What does it mean to be a composer nowadays? I have been composing for nearly forty years, and yet, it has been a long, long time since I have written a piece of “pure music” (whatever that means). Rather, many, many years ago, I became a composer of media. And like my predecessors: Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhuasen, the list goes on (I live in an illustrious circle of colleagues), I make music with all the media of the stage. We have five senses, you see, so why not use them all? For a long time, I have no longer felt the need to bring more “pure music” into the world. There is already enough to go around.
That said: I now turn my attention to the acceleration of the digital reality: the speed with which our senses must race to keep up with the torrent of information. Our attention is focused on the Now in descending chronological order. We no longer have time for anything that is not in front of us: Right Now. In the continuous flow of social media, we can only grasp the moment, anything else is immediately in the past and no longer relevant to our insatiable imagination.
How does this impact the compositional process, you might be wondering? (well at least I am…) Profoundly. The composition is now a slice in time, and a very thin slice at that. It is the construction of the moment, in the flash of an instant, a brief, fleeting glimpse in time, the composition takes hold of whatever is crossing my screen. The idea of the slowly evolving elongation of the gesture (Morton Feldman is turning in his grave) is a thing of the past. The idea of stretching time is an anachronism. To be relevant today, to grasp and take hold of the fleeting moment as it passes you by, you must distill, quickly, and then move on. You must seize whatever articulation you can take hold of and store it away in the database, where at least, with some degree of comfort, you can rest assured that the moment, even if forgotten, can be retrieved.
That may sound pessimistic. I assure you it’s not. It’s liberating to let go! It’s liberating to know that you can live in a continuous present-present time, without guilt, without regret.
That is the spirit in which I prepare my next composition. Hold on, take a deep breath and pay attention, or you may miss it.