Identification: Considering what sort of composer I am

This week is “performance week” at college, which anywhere else would probably be a “reading week” and gosh I wish it was – I need to catch up!! However, all the full-time Trinity students are involved in a big celebration of John Cage, Out of the Cage, which is happening this Friday 12pm-11pm -come along! It’ll be fun!

As such, I have no classes this week, so I’m grabbing the opportunity of an Adler-reading-free train trip to dash off a quick post.

This is one I’ve been meaning to write since the start of term when my new tutor looked at the scores I’d brought in and said “hmm. Conservative”. Now, I know that he was just mentally classifying me as conservative vs avant-grade, and the pieces I brought in for him – Thickets, Carrion Comfort and On Harrowdown Hill – are among my more conservative, even if most successful pieces, but that word “conservative” raised my hackles just a little and I’ve been thinking about why.

After not really very much thought I came to the conclusion that actually I think of myself as an experimental composer. Not because I write stuff that’s particularly radical, but more literally because I like to experiment and because I feel that the foundations of the way I write and think about music are rooted in the experimental tradition more than in standard repertoire.

I write predominantly tonal music – but more because of Gavin Bryars and Steve Reich than Beethoven and Chopin. I like to think I embrace, and set myself, challenges – things like Lucky Dip and the mini opera in 5 weeks. I like to explore different ways of thinking about music, such as how visual art techniques can be repurposed in a musical context as composition tools.

So I guess that’s more about a mindset rather than how the music ends up sounding. And I guess it’s all about putting one’s music in boxes at the end of the day and labels don’t matter, blah blah blah, but there it is. I may seem but a mild-mannered conservative composer, but underneath it all I’m a seething experimentalist 🙂

How would you categorise yourself as a composer or artist?

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