Easter Day and British Summer Time make for an unpleasant combination, especially if Easter Eve has meant a late-night drive to London followed by the noise of a party at the end of the road. I managed to make it home late on the Sunday, however, dodging the portents of , back in the house for a little bit of chocolate egg and the final episode of The Night Manager. I was surprised to learn that the adaptation substantially altered Le Carre’s original, so it is to the book I shall go, but in due course. In the meantime I am reading The Universe In Your Hand, following on swiftly from a superb programme on BBC4 about the beginnings of the universe and the attempts by those running the Large Hadron Collider to recreate those conditions, and, in tandem, they have challenged and changed my perceptions. For example, it took the book fewer than 40 pages to explain to me that we are, literally, born of stars, for the heavy atoms that make us were created in the unimaginable intensities and pressures therein. Amusingly, whenever I read about those seething conditions I hear the voice of the great Murray Walker, saying “I imagine the conditions in that car must be unimaginable”…but let’s not get started on Formula One.
Much like the stuff of the universe, music and science were once united, and the artistic notion of the artist gazing out into space awaiting inspiration is a long, long way from how the composer was once viewed, how, for many of us, the composer actually is, for understanding the science and the DNA of music enriches and empowers the writer, extends their tentative mastery over the notes until they can aspire to the highest quality and the purest expression of their ideas.
In other words, I have been back on the technical side of late, in part inspired by Bach, of course, but also by the logic-driven, provable and disprovable explorations and discoveries of science at the very cutting edge. My music, good though it can be on the right day, still lacks the technical assurance and fluidity I would wish it to have, and I feel this most keenly when I have nowhere to hide – single melody lines, for example – when gesture for gesture’s sake begins to take over. So I have been delving into various post-tonal ideas and techniques in an attempt to enrich my writing and expressive potential, much of which necessitates the reduction of music to its constituent parts, to its atoms, protons and electrons, if you like. It means that my head is spinning again with the possibilities of the purest of relationships, often between as few as three notes, and the way those relationships might be extended into melody, harmony, rhythm and other elements of expression. Once more, I need to acquire some kind of technical strength to ensure that my writing then feeds off that strength, in the same way that practice of technical matters enables the performer or sportsman to keep areas of their concentration in reserve for spare thought over and above that necessary for performance, a mental raising of the bar.
Although this in no way means that I intend to jettison my existing musical language, it does mean that I am a little in the dark as to what the end result might be like. A hierarchy of notes gravitating towards a tonal centre? I can understand and control that to an extent, but the post-tonal world is much more difficult to articulate and while it would be easy to say, as some do, publish and be damned and let the audience figure it out if they can, I want my music to communicate and express, whatever language it happens to be using. Also, I would love to explore the idea of pieces based around those quantum ideas I am encountering, and that would need a new language, one capable of bearing the intensity of those processes. It is inspiring stuff.
Otherwise what I had hoped would be a relaxing Easter break turned out to be an invigorating whirl of visits and visitors, of treks and trips leading to that familiar feeling that I need to get back to work to have a holiday! We were visited in the wilds of Shepton by some very good friends, spending quality time in the Dusthole as my personal year ticked by (“So there’s my year, the twelvemonth duly told”), visiting the theatre and my favourite eaterie in Bath, and so many other things I cannot quite remember, but, wouldn’t you know it, all that relaxing is hard work.
Over that patch I also had dealings with somebody whose reputation has gone before them, and in a bad way. It reminded me that, without exception, I am around good and decent people whose hearts are in the right place and whose intentions are for the best. I have given up being surprised by some people’s behaviour, because I have seen close to it all, but I console myself that I have chosen to be around people who, as far as I can tell, are not like that. I have had an escape this past week, my ear being close enough to the ground to pick up and act upon the warning signals being tapped out along the way, but it served as a reminder that, like Finzi, I want to forge a life that is right and surround myself with like-minded people, particles with positive charge.