There was an article posted in the Guardian website recently entitled Audio Fail that has got a lot of people in a lather; sound artists foamed at the mouth and spat blood on Facebook whilst more traditional composers behaved rather smugly (which I found far more annoying) and appeared to gloat about it being a lesser art and such. I’m not going to dwell on that here for reason of my blood pressure and I’ll likely start shouting but you can read the original article here.
On to my music fail. I was cordially invited to submit a work for headphones, which turned out to be a short deadline with a brief/ theme which was a rather bad pun. This is quite common and normally turn me right off to the point that I then normally avoid sending anything in- the last one I encountered which was for a call for a large multi channel concert and the brief was a single line/word/pun “Techno-logical” Although this was of course an electroacoustic concert, that pun left me totally cold; it gave nothing, no reaction, not a start. So I didn’t bother and got on with other projects. I have heard far better ideas from sixth form students, that really did offer creative possibilities, so no work submitted from me:fair enough.
So when I checked up on this project I was quite angry to be confronted with something similar. Angry enough to want to write a quite reactionary piece, based on a great modernist painting from 1916, that’s often interpreted as an anti-war statement (the artist was far more reluctant to say as such in his papers), the painting was significant in view of the anniversary of the battle of the Somme, seemed like a sound footing, I thought about it Wednesday, on Thursday I had the overall structure, yesterday I had the essential elements scored in notation, I started tracking last night, and finished today, I was going to allow tomorrow (Sunday) to mix it, in time for deadline on Monday.
I listened to it back today, many times, had breaks from listening and came to the same conclusion each time: This is cheesy rubbish and not worth continuing with.
Why this piece is crap
There is a bad tradition that mostly applies to singer/songwriters and pop songs in particular that suggests they can allude more to their subjects by putting in sound effects that relate directly to the subject matter, its sledgehammer wit at its worst. I might add this is not a practice purely confined to songs, it has appeared in “serious” music as well and the effect is much the same
Another bad idea was take a well known theme and transpose/ mutate it. This works well for quotations inserted for dramatic effect, but anything larger structurally sounds mostly very weak; because nothing is being added from the composer, there’s not a commentary line from the composer, its only a mutation of an existing work, which whilst many would recognise, without anything more it sounds lazy and pointless.
Temptation : I love my step sequencer tools; they allow precise playback of very complex structures that I can intervene, manipulate, perform etc in real time, The downside is of course its very easy to get carried away with and not think about end effect- which is what happened with the percussion, See sledgehammer wit above.
Moral: Reactionary music needs more than the obvious for it to have real artistic value, its never as easy as it appears at the point of anger, much like getting into a heated argument/ shouting match with someone, serious content can get pushed aside in favour of something louder, harder, more aggressive which on listen back or read back, often amounts to bluster but little else. Its not easy to make good* art and that is irrespective of genre
* I use that term widely