Yesterday, I felt inspired to finally embark upon a creative project I have been thinking about for a while: a location specific work composed with graphic notation. I have recently performed graphic scores for the first time in 10 years and composing one of my own just felt right. So, I went out and bought a visual diary to begin my very first graphic composition.
It’s was an odd experience, beginning to compose again. In the last few years I have composed and arranged pieces for my students, but none for me to perform. The first germ of the composition happened when I was doodling whilst watching Netflix, and then I started jotting down some notes. slowly but surely, more and more ideas made their way to the back of my year 8 lesson plan and then I shut my laptop and just wrote. After filling up the back of that A4 sheet, I went out to get a visual diary so that I could render my ideas more accurately.
After a while my composition began to resemble a piece of music, notes, sounds, tempi, articulation all just started to flow. I had unlocked my creativity after barely using it for so long. I found new clarity with my writing that I haven’t felt before. I wrote space into my music using pauses over rests, I defined time by seconds rather than beats in a bar, and my visual cues for air sounds had meaning. I had finally started to composed a “modern” piece of music that was interpretable by musicians.
The piece of advice that I had running around in my head was the feedback I received when I took my last major composition to clarinettist and composer Brigid Burke: “Your composition would be better if it was more specific.” I hadn’t understood that until now. Being a jazz musician, I was used to compositions being nonspecific and open to interpretation, then discussing how they should be performed as a group. This attitude doesn’t work for compositions that you are giving to musicians with whom you will have limited or no contact. Realising that I had to find a way to communicate exactly what I wanted the performers to do, I have decided upon some small compositional devices and will keep composing and refining these devices as the work progresses.
Lastly, a friend of mine said to me on the weekend, “the best decisions are the ones that are made.” You can apply this to compositions too, the best compositions are the ones that are composed, not the ideas that remain in your mind.