Saturday, December 26, 2009

on a related subject...

Emerging from the fog - Composing and Motherhood 
I wrote this article for the online music journal of the Australian Music Centre.  On a similar theme to an earlier post here but for a more specific audience.  Although I was initially a bit ambivalent about writing the piece (even though it was my idea) I am glad I did.  It is certainly a perspective that could do with a bit more airing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

more than a momentary pleasure

A couple of months ago an email arrived in my inbox with the subject "call for scores: momentary pleasures" - enough to make me curious.  This was an open invitation for composers to write a piece of music for piano solo, of up to four minutes in length, in any style - the only stipulation being that the piece had to be composed within a single day. The whole idea seemed perfect - a single day is about all I can devote to composing at the moment.  I filed the details away for when 'the day' became available, and Monday was the day.  Writing a whole piece in a day was a fantastic discipline.  I had to think through a lot of ideas ahead of time, work out my plan of attack, get myself in the right frame of mind, drop the kids off at creche, rush home and START WRITING.  And I did it.  I wrote a five minute piece that I had to edit down. The ideas were there, things felt a bit rusty at first but I applied myself to the task at hand, working with an intense focus and discipline that I had forgotten I was capable of.  At the end of the day I was fairly exhausted but the sense of achievement was fantastic and I think I have written something good.  So, for anyone who is feeling apprehensive about launching back into work, I can recommend this approach.  It was great having the external directive to 'write a piece in a day' - another version of the deadline as inspiration/motivation - but the other option is to just do it.  Whether or not the piece I wrote is selected for performance is in a way irrelevant.  The task gave me the jump start I needed to get back into writing properly, to finish the piece, to regain some confidence and remember that amazing feeling when you finish a piece of work that you feel proud of.  It was also a chance to draw together some of the strands of thought that have been preoccupying me of late - ideas about space and silence and simplicity and also something about the depth of feeling for my children.  And it may seem strange but in my twenty years of composing music, I have never dedicated a piece to anyone - until this piece.  Here is the title and the brief program note required for the submission of pieces:

a million moments
for Eleanor and Freya

Composing is a pleasure I have had little time for since the birth of my children.  I have given my time to them with love, while carrying ideas of music around in my head, ready for the time when I could write them into pieces.  This is one of them.  A whole day to write seems a luxury when once I may have squandered many days writing in circles.  A focussed mind and necessity are the mother of invention, and for this I thank my children.  A momentary pleasure is easily eclipsed by a million moments of love.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

my progress so far

or Acts of Creative Desperation
or Desperate Acts of Creativity
or Creative Acts of Desperation

Today I made curtains.
I've been thinking about music and listening to music and last week I even wrote some music.  But this week things are just not happening.  A 'training day' at our creche has conspired against me and my day of time and space disappeared.  I was having a look through a blog called Studio Mothers and came across a post called '5 ways to be a writer when you're not writing' which certainly struck a chord.  I'm not overly interested in cooking but some of the analogies were quite apt - there is a lot of simmering and preparing the pot.  Rather than feeling frustrated at the slowness of my progress, I know there are things simmering away and when I lift the lid on them some time soon, I hope I am pleasantly surprised.  I also agree with the importance of engaging in "cultural activity" to get ideas moving.  I often have 'light-bulb' moments while listening to someone else's music or looking at a painting.  Of course I would love to be gadding off to art galleries and performances and all manner of things although it's not so easy at the moment.  But I have made a point of planning ahead to put a few interesting things on the calendar and then to actually go and see / hear them.  So things are moving along, slowly, my plan is falling into place, gradually.  But today I made curtains and totally enjoyed it.  I love making things and making curtains fed the urge to create something, even if it wasn't music.  And you can make curtains in the midst of domestic chaos while talking to two small children and interruptions to bring in washing / make tea / bathe children don't actually make any difference to the final product.  I don't know if curtain making can be classed as 'engaging in cultural activity' but sometimes creating something is better than creating nothing and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Listening and Watching - soundart films

Recently went to a performance of 'soundart films' - Carte Blanche - by Ros Bandt and Brigid Burke at Dante's Gallery in Fitzroy.  Cross-media / Intermedia / Hybrid work is probably the area I am most interested in as a composer so I was keen to go along to this performance and see some new work.  Ros Bandt and Brigid Burke are both well established and highly original artists in their own right so I was particularly keen to see what this collaboration had produced.  They presented six works ranging from live instrumental improvisations responding to visual images / video to sound and image works where the relationships and interconnections between media were much more complex and dialectical. 'From the Train' and 'Stargazer Remix' were perhaps the two works that I found most interesting.  These brought together sounds of images and images of sounds, resulting in works where meaning and association are layered and often ambiguous.  The relationship between sound and image seems to be most engaging when the connections are not obvious or one dimensional but rather blur the boundaries between the visual and sonic.  Nicholas Cook discusses this relationship in his fantastic book Analysing Musical Multimedia  where he talks about the possible 'emergent meaning' that is produced when sound and image are combined.  The soundart films by Bandt and Burke certainly explored these possibilities.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On reconnecting

Having a long 'break' between pieces (of music) can be a daunting thing.  Can I still write music?  Have my technical skills and creative spark deserted me?  How did I used to do it?  I remember one of my composition teachers in Edinburgh saying that having a baby would not make me a worse composer but quite the opposite (I’m sure he expressed it more eloquently).  I have held on to this idea over the last couple of years when I’ve felt like that part of me was slipping away out of reach.  In the past I think the longest I have gone without writing music has been about 12 months - either due to exhaustion or business in other areas (like teaching) or perhaps disillusionment.  My most recent 'break' has been in many ways quite liberating.  Having decided to focus on child-rearing, and found my own way around the guilt/frustration minefield of motherhood, I have given myself permission not to write for a while.  But now I am starting to re-engage with that side of my self, trying to get the cogs moving and the connections firing.  I have been carrying pieces around in my head for some time now and mulling over ideas and concepts and the challenge is to find an ordered way to articulate all these things.  Sitting down to work again has been an enlightening experience -  I feel like I am embarking on 'My Creative Life version 2'.  I find that I am approaching things in a different way, partly because of the imperative of time and partly because of a shift in the way I think about what I am doing and why I am doing it.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

to blog or not to blog

I've been thinking about setting up a blog for a while now but must admit to feeling a bit ambivalent about the whole idea.  Part of me thinks blog time would be better spent actually making work.  Part of me thinks that interaction should be conducted in person with real live people.  But another part of me sees this as an opportunity to find a way of exchanging ideas and thoughts on the subject of creating things (music, words, images) that recognises the fact that face to face interaction is not always an option when one has two small children at home.  Going out, seeing/hearing work, meeting new people and exchanging ideas is not always a realistic option (although it is becoming more achievable) and traveling is certainly off the agenda for some time.  The idea of a blog seemed like a solution to some of the dilemmas of creativity and motherhood - isolation, lack of interaction, and the lack of confidence that can come with this.  So the vision I have for this blog is a place where ideas about creating things can be exchanged and shared and reflected upon and expanded upon: not as an alternative to actually creating work but as part of the process of getting there.  The 'spaces between' my own musical works are quite lengthy at the moment and I hope this blog can be part of my return to a regular practice and also a forum for discussing ideas about creating work, finding material, inspiration, focus and maybe even potential collaboration.  We shall see.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

thinking about spaces between

an unquantifiable metaphysical space (duration) of dynamically tensed absence of sound 
Toru Takemitsu

The Japanese concept of ma refers to the space between things, a concept approximated but much less poetically expressed in the English language as ‘negative space’. The idea of ma can relate to the physical space between objects or images or the temporal space (duration) between sounds or sonic events. The idea that the space in between things is just as significant as the things themselves offers a different way of thinking about ‘emptiness’ or ‘silence’. Space doesn’t need to imply an absence of something – it can be full or meaning and implication.

Hence the name for this blog…Spaces Between.

Spaces between things: spaces between events, spaces between actions, spaces between ideas. And these things, these events, actions, ideas, are shaped by the spaces between them. There is the space of contemplation or waiting or distraction or anticipation or boredom or irritation or frustration.

For me this idea of ma or ‘spaces between’ can apply equally to my creative practice (as a composer, sound artist, writer, occasional video maker) as well as to my life and how creativity and everything else fits into it.

In my current life situation (being a mother of two small children) there are large spaces in between anything resembling creative activity; long gaps between chances to sit and think; extensive intervals between doing things for me (like seeing a film or going to a performance); lengthy periods between catching up with friends. My life is full of ma.

In terms of music and sound, the concept of ma is particularly relevant. I believe silence is one of the most powerful elements of music – in the way it shapes the sonic space and the way it impacts on the listener. I am in the process of writing a paper (or at least a proposal for one) about Listening. It is a strange experience to be writing about listening when what I really want to be doing is writing something to be listened to. That will happen soon and in the mean time I am enjoying this particular space between.