Sunday, August 31, 2008

Composition Issues (9): Take your inspiration from wherever you find it

[From a 9-part handout for my introductory composition class.]
9. Aren't these modern times? Aren't we obliged to pursue a completely new approach to composition? Who made all these rules, anyway? A bunch of dead white Europeans? Ever heard of World Music? Rock? etc.

It is good to try new approaches. Take your inspiration from wherever you find it, be it hip-hop, Persian music, commercials, cartoon music, movie music, video games, ringtones, your dishwasher, the ocean, etc. Never feel constrained by the imagined shackles of history or tradition.

On the other hand, history has much to offer, should we wish to avail of it. Many composers have found inspiration in the music of earlier historical periods, among them Aaron Copland, David Del TrediciManuel de FallaHenryk GóreckiPaul HindemithArvo Pärt, Maurice Ravel, Wolfgang RihmGeorge Rochberg, Igor StravinskyJohn Tavener, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. There are no rules when it comes to music composition; we can choose to make our own rules or not, and we all get to decide for ourselves whether we wish to blend old and new approaches to writing music.


Justin Guzzwell said...

I like this. New and old ideas can definitely feed off each other. I play some of the most technically challenging classical piano music at school, and ripping fast punk rock drumming with one of my bands. The contrast in roles and style helps me be more open minded to each genre, and those I've yet to explore.

Jill A. said...

I totally agree with Justin. A broader knowledge of different music helps to expand ones musical and compositional abilities.

James Bulgin said...

I don't think I've ever felt especially constrained by external rules of music writing (possibly because I have no idea what any of the traditional formalisms are). On the other hand, I suppose this means that I can't use them to my own advantage in a conscious and deliberate way.

But as a result, I've always tried to write towards some of the types of songs I've enjoyed the most. A lot of the music I write is heavily influenced by the Japanese video game music tradition, which for many years accounted for most of my favorite songs (as nerdy as that may be). In fact, one of the things I've most wanted to be able to do with my music is to write songs which evoke some of the same vibes as those songs that I've liked most throughout the years.

Perhaps this makes me somewhat unoriginal, since I've never wanted to innovate so much as emulate, but I like to believe that a certain uniqueness inevitably comes through in one's work, since everyone brings a bit of themselves to it.

David said...

I agree, James. I'm fairly new when it comes to composition; growing up I wasn't very confident and breaking down my creative barriers (which still have not totally dissolved) has taken a lot of time and a few leaps of faith. It was that thought of inherent uniqueness that really helped me to creatively progress. We humans are such detailed things that something as seemingly insignificant as the size or shape of our hands can have an impact, however small, on the music that we create. Which leads me to believe that there are infinite other traits that also impact our creative tendencies. My mind is not your mind.

Evan Smith said...

Albeit a short post, I really like this. It "spoke" to me sort of speak. I never think of incorporating popular music into my composition. I always think I'm writing "classically". That's not to say I'm going to break out with a rock song, but it's a great thought to have. The ideas for composition can come from anyway.

Byrann Gowan said...

Despite being a short post, I nevertheless enjoyed reading from it because of the fact that it talked about originality. We get all of these ideas in our heads these days about how to do stuff, and yet, some of us tend to follow old directions (like composing a violin concerto).
When it comes down to it, there are ideas out there that have yet to be discovered. For example, I have yet to see a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra, or for drums and orchestra. These would be very interesting ideas, but it doesn't mean that they will work, which is why I think some people feel constrained - because there are ideas that work and ideas that don't. However, it is always interesting to try out new ideas and to see where they go. In 2018, witness the premiere of my concerto for Banjo and Orchestra :)

Sarah-Beth Cormier said...

As a person interested primarily in writing programmatic music, and for film specifically, I need to be able to write in a language the audience will understand if I am going to get my message across. This means that I have to work within a fairly tonal, traditional framework, with popular influences as appropriate. However, different styles, genres, and traditions all communicate different meanings and I consider it important to have familiarity with a broad range of musical types. I want to be the most effective communicator of idea and emotion that I possibly can, and that means knowing as many different ways to say things as possible. When trying to write programmatic music, it is a fine line between clichés and incomprehensibility.

Flutiano said...

I don't think there's an obligation to write completely new music anymore than there is an obligation to write anything else. I don't even try to write music that is completely new; I want to write music that is both new and old. Music that will be interesting to listeners, including myself, with aspects that are novel but also influences that can be related to even if not defined.

I do not feel constrained by history or tradition. On the contrary, I find they give a rich background that one can use to propel their craft forward. To start from nothing is an extremely daunting task. Tradition and history give us obvious things like formal structures (fugues, sonatas, etc) and tonality. It also gives us a tradition of innovation, both by doing old styles in a new way, or by doing new styles.

It seems almost impossible to write music that is completely new. There have been so many composers who did such wild things, that it's hard to imagine anybody writing much (if anything) that doesn't have influences from something that's come before, even if the influences are avant-guarde composers. For me, it is more important that it is good music (however that is defined) than that it is new.