As a composer, are you inspired by other art forms? If so which ones?
I’m inspired a great deal by other art forms. In my undergrad at Hartt, I used to log in as many hours at the Wadsworth Atheneum as I did in the concert hall. A particularly inspirational piece for me was Rauschenberg’s Retroactive I, which got me to start experimenting with fragmentation and “found” musical ideas. Lately, I’ve been revisiting Klimt and Schiele’s work, having tied in with a piece I wrote for wind ensemble and electronics, TWEAK.
Do you use a computer for your work? When did you start?
I have a love/hate relationship with computers and music making. I use a computer for notation and the like, but haven’t really been able to get over the hump toward using electronics as a medium until very recently, maybe only three years ago. That said, I believe that I was in the wrong in my attitude that a composer could ignore the influence of computer technology in composition. Considering how ubiquitous computers are in our society (this is a blog interview, right?), how could they not affect the art that we make?
Do you still use paper? What for?
I do still use paper and pencil (I bought a fancy pencil and named it Excalibur. Dont’ laugh, it’s a nice pencil!), but mostly for sketches and scratch scores. I don’t intend for people to look at my manuscripts, so I don’t keep track of them or anything. Even if people saw them, they’re mostly scribbles anyway. My process is to sketch on paper, then put my finished ideas into Finale.
Does working on a computer affect the way you compose?
I think that working with a computer affects the way we compose, for certain. I recently took an interview for a PhD program, and one of the first questions out of their mouths was “do you use the Playback Button?” I think it’s interesting that so much scandal surrounds this feature of notation software. As for using other programs, I definitely think that the way you make music with electronic software is much more akin to the process of creating visual art than traditional notation. There’s a lot more “play” involved, and a lot more experimentation, which is freeing, but can make you feel vulnerable. I find that MAX/MSP and similar programs really push the boundaries of music in many exciting directions, which I’m just beginning to explore.
Are you concerned with a possible loss of craftsmanship because of technology?
With the advent of digital photography, there came a backlash. Older photographers hated the idea: it vastly democratized an already very democratic medium of photography, allowing many with no training at all to pick up a camera and start taking pictures. It undermined their years of darkroom experience. People didn’t have to concentrate on the shot as much because if they messed up, they could see it in the viewscreen and simply retake the shot. It watered down the public’s desire for high-quality film photography which digital photography still can’t match to this day. Still, more pro photographers use digital cameras today than film, even though they know that film is better.
“Craft” is an idea we use to make ourselves feel like we’ve earned some kind of legitimacy through years of study, that making art is somehow not as random and intuitive and inexplicable as we know it to be. Craft helps, but it’s not something I’m worried about losing when I choose to make my life a little bit easier.
J. M. Gerraughty (born 1982) in Nashua, NH, is a composer based out of Stony Brook, NY. His current projects include works for Johns Hopkins University and for hornist Lydia Van Dreel. He struggles with the piano every day. http://www.jmgerraughty.com