About this site

This site contains my composition notebooks, the first few volumes in part, and as a complete record from 25 March 2019 onwards. I am a composer, performer and artist, currently (2021) working towards my PhD in interdisciplinary composition. My research questions the division of private and public in the generative creative spaces of notebook and studio, and is being undertaken through practice-based research.

This site is the result of an extended research experiment which began with the question ‘what if I published my notebooks online?’. The full details of the steps this question took me through, which evolved how I work in my notebooks so as to be suitable as a simultaneously private and public practice, is published in ‘As If Unobserved: Experiments toward a publicly visible composition practice’, but in brief, simply asking the question revealed unexpected problems with my practice as it existed at the start of this project. In addressing these problems, I changed how I worked several times, resulting in three distinct approaches as well as a host of smaller changes.

I work mainly through writing, but also with drawing and embodied performance and improvisation, and these approaches have been consistent throughout. The three main approaches are:

  1. Principally working in longhand, legible writing. These books are not represented in this collection due principally to issues surrounding the privacy of other people .
  2. Working in altered books, starting to work with illegible ‘overwriting’, increasingly working with drawing in combination with writing. Copyright issues mean that these volumes are only partially represented in this collection, with pages that show significant amounts of legible content from the original volume being omitted.
  3. A hybrid diary format using overwriting, annotations, drawing, collage, and positioning composition activity within the context of my everyday life. These books are my day-to-day working diaries and are represented in full here. Monthly calendars and weekly planner pages have been obscured as they add little information in this context, but their inclusion in the books helps me plan my work and use initials only in place of names in the daily entries. Some content has been obscured where it is not relevant to the context and either portrays people who may not have given their consent to be included in this project, or is the result of an oversight (e.g. forgetting to use just initials and instead using someone’s name).

Why publish at all?

The first reason is educational.

As an undergraduate composer I had little understanding of what was a ‘normal’ composition practice. I suffered from imposter syndrome because I constantly felt that what I read in composer interviews and biographies did not in any way resemble the fits and starts of my own practice. It took me many years to realise that, firstly, every composer’s practice will be different – some will write quickly, easily and prolifically, while others will struggle and produce pieces only occasionally. Neither is better than the other, and being more on the latter end of the scale, I felt it was important that there be some way that emerging composers can see a professional practice that often does not flow easily, that squeezes into gaps between travel and family commitments, that sits alongside reminders to “tidy something/clean something” and recurringly-not-completed tasks. I don’t set this up as a model of a practice, as something to aspire to, but as something that demonstrates that a cobbled-together mess of a practice can still be the practice of a professional composer.

The other reason is political.

Classical composition continues to struggle with issues of diversity and with undervaluing of the activity of composition (e.g. being asked to work for free), and I feel that understanding how composition fits into everyday life, and particularly the aspect of time – how long a piece takes to create, how the ideas slot in around everything else that goes on – can play an important role in starting to address these issues. I present these notebooks as a case study of how these things work for one composer. I feel that my situation is closer to the ‘privileged’ and ‘time-rich’ end of the spectrum. I juggle composing with the demands of multiple ‘day jobs’, performing work, teaching, working towards my PhD; I have health issues I need to manage – but I don’t have children, I don’t have relations I’m caring for, I don’t have to allot mental space and energy to deal with racism, for example, in my daily life. If it takes me, with my relative privilege, on average 8 or 9 months to complete a 10-minute piece, how much harder is it likely to be for someone who is not so privileged, and who has even greater demands on their time? I don’t claim that this site will answer any great questions in this matter, or for that matter will prompt any great changes – I see it as simply making material available that perhaps might prompt discussions, or at least allow more people to understand how a composer works, not in terms of how they put sounds together, but in terms of how they assemble their life and career.

Caitlin Rowley
July 2020, rev. August 2021