"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

The Guardian JULY 10, 2009 - by Paul Morley


...his scores and string quartet

Paul Morley on his year studying at the Royal Academy Of Music, how his musical vocabulary expanded, and writing his first compositions.

At first, in the early days of my year studying music at the Royal Academy Of Music, I would be in a room of musicians, highly skilled young instrumentalists gathered for a workshop, all of them patiently looking at me, waiting for me tell them what to play. At first, I had no music for them to play, no notes for them to read, and I took what can only be described as the Eno route - explaining situations, imagining landscapes, describing other music, asking them to think about making music in ways that did not actually involve them using all the skills and techniques that they had applied over years and years of practise and learning. I would remember what Miles Davis said to John McLaughlin on a In A Silent Way session: play the guitar, which few could do better, as if you actually don't know how to play the guitar.

This meant that the early music I made tended to be drones, almost motionless severely repetitive ambient hums and murmurs drifting out of my love for La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier and Brian Eno, the kind of sound you can generate using musicians that doesn't really involve all the things I had actually set out to learn about - pitch, harmony, structure, chords. Experimenting with sound and sampling directly and indirectly other music to produce a textured soundscape was something I could already do, to an extent. The challenge was to produce a piece of notated music that musicians could read and play, and somehow write a melody that didn't seem directly copied from another melody.

For a while, I couldn't leave behind the Eno thinking, where I felt safe, and when I worked for a while with Sasha, a dazzling tuba player, I experimented with seeing if he could make a sound like the one Eno and Robert Fripp produced on No Pussyfooting. Beautiful sounds were produced, and it made me ponder planning a No Pussyfooting solo tuba version, but as happy as I would have been with that, it didn't really seem in the spirit of what I had set out to do: learn something new about how music works that would challenge, even threaten, the familiar way I listened to and wrote about music.

I left Eno thinking behind, and that left me with Miles thinking. My first authentically notated piece, Eventually, as if toward paradise, was inspired by the way Miles had been inspired by the minor seventh chords of Bill Evans. which were inspired by Ravel. I wrote the piece trying to capture what I felt when I first heard Miles Davis as a teenager, so that the piece became my attempt to piece back together the memory I had of first hearing the 1958 track Milestones. (I came to this when it was pointed out to me that Johnny Dankworth's theme tune for Tomorrow's World was largely taken from Milestones.) I tried to compose the music as I remembered hearing it, which immediately set me off writing a different piece of music, as what I remembered hearing wasn't actually what the piece was. This combined with my still primitive level of technique meant that even though to an extent I was directly referring to a Miles piece, the music I was composing had a completely different quality and sound - it was a ghost of a memory of an impression. A combination of thinking about music, imagining what it was I wanted to achieve, with a slowly developing musical vocabulary, meant that I was able to write a piece that wasn't simply an experimental drone, or a collage of found sound.

As my musical vocabulary expanded, I never threw away the Eno and Miles thinking that had helped moved me to the early levels of achievement, but I started to collect and use the thoughts and ideas of other composers, which made increasing sense the more I learnt how placing a certain arrangement of notes in certain shapes and patterns inside a bar produces levels of music that could be as simple or as sophisticated as you desired, and which when placed next to other arrangements of notes inside other bars began to produce a composition. It became clear that however sophisticated, dazzling or complex your musical understanding and technique, clear, questioning, conceptual thinking about the idea of music, what it does and what it is for, why it exists and what its means to us, does not lose its importance. In a way, it becomes more important.

There were a few quotes that became as important to me when working on a notated composition as the fact that I now knew a little more each week about how to put a piece of music together:

"Are there natural laws of music? Are the rules of harmony like a science that reveals to us the inner workings of a system? Are modulations and cadences like formulae that will produce accurate results? Is the history of music more or less a map which if followed to a logical conclusion will lead us to the perfect destination? Or is music a mysterious, irrational problem that even a gifted savant could not solve without the help of an intuitive muse and perhaps a little white-hot inspiration" - Glenn Branca

"In my hours of gloom, when I am suddenly aware of my own futility, when every musical idiom - classical, oriental, ancient, modern and ultra modern - appears to me as no more than admirable, painstaking, experimentation, without ultimate justification, what is left for me but to seek out the true, lost face of music somewhere off in the forest, in the fields, in the mountains, or on the seashore among the birds" - Oliver Messiaen

"My language, my style, has to do with brining different things together. There is a psychological need for this, especially in our modern society. I think that deep down we all feel a need to create a harmony out of the multitude of things we know - not just the things of the present, but also the things of the past" - Luciano Berio

"My experimenting is done before I make the music. Afterwards, it is the listener who must experiment" - Edgard Varese

"When I was asked to give advice to young composers, my only word was to be honest. If you try to be honest with yourself, and write what you think you need, not what you think other people need, or music critics, or colleagues, you will then be trying to communicate your truth. If it has that truth, then it will be interesting" - Mauricio Kagel

"Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind. You can't fail to get the message" - Pierre Boulez

"For me, composing is not about finding the notes. It's about losing them. The most difficult thing isn't knowing what to write down, its about knowing what not to write down" - John Luther Adams

"It is impossible for people to have only one sensation at a time. One has thousands simultaneously. And these thousands can no more readily be added together than an apple and a pear. They go their own ways. And this variegation, this multifariousness, this illogicality which our senses demonstrate, this illogicality presented by their interactions, set forth by some mounting rush of blood, by some reaction of the senses or the nerves, this I should like to have in my music" - Arnold Schoenberg