The Language of New Music

At Sound and Music, we use the word “composer” freely to mean “creator of original new music or sound”.

We do this because we work across the full range of new music and the people who create it, including the increasing number who may defy ready categorisation. (Incidentally, our definition of “new music” is similarly broad…)

susanna eastburn sound and musicWe know that this can be problematic. We know that many artists involved in creating new music or sound art do not describe themselves as composers. We know that it can be easier to focus on the differences and divisions between the different sorts of new music, than to bring people together.

And it is more important than ever that all of us recognise our common cause across new music: that the economic downturn and current social climate is the biggest threat to artistic risk-taking that any of us face.

I’m more interested in what people have to say, rather than how their music – or sound art, or improvisation, or however it might be described – is made. (Although I am, as it happens, interested in that too.) For audiences too, the power of music is in its ability to make a connection with the listener through communicating something beyond words. Or, put another way, the message is more important than the medium.

The ways that people create and share work are shifting and changing, the traditional boundaries are blurring. But across all forms, we all respond (viscerally, instinctively) when we encounter exceptional talent, where original and authentic ideas are released by technical skill, rather than
supressed by it.

One glance across Sound and Music’s composer development programmes shows a very wide range of emerging talent, working with an extraordinary range of partners. Each and every one of these projects puts the individual’s interests and development needs at the centre – yet across this incredibly broad palette, we see more essential similarities than differences in the fundamental artistic problems and questions being grappled with.

Common across them all is something to do with how musical and sonic material is imagined and developed in an entirely original and distinctive way, allowing for a clarity of voice and intent that has the potential to speak powerfully to the listener.

So what’s a good way to describe this process? Is it, in fact, about how ideas are put together, or even…”com-posed”…? Is now the time to be more confident about the language we use?

I would welcome your views on this. Is there a better word for us to use? Or is it time that we worried less about how we talk to each other, and more about how we bring new people into the conversation…

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