Friday, June 11, 2010

Gann on Composition (and blogging)

Kyle Gann has just put up this terrific post on composition. He draws parallels with blogging and says:

The impetus is transformed by the process. In a sense I had something to say and I will have said it, but more accurately, I will have found out by the end of this essay what I think. Which is the value, for me personally, of writing a blog - and would continue to be even were no one reading it.

This little snip resonates with my previous post.

The notes seem to be smarter than me. Thank goodness the purpose of the piece is not to demonstrate to the world how smart its composer is (which strikes me as being the case with some pieces I hear).

Here's the concluding paragraph:

The composer has something to learn from his or her own music just as everyone else does. And while we talk loosely about the composer "writing down the music he hears," I think we do more justice to the complexity and reciprocal value of artistic experience by admitting that the composer is just as subject to his or her materials as anyone else. All praise to the composition - but the composer should be humble.

UPDATE: The first comment under the linked post, by "mclaren" is a good summary of how the left and right brain work when listening to music.


  1. Reminds me very much of E.M. Forster.

    "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?"

  2. Jonathan - That's a great quote! - Hadn't seen it before. Didn't put it in the original post, but these line of T. S. Eliot came to my mind:

    "Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure

    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words

    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which

    One is no longer disposed to say it."

    It's sort of the same reason you can never come to the end of music making, or find the perfect, unchanging interpretation of a piece. The more you work at it, the more what you want to do, and your ability to do it, change.

  3. Anonymous13/6/10 11:42

    I heard another quote similar to the E.M. Forster quote, something on the order of "I write to find out what I think." Can't remember who said it. But it certainly true that the process of creating teaches. You start with an itch to do something, to express something in writing, art, composition, sculpture. You take the nebulous itch and give it shape - what is it about? You start with vague notions and then add detail bit by bit until it is about something very specific and all the details come in to focus, like a lens focussing on something. Sometimes this happens in layers or levels. Each time through adds more layers of detail. You study possibilities as you go, choosing some, rejecting many. Sometimes you go down a false path and have to backtrack or start over completely. It's not easy, but the more you do it - like anything else - the quicker you get at going through the process. You're a different person at the end of the process - even if no one hears the work or reads the book or sees the painting. You have become enriched by the process. That's why the argument that "I won't try composing because I'm not Beethoven" is specious. That's why creative arts should be something that everyone gets a chance to do, the earlier the better. Everybody is a writer (email!); everyone should be a composer to (bang on a pot!) at some level. It's easy, it's fun, it's both personal and social and it changes you for the better as a human being.

  4. Jeffrey - Yes! to all of your comment. Particularly like the phrase, "the process of creating teaches". And here are four more lines from The Four Quartets that speak to, "You're a different person at the end of the process".

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    Thanks again for those two posts. Still want to say something about the gorillas in the midst, just not yet sure what.