Thomas Green: Searching for my musical voice

Words from the composer

BY THOMAS GREEN

 

Finding my own musical voice isn’t just difficult. It’s never-ending.

Maybe other composers come to this quickly. Not me. I know that many composers and musicians have very broad musical interests – a cellist may also be into heavy metal, or a jazz pianist might love Pauline Oliveros. Someone who is more into electronics might know Sofia Gubaidulina well, but it seems most of these people are smart enough not to let that affect their own output.

At least, not to the extent that it confuses them.

Confuse is an interesting word, though. The fuse part is similar to the found in confound; apparently it comes from fundere meaning ‘to pour’. I guess this is the basis of a word like foundry, fusion, or fondue (yum!).  And con means with, as us musicians are well aware. For me and my music, being con-fused, in a less pejorative sense, is a necessary step.

But if only it were as easy as melting it all down in a pot. The final alchemy is hidden; I’ve spent decades trying to come up with the right sort of emulsifier (or should I say alkahest?). See, my musical focuses never shed an outer layer. I didn’t cast off my impurities. I am as wrapped up with Bjork as I am with Arvo Pärt, or Amon Tobin as I am with John Cage, or Sufjan Stevens as I am with Philip Glass.

My fascination with electronic sounds can’t be put aside so that I can concentrate on orchestration.  I find it impossible to stop being interested in dense counterpoint even when I love dance music with stripped-down texture. I wish my regular infatuations with acoustic instruments (and their players) would mean I was no longer so obsessed with contact microphones, scrap metal, environmental sound and foley; surely life would be easier.

See, these things can’t be easily fused (and I have learnt this very fully). I, for one, cannot make music just by shoving them all together (naturally, people still try it). Still, for me, these things are somehow (and it’s some kind of alchemical secret) part of a single thing. I’m hoping that single thing is a thing in me which I can find one day. Because I’m only satiated, musically speaking, when I feel like my ‘impurities’ are really part of who I am.

The other troublesome thing is that nobody seems to know what I’m on about.

Well, okay, that’s a big exaggeration. People these days are much more open to the idea of ‘cross-over’ music. But I don’t like that term; I don’t want to be defined in relation to separate stuff. I want to be whole.

So what is lovely is when other people do seem to get it.

Argo is a new music concert series in Brisbane (new in both senses – it programs contemporary music, and it is also quite recently formed). Connor D’Netto is its artistic director and co-founder, and perhaps someone who pursues music which doesn’t sit well in a box. For Argo’s upcoming concert Saturation, I have written a piece for Tim Munro (flute) and Liam Viney (piano) with an accompaniment of electronic sounds. I’ve called these sounds ‘apparitions’, because they are a bit like spectral constructs of the live elements. I created the electronic part exclusively with sounds sourced from flute and piano. It’s quite percussive music, but even the percussion initially come from the acoustic instruments. The aim is to link these two realms, thereby creating something more than the sum of its parts.

An opportunity like this is right up my alley, and I expect it’s only the first of many times I will work with Argo. In the meantime, I will continue with my enthusiastic, hopeless embracing; and I have ideas for new works to be launched later in 2017, which combine all kinds of sounds, from adorable cellos to micro-junk to our astounding orchestras to decrepit pianos in dusty rooms.

This is alchemy, and I haven’t found its secret yet.

See Thomas Green’s new work commissioned by Argo in the upcoming event Saturation, 27 May at the Judith Wright Centre. Also featuring works by Benjamin Heim, Philip Glass, Tristan Perich, John Luther Adams. Find out more on the Argo event page.


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