Thorne at the Stereo Society
Thorne at the Stereo Society
Sir Michael Tippett
– Mike Thorne
My CD, Sprawl, was the first I ever made as an artist, released in 1999. I have collaborated closely with many talented and adventurous people, but shied away from taking the risks that they did. People had been on my case to make an album since the late 1970s.
Finally, I had something to say. Many people gave me confidence and support, but two in particular were both public figures, mentors, teachers and friends. I was rattled when they both died within a few weeks of each other, around the beginning of 1998.
Buxton Orr taught me composition at the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama in London, part time when I was in my mid-twenties. We ‘studied together’ (that’s the phrase used) between 1972 and 1976. Always a sonic realist, he shook me awake big-time in an unforgettable lesson. I have a mathematics and physics background, and had been fascinated by composers who set up abstract systems and let the sound loose. I wrote what I thought was a musical score, probably more recognizable today as a spreadsheet, and presented it to him. I hadn’t done my homework on Mahler and Schoenberg. He looked at it and said, ‘Very pretty. But what does it sound like?’ I hadn’t a clue. Since then, the mind’s ear has guided everything. Buxton was a great teacher, and one of the most idiosyncratic figures at the Guildhall. He treated his pupils as equals who just happened to need a bit of technical development. I rarely heard his compositions, but was surprised when I did. Not put off making music, but certainly put in my place. Although not widely heard, his work is transparent and economical. I’ll get there some day.
Michael Tippett was a towering figure in music when I first met him, interviewing on behalf of the British Hi-Fi News and Record Review magazine for his seventieth birthday. I was told that he would end up interviewing me. The man was insatiably curious about everything and everyone that passed in front of him. He did, but the two-page piece I wrote could read like a lecture (user-friendly), so I presented it this way. I’m glad to transcribe and present it on our site. Meirion (Bill) Bowen, an accomplished musician in his own right and Michael’s companion for many years, wrote what I feel is the most accessible but thorough book on the composer, Michael Tippett. Although the book incorporates music notation and analysis, it transmits Michael’s passion and achievement to people who don’t read music, or even care especially for classical music. Every so often, I was startled and intimidated to be part of the world of this ‘greatest living British composer’, leading in 1988 to my contributing electronic interludes to his last opera, New Year. But Michael would put anyone at ease instantly. With genuine curiosity about what made them tick.