A question that constantly runs through my head when writing music/creating sound/strangling cats is:

“Am I making this because it’s what I enjoy, or because it’s what I think someone else will approve of?”.

It’s a question that I’ve asked more and more in the last few years since leaving the group support environment of a band and delving into solo composition. In a band environment you (I) never question it. You create something, someone else adds to it and the collaboration leads to a whole greater than its parts that (hopefully) meets both outcomes.

Leaving that environment and returning to study a Bachelors Degree in composition I entered a new arena in which I was introduced to a lot of new music and wasn’t sure how to process the information nor how I fit into the new environment.

I entered the program naive, having never studied at University before, much less studied music at anything above a high school level where all I wanted was access to the amps at lunchtime to make walls of feedback. I began the program simply because I was unemployed, found myself out of love with playing in metal bands and getting more and more into solo studio production methods.

During the program I found myself wanting to explore the new techniques and sounds I found but a lot of the time found these urges ran in opposition to passing the tasks set. In reality this was self-imposed opposition and I could have very well explored these worlds and still passed the tasks set.

This internal conflict came to a head in the second semester of my second year when I was tasked to write a piece for a solo instrument and another for the university new music ensemble. The resulting pieces were my way of exorcising this anxiety.

The ensemble piece, Zurich, was a largely improvised piece where the players were given verbal instructions, a range of notes, and a stopwatch. At certain time points they were to complete certain instructions. At no point was any performer in eye contact with another nor were any range of notes the same.

This was my way of trying to escape what I saw as academically imposed limitations.

I felt the piece was largely a success and is an idea I’ll explore further in the future (unfortunately I’ve been unable to attain the recording from that night as yet).

The solo piece, Burnt Out, was exactly that. Resignation at the struggle. It is a single cluster, played on piano, repeated over and over. Each time its repeated the inner notes move an octave until the entire chord guts itself and inverts before reversing the entire process.

It is cold, dissonant and intentionally, obnoxiously, static.

Writing Scope and attempting to keep the ‘big picture’ in mind I tell myself that a full work of chords, drones and ambience won’t be enough but this morning I find myself thoroughly enjoying releases such as Paul Jebanasam’s Rites and Ulver and SunnO)))))’s joint album for this very reason.

So are my choices guided by me or the perceived expectations of others?

Am I purely attempting to use live instrumentation in a hope it may be performed and give my work some air of legitimacy when in fact I absolutely adore electronic sample manipulation and recorded sound?

No. I’m using the brass ensemble and percussion because there is a power to these instruments and a life that cannot be replicated. Coupled with electronics and the right space the experience will be immersive and visceral.

Still I struggle with the question.

– Chris