A composer’s philosophy

Plainly and simply, composers organize sound.

By that definition there are many types of composers.

There are the classical types who write for a given instrument or specific type of ensemble – a string quartet, a solo piano, an orchestra.

Then there are the composers we don’t typically think of when the term is mentioned. DJs are a kind of composer. They bring parts of different music together and reshape them into something new.

Foley artists are absolutely composers. They bring sounds of real and imaginary worlds together to heighten our experience of a film.

Songwriters likewise are composers and poets in full partnership.

Over the years I have composed in many genres. I created soundscapes for Tucson’s Invisible Theater, wrote scores for local dance companies and fashion show runway presentations, composed an opera (a second in progress) and a string quartet (for the Kronos Quartet) and put together songs in a variety of pop music styles.

In between I have been involved in near constant experimentation.

It was pure sound that got me interested in being a composer. The evocative spaghetti western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, the metaphysical soundscapes of George Crumb, the electronic scores of Morton Subotnik, the wailing sound of Duane Allman’s slide guitar. Along with 70’s-era Miles Davis, Motown, James Brown, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, Jon Hassell, John Cage, Bob Moses, Kip Hanrahan, Brian Eno, David Byrne and a few thousand other musical artists I had a lot of influences to work from.

Like most composers my music is a reflection of my personality, my life experiences and my strengths and weaknesses. I am well known for my sense of humor, though not as much for my  pleasure in life’s mysteries and exotic locales.

I live in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona, so naturally this region, its geologic and meteorologic forms, along with its culture and history, filter into my work.

I am endlessly inspired by the mythical west, by the vast sky and the dramatic landforms that surround me. Our monsoon rains and the building of clouds in anticipation thereof are likewise set my creative juices flowing. I love the summer heat as much as the unleashing of powerhouse storms.

I look for sounds that conjure these experiences and often reflect my sense of awe and wonder of the profound place in which I live.

For three decades I have worked in various capacities as a music writer and critic for newspapers and magazines. In the early days I wrote about everything from rock and country to classical music, chamber music, world music, folk music, jazz – everything there was. At the Tucson Citizen I focused mainly on classical music, world music and regional music of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. From the mid-1990s to the present I have written about contemporary classical and experimental music for Stereophile Magazine.

So I bring to the table a knowledge of music that is broad and deep, both historically and in a contemporary sense.

But at the end of the day, every composer starts out the same way – staring into the void at the “blank canvas” or blank sheet music. As primarily an improvising and experimental composer it’s the “new file” for me.

I try to work every day, whether home or on the road. It is about both discipline and release. Discipline in that it takes years of focused experimentation to start to come to a sound that is your own. Release in that, although it is work, it is often the most stress-relieving part of my day. I never forget why creating music is called “playing,” even when the work being created may be about a serious topic.

Music does so many things. It binds people and families culturally. It gives us something to get up and dance to. It helps us learn and teach. It helps us tell our stories in more memorable form. It helps us to describe that which is beyond description. It helps us share our emotions and feelings. And it helps us get over things we need to put behind us.

And sometimes it helps us deal with complex feelings we never knew we had. Primal things. Things that speak directly to our psyches. Soul dredging things.

So a composer has a lot to do, and a lot of responsibility. His or her tool kit has to be huge, and he must have an artist’s soul. He must learn to say what words have failed him in saying, sometimes discovering in himself along the way things he’d rather not deal with.



~ by Daniel Buckley on October 28, 2012.

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