Origami seems at first much like sculpture, yet nothing is subtracted as the paper is only creased and folded, never cut. But adding these creases isn’t really analogous to “adding something” to a blank canvas in painting, as these creases are rather a way of modifying a blank piece of paper—and for me a lot of the interest in a piece of intricately-folded origami lies in the knowledge that the finished piece is that blank piece of paper.
I mention this because it succeeds in representing at least one aspect of music composition that both the painting and sculpting analogies fail to capture: a sense that our materials by and large are already there, hovering in the ether of both history and current cultural zeitgeist, ready to be received by the composer and modified into a (not entirely) new work that might find itself raw material for more new works down the road. The way I envision this whole of music is that it is constantly changing and reacting as we composers enrich it. In my own work, I am always acutely aware of these raw materials, and even make a particular effort to uncover to uncover the catalysts that often spark my musical thinking.
In my mind, one of the happiest conclusions an aspiring composer could hope to draw from Frank’[s characterization of “pieces” of music is that a “piece” of music, by definition, doesn’t have to be all things to all people. Not every new orchestral curtain-raiser has to have a bracing rhythmic opening and aleatoric passages and the semi-obligatory slow section, but it’s astonishing how many works attempt this and similar feats of compositional laundry-listing. I have always half-jokingly thought that pieces like Ravel’s Bolero or Barber’s Adagio for Strings might have been icily received had they been written today and submitted to some grant panel or tenure committee, because these pieces do just one thing, and do it extremely well. These are by no means the most profound pieces of the musical universe yet explored, yet they each stake out entirely distinctive territory with such detailed imagination that fans and detractors alike are inclined to agree that the pieces push their material about as far as it could be taken. Accepting our inability to cram everything we want into just once piece of music might be a necessary prerequisite to figuring out that one thing that will sustain our interest through months of challenging work.