Tuesday, 28 July 2015

La Mort Des Artistes

La Mort Des Artistes - Ian Moore

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 composition, I have deconstructed the language of the poem and then reconstructed everything in music.  In a way, the composition is closer to a poem than a song. The rise and fall of the song is intended to imitate the intonation of the voice reading the poem.

For example, if we have a look at the opening phrase.
Combien faut-il de fois secouer mes grelots
The words are turned into "vowel formant".  This means that the vowels are analysed and categorised according to their vocal position.

A primary fundamental is calculated and then intervals are derived from the fundamental.

Each group of the secondary fundamentals correspond to a group of the underlying structure.  Now the proportions of the vowel formant can be used to generate pitches for the relative structure:

Each proportion from the vowel formant represents a pitch (an interval generated from the secondary fundamental).  Therefore, each pitch represents a syllable of the poem. They are all linked together by the secondary fundamental.

The rhythm is calculated in a similar way.

There is considerably more to explain about the process that generates the source material for the music, especially in terms of timbre.  But I prefer people to listen to the music and come up with their own ideas rather than be burdened with the mechanics of how it is created. 

La Mort Des Artistes (complete) - Ian Moore.

Friday, 24 July 2015

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.”
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 economy.
 Britain invests a smaller percentage, 0.3%, of its total GDP on arts and culture than other countries. Germany invests 0.4%, the EU as a whole 0.5%, Denmark 0.7% and France 0.8%.
In other words, when the government invests in art projects, it creates subsidiary jobs. E.g. If a new work is commissioned from a composer, jobs further down the line are created: the musicians who perform the new work; the staffing of the venue, catering  etc.... The report assesses that it is worth an extra 6%(of the grant given) to the economy. It makes sense when you think about it.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

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 understanding of the term of a particular type of musical interval which has developed over centuries.

In my opinion, it is not dissonance that strikes the wrong chord in the brain it is our own preconceptions that limit our acceptance to particular sounds. Plomp and Levelt's investigations achieved nothing because they failed to recognise the difference between sound and music. The ear may not like particular sounds in certain combinations but the same sounds in musical context is a whole different matter. Music is something which is not perceived scientifically; it is a work of art. Composers are closer to artists rather than scientists. It is meant to delve much more deeply than a simple psychological response. It is the equivalent of determining the reaction to a play by working out which words your audience like or dislike from a list; completely disregarding its context. That would be preposterous.

I think psychologists have got it the wrong way around.  

It has often been suggested that humans have innate preferences for consonance over dissonance, leading some to conclude that music in which dissonance features prominently is violating a natural law and is bound to sound bad.

"Dissonant" is the term that we have invented for a musical sound we don't like, according to our culture, upbringing, and musical training. In essence, dissonance is not a simple concept. It means different things to different people. It could almost be considered a point of view. All music contains some form of dissonance and yet our brain doesn't reject it. We understand it as being part of the musical narrative. Just like the discord in a piece of drama, it is essential to the overall impact of the art-work. In different parts of the world, people have a tolerance to dissonance which is at variance with our perception of music.  
As Schoenberg said

...dissonance is merely a matter of convention, and that we can learn to love it.

The most crucial part of the statement is that you have to want to "learn to love it". Without that desire to explore an unknown sound world, the mind disregards unfamiliar sounds as being 'dissonant'.  To answer the question "does dissonant music strike the wrong chord in the mind", no it does not; as long as the listener has an open mind.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Sketch for orchestra

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

Narcissistic (I) - revised version with percussion.

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 orchestra is able to succumb difficulties.  I admire Ferneyhough's artistic work but his orchestral pieces, as adventurous as they are, are more like an extremely large chamber works - the concept of an orchestra rarely features (but this is probably exactly what he wants).  It is fascinating that he has written so few full orchestral works. I think James Dillon has the edge where orchestral music is concerned.  Juggling the conflicting aspects of being adventurous, playable and orchestral is extremely difficult.  

'Narcissistic (I)' took an unusually long time to write.  It was the best part of a year from start to finish.  It is my first completed orchestral work.  Whereas 'Sketch for Orchestra', which will become the second piece in the "Narcissistic" series, only took three days to write and that is closer to my thinking process. 

'Sketch' comprises of a simple 'theme'.  The opening (a group of demisemiquavers tied to a long note) theme in strings generates the thematic material throughout the entire composition.  There is constant interplay between the woodwind theme and the brass and the strings.  

Because of financial concerns, modern music is predominantly composed for small groups of instruments.  This has had two major effects.  Composers have been able to write with complete freedom and audiences have declined but are more discerning.  In an unintentional way, this has led to a more isolated environment which perpetuates the myth that modern music is elitist and esoteric. If you look at the composers who have attracted the greater share of the audience of modern music  (Stockhausen, Xenakis and Ligeti) you will notice that they have a substantial body of orchestral music in their repertoire. In my opinion, orchestral music is the future of twenty-first century music.

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