Raffaele Marcellino on Composition – In Conversation With…
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Raffaele Marcellino on Composition – In Conversation With…

August 25, 2019


My name is Raffaele Marcellino, also known
as Raf, Ray, it’s been a long career of balancing composition and education, mainly.
And.. it’s a tonic that I can’t do without. When it comes to the process of composition,
it’s a bit like George Bernard Shaw, the golden rule is there’s no golden rule. You
develop technique, and being trained in the conservatoire tradition, there was always
an importance to develop technique so that when you define a compositional problem you
can actually tackle it in a systematic way. Sometimes, composers can get too systematic,
I’m not big on holding to systems, you know we all, we all tried twelve tone music and
serialism and we got over it, most of us – I did but there is something around having
the right technique – one, you don’t get writer’s block, there’s always a way of
writing your way out of any, any challenge, problem, the way you define it, but um, [it
is according to the, each context.] What’s more important for me is how I derive meaning
in the particular piece, rather than a system. I’ve learned to be more reflective but productively
critical, because that’s an impetus to keep writing, um, you think did I capture what
I was intending, did it work for me, if it didn’t the answer was ‘write more’.
It’s important you do reflect on that. Sometimes even disasters, there are some pieces I had
that I just consider absolute dogs but I keep them where i can see them because you’ve
got to be reminded of that, that’s where I learned, that the failures of some ambitious
pieces, there was an orchestral piece I was working on once, it’s intention was interesting,
but the execution just fell over for a range of reasons, and sometimes it’s the thing
about letting the demons get a hold of you, you sit down there and you’re thinking I’ve
gotta write this, this has to be a fantastic piece of music rather than being true to what
the music is supposed to be and then that distorts it, so it’s not as satisfying as
it should have been. I’m inspired primarily by literature. It’s
one of the biggest drivers for me, so it’s either literature or mythology, so mythology
usually finds it voice through literature, very strong. Early in my career encountered
semiotics, so Umberto Eco, french writers, it was the 80s, you know, that’s when they
made up postmodernism, and it’s something that’s stayed as a theme throughout my entire
career. I suppose it’s been a long journey to find
style, one, a composer’s style is, you know, a bit like culture, it’s how you do things,
so… I went to a composition school, Sydney Conservatorium, where there was more emphasis
on us embarking on that straight away, and in fact it was very explicit that people like
Graham Hair were less, uh, concerned with us imitating other writers, there weren’t
exercises where we imated other people, the same [with] Richard Vella, Bozidar Kos,
Gillian Whitehead, Martin Wesley-Smith – so we had this very diverse group of composers
as role models, so there was this idea that you try to find your voice. Y’know, when
I was there there was a big interest in European music among some of us, people like, uh, Fernyhough
and, Donatoni, Scelsi, this was something that was sort of fascinating to us. Graham
brought more of the US, same with Richard, more US influence. So we had the benefit of
Australia being a bit of a melting pot, so, for style you write, and then you keep writing,
and you reflect back on it and then you say um, ah, oh that’s a style, so it’s a bit
like a career, it’s not something you plan, it’s something when you look back over and
say – “that’s my style.”

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