoming more homogeneous, different ideas imported and exported and the influence on the music was again obvious. When Debussy started playing with the colour of notes on the piano he was scoffed at by his teacher. Like all other composers before he was criticised for ‘bad’ music simply because it did not conform to previous expectations and the rules used by previous generations. He was showing freeness in composition that was unheard of 50 years ago yet the freeness was a sign of the freer nature of society.
Very swiftly after we get Vaughn Williams who was a massive patriot and used English folk tunes of the time as the basis of his music. This mirrored English society’s longing for older times, as the colonies were definitely gaining freedom at this point. Though at the very same time we have the second Viennese school. A school of thought and composition that encouraged untold of control over music through serialism but also the complete breakdown of tonality. Even though serialism was a massive controlling influence Schoenberg taught that a composer should create the tone row and then compose as before. In other words write what you like within the confines of the tone row. These two completely contrasting ideas again mirror society at the time of their fruition. Vaughn Williams the nationalist, showing the nationalistic feelings of Europe leading up to WW1 and Schoenberg the serialist showing the increased mechanisation of the time. After WW1 the control in serialism and the nationalism of Vaughn Williams can then be combined to show the ideologies’ of the Nazis this time leading up to WW2.
Skip ahead a little and we get into the domain of Boulez and Messiaen. Boulez is experimenting with total serialism and Messiaen is playing with colour in the same way as Debussy. The control has become great with Boulez and the colour more vivid with Messiaen. This again is societies mirror. Messiaen is showing the colour of the 60s while Boulez is showing the control the state is beginning to have.
Listen to the music of today, what does it say about today’s society? Does the music imply stately and reserved, happy, bright, controlled, dark or sad? Has the control that was once serialism bled into music so much that even if society is totally free the music is now unable to express it or is the new harmonic language of this generation generally darker than previous generations? The world seems to be slipping into a state of more control and anguish and this is reflected in the music. Atonal music can be beautiful but it is also almost always angular. Look into the mirror that is music and the arts, what is the world today?
The idea for this came to me earlier when I was reading the first lecture in Orientations by Boulez. I’m sorry if it rambles a bit but it is very much a stream of thought I wanted to get down there may be edits done sometime soon but not tonight. Its almost 3! Any comments are more than welcome I would quite like to get other peoples views on this.