28 May 2018
Give up control and learn about your work
Intimacy of Creativity 2018, Hong Kong
Nicole Murphy writes about her recent involvement in the Intimacy of Creativity program in Hong Kong, together with four other composer fellows from all over the world. Back on home soil, Murphy has just been announced as the 2018 Emerging Composer Fellow of the Sydney-based Australia Ensemble. This new UNSW Fellowship comes with mentoring opportunities and a stipend of $10,000 enabling Nicole to write chamber music works as part of the Australia Ensemble's outreach program over 12 months.
When is a piece finished? How many external voices should you allow into your compositional decision-making? How much control of the creative process can you give away before the piece is no longer yours? Do you value the opinion of an audience member more or less than that of a trained musician? Amongst the dramatic juxtaposition of lush green mountains, shimmering blue water, and the Hong Kong skyscrapers, Composer Fellows at the Intimacy of Creativity are asked to grapple with these questions.
Hosted by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Intimacy of Creativity is a two-week program of public rehearsals, discussions, and performances of existing compositions. Parts of the creative process that typically occur behind closed doors are observed by hundreds of students, who are encouraged to share their often very candid opinions on the original compositions, and effectiveness of revisions that are made throughout the project.
Throughout the project, I was fascinated by the involvement of the students from HKUST. They confidently offered critiques and suggestions, despite not being music majors. It was a humbling reminder that no matter how much specialised musical training we have, no matter how many hours are spent composing and refining a piece, and no matter how finished a piece seems to the composer, the audience can still offer insights that are fresh, surprising, and enlightening.
My approach to the process of revisions was to entertain all suggestions from the students, performers, and fellow composers, even if they were compositional solutions that I would not normally consider to be a part of my musical language. This resulted in many sleepless nights spent working on solutions that may not have been the simplest or most elegant options for the piece, but certainly provided an interesting learning experience.
One of the things you quickly realise is how delicate the balance
of the parts of the piece actually is. Often a 'quick fix'
solution suggested in rehearsal sounds exactly like what you
need, but when you revisit the idea in the context of the whole
piece, you quickly realise why you ended up there in the first
place. A simple register displacement now undermines movement
towards the climax, a small harmonic change throws off the pacing
of a section, and the addition of a 'special moment' diminishes
the efficacy of another moment later in the work. However, I also
realised that many compositional problems can be solved by the
tiniest of changes. The addition of two repeated bars can
transform a clunky transition into a seamless passage, and a
simple timbral change can create a diversion into a world of new
From a composer's perspective, the value in the process, I suspect, comes in pulling apart the past to provide insight for the present. Many of the ideas put forward throughout the project may not have been the most appropriate compositional solutions for the existing work, but they have certainly informed the music I am currently writing.
Nicole Murphy - AMC profile
Intimacy of Creativity - homepage (http://www.ic.shss.ust.hk/home-ic2018/)
Australia Ensemble Emerging Composer Fellowship 2018 (http://www.music.unsw.edu.au/australia-ensemble/emerging-composer-fellowship-2018)
'New Fellowship brings unique music to UNSW's repertoire' - article on the UNSW website (5 June 2018)
Updated 5 June 2018 (UNSW news article link).
© Australian Music Centre (2018) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Nicole Murphy writes about her recent involvement in the Intimacy of Creativity program in Hong Kong, together with four other composer fellows from all over the world. Back on home soil, Murphy has just been announced as the 2018 Emerging Composer Fellow of the Sydney-based Australia Ensemble. This new UNSW Fellowship comes with mentoring opportunities and a stipend of $10,000 enabling Nicole to write chamber music works as part of the Australia Ensemble's outreach program over 12 months
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This goes to show the value of privately workshopping a new piece in interactive collaboration with performers. For myself, this laborious but invigorating process always takes place before public exposure of the piece. Experiments should be kept in laboratories! It follows that audiences play no part in my own creative process, though feedback from them is appreciated. A word of advice to young composers: Go to as many concerts of new music as you can, nurture relationships with good players, and learn as much as you are able to absorb from them; take notes!