Q What kind of composer are you ?
A I write contemporary art music. It is ’Postmodern’ I expect, but nowadays what isn’t? Modernism, Minimalism, Expressionism, ‘Post’ this, ‘Neo’ that. I pick over the musical ‘carcasses’ that I see lying around me and recycle the notes that are left and those that other composers would wisely have discarded.
Q Is it a music of despair?
A Possibly it is, certainly dramatic and unsettling, but I think of each piece as simply addressing one or other issue I come across. It is music which responds to contemporary issues whether they be about history, social and political problems or the impact of new media and technology on daily life. Whilst I am classically trained, I’m not very interested in the idea of folk music or a new way of playing Baroque music as the saviour for our current ills. I would rather play with dance, disco, ‘New Wave’, Muzak or whatever and apply a classical sensibility… that tends to point me west rather than east.
Q Has contemporary art music changed in recent years ?
A Live performance has taken the place of recording for creating a ‘buzz’ and a ‘wow’ factor. Live performance is always so ‘dangerous’. However if you use the internet as a listening medium to disperse your material (and everyone still does), you need to remember that the internet is primarily a visual medium and sound comes second. Therefore music on the web must come with a meaningful visual component. Composers need to become visual artists and find ways of engaging listeners who are also viewers and vice-versa. Otherwise everything begins to sound similar, because if the visual element is weak then the sound, no matter how engaging it is in live performance, will recede in the listener’s mind. That is why video and live performance has become so important. However the reverse is also true in that good visuals should not be used to disguise poor music.
Q Do you gain most inspiration for pieces from the visual arts or the written word?
A In the past it has been visual art or images more than words, although recently I have been setting the First World War poet Wilfred Owen. That is also because of the wider contemporary resonance of war. I am unlikely to set a ‘micro’ poem about buttercups no matter how lyrical and historic the writing is. However I still love buttercups.
Q You are also a professional town planner. Does that have a relationship with your work as a composer?
A Yes, they may seem like chalk and cheese, but I see them as complimentary. Good town planning is about organising place and space as well as society. I have been particularly interested in organising physical, acoustic and psychic space in music. Good design and form applies in town planning (of buildings and spaces) just as much as it does in music!
Q Who are you writing music for?
A At the end of the day, me and me alone. That is quite lonely position to take especially in an era which relies on social media for appreciation and constant promotion. It is a bonus if other people – performers and audiences – also enjoy it. I am my own biggest critic, but I am sometimes surprised how well the music has lasted over time and sometimes how far ahead of its time it turns out to be. I do believe we are only partly aware of what we are doing. I also like the challenge of a commission that comes from out of the blue. It forces me to find my own way into discovering something new.