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The Serial Romantic

How do you compare with your old self?


This was me then (on the right):


This is me now:


Except it's not me now, it's me when we were in Italy but it's closer to the real me than the first picture.

Wait a minute! Did I say the real me?


This was me back in 1989 - A Journey Inwards for 8 instruments



This is me now, in 2019 - The Man in the Moon for orchestra


The first of those two pieces was heavily influenced by post-war Boulezian modernism and at the time I was looking for a way to harness and develop serialism - and related processes - in my own music and in my own way.

But then I remembered the real me, the one that you see in the first picture - my head already full of music (probably Tchaikovsky at that stage) and decided I had to find my way back.

Think about it. Where you are now is not necessarily where you really should be. It's not always the real you because you may have clothed yourself in mistaken beliefs and conceits. That's what I had done.

I knew I had to ignore any plaudits I was winning for that kind of music, and that kind of thinking and find a new way. But I didn't have the techniques, or the will, or the courage. After all, my angular serial patterns and harsh dissonances were there to gain me status. An essay discussing the processes involved in the structure of James Dillon's Helle Nacht designed to demonstrate my grasp of that kind of complexity and impress all who read it with a spectacular display of intellectual prowess. Was I really going to throw all that away and risk ridicule? So, instead, I chose to lampoon the modernism I now felt was imprisoning me; I wrote into the music of A Journey Inwards a subversive subtext which allowed me still to use serial mechanisms, clothe the music in a modernist and dissonant soundworld and claim I was being more true to myself in doing so. And I wasn't the only composer engaging in this kind of disingenuous irony.

But I wasn't happy.

One glorious day Keith Potter at Goldsmiths' asked to have a chat over coffee. In that conversation I deliberately dropped a clanger and told him I used to have ambitions to become a serious serialist. I think I was testing him on where he stood on all of that. In no more time than it takes me to write this he told me not to bother. That was what I wanted to hear. His plain talking made me feel bolder and from that moment, within the time it takes to drink a single cup of coffee, the change had started inside me.

Where are you now? Where's the real you? I've told you my story. Over to you.


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