Kris Lennox

Composer

Author

About

Kris Lennox (b. 1982) studied music at Strathclyde University and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, followed by studies in Psychoacoustics, Psychology, and Philosophy. Projects include approaches to the formalisation of 24-tone music theory, and extended research on sensory deprivation and perceptual auditory states.

In 2011 Kris signed a management deal with Chris Craker (former Senior Vice President of Sony BMG), and in 2013 signed a global publishing deal with The Music Sales Group (Chester Music).

Kris has composed over 500 works, authored 18 books (one presently published: Etudes for Electric Guitar), and has featured in publications alongside Ludovico Einaudi, Phillip Glass, Johann Johannsson etc (Twenty Four Contemporary Pieces for Solo Piano, Thirty Contemporary Pieces for Solo Piano).

Musically, Kris works in a diverse range of styles, from Classical through Pop, Rock/Metal, Electronic, Ambient/Sound Design etc.

On a day-by-day basis, Kris works on various commissions for clients, with projects ranging from personal commissions through to commercial work (production, recording, mixing/mastering, session performances etc).

Kris provides consultation on commercial recording projects, with a focus on songwriting/harmonisation/instrumentation, and also provides guidance with respect marketing/PR.

Kris can be contacted regarding commissions/commercial work at krislennoxpiano@gmail.com

Sheets

Interview

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

My reply to your initial questions will possibly read as confrontational – bear with me – I’m rocking the boat on purpose 

I assume you mean Classical concerts? If so:

...Why should the young attend them?

Why should the young embrace the old if the old don’t embrace the young? How many of the older generation are familiar with the music of Drake/Taylor Swift/Post Malone?

Is the above question ridiculous?

Why ridiculous, if the question of how to attract the young to concerts of music written by (to quote one of my younger students) “people who died 200 years ago” isn’t ridiculous?

The older generation should possibly look closely at their motivating factors. Do they want the young to attend Classical music events/listen to Classical music as they want to share the ‘art’ and ‘passion’ with the young (...and is this quasi- cultic behaviour?), or, possibly:

Do the older generation want the young to attend their events as the young failing to do so amounts to loss of income?

Is it about money?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with directly stating ‘I want young people to attend Classical music events, as if they don’t, me and my friends will be out of work/have to do something different’ – but I do think we need to be honest with ourselves – and those we speak to.

The young can see through lies – often very easily.

It is also worth considering whether the era of the live Classical concert is coming to an end. Perhaps it has served its function? Attending a live event was, in the past, a necessity in order to hear music. We humans, in general, are creatures of convenience. Why go to an event when we can sit in the comfort of our own home with the headphones on, undisturbed?

Listening to music as we now do (i.e. streamed online etc) is certainly convenient - and efficient. I have no doubt if the same technology were available in the 1800’s, people would listen to music then as we do now.

I’m not saying there’s no value in hearing live music – but rather – there’s value in considering all viewpoints. And the viewpoint of ‘why should I bother going to an event when I can put my feet up at home and save myself money?’ – is a valid viewpoint that should be taken seriously and given serious thought.

I have a number of young students I work with. I actually presented your question to them, and asked their honest opinion. Let me quote you some of the replies (literal quotes – no editing – interesting replies!):

‘I don’t think you can attract them’ ‘Those concerts are attended by stuck-up snobs who want to be seen as better than everyone’ ‘Who wants to listen to music by people who died 300 years ago?’ ‘Why should we?’ ‘My Mum and Dad took me to a concert of tenor singers when on holiday. Even my Dad fell asleep. I spent most of my time on Snapchat’ ‘If I turned up to a concert in my jeans and hoody all the old people would look down their noses at me’

Is wanting the young to follow in the footsteps of the previous generation a selfish generation thinking of its own interests first? What are the older generation doing for the young? What are they giving/creating for them? Where is the stability?

Have the older generation set a good example? I’d say yes and no.

So often the young are criticised as a generation with their eyes on their phones 24/7.

Why should they look up? Who and what do they have to look up to?

Personally, I see myself as of ‘the younger generation’. I’m 36. By Classical standards, this is young (i.e. I’m not dead and/or retired!).

I work/associate with a range of ages, from the very young to the retired (yes – despite the above, I’m not an enemy of the older generation!). Quoting someone in their 70’s:

“Your generation are in a terrible mess. My generation had a great time.”

I appreciated his honesty – despite the comically grim outlook!

Taking a slightly less apocalyptic view (!):

The question is one regarding how to sell a product – in this instance, live music events.

Music concerts (in general i.e. Pop, Rock etc) are alive and well. Coldplay aren’t struggling to fill stadiums (albums are dead – but this is a culture shift reflected across the board i.e. it is not a ‘Classical’ problem).

There’s plenty that PR/marketing companies can do - and need to do, as traditional Classical music/concerts are all but dead with the younger generation.

I’d work on achieving your desired outcome a number of ways – some too long to mention in this essay. These are the kind of questions that form part of policy consultations; therefore, I wouldn’t give too much advice here.

But, in general:

The question is complex as it depends on which culture you are aiming to sell to. The question is too broad.

‘The younger generation’ is – if you were to speak to younger people – quite insulting, as it removes the essence of their identity and views them as nothing other than a target market defined by – and only by – age.

Having a defined target market is part of marketing. And people like to define themselves in terms of categories. The question should probably be more specific i.e. what...

• Age range • Race/Ethnicity • Class/Social background • Culture etc

...are you hoping to sell to?

A Classical marketing/promotion campaign for 10-14 year old female Muslims in Lebanon would be very different to a Classical marketing/promotion campaign for late-teenage Russians from a low-income social background.

Of course, marketing shouldn’t be so specific that it will only appeal to one person and one person only – but there should be (and normally is) a defined target market. Broader, bigger campaigns can achieve success – if they are orchestrated skilfully.

Music concerts can be sold/marketed without selling/marketing music concerts.

Disparate, ostensibly reactive projects – whilst having a surface appearance of success – have no staying power as there is no devised high-level strategy to unite all sub-projects as part of a targeted (and long-term) campaign. Not to mention a changing market. If upper-level management can’t adapt to the market, they shouldn’t have the position(s) they have.Specifically RE live Classical concerts: I would begin by reviewing the employment status of almost all Artistic Directors.

Every year I look at the local orchestra’s repertoire for the season and a small piece of hope is chipped away. I think I may soon require prescription medication. Personally, I haven’t attended a Classical music concert in years.

I’m not saying there should be a book-burning: this isn’t an ‘all or nothing’ issue. But there are ways to fix these problems.

Directors are in the quandary of knowing their orchestra/organisation are (at least here in the UK) kept alive through donations/wills from older benefactors (benefactors who know what they want and what they like to hear – and what they like their orchestra to represent). Countries where orchestras are State-funded will push music that reflects the values the country wants to be associated with.

The benefactor generation is all but gone. And youth aren’t interested in going to listen to agenda-driven music. They’d rather go hear an orchestra play the Final Fantasy soundtrack. And they are quite right.

Should we let it die? Possibly.

‘Look at the world. If only it aspired to my ideals, we’d be living in a better place’. But most everyone thinks this RE what they are passionate about.

Far, far more could be achieved in a far shorter timespan. For the benefit of everyone. I can think of at least two large-scale projects/policies (not only for live concerts: compartmentalisation is, at times, part of the problem) that would capture the attention of not only youth, but the greater general public.

• Yes, much can be done – not only with regards Classical music concerts, but across the board • Yes, I’m avoiding specifics: on-the-ground real projects would require a very progressive/open-minded organisation willing to embrace change/new conceptual policies • Yes – the boat needs rocked  Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

The question is partly redundant. Young people will simply google anything they are curious of. They’ll then find music on YouTube/Spotify etc (and the associated ‘recommended tracks’).

Plus, the label ‘Classical’ isn’t how the younger generation think. They don’t label/categorise/box what they hear in the same way the older generation do (i.e. stylistic labels).

Example: take the Harry Potter soundtrack. To all intents & purposes this music is ‘Classical’ – instrumentatally, stylistically, timbrally, structurally etc. But a young person wouldn’t describe a work from the soundtrack as a ‘Classical’ piece. They’ll simply talk about ‘that piece from Harry Potter’. They’ll also search YT for the likes of ‘relaxing piano music’. Will they hear Chopin? Probably. But the labels don’t really matter to the listener. Nor should they.

What should be developed is an appropriate frame - musically and otherwise. Putting Barenboim/Hough in jeans and a hoody won’t work. The younger generation would, quite rightly, find it very creepy. This has been tried – and has failed. Not with the artists mentioned – but the principle has been tried. It was clearly going to fail from the onset – and did so as a product of the marketing team failing to grasp, at a fundamental level, the concept of what they were trying to achieve.

Frames should exist for all potential consumer demographics.

People have, at their fingertips, more access than ever before. Consider a generation or two ago. The only access was whatever the labels decided to place on the shelves of the local music store(s), or play on TV.

The downside of having so much information today is far less time invested. Have a look at the statistics for audience retention with music listened to/streamed online. It is very, very low. And, as we know, many Classical pieces are pretty long! Drop-off after the first minute is stupendous. Many believe we are becoming ‘dumber’ as a society. Maybe – but I don’t think it is as grim as ‘the world is becoming stupid’. Maybe big data/analytics is revealing what has always been the case i.e. people, in general, lose interest very quickly?

Assuming someone is familiar with Classical music (all the typical names i.e. Beethoven, Chopin etc, plus the movie composers etc), and is looking to expand their awareness, what I’d recommend they do is make a list of Classical music publishers (Music Sales, Sikorski, Edition Peters, Schott etc), pull/create an artist roster from each publishing house, and have a look on the internet for their music. This will give a ‘here & now’ taste of the Classical scene, and will introduce many unknown yet very active living composers.

Advice for young people:• Google • Ask on forums/chat threads etc • Listen to Movie/TV/Computer game scores etc • Scour publishing houses for names Etc etc. The Classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

No. I don’t limit myself to only ‘Classical’, therefore, if Classical music commercially died tomorrow, it wouldn’t be the end of me. Plus I also see music as only one defining aspect of my life. To family/friends I’m ‘Kris’ – not ‘composer’. I am still me without music. Music is part of me – but it isn’t ‘me’. If I cut off my arm, am I in my arm? No – the arm I once had is no longer part of me.

Classical is part of a larger musical tapestry I work within, and music itself is part of the tapestry of my life (which doesn’t mean music somehow means ‘less’ to me than to others. Not at all! But we have to be rational and realise if our sources of income dried up or if we had an illness whereby we could no longer play, we would/could do something else).

I personally think ‘Classical’ music is alive and well, depending on what we consider ‘Classical’ i.e. movie scores etc. It all depends where you look for statistics (if you look at, for example, record sales, Classical music is dead. But if you look only at record sales, all music is dead!) It isn’t quite the same frame as before i.e. people going to a hall to hear an orchestra play – but it is alive and well. Ask Hans Zimmer if he is worried about the future of Classical music. Or visit Einaudi on his vineyard and ask him if life is a struggle. The focus for an artist should be on the project at hand – the completion of which will contribute to the bigger picture anyway. Worrying about the big picture is likely destructive to output/creativity.

I don’t see it as my role to worry myself about the future of an entire artform. If I were an artistic director – yes, it would concern me, and I’d have multiple campaigns across multiple platforms. Not to mention talking to the younger generation – as equals. The older generation spend countless hours and countless pennies theorising RE the younger generation. Why not just go talk to them?!?!

If Classical music is going to die, it will die. Let it die, and then let’s see what rises from the ashes. This is constantly happening anyway i.e. all styles are evolving. The genres that are dying are those choosing to remain in a frozen state.

“I’m sorry, I only do 1930’s swing music from Chicago” is, I hope, a ridiculous statement.

Do I worry? No. I’m managing OK, Classical is only part of what I do, and if I wasn’t pursuing music, I’d do something else and pursue music in my spare time.   Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

No. I think it is very dangerous to give an objective form (i.e. music) an all-encompassing subjective label/function. If anything, I’d say it is almost totalitarian.

Can music be about fantasy? Yes, of course. Is music about fantasy? Not necessarily.

Many say the role of music is ‘to express the human condition’. It may be for some – and yes – it certainly is a role of music – but whether it is the role of music is a different matter.

I know a guitarist who is indifferent to ‘music’ – but he loves finger exercises. He’ll happily play scales/arpeggios all day. And if this is what he enjoys, who would anyone be to tell him his use of music/musical instruments is somehow ‘wrong’?

Are you familiar with the concept of the Bed of Procrustes? The story of Procrustes is an ancient Greek tale about an innkeeper with an inn at the edge of town. He’d offer weary travellers a bed for the night. In the room were two beds – one short, and one long. He’d either chop off bodyparts, perfectly fitting the travellers to the short bed – or stretch them to fit the long bed.

Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips discusses the concept (if I remember correctly, the book he mentions it in is Equals).

The concept is often extended i.e. one day the person is stretched to fit the long bed, the next day they are cut to size to fit the short bed. Rinse and repeat.

The point is this: very often we want others to see the world the way we see it – and very often we want others to see the function of something as the function we see of it. Which in no way means this is the function/role a thing-in-itself is/has/should be. We project our desires on others. Someone once said to me that we see with the heart, not with the eyes. I think there’s truth in this.

Music is many things to many people, and can serve many functions:

• Ask a Muslim the function of music – they will tell you it is for ‘praising Allah’. Are they correct? Are they wrong? Who is anyone to judge? • Go in a time machine and ask Bach, he’ll give you the Christian equivalent i.e. his music is about ‘praising God’. Was Bach wrong?Etc etc.

Given my background, I don’t have such a defined distinction between ‘music’ and ‘sound’ as many people do, as my projects often feature aspects of both. Keeping this in mind – and to expand on your answer:

• Music can be used to entertain • Music can be used to elicit an emotional response • Music can be used to educate • Music can be used as propagandaWhen we talk about the broader category of ‘sound’, we can then look at sound design/Foley etc, through to more esoteric uses of sound (I’ll give only a few examples below as this subject could be a book in itself):

• Sound can be used to fool/manipulate the perceptual experience of the observer (i.e. when you watch a movie and hear, for example, feet crunching in snow – more often than not that isn’t feet crunching in snow you are hearing. Have a look for some videos on Foley and you’ll see what I mean).

• Sound can be weaponised (i.e. DARPA/others have developed acoustic weaponry).Etc etc.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Quite a difficult question to answer, as it could be answered both yes and no.

It depends on context i.e. if I’m working on a commission where there will be an audience, yes, I’m thinking of an audience. If I’m working on etudes/studies etc designed to help other players – yes, I’m thinking of the other players. If I’m writing educational material, I’m thinking of how readable accessible/informative etc the material is.

If I’m writing purely for myself – no, I’m not thinking of an audience. Thinking of an audience can be dangerous/destructive (I’ll elaborate later).

With published sheet music (I mean the presentation of the actual scores), I always think of the audience. The sheet music is a product – and I always want to give anyone who purchases my sheet music the best possible product.

I’m sure many pianists find the following terribly annoying: poorly edited scores i.e. a piece with, for example, an obvious 4-bar structure/pattern to it, and there are 5 or so bars per line. The structure is completely destroyed. The obfuscation of structure through poor layout can drastically affect interpretation.

With Music Sales, I was quite insistent RE the layout of my scores. Not picky for the sake of it – but for the sake of giving the buyer the most coherent, logical score they could buy.

No. of bars per line, no. of lines per page etc – as a player as well as someone who purchases sheet music, I consider it very important. A page turn in the middle of an important and/or difficult phrase is an unnecessary distraction that can affect musical flow. And we’ve all came across scores such as this.

In this sense – yes, as a player and someone who works with other players/learners, I’m always thinking of the player when it comes to the actual sheet music.

But not necessarily when it comes to the music itself.

If a client commissions me to work on a project, there is usually a desired outcome.

Often with, for example, sound design, there is a very specific outcome. Assume I was commissioned on a sound design project to create the sound of buildings falling. The result is objectively quantifiable i.e. the client could say, when the audio is sync’d with image: ‘this doesn’t give me the sense of buildings falling down’, or vice-versa.

In this example, the opinion of the client is most important. The opinion of the general public doesn’t matter at all.

If you were working on a project at work – let’s say an analytics project – what determines the success of the project is:

• Your professionalism • Your skill • Your satisfying the outcome • Your presentation of the project to the client • The client being happy with the end result

You wouldn’t take to the streets and ask passers-by what they thought of your analytics report. Their opinion doesn’t matter – what matters is delivering the end-product to the client/to the client’s satisfaction. The success of your report isn’t determined by a non-existent, hypothetical audience.

A number of my projects are private commissions – therefore, the opinion of the general public doesn’t enter my mind. They are not the audience for what I am doing, just as the general public is not the audience for the aforementioned hypothetical analytics report.

If, however, one of my projects is to have an audience – small or large – I’ll speak to the client and ask what the desired goals are. Sometimes a client has a very specific desired outcome (i.e. the sound design example) – at other times, the outcome is more general (i.e. I’ve been asked to compose pieces as gifts for people. Normally this involves me asking a few key questions, after which I’m relatively free to compose at will).

Even at the public commission level, briefs have boundaries, i.e. a composer will be given the instrumentation/desired duration etc of a work.

But I do work on personal projects designed with audience/player in mind. Presently I’m finishing sets of etudes for synth – with these works, I’m certainly thinking of other players – and of a potential audience (I may perform them in the near future, and I also hope others will perform the works).

But I’ve never created a piece thinking to myself ‘the audience will just love this’.

If the audience doesn’t like a work, is the composer going to abandon their style for the sake of pleasing the audience? What if the piece is performed on a different continent and the new audience likes the work? Which audience reaction does the composer take as indicative of the inherent success of the work?

Where does this end? Will we have composers on Twitter asking fans/followers what they think should happen in bar 17? Or asking followers to completely rewrite the coda?

There’s a great danger in investing too much energy in what others think i.e. individuality can be lost completely.

• Artists working from their imagination – purely for themselves – should probably care less for what an audience thinks.

• Artists working to a brief should work to the brief. And, if flexibility allows, go slightly above & beyond.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg conducted a very important long-term project involving creativity (overview/results in a book called ‘Handbook of Creativity’). In one project, people were placed in a room, and asked to draw. Anything they wanted – no pressure. No desired outcome. Just draw ‘for fun’.

Other people were placed in a room and also asked to draw – but they were told the best drawing would win a prize.

Certain artists/art critics were shown the end results, unaware of which images belonged to which group. They were asked to rank the images, in terms of originality etc.

In every instance, the drawings chosen as ‘best’ were those by the ‘free’ group.

In other words – external pressure – real or perceived – affects creativity/outcome.

If we think someone is watching, we alter/place pressure on ourselves. Imprison ourselves?

‘What defines success?’ is an interesting question. For me, the answer would be ‘success is when a work achieves the desired outcome, whether my desired outcome, the client’s desired outcome, and/or both’.

But no, I can’t say I’ve ever thought to myself something along the lines of ‘audiences will just love this chord change’.

If I like something, I trust there will be others out there who will also like it. If not, this is ok!!

I view my music very objectively. Of course, I take great care/consideration/professionalism/emotional investment etc when composing – but when the work is complete, I move on.

I don’t psychologically cling to previous works. Plus, when I finish one project, I normally begin another. However – I invest everything into each project. Moving on shouldn’t be read as ‘indifferent’.

With commissions, what is important to me is the brief from the person who is paying me. If part of their brief is to create a piece to entertain/please an audience, this will become part of the creative process.

However, my own projects are generally so diverse that it isn’t as black & white as ‘writing for an audience’, or creating music solely ‘for pleasure/enjoyment’.

What does music mean to you personally?

Memories Nostalgia

Sacrifice Time invested

Pleasure Pain

Research Leisure

Fun Work

Family Friends

Experimentation Innovation

Structure Chaos

Sharing Community

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century?

Big question. It depends on what form of ‘music’ we’re discussing. However, music has always played a political role – so I’ll focus on that for this question.

The commercial music most are aware of serves the same function it has always served – State propaganda.

Commercial music is one of the cultural frames of State policy.

‘Propaganda’ was renamed ‘Public Relations’ (i.e. ‘PR’) when Bernays brought the concept to the USA. ‘PR’ agents are – literally – agents of propaganda.

Note that most commercial artists are assigned PR agents.

Does the media decide to mention an artist’s brush with the law/stint in rehab etc one week before an album release/upcoming tour purely as a matter of coincidence – or do they mention it as you are now more likely to google the artist and discover they have an album release/upcoming tour without said album release/upcoming tour directly stated? Stories are released as promotional items for upcoming products.

Paul McCartney recently featured in the press. The function was to promote new material. The new material wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the subject headings etc – but the function of the PR was sales.

The function of a thing in itself is not always the function the recipient consciously perceives the thing in itself to be. In fact, it is almost never the consciously perceived function.

The individual who senses they are being sold something is less likely to buy. When a salesman approaches you, he is not in control (you have something he wants). When you approach the salesman, he is in control (he has something you want).

The best advertisement is the advertisement that is not an advertisement. This is partly the function of PR.

RE State policy: consider the role of music 500+ years ago. Church and state were one and the same: Church controlled musical output. If you composed something contradicting the message of the Church – or something that made people question the message – you were in great trouble. The Church pushed music that promoted its agenda.

Nothing has changed, except the frame.

The unfortunate thing is most musicians just want to make music.Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

No.

Music will continue to have its non-commercial functions i.e. entertaining friends, performing within the local community, performing to other like-minded musicians/music lovers, cultural preservation (folk songs etc) etc – but the music we know as a society at large will always have the same function i.e. cultural framing of State policy.

Irrespective of our technological advancements, the primary function of music has remained the same. Anyone who has read Plato’s The Republic will be very aware of the function/role music served as an instrument of the State. Also look at Nazi/Soviet use of music.  Tell us about your creative process. What is your favourite piece, and how did you start working on it?

Difficult to give a single answer as I work across a variety of styles. I’ll categorise the various styles, and give a little insight. Some styles will be familiar to readers – other styles won’t.

1) Standard melodic works

Typically melodic pieces i.e. accessible (often piano) works. A good example is the piece you are playing (‘After The Storm’).

2) Prime-derived structural works

Slightly more complex – but often still melodic (intentionally so).

This category of pieces is works whereby the underlying structure(s) are derived from prime numbers. These primes are often layered i.e. prime time signatures (i.e. 11/16), with a prime number of bars set within a prime sectional format.

An example of this is my ‘Inverse Prime Etudes’. These are two (i.e. prime) works based on prime sequences. The first work, ‘Kaleidoscope’ ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6jA6MuL2nw) is in 11/16, with the melody being a 7-note phrase. The second work, ‘Beacon’, is the inverse of this (i.e. 7 beats in a bar, with 11-note melodic phrases).

Probably the most developed works I’ve composed in this style are the set of three works titled ‘Interstices’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_u6o30uPhC4). These are very difficult piano pieces based on the prime principle (...very difficult! They’d make good competition pieces for the likes of the Cliburn. I recorded the works – but the recording was one/two bars at a time, then stitched together. I didn’t have time to invest in practising the works. They still haven’t been premiered). If the reader looks at the time signatures, the number of bars, the number of bars per page, the number of pages – even through to the number of notes and the harmonic progressions – everything is one layer of prime on top of another.

The process is very time-consuming, and very delicate. Prior to actually composing any notes, the structure itself normally takes a great deal of time. The structuring for Interstices took just over a year (I mean prior to sitting at the piano).

Interstices is a term more common in the medical world. I was introduced to it through study of the writings of fellow Scot RD Laing (i.e. the ‘maverick psychiatrist’). He talks of ‘the interstices of the mind’ (if I remember correctly, the quote is from ‘The Divided Self’). Good concept.

I call this type of composition ‘Interstitial Structuring’.

3) Electronic/Sound Design worksMost pieces in this style are synth works designed either as sound design for various projects, or incidental/background works for various projects.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72ur5MR74aU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je8J0RIc1yA

4) Steganographic Cipher Music

I could talk for hours on this one. But this site isn’t the place. I’ll keep it as brief as I can.

Esoteric. Probably very esoteric. However, who knows who may be reading this article! Perhaps one of your readers works in Security/Encryption.

Most readers will likely know of Elgar’s interest in codes? Some may have heard of his ‘Dorabella’ cipher? They’ll certainly know his ‘Enigma’ variations.

Some composers over the centuries have had an interest in codes. It is quite a natural connection i.e. music is a coded language, and what is composition but the study of structure applied to sound?

For a number of years I developed methods of using the notated score as a means of encrypting data. In other words, the score hides a message. I’m still developing new methods, and adding to the body of work I’ve created thus far.

The term ‘steganography’ derives from the Greek ‘Steganos’, meaning ‘hidden’. The nature of steganography is: what you are seeing doesn’t look like any form of code at all.

Take, for example, hexadecimal. If you see something in hexadecimal, it is obvious you are looking at encrypted data. In certain circumstances, this can arouse suspicion. The worst form of code is often code that looks like code. Good code is good practice. As Mary Queen of Scots will attest to!

If someone were to see a musical score, they would think they were looking at a musical score. And nothing else.

On YouTube I have a work titled ‘Olo/Kopi’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwqt59SkpTI). This piece – whilst a piece of music – is also an encryption (there is a passage of text contained within it. Not within the audio per se – but within the fabric of the actual score itself).

You’ll notice the work is dedicated to ‘a Knit herMit’ – this is simply an anagram of Keith Martin, head of Information Security at Royal Holloway, London (all dedications on my code pieces are not any form of code, but basic anagrams as teasers). Keith has the solution (i.e. the ‘plaintext’. The score itself simply acts as the ciphertext), which I emailed to him probably a few years ago now. He used the piece as a test for some of the students, but it remains as-yet unsolved.

It is important someone has the plaintext – and the means of encryption – otherwise anyone could claim to have created an encryption. There needs to be a form of external validation to the process.

Maybe in a decade or so I’ll post the solution. But there’s fun in trying to crack a puzzle 

The most advanced work I created in this style is a work titled ‘Enigma of 23 Illuminations’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8LYeyk3J3s). Musically it isn’t very interesting to listen to (it could be seen as something of a rhythmic etude) – but in terms of encryption, it is very deep. Nothing is left to chance in this piece. Including the title. There’s also a distinct ‘mirroring’ process throughout (even the time signature i.e. 23/32). Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius. 

Again – to the dedication – the score states ‘nakED nun oil’. The work is dedicated to Elonka Dunin (PS as I’m giving names here, anyone looking on trying to solve the encryptions: please don’t bother the dedicatees with emails looking for clues!!). Elonka is an established name in the crypto world. If you’ve ever read Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’, you may remember a character called ‘Nola Kaye’? This was a reference to Elonka, as Elonka helped Dan with the book: she gave him insight into the world of codes & cryptography.

However, in the code world Elonka is more famous for her work on PhreakNIC, and, of course, artist Jim Sanborn’s famous Kryptos sculpture. Kryptos is an encryption-based sculpture located at the CIA headquarters. Elonka is famous for working on/cracking three of the four encryptions. The fourth remains unsolved. Or rather, I should say no-one in the general public has yet solved it.

Jim is an artist, not a cryptographer, but received some basic pen & paper training from officials at the NSA. Perhaps what is most surprising is that a pen-and-paper encryption has turned out to be so difficult to solve.

Elonka also helped the FBI with research into steganographic ciphers: she presented a talk to the FBI after 9/11 on how Al-Qaeda could be hiding messages within digital images. Here is a link to one of her public talks on the subject (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwSBz0C9_WE) – very low views, as this subject is very esoteric indeed.

Enigma of 23 Illuminations was to have an interesting campaign attached to it. There’s an email address encrypted within the score: I’ll know if someone cracks the code, as when they email the encrypted address I’ll receive an auto-generated message to my private email account. There was to be a bolt-on marketing campaign for this work, but unfortunately, this was at the same time as the Snowden campaign, so I abandoned ship as I didn’t want for the concept to be seen as derivative and/or piggy-backing.

Art/crypto dates back to the beginnings of recorded history. Various artists throughout history encrypted data within their work (i.e. Durer with his magic squares), and during the Reformation many artists had to use symbolism to communicate the true intent.

Then there is, of course, the Torah itself, plus various other pieces of literature throughout the centuries i.e. the Voynich Manuscript, Book of Soyga, Rohonc Codex (still interesting, even if a hoax) etc.

In terms of commissions, I’ve received quite a few for the creation of musical steganographic ciphers. These commissions are usually from those who work/worked in the security industry. With a crypto music commission, the client is given the key, the plaintext, the score, and the audio recording. For anyone aside from the client, what they hear is a pleasant piece of music (which stands on its own as a piece of music). When friends are round/clients see the work in the office/staff room etc, it is always fun to have them ‘try to crack the code’!!

Someone in Germany commissioned me to create a crypto piece for his (now) wife – who is both a musician and a cryptographer. The message was, unsurprisingly, ‘will you marry me?’ (coded in German, of course!).

A very nice gift, and very apt!! He had to give her a clue, but she eventually cracked it.

5) Large-scale works/commissions

These are, generally, orchestral works. But not in the traditional sense of an orchestra. With these works, I record all parts individually then multitrack within a DAW.

The process can be time-consuming (i.e.creating/ recording a 20-minute orchestral work can take a year or longer).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJdFzyS9Fzo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heodSoWcYSI

6) Electronic Works

I’m having lots of fun at the moment working on music for solo synth. I’m finishing off sets of etudes, and a number of other projects. Great fun to play and to hear! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2miCxe_3SB4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8PjVsTS9I4   Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative?

Yes and no, depending on desired outcome. And also depending on what is meant by ‘need’.

On a surface level – yes, of course.

One key point is: instruments (and their use) should evolve.

But I don’t mean ‘get rid of the old’. Take, for example, guitars. We still have traditional Classical guitars – but we also have 8 & 9 string monster guitars.

Curious readers may enjoy my experimentation with a Yamaha grand piano (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHeb6DLR-Ao). Not played in the traditional sense of a piano – but rather, played with climbing equipment. The piano has since changed, and a finger has since recovered (I broke a bone by striking my finger too hard with ice-climbing equipment)! Large body of work created. I’ll possibly release it some time in the future.

Classical musicians – in general – have a very specific training. If anything, it could be seen as limited. Plus the mindset of tutors is more often than not carried through (this is good or bad, depending on perspective). For example: how many Classical musicians are creating works for (e.g.) Violin & Oberheim? Or flute & drum machine?

Many (most?) Classical musicians don’t know how to record music (this is an observation and not a criticism). Protools/Logic Pro etc are alien. I think all musicians should have at least a basic understanding of the recording process. It is very freeing (i.e. you don’t need to hold ideas in your mind) – not to mention it can completely change the creative process (you can now think in terms of layering sound). Also, sharing music with others – anywhere – becomes a possibility.

Training – whilst freeing in one sense – also acts as a form of conditioning.

Popular music is by and large popular as it embraces new sounds/instruments. Look at the 80’s i.e. LinnDrum release = Michael Jackson creating an entirely new sound = multi-million selling album. This is still happening (i.e. Taylor Swift’s albums embracing the latest DSI synths etc).

Generally speaking, the public want something that sounds new (the older generation generally want something that reminds them of themselves when they were teenagers – but this is a different conversation entirely); this shouldn’t be confused with the likes of harmonic complexity (but make no mistake – creating a new sound palette can be very complex).

Is the general public ignorant for failing to appreciate the likes of a 13b9 chord, or are we ignorant for failing to appreciate it is still the same instrument making the same sound we are using? (it isn’t as dichotomous as this; I’m simply exaggerating to make a point)

Why don’t we have piano fed through a flange and stereo delay unit?

Why don’t we have opera pieces written for a singer’s voice fed through Autotune? Wouldn’t this be interesting to hear?

Wouldn’t classical guitar paired with a Boss drum machine be interesting to hear?

This list could be never-ending. Why are the majority of composers sticking to the standard 12-tone system? There are an infinite number of notes between C and Db – why not embrace this and create our own, unique tonal systems? The only boundaries that exist are those we place on ourselves.

(Given the advances in MIDI, creating new tonal systems is easier than ever to achieve. And given the VST’s we have, we could have conventional instruments within these new tonal systems (i.e. we could program Pianoteq for a completely new tonal system).)

To counter this:

My business head would say: in a sense, no, don’t be more creative. ...If you are established. What I mean is: if you write very nice melodic piano music and the public enjoy it, give them very nice melodic piano music.

Many artists have destroyed their careers by establishing a first-album following only to feel a non-existent pressure to be ‘more creative’, resulting in a complete style overhaul & subsequent loss of fan base. From a business perspective it makes more sense to continue to give fans new material – but in the style they enjoy – and work on other material as side-projects. This way, everyone is happy. If a shop-owner’s biggest sale was from chocolate, choosing not to stock chocolate would be madness.

The artist in me would say yes, every artist should strive towards new creative modes of expression. Think from a label perspective. Why should a label sign an artist with a few nice piano pieces – and spend 50k promoting them – when one of their own artists could release a single track and make the label 50k?

On a composer-specific level:

I think the creative work of the artist should be a synthesis of every aspect of their life. Thinking completely left-field: let’s assume we have a composer who grew up on, say, a working farm. The composer could, for example, look into the workings of a tractor engine. Focus could be on how the movement of one engine part synergistically leads to the movement of another part, with the entire process leading to a defined output (i.e. the tractor moving). This process of microcosmic internal movement, with each part affecting the other, could lead to a new way of viewing composition – which, in turn, could create for the artist an entirely new compositional style.

The above is simply an ‘off the top of my head’ thought – but the illustration is hopefully important i.e. creatively harness your life experience – as it’ll be very different from most everyone else’s life experience, despite the apparently mundane nature of the person living their life.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

Anything where what I do is useful to others! Anything involving risk? The explorer in me likes risk. I don’t really think about what ‘I’ can get out of something. I’d rather give (I’m lucky enough to own some very fine synths – rather than keep them to myself, I enjoy sharing the sounds with others (YouTube etc). Sometimes I’ll work on something and think ‘that sounds great’ – not in an egotistical sense – but in a ‘listen to this!’ sense. This I like to share. We are all very fortunate in more ways than we could ever imagine).

The question strikes me as quite odd, as I don’t really think about what I ‘do’ – I just do it!

Really, I’d do any job. I would be/do whatever I was needed for.

I enjoy having work – but not to the point of working as masking. I think staying busy can be, for many, a way of avoiding unhappiness in a life. A life shouldn’t be the evacuation of pain/sorrow/tragedy. All these states are perfectly natural – and what it means to be human.

What I mean is: work can be good, as it creates a sense of being necessary/needed. But if this is the only thing that creates our sense of being needed, something is probably very wrong. Work should give me purpose – but it shouldn’t be the totality of my existence.

Growing up, I did many jobs. When 15, I began working to pay for private music lessons. Work was anything i.e. laying slabs, gardening, general labouring etc.

I’ve also worked in Security, and worked in the world of business. Thankfully, I survived!!   What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

Various responses throughout this interview have hopefully answered that question! I can’t sum up the question in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ manner, as I consider each piece a new creative process.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

The answer to part 2 of the question is simple: yes.

The answer to part 1 RE upcoming projects:

• Solo piano commission • Cryptographic/steganographic commission • Group composition/theory workshop• Production/mastering for a few acts • Short sound design project • Creative input/consultation for an act with an upcoming album release (i.e. helping with lyrics, chord progressions, adding electronic instrument parts etc) • Guitar/synth work on a couple of tracks Etc.

On a personal level, I’m focusing almost all of my energy on the solo synth music mentioned earlier. I think it is some of the more interesting personal work I’m doing.

Things always come up i.e. an email inquiring RE an intense weekend of tuition, enquiries RE commissions etc.

All best