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Reflections on the Spectrum

When asked to discuss their work, a composer will often feel a shudder down their spine. This is made all the more awkward, when I have made quite an intriguing life out of interviewing (or interrogating) composers about this same very question. The question is probably quite so baffling for a composer because our living is spent almost as a double life. Living with a piece until it is fully grown, but never really hearing it alive. Then the other half is hearing pieces or musical ideas from our past. Almost like Scrooge’s infamous Christmas visitings, these spectres haunt us and remind us of what we were. Alternatively, it may just be because, composers like myself just simply prefer listening to music that is not our own.

But I am merely pondering now. If I were to describe myself as a composer, I think all I can is point towards my past and growth as a person; to try and make sense of it. My musical journey has definitely been an odd adventure. My composition studies started in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where I had the sheer joy of studying with Peter Reynolds. Obviously, I had the joy of working with the other teachers in the department, but Peter was a particularly strong influence on me. A Freudian would likely point to Peter’s habits of never talking about his own music has also been a habit I picked up from him. I digress again. During my time in RWCMD, I became susceptible to multiple extremely strong and intriguing voices. Jonathan Harvey, Horaţiu Rădulescu, Georges Bataille, and the Baltic. The Baltic is not a singular mass, but it is a strong influence on me indeed. What I admired about all of these people/countries was the fact they simply stand in a curious and nuanced position, for many various reasons, which is an extremely admirable thing considering humanity’s demand for conformity and uniformity.

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After my years of study in RWCMD, I had ventured east. Studying with the remarkable composer, Marius Baranauskas. While in Vilnius, I was forced to do a lot of soul searching, either because of being significantly older than when I was a wee pup starting out, but also because moving to a new country does make you highlight various things about yourself you did not realise or had not attempted to address. Firstly, it was surreal to discover what elements of my character were very British. That was a shock to my system. The second, and probably most significant, was realising how Autistic I actually am. Having been diagnosed rather young, and gaining a lot of support, and having a rather formidable mother; I was able to adapt to the world – simply because the world is not Autistic friendly. So, for years, I was able to grown and adapt and overcome everything, to the point where I could almost pass for human. But when you move abroad, and no longer have the strategies to cope the little niggles and flickers of Autism coming roaring to the fore. What highlighted this for me, was the fact my ability to understand Lithuanian grew astonishingly quickly, to the point where I can read and listen fluently; but my ability to speak was still hindered. To this day I still speak like a child. What I had discovered, without the familiarity of my native language, I had lost the ability to adapt, and my fear of communication came to the fore.

Ultimately, what this has meant is it has forced me to address something, that I few years ago I desperately wanted to avoid. Being an ‘Autistic Composer’. I had avoided this for so long, namely because I am strongly aware of Britain’s need to pigeon-hole everything, so I never wanted to be labelled as such; and I also never wanted to ‘achieve’ success due to being the token Autistic/disabled individual. But having to address this head on in recent years, has allowed me to view it in a new light. The thing I ultimately discovered, was the simple fact there are not any historic autistic composers (what I ultimately mean, is composers of the past may have been Autistic but were never diagnosed and historic diagnosis realistically serves to romanticise Autism). Whereas women, POC, and LGBTQ+ composers had their history stolen either through simply being ignored, or through more horrific instances; the Autistic community do not need to remedy vicious acts from the past, but however have the opportunity to invent what it means to be an Autistic composer. Which is probably the greatest liberation I have found in my creative life so far.

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My music simply is, its hard to describe what I am doing, because the notes are there due to the necessity the music demands of it. I have no illusions of control over the music, so I simply allow it to be. Alongside my work as composer, I have done everything I can to celebrate and discuss things I greatly admire having been writing a blog on Baltic composers, as well as writing singular articles for magazines, journals, and conferences discussing many elements from composition and disability, female composers in the Baltic, Rădulescu’s piano concerto ‘The Quest’, or my love of Jonathan Harvey. Beyond this, I was fortunate enough to recently be appointed ‘Trainee Artistic Director’ of the Hebrides Ensemble, so that will open up some very interesting results in the coming months. So who knows what the future holds. All I know is I am an Autistic composer.

–  Ben Lunn

Check out more of Ben’s work…

Soundcloud – www.soundcloud.com/benlunnmusic

Blog – www.balticgems.blogspot.com

Website – www.benlunncomposer.tumblr.com

Twitter & Facebook

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