DNA of music and why there is no right, nor wrong, but only sound.

Don’t you find it amazing, that you always recognize the composer when you play music? Like every composer puts his own DNA in every score?

Is it really that simple?

There is always that ‘one thing’ that gives away who wrote a piece. Often people think the orchestration gives the composer away, but that is not the most important ingredient of a composition. It’s the DNA. You recognize the DNA of a composers work, even his whole oeuvre. The orchestration is only a fingerprint, defined by the DNA of the composer.

DNA in music?

The DNA of a piece is the few notes and the short rhythm on which the whole piece is based. Think about Beethoven 5th’ ta-ta-ta-daah’. You just added the rhythm singing it, didn’t you? You found the DNA of the composition. And guess what? The recognizable key-notes, the chords, the lines, the silences….they all come from this DNA.

When you can recognize the DNA, you can see the structure of a composition. Where and how the DNA or its’ mutations show up, gives away the structure in which the composition has been written. Do you find the exact DNA copied every 4 bars, you are looking at a traditional composition. When you find the DNA every 7 and 5 bars, you are looking at my work. When you find mutated DNA every bar-number that represents a Fibonacci-number, you are looking at ‘David’ from Stephen Melillo.

There are levels of sophistication, using DNA in a composition.

Earlier work has the composers DNA, future work will have this DNA. So, the DNA doesn’t only make up this one composition, but a whole series of compositions: The oeuvre. This explains why composers can compose new work without loosing the connection to earlier work. We recognize past, present and future compositions as work from a certain composer, because of its DNA.

To explain better why composers sound differently, besides DNA (nature), I also add personal history (nurture) to the mix. Because your personal history makes up for your personality as much as does your’ DNA.

Composers can reuse their DNA and rewrite it into a new composition: ‘The composition they are today’. So, now, when I hear the sound of ‘David’ in Stephen Melillo’s newer work, I think:

I can hear the nature of his music and the nurture of this piece.

I tested this having a few of my pieces played during a week at the music-academy Marktoberdorf. The compositions ( Sergeant Stubby, Willem de Zwijger and Thaleia) are all based upon my ‘heroic DNA’, but sound different because each time I applied to the new composition what I learned from the earlier one (my nurture). And yes, that worked perfectly: It is possible to design compositions in a way that they differ, but still are recognizable for everybody as ‘Anneloes’. It is my DNA after all…

Nurture and nature sound in my music

This got me thinking about the importance of my ‘old’ work and music that didn’t make it into a composition at all. You see, these musical ideas are all part of my personal history (nurture). The fact that you don’t hear them out loud, doesn’t mean they do not exist.

Be kind towards everything you wrote, it defines your future work

My teacher Thomas Trachsel told me keep track of any ‘old’ musical idea that did not make it into a composition. And he was right to do so: The reflection of my ‘old’ musical ideas, will always sound in my new music because they are my ‘nurture’.

Let me explain that in more detail:

When I feel that I hear myself in my music, it is important for me to realize that all of my ‘old’ music is part of me-today. These ‘old’ ideas are part of my personal history (nurture) and my nurture defines my today-‘me’ writing today-music sounding like ‘today-me’. So, even though my DNA doesn’t change, my music will because I subconsciously I will use all of my ‘old’ work in my present composition, because they are part of my personal history: my nurture.

“Composing is the art of what not to write”

Now, let’s think about what happens when a composer decides not to use a musical idea. What you hear in their compositions?

You never hear these musical ideas out loud, but you hear them resonating, consciously not being used. So I better call this ‘old’ work ‘negative compositions’: It’s all the musical ideas I decided not to write into a composition. But since they are part of my nurture, they help form my newest composition and will sound in a ‘negative’ way.

These are the mistakes you didn’t make”

I will conclude with the freeing notion that all your musical ideas are not right, nor wrong, they are just sound you designed for your future compositions. Even when you decide not to use them. My newest composition wouldn’t even emerge, without the ‘not-used-musical-ideas’ I had in the past. So:

“There is no wrong, there is no right, there is only sound.” (Peter Habraken)

And yes, DNA, it is really that simple.

By Anneloes Wolters