top of page


Instrumentation: piano, percussion ensemble, speakers x 3

Never Mind is the piece that fills me with the most regret for not having been performed.

This one was personal. Following an aborted total disaster of an attempt to write a piece called Silencio that failed fantastically in every conceivable way, two-and-half a weeks out from the deadline for my undergraduate degree final composition portfolio, I conceived of this piece in its entirety as I sat staring into space in Costa Coffee in a moment of desperation.

The lesson to write about something that you actually care about rather than something that meets requirements is one that has to be learned repeatedly. I had, and continue to have, a strange vendetta against self-help books that I still lack the language and understanding to contextualise properly. It’s a language issue, something about the lack of a concrete set of principles or beliefs on which the claims and advice given out in self-help books can be measured against. I believed if I looked hard enough, I could find, for every single piece of classic self-help quip and axiom, a complementary axiom of advice that advised the complete opposite.

As suspected, I was not wrong. Research for the piece was cause for great hilarity—I started by foraging for advice on what happiness ‘is’ (a shaky premise to start with), and can advise you variously that:

  • Our relationships with other people are the most important thing for our happiness.

  • If you want to be happy, tie it to a goal, not to people of objects.

The astute will note that these two things are contradictory. They mean the exact opposite. How can happiness be both about depending on people and not caring about people? It can’t. Obviously. There’s my point—these things aren’t the result of deduction, or, indeed, of a thought process, but rather of whatever appeals to the writer as loosely positive in the moment, and that’s really fucking irritating. They're not intended to be statements of fact or maintain their validity under scrutiny. Nobody fact checks these people, nobody challenges them. Put the architects of these words of wisdom into a room together and no debate will take place; neither will be willing or equipped to defend their position, rather that commitment they assured you they had in abundance enough to feel themselves qualified to ADVISE YOU UNSOLICITED ON HOW TO LIVE YOUR LIFE will dissolve upon contact with air. Whatever, man, is the defence (these people also usually appeal to quantum physics to wriggle out of a scholarly sticky situation— ‘I'm not wrong because the universe etc.’).

How can you possess self-confidence in such inexhaustible quantities that you don’t feel it necessary even to check that what you are saying makes any sense before you deem yourself qualified to tell people you’ve never met how to live their lives? I’m straw-manning, sure, but remember that nobody is stopping anyone from asserting this stuff with full confidence. The mind boggles. I've spent a very long time agonising over this thing that no one will read to make sure it’s funny enough.

But so to my solution. To lampoon these people and put them in their place in a way that compel them to reconsider their lives, I decided to write a piece of experimental music that nobody beyond the person who marked it would ever even know exists. Take that, Tony Robbins. The idea was that I would have three speakers to whom I would distribute my catalogue of collected self-help wisdom, with the rule being that every quote would have to totally negate the one that preceded it. The depressing thing is that this was not hard to do at all. I repeat, and I absolutely stand by this: for any piece of self-help advice you can find, a different self-help author somewhere, at some time, has advised the exact opposite, and nobody except me has noticed this. Why am I not being paid?

Naturally, the maddening character of this idea had to be captured in music. The piano is where the real music happens. Each time a new speaker contradicts the last, the piano abruptly changes character, and being forced to imagine ever-varying ways of achieving this gave me a lot of creative freedom. I created a kind of compositional scheme using a hexachord matrix, but, pressed for time, I didn’t use it in any rigorous way, and instead invoked Varèse in the attached commentary to give myself dubious and convoluted permission, essentially, to do what I liked. I did use the all-trichord hexachord, which I only partly understood and haven’t had occasion to return to since, somewhat effectively, essentially as a means of ‘modulating’ to different pitch centres. The important thing is that the piano writing is fairly robust. I imagine a pianist would have a fairly good time with it.

The algorithmic thing I did in Variations and later on steroids in By Degrees is the means by which the piece proceeds. A lot of listening is required, as the score is rich in instructions of the ‘once this happens, go to this bit’ variety. The percussion section, meanwhile, is the glue that binds these disparate parts. I had a longstanding desire to correct the things that didn’t work in No, Luke, and I recognised that this was that opportunity. The score would, I believe, be very fun to play, and would be accessible to non-musicians could be another draw of the piece. Another lone percussionist strikes a chime at a regular pulse throughout the entirety of the piece.

One of the things that most pleases me about this piece is that I did not content myself with my clever premise. I could have lampooned self-help writers and gave myself a pat on the back for doing so, but, in the final section of the piece, I took aim at people like me who want to ruin everyone’s fun. The ‘character’ of the piece that each of the three speakers embody seeks to identify the meaning of ‘happiness’ in the first section. Having discovered the fury that this pursuit can’t but lead to, it is abandoned, and the question of, hey, what’s it all about, this happiness stuff, shouldn’t we be worrying about enjoying life instead? is asked. Yet there is no relief here, for the contradictions comes come just easily. After reaching an even greater fever pitch, finally, the correct stance is landed upon, and section three instead settles on the very idea that there is such thing as a ‘meaning’ of life is a misguided one, it’s best to believe in nothing, it’s all pointless, you—but what’s this? Could it be that there is no relief here either? Could it be that pessimism and negativity are just as shaky territories as everything that came before it? Yes, it could. You still have to decide what to do instead, and there's a-whole-nother can of pseudo-philosophical worms.

The chime player concludes the piece by uttering the piece’s title: never mind. My time conducting this research revealed this to the only reasonable response to engaging with all this stuff. A performance, I believe, would be theatrical, dramatic, and, most importantly, funny.


bottom of page