The major aspect of my practice is collaborative, composing for contemporary dance. As such, my goal is to use music to aid in the communication of the ideas and messages in the choreography. I find the more efficient way to do this is to use pre-existing musical tropes that an untrained audience will already be familiar with. I do, however, tend to avoid relying primarily on harmony and melody with a preference for textural control to provide cues to the audience. When composing electronic music, there is much no collaboration with musicians, and no need for the music to be communicated in any way except directly to the dancers. Rather than composing a piece, and then workshopping it with musicians, often a piece is composed section by section as the choreography is developed.
The concept for the dance usually comes from the choreographer, who often also gives some indication as to the sound or instrumentation. In my own work, the role of the music is more often to motivate an idea, by representing a sonic landscape that assists the dancers in inhabiting an idea or atmosphere, and can also reduce ambiguity in communication of the same to the audience. The music also motivates movement in the mechanical sense, but usually as a secondary aim, where rhythms are either simple and repetitive, or complex, but not synced with specific steps and movements. Rather than relying on harmony and melody to generate emotional responses, I prefer to experiment with texture, usually through synthesis and digital manipulation of field recordings. Composers in the age of digital synthesis have unlimited options for sound creation, and that has added a new dimension to the role of a composer. Now, every sound can be tweaked with an unprecedented amount of accuracy. Every instrument can be built from scratch, and every sound can be tweaked and adjusted to serve a specific role. When composing, I spend much more time building instruments and sounds than placing the notes that trigger them.
One of the aspects of my collaborative practice that removes it from some of the issues discussed is the lack of notation and performance by musicians. Ferneyhough posits that music is inseparable from its notation, as they way that it communicates to musicians forms an integral part of its identity and function as a work of art. However, this facet does not exist when music is created, produced and realised by the composer using software. The only existing visual representations of the music are symbolic. On one hand are the audio clips, containing visual representations of MIDI notes or audio waveform. On the other are software interfaces for audio plugins, both for sound creation and sound modification. These tend to be quite basic, consisting of virtual dials and faders that correspond to specific effects. However, there are indexal elements to these systems, as every modification made to the interface produces an immediate and predictable change in the sound. In my process, plugins have assumed the role of musicians, producing sounds through the interpretation of MIDI messages. This has in some ways made the role of music to the participants very different. No longer are musicians part of the communication process. The composer has sole responsibility and control of the final sound.
In his work, Adorno doesn’t seem to address music as it functions when incorporated with other art forms. While one could surmise his opinions of film music based on writings about Hollywood, less commercially dictated forms such as dance didn’t fall under his sweeping indictment of pop culture. Parallels could be drawn between his thoughts on the development and role of music and the development of dance in the same period. While ballet was becoming more and more formal and traditional, contemporary dance broke away and began pushing the boundaries of what dance had been and could be. Dance has an interesting relationship with the culture industry. On the one hand, particularly in Australia, contemporary dance does not have the broad appeal of pop music, which means it does not have the same level of commercial pressure to conform to the expectations of production companies. However, it also struggles for funding, and is often forced to seek corporate sponsorships and compete with other dance companies for limited government funding. More experimental and challenging forms of dance flourish in Fringe festivals around the country, but with the limited audience that plagues many forms of contemporary music. One of the consequences of this is that often choreographers are forced to find preexisting music, and they don’t have the opportunity to work with composers as often. This can occasionally result in reduced opportunities for collaborative creativity, and therefore a reduction in the value that each work can contribute to culture overall.