I frequently talk with composition students about the difficulty and necessity of gaining multiple perspectives on one’s own music. When immersed in the minutiae of writing the thing, it’s nearly impossible to understand how a piece will feel to an actual audience. What’s more, you’re unlikely to ever be surprised by hearing yourself, to have your own expectations either foiled or confirmed, when you know what’s around every bend.
I’ve been thinking quite seriously that the best way around this quandary would be for a composer to write so much music that remembering all of it would gradually become impossible. The details of each piece would blur together, such that after enough time had elapsed—say 15 or 20 years—the composer could then listen to a performance of their own work with true objectivity and without preconceptions.
There have been occasions when I’ve felt vertiginous hints of this unlearning process, not yet for entire pieces, but in short bursts. Listening recently to a live recording of It takes a long time to become a good composer, I remembered the major facts of the piece, but found myself surprised by the way certain transitions unfolded, or how many times a figure repeated. It struck me as being one of my strangest pieces, not disagreeably so, but in the tenuous ways the chunks of music related to each other, like floating objects in a surrealist painting. It takes a long time is nearly a decade old, but it’s not a piece I’ve heard performed frequently or recorded, which is perhaps why it makes a good case study. I’m excited to neglect it for another decade, writing another 50-something pieces in the meantime, and revisit this experiment in 2029.