Simple vs. complex?

IMG_0226Sometimes I’ve worried about whether my music is too simple, or too complex. Nowadays, I don’t worry so much about that any more, as I have realised that both have their place in my work. This has been highlighted by a new song I have just completed.

At one time I would’ve been reluctant to reveal or discuss this song as it does not match my other public outputs (currently). So this blog is about why I wrote it and how it fits into my working practise as a composer.

About three years ago I joined a local poetry group. It turns out that this monthly get together, sharing new and old poetry/songs around a theme in a relaxed cafe atmosphere, has proved a stimulus for me to create different kinds of work from my main outputs as a composer. This group provides a supportive open environment within which I can present live words and music, shared with friends – along with tea and tasty cakes.

The latest of these pieces, Body of water, was completed this weekend and I will perform it for the first time tomorrow evening. It started out as a list of words. Then I realised it could become a poem. Then a poem read out loud with emphasised rhythm and silences. IMG_1987Now it has emerged as a song with lever harp accompaniment. It reminds me of the songs I used to make up in my bedroom as a teenager, completed over a couple of days. It has proved a useful ‘balance’ to the other piece I am composing at the moment, a large-scale complex and challenging work with a tight deadline.

I often work on several pieces at once, when each work is quite different from the other. I find that these contrasts allow me to explore the distinctive character of each work more fully. Body of water is soft, intimate, revealing, personal. It is modal, strophic, simple. For one voice. The other piece is brutal, confused, ironic, angry. Complex, with many texts and different languages layered through it, with many performers, political. The simplicity of one piece allows me to be even more extreme and multilayered in the other, and vice versa.

I was not expecting to write Body of water, it just emerged. Now I am enjoying retreating into its world every now and then as an antidote to the mental turmoil of the other new work (about which I may write more soon…)…