PBS 3: Listening as composer

When a musician listens, they should be clear that they listen in a different way to non-musicians (and don’t start me by saying that this is elitist, it’s much more complicated than that). When a composer listens they should also be clear that they listen differently from other musicians. In either case there has to be a method, listening is not just getting familiar with the sound palette of a particular composer or style, understanding the music doesn’t come from mere repeated listenings via osmosis. There has to be some semblance of method.

After discussions with François, I intend to work through compositional Oeuvres since it would be a matter of tracing the line of thinking that inhabits an artist’s creative life. Hence a method of sorts (not necessarily in clear chronological order):

  1. Read a good history textbook (potentially also biography) for contextualising
  2. Practical foundational study of relevant general techniques (counterpoint, harmony, etc)
  3. Listening to each work in the Oeuvre three times (can be extended):
    • Listen without score
    • Listen with score
    • Listen without score again
  4. Choose the pieces that strike you
  5. Read analyses, history, etc around these pieces specifically
  6. Relisten as necessary…
  7. Formulate and pursue your own questions for these works

A composer must come to grips with what is there, but also what is not there or half-there (this latter is the way forward). So they have to work out the explicit structural devices operating on the local, regional, and global levels, and then they have to find something else. There has to be a certain stopping point for the more ‘objective’ type analysis, since it is not an end in itself, but only a means to locating the idea that is ‘half-there’. So the subjective surpasses the objective but only after a certain time of ‘tarrying with the negative’ (as we could call it dialectese).

We could add an 8th turn in this process, and that is composing itself, since it could be seen as a continuation of the line of thinking emerging from the 7th point.


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