At the Borders of Music, Art and Text

Exploring an interdisciplinary approach to composition
A research project by Caitlin Rowley

Future directions

In conclusion, this project represents merely a starting point for several lines of research that I plan to pursue further and likewise several of the pieces discussed here are either work in progress (Crossing Dartmoor, Manifesto) or ongoing series (HearSee and the parksong pieces).

The incorporation of amateur skills into my working process has led to fundamental changes in how I consider my work as well as expanding my skills or developing greater levels of personal confidence regarding my art, video work, electroacoustic music and singing in particular. I intend to experiment further with different ways of using these skills, including the possibility of developing pieces for myself to perform in public.

Experimentation with amateurism and the use of compositional constraints has contributed to developing a more open mindset towards my creative thinking across all media. Crossing Dartmoor has proved an excellent vehicle to try out new approaches, especially as regards limitations, and I intend to approach future pieces in this series in the same way, ultimately creating a sort of catalogue of constraint-based compositional techniques within this single work. The research I have done in this area has been vital in helping me to overcome the serious bouts of crippling composer’s block which have characterised all my working life up to this point. While I still have moments of indecision and being stuck, I feel that I am developing an arsenal of techniques which help with overcoming these problems. Ciphers in particular have already become a regular tool in my composing – particularly that of Arthur Honegger, which I used in ‘1979’, ‘2010’, ‘Entropy Stones’ from Crossing Dartmoor, ‘Sargus’ from Two Fish and Vignettes of Home. I plan to also start creating my own ciphers, including trying out creating ciphers for other musical elements such as rhythm.

The beginnings of an habitual confrontation of fear in my process is having the benefit that I worry less about the small details of my music, instead focusing on larger concepts and taking more risks with the ideas in a work. Pieces such as HearSee and parksong, and the incorporation of non-singing pieces into a song cycle with Crossing Dartmoor are all the result of ‘following the fear’ to try out ideas that would have seemed prohibitively risky to me before embarking on this project.

Crossing Dartmoor still has a long way to go before it is complete, and may ultimately be an open-ended project that I add to way beyond my current concept. Currently comprising nine performable items – three songs using common-practice notation, two text scores and four field recordings, I intend to expand the set to comprise approximately 25 performable items. My plan is for the work to reflect the vast varied landscapes of Dartmoor and for performers to choose their own ‘path’ through the work. The current pieces focus on questions of time, geology and the sounds indigenous to the location: ‘1979’ and ‘2010’ consider the effects of time on both the landscape and the walker (as well as the role of memory within a performance), while ‘Entropy Stones’ considers the intersection of geological and human time. ‘Contour Stones’ not only directly references the geology of Dartmoor by specifying granite as an instrument, but investigates the natural rise and fall of a landscape in the context of man-made grids used in maps. ‘Windsong’ develops the idea of sounds local to the area (started with the field recordings) by combining local folksong with the sound of wind, an ever-present feature of the moorland. The vast number of ideas raised through examining the work of Richard Long in increasing detail and working on this piece means that it is quite likely that this work will develop clear clusters of pieces that have evolved around particular themes like this. Current ideas for developing the cycle include:

The creation of context for performers in Drowning Songs and Crossing Dartmoor has been a very satisfying experience, in terms of the feeling of completeness I gain from developing these elements and in the response obtained from the Chamber Choir singers relating to the Drowning Songs ‘drowning tales’. While not appropriate for all pieces (neither More or Less nor Two Fish, for example, seemed to need this kind of detail), I am very interested in exploring the possibilities of this approach further.

I strongly suspect that the experiments of this project have permanently altered both the way I work and the way I think about my music. Whereas before I felt that risk was something to be avoided at all costs, I have found that embracing risk – and its associate chance – has actually made me much less stressed about my work. The painful experience of composing ‘Adonis’ from Two Fish according to my old process was in stark contrast to the overall ease of progress and heightened interest I felt working on pieces using the new techniques, especially Crossing Dartmoor. The more open mindset fostered by the work of At the Borders of Music, Art and Text has resulted in the creation of work which I feel challenges ideas of performance and of the score as both object and concept.


41. Richard Long, Untitled (A Sculpture by Richard Long presented by Konrad Fischer), 1971, published in Museum Kurhaus Kleve, Hamburger Kunsthalle and The New Art Gallery Walsall, Richard Long Prints: 1970-2013. Exhibition catalogue. Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2013, 54-55.