Experimental?

By Sean Quinn

Photo credit: Cameron Jamieson Photography

The world is becoming one of a social hierarchy, which unfortunately has its bearing on and within the Arts sector of society. We are often complacent with how we categorise and label parts of that hierarchy, and can sometimes create a construct built off of popularity rather than necessarily alternative and innovative thinking. We are constantly debating about what the ‘norm’ is. But in the contemporary classical world, due to the diversity of compositional voices, there cannot be a consensus on what is ‘normal’, unless it is one’s own opinion.

I am drawn to the term ‘experimental’, which in most art-forms, is a vulgar term that is too often synonymous with ‘alternative’, ‘different’ and ‘inaccessible’, and can categorise a composer’s work as ‘obsolete’. Hence why many choose to abandon this term purely to describe their music as ‘contemporary’. I have personally adopted this due to the attacks I’ve received over my time for taking an ‘experimental’ approach to parts of my practice.

Whilst I advocate very much for the new and alternative, and have dabbled in the “uber-contemporary”, I am a creature of habit and tradition, and tend to feed off the balance in music that I desire in my own practice and in the practice of others. I see that ‘balance’ is the key to evening out the playing field; every musician should have a diverse practice/range of skills.

It’s not often that I associate myself with any particular style; sometimes I switch between tonal and atonal, partly contemporary and ultra-contemporary, and god forbid I even wander into ‘experimental’ territory occasionally. Many young composers and artists are likely to have a phase in their life that involves experimenting with new methods, styles and eventually compositional voices until they find one that is totally them. We as a community of artists have emerged from the past Renaissances of pivotal figures, which of course can be examples to us. But let it be said that discouraging a student from a particular art form due to it being ‘experimental’, ‘old-hat’ or ‘alternative’; this is why this sort of music and art will never thrive, due to its suppression and suffocation. Of course not everyone has to be a thorough advocate, but instead be respectful of what people engage with – it comes down to taste.

‘There is a place for everything, and everything in its place.’ Something my father has said to me constantly throughout my lifetime, and I believe fits the music world well. Composers, and artists in general, should not feel bound by society’s opinion solely, but instead push people to understand as best they can; and while doing so, respect that new music is not for everyone. Not all people are going to understand what we do, nor are they going to like all of it, but someone will, and when they do feel the satisfaction of being praised. Hold on to that praise, as infrequent as it may seem.

Without the need for clichés such as “follow your passion” and “do what makes you feel good”; engage with a broad variety of practices is my best advice to any young artist. The art of tomorrow will not be as new if we worry about how the audience of today sees it.

Keep up to date with Sean’s composing adventures on Facebook here, on Instagram here, and his official website can be found here

Sean is the founder of chamber music ensemble Children of the Millennium, which focuses on performing works of the 20th and 21st Century. Facebook page here, Instagram page here

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