Music For The Bionic Ear premieres in two weeks’ time so I’ve been busy tidying the completed work, after a hectic week correcting an almighty stuff-up. What follows is a blog post I’d forgotten I’d written until I found it this afternoon while looking for something else.
Listened to 1/1 off Brian Eno’s Music For Airports for the first time in years. Much more happening than I remembered.
Seemed shorter, too (cf. years of listening to La Monte Young, Iced Vo Vos used to be bigger etc.)
Bernd Alois Zimmermann, “Rheinische Kirmestänze” (1950-62). BBC Symphony Orchestra /Oliver Knussen.
(5’04”, 8.0 MB, mp3)
What could be more exciting than an action comic strip written by a 5 year old boy and drawn by his 29 year old brother? Nothing! You are commanded to read Axe Cop.
This was going to be a standard progress update on the Music For Bionic Ears concert, tickets for which are selling fast. However, there is now a bad twist ending. I’m talking M. Night Shyamalan bad; I’m talking that episode of Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected with the bee-baby bad.
Up until 15 minutes ago, things had been going okay, more or less. I’d been immersed in getting the final rendering, editing and mix of my piece, that state of drudge-work which leaves you convinced there is nothing remotely imaginative or interesting in your music. My main points of reflection during this process were:
I have just discovered a basic error in my initial calculations for implementing the tuning in this piece. This means that everything I’ve done up to now is useless. Somehow, I had managed to listen to the two differently-tuned ranges of notes without ever hearing them both together. Everything will now have to be done over, from the top.
At least I know what it is I have to do, which is always the trickiest bit.
Robert Ashley, “Giving Love Away” (1991).
(3’52”, 8.8 MB, mp3)
Music For Bionic Ears is nearing completion for its premiere concert in February. Here’s a sample of one of the elements going into the final work.
Bionic Ear Study No. 3
(1′23″, 1.7 MB, mp3)
As an artsy-fartsy Modern Composer, one of the challenges of the Music For Bionic Ears project is having to come up with something that people might want to listen to. When the publicity for your upcoming gig promises a concert “designed to be enjoyed by both cochlear implant users and audiences with normal hearing,” you’re suddenly struck by a conundrum. How do you know whether or not the cochlear implant wearers are hearing something enjoyable in your music, when most “normal hearing” people don’t like your music anyway?
My music’s already been written up as using “bizarre scales”, and I have, on at least two occasions, been confronted face-to-face with the question What Is This Shit? So for this piece, should I try to write something (shudder) “accessible”, or carry on doggedly clutching my copy of “Who Cares if You Listen?” At least I can console myself that the tunings I’m using, which may sound off to most people, seem to sound pretty normal to implant users.
This is the quandary I’ve been facing since visiting the Bionic Ear Institute in Melbourne last November. While I was in town I got to see the (fantastic) launch concert for the CD Artefacts of Australian experimental music: volume 2. One of the composers on the CD, Sarah Hopkins, played her music on whirly tubes. As well as her own works, she performed Amazing Grace. Yeah, it’s simple and obvious, but whirly tubes play only notes in the harmonic series. In other words, it’s not in conventional tuning but a “bizarre scale” similar to the scale I’m using in this particular piece.
The scale is also very similar to one used by Ben Johnston, a composer with over 50 years’ experience of writing music in alternative tunings. His best known piece? A set of microtonal variations on Amazing Grace. This string quartet marked a changed in his style, from the more abstracted idioms of the post-war avant-garde, to using familiar harmony and melody as a foundation on which to build sophisticated elaborations on the physics of sound.
Although my music is still very different, I’m using these examples as a reminder of how I would like my music to be heard: I don’t want it to be easy, but I want it to be clear.