Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Charlotte New Music Festival, USA: Day 2

Day two of the composer workshop, and it's obvious that it's getting down to the complex stuff now, as evident by the morning session - 3 presentations by fellow composers attending the workshop.

First up was Cody Brookshire, who presented 4 works to us. The first, a piece for trumpet and electronics about drones (planes), intended to recreate the atmosphere of a particular setting, in with the electronics player uses his mobile phone and a calibrated signal which reacts to their movements. Next he presented two guitar based works, both in incredibly different formats. 'Prism' is a work for two classical guitars, whilst M3T11UR6Y (pronounced 'metallurgy') was a mixed media piece using sounds created from an electric guitar. It's worth mentioning that Cody is a massive Metallica fan, and this piece really showed that. It's very out there, but I'd be really interested to see how other rock/metal music lovers out there respond to the piece. Cody's final piece for presentation was a work entitled, 'Endless forms most Beautiful', which he states is a piece based on the concepts of evolution and natural selection. A complex piece that is ever evolving, it is written for single instrument (or voice), and the performer is required to roll a dice to select several 'mutations' for them to include when they perform the work. Some very interesting discussion opened up about particular piece, especially when Cody talked of his need and want for control over who performs his piece, to which the irony and hilarity of his 'god-complex' over a piece based on evolution was not lost on any of us!

Richard An was up next, who chose to present snapshots of pieces that have been pivotal to his development as a composer, beginning with a piece that was written during high school for the LA Philharmonic Orchestra as part of a young musicians program. An 'assignment of sorts' to write a new piece to fit in with "Picture's at an Exhibition" based on a picture they had been given as inspiration. It's really fascinating when you're shown the picture, and then hear what a composer has chosen to write in response: you start to see how people think and understand their methods and process. One thing that has really stuck me over the first few days is how incredibly lucky these composers I'm surrounded by are, as all their recordings are from live premieres, and are immaculate (at least to my ears). And Richard, a casing point, got to write for the LA Philharmonic at just 14, and received a recording to go with it - it's an incredible advantage point to be in (and I might just be a wee bit jealous about it!)

The final workshop composer presentation of the morning was Clay Allen, who self-confessed that he "doesn't know how to deal with pitch" - which might seem a pretty strange thing for a composer to say, but it does pose some tough questions, and raise some interesting insights. Clay himself stated that he has developed a way of writing in two ways - as a artistic composer who disregards pitch, melody and harmony and is focused solely on concept and ideas, and also as a working composer who writes more melodically for commissions (such as for choir). It's interesting to hear a composer talk about battling with identity - When I was doing my MA my tutors did try to push my music into the realms of extended techniques and 'new music', which I understand to a point (they were trying to broaden my horizons on what my style could be), but there are techniques and styles that just don't resonate with me (in the same way that pitch-based music doesn't resonate with Clay) - but that's ok. I know what I like, but I'm willing to try new things.

The lesser-spotted 'music-creator' 
Adam Scott Neal posed the following question to us, "Are you a pitch composer, a rhythmic
composer, or a textural composer?", which lead to some interesting insights into my fellow composers and what type of music it is that they are interested in. Adam also went on to say that, there is no correct answer to this question (of course), but rather that it's worth thinking about what you care about most when you're writing music, as that will ultimately be the thing that will shine through to the audience.

The afternoon session featured a presentation from visiting guest composer John Allemier, who teaches at the University of North Carolina. John's presentation was fantastic, not only in hearing about his compositional style, but his business minded approach to presenting his work. He gave some amazingly useful insight into how to get your music out to people, how to source funding, how to claim your royalties and ways to collaborate with people that will ultimately benefit you in your goals. His technique was something called 'the fly wheel', where essentially you are able to concentrate your efforts in such a way that they generate benefits from a wider scope. Fascinating stuff, which has really got my brain thinking on what I need to do with my music now. 
- Rather brilliantly, straight after the session I had a one-to-one lesson with John, where I got to discuss my works in-depth, and relate the things he was talking about in his presentation to my own work. I was really pleased to hear John talk about my work in such a positive way: he told me that my work is beautiful, and that I write the type of music that audiences will want to hear, and performers really want to play - and I really couldn't ask for a better outcome than that. That being said, he still had some brilliant things for me to think about in how to keep my work developing, and push myself to bigger and better things. I think hearing things like this from something who is clearly very, very good at it and already achieving great things has just lit the fire somewhat, and I've got some ideas bubbling away, so watch this space :)

The Fat Face Band, performing @ The Common Market
The evenings festivities took a much more casual turn, with a performance from the Fat Face Band at the Common Market - a group consisting of trumpet, tuba and electric guitar that played what I can only describe as 'Louisiana Blues-esque Jazz' - in the backroom/beer garden area of this amazing, quaint bar/off-licence, I found myself finally feeling the real feel of the American south: the hospitality, the music and the happy-go-lucky vibe. As well as a fab insight into the music from the area, it was a great social event for all us composers to really chat and get to know each other, and for us to get to know our program directors a little better too. Myself and Adam Scott Neal had a hilarious, in-depth conversation about the possibilities of busking with a Toy Piano, and my fellow composer Calvin Hitchcock and I discovered our mutual love of Jason Robert Brown. As some of you may know, I recently musically directed 'The Last Five Years', and one year on it was truly amazing to describe and discuss that production with someone from the other side of the world, and have them be so amazed and interested in it. This composer workshop is bending my mind round corners in so many ways, it's a little unreal!
L-R: Me, Rachel, Marissa, Lydia (the other one!), Matt & Trey

It's been a hard day of work and intense music study, but we seem to have developed a good
work/play balance, with a fab social night out and fairly decent amount of banter in the dorm common room, sharing our favourite music/comedy videos, and learning a bit more about each other as musicians and, in fact, as people. 
- Tomorrow night sees the Open Night at Petra's Piano Bar, where literally, anything goes - it's certainly set to be very, very interesting!