Who Am I? [Part II: Musical Influences?]

I mentioned in a previous post how art can  serve the purpose of holding a mirror up to our consciousness so as to explore deeper truths. Similar to this I think, Rob wants me to explore further outside of my music as way of discovering more about what is true for my composing practices, which is to say, by understanding my tastes and inclinations more broadly I may see commonalities that reinforce what is genuinely important to me in my own music. So the purpose of these writings is to explore the “Who Am I?” question from a myriad of different place, triangulate, and see if I’ve actually been living on Mars all these years without realising it.

No discussion of this nature would be complete without at least mentioning my musical influences My musical loves are fairly eclectic. Art-music-wise this ranges from Rachmaninoff to Ravel to Berio. [I’ll be make a list of my favourite works in an up coming post.] But I also love Jazz, and regularly find myself on the hunt for new videos of James Morrison (the trumpet one, not the singer).

What is true about all my music is that it tends to be acoustic and generally involves live performance by humans which allows for human connection and communication. I tend to have a preference for music that allows for spontaneity. I don’t think I tend to appreciate much music that is reliably the same. I would rather listen to two different orchestras play the same symphony than listen to the same recording twice. All of this allows for more opportunity for self-examination, something that particular musical forms, like main-stream or popular music, tends (I feel) not to. That music, for me, seems largely to be about how amazing and famous the artist is, more than the music’s potential for seeing internal truths. Popular music seems to be quite externally focused, even though the themes are often internal phenomenons like ‘love’ etc.

However, that all tells you more about what music I like to listen to, but less about the music I write, which isn’t necessarily even similar.

When imploring me to undertake such a quest of self-analysis and exploration, my supervisor (Robert Davidson) mentioned that, for example, if you ask Steve Reich who his major influences are he can quite specifically list “Bach, Stravinsky, and jazz” as the major ones.

I found that interesting because I LOVE a lot of different music, from the swoon-worthy Rachmaninoff to the cheeky and clever Prokofiev, to the complex simplicity of Ligeti, but also Stravinsky, Syzmanowski, Ravel, Debussy, etc they’re all great, so how can one easily point to three major influences? It somewhat baffled me, as if you ask me that question a month later I’m still not going to be able to give you a straight answer.

The composers whose music I can see the most commonality with in my own music are probably that of Debussy & Ravel, perhaps my music seems more Debussy-esque and lacks the extreme refinement of Ravel’s.

However, I recall my biggest compositional influence pre-conservatory were probably Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky & Michael Gandolfi, the latter whose works I discovered somewhat accidentally and really enjoyed at the time. (And still do, although it’s been a while since I listened to any of them). Since then however, I’ve been exposed to such a wide variety of musical styles and works and ideas that it’s all vaguely overwhelming. Stravinsky could possibly stay on the list, but then again, maybe not.

Part of me worries if it’s bad that my music is probably most closely aligned with composers who died around 70 years ago? I do feel an external pressure to be ‘modern’ and to ‘keep up with the times’, but as I discussed in Who Am I – Part I the composing experiences for me is deeply related to exploring what arises spontaneously in the space, not in concocting a new form of music like a mad scientist playing with sound. That actually sounds pretty fun when described thus… Plus, you’d get to yell “IT’S ALIVEEEE” at 3am in the morning as your Frankenmusic comes to life.

Sadly, as much as the image of a mad scientist/composer is a fun one, and as much as I’d like to be good at everything, I can only look to the place my music arises from and be faithful to it. If it happens to share an affinity with other composers’ music, that is simply a happy co-incidence. After all, I love Rachmaninoff’s music and have listened to at least as much Ravel, but that is not the music I hear when I sit to write, which suggests that the relationship is much more complex than one of exposure and imitation.
This is true too when I write fiction on occasion – I love Terry Pratchett but what I write has little relationship to his writing style, even though he is one of the few authors whose books I have read more than once. So it is not so simple as what goes in is what comes out.

So what are my musical influences? I don’t know. I can’t point to Three Major Influences. It’s as though someone asked “who had the biggest influence on your personality?” My answer to which is ‘stuffed if I know’, and when I try and consider it seriously I have the same problem; 100 possible influences, but which ones are still relevant or are the major ones I’d not be able to determine with any surety.

Alas, I shall keep trying. In mean time, I’ll be putting together a list of my favourite works from the past century.

Stay Tuned!

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