Confessions of a Confounded Composer

I love music - all sorts of music.  This is my biggest problem.

You might think that loving music is necessary as a composer and I suppose all composers love music to some degree. Most composers have favorites, styles of music they gravitate toward.  I do too, to some extent.  However, there is so much available sound to choose from in the world today - compliments of the radio stations, Musak, iPod, mp3 players, downloads, Napster, Naxos... we are, as a society, inundated with new music.

Commercial music has their top 10 or top 40 or top 100 of practically every genre.  Satellite radio has hundreds of stations, and internet radio allows you to pick and choose your style down to the composer and/or band.  Yet, if we limit our choices we ultimately find, as we sit on the bus, someone is playing something we've never heard before on their phone. Advertisements bombard us with new jingles and film and TV composers are frantically writing new scores for the thousands of hours of entertainment vying for our attention.

Go to YouTube and find a video only to have the sidebar show you a dozen options you didn't choose --yet.  Follow those and another dozen options haunt you, taunt you, lure you into the abyss of musical hell, a place where you can't possibly absorb it all, you can't hear it all.  It just isn't possible.

This is where I live --in a world where new music discoveries are constantly on the horizon, hovering a click away.  Sometimes I can shut out the world and focus on what I'm writing, but no man is an island.  No composer composes without being influenced by something.  So, when I'm writing how do I limit those influences?

My wife thinks I don't listen to enough music.  She encourages me to listen to more progressive and indie rock as she thinks it will add new dimensions to my music.  I already have an infusion of jazz and early hard rock in the mix.  Add to these the exposure to classical music of my education, everything from pre-Renaissance music to Adams, Barios, Dallapiccola & Xenakis and my music takes on an interesting blend of Balkan Swing with American Psychedelia.  In a quest to live in the classical world of music I've attended countless concerts featuring Bach to Brahms, Sibelius to Shostakovich, Britten to Vivaldi, soloist recitals, new music chamber concerts, premiers of orchestral works, reviewed old operas and new, old performers and new.  Yet, every day someone introduces me to something new I've never heard before - and not just newly composed works, but pieces that have been around, music I probably should be aware of I just haven't listened enough --and that's just classical music.

So I'm back to the initial problem: there is too much music for me to listen to it all.

I'm writing a new piece which lead me to want to research some of Ligeti's music. The research was hoping to find somewhere in his string quartets I could leverage --a jumping off place. On one hand the quest was very successful.  Yet...

On my very first search, a YouTube performance of his String Quartet No. 1, I saw on the side bar a new string quartet by Ferneyhough.  I'd studied Ferneyhough in my undergraduate days and hadn't heard of his 6th string quartet (for good reason, it hadn't been composed by the time I graduated).  Curiosity got the best of me.  I listened to the Ligeti, took notes and made some great finds, then I returned to the initial page with the link to Ferneyhough and off I went.

The link to the 1st movement of Ferneyhough's String Quartet No. 6 lead me to a video of his String Quartet No. 5 which I'd also not heard AND this video had music.  OMG, here I was being presented with a chance to hear a new work by one of the great living composers of our day AND I could follow along with the music.  I was mesmerized!

Not everyone likes Ferneyhough's music.  Then again, not everyone likes my music either.  I'm not suggesting either of the composers I listened to tonight are going to played on main stream radio.  They are not even likely to be found on Classical Radio very often.  Yet, there is no denying they are huge in terms of their influence on other composers and modern classical music.  Ferneyhough is still composing!

Here I sit, still listening to his music, stunned.  Yes, I like it.  I really do.  Maybe I wouldn't put it on the stereo as much as I would say, The Chieftains.  When it comes to wanting to compose new music, the problem isn't how much I listen to one form of music or another, but in what influences me.  I want it ALL to influence me.


liz garnett said…
Your post obliquely reminded me of the mouse-over text in this cartoon:

'Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit'

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