I found music when I was 13. Thanks to the Third Programme and the library in Bromley, which had an excellent music collection, scores as well as records. Soon I was going up to London to borrow records from the USA, French and the Polish embassies, the latter being a dark and forbidding place where they would make you sit around for a long time before an elegant but shifty woman would appear with a selection of 10 inch LP’s from the Warsaw Autumn Festivals. I recall the excitement of listening to those first pieces, especially those that I couldn’t make sense of! The very first record I bought was Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste; then Janáček began to loom large, thanks to the cheapness of Supraphon records, but Webern, Xenakis, Boulez and Varese were the central gods in my Pantheon.
Live music came from the concerts held at The Arts Council in St James Square, London. Once I remember sitting next to Elizabeth Lutyens for a performance of Quartet for the End of Time. A later formative event was the visit of Merce Cunningham and his Dance Company in 1964. These were the performances with designs by Robert Rauschenberg with John Cage and David Tudor as musicians. The classical period didn’t arrive until I had already explored early and oriental music. It doesn’t appeal to me as background music, hence I can still be confronted and overwhelmed with a live performance of a repertoire piece that I am hearing for the first time.
In 1970 I was living near Durham city when the Australian composer David Lumsdaine started to teach there. I was allowed into the Electronic Studio to play about and sometimes I was able to help, or more probably hinder David on the electronic pieces he was then writing. Yards of tape were shepherded around various microphone stands as it looped from tape deck to tape deck. I am eternally grateful for that period of access to the working methods of a real composer. Interestingly, David thought electronics enabled him to compose in a ‘painterly’ way, and although I didn’t think it equated to the painterly methods I had experienced, it did open up for me more sophisticated ways of manipulating visual material. Until then, composers had always been priests and me the acolyte, and it was with that sense of mystery and wonder that from 1966 I had started to use various techniques in my painting I had culled from music. After 1970 these more developed techniques became an integrated part of my practical everyday tool chest. This was also helped by the appearance in 1971 of two books ‘Boulez on Music Today’ and ‘Formalised Music‘ by Xenakis. I have subsequently taken a few additional ideas from the methods of music but it is this period, and these two books, that helped organise most of the technical procedures that I have used since in my painting.