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Sonic Broom: 
The Composers Talk Back!


I have always had trouble calling myself a composer. The first time it struck me was when I went on an international flight and had to fill in one of those immigration cards that asks what your profession is. 'Composer' wasn't an option-so I looked at the list and ticked 'farmer'. I figured if I was coming from New Zealand, it was what people would expect. I also thought calling myself a composer sounded pretentious. On reflection, perhaps, this thought was more of an indication that I am a New Zealander.

I have lost a great deal of confidence recently. I am beginning to feel more and more like any creative act on my part, as presented to others, is simply an indication of an inflated ego. Simply having to stand here and talking about myself makes it worse.

The truth is, I am really not sure what to say so I will simply try and spill my guts and hope that some of it makes sense.

Over the years I have written a lot of music for dance, for theatre, for film and video. When I started out trying to earn a living from music, I accepted anything and everything that was offered to me. After a while I could afford to become a bit more picky about the jobs I took on. As time went on further I found I could narrow it down to only the projects that I really believed in. A couple of years ago I began to notice that even this wasn't enough for me. Although I had freedom to compose within very wide boundaries, the boundaries were still there, and they were essentially planted by someone else; I could sense them, and they were beginning to irritate me. The truth is: boundaries of any kind seem to irritate me. I have an instinctive drive for independence without boundaries and this, I think, is my downfall.

Any new step towards independence comes at a cost. Along with freedom comes responsibility. Up until recently I was convinced that what bothered me was the concept of collaboration. Nearly all of the work I have done up to this point has involved collaboration in varying degrees. I made a pact with myself that I wasn't going to work with anyone in a collaborative sense for a while until I had made the leap to total self-sufficiency. I realise now that my dissatisfaction came, not out of the collaborative relationship itself, but out of an imbalance of responsibility within the context of these relationships.

In fact there can never be a balance like this between any two people. Democracy only works with an odd number of votes. Inevitably someone has to make a decision, take responsibility for it, and reap the benefits of the freedom that it provides. The other person has to give in and as a result, reap the benefits of knowing that a problem has been taken care of. Here, I suppose, is your basic fuel for relationships of all kinds: the friction generated between the trading of responsibility and security.

These two polarities are not only present in a creative partnership, they are also present in individuals, myself included. For all the need to attain independence, there is an equal and opposite need to feel secure that I know what I am doing. These two forces have been fighting in my conscience for many years. The war makes me sleepy. It makes me not want to do anything, to walk right through the middle of life and not be affected by it. I can feel this conflict physically sometimes. It affects my sleeping 
patterns and my dreams, and I know it affects my music.

I look with envy at adventurers and people who live risky lives. I try to take on personal challenges as an attempt to manifest my own sense of freedom, but they never seem risky enough. My standing here and speaking is a challenge. It is a risk but it's not enough of a risk, in my mind, to warrant calling myself an artist. On the other hand, I also envy the innocence of childhood no matter how weak it seems. In many ways, I find strength in letting go of my 'grown up' status and simply being a boy again-but this is not satisfactory either. I was brought up in the middle class; not an environment seen as a breeding ground for extremists. I sense its influence very strongly. I swear it feels very similar to guilt although I'm not sure why.

So, left to my own devices, I tend to default to this middle ground, inertia, and not actually achieve anything. I find part-time work where I don't have to deal with people and am essentially my own boss. 

I live in a similar situation. I taught myself to play various instruments in order to never have to deal with performers. The social implications of so-called electroacoustic music are very obvious. It was no accident that this was my preferred medium for composition.

I am very aware of the fact that I can't conclude this speech with anything other than a question mark. My present fears and pessimism I hope are simply a symptom of transition and will pass. Perhaps this time next year I will be more optimistic. 

What I would like to say though, in conclusion, is that I am very grateful for all the things I have been taught and the opportunities I have been offered over the years. Possibly more grateful than it might seem at the moment. I know that I owe a huge debt of thanks that I will never be able to repay, to some very special people who have helped and guided me. I see some of them in this room. I also know that i find it hard to express this gratitude generally. I would like to think that this is an appropriate forum for a composer to say thank you, so I will say 'Thank you'-and leave it at at that.


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