Escaping one's influences

Hi colleagues,

I think the key struggle for me as a composer to be the best that I can be has been a struggle to find an original voice. This has become my defining goal. Not to say this is the only goal possible or the only good goal. In past discussions I have participated in, some have suggested that it may not even be a good goal - "seeking newness for newness alone" to paraphrase my critics. Yet I'll stand by seeking newness for newness alone as my approach.

I have many influences, including Gershwin, Chopin, Joplin, the rock band Yes, Miles Davis, and many others. When I first started out as a composer, my music showed these influences, which will be with me forever. In recent years though I have tried to step away from them to some extent. I'm more conscious of when I am being "influenced" by my idols and when I am just imitating them. I want to move on into something more "me." Hope that's a good thing!

Cheers!

p.s. here's one piece I posted on the forum about a year ago that is an attempt for an original voice. Whatever you think of it, I think you'll agree there's no Chopin in it (though I may have had his incomparable sinuous melodies in the back of my mind when writing it) - https://composersforum.ning.com/forum/topics/underground-river-ride

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  • Maybe this makes me one of your "critics", but IMO there's no need to try to be unique, because you already are. Early works of composers tend to be very much like imitations of the composer's influences, but as they progress, their unique personal style begins to emerge, and eventually their late works are usually quite unique.

    Compare Beethoven's 1st symphony to his late string quartets, for example. The symphony is obviously highly imitative of his classical influences, but by the time you get to the 5th, things are clearly heading in brand new directions, and by the late quartets, he has a voice that's inimitable. But then again, his "original voice" has always been there... even in his 1st symphony. It's just hidden beneath the trappings of his influences, but it's nonetheless there. It just took him a little time before that voice fully emerges to the fore.

    Then you have Tchaikovsky, who was constantly trying to write like somebody else (more "properly" according to his perception), but no matter what he did, he always had his unique voice. In the end, it didn't matter since his music has always been his, and no one else's.

    Sibelius in his 1st symphony clearly showed a strong Tchaikovsky influence, but already his unique voice is there, just not quite manifested yet. By his 2nd symphony, he was already going into a direction uniquely his own, and his 7th, ostensibly his masterpiece, is so clearly his own that nobody would mistake it for anyone else's work.

    IOW just keep composing, as long as you're constantly honing your craft (as opposed to just churning out the same old), your unique voice will be there (even if you don't want it to be!).

  • Gav,

    Your piece is delightful.  I regret that you're bothered by its immediate influences.  But I thought Teoh's reply was excellent.  I hope a lot of people read what Teoh wrote.  Is there a permanent spot on the Forum where you can place Teoh's post for everyone to read?  :-)

    To reflect more of what is uniquely yours...  I have two ideas for you to try out, if you will.  Both work for me, so who knows they might work for you?

    1. Go for a drive in your car through your favorite roads, in a "pleasure drive".  Don't allow any existing music to play in your mind.  Keep your mind as blank as possible, just concentrate on the driving (and you don't want to drive off a "cleff" he he he).  After a while of having your mind blank, check whether there's a little new melody trying to come in.  But only allow it in if it is brand new (your own).  If there is, develop it a little bit (a few bars) and record it (e.g., hum it or whistle it into your cell phone's voice recorder).  But also pay attention to the other voices or "accompaniments" that your mind comes up with.  Hopefully they are uniquely yours.  Work further on this little sapling later on.

    2. If you have an activity that requires intense mental concentration (be it computer programming, target practice, high jumps, or what have you), be attentive to the times when you take a break after being fully focused.  There's a sharp mental change that occurs right then.  Often, when I am intently writing a computer code (which can require extreme focus sometimes), and all of a sudden I take a breather because I reached some type of milestone or I got hungry, and I go from extremely focused to a state of nothingness (completely blank mind); what often happens is that a new tune jumps into my head.  It'll go away like a nighttime dream if I don't try to capture it right then.  So, pay it a little bit of attention, then hum it or whistle it into your cell phone, and come back to it later (when you're not at work, he he).

    Actually, (2) is my major source of "inspiration", and it seems to produce pieces that reflect what is inside of me.  Sometimes I use (1) to further develop a sapling that sprouted via (2).

    Best!

    Mariza

  • I get most of my inspirations from two sources: (1) random improvisations at the piano (unfortunately rather rare these days), and (2) while taking walks.  Sometimes I also get tunes that pop into my head after returning home from an eventful day.

    I do have to add, though, that probably 99% of these inspirations never end up going anywhere. Because I have limited free time, I usually don't even bother trying to remember them unless they're particularly good. Most of my best pieces come from these little tunes in my head while I'm walking, or when they just strike me while improvising. Most of what I intentionally try to write (i.e., I decide that now I'm going to sit down and compose something) ends up being garbage.

  •  

     

    "Compare Beethoven's 1st symphony to his late string quartets … "

     

    "Then you have Tchaikovsky, who was constantly trying to write like somebody else …"

     

    In conversations about this kind of subject, the "influence" of the future upon the past is all too often neglected.

     

    For instance, how often has it been said that "Beethoven was the German Tchaikovsky," and that the influence of Tchaikovsky on Beethoven can clearly be seen in the latter's move toward Romanticism?  Of course that sounds absurd.

     

    Yet such an idea is perfectly consistent with an Aristotelian notion of cause and effect, where the concept of "final cause" is emphasized; that is to say, "it is the result that draws events from the past into the future," as part of the design of the Unmoved Mover.

     

    On this basis, the influence of Wagner on Schubert can clearly be deduced.

     

    Everyone is "influenced," but to be influenced only by composers of the past and present might be considered a narrowing of one's own musical destiny, whatever that may be.

     

    I ask, whether we should be open to the influences of musicians and composers that have yet to be born?  When Wagner spoke of "the music of the future," one can clearly deduce the fact that he was being influenced by Mahler and even by Schoenberg, to some extent.  

     

    [We can gain some insight into this issue, watching the video that Mariza provided, on Glenn Gould's visit to Russia … especially in the sequence where Glenn Gould performs a Berg piano sonata, and explains the significance of the Viennese school for the whole of Western Music to the Russian audience].

     

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9KnOcG51LM

     

    One may extrapolate, though not without some difficulty:  Schoenberg's IDEAS had to have influenced Wagner to some extent (and must be considered part of the essence of Western Musical Tradition) otherwise Schoenberg himself, as we understand him, could never have come into existence.   I know that does not sound "logical."

     

    However …

     

    If all "influences" were merely from the past, and if we are merely products of past influences, then the movement—from the style of Bach to Haydn to Mozart to Beethoven; and then from Schubert to von Weber and to Wagner, and from Mahler to Schoenberg—would never have occurred.  

     

    Or perhaps, rather than speaking of the influence that the future may have on the past, we can say, the ETERNAL ONE, that exists outside of time—beyond  notions of past, present and future—has an influence on temporal reality, that cannot be conceived narrowly, in accordance with traditional notions of "influence" that proceed simply from past to future.

     

    How important, during the act of composition, is it to remain open to that non-temporal "influence?"

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Ondib,

    I loved your post.  I am sure you are quite right about the non-temporal aspect of musical driving forces.

    Your posts are always mind expanding.  Sometimes they are also hilarious.

    Sometimes it is difficult to separate in your posts, the parts that are intentionally absurd from those that only sound absurd but in fact are true.  But it is fun to try to discern what degree of seriousness you are using in each of your sentences.

    In this post in particular, I think you are very serious, and I suspect you are quite right in what you suggest.

    Mariza

  • Of course I am [am not] being serious, part of the time; and of course I am speaking [not speaking ] ironically part of the time.

    No one else [except for other sentient beings, and then, not all of them] can see that.

    I am glad you enjoyed that last post.

  • Ondib, My husband, my son, and I often practically roll on the floor with laughter when we read your posts.  It is uniquely excellent stuff!  The intertwined hilarity and seriousness makes it really priceless.

  • Hi H. S., I can understand your viewpoint, and think it's valid. I note one difference though between composers in elder times and those of today: they were composing at a time when they existed in the middle of "eras," when everybody around them was composing similar music. They were building on a great tradition of their time, expanding on it, changing it, but still reacting to their peers. This was acceptable and the way it was up until the 20th century: music evolved and changed hand in hand with the work of the whole field of the time, or in reaction to it. What era are we in now? None, it seems to me. So the old model doesn't fit any more. In order to do something new, we must invent it ourselves. Also, I think that one of the reasons classical music is not getting audiences (something in constant discussion on another thread) is that it has become stale or sterile. Newness is the only cure in my thinking. But as I said, you have a valid other opinion.

    H. S. Teoh said:


    IOW just keep composing, as long as you're constantly honing your craft (as opposed to just churning out the same old), your unique voice will be there (even if you don't want it to be!).

    Escaping one's influences
    Hi colleagues, I think the key struggle for me as a composer to be the best that I can be has been a struggle to find an original voice. This has bec…
  • Hi Mariza,

    Thanks for your suggestions, they sound like good ideas. Glad you enjoyed the piece. I did read H. S.'s response and replied to it.

    Gav

    Mariza Costa-Cabral said:

    Gav,

    Your piece is delightful.  I regret that you're bothered by its immediate influences.  But I thought Teoh's reply was excellent.  I hope a lot of people read what Teoh wrote.  Is there a permanent spot on the Forum where you can place Teoh's post for everyone to read?  :-)

    To reflect more of what is uniquely yours...  I have two ideas for you to try out, if you will.  Both work for me, so who knows they might work for you?

    1. Go for a drive in your car through your favorite roads, in a "pleasure drive".  Don't allow any existing music to play in your mind.  Keep your mind as blank as possible, just concentrate on the driving (and you don't want to drive off a "cleff" he he he).  After a while of having your mind blank, check whether there's a little new melody trying to come in.  But only allow it in if it is brand new (your own).  If there is, develop it a little bit (a few bars) and record it (e.g., hum it or whistle it into your cell phone's voice recorder).  But also pay attention to the other voices or "accompaniments" that your mind comes up with.  Hopefully they are uniquely yours.  Work further on this little sapling later on.

    2. If you have an activity that requires intense mental concentration (be it computer programming, target practice, high jumps, or what have you), be attentive to the times when you take a break after being fully focused.  There's a sharp mental change that occurs right then.  Often, when I am intently writing a computer code (which can require extreme focus sometimes), and all of a sudden I take a breather because I reached some type of milestone or I got hungry, and I go from extremely focused to a state of nothingness (completely blank mind); what often happens is that a new tune jumps into my head.  It'll go away like a nighttime dream if I don't try to capture it right then.  So, pay it a little bit of attention, then hum it or whistle it into your cell phone, and come back to it later (when you're not at work, he he).

    Actually, (2) is my major source of "inspiration", and it seems to produce pieces that reflect what is inside of me.  Sometimes I use (1) to further develop a sapling that sprouted via (2).

    Best!

    Mariza

    Escaping one's influences
    Hi colleagues, I think the key struggle for me as a composer to be the best that I can be has been a struggle to find an original voice. This has bec…
  • Of course. Nobody wants to write new bad music.

    Bob Porter said:

    I don't think a new direction alone will do what we want. We need to write good music.

This reply was deleted.