Two Composers

Janus

Throughout my life as a musician, I’ve always felt like two different composers: the person penning my current music and the creator of the idealized visions that exist only in the most crepuscular regions of my mind.

When I was beginning to learn this craft, I focused on developing my acoustic compositional chops and purposely avoided exploring many of the modes of inspiration that had led me to music in the first place. My hope was that this focus would allow me to gain the skill necessary to achieve a higher level of expression. When I eventually reached the point where I felt capable of knitting these various strands into a single artistic vision, I wanted the resulting music to be worth the effort. During this time, I set aside my years of working in theater to create music that could be presented within typical chamber concert settings. I avoided the electronic elements that had first led me to thinking of music as a creative endeavor in order to better understand the acoustics of traditional instruments.

Eventually, I developed enough aptitude that I began to feel comfortable weaving these basic inspirations into my public works. But the vagaries of daily life continued to stymie my attempts at vivifying my true inspiration until I eventually came to accept the fact that for me composing is like describing the shadows on the wall and that I will probably never see the true forms projecting these umbrae (and penumbrae) in my mind’s cave.

The current issue that has been fracturing my compositional inspiration is the difference between penning new pieces for others and developing improvisations that I will perform myself. For me, part of the process of notating ideas involves considering as many alternative universes for the composition as I can. At every moment, I attempt to envision the infinite possibilities for continuation so that when I lock into one particular time stream I can have some confidence that I’ve selected a wise option, that some factor necessitates the chosen form for the work. The final composition then exists as a singular entity. Even my works in variable forms are more properly considered labyrinths than mazes, because I try to create musical scenarios in which all the possible paths that might be followed in a performance lead to the same overall structure.

In my individual performances, I can create parallel realities by ensuring that each realization is completely unique. I tend to give myself several signposts that I know I will reach in an improvised composition, but force myself to continue working to find unique paths to traverse between these goals. The greatest advantage of this method is that it allows me to create a great deal of music very quickly. (Since I’m currently adding nearly 20 minutes of music to a solo set for a Wednesday performance, it’s impossible to understate the amount of comfort I’m currently deriving from this fact.) In addition, I often surprise myself by uncovering possibilities that had remained hidden, and the adrenaline of the performance can push me to overcome the limitations that had previously bound my imagination.

I think of these separate streams almost as if they’re the work of two composers. One person meticulously strives to create compositions that invite multiple listenings. The other ensures that no piece will be the same twice. Even though I’m a Gemini, I’m hoping that the god Janus more accurately reflects this situation since he presides over transitions and at the moment I think that the transitions in my compositions could use a little divine intervention.

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