"Welcome to the official website for composer William Neil"

We have art so that we may not perish by the truth. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Why I Compose for the Theatre

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Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie in its original production  featured original music composed by the American composer, Paul Bowles.  The author envisioned music underlining almost every important transition in the play.  For example,  in the opening monologue, Tom, calls the play a ” memory play”  -”In memory everything seems to happen to music,-That explains the fiddle in the wings.”    The published play calls for 30 music cues, many of the cues underlying  for extended dialogue or monologues.    Music in this play is inherent in the text:   the victrola on stage that Laura plays to escape from the overwhelming disfunction of her family , sounds from the dance hall outside the apartment that intoxicates Tom, and the music that is remembered or imagined by all of the characters.   All of these moments with their emotional overtones inspire music.  When I began working on the sound design last summer for the In Tandem production that opened last week in Milwaukee,   I encountered some rich resources that fueled my inspiration.  I found myself exploring music of the late thirties,  archival 78 recordings, and what music can be made from the breaking of glass or the rubbing of wine glasses. These  all conjured a rich supply of imaginative music and sound.   However, inspired as I was in this creative process, my music seemed to float above the imagined space of this drama.    Even though, the emotional content of my compositions were  right on target, it was not until the music was tailored to fit seamlessly in the drama that it began to actually mean something.   Thanks to the director,  Mary MacDonald-Kerr’s sagacious grasp of the emotional pace of  the drama, the timing and dynamics of the musical cues we perfectly placed.  The music then came  alive and the sound coming from the stage whether it was from words or music became one vivid,  coherent, message.   In compositional terms my  music became just the right music at the right time.  This sounds like the definition of a good piece of music:  the right music at the right time.    So, I look forward to composing and designing for live drama because it is my highest choice to compose music that creates its own tightly organized and executed drama of sound.

 

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The Mystery of New Music

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Could a musical composition and performance that invents itself from nothing into something be the new paradigm in contemporary music culture?   The very process of cultivating broad based support for a specific project through crowd funding is liberating for the artist and exciting for the audience.  It fosters an atmosphere of free and independent artistic work.  It is essentially a one of kind experience that is unfettered by the need to sell concerts just to fill seats or to court the continued support of a local foundation. Its all about doing it once and doing it well.

We live in a era that has put a price on culture.  Music in particular has evolved into an on demand experience.   Through instant downloading and file sharing,  it has become part of an endless chain of music past and present that saturate or ears without a present cultural context.  Often the only context is nostalgia.   I am suggesting that there is an alternative experience, an experience that promises to be a rich and fulfilling.

In David Byrne’s book  How Music Works,  he astutely describes how the music industry has changed through technology as it perfected the creation, promotion, and sales of recordings and then evolved into an industry producing inexpensive, mass manufactured goods sold for pennies or given way for  free.  I was particularly inspired by his definition of music of the past.   He said “music was something you heard and experienced, it was as much a social event as an aural one.  It was communal, and often utilitarian…music was a singular experience, something connected to a specific time and place.  It was part of the continuum, the timeline of your life, not a set of “things” that lived outside of it.”

His description of the way is was, strikes me as exactly what is missing in the experience of music of today.  Instead of accepting that technology has permanently changed how we experience music, perhaps we should be thinking about how we can use technology to restore the fullfillment that we have been missing.

The evolution of music is full of examples that have changed how we experience music.  A few examples from Bryne’s book include the creation of great cathedrals that enlivened the music that was performed within the space, Jazz musicians improvising the melody so the dancers could continue dancing, and creating recital halls so the harmonically complex passages and intricate melodics variations could be appreciated by the audience.  So, for the emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work, I believe we need to focus on cultivating an environment, fiscal and artistic, that will inspire great performances and enrich the audience.

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