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Monday, October 5, 2009


I’ve just finished writing some politically motivated music or possibly socially motivated music, or possibly politically and socially motivated music. Either way, what’s interesting here is that I’m writing music that is about something rather than music that is purely in the abstract. I found this kind of programmatic writing to be quite difficult to do up to recent years, then the past five years or so I’ve used it more and more and come to enjoy it.

This new music entitled “Fiasco! (Terms and Conditions Still Apply)”, is music inspired, (if “inspired” is the right word for this), by Ireland’s economic collapse. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called “Terms and Conditions Apply”, that was about the Ireland of 2007. At that point we were riding high on the hog, and the proud possessors of the “Celtic Tiger” (maybe one too many animal analogies there.............), we were the economic miracle country, the one that all other small nations looked at as a shining example of how to do things right. Of course it was all built on sand, sand that was liberally supplied by our government and their cronies in the banks and the property speculation business. Though our country was really proud of this new-found wealth (the Irish were the ultimate nouveau riche), I always felt slightly uncomfortable with the situation, especially given the extraordinary excesses of borrowing and profligate spending by people in even the most humble economic circumstances.

For someone of my generation, coming from a background in which the country had traditionally lived hand to mouth, it was hard to believe that things had really changed so fast, and that the mad spending was something that was a) good and b) sustainable. “It’ll all end in tears”, as my mother used to say, and indeed it has — we’ve gone from being the most nouveau riche of countries to the most lachrymose. There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth going on, but it’s too late — we’re screwed. Screwed by inept and corrupt politicians, and completely immoral, (though when were bankers and property speculators ever moral?) members of the banking profession and construction industry.

My own doubts about the boom were reflected in the 2007 piece “Terms and Conditions Apply”, which was quite an angry piece in the main, and used both audio and visuals, (a first for me with both of these), to make its point — the point being that crazy spending, corrupt politicians, and incompetence in the management of basic services was a combination that was not a good thing for any country to be mixing together. This message was not a popular one in 2007, and though I was proud of the piece itself, and I thought the music came off rather well, the piece didn’t really take off commercially — it had two performances and that was it. If only I’d waited two more years, I could have been riding as high on the hog as any government supported banker of the boom years!

Now I’ve written this companion piece called “Fiasco!”, which will be performed by Métier in Cabinteely House on Thursday the 15th. In writing this new piece I’ve taken a different approach than the previous one, in that I have eschewed the use of audio and visual elements, and I’m relying on the music alone to get the message across regarding what I feel about what’s going on currently. This has been an interesting exercise — when you use audio and visual aids to the music it’s much easier to be explicit to an audience concerning what you’re trying to say. With instrumental music the outcome, in terms of what you’re saying and what the audience is hearing, is not as clear cut. It’s definitely riskier.

But on the other hand you can combine musical elements in all kinds of ways to represent different emotions and thoughts. No doubt the audience will interpret these in different ways, and sometimes in very different ways to the ones that I had intended, but I’m hopeful that the general message of the pieces will be fairly obvious to the audience. And of course the beauty of jazz composition in a situation like this is that you can enrol the help of the players in making the statements that you wish to make, if the players are good enough and sympathetic enough, (and the guys in Métier are both of these things and more), then I think the composer is in a position to make a very strong statement using just pitch harmony and rhythm, and without recourse to speech and sight.

And I’m glad to be able to make this statement - it might not be much in the grand scheme of things, but when we hear a government announce that they haven’t the money to inoculate the girls of the country against cervical cancer, and at the same time revelations about the disgusting use of public money by the Speaker of the House, (such as hiring a limo to take him between different terminals at Heathrow!), for his own personal purposes come into the public domain, AND he doesn’t resign, (we don’t do responsibility and accountability in Ireland), then I feel I have to say something, however small its effect may be.

So, if you’re interested in a bit of agitprop jazz, want to protest against the government (or at least support a protest), or just want to hear some hopefully interesting new music, come down to Cabinteely House on Thursday 15th – the revolution starts there!

1 comment:

  1. If you were born here in my country, in a couple of years you would get enough material to write agitprop jazz to vanquish records of Georg Philipp Telemann and Edward Kennedy Ellington –combined both- as most prolific composers. (Sorry, not sure about my English)
    By the way, I enjoy very much your blog and good luck next Thursday 15th.
    Best regards.