What am I? Composer? Comuser?
I don’t like the word composer. Recently I’ve been using the world ‘COMUSER’ as a more inspiring and appropriate word to describe what I do – it seems more open, and more interactive than the traditional term. It links with the words ‘muse’ and ‘music’, a co-muser – someone who muses, musically, in a co-operative or in a communicative way with others.
‘Composer’ seems to imply an impression of more didactic and definitive outcomes. Playfulness and imagination are not at the forefront of the word. I remember when I started composing full time that I felt unsure about using this word to describe what I was doing. It took some guts to tell people I was ‘a composer’.
Lots of people I have met also seem to have a problem with the word ‘composer’ – it has a lot loaded onto it on one hand, but very little is known about it on the other. No-one really seems to know what it means, unless they have done it themselves – and not many have.
People seem frightened of the idea of composing, or being called a composer. I often ask people I meet if they compose. They usually laugh, as if it is a strange thing to ask, for someone ‘normal’ to do. I have met musicians who will not use the term in reference to themselves, even though they compose their own music. They ‘write their own stuff’, but they do not ‘compose’. A group of GCSE music students would only admit to ‘making stuff up’ – they could not equate their own musical creativity with ‘composing’.
Do poets and artists, writers, sculptors, dancers and other creators have the same problems with the words that describe their craft?
Two of the common myths about composers are that the music descends from on high, from somewhere ‘else’, and that once written down the ‘score’ takes on some hallowed state, not to be tampered with. In my experience this is not how things happen. The music is built up from nothing, it forms itself in layers through experimentation and play. The writing down is part of the making process, and the score should be treated as a prototype, not necessarily the finished article.
When I am working with solo performers in the creation of new works we are constantly tailoring the fit. Also I like my pieces to have several manifestations, to rework an idea in different ways, to reinvent things. And I like the idea of the musicians feeling free to adjust things to suit their own style, taking more liberties, making decisions.
I have started incorporating elements of improvisation into several works, encouraging the performer to ‘co-muse’ with me. This expands the nature of the finished music in different ways. The player can choose to play things that I could never write down, or the things that are unique to their technique – accessing sounds that otherwise might not be heard.
Just to clarify, the kind of improvisation I am talking about has nothing to do with jazz. I know nothing about jazz, and do not know anything about jazz improvisation. But I do know about the joy of finding freedom through making sounds in an improvisatory way. There is much more to be said about this… and about the reactions of classically trained musicians to being asked to make music in this way.
For now, though, I’d like to present this new word to the world and see if it helps encourage more individuals to make their own music, to compose – and to comuse.