Artistic Tenet

“La Musique creuse le Ciel”

Why do I compose?


To become a composer was neither a dream nor an ambition.

Even though I received lots of encouragement when I started to compose, I found more satisfaction in analysing existing masterpieces. A busy conducting schedule erased any impulse to write.

After 10 years of compositional silence, the urge to create surged like an incoming tide. In youthful and energetic Singapore, I felt unimpeded by strong traditions: compositional ideas flourished and entire pieces of music took shape in my mind.

A composition is at least three pairs of ears: the composer’s, the performer’s and the listener’s. Composing music is my way to communicate, through the performer, to the listener. I create sound patterns to tell stories. I hope that the organised particles of sound, transmitted by the musicians’ performance, will be received by audiences with the ears of an innocent child.

 

Being an active composer is a rewarding and humbling human journey.

How do I compose?

I may go for a long time without writing, but musical ideas are never far from my mind. In silence, I hear ideas jostling for my attention like playful children. Sometimes the content dictates the form, and sometimes the form dictates the content.

Something trivial and seemingly banal can turn into a fecund source of inspiration. A humming crowd in conversation constitutes a fascinating polyphony. I can be mesmerised by the silent cyclical polyrhythm of city lights. The arrangement of windows in a façade converts itself into sounds. Even though I tell stories, I do not wish to impose my narrative to the audience. To me, the deepest satisfaction comes when a performer or listener creates his or her own story to my music.

Philosophers and educators of the European Middle Ages quite rightly placed music with astronomy, mathematics and geometry. I use numbers so that melodic patterns hold together, so that musical structures do not collapse. Number ratios prevent me from tonal gossiping, from indulging in a chord or rhythm. For each work, I have a set of rules which I rarely depart from. When I complete a piece, I abandon that set of rules used for that piece because I refuse formula-based music. The greatest challenge is to unravel my musical thoughts at a rate that is intelligible to the audience. The greatest joy occurs when sound gestures fall into place without compromise. It simply feels right to remain true to oneself. Habita Tecum, wrote Erasmus - that is my most cherished motto.  

What do I compose?

To me, the aesthetic quarrels between critics and composers about fusion music, neo-tonality, minimalism or other –isms are futile and will become tiny footnotes in the history of 21st century music.

Two hundred years from now, only a learned audience will be able to differentiate between Chinese and European music – just as we hardly appreciate the French, Italian and Polish styles in the music of J.S. Bach, just as 18th century musical jokes are lost on us.

The choice to combine instrumental forces and genres from different cultures is neither new nor free from difficulties. In my case, it stemmed from an unbiased observation that led through curious experimentation to cohesive compositions.

I resent formula-based music. I like the term “fission music”. “La Musique creuse le Ciel” or “Music hollows out the skies”, wrote Charles Baudelaire. This striking image sums it all up.

last updated on 11 Mar 10

Composer, conductor in Singapore with specialty in fusion music

Copyright © Robert Casteels 2012. All rights reserved.