Composers Should Be More Like Chefs

Composers Should Be More Like Chefs

Composers Should Be More Like Chefs

U.S. Air Force photo, public domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the first post of my SoundMakers composer-in-residence position with Soundstreams. The residency is rooted in the idea of making the act of composing more visible, more tangible, more participatory. This is the main challenge for musical creators in 2014, and a subject I’m very passionate about.

We don’t live in a very composer-centric time. Celebrity chefs have taken over the cultural role composers used to play, and the performer-focused nature of the pop music scene has downplayed the importance of the composer’s craft. To most people, composers are a relic of a bygone age, or perhaps ultra-specialized craftspeople who serve at the pleasure of a film director. We are abstract and far removed from daily concerns, like the engineers that design traffic signal algorithms, and for that reason composers and composition receive scant attention from the public at large.

The only way to change that is to get people re-engaged with the creative compositional act, by giving them opportunities to compose, and then showing them “how the pros do it.” In other words, composers have to be more like chefs. Eating is fundamental to life, but most of us want eating to be about more than just avoiding starvation—we want it to be about enjoyment, both sensory and intellectual. That’s why people love watching great chefs work, and why they want to try their food.

Music is fundamental to our daily existence, yet most people have lost the desire to understand how it works. There was a glimmer of hope during the original dot-com boom, as remixes and mashup culture took off, but the copyright wars of the past decade have dampened that enthusiasm. Still, we can’t give up! Composing is fascinating, and more people need to know that.

Soundmakers was designed as a catalyst for discovering the joy of the compositional process. I see my role as a sort of facilitator or guide along the way. As such, I will create a new composition, describe my compositional process, upload sound samples to the Soundmakers database, answer the questions you ask of me, and go into depth on a couple of technical aspects of composing. Through this process, you will get the chance not only to see how I deal with the day-to-day issues of composing, but also to try your hand at doing the unfolding yourself, in whatever form you see fit.

If you’re already a composer, great. If you’re not a composer, that’s also great—I need both types of participants. Whatever your background, I hope to open a dialogue, to foster curiosity, and to take the conversation in whatever direction it needs to go.

I’m planning on addressing a few themes in my follow-up posts, though of course we can change course as need be. I look forward to your suggestions, and here’s a preview of what I’ve got planned so far:

  • The concept behind my Soundmakers commission
  • How the piece evolved during composition
  • How to write for voice, and how to set text
  • How to work with prepared instruments
  • Strategies for fostering creativity or avoiding writer’s block
  • How to include electronics into your compositional process
  • SuperCollider tutorials based on the musical concepts in my piece

In the meantime, you can check out some of the sound samples available on the Soundmakers site, make your own remix,listen to some my music, or send me questions or comments.

This article originally appeared on the SoundMakers composer-in-residence blog.

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