Audiences and Openness

Now here’s a contentious topic: the relationship between music and audiences. Cue all kinds of stereotyping, wild generalisations, radical rejections, stalwart traditionalism and utter confusion. I mentioned in my introductory post on openness that three things come to mind instantly at the mention of openness: open notation, open instrumentation and open form. Okay, that’s true for me and lots of people I know. However, open notation, open instrumentation and open form are mostly the concern of composers, performers and analysts. The majority of audiences probably couldn’t give a damn about these things. Audiences do, generally speaking, care about what it is they’re doing with their evening, what they’ve paid for and the experience they’re having. Musicians should be thoroughly concerned with this, too. After all, art is nothing without its audience.

It goes without saying that there are lots of different types of audience. Some are made up of specialists (in whatever area), some are loaded with sets of expectations, some are made up of a random cross-section of the general public, and so on. Each type of audience will react to the same performance in a different way. Much more crucially, every person will react to the same performance in their own way. One of the music industry’s worst sins is forgetting individual listeners and focussing instead on statistical masses of consumers. Commercially speaking this is basically unavoidable – it’s the way our economic system is set-up – but we don’t have to think only in commercial terms.

I’m going to pose lots of questions – implicitly if not explicitly. I’m not sure I have answers to them and, if I do, I’m not sure how long they’ll remain relevant. An audience (and an audience member) is a living breathing thing that’s not just connected to contemporary society but is contemporary society. Audiences and their needs change… constantly.

Opening-up to Openness in Music

Since putting the word ‘openness’ in my Twitter bio I’ve been asked on numerous occasions, online and in person, what I mean by this. In fairness, the idea’s been gathering steam in my compositional practice over the last couple of years, so I’ve been discussing the matter on the back of other mentions, too.

It turns out there’s a lot to say about openness, and it’s really not a new topic. As I sit here now Eco’s 50-year old tome The Open Work stares down at me from a high shelf – a book I really ought to re-read. I’m not going to squeeze all my thoughts on the subject into one blog post – that’d be silly. I’ll write a few of them over the coming months, probably years, especially in relation to individual projects as they take form. There are several in the offing that ought to generate some activity fairly promptly, so watch this space!

This post is a kind of personal introduction/contextualisation for the things I’ll post in future. There are lots of little bits-and-bobs I feel I ought to say that I can’t see fitting easily into posts of a more specific nature. So I’ll post them here, comfortable in the knowledge I’ll always be able to refer back to them at a later date!

Notation and Scoring Ideas (or: Dealing with One-‘Note’ Music)

My compositional approach has shifted in recent years. I use increasing amounts of open notation, open instrumentation and other such things now, which has given me cause to question what certain facets of music-making mean to me; chiefly the score, notation in general, approaches to performance, my relationship with performers, the whole business of rendering ideas, and so on. A short while ago I noticed a call for works with an unusual slant: the music had to be short and for one note only. The idea captivated me (in spite of my personal resolution not to write new works for open calls and competitions any more… ah well). On one hand the idea of music for one note is extremely limiting, but on the other it draws attention to the sheer potential within the concept of a single ‘note’. Undoubtedly, this has a lot to do with ‘note’ being so poorly defined; is a note a pitch, a dot on a page, a sound, a particular kind of tone… what? Most significantly the call made me think carefully about developing features of my work that I simply haven’t got round to scrutinising in any particularly useful way. What follows is, roughly speaking, the mental journey I’ve subsequently taken and, I hasten to add, not finished.