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large amplified ensemble

first performed by icebreaker, 2009, Glasgow.

About the Piece

“Does Style Bleed?”  I came across this question on an internet discussion forum.  A cellist was hypothesizing that a performer working on several pieces in varying style may find aspects of the style of one “bleeding” into the other.  As a composer, I find that questions of style generally don’t enter the equation during the creative process – if a composer writes with honesty, style attends to itself.

What does however play a part, albeit often unconsciously, is memory: the memory of music encountered across the breadth of one’s entire aural history, both recent and distant.  And it is this memory of one’s past musical experiences that for me does bleed, onto every page of every score written. 

Once in a while when I’m writing, I become aware of this phenomenon: of my memory of music bleeding into the piece I’m working on, and this was the case here.  The more I thought about it, the more this piece began to be about memory, and the way our musical memory bleeds into our present musical environment. 

We judge a piece of music not simply by its own merits, but by the music we’ve heard.  Composers don’t write in a vacuum, what they write is shaped by their memory, even by that which they reject.  The composer Louis Andriessen said that we “write music about the music that we love”.  I would be tempted to take this idea one step further and suggest that we are as much influenced by that to which we have a negative response, even if it’s only with regards to the choice of avoiding it.  So I think we write music about the music that we live, and have lived.

There’s no single note or phrase lifted from any other piece here, no direct quotation or reference.  Yet my memory of other music pulses through its veins.  I can hear the music I’ve been listening to this past year; I can hear the first Icebreaker CD I heard about 12 years ago; I can hear the music I wrote before this and I can hear albums I heard when I was 15 that just bowled me over.  It’s all somehow in there, transfused from anywhere in my personal musical history.  So I guess in that sense BLEED is about the music that I live. 

May 2009.

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