Philip Cashian, Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, kindly invited me to give a seminar to the students of his department. The title I chose for the talk today was “A new approach to composing music with live electronics”. I gave an overview of live electronics in practice, and the challenges and frustration that often accompany performances involving technology. Referring to my experience with Luciano Berio’s musical actions with live electronics (Outis, Cronaca del Luogo), I remarked on the sad absence of these seminal works from the repertoire today and outlined the challenged posed by technology in performing works created only 15-20 years ago. I went on presenting the philosophy of the Integra project and its role in developing the Integra Live software, with the intention to address the caducity and unfriendliness of live electronic systems developed using programming languages like Max.
Showing Integra Live in action I was able to demonstrate how the software and its different views tried to mimic the creative process and the workflow of a composer. From an initial exploratory, imaginative phase (Module View), to a more structured stage where events start being organised in time (Arrange View), to a rehearsal and finally performance phase (Live View), where things are fixed and the most important thing is reliability and control of every relevant aspect of the performance.
I hope I conveyed to the students my salient point: always ask yourself why you should use technology, and if you do, make sure it is borne out of your musical ideas, and is an integral part of your musical thinking. I enjoyed very much the interaction with them, they were curious and lively, and asked interesting questions, among others, about the future of Integra Live in a hypothetical post-coding world, and – this one more technical – about using MIDI notes to control partials in the various spectral modules of the software, highlighting the need for a built-in MIDI note to frequency converter in all spectral modules. At the end of the seminar Philip took a straw poll among the students and the overwhelming majority voted in favour of trying Integra Live in their own music. Not bad!
We write music because we feel compelled to do it, not because of some external reason or demand. Or do we? The role of inspiration, and what can be defined as inspiration in composing music, has been debated extensively. The truth is, we cannot separate external influence from inner compulsion.
Throughout the history of music, the most successful composers have been the ones that have managed to tune their creative impulse to the needs of the outside world. As far as creative output is concerned the outside world is a strange mixture of elements, where the expectations of patrons, commissioning bodies, influential friends and colleagues coexist with an imagined audience and the public projection of a composer’s self-created artistic image. All these elements come to play in the mind of composers as potential influencing factors, and affect their work more than they would like to admit.
We should then rephrase the first sentence like this: we write music because we want to communicate with the world. What is the chosen channel for this communication? If you are a smart composer, alert to the changing world around you, you will know already that the zeitgeist doesn’t inhabit concert venues programming ‘contemporary music’ works. It is to be found instead in some sort of team endeavour – a movie, a theatre production, a multimedia installation, a site-specific event, where your music becomes part of a wider artistic venture, a complex cultural product of our time, reflecting the interconnecting nature and the infinite resonances of our mostly mediated experience of reality.
You have then become a content provider, a sharp operator in a increasingly undecipherable world, carving small slices of meaning by interacting with other media, other forms, and with the unavoidable, ubiquitous technology we try so hard, often so helplessly, to keep under control.
Just finished reading this fascinating book. It has a very ambitious goal: to reveal, or at least to shed some light on, the inner workings of the creative process behind the composition of a musical work. Although at times a bit scholastic, it gives us a hint of a vast, uncharted world, and how creativity can be triggered by unrelated, disparate and often unpredictable sources of inspiration.