Writing 'for'

In my last blog I mentioned I'd started writing a series of experiential pieces for specific individuals. Each piece is sent as a postcard to it's recipient, there is only one copy and it is handwritten. I'm currently enjoying writing for individual people and with these postcards I've tried to create pieces that are unique to the tastes and interests of the recipient.

One question raised by this is how to document the pieces. These postcards are designed to be one-offs. Sharing images of them would spoil the intimacy of the work. In other situations I might have chosen not to document the work but in this case an alternative option presented itself. 

Each postcard is unique but the message written on the back is the same:

"I'm writing a series of personalised pieces. This is the [insert number here] in the series. Would be great to hear how it goes and any responses you have to it. David"

Each response I've received has been as unique as the postcards. One person sent a video of their performance, another sent a description of how it impacted their day. These responses gave an insight into the works without breaking the intimacy of them. 

So as a documentation of them I am collecting the responses here. Sometimes the recipient will choose not to share their response, or for it not to be made public. In these cases there will simply be a name of the piece and the date it was sent.

Writing for people not for instruments

Recently it was suggested that I write a series of experiential pieces (see past posts) that were less general. In response I've begun writing a number of these pieces for individuals. This has caused me to think more about how I composer for performers and I thought it might be interesting to think through that process here, maybe you'll find it equally interesting.

Music for Children is a piece I'm writing for saxophonist Sophie Gibbett. Originally inspired by Sophie's wonderful tone in her playing, the piece has quickly become less about the instrument and more about the performer. Music for Children is now a piece that explores playfulness and childlike-ness (in the positive sense) and the interactions between child and authority. This change took place as I became less interested in the instrument, and more interested in the person performing it. 

Following this I have started to collaborate with Kira Thomas on a piece that aims to bring Goth sub-culture into the western classical performance space. While in its early stages this work has begun from an interest in the performer as opposed to the instrument.

One question this has raised is of multiple performances. Can a piece written for a performer ever be performed by another person? If it is, does it remain the same piece? Perhaps someone other that Sophie can perform Music for Children but in doing so they become an avatar for the original Sophie. I don't know the answer to these questions, I may never know. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

What I do know: right now I'm finding it far more interesting to write for a person rather than an instrument.

Lessons from Controversy

Recently I finished a piece I've been working on for the last few months called Choice Words which explores the ideas and motivations behind erotic FanFiction. A speaking piece that involves offensive language and descriptions of sexual acts; it is easily the most provocative and controversial work I've written. Whilst writing I've had conversations about why I am writing the piece, whether a composer should expect their work to be performed and the ethics of performers' rights. All of this has caused be to think about composition more generally and this blog is a reflection on the experience so far.

Firstly I believe that all music should, in a broad sense, be performed. This may be in concerts or synthesised, I've even written works where the 'performance' takes place in the mind of the person reading the score, but the piece isn't fully realised until this happens. Having said that,  no performer is obliged to do this and in writing Choice Words I was more aware of this than usual. But why are composers not always aware of it? Every piece I write requires the time, energy and talents of its performers. Every performer I work with deserves the knowledge that everything I ask of them has been thought through in complete detail - regardless of whether it is to play a 'simple' note, or speak an offensive word. Three questions arose in this process that I will now ask myself of future works.

1. Why?

There are two elements to this, which I think often have the same answer. Why am I writing this, and why should anyone perform it? With Choice Words there was an idea that I believed to be strong and raised important questions about language and cultural attitudes (an area that often surfaces in my work). Those who wish to perform it will likely do so for the same reasons I wrote it. The only addition is that I wrote it because if I didn't, I wasn't aware of anyone else who would cover the same area.

2. How?

Is this the best way to achieve my aim? Is music a better option that poetry, for example. Even then, is a melody using a major scale/an atonal cluster-chord/and text-score the best music to fulfil it. In writing h a controversial piece I had to be confident in the idea and able to defend it. Imagine if we always made sure our ideas were defendable, even the ones we know won't be questioned.

3. Presentation?

Choice Words has resulted in a score printed on off-white laid writing paper, 23x18cm, 100gsm. The font is Bookman Old Style. The pages were printed single sided and not bound together. Each of these choices was given great thought: what would it convey about the piece, how would it impact the performance? If I was writing a 'normal' score, I would have printed on A4 printer paper, using the standard settings in Sibelius. Why should all music not go through the same level of detailed thought?

In short: Why am I composing? Is this the best way to achieve that aim? Is this the best way to present my work? I suspect that these three questions will change how I compose.


PDF copies of Choice Words can be requested through the Scores page on www.david-may.co.uk