Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Music Manifesto

A new year is traditionally a time for new thinking and new ideas. Some even go so far as to make resolutions, resolutions which usually don't make it past the first week or two of the year. Such is the inherent fallibility of human beings. It is not quite coincidental that at the start of this new year I come to write a manifesto for my music going forward.

I have always wanted to move forward in the music that I make. It has always held weight with me that you should just not stand still making and re-making essentially the same thing over and over again. Where is the fun or the purpose in that? And so I have always looked for the illusion of progress if not actual progress itself.

In this past year I have, maybe for the first time in depth, studied the music that I have made and where it has come from. I have moved to explicitly detailing the philosophy behind and in the making of what I do. I have explicitly done things a certain way for a reason. The place I made music became more like a cross between a philosophy class and a science lab than a music room. I have begun to do music experiments to try and demonstrate things or to stimulate thinking. I am not making something that is entertainment. It is arguable if I ever was. Such subjective things are far from my interest these days.

In addition, I have been reading - and attempting to understand - the writings of the 20th century's philosopher of music par excellence - John Cage. I guess it was my time to meet him. I have been stimulated into new thinking and new ways by doing so and that is never a bad thing. You need to move the goalposts. Or someone needs to move them for you. His book of lectures and writings "Silence" has been my primary source. I recommend it to everyone reading this for it is a book not just about music and its theory but about life and how all of life is music. For in all of life there is sound.

And so in the light of my now overtly philosophical and experimental approach to music I want to make a number of statements, my "manifesto" going forward - if that doesn't sound too pompously grand.

1. Recognise that art and music is fiction. You are telling a story or, at the very least, filling up a musical cup with your values.

2. Music is about the arrangement of sounds and silence.

3. The composer's first and maybe only duty is to be interesting.

4. Music should say something.

5. Music, whether you like it or not, is about ideas. You have no control over if it is but some over what they might be.

6. Music is not about being bad or good. It is about having something to say or not.

7. Experimental music is about making all sounds and silence musical to every ear.

8. The task of the engaged listener of music is to make new relationships between the sounds and silences that they hear. The goal is to make new and not to simply re-hash the old in every possible combination.

9. Music involves engaged composing and engaged listening.

10. The experimental musician will constantly think of ways to break down the conservative categories that societies impose upon music. The highest good is to make new.

11. Sound is a matter of pitch, timbre, loudness and duration. Experimental music will focus on all four rather than the usual focus which majors on pitch and thus concerns itself merely with melody and harmony. In this way the concept of what music is will itself broaden.

12. If you want to broaden your own musical horizons remove yourself from the equation as much as possible.

13. The music of the future will be interested in the contrasts of sounds.

14. Music is "a purposeful purposelessness" about life. It reflects it, shapes it, commentates upon it.

15. Experimental music concerns itself with "the co-existence of dissimilars" and with the fusion of things formerly thought not to go together. The task is to realise that harmony is merely the familiar and disharmony the unfamiliar in relation to things that go together.

16. If you want to explore, learn to love noise.


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