Looking Within

The Music of John Palmer - Dialogues and Essays

Various, edited by Sunny Knable

First Edition, 2021
© 2021
ISBN: 978-0-9931761-7-3


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Comprising conversations with John Palmer and essays on aspects of his music by an impressive array of musicians and artists, Looking Within offers a kaleidoscopic view of this uniquely creative and inspirational composer. The breadth of Palmer’s output is covered by ten groups of topics ranging from opera to instrumental music, electroacoustic to orchestral works, including the importance of poetical forms and the significance of dialectics as a living musical force. These dialogues and essays reveal Palmer carrying forth a modernist tradition as an enquiry into sound and the spiritual in music, infusing it not only with his own aesthetic ideals but with personal expressivity and an intense search for transcendence. Reading through the interviews, one feels face to face with the composer in deep conversation. Despite the breadth and variation of Palmer’s works, this book makes clear how all could originate from the same man. In a time when few composers are willing to go on record about their thoughts and positions in the field in fear of being pigeonholed, this book will become an important document for current and future listeners and performers of Palmer’s music.

John Palmer has never been afraid to express himself through his diverse and eclectic musical output as a cutting edge composer and performer or through his eloquent and exquisite linguistic skills. Each discipline becomes a work of art and a thought-provoking experience for all those who encounter it.  Never be fooled by a book’s title – this publication is for all people from different landscapes to digest. John is about building bridges, finding common ground, stripping labels. He encourages us to stretch our imagination to unknown territories. With such a wealth of material to absorb and reflect on, I would urge that this publication  Looking Within – The Music of John Palmer is most definitely on your reading list.

Dame Evelyn Glennie

A remarkable book, perhaps unique, the composer interviewed multiple times, with all the fresh perspectives that this creates. Many of the interviewers are performers who know the music from the inside, and indeed are co-creators with the composer of the works they discuss. The results are absorbing, almost a primer of what it means to be a creative musician. Particularly revealing are the accounts of how first conception starts to translate into musical ideas. So, too, is the wider context, the significance of music to life itself. Here the writing takes on a touching eloquence as Palmer describes the search for ‘transcendence’ and the questions that arise on the way, the answers to which ‘are written in the eternity that awaits me’.

Peter Hill, Pianist and Musicologist, Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Sheffield

This book is a collection of conversations with, and essays about, English composer John Palmer, conducted in collaboration with performers and composers associated with his music. Written in an informal style, it addresses his artistic development, philosophical and aesthetic concerns, and methods of compositional organization. Many of his pieces, from orchestral and chamber works to solo piano and electroacoustic music, receive detailed discussion. It is hard to imagine a better or more thorough introduction to the music and thought of this eminent, versatile, and cultured musician.

Fred Lerdahl, Fritz Reiner Professor Emeritus of Musical Composition, Columbia University, New York

John Palmer’s music enthrals the listener and sparkles with virtuosity, and in doing so, does a rare thing – it pushes boundaries whilst remaining relevant, enjoyable and true to itself. This book, for the first time, brings together interview, analysis and documentary accounts which reveal how Palmer achieves this and forms a valuable commentary on his creative practice that will be welcomed by listeners, composers and performers alike.  Sensitive to cultural concerns, the book gives insight into how – for this composer – context informs technique, life-long curiosity and exploration are harnessed in pursuit of artistic honesty, and how a broad diaspora of human interaction is re-imagined in an entirely personal space that itself rejects pigeonholes and categories. The artistic context which underpins large-scale works such as the Trans cycle is positioned alongside first-hand accounts of the detail of musical construction, such as in Peter Wiegold’s interview on You and Koan. Through these juxtapositions, the reader is invited to share the creative process in a way that is both unpretentious and inspirational.

Prof. Ambrose Field, Composer, University of York, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

This fascinating collection of interviews and essays is a testament to the breadth and depth of John Palmer’s creative imagination. However, it is not just a book about a single composer and the dynamic of inheritance and originality that his art evokes, but about music itself. It is about music as an expression of human values which is inseparable from other disciplines such as poetry, philosophy, anthropology, the visual and dramatic arts and other disciplines through which human beings seek to capture the meanings fundamental to their existence. Palmer’s driving motivation is to explore how these meanings can be uncovered by music, bringing music into dialogue with all the other pursuits of human spirit. It is a book for anyone who has felt that music is more than entertainment, and feels the urge to explore and give content to this feeling.

Dr. Mikolaj Slawkowski-Rode, Philosopher, Blackfriars, University of Oxford, and University of Warsaw.

Authors and interviewers: Paul Alan Barker, Daniel Biro, Eva Böcker, Anna Cepollaro, Patrick Crossland, Késia Decoté, Ricardo Descalzo, Theodor Flindell, Neil Heyde, Egbert Hiller, Jeffrey Holmes, Ikuko Inoguchi, Suzanne Josek, Johannes Klumpp, Anne LeBaron, Charlotte Leport, Carin Levine, Andrew Lewis, Matsuo Masataka, Christina Meissner, Vittorio Parisi, Claudie Reduron, Klaus Schöpp, Aanaya Shanaya, Gavin Stewart, Nick Storring, Sergej Tchirkov, Agnese Toniutti, Dan Weymouth, Peter Wiegold.

Edited by Sunny Knable

384pp, 257x182mm, colour