"A physical, bodily approach to the way I compose": Michael Mathieson-Sandars discusses his latest work

Kupka's Piano composer, Michael Mathieson-Sandars, will have his first piece for 2014, Character Motions, premiered by Kupka's Piano at our concert 'The Machine and the Rank Weeds' at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.  Here are some of his thoughts! Michael Mathieson-Sandars

Hélène Cixous, in her 1975 essay The Laugh of Medusa, calls for a feminine writing (écriture féminine) which combats and reframes what she argues to be a masculine discourse inscribed into writing and language (and thinking). She offers the following advice: “Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.”

While I believe similarities between language and music to be much more complicated than a clear parallel, there is a clear masculine discourse within western classical composition. It goes without saying that this should be challenged here as it should be challenged in other appearances of patriarchy and phallogocentrism. (I should probably also note that, for Cixous, a feminine writer need not necessarily be female “there are some men (all too few) who aren't afraid of femininity”). There are lessons to be learned from Cixous for any artist, let alone composer – and there is even more at stake here because to write “from the body” concerns the subject and the subject's relationship to music.

The subject's relationship to music is, of course, something about which I have very little understanding and I imagine it will continue to escape me for some time yet (probably indefinitely). Nonetheless, I feel, largely intuitively (physically? Pre-intellectually?), that a physical, bodily approach to the way I compose will increase the possibility of creating music which carves its form from its own material – which represents, at least partially, the complexity of the modern subject in its multiplicity of relations.

Which I guess brings me to my new piece, Character Motions. My musical implementation of this thinking is, of course, quite naïve, but, at the same time, quite exciting. (It's also quite an interesting experience to attempt to write in a less conscious, more physical way which can only be achieved by becoming conscious of physicality!). In many ways, it is not such a grand or radical departure (Rome not built in a day, climbing to stand on the shoulders of giants, etc.), but I feel the material of the music in this piece contains a vibrancy and depth beyond what has appeared in my music previously. The piece itself is quite short, and moves very rapidly. This, in part, is for future plans to expand the piece for performance by the ensemble later in the year, but more broadly to build material which will allow me to create more expansive works in the future.

As always, it's a great pleasure to work with the musicians in Kupka's Piano, and I'm looking forward to kicking off our series ‘Il faut être’ next Friday. Feel free to come along to the concert and let me know what you think!