As a composer, are you inspired by other art forms? If so which ones?
Absolutely! I find inspiration all around me, but especially in the arts. One of my biggest inspirations artistically is the performance artist Marina Abramovic. Her art seems to ask big, challenging questions in a very direct and visceral way.
I also seem to find myself obsessed with the use of color- not just in the visual arts like painting and photography, but in the advertising of big corporations. I love the different way a color will look next to another color, and I think this directly relates to my use with timbre and harmony in my compositions.
I’m also drawn to literature. Often this has nothing to do with the stories themselves, but the way an author can twist the english language to make such evocative prose. There’s a definite logic behind sentence structure, and when that logic is just right, a good sentence can get under my skin and live there for a while. I think it’s the same with melody. A good melody has logic in its construction and can be quite powerful.
Do you use a computer for your work? When did you start?
Typically, my writing starts far away from the computer. I like to think about my pieces in abstract terms until I feel strongly that the piece deserves to be written. Usually I know that’s the case when a title seems to show up and I can’t get rid of it. At that point I know I have a definite concept. Once the concept is there, musical materials seem to form and I’ll dig them out at the piano. With these ideas on my scratch pad and the idea for the piece organized, I then go to finale and set to work!
Do you still use paper? What for?
Paper still plays an important part of the process for me. Sometimes I’ll map out the piece on paper using colored pencils to represent different aspects. But also, I’m trained as a jazz pianist and improvising comes easily to me. So I often sketch down parts of improvisation I like so that I can develop them later on.
Does working on a computer affect the way you compose?
Definitely! Playback is a wonderful tool. Composition is so weird, because there are no right answers a lot of the time. So in lessons and in text books, rarely do you get advice on how to space a chord or how to pace your material. The great thing about playback is that it instantly gives me, the composer, that information. Then it’s up to me to decide if it works or not.
The dangers for me in using my computer usually come from the internet. I’ll be writing something and be reminded of this great flute passage in Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. Without thinking I’ll suddenly be listening to Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic performing it on youtube and five minutes later I’m watching videos of cute and cuddly kittens being cute with cute babies who are laughing so dang cutely at the cute kittens who are just too darn cute for their own good….
oh wait! i was composing something. *harumph* kittens…
Are you concerned with a possible loss of craftsmanship because of technology?
I’ve heard a lot about this lately, but I really don’t buy into that way of thinking. What we’re really talking about here is technique and that’s something that is completely reliant on the practice and training of the composer. I don’t think having music or midi software takes away from the technique involved in composing any more than the computer (or typewriter for that matter) took away technique of crafting a good sentence from authors. Theoretically, your technique should be the same on a computer screen as with a manuscript pad so long as your brain is engaged in the creative process.
Also, I love the fact that there are a lot more “amateur” composers out there using the software available. My younger brother loves getting on finale and garageband and just messing around. He’s not musically trained, but sometimes his ear leads him to some pretty great material! This can only help our music community. Many of those “amateurs” will become inspired and want to become “professionals.” (And we all know this will increase our classical concert ticket sales). But besides that, imagine if music audiences were full of people who had tried their hand at composing on software. Instead of passive listeners, our audiences would be active, enthusiastic, and full of appreciation for this art form.
I think this technology lends itself to a bright future for classical music.
Michael Mranti is a freelance composer living in Kansas City, MO. As always, he is looking for an assistant willing to work on a wage of compliments and tootsie rolls. (Un)Interested applicants should add him on facebook: