This morning, I attended a lecture entitled “Composing in Flux” by Thai composer Anothai Nitibhon (currently serving as Vice President of Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music (http://www.pgvim.ac.th)). Her lecture explored the fluidity of the roles and responsibilities of a composer. She started by giving us a quick introduction to Luang Pradit Phairoh (187?/188? – 1940), who was a famous Ranat Ek (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranat_ek) player, composer, ethnomusicologist, and teacher. Anothai Nitibhon suggested that by looking at the late master as an example, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that “composers” can be involved in activities other than just putting pen to paper and compose music.
She then took her claim one step further by suggesting that composers can explore the idea of the composer, musician, and audience as all being part of a living society. Her later compositions seemed to focus on this approach through the use of multichannel video projections on stage that often show the performers in casual, candid situations that become a central part of her compositions. Before arriving at this point, she talked about workshops she conducted with different groups of people such as school children, immigrants, and the physically challenged in different places such as the UK and her native Thailand.
One of the pieces that best exemplified this was her “Loi Krathong” project in which interviews with the performing musicians are part of her composition. The method she uses shows that the “material” of the music itself is contributed by the musicians and that those same performers are “normal” people with normal lives that go beyond their presence on stage. The following three videos are part of the project.
Anothai Nitibhon also talked about some of her collaborations in which the content of the music itself is situational and based on impressions and input by the collaborators. One such project is Jewelry Sounds (2010) in which she collaborated to put together this video in Silpakorn University that saw students from the music department visiting students from the university’s jewelry workshop. One of the highlights of the video is when you realize that many of the sounds dubbed over the video itself are not recordings from the workshop but rather imitations by music students of what they heard at the workshop using things such as their own voices.
She concluded her talk by emphasizing the acceptability of “process” being central to a musical composition, and that it is exciting to sometimes create works of music that permit “mistakes” by the performers as an element of the piece.
My main impression of the workshop was that it is interesting to see how much the work of composers and that of contemporary artists (in the general sense) seem to show many similarities in concern and approach. The centrality of “process”, as a theme, is also something I have been interested in over the recent years. The contemporary music scene in Thailand and South East Asia is certainly something to look out for. For now, I am also left with further questions about how I can possibly apply some of these ideas to my musical works and how my own ideas on what the role(s) of a “composer” could affect my own process.