Rock of Ages

My composition starts as a private engagement, an act of listening to the otherness within, a kind of peering into the darkness /silence to encounter what might be there apart from one's own ego. Of course, objectively, there is nothing 'there' - for it is all within you: but subjectively one is looking for or responding to subconscious ideas, inklings, that have some kind of hook to them, like the end of a riddle of string that one can grasp and slowly tease out. It is then pure chance whether one can keep that original emotional reality alive during the time it takes to unravel the knot into a single piece of string. The demands of everyday life can bring distractions that sever one's connexion to the original emotional reality and cause one literally to lose the thread: tho paradoxically it can work the other way, for if the distractions are destructive, fighting (/surrendering) to retain an inviolate inner world can nourish both.

Some composers are fortunate: paid commissions and royalties buy time. But I have neither, and from experience of the way my subconscious works it seems that substantive ideas don’t come to me until I'm overloaded with obligations: THEN my psyche adds a straw to the burden which feels like my 'next step' that is imperative that I honour if more are to follow (in other words it's my Live Channel) even if this involves the wrestling of a 25th hour from the day.

For most people ideas come in response to their social milieu. But that is never how it's been for me. When I first became conscious of having an autonomous inner world when I was about 13 (I see now it had begun about 4 years earlier with disturbing dreams) I had no idea that everyonelse didn’t. Gradually it dawned on me that I was immersed in an educational system that had only one purpose: not to encourage personal discovery but to manufacture conformity. My failure to find a composition teacher then or subsequently has meant that I had to evolve into the kind of teacher I needed to find, but couldn’t manifest. This process has a) taken all my life & b) involved so many blind alleys filled with broken glass, so many seductions by the lazy blandishments of normality or cheap acceptance, so much weighing of honour with need, and so much sheer lostness that I've learnt to function as a sociopath.

After 25 years of furiously refusing to fit into anyonelse's box I realised I was never going to capture the castle from outside. By my social deviation the front door was permanently barred to me: but who needs front doors when you're a sociopath & can just as easily enter by a rear window? So I spent the next 25 observing & copying 'normal' people (with the cover offered by the supreme grace of a loving wife & family). At first I had no rapport with my inner world, and what little understanding I did have came throu my involvement with evangelical Christianity. Whereas in professional music my versatility was viewed with suspicion, in drama it was greeted with open arms: in 1976 alone I had 34 drama commissions, and I loved the technical challenges of broadcast music.

After about 10 years, what triggered a change was awaiting my turn to edit a commercial at Moving Picture Company. Behind the smoked glass of each cubicle the cream of Britain's film-making talent were all involved in fine tuning ecstatic hymns to consumerism. I thought: humanity has created the greatest information medium of all time & all the smart money is on prostituting it in order to corrupt people for profit. I as much as anyonelse was involved because I couldn’t make anything else work for me; but OTOH I knew by then that what I had been given was, if not unique, at least rare: and none of what I was then doing was bringing me closer to what was authentic to the inner world I occasionally glimpsed.

It was not longer after, 12 Dec 1989 to be precise, that I had an overwhelming dream which empowered me to take the first tottering steps towards walking off the edge of that world. I rationalised the hazard to which I was exposing my family by my feeling that I was useless to them as much as anyonelse unless I could discover who I truly was. The dream involved the classic alchemical symbol of the midnight sun, a blazing numinous darkness, in which I was given the name of Sai Baba. It, & he when I discovered who he was, gave me light that guided me in a dark period that lasted nearly 20 years. Gradually in that dark wilderness (tho I always had dreams & schemes that generally failed) little nuggets of gold began to cohere; little clusters of gases that swirled around in my mind, slowly giving rise to solid matter: some formed into coherent ideas, some evaporated. One of the first of the former was what I now call Canticle 1, Easter Dawn in 2004.

Easter is always a spontaneously significant time in my inner calendar. Nearly all my big changes seem to crystalise around that time. If I imagined that this piece would easily find an audience, I couldnt've been more wrong! Gradually I became aware that just as I had had to find my-self without a teacher so I would have to validate my inner hearing without the 'luxury' of outer hearing. (This is somewhat akin to learning to love yourself without a partner: tough, but it can be done.)

Whereas I couldn’t do much about making my choral music heard, because it's too difficult for amateurs & I can't command professional resources; when I'd composed Fortress of Illusion in 2009, after an epic battle with my 'Nessies', my personal demons of lostness, hopelessness & pointlessness, I realised that here at least I could endeavour to give my child a voice. When composing, if Id thought of my own limited pianistic abilities Id've self-censored what I wrote. And the final result was so far beyond what Id ever tackled that learning it took me a year (it took my final duo partner just 10 days, but that's the difference between our skill levels!). I imagine many composers find the journey from a work's silent & eternal perfection in their mind to its squawking imperfections during preparation & real-isation involves both exciting and painful experiences.

Prophets has yet to make that journey, and I don’t know if it ever will. But that’s cool. What is important to me is to improve my inner hearing and amanuensiary capacities. Here is where I stand before that inner otherness (that some people choose, and other people choose not, to call God) in a meaningful relationship in which I both hear and feel heard. And from this, as slowly as water drips from rock, emerge these little piddles of spring water. This nourishes me, regardless of what it does for anyonelse, and that reflects how karma works: we are only required to do what is constructive, then leave the outcome open.


Sonnet: Seasons

So great to have the gift of words return!

For like virility, it comes unearned,

indeed if sought more likely stays away

leading to greater alienation. Pray
tho you may, or pay what you will,

when winter comes you must endure until

your spring returns.
                            While summer is less than half
the year, we still expect a sunny life path
all year long; and quickly run for pills

when autumn mists enfold us with their ills.

Each winter tries what use we make of sun:

whether we nurture gifts, or allow fun
to seduce our better selves with pointless thrills.

A harvest rich in words … or unmet bills?


Sonnet: Pœtry

Pœtry is a season of the soul,

elusive as the autumn mist; whose role

is in contrast to the summer heat

when all is out of doors and plain to see –

and so for me tonight as words return

unexpectedly. From which I learn
my soul’s once more in reflective mood
after nine months’ stürm und drang, with time for soul food

and relaxation after work well done.

Time now for pause and thought and new beginnings,
a time to listen more than speak; once more 

to go within, and start anew to explore

being not doing, heedless of gaining and winning …

re-formed from many atoms into one.