My main compositional goal is to create a fascinating, unique soundworld where I want the audience to feel invited and welcome. I always attempt to add a meaningful contribution to the repertoire with every new work. In the opening of a 1977 lecture on electronic music, Karlheinz Stockhausen said: “new means change the methods, new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man.” This quote speaks a lot to me.
I often experiment with a wide variety of interests which manifest themselves in my art, such as history, phonology, and cognitive science, to name a few. My latest work focuses on the phenomenology of time and that of varying degrees of focus. I am fascinated by the study of time and how we perceive it: how music can compress and bend time. It is one of the great mysteries and powers of music that it can leave us feeling that it transcends its chronometric time through its phenomenological time. Furthermore, I am captivated by the interaction between music and focus: how a listener’s degree of focus affects musical perception, and how in turn, the music affects the listener’s degree of focus and therefore perception.
These preoccupations lead me to consider the listener’s memory and perception, and therefore construct the musical form and content with such concerns in mind. I want my music to leave a strong mark upon the memory of the listeners, and even surprise them. I often find myself contemplating to what extent elements are going to stay in the listener’s memory and how much to foreshadow and recall material.
When I consider how I should start a piece, of paramount importance is the instrumentation. My works tend to exploit inherent traits of the instruments they are written for. Consequently, transcribing them without changing the original musical meaning is often difficult. I take little for granted as a composer, and consider all manner of different parameters with regards to every note, including the pitch (including register), playing technique, articulation, dynamics, orchestration, tessitura, etc… Such is the level of detail that goes into one note. Thus, when notes are combined both horizontally and vertically, the process becomes exponentially more complex as an interactive, multi-dimensional web of relationships is formed.
Means and ends
There is not always a direct relationship between my music as it appears on paper and the way in which it sounds. I try to make my notation in accordance with what the music is, not necessarily with the most straight-forward approximation of the intended effect. I aim to represent the music, not the instructions to reproduce it. Though the question of whether the score should represent what the music is or how to play it, may be particularly relevant to some forms of contemporary music, it has been present for a long time in Western music. This question is essentially at play when a composer has to decide whether or not to use double sharps/flats, to name one example.
Memory and Focus
Memory and focus are essential factors in musical experience. These are two-fold, one is the first-time experience of an audience member in the concert hall, and the other is that of the audience who listens to a recording of the music. The realities of our time has made it so that music which is recorded can be taken out of the context of a concert and brought to one’s home, to a coffee shop, or really anywhere. Consequently, I strive to write music which is both immediately gripping as well as rewarding repeated listening.
I do not take for granted that the audience member gives me their attention for free, or even by default. I consider it my responsibility as an artist to grab the audience’s attention. Pedagogical studies indicate that a teacher has 1.5 minutes in a lecture to capture a student’s attention, otherwise it is likely lost for the whole of the lecture. I believe that these studies reveal a lot about our attention and that their findings have implications for how we listen to music.
The phenomenology of musical time is among the most exciting and puzzling mysteries of music. We tend to measure the length of music with seconds and minutes, but that is divorced from phenomenological time, time as we experience it. It is known that our mind imposes corrections upon the reality of objective time measurements. As a composer, I think about how time is going to be perceived by the listener. And I consider the pacing and rate of introduction of new stimuli into the music. To that end, my music tends to leave things to be discovered in later stages so that no section in the work is redundant.
That is not to say that repetition in music is redundant. Repetition can help to crystallize the material. In this sense, its function is the exact opposite of redundancy. Of course, repetition should be treated with care (like all musical decisions!), as the listener’s experience may vary with every repetition. In fact, it is rare for consistent, unchanged stimulus to lead to consistent, unchanged results from the listener.
On “Middle-Eastern” music (as opposed to “Western” music)
I do not consider it to be a goal of mine to combine, synthesize or reconcile Western music with Arabic music, or Aramaic music, or Syriac, or Levantine, or Lebanese, or Phoenician music–or whatever I am supposed to call it–any more than Bach, say, would have to combine German, French, Italian, Irish (etc…) music. When asked what reductive category my music fits into, I am never sure what to say since I do not consider that question to be a defining one my music, just as I imagine that Karlheinz Stockhausen does not consider the “German element” of his music to be defining of his music, even as he was certainly informed by his German heritage. By extension, to merely characterize my music as “Arabic fusion” does not say much about my musical concerns or about how my music is experienced. It may give people a certain “lens” by which to look at the music, but it gives no substantial insights about what makes my music worth listening to and playing, not to mention writing.