Showing posts from June, 2008

Reviews - Classical vs Pop

Greg Sandow brings an interesting viewpoint to the division between classical and pop music - the review. In his blog for 26 June , he compares two reviews, one for pop music and one for classical music. He presents the idea that pop reviews are more interesting (at least that's how I read his post). In writing classes they say "write to your audience" and I suppose a classical reviewer is looking at their audience as being the older, probably more educated (at least in terms of classical music education) and more affluent, where as a pop reviewer is trying to reach the masses. And typically that's what he crowds are. Occasionally you'll get concerts "in the park" where popular classical tunes are played and fireworks are let lose which bring out the families. But generally, classical concerts are filled with an aging crowd, a crowd that is not necessarily replenishing itself - and part of this is due to the perceptio

Getting a First

Although the final grades are not out, the preliminary marks lead me to believe I will achieve a First Class Honours Degree from Napier University for my BMus studies. While the reaction from all those around me are praise and hearty congratulations, I am feeling a bit lost with marking it as anything extraordinary. I do not want to put down the education I have received. I do not want to make little of my accomplishments over the past four years. What I am trying to say is, I do not think what I did was extraordinary for me. I do not feel, particularly in this last year, that anything I did was much of a stretch for me. I really wish I had done more, gone farther and done better. Yes, I (potentially) have First Class Honours Degree and it doesn't get any better than that. I guess it's just that I expect more of myself. Does this sound egotistical? I don't mean it to. Achievements this year: Finished writing and conducted my first symphony

Getting a First

Although the final grades are not out, the preliminary marks lead me to believe I will achieve a First Class Honours Degree from Napier University for my BMus studies. While the reaction from all those around me are praise and hearty congratulations, I am feeling a bit lost with marking it as anything extraordinary. I do not want to put down the education I have received. I do not want to make little of my accomplishments over the past four years. What I am trying to say is, I do not think what I did was extraordinary for me. I do not feel, particularly in this last year, that anything I did was much of a stretch for me. I really wish I had done more, gone farther and done better. Yes, I (potentially) have First Class Honours Degree and it doesn't get any better than that. I guess it's just that I expect more of myself. Does this sound egotistical? I don't mean it to. Achievements this year: Finished writing and conducted my first symphony

Tonal music and Atonal music– what are they really?

I know I tend to sound like a broken record in my diatribe against atonal music, but the truth of the matter is I'm not opposed to atonal music. A number of great composers have written music I very much enjoy which can be considered atonal in terms of design or at least nothing like the classical definition of tonal (as Mozart or even Mahler might recognise). So, what am I really railing about? Mark Stryker put it perfectly, "The problem was never atonal music per se but bad atonal music and an ideologically driven musical culture that distrusted overt references to the past and composers committed to communicating with audiences." His article speaks about four American composers who have made their mark in the classical world by writing expressive music that appeals to an audience. They also accept the influences of previous great tonal composers, rather than feel they need to create something wholly new. Part of what I object to is the notion that an audience

Atonal and/or Complex Music and the future

I have often spoke of where music is going in this blog and proffered my postulations as to the growing need for tonal music to remain a focus of new composers (although I certainly don't think music needs to be restricted to the classical definition of chord progression and harmonic movement). What I am trying to put forward is the need of composers to understand the role of the "audience" (future performers included in the term audience) in their quest for writing something new. Brian Ferneyhough understands the type of performer who is going to tackle one of his pieces and the type of audience who will attend concerts of his works. While his music isn't necessarily the type of music I write, his audience isn't necessarily the same as the one I write for - although, if I ever get famous enough, we may have some bleed-over in the world of professional musicians. Understanding who your "audience" is is critical for a com

Computers, Miracles or Crutches

This may sound odd coming from a computer programmer (what I actually do for a living rather that just exist as a starving composer and blogger [which has yet to bring in any income]), but I'm not sure all advancements in computers in the music industry are a good thing. Peter Neubäcker has developed software that can fix music in the mix, that is to say, it can adjust notes in a recording to fix mistakes. I realise there is already AutoTune on the market which does the same thing for a single track during the recording (or performance) process, and done well can make a mediocre singer seem pitch perfect. This new software will allow engineers to fix recordings rather than have the entire ensemble re-record the passage - a real cost savings for the recording industry. However, we have already begun to set unreachable expectations with our audiences, particular in terms of classical music. Seldom do we hear live recordings of pieces by orchestras,

Gershwin Jazz or Classical?

It’s interesting that this question still comes up? Gershwin was accused of trying to elevate his station by writing classical music, since his background was that of song writer. Copeland was accused of lowering himself by including jazz idioms into his classical music, but Copeland was a classical composer so the move to jazz (a lower form or music, or so it was consider 80 years ago) was a step down. Yet, numerous composers are using their jazz or rock influence in their classical music. Jazz and rock musicians are composing classical pieces – and yet retaining an element of their heritage. Paul Simon and Elvis Costello are a few big names that come to mind. Alex Cook describes this as fusion music and rightly so; it is the fusion of two (or more) genres into something new. However, when does it stop being one or the other and start becoming something all of its own?

... to explain

Eddie Louise and I have been working on establishing ourselves as Twinstar Music, a pair of composers with a unique blend of talents. However, as I was trolling the web the other day I realised we haven't spent any time (or energy) getting the identity of Twinstar out there. A website is in progress (and that will help) But we say on this blog "contact us at Twinstar Music" and we haven't really mentioned what that means. So I thought I'd post our logo.

Becoming Twinstar Music

We are Twinstar Music

Sound Design and film composition

Howard Shore used a range of organic sounds to augment his score in Seven; sounds of the city were incorporated directly into the score. Hans Zimmer uses electronic sounds to augment his orchestral scores. In Horton Hears a Who, the music and organic sounds were done first and the animation drawn in after. Numerous other films have used organic sounds, sounds that you might find in the film without the music present, to augment the score – sounds like cars driving by, or footsteps. These sounds all have pitch, attack and duration qualities and thus can be used to enhance the experience of the viewer by tying in the music into the sounds in the film. There are several software programs which can tie sound waves to keys on a keyboard. These tools then allow composer to “play” these sounds like they would a piano. The more advanced tools even allow pitch variance, so if the sound of the footstep is not quite the right pitch for the music you’ve composed, adjust it by a few cents (

Trends in Classical Music

I don’t know if you’ve noticed a trend, but it seems pretty obvious to me – Orchestras are playing more and more film music for their concerts. It’s either this or the more “popular” pieces from the Romantic to Late Romantic eras (composers from Beethoven to Mahler). There are other pieces performed, but the “new” music that seems to create the biggest audience draws are those with a film based themes. For the last two years the Royal Scottish National Orchestra has built a concert around film music. The Detroit Symphony put film music at the centre piece of their final showcase of their festival. Birmingham filled a programme with John William’s music. Howard Shore’s 2 hour long symphony, based on the music from the Lord of the Ring movies, is touring around the world with 3 different conductors (it’s that popular). John Williams makes more money from the rights to his music as he does on the films (and he makes a lot from the films). The reason for orchestra’s playing fi

Linear Film Composition

Films are linear, even though the story line may not be. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an excellent example of a non-linear story. While we as the audience are not seeing the events in a chronological order, we are seeing the events in the order of the film. The film isn’t presented in an aleotoric manner, randomly presenting scenes. Directors spend a great deal of time sorting out just how the film fits together to end with the desired result. Music is the same way. Music follows a linear path, even though there are pieces that are composed or designed to be performed aleoticially, the actual performance is linear. It is this linear path that should be the concern of the composer and the performer – particularly in terms of composing for film. Typically film composers have the advantage of having the entire film or story before composing the music. But even with this, the composer needs to spend time thinking about what it is they are composing and how the co

Using Music in Film

Films come in all forms and composing for the endless varieties can be quite challenging. But often the most challenging aspect is overcoming preconceptions about music before the composition even begins. Some directors have a clear idea as to what they are saying in the film, but no real concept as to what role the music should play. These directors tend to see their films as silent (in terms of music) and providing music in scenes that need it can be an endless struggle. Other directors have a preconception as to what the music should be (typically something they have heard on the radio) and expect composers to recreate the exact song (sometimes including the lyrics as well) as that’s what they’ve conceived for their piece. What strikes me as most odd is that none of the film schools (based on the students from these schools that I’ve worked with) seem to give any thought as to the role of music in film. Music in a film can 1. smooth out transitions 2. intensify or clarify e

Musical Theatre taking note of Opera

It isn't surprising (to me) to find opera singers taking the stage in the American musical theatre. A review by Anthony Tommasini speaking about several recent forays into the musical world by opera singers. He speaking about the "melting lyricism" and the "timeless melodies" of the older musicals and how the more recent "pop infused scores" don't require the same skills. Later in the review he discusses the move Broadway made in the 60's toward amplification of the voice. Certainly this made a less able singer capable of hitting the back row. But he also discusses the lack of diction in spoken dialog when performed by opera singers. They spend more time learning to sing in a variety of languages and not speaking clearly on stage. While I think these are all valid points, I fail to see why Opera can't take a book out of musical theatre. Modern opera should require the singers to more articulate, perhaps n

A New Move for Classical Music

The blending of musical styles is nothing new. At the turn of the last century the move by classical composers such as Debussy to explore world music is well documented. Bartok used folk music as inspiration for numerous pieces. Previous posts have discussed the blending of styles of numerous other forms with classical music. It seems the tide is now moving the other direction as India is exploring the fusion of Indian folk and Western Classical music with a collaboration at the World Day of Music on 21 June. China has recently had the LA Philharmonic and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra touring their country bringing Western music to nearly every region of China in the urge to encourage more exploration of Western music by Chinese composers (especially with the popularity of Tan Dun world wide). A Beethoven String Competition in Bangkok is hoping to merge Western music with that of Thailand. And some musicians in New York are blending Bach into their sets at the JVC Jazz Festi

Developing Themes in Classical Music

One of the criticisms I have received post concert is the lack of development in the music. This is probably the most confounding comment on the night as I spent a great deal of time focusing on just that concept with each piece, how the themes develop. So, I am thinking about music and what it takes to develop themes, and perhaps learn why some people feel my music lacks development. In Schoenberg's book on composition he states a melody needs to develop in order for it to maintain interest and yet, too much development too soon leaves the listener wondering at the connection. So, it is possible to alter the intervals, but retain the rhythm. Or augment the rhythm with passing notes, but keep the original notes. But to do both would create a new melodic idea too far removed from the original idea. However in 1975 he said , "In fact...I believed that now music could renounce motivic features and remain coherent and comprehensible nevertheless." So, maybe music needs themes
Numerous people have asked what the next project is going to be. I can honestly say not a concert. While I feel the recent concert was very successful, it’s a huge undertaking and not something I am looking to repeat any time soon. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things on the horizon. Present (this week) I have 2 films that are being shown in Edinburgh over the next couple of months (one in the Edinburgh Film Festival) so I need to finish the music for them. Films typically leave the music to the very last moment, so composers are working with the final product. Often music is considered post-production, but this also means the release date has been set so we have a pretty tight deadline to work with. Symphony for sale or at least for hire. Based on what I learned in the concert (and the rehearsals leading up to it), I have some adjustments to make with the score of the Symphony No 1, Figuratively Speaking. Fortunately, these are all relatively small changes and

Finding an Agent for Film Composers

According to " Music Agents find work for their clients, i.e., Composers, co-ordinate their contracts, and secure appropriate deals for them. They represent a roster of Composers, and cultivate relationships with industry decision-makers in order to persuade them to use their clients. Music Agents negotiate deals, and act as 'midwives' for the whole process. They also support and guide their clients' careers." Initially, it's this guidance that I'm looking for. I have composed the music for several films, mostly student projects - but I'm not sure what would be best to put into a show reel. Beyond that, few of these projects really show the type of music I feel I do best - orchestral. Of course, that said, I'm not likely to get a film with orchestral music right out of the gate, so perhaps the show reel needs to be more intimate in it's presentation. has a number of articles dealing with film music here . On

Moving forward

Much of this blog has been dedicated to thoughts leading up to the concert of 4 June 2008. With that behind us (and a decent holiday doing a lot of nothing to recover) it's time to move on, to look forward (not back) at the next project. Right now there is nothing specific (at least not as specific as the concert) - but there are a number of general things that this blog will be the focus of. It Must Be Fate - finishing the first episode      If you don't know what I mean by that, stay tuned for updates Getting an agent      I've spoken about this to some degree prior to the concert, but now it's time to get serious. What goes along with this is the marketing of the quartet and the symphony, so expect updates as we start the process of getting other organizations to play these works. Further Education      I have a bachelor's degree now (or will have when the grades are finalized (or at least, I hope I will have - assuming I have passed all my courses)

The Scotsman Review

Well, the review of our concert was published in yesterday's Scotsman (pg 42). The link will take you to the on-line copy - we are the second review down. It seems the reviewer was not very impressed, but we are taking many positives from it. Firstly, Chip's major influences are Copland and Bernstein, neither of which are played much here. Many of our friends and musical colleagues are just beginning to discover them. The 'American sound', created by Copland really permeates much of Chip's music and was bound to sound foreign and perhaps a bit chaotic to ears more used to the European model. On the other hand, audience reaction has been enthusiastic. We have received numerous comments that the music was emotional and moving. We had 2 retired symphonic trombonists in the audience and both commented that the music was different than anything they had played in their careers, and at the same time was thrilling and seemed fun to play. We found the reviewer&#

Post Concert Observations

Overall the concert was successful. We had a good crowd, approximately 135 people who were appreciative of the music (it’s nice to have friends in the audience), the music went very much as expected and in the end I learned a great deal both about the music and putting on a concert of this magnitude. Things that went right The concert order was right. Some people felt the string quartet should have headlined the event as they were the professionals on stage. Yet, the build from chamber piece, to opera to symphony was right for the night. Acoustics in the hall were amazing. I spent a lot of time looking for halls that had good acoustics and I am glad I did. I’ve heard orchestras play in a number of other venues and they are muddy and not well defined. The sound engineer for last night was very pleased with how good the sound quality was for the distant microphones. That speaks well for the quality of the hall acoustics. Sound engineering took a bit to sort out - where to

Things to do this week

It's the last few days before the concert and the list of things to do is getting shorter and shorter (although I have started adding on things that affect events post-concert). Pre-Concert Day Pick up Programmes Rehearse chorus (Tuesday) Finalize lighting design Arrange for instruments (percussion) to be delivered and removed from hall this one is just to re-confirm the arrangements made are still in effect Meeting with Kate about One Mile film project Get final 6 mins of music to director for Quiet Heart Meet with quartet to hear the piece prior to concert Concert Day Open the hall Run through Opera with full cast Go through the check list with the stage manager (one more time) relax!!!! Of course none of this includes: Play tour guide with the parents, take jogs with my brother, meet best friend from high school when he arrives from California, meet boss for drinks, arrange for a boat trip to Staffa, hire a car for next week.... relax (yes, that needs to be on the