Big Dumb Ideas
A possible approach to musical recontextualisation
26 February @ 6.00pm
This presentation will focus on my current exploration into the ways in which pop songwriting aesthetics and ideas from other musical disciplines can be used to recontextualise each other. While the term ‘pop’ is used to describe myriad musical genres, from electronica to reggae, for me it represents a songwriting tradition – characterised by extreme brevity and tunefulness – that came of age in the1960s, and thrives on curiosity. From the Beatles’ long-standing interest in Indian art music, to Elvis Costello’s collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet, its best proponents always look outwards.
While pop may seem like the ultimate musical magpie, however, this isn’t without its difficulties. Key among these is the question of process and material. Pop music, with its insistence on “simple musical ideas that are easily memorised” (Timothy Warner), would appear to prioritise the creation of material above all else – the pop composer’s job is to produce the musical ideas that make up a song. This poses a stark contrast to many other schools of musical thought – minimalism or jazz say – which regard material as something to be messed with.
These are generalisations, but they highlight a tension between process and material that lies at the heart of my PhD. In this session, I will discuss the ways in which I am starting to tackle the issue, inspired by a wide range of sources, from the art historian Michael Bird to the contemporary classical composer Seán Clancy. My work is still very much at an embryonic stage, and I welcome the opportunity for feedback and discussion following the presentation.
Tom Wilson is currently studying for a PhD in Composition at Royal Holloway, under the supervision of Brian Lock. He is a vocational composer and performer driven by the desire to create music that doesn’t exist but should. Much of his recent compositional focus has been the project Freeze Puppy, which combines his love of classic pop songwriting (Lennon and McCartney, Ray Davies, Burt Bacharach), with an attitude of sonic experimentation. In this guise he has written and recorded five albums, and has toured extensively, appearing at venues such as the Whitechapel Gallery, the ICA, the Incubate Festival in Tilburg, and the Discorporate Festival in Dresden. He has also written pieces for many other musicians, including a percussion concerto for members of the Bristol Ensemble, and several works for groups operating under the CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) scheme.