In recent years I have worked with an approach that I call method composition, which involves both my compositional practice and, to some degree, the performance of my music. The term is borrowed from acting and in my adaptation it describes the relation between me as an individual and my music as a kind of fictional character. During the compositional process, I try to eliminate the distance between myself and the music; I try to reach a situation where the clear distinction between individual and character is blurred or even obliterated.
I try to eliminate the distance between myself and the music
I choose the musical material – the character – for its conceptual qualities, rather than for subjective reasons such as taste. I approach that material – a French chanson, a Baroque recitative, a Chinese traditional country song, a romantic musical gesture – by working my way towards it. I get as close to it as possible, and I try to internalise what seems estranged from me and far from my natural aesthetic terrain. I see it as a miniature recreation - a staging - of a general human task. This is how we understand the world. We try to internalise it; we do what we can to make it our own. This is how we understand another person; we imitate, identify, relate. The actual word ‘relation’ means to bring back, to report, to restore. I take on musical material like a role, and I restore it in my own image.
I seek humanity in vulnerability and failure, and I can only do that truthfully by renouncing perfection myself. To do that, I have to begin the process as if I am a stranger to the music I write
I seek humanity in vulnerability and failure, and I can only do that truthfully by renouncing perfection myself. To do that, I have to begin the process as if I am a stranger to the music I write, as described above. In this way I am forced to begin without qualifications, and must invent the craft as I go along. I walk into a room that is not my own and I claim it as mine, even though I will never feel entirely at home in it. That gap, which inevitably will be revealed in the music, however assiduously I try to close it, is directly analogous to the relation between the individual and the world, and therefore there is some kind of truth to it that I find important.
As a performer, I step onto the stage as a simple representative of the audience. I sing as they would do, I perform as they would, I display the secrets and stories that could be their own. I approach the music as a stranger, just as listeners do. My journey into the music as a composer represents their journey as an audience.
I don’t perform because I have a special skill to display. I do it because I don’t
I don’t perform because I have a special skill to display. I do it because I don’t. I frame my lack of skill, my vulnerability and the shame of imperfection. I have nothing extraordinary to show, and that is the reason I show it: in order to display the ordinary, to frame and investigate precisely the gap between my position on stage and my lack of skills to fill that position. That doesn’t mean I deliberately aim for a bad result; on the contrary. An important part of the method composition process is to do everything in my power to acquire the necessary set of crafts and skills. Imperfection may be human, but it is no virtue. The triumph of being human is the aspiration to close the gap between a task and the set of skills that we use to solve it.
I want a music that is unimpressive and simple on the surface. I want as few layers as possible in my music, I want it to be as simple as a kiss or a slap in the face; the act itself is simple and trivial; the consequences and emotional complexity, however, are not. I try to facilitate that inner complexity in the conceptual structure of the piece. Nothing is there without a reason; every element has its place in a chain of ideas that the listener can explore. If the listener follows the trails laid out in the conceptual construction of the music, these trails hopefully lead eventually into herself, not just further into the music. Music is about us, and it is not an abstract structure. To me, music is a unique type of mirror in which we should be able to discover ourselves. And as we all know, in the mirror we seem far from impressive. We are unable, we fail. But we try.