Classical music puts a premium on expertise. As a composer, you’re exposed to detailed knowledge about the workings of instruments, the conventions of Western classical harmony, and much more. Like most of my contemporaries, I know the range of a bassoon (an instrument I’ve almost never written for) and what’s meant to happen to root of an augmented sixth chord (a chord I’ve never used).
This education is circumscribed by the institutions you’re taught in. I was never shown how to make electronic music; I taught myself using YouTube videos and forum posts.
This is a great way to learn. Self-education forces you to rely on your instincts and your ears, as your experiments won’t be adjudicated by an expert. This allows you to come to weird solutions to common problems. And, indeed, it is the norm for electronic music. While there are, of course, whole degrees in the subject, and many (expensive) online courses, most people do as I did and hack their way through it.
Despite knowing this, I didn’t believe it. I always felt I must be missing something. Did my mastering sound crap? Was my sound too thin? Even though I ran it by some of the best electronic musicians I knew, I couldn’t convince myself it was good. I couldn’t let ears tell me it sounded professional. I was still far too dependent on the faux-certainty of having been taught something.
When I was 18, Anna Meredith and Larry Goves taught the composition course for the National Youth Orchestra. One morning, they told us each to make a piece in a day with only the equipment in the room we were currently in. I had a laptop, so I made my first piece of electronic music using Audacity. I wish I had managed to carry that DIY spirit with me.
I’ve learned some lessons from the whole affair. Self-reliance is a skill that needs to be reinforced through practice. You have to do it again and again, to stand up in front of people and play a record when you don’t know that it works yet. I’m not advocating under-preparation. Indeed, nothing will undercut your self-reliance like presenting work before it is good. But you have to trust your ears rather than wait for some sort of external validation.
You can find out about recent and upcoming projects here, and stay up-to-date with email or RSS below.