In the Final Analysis

By the time you read this, I’ll be back in the United States. Now that I’ve completed my examination (pass with minor corrections, if you were wondering), all that’s left for me to do is pack up and ship out. In this weird nether-realm interim, I’ve been trying to get a jump on the changes my thesis needs before my deal with Brunel University is finally sealed. These changes are mostly limited to editorial alterations in the scores and elaborations in the thesis proper, but a few questions I encountered during my exam continue to vex me.

The suspicion that a musical event may be “too good to be true” and isn’t to be taken at face value is a sensation I’ve tried to elicit in the listener in all four of my portfolio’s pieces. Typically I’ve tried to do this by contextualizing some element of familiar or loaded material in a way that contradicts its accepted semantic function. The goal is to illustrate the distinction between the product of music and the experience of music in such a way that the recognizable profile (auratic as well as immanent) of a piece of material may turn out to be only the shape momentarily assumed by the twisting fabric of some experientially registered process. Sometimes it works, I think, but sometimes it’s hard to tell whether my music might not actually be the thing that it purports to criticize. The “potential naivety” of such a gesture, to quote one of my examiners, is significant.

Another aporia with which I have to grapple is the default state, so to speak, of my music; in the pieces I submitted to Brunel, it’s a through-composed current of churning polyphony, usually quartertone-ridden. When questioned about this material in my examination, I said that if I wrote music, that’s what it would sound like—in other words, if I didn’t feel the ideological compulsion to inject cysts of the postmodern into my pieces, they would probably be nothing but that winding microtonal counterpoint. I found this a bit worrying; certainly such an autopilot texture doesn’t say much for the philosophical purity of one’s music.

As I wrote here some time ago, I’d hoped that my exam itself would be a learning experience, and indeed it was: In addition to the helpful nuts-and-bolts comments I received, I had the opportunity to codify some of my compositional objectives and talk them over with knowledgeable professionals who were able to identify some possible fault lines. With these prescriptions in hand, I can head back home and keep striving to improve what I do.

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