On Music

Conversations with Krzysztof Zarzecki

S.C. ...music cannot live in a vacuum, even an esoteric vacuum. It lives and breaths, it interacts with the world around it, and the world listens to it and likes it or hates it - you cannot be indifferent to it ! For me, composing, the act of writing music, is therefore rooted in the land and the people that surround me, here, or in my past. I could never have imagined the music I now write if I had only read about Lake Simcoe, where I now live, and not experienced it. And of course my European heritage is also there, shaping my musical language.

K.Z. I knew you before as Steeve SRAWLEY. Now you sign your works Steeve CHWOJKO. Why ?

S.C. Do you know who Ms Wieck was ? She was a nineteenth-century composer who signed her compositions with the name "Schumann." Why did she do that ? Because she married Robert ! I both love tradition and hate it. I married a Polish girl called "Chwojko", and tradition says we should have the same name (I love that). Tradition also says she should take my name because she is now my property. And so I took her name...

K.Z. When I am writing a story I hear the words in my head before I see them on the page. How can you write notes on the page before you hear an orchestra play them ?

S.C. Music is a language. Before you can speak it, you must learn it by listening, by understanding what other composers are saying. You do this from the day you are born. When you start writing your own music, naturally it sounds like other composers, but soon you are having original ideas and you "hear" your idea with, say, an alto flute, a tuba and a viola. Why those instruments ? Because that is the sound that is running through your head. When you write a story, you do the same ! One character hisses in a low voice, another is hesitant, unsure of themselves. The parallel is exact. To answer your question: the orchestra is playing in my head. I merely write down the music that runs through me.

K.Z. I see you have a laptop computer. Do you compose your music directly on the screen ?

S.C. At first, I had a prejudice against the use of the computer in any stage of the compositional process. It has no soul ! Then one day, when I saw that I had forgotten a measure in the middle of the final copy of a composition, I realized that the sheet of paper and the pencil stub have no soul either, but that didn't stop me using them to compose. And so I started to use the computer to write the 'fair copy' of a piece. Pretty soon I saw that the computer is simply another form of paper and pencil - and a much more convenient one, because it takes care of the 'house-keeping' side of the process of composing: lining up the notes, adding a measure in the middle of a phrase, switching a part from one instrument to another... Its limitation, and it's a big one, is the aural reproduction of a phrase you have written. The use of sounds while writing notes on a computer is a big, big mistake. Why ? This comes back to the statement I made earlier - the computer has no soul. It translates your "piano-half-note-A4-at-mm.69-on-the-oboe" into a "minus-20-decibel-one-point-seven-three-nine-second-sixty-percent-duty-cycle-square-wave". This will only bring tears to your eyes if you happen to be eating an onion as you listen. Moreover, the auralisation of a forty-stave score goes beyond the memory capacity of almost any domestic computer, rendering a grossly distorted output. Computers are a wonderful tool for composition, just so long as you do not try to listen to what you are writing. Be like Beethoven, be deaf to real sounds. Just listen to the sounds in your soul, since you may well have one !