2010 Blog


Work almost done

Well, everything has been finished and sent to Amsterdam.

The work on the piece, now entitled Equivalents, has been important for me this year acting as a counterbalance for the other increasingly less traditional ‘compositional’ work I’ve done this year to complete my Masters. In this respect, it has proved an invaluable experience.


The title, Equivalents, alludes to the controversial series of works by artist Carl Andre. His Equivalents I-VIII series (pictured) consist of the same number of identical bricks arranged in different ways (it’s worth noting that each Equivalent can also, and usually are, shown separately).

Something additionally important for me was that Andre also made a subsequent work, Cuts, (pictured below) which was a ‘negative’ of Equivalents I-VIII.


In short, these two works, both individually and conjointly, were very appealing to me. It’s becoming increasingly common that visual art is the impetus for me to create something, culminating in me actually regarding it as unnecessary to limit myself to activities specifically ‘composerly’ in medium. Taking a pointer from the first (and my favourite) generation of conceptual artists, I believe the idea to be the most essential thing for a piece for work - the medium I then choose to render it is of secondary concern.

CutsIn my work, this doesn’t mean that the idea is something concrete that can be cogently intimated to someone prior to completion of the work. Calibrating with artist Joseph Kosuth, if I’m asked about work I’m currently involved with, I’m likely to be fairly resistant (not to say incompetent!) in disclosing specifics as this instigates a process of self-sloganizing and ‘canning’ of a work before it has even been completed – hence my timidity in writing many blog entries here!

It’s also worth adding that I haven’t written any of this information in the programme note for the piece; I don’t see the role of the programme note as being some instantaneous ‘way in’ for a majority of audience members reading it. Resultantly, my recent programme notes can seem rather abstract, however, perhaps that’s only because they’re in written language, a medium most consider to be an exemplar of clarity.

The final hurdle will be the rehearsals and the performance, I’ll most likely close my eyes for the latter, the idea of a room full of people listening to my humble offering absolutely..!!…well, lets just say I imagine that I will wish to be somewhere else!

Thanks in advance to the Nieuw Ensemble, Joël Bons and the profound Pat Allison (whose piece I very much look forward to hearing) – Equivalents is dedicated to them. I’d also like to thanks Robbert van Steijn, Heidi Johnson, Stef and Ed for their help, support and company during the whole project.


Radio Kootwijk Live

What would you do if one of the world’s most respected contemporary music festivals asked you to curate a 20-60 minute programme with a maximum of four musicians?

Graham McKenzie, artistic director of hcmf//, posed this question to eight students of the Master of Music Programming in Arnhem, The Netherlands. As one of the students I can say we were honoured and humbled by the assignment and took the challenge to make a proposal with great enthusiasm.

We are eight Masters students in Music Programming. To make things clear: that is not with computers, but programming in the way Graham McKenzie does for hcmf//. After an entrance exam the courses started in September 2009. We are engaged with subjects and reflections about (music) programs, concepts, dreams, reality, marketing and finances. All students have a musical background, either as a musician or a musicologist and most of us have a working practise as a music programmer. This can be in jazz, classical, world, electronic or contemporary music. The one thing we have in common is that we want to move, affect, confuse and connect true music, energy, beauty and art.

One of the big questions that often rise in classes is Why? Why this? Why here? Why now? Why what? What’s the story? What’s the story of the music, of the composer, of the musicians? And why should this story be told?

So what is the story that we, this group of eight ambitious future programmers from the Netherlands, want to tell? Before answering that question I will explain a bit more about our working process. Because how do you get eight people with different backgrounds and ideas to curate a clear and strong performance?

In the working process we first discussed the qualities of hcmf//, the good, and yes also the bad. I won’t discuss these here, but I’ll share our conclusion: we want to question standard concert etiquette and discover new ways of presentation, that can contribute to the experience of the listener. Is there something wrong with the way composed music is presented on stages across the world? No, we don’t think so, but it may not be the only way. We believe that every age and place demands a contemporary way of programming that reflects and reveals the zeitgeist

We found likeminded musicians in a deserted concrete radio transmission building, that resembles both an Egyptian Sphinx and a gothic cathedral in 1920s art-deco style, situated in the beautiful surroundings of Dutch National park De Veluwe. Every two months a group of highly respected performing musicians, dancers, theatre makers, technicians and other artists gather here for three days to investigate the act of performing composed music and build new and other relations with the audience. The results from Radio Kootwijk Live, as this collective of musicians call themselves, differs from fragile to interesting to absolutely beautiful.

For the hcmf// performance we have chosen the theme Resonation. On one hand this can be interpreted as the hcmf// performance being a resonation of Radio Kootwijk Live’s many activities. On the other hand it stands for physical resonation of sound through instruments and bodies, and more metaphorical also about the aim of artists to resonate in and through the audience. There will be compositions from amongst others Michel van der Aa, Georges Aperghis and Jacob ter Veldhuis. For now I hope you have an idea of this part of the hcmf// program that takes place on Monday, November 22nd in Bates Mill. In future blogposts we’ll expound on the theme and the developments during rehearsals.

Shane Burmania, 29 September 2010.

On behalf of Frank van Berkel, Lisette Castel, Gert Gering, Ali Hendriksen, Guy van Hulst, Nick Moritz and Masa Spaan.


Earl Grey, Biscuits and SARDINES

Edd Biscuits


Approaching now the deadline for our scores. It's been a gruelling process I think - to be not experienced in writing for larger ensembles is to miss out just how long it takes to write a single page, which may comprise 10 seconds of music. Also never before have I thrown out and re-written so much material! It is a mark of pride for a composer when he finishes a manuscript book and I've so far finished two in this process.

However it is a strangely appealing process as well - so long as you have enough material, and a concept which could be played out on every instrument, you could go on for hours combining and recombining instruments and dreaming up new and interesting combinations and sonorities and potentially not even dent the surface of what can be done with the ensemble and it's something that had I more time and infinite Nieuw Ensembles to perform it I might doggedly pursue in that however much I am frustrated with some of the material I'm writing (and I am!), I still want to get to the bottom of what it is to write for such an ensemble.

Another thought is how like painting it is - whereas in chamber music you're playing against the limits of the context and the instruments you are writing for, with large ensemble it feels like you are constantly thinking about colour and texture - instead of exploring limits you are constantly adding to what is there.

Another thought on this process is one of timescale - in the time between the workshops and now I have moved house, fallen ill, got better, lost relative, job and girlfriend, gained a teaching position and various friends and many musical influences. My whole approach to the ensemble has changed somewhat and I find it very interesting that all being considered the audience is very unlikely to know! Even the section I'm working on right now - a Trio section that's extremely fast - I've had to pause, stop, re-write and re-think many times - something that should all being well be undetectable in the final version...

Anyway - here's a round off with a glimpse at my thought processes. I'd initially come to the process with an idea of using Claude Le Jeune's 'Qu'est devenu ce bel oeil' as a kind of source material for tonal structure. I've stuck to this in general apart from one thing - I'm no longer going to include the original source material in the piece. For a long while I've been fascinated by this poem by Frank O'Hara.

What interests me is this monadistic relationship between the subject and the final artwork, and how something can be referenced and yet not there, in the way that the SARDINES in the painting are gradually painted over. Such is the case here with the Le Jeune in my piece.