Showing posts from 2015


"Empfindsamkeit" started off as a commission from Christopher Redgate. His idea was to write a piece for his Oboe Quintet to appear on an upcoming CD. Unfortunately, it wasn't finished in time for the recording.  However, in the extra time that I was permitted, a situation occurred that unwittingly contributed to changing my ideas about my music. Unlike much of the music that I composed around that time, this work was written without much prior organisation.  Usually, my work is planned meticulously. Weeks, sometimes months are spent, organising pitch elements and rhythms. No such undertaking for this work.  What I heard was virtually what was written down.  No more, no less.  Instead, I concentrated on the sonorities of the music.  I moved my focus from pitch and rhythm to timbre and colour.  I also had not written for such a conventional group of instruments. Had it not been for Christopher Redgate, I would not have entertained this particular combination. Nevertheless…

In the shadow of a genius.

Recently, I have discovered a fascinating revelation about the composers we admire so much.  That behind many geniuses, there usually is a predecessor lurking in the background.  It reminds of that often quoted phrase by Picasso
good artist borrows and great artist steals
Now, I am not suggesting that the composers who I mention are stealing peoples' ideas - there is no evidence to support that fact.  However, I am suggesting that the idea of a genius who came from nowhere may not be accurate.  Let's take the case of Ernest Fanelli.  Who? You might ask.  He is a significant but unknown person in the development of impressionism.  He is an Italian born composer living in Paris.  He composed a good deal of 'new' music at the end of the nineteenth century.  His ideas were quite radical; his instrumentation included harmonics, sul pont., he used wordless choruses.  Unfortunately, he wasn't as talented a composer as Debussy and his music wasn't played as often.  …

Streaming royalties

Michael Price is a composer of television and film music and the chair of the New Media Executive Committee of the British Academy of Songwriters.  He is unhappy about the changes made by media companies in the way that composers are being paid for their music.

(The Independent)
Price said he was a supporter of licensed streaming services, but called for a new era of “transparency” in which tech giants and record companies disclose explicit details of the deals which set the rates on how much artists and songwriters receive. His comments follow the recent launches of the Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music streaming services, and come in the wake of claims by US musician David Byrne that record companies are siphoning off revenues from streaming and not paying royalties to artists and writers.
Price claimed that many of their employees didn’t recognise the value of music. “People working in these tech companies are often of a generation that has never paid for music in a conventional s…

Female composers and New Complexity.


This is a controversial one.  

I am reposting a discussion that Tim Rutherford-Johnson had with some of twitter followers about the lack of Female New Complexity composers. As far as I am concerned, there are two major issues here:

One is the lack of published female composers.

The other is the terminology "New Complexity" - what does it refer to and what does it mean?

Helmut Lachenmann

Helmut Lachenmann is relatively unknown outside of Germany.  Nevertheless, he is afigure who is growing in significance in modern music circles.  Despite his wide experience, his lack of broad appeal is, in my opinion, largely due to the individuality of his music.  He is not easy to categorise in an era which isdominated by trends and cliches.

A simple way of describing his music is... *"musique concrète instrumentale". The notion is the creation of a subtlety of transformation of timbre, a manipulation of a continuum from sound to noise, from pitched notes to pitchless textural exploration, and all that in the sphere of (mostly) purely instrumental music. That means that in Lachenmann's music, there's a world of sound that rivals and even surpasses what electronic and electro-acoustic composers can achieve.  -Guardian.

Essentially,  he is a acoustic composer writing electronic sounding music.  He is somewhere in-between the timbralist composers like Iannis Xenakis/Ja…

What is Stockhausen's legacy?

Karlheinz Stockhausen is one of the most important composers of the post war era. He is partially responsible for the creation of the post war modernist music.   But what is his true legacy? Was he the leading composer in his field?

Did he invent the 'timbralist' idea of generating music from a single sound? Well, he did accomplish that concept with "Stimmung'' (Voice) which is completely designed around the single chord of a B flat ninth. But he wasn't the first.  Giacinto Scelsi wrote "Quatro pezzi per orchestre" which is based a single note per movement and that work was written in 1959.

I seriously doubt whether Stockhausen knew about Scelsi's achievement when he wrote Stimmung in 1977.

Perhaps one of his greatest works  is "Gruppen'' (Groups) composed for three orchestras. Did it change the way we use the orchestra?  He was a pioneer, especially in the early stages of his profession career as a composer; writing for larger orchest…

La Mort Des Artistes

This work is the centre piece of a trilogy which is yet to be completed.  Written at a time when I was heavily influenced by the music of Pierre Boulez,  the titles of three compositions are reminiscent of 'Le Marteau sans Maitre'; the centre piece is a solo song based on the surrealist poem by Charles Baudelaire and it is framed by a prelude "Avant..." for solo clarinet and pre-recorded material and a postlude "Apres..." for mixed ensemble.  Unfortunately, "Avant  La Mort Des Artistes" has yet to be completed.  The technology and the opportunity in terms of orchestral resources are only now available to me. I believe that I will finish the piece soon.

Out of all of my music as a young composer, I would say this work is one of the most important. This is because it closely defines the method of working for the following years and it even influences the way that I work today. The poem is at the heart of the trilogy and also the music. In this compo…

Publicly funded arts bolster the UK economy

A newspaper report(Guardian) has revealed startling information about arts funding.  It says that
spending public money on the arts was crucial, “not just for the good of society, but to nurture some of the best talent for our creative industries”.  “There is nothing ‘nice to have’ about the arts and the creative industries, there is nothing tangential, nothing ‘soft’. They are central to our economy, our public life and our nation’s health.” - John Kampfner, the chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation It reveals a surprising figure; For every pound invested in arts and culture, an additional £1.06 is generated in the economy The reports also include some striking statistics. For example: • Arts and culture is worth £7.7bn in gross value added to the British economy – an increase of 35.8% between 2010 and 2013.
• More than one in 12 UK jobs are in the creative economy, with employment increasing 5% between 2013 and 2014, compared with a 2.1% jobs increase in the wider eco…

Does dissonant music strike the wrong chord in the brain?

I am writing this post to address the comments made in this article:
"Why dissonant music strikes the wrong chord in the brain."

The article reminds me of an investigation conducted by Plomp and Levelt on Tonal Consonance and the 'Critical Band Width Theory'. It explored the possibility that there is a natural human dislike of dissonance. Unfortunately, the experiment used 'sine' wave tones instead of real musical sounds which made the whole investigation 'void' in my eyes. Overtones experienced in 'real' music are rather different than those encountered in a science lab. The term "dissonant" presents another stumbling block as well. People from different cultures have a different concept about what is "dissonant" or what is "tonal". Confusingly, Plomp and Levelt use the same terms to indicate a completely different concept; in their case, it refers to a kind of tonal disturbance and not to the academic under…

Sketch for orchestra

Sketch for orchestra is a short extract of a recent composition called "Narcissistic".  The original work began a few years ago.  

It marks a significant change in the direction of my music.  Until recently, I have been writing chamber music (including a lot of solo instrumental pieces). Now, I have decided to mainly write for orchestra. This is a challenging decision because the economic situation at the moment means that it is incredibly difficult to get orchestral music performed. I already have two pieces of music that has yet to be performed, ("Transcience" and "La Cloche Felee") and they are nearly twenty years old. The thought of writing more music that is never played is an unwelcome one.
The transition hasn't been easy either. Writing chamber music means you have the freedom to compose anything you want but with orchestral music many factors need to be taken into account. Complexity has to be crafted in a very careful way; making sure that the …

Upcycling - Boulez's 'Notation' and BBC Symphony Orchestra.

I was fortunate enough to attend last nights concert at the Barbican - the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing 'Notation' and 'Pli Selon Pli'.  Interestingly, both works are considerably old.  'Pi Selon Pli' was written at the end of the 1950s and 'Notation' was completed in piano form just at the end of the Second World War, pre Boulezian serialism.  Its present manifestation (for orchestra) begun in 1978 and was then reworked in 1984 and 1987.  "Pli Selon Pli" is over 50 years old.  In historical terms, it is halfway to being officially recognised as an antique.  "Notation" has been 'recycled'; it begun as a piano work and has been transformed into a modern orchestral work. In a modern terms, we would refer to this kind of recycling as something which has been "upcycled"; that's where recycled...

... old products are given more value, not less.(- Reiner Pilz)

Imagine an item of furniture, at the end of the war, w…

What is populism?

This can be described as music for the
"‘the masses’ (through reference to ‘their’ folk-music genres) ... topical social and political ideologies, chiefly nationalism and later, at the start of the twentieth century, evolutionism, which influenced the composers’ selection of folk-music themes for their ... [compositions]. " by Rhoda Dullea

The Pulitzer Prize

This is a prize that I can never see myself winning.

The first obstacle is that I am not American.  I admire a lot of American music and a few of my British heroes have spent a long time in America building their career. Neither am I closely linked to music in the U.S.A. This is not a problem; every region has its own prestigious prize intended for their own countrymen and women.

There certain expectations expected from a Pulitzer prize winner.
Last year, it was John Adams forty minute orchestral work based on a single note group, "Become Ocean".  The year before, it was Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shawa mixture of vocal exploration and repetitive music. And so probably get the picture; you have to be in the America circle of composers and writing some form of repetitive music. I don't fit the bill...never mind.

But are you happy with this? Do you think that it should perhaps be more open, more varied?

Apres La Mort des Artistes

"Apres La Mort des Artistes" was written in 1996 and is the last in a series of pieces entitled "La Mort des Artistes".  It is performed by the Ensemble Exposé and is conducted by Roger Redgate.

Working for next to nothing...

One of the most frustrating aspects of working in the serious art music business is the notion that a lot of work that you do should be done for free. This is born out by the ever dwindling pot of money which is designated for commissioning new compositions.   Over the last few years, it has become noticeable that the amount of money spent on commissioning music is becoming more scarce. A commissioning report instigated by Sound and Music organisation (2013-14) stated that commissions are not a significant source of income for composers:
66% of composers stated that they do not find commissions to be a significant proportion of their income. Given that the respondents had an average of 2.65 commissions in 2013 with an average fee per commission of £1,392 it is easy to see why. They believe that conditions are getting worse:

49% of composers feel that there is less rehearsal/preparation time for new works.  Although there are more commissions, the amount of money composers receive appear…