In June 2018, I gave up watching television. I had just had my heart broken, and I knew that my first instinct would be to numb the pain with fruitless Netflix binges. I initially intended just to stop watching for a month or so, but the TV fast stuck for 18 month.
A Bingeing Problem
In part, I gave TV up because I knew it would be hard. Television had become an emotional crutch. If I was stressed, or sad, sitting in front of Netflix pushed away my emotions and left me happily numb. But as soon as I turned my laptop off, everything flooded back. This impending flood of negative emotion made it hard to stop watching.
A turn of phrase in the recent Auteurs-vs-Superheros brouhaha struck me: Scorsese’s claim that the Marvel films ‘aren’t cinema.’ It’s a type of argument that has often riled me. In this genre of dismissal, one criticises something by claiming that it is not an example of the genre to which it has been ascribed. You can recognise this canard through its typical hooting: “That’s not art”, “it’s not even music”, “that’s not really theatre” etc.
Last weekend I had an experience that reminded me why I don’t teach grade exams in music.
I had a new student. He is musical and curious, with interests in film music, hip hop and (to my delight) Bartok. He had just failed his Grade 6 piano. He had been playing for years, but when asked what pieces he had enjoyed, he could not name one. He had quite liked a Bartok piece he’d started for a grade exam, but it was too hard, so he’d learnt an easier piece. In his words: “I’ve had to pick from the grade book each time, so I’ve never really liked anything.”
So I got to perform the role every teacher who’s ever watched a Hollywood film wants to play: throwing the textbook in the bin, and starting as if from scratch with music he liked. It was great fun, hopefully for both of us.
It has been a disastrous half-year for applications. I have applied to fifteen composition opportunities so far this year and received thirteen rejections (my final two rejections are pending by the 20th July).
Numbers soothe my soul, so I have been carefully quantifying my rejection. I thought it might be encouraging. I know that I have low odds of scoring any given opportunity but maybe, in aggregate, my odds aren’t that bad.
Sound Unbound this weekend was excellent, I had a wonderful time as both an audience member and as a performer.
SANSARA’s performance of my piece was a wonderful experience. It’s a tricky work, but it had really clicked by the final rehearsal. I was overwhelmed with the response from the audience, who were incredibly generous in sharing many of their own stories of death with us after the show. I look forward to working through them and thinking about how they’ll affect the project.
Please do sign up to my mailing list there on the right if you want to stay up to date with the Vox Machina project, and to hear the recording when we put it out! You should also sign up to SANSARA's to see all their future concerts.
I’m massively excited about our gig at Sound Unbound this weekend. I’ve never been to the festival before, but I’m very impressed with the programme, which has a huge range and some really excellent new music. The fact that it’s all free and almost all unticketed is quite something.
That said, it’s all rather overwhelming, so I thought I’d put together a pick of the festival for those who want to really make a weekend of it. Please do come to see us on Sunday: there’s very little choral and electronic music around, so it’s a really unique chance to hear a sound that is like little else.
Elsewhere in the programme, I think I’m most interested in Amir Konjani’s new piece, Mira Calix’s set and the 12ensemble’s performance. But that’s because I’ve already heard Liam Byrne, Bartosz Glowacki and James McVinnie. If you haven’t, I’d make sure you take the chance! So here, at some length, are my picks for the weekend:
I’m delighted to be able to announce a major ongoing project with SANSARA choir. We’ll be giving its first performing at the Barbican’s Sound Unbound festival at St. Bartholemew the Great on Sunday 19th May.
The project is called ‘Vox Machina’. It “joins together vocal and electronic music in a project that investigates the relationships between humanity and technology. It presents the human voice as both autonomous and automated: natural vocal resonances are processed, manipulated and deconstructed to produce new musical textures and striking sound effects.”
I get tied in knots whenever I sit down to write myself a composer biography. I dislike most biographies I read, yet when it is my turn, I’m just as stumped as anyone else. The difficulty is that “composer biographies” are used for a number of purposes, each with a distinct audience. Crafting one biography to fill every role is a bad idea, yet seems to be the prevalent model.
To my eyes, there are three key roles for composer biographies: a public-facing biography, used for programmes, a biography aimed at other creatives, used for commissioners, academics and fellow composers, and a biography aimed at industry professionals, such as funders. Broadly speaking, I’d say that most biographies are public-facing, yet written as if they are for industry insiders. I've had a go at thinking about each of these examples, and writing some examples. If you can come up with better or funnier examples, please post them below!
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