Nuts and Bolts

‘Nuts and Bolts’ was published in earreader, a web magazine for contemporary composition based in the Netherlands in December 2010.

Composer/performers in the Netherlands: the nuts and bolts

beasts of performance,
our sticky hunger binds us to the stage
while the makers go home
to sniff out their next fantasy.

night after day we offer ourselves
to the clouded proximity between
public and private
again and again
devoured to be ready.

Composer/performers divide their time between conjuring up concepts, structures and scores and showing up on stage to play. They thrive on a precarious balance between creating and performing new works. That is not to say that composer/performers participate in every piece they make. But it does imply that the basis of their creative work is intimately tied to their individual playing, their instruments and their unique performing histories.

It might be useful to look at the various roles performers and composers have in our music culture. This should help clarify the critical differences between musicians that are dedicated performers/interpreters who play music by composer/composers and musicians who function as composer/performers. The fundamental one is that interpreters bring ideas and sonic inventions to life by dedicating their careers to deciphering, learning and practicing works created by composers. They embody the material of someone else. They wear the sonic garment that was created by another person’s complex intellectual process. These discrete roles between interpreter and composer have been relatively tried and true for the written music world for the last few centuries. They work. They are just fine. Admittedly, countless debates come to mind with regard to the gray areas between these traditional roles, but for the purpose of this discussion let’s assume that, as a general rule, composers compose and performers interpret.

But what is actually going on when composers perform and performers compose? . . . . . .