Category Archives: Thoughts

Random thoughts.

Kyle Gann on “political music”

Filed under Music, Thoughts

Kyle Gann wrote this article about nine years ago, but it’s still an engaging essay on the problematics of marrying “art music” with the “political”.

I’ve been all over the map with politics and music. I once began work on, but never finished, a piece based on texts by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

Other works of mine have not been directly political but have entailed various kinds of critique, as with my evening-length work Machine Languages in which I guess you could say I tried to bring computer music into the world and the world into computer music: kind of a technological critique of technology.

But most of my works have been “pure” sonic explorations without any explicit political or even (in many cases) explicit extra-musical content. Increasingly, I am OK with this, as I feel more and more that art is always-already political and always-already embedded in a network of political and social relations. The choices one makes in the act(s) of creativity always and inescapably situate art within this network of relations. For me, the act of making “art” music and/or experimental music is itself political; for me, it is a refusal of music as entertainment and escape from or avoidance of the corporate and commercial domination of music.

For me, these aspects of music-making tend to be more meaningfully “political” than workers’ songs that glorify the Revolution or whatever. I tend to like when art is politics rather than just being about it in a straightforward way.


“There is no stereo; the stereo is everywhere.”

Filed under Music, Thoughts

I believe I first encountered the work of Radigue when I was in grad school. Her works are massive yet also somewhat wraith-like. Large and spacious, but also intimate. You could call it ‘drone music’ if you wanted, but that misses the specificity and richness of her work. It’s about sound, duration, scale, corporeality, … As a first stop, I would recommend checking out the Trilogie de la Mort, but there are lots of other works for you to peruse.

If you would like a bit of background on her work before or while you listen, why not check out this interview in Frieze magazine. It covers her approach to space, her relation with Tibetan Buddhism, her recent turn from electroacoustics to acoustic instruments, among other aspects.


Thoughts on being a lonely composer

Filed under Thoughts

I recently completed a commission for the Media Arts Committee, an organization associated with Vancouver Co-Operative Radio, CFRO, 102.7 FM. It was an interesting project, and I think one of the last (for a while?) in my old style of beatless composition. I got to use voice sounds from several CFRO programmers as the basis for a short set of pieces. The works focus on the inherent musicality and diversity of the source voices, as these qualities are drawn out by electronic transformation of the source material. The intent was for the works to be an homage to the programmers whose voices serve as the metaphorical “voices” of their respective communities.

But aside from email contact with the programmers to get permission to use their voices, the compositional process was a pretty solitary one. It made me miss working truly collaboratively. I enjoy being part of a project which is bigger than just myself, a project with its own life and existence, but one that nonetheless requires my contribution. The joy of being creative is not sufficient for me; what really nourishes me is being creative with other people; I crave the company of other creatives and the joy of combining their creativity with my own.

For whatever reason, I have trouble tracking down this kind of project. One of my goals for the next year is to be more involved with this kind of project; I’d like to be doing at least two of them per year.

Why not spend more time doing what I really enjoy?


Reflections on a successful show

Filed under Contemporary Dance, Thoughts

My show with Sara (‘taking your experience for mine’ at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, Apr 29 & 30) is over now. I’m a bit melancholy, as I always am when a major project finishes up, but I’m also glad of the opportunity and happy that I had a chance to work on it.

I think things went well. Attendance was very good on the Friday night, and it was a good, very supportive crowd. Attendance was down a little on Saturday, due to full-price tickets, but the crowd was still very receptive.

The show itself went well, aside from one or two very small hitches in the dance performances; I suppose that’s par for the course. The dancers really pulled things together in the last couple of weeks of rehearsals and are to be commended for all their efforts.

Considering all the technology involved, I am immensely grateful that the technology was not more problematic; we really dodged a bullet on that one!

I feel the dance itself was quite successful and this reviewer seems to agree for the most part. Sara did an amazing job on the choreography and the creative process. She is really developing a unique choreographic language and a distinct voice, and this, her first large-scale evening-length work, worked out quite well.

Most importantly for me, I am very happy about how the music came out. The music in this show was quite a departure for me, as it was much more beat-oriented than most of my music has been for the last 10 years or so. What I noticed was how different the level of enthusiasm was for the music from both the dancers and the audience. In the past, the compliments I have received on my music, whether for dance or for concerts, have tended to be polite and respectful; in this case, I sensed a high level of very genuine enthusiasm. (The word ‘awesome’ was used by at least 3 different people!) I suppose I have always known that rhythmic music is more accessible to general audiences, but this confirmed it for me.

And I feel happy about this enthusiasm because I know that I have earned it without ‘selling out’ as it were. The music for this piece was every bit as planned out, well-thought and composed as any of my other music has been. Further, the rhythmic language used in this work is very much my own, and while the work is heavily influenced by electronic dance music, it never lapses into an easy or stereotyped approach to rhythm. None of the music is in 4/4, and there is some music in which the rhythmic structure is so complex and there are so many contrasting rhythms going on at once, that I couldn’t even tell you what time signature(s) it’s in!

But despite this rhythmic complexity, the music is accessible enough for general audiences to respond to, which has me feel like this is a worthwhile musical direction to pursue in the future.