Last week I attended the Cheltenham Music Festival ‘Composium’ Day. Although perhaps not the best thought-through event it did provide a good chance to meet both new and familiar faces. It also provided some provocative food for thought, some of which I’d like to share with you. I’d be very happy to hear your thoughts on the matters raised.
A key issue (re-)raised for me is whether what we are involved is usefully thought of as an industry. It’s an often used designation but one which I suspect is little thought about. It’s certainly something I’ve always felt somewhat uncomfortable with. I suppose use of the word is usually used to denote a place in the ‘market economy’, the values of which those creating and supporting the creation of art culture have been cajoled into using in earnest since at least the 1980s.
When initially conceiving of Composers Edition, having previously worked at the public and charitably-funded British Music Information Centre, I was keen to create something capable of standing on its own two legs, free from the constrictions of funding trends dictated by the often composite and generalised yet specific values of funders. The alternative was to consciously operate in the market place, indeed to create a new market stall which worked to the benefit of contemporary compositions and composers (also its first and still most important customers!). Over the years I’ve strived to always think afresh about how Composers Edition does and may operate to develop its benefits to composers and, increasingly, performers. Some efforts have yielded better results than others but all bring new insights and along the way I’ve come into contact with a lot of businesses and organisations, some of which are also there for benefit composers and performers (in principle at least!).
So, as the Composers Edition ‘business’ grows and connects with these other organisations (both one-to-one and in groups via societies, trade-fairs and conferences and alike) is it becoming (and part of) industry? Well, in the sense of industry as production we can certainly point to the technology we and our partners use. Indeed, Composers Edition’s use of software, communications, data management and analysis is central to it existence, as is the technology behind the printing and distribution of scores, parts and books. We adopt and adapt new technology all the time to improve our presence in the world in the most efficient way possible. All very industrious! However WHAT we deliver, our products, your compositions, are about as far from efficient, standardised ‘industrial’ products as you might get. Indeed, they are arguably anti-industrial in their striving towards difference, idiosyncrasy and individuality of character and expression. Beyond that, there is of course the very un-industrial matter of people connecting with each other, personally, through ideas and common values, through artworks, community and activity.
I think there’s often an easy conflation of ‘market’ with ‘industry’ which affords us no benefits and which is supported by the values of the technology itself. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is in communications technology. Take social media in which the means of communication is at the same time highly restrictive and regulated (by industrial means). Here, we are channelled into producing the ‘content’ in inflexible indenti-kit parcels. We are given to think that so long as we keep sharing and commenting on each others missives that we are communicating well, but social media is but an advertising space. A potentially very useful one, but one that’s nearly always given more credence than it’s due. It really is only a starting point, for a conversation, an encounter, a new experience.
One of the missed opportunities for the Cheltenham Composium was that, as is often the case, it found us ourselves talking to ourselves, instead of outwards (in this case to the Cheltenham Festival audience and the good burghers of that spa town). In my endeavour to set up the Sounds Like Now publication my principal aim was to open up the contemporary music marketplace to a wider audience, by helping those involved to celebrate what they do in an outward-facing manner (The focus for these efforts were instead invested in the creation of CE Club and the news output which I’m very happy to see being both well received and leading to interest in and sales of CE works). If we are to attract more visitors to our marketplace then we might do well to look at how to be more open. Perhaps we should turn things around and take our stall to other markets instead of just building one where we are (and expect people to come to us). Whilst at Cheltenham I got chatting with someone who produces the Chamber Music Plus concert listings booklets. These contain several hundred listings of music society concerts across a region of the UK (one ‘Central’ one ‘Northern’). Now I know as well any the bastions of conservatism many of these societies represent(!) but what I also see there are communities who, in the broader context are our (“stuffy?!”) cousins and who, given a few not inconsiderable hurdles be cleared, could become closer friends. Of course you could look in other directions too (e.g. towards other contemporary art form cultures and their communities). Alongside the champions of new music to whom all composers are indebted for their dedication, there are, I suspect many potential performer friends to be made, both for you as individual composers and Composers Edition.
So there you have it, a few crumbs for the cranium! If you feel like responding you can do so to the whole membership or just to me privately.