The Global Interplay Project : Accra, Ghana

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Ralf Kohler has just returned from a meeting of the Global Interplay group in Accra, where he took these photos from the composers' working sessions:

First Meeting of the Accra Global Interplay composers

Renowned Ghanaian composer, musicologist and author J.H. Kwabena Nketia

Working session

Hello everyone, My name is David Egyäiku Awotwi and I'm from the Accra group. I studied Music and Philosophy at the University of Ghana. When the Global Interplay began a couple of months ago, what fascinated me was the aim or objective of writing new music. Why it fascinated me was simple.

On one hand, my interest in composing was challenged and incited; moreover, the chance to bring out something new was even more challenging. But just when the musical part of me was about to take up the opportunity to bring something new, the philosophical side of me asked me a big question: What is new music?

Anytime I started to compose, I thought to myself: Is the piece I'm writing new enough? Would it be called new music? ...and many other questions related to the question of new music.

I used the opportunity then to just sit and probe into the question of what music is and for that matter New Music - thus the essay on new music.

I would so much like to hear what people feel and think about "New Music".

An Essay on New Music

From the early days of music theory, composers have strived to create music that sounds different from our everyday repertoire. As music continues to evolve, composers still look for new ways of writing music; furthermore, with the advent of Globalization, exposure to other cultures reveals many more ways and possibilities in which music can be composed.

But the question still remains: what is New Music? What is fit to be called new music?

An insight to these questions will pave the way to probe further into the conceptualization of new music.

By simple definition, anything new is that which has not been used before, or being introduced for the first time. In this vain, New Music will be music not played before or music being introduced for the first time. Obviously, this definition of music is too shallow to encompass the entire implication what new music is; furthermore, it could be misleading. Nevertheless, it is not wrong.

One thing which would affect how music is defined is in context of its definition. For instance, what is called new music in one culture would certainly vary from another culture – even the definition of music is expressly different from culture to culture.

Our cultural background would influence our view of what new music should sound like. A culture of predominantly percussive instruments would be fascinated, at least to some extent, by other kinds of instruments. Also, in western cultures, musicians would be fascinated by predominantly percussive music and so on. In this context, both cultures would describe each others music as being new music.

If we are to consider the history of western music from the Middle Ages through to the Twentieth Century, the evolution of style and theory defined what new music is. Each era of music presented a different idea of music, or at least different theories of music which affected the way music was composed. But the question is: was the music new or different as it evolved through the ages – or what adjective tagged that kind of music?

Madrigals were new in their time; fugues were new in their time; sonata’s were new in their time, programme music was new in it’s time; Rhapsodies, Impromptus, etc. right down to rock, pop and so on are all new ways of writing music. If a composer of our present era composes a masterpiece in the style of Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Bach, Palestrina, Guillame de Machaut or whoever, will his music be described as old music, unoriginal music or boring music?

A composition; once original is new music because it hasn’t been heard before. Music that makes use of ethnic concepts is not necessarily new: it merely sounds different so it makes it interesting. Now it would seem that new music is only dictated by form, which is not entirely false because, each musical era presented a different approach to writing music, e.g. Nationalism, Impressionism, Atonality, etc. All these concepts brought about new ways of writing music, but the music in itself was not a new creations. An illustration of the notion of different and new music is found in the instance where Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is written in the style of pop music with drum set and bass guitars and so on. The music is not new but the presentation is different and interesting.

So in the end do we describe music as interesting or boring, new or old, good or bad? What are we really looking for when we say we want to write new music. Are we waiting to re-conceptualize new theories like atonality, polytonality, fugato, pentanatas and so on, before we decide that new music is born?

In Africa, music is heavily contextual; that is, we have music for each social activity (birth, death, puberty rites, marriage, entertainment, etc) so it is not so much the idea of creating new music, but creating music to serve the purpose or fit the instance. Since the African conception of arts and music varies from the Western or Eastern concepts, it would be difficult to conclude or agree on an exact and encompassing definition of new music.

One thing though that we can be sure of is to find music that is appreciated everywhere either as good music or bad music. If music is good, it would break cultural barriers to be accepted everywhere. It would not depend on its being new or old, at least not entirely.