Curiosity Inspired the Cat

Curiosity killed the cat, and yet creativity relies on it. And I recently came across two works that this is true of more than ever. Curious?

Recently I've been privileged to have a piece workshopped with Plus Minus Ensemble at Bath Spa University. I blogged about the process of writing that piece last month. But while there I was also able to see my colleagues on the Masters and PhD courses have their work performed as well. One of these pieces was Community of Objects by Caitlin Rowley. The piece involves the opening of beautifully crafted paper boxes, each with an instruction to be followed inside. This description, while accurate, doesn't do justice to the experience created. As performers open these boxes the audience is drawn into their curiosity. As they carefully examine and unwrap their objects, we were drawn to experience the event vicariously through them. The whole exerience was brilliant.

Then, this week I visited the Bath Spa Art Degree Show - where all final year art students are able to showcase their work. I was keen to see the work of the visual artists I'd recently worked with as part of the shortlist for the Bath Spa Porthleven Prize 2017. One of these artists was Summer Coleman, and when I found her name it directed me to a door. A torch hung on the handle, and a sign invited me to enter a small dark room. The torch illuminated a small space in the darkness, and I was surrounded by pebbles? Looking closer they weren't pebbles, they were sculptures. Each unique, some glazed, some coloured, all made by hand. Once again the work was one of curiosity - what does this next piece look like? I wonder how she made this one? Each piece bore it's makers prints, your fingers could rest in the marks left by the atrists. 

Reflecting on these two works now, I see the great level of intimacy involved. When the viewer is brought into the process of curiosity they share a unique experience with the performer/composer/artist - even if they are in completely separate locations.

My own work shows the end result of curiosity. I explore the world around me, and once I find something interesting I comment on it through my music. But these works invite the audience into that process. They still comment on the world, but in a way that equalises the positions of power. The artist is made vulnerable and the audience is invited to explore alongside them.

Can I explore this in my own work, or is it just a different style to mine? Who knows. But, I'm curious...

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