“The occupation of an artist rests on the cultivation of an inner world, the boundaries of which remain unknown, but which slowly solidifies until it pushes an inadequate simulacrum of some part of itself into existence. Thus materialised, it can finally be properly confronted as an independent entity. Art is the attempt to build bridges between this secret unknown inner space and the outside world, but the process is not a simple one.” – Frank Denyer
Frank Denyer’s creative impetus has taken him all over the world, from the UK to Japan, Senegal to the US on a lifetime quest to cultivate an intangible musical territory. This book brings together reflections on the obsessions of a life spent in contemplation and creation, its impulses and influences with a personal review of his works and constitutes an indispensable and concise personal window on a unique artistic journey.
‘Denyer’s work resembles no one else’s. Here acts of regeneration are effected by the very waste thrown out by an industrialised society. Our elegies must become new births if we are to have a future, so Denyer’s green ethnicism is the opposite pole to what Steve Reich called ‘the old exoticism trip.’ There can be no doubt that it matters.’Prof Wilfrid Mellers (Classic CD)
‘Frank Denyer is an English composer whose imaginatively rich compositions fall between several and into none of the accepted categories of contemporary music. Each of his works present an astonishingly varied array of musical sound sourcesDr Bob Gilmore (musicologist, biographer, editor of Tempo)
– new instruments of his own invention, adapted instruments, instruments of non- Western traditions, rare and virtually extinct instruments, and conventional Western instruments.’
‘His music is so unique and unforgettable. Impossible really to compare to much other music, the path he is taking is so original. From soft shimmering percussive sounds to beautiful and hidden melodies, his music is rich with detail. An important artist, one that I have learned a lot from. His music needs to be heard much more often.’Ilan Volkov (Principal Guest Conductor BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Tectonics Festival Curator)
‘So much new music is described as unique but Frank’s really does sit well outside the usual tribes and references. It is fragile, yes, and often rather quiet, but moreover it is very human, very humble, very honest and somehow completely timeless.’Juliet Fraser (soprano, co-founder of Exaudi)
‘Denyer is a prolific and highly original composer. Riverine Delusions, recently played by the Barton Workshop was impressive in its unusualness, daring and beauty.’Alvin Lucier (composer)
In The Margins Of Composition Review – The Wire
Around half-way through English composer Frank Denyer’s book, he offers an interlude titled “Two Composition Lessons”. Despite bearing a designation that immediately suggests content of lesser importance, this is a pivotal passage within this beautifully eccentric publication.
In the Margins Of Composition offers an unclassifiable mixture of autobiography, compositional manifesto and collected aesthetic musings. As such, it is in fact full of interludes – and its unfolding is sufficiently piecemeal that these potent tangential fragments could be regarded as the fundamental unit of Denyer’s account. He’s patient but itinerant in detailing his unique perspective, generously supplementing the tenets of his approach with a wealth of strange ephemera – diary entries, vivid retellings of dreams, quotations, anecdotes from his own life and elsewhere, heartfelt tributes, and even the odd stern conclusion. When he interjects to narrate his catalogue of works, it too reads casually and with disarming candour.
The two evocative segments that comprise the aforementioned interlude shed much light on Denyer’s thinking. The first relays a story of Morton Feldman inviting students over for a meal, only to corral them into accompanying him as he fastidiously gathers ingredients at local shops. Later, during the eventual meal, an exasperated pupil demands concrete wisdom from his teacher, to which Feldman replies, referring to the evening’s unfolding, “You want to know about composition technique, what do you think I’ve been doing all this while?”
The latter lesson describes a rite of passage for the Pokot people, among whom Denyer lived in Kenya as an ethnomusicologist. Upon reaching maturity, men each compose an “ox song” which unlocks their participation within adult society. The song is not sung by its composer but taught to his peers who sing it softly to him. Denyer asked one man about the specifics of these songs’ gestation. Likening the process to hunting a lion, he responded, “No one ever found anything sitting alone in a hut, he must go out and look for it”.
Denyer’s creative outlook, and even the formal shapes of his works – this one included – manifest an elusive searching quality. There’s a sense of perpetually stalking the periphery, catching glimpses of some sort of epiphany. It’s not unlike Feldman’s drawn-out culinary endeavour.
Yet this hunt is not to be mistaken for the archetypical hero’s quest. It’s something far more organic. Denyer spells it out on page 11: “In a world of meaningless digital noise, I look for that small quiet voice. “Sam Richards’ Denyer feature in The Wire 432 notes the composer’s longstanding fascination with his so-called under-voice – that soft, to-oneself region of vocal production between whispering and speaking/singing. While Denyer invests considerable time illuminating this concept, what’s even more intriguing is how the writing itself embodies it.
The reference to Feldman is telling in another way. The book’s intensely personal, almost improvisational tone invites comparisons – despite differences in perspective and style – to the New York composer’s musings. Yet where Feldman’s insights emerged as taut prose laced with dry humour, the most economic sections here only serve to reroute the continuous, enigmatic flow of intimate thought.
Nick Storring, The Wire, April Edition 434