Interview with Laurence Crane contd. (Side 2)
L: Have you asked me all the questions, Tim?
T: No, maybe I should ask you some more, very quickly.
T: I've lost train of thought, but whatever.
L: What were we talking about? I was talking about- I think I was talking about the fact that um it's not...the melancholic music...you know, er, finding it melancholic is not a problem.
T: I've lost my train of questions...
L: It doesn't have any bearing on my emotional state. It's not meant to be er- structure? Articulating a structure?
T: What about it?
L: I can't remember.
T: That's a point though, you've talked quite adequately about that already, the clarity of structure.
L: Clarity of structure, yeah
T: Because a word that's often thrown to your work and work like you, in your general direction is "simplicity", and I wonder whether that's a misuse of word, cos I think I prefer the word "clarity" to "simplicity", you know. I don't know...
L: Yeah well "simplicity" is a term, you know like the "New Simplicity"... There's the "New Complexity" and the "New Simplicity".
T: I mean a misnomer.
L: Yeah, it's a misnomer. I mean they're all misnomers - minimal music, postmodern music, er...
T: yeah did you see- I was described and I suppose you as well as a postminimalist.
L: Postminimalist, yeah...
T: And I don't know what that is.
L: I mean, it's a valid as any other term, I mean all these- if you say postminimalist then you roughly know what it means.
L: Well I would take that to mean composers who have taken so much from minimalism but not a sort of er blanket sort of um...
T: I wanted to talk about your Englishness. Perhaps it's a very bad idea. Your music's very English, and I don't know what that means.
L: Yeah, well, oh God, um...
T: Well, firstly does it have a response when I say that to you?
L: Yeah, no no I would say it was very English yeah
T: Positive or negative?
L: Um...positive I think, um, cos I find it difficult to define what Englishness is.
T: Like your um your understatement. L :Yeah. I think that's true, I think that's true of someone like Howard Skempton as well. Um..
T: And the er er the humour to a degree, the English irony...
L: Yeah, yeah you wouldn't find a German writing that.
T: Exactly, I was listening to your music and I could not imagine a French person writing this, or a German or American or whatever. Where do you- what does the English tradition mean to you?
L: Well it's very important, I mean I think that um
T: Do you reject it or embrace it wholeheartedly?
L: er, neither I think I just er.. It's an old cliche but you're just a product of your environment and er...
T: It's inevitable?
L: Yeah. Um...it's inevitable that one...you know, one is English and comes from in a certain cultural context and um...(inaudible)...quite a long time by the English experimental composers that clustered around Cardew in the sixties and seventies, and they all have that quality as well, so, I think it's inevitable really, so I don't er...I don't want to sort of hide from it and nor do I want particularly to um make a big thing of it really.
T: So would you say- would you say that those were your predecessors in a way, the English experimental school.
L: Yeah definitely I mean, Howard Skempton's been a huge er erm influence on me.
T: You studied with him?
L: No, I've never studied with him, I've worked with him in concerts quite a lot, used to do concerts with him. Um, just his- just the impact of- the impact of his work was immense no me in sort of nineteen- early nineteen eighties when I discovered it, cos I'd never encountered anything like it before, er...
T: Was it a sort of road to Damascus type conversion?
L: It was, yeah, it was, it sort of- it sort of gave a sort of permission if you like to- to be able to write like that.
T: Did you not- did you know of any Cage and Feldman...
L: I discovered them all at the same time. I discovered them all at university, all round the same time
T: It took a while to become apparent in your music?
L: Yes it did, it did yeah yeah, there wasn't- wasn't an abrupt- although there is in my if you follow my you know thing I was talking about earlier, the transition from the sextet that I wrote up to the Three Melodies, I mean that's quite that's quite abrupt. But in terms of discovering the music at university, er, it didn't immediately make sort of make my music different, no. But what I wanted to say about Howard's music was I thought it was extraordinary cos I'd been- I'd discovered twentieth century music by sort of you know listening to the influence of Stravinsky, Bartok, people, and then moving on listening to you know Boulez Stockhausen and Birtwistle Maxwell Davies...
T: Did you ever feel any um affinity with any of those...the heavy modernists, Stockhausen... did you try and write stuff similar?
L: I suppose I must have done I mean certainly none of the pieces I can trace to being influenced by certain people, um...I mean I thought....I assume...I assume...I suppose I assume that I wrote I assumed that people wrote in a modernist way and then I realised that you know that in fact things I suppose things were in the eighties starting to stylistically diverge a bit I mean, people like Steve Reich were becoming more accepted and things, and I suppose I just followed that in a way.
T: Was there anyone that you um- I mean finding affinity with Howard Skempton, was there anyone that you really sort of reacted against, cos it's curious, people like Howard or sort of you know the Cologne thing with Kevin Volans and Walter Zimmermann the very anti-Stockhausen thing. Cos they were forbidden from writing octaves and all that...(inaudible)
L: Well I suppose I would just say that I'm influenced by Howard in the sense that I- it was his work initially that encouraged me I suppose to make the step to writing essentially tonal music. I suppose, although I don't think my music sounds like his in many ways, but it was his music that alerted me to the possibility of writing in the way that I do I think. So I think by that in that by that measure he's an influence. But by identifying myself- by identifying er myself with them one's automatically er aligning oneself against pure modernism.
T: Sure. It's just interesting what came first. But, um, how- following on from that though, how has your music changed in all those years since?
L: In the fifteen years? Well I think it's got less melodic and more...more harmonic. Er.
L: More...it was always fairly vertical...it was always fairly vertical but yeah it's got very much it's got more... even more paired down I think, and hopefully more clear.
T: Where do you see your music going?
L: Abso- absolutely no idea. I've...honestly Tim I've...I've no idea, cos er I've never really had a plan, I've just followed my instincts I think, and um, I suppose right at this moment I would be happy to carry on writing you know exactly like I write now for quite a while, but what else is within that...
T: It's really interesting though because your music being- I do think that it's very sort of um of-its-time and um...and you know I'd hate to see it becoming, not that it's likely to, a victim of you know a victim of fashion in the way that so many sort of other people have become but I don't think it will do cos you're not quite that sort of so forefront... But I'm curious to see how it will develop in the next ten years.
L: Yeah, so am I. Yeah. It may stay exactly the same. That's a possibility.
T: I'm gonna ask some more- pack in some questions before the tape runs out. What criticisms would you- What criticisms have been made of your music? I mean there has- you do court controversy.
T: What criticisms have been made about your music? That you feel either are- whatever...
L: Well I just suppose it's- yeah I'm aware that people don't like it sometimes. Um, er because they don't because it doesn't er I suppose because it doesn't do things. Er, and because it's not ...complicated I suppose. It doesn't...it might seem to them as banal or sort of possibly because it um... because it seems as taking the piss a bit, but I don't- I don't know you see I'm just trying to think of ... I mean I know people don't like it sometime, I would expect people not to like- some people not to like it.
T: Does it bother you?
L: No, it bothers me, er...my aim is that people should like it, but...you know I have to write what I want to write, cos it'd be dishonest not to do that.
T: I mean for example the um I'm curious probably from a gossip point of view, the "New Music Weirdo" did the subject of that appreciate it or whatever, took it in the spirit of the thing.?
L: Well at the time at the time when I wrote it he seemed to take it in the spirit of the thing, um...I didn't know him when I wrote it, and I subsequently met him, he seemed to take it in the spirit of the thing, but I'm not quite sure if he does any more.
T: Really. Now he's a big shot?
L: That's unofficial.
T: It's all unofficial.
L: I can't- it's all unofficial, yeah, I can't think of anything, any specific criticism other than the general things I've mentioned there might- yeah you're right I mean it might very may well irritate people, I can quite see that yeah, or people just don't get it really I suppose. That's fair enough, you know, they don't have to. You know, it's not...if people don't like it then they're at liberty not to like it. The only specific criticism I can think of was um... the composer Peter Dickinson who was Professor of music at Goldsmiths, I dunno if he still is, er, at the first performance of "Weirdi" and he refused to clap and he apparently said to someone "If that had been submitted to me as an undergraduate piece I would have failed it outright." Now I dunno what his- I dunno if that's a huge compliment...
T: Yeah well, that's the position you occupy.
L: Yeah yeah well, I dunno what his- you know, he just didn't like it. I mean people don't like it- if people don't like it because it's er...you know maybe too simple or too banal they might think or...um...doesn't take itself too seriously- too ser- doesn't take itself seriously enough...
T: Well it's the people who you're poking fun at I suppose in in, well, I mean I made the um allusion that I'm not going to do in this article that you for example, you know it's the figuration after abstraction sort of routine like Pop Art for example after the whole um abstract expressionism, you know there's the same thing, in terms of figuration, the lack total- the sort of abandonment of any sort of clever over-romantic expressive painstaking stuff, you know well there you go, the economy and the repetition, the irony, all this sort of business I mean it's- I'm not gonna talk about that in the article because it's inaccurate because whatever analogy you draw is always inaccurate. But I find that very interesting, I mean the same people who would take refuge in the former which would take offence at the present sort of business.
L: Right yeah yeah
T: Well, general- now we've run- we're onto general questions.
T: Just about the state of contemporary music in Britain.
L: Oh I think it's
T: You see I- I just envisaged this conversation as moving from the specific to the general.
T: Now we're onto the general. (someone in the pub starts singing "You'll Never Walk Alone")
L: Onto the general. Um, I think er...contemporary music it's very healthy in Britain I think um I don't I don't have any sort of axe to grind about who gets performances or who gets commissions or anything. I completely accept that the music I write is never gonna appeal to a huge amoun t of people, um...
T: Do you not think it should be represented more?
L: Yes I do, but I've no time to do anything about that.
T: Well, you can- you can think it though.
L: Well, yeah- no I suppose I do think that yeah um...but on the other hand...sometimes when people do get more exposure they don't necessarily end up producing their best work. I mean I also have no desire to earn a living as a composer, because...I mean I'm very fortunate I think in that I've found something that I enjoy doing that is related to music but not actually composing, and I think that gives me a sort of er licence to be artistically totally free, but on the other hand there's always sorts of things- they don't commission me obviously... I mean I suppose if you ask me what criticisms I have of my own music it would be that um there's not enough in my catalogue so to speak, there's not a wide enough- not a wide enough um range of genres.
T: You never- you never write any fast music.
L: Er yeah, I see that as a virtue. Fast music for me is totally inappropriate, I mean I don't write- I don't write in a- you know I don't write- my harmonic rhythm doesn't move- I can't I can't write fast music because I don't want the harmony to move...the harmonic rhythm is slow, static, it doesn't lend itself to fast music. If truth be told I've never wanted to write fast music. I like a good slow metronome mark. But...erm...I suppose that would be a criticism I would level at my own music that there's no wide range of genres and that's simply because I don't write just for the sake of it, I only write when people ask me to write. It's a combination of the fact that I have a number of musicians who, including yourself, who who want to play my music and therefore I intend to write for them. I'll never write a piece... no I don't think I do ever write a piece where I was just writing for the sake of it, or writing for a competition or something.
T: Have you ever entered any competitions?
L: Yeah I have yeah, I mean I've always lost.
T: No compromise.
L: Oh no, in my own style yeah. The thing is I wouldn't er it's gotta be you know- I've got to have a... I've got to have a practical reason for writing a piece it's got to be you know, someone's asked me for a piece, you know, there's no point in writing music otherwise I think. Music's got to be performed.
T: No , I appreciate that very much.
L: So that- I feel passionately about that. But to go back to your question about the richness of- the state of contemporary music, I mean it's obviously weighted in favour of certain music, and it's obvious that my music is not-
T: More so?
L: No, the same I think, but i just don't see it in terms of something to get worked up about. People do get worked up about it, I really can't be bothered to get worked up about it. It would be great- I would like obviously um if group came along and- you know like say the Sinfonietta and said er we'd like you to write a piece, that would be great because you know I would get a performance. Maybe I wouldn't get a good performance cos maybe there's plusses and minuses really um, the people who do my music tend to do it very well cos they're committed to it, and you know if I got played by the Sinfonietta then then...you know they may not play it as well cos it would just be another piece, you know so there's pluses and minuses really and er I've really no interest in arguing about it. But no when you ask me what the state of contemporary music is in Britain I think it's healthy cos there's you know there's a because we live in London there's a fair amount of it to go to.
T: Do you go to concerts much?
L: I try to yeah, and there's a plurality of music. I mean ok there's I mean probably the thing is weighted in favour of the mainstream sort of Knussen type of composer if I can say there's such a thing, which there is obviously, um, it's weighted in favour of that, my opinion is so what, I mean ok, there's lots of other stuff going on and it it obviously some of it you know should be more supported and some of the other stuff not mentioning any names shouldn't be so supported but-
T: But I feel for example that the BBC once upon a time used to be more catholic in- in its representation.
L: I think in the sixties it was.
T: Well even in- even vaguely in the eighties.
L: Well, maybe. I agree though, in the sixties, but it seems to have just declined in the years when market forces possibly have taken over. I mean it is a different world now, so...but I still can't sort of get too worked up about it.
T: And what about um...I was gonna say...BBC, Proms, that's the same kettle of fish, and music coming out of young composers, sort of the academic-
L: Yeah I mean there's- there's hardly anyone in their twenties that's interesting I don't think, apart from yourself of course and er Bryn, he's thirty now though isn't he...? Is he, ok. I mean none of this sort of official sort of composers are interesting I don't think.
T: People who are exposed too young.
L: Not very interesting, but that- you know, that's just my opinion really.
T: And finally...
L: "And finally..."
T: "Words of advice for young composers".
L: Oh do something else. Get a job.
T: What qualities do you look for in other music?
L: I think single-mindedness. And clarity. And knowing when to stop.
by tim parkinson