Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This isn't really specific to any piece that I am working on, just a few things I have been comtemplating.

I have been thinking a lot (moreso than usual) recently about my growth as a composer. I'm choosing to ignore the pieces I wrote for violin when I was a child (6-9, I think?) as well as the acoustic guitar pieces I wrote as a teenager, and my earliest piano pieces. I have just been considering the music I have written since I started music school. My language has changed over this time, but I have been mostly concerned with how my approach to writing has changed on a deeper level.

Composition once seemed like purely an act of creation. As if you are giving something ephemeral that existed only within your mind a tangible form, albeit the abstract construct of the medium of pitch and silence and time. Whether or not this shows in my music or not, it feels like this is an idea that I have slowly moved away from.

Composing (to me, at least) is an act of discovery and exploration. Sometimes to the point where taking ownership of an idea seems artificial. The dimension that exists when an element of control is surrendered can be an amazing experience.

This idea may have always existed in some way in the back of my head, but one very specific event really sparked my interest in pursuing it further. It was a few years ago, during a student recital for comp 3100, which Dr. Ross taught as well. It was a set 3 violin and piano pieces I had written.

as for the performance, it went for the most part as well as i could have hoped. the performers were very talented, but time was very limited. given that constraint, expecting perfection was meaningless. and i am glad for this. if the performers were as well prepared as i may have initially hoped for, i would have missed out something meaningful. (the first 2 pieces serve as a prelude to the third, which makes up the core of the work, so that will be the only one i comment on). there is a moment in the third piece that i did not intend to happen. i did not write it down. i did not compose it. it was a "mistake" on the part of the performers. but this moment becomes the raison d'etre of the entire piece, of the entire set. the music is defined by this musical event that i did not conceive of, it is defined by the motion towards this inevitability, and the motion away from it. epiphany is too strong a word, and i do not like its connotations, but this had a great impact on how i view composing. it was an important experience for me, and one that sparked a new path for my own approach to writing.

Even ideas that I (we?) come up with, the fact that they are inevitably tinkered with and "worked out" seems to have more in common with an act of exploration of the potential inherent to that idea that one of invention. It almost seems that I explore possibilities that already exist within ideas. Which is a weird way of thinking. That within an idea there already exists certain elements that are then to be discovered.

I wonder if this will end up being coherent at all. It wasn't written in one sitting, nor was it really thought out. I felt that I would be able to communicate far more if I actually just forced myself to write it in this rambling sort of way, because every time I tried to plan it out in my head I would realize that I don't really have anything to say.


  1. You touch on a several important points here.

    "Creativity" is a an interesting concept to think about; what is it, do some people have it in greater abundance than others, and why does it appear to occupy a position of privilege among human attributes? "Exploration and Discovery," on the other hand, while still considered positive human endeavours, seem easier to understand (and, not coincidentally, are often associated with a "scientific" model), and yet that is exactly how many creative people would characterize their process, I think.

    You have given me the idea to explore the question of what is creativity in a blog...

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this, and thank you for posting such a thought-provoking entry!

  2. I remember you describing this moment to me shortly after I met you. It's interesting to read about how you describe it now - you were sort of perplexed about its significance then, and now it seems to be a major event in your composing timeline.

    I think the 'tinkering' is a fun and useful process - our initial ideas can be refined in a (subjectively) positive way through exploring their possibilities. And then there's, as what happened in your piece, happy accidents. A kind of "chance music" almost, when it makes a composer redefine his piece!