Kris Peysen      Composer, Arranger, Teacher

Hello. Welcome to my website! I thought I’d take this section to introduce you a little to myself, and talk a little bit about my composing philosophy, aesthetics, and overall compositional process. So, if you’re interested in any of that, do keep reading.


I suppose the most basic question one could ask me is “why compose?” Well, there’s not exactly an easy answer to that question. I’ve always enjoyed and have been moved by music, and it eventually came to a point where I wanted to add to what’s out there and create some music of my own. Now, it’s as much a need as a want. It’s become too fulfilling to NOT do anymore. To stop now would be a type of emotional suicide. 

Another question one might ask is do I have any “goal” or “goals” when I’m composing. Well, for each piece, there’s usually one or more things I am working on in regards to technique. However, in a more broad sense, the answer is simple: I write the music I want to hear. Each piece is different, of course, and I may be working on more specific things in each, but that one fundamental stays the same. In other words, I am NOT trying to develop some new language for future generations. I am NOT necessarily trying to bring something new to the music world in the 21st century. I do believe, however, that if I am true to myself and my own ideas, that second bit will take care of itself. I am also NOT composing for some target audience – other than myself, that is. The hope is that other people will like what I like. 

Within each piece, of course, I may be working on more specific things, or working on strengthening certain aspects of my style. But I still have to LIKE it. I don’t think it would actually be possible for me to write a piece that I don’t like – at least at the time I’m writing it. Being critical later is a separate issue (and fundamental to further growth).

Aesthetics

I suppose if I had to place myself in some kind camp, I’d loosely put myself in the “neo-Romantic” group. In other words, I DO still believe in melody. I DO still believe in harmony. I DO believe in form, climaxes, resolutions, and most of those other things that are traditionally associated with tonal music. In that sense you could say I’m more of a traditionalist than some other composers active today. However, I’d hesitate to go too far with that definition, as it’s lately been coming to my attention that I may be less traditional than I may have once thought. I suppose then I’ll leave this particular issue to the listener to decide.

In terms of pitch, I’d say I’m predominately a tonal composer. However, I say “tonal” in the more modern sense of “having a central pitch (or pitches) in some fashion” as opposed to the more rigid structure of Common Practice tonality. If you were to use that second definition, then I would largely NOT be a tonal composer. I write a lot of what I call “hybrid chords” – i.e. a normal triad combined with, perhaps, a root and fifth of a different chord, or some seconds thrown in, or a further stacking of fourths or fifths. I also write a fair deal of quartal/quintal harmonies, as well as pandiatonically inspired chords or chords derived from some other kind of pitch collection. In this way I can get chords that “function” in several ways at once, and I think this is the primary appeal of writing such chords. This generally makes elements such as voice leading more challenging, because the solution isn’t so obvious. I often spend quite a bit of time tweaking harmony in my pieces. The end result, however, is, I think, a very rich harmonic language. Everything usually still “functions,” just not in a way you would normally expect.

As far as influences go, I’d say that if I had to pick a composer who has influenced me more than any other, it would probably be Stravinsky. If you know much about his music, then you may be able to infer certain things about my music based on that comparison, and you’d likely be right on most of them. The first obvious similarity (if I may be so bold) is my rhythmic language. I write lots of changing meters, and can have some pretty complicated rhythms. While a few of my pieces are “tamer” in regards to rhythm, the majority of them are pretty active in that regard. However, I don’t really “try” to be rhythmically complicated when I write; for the most part, it simply comes naturally. This no doubt has been affected by what I’ve listened to, in the past and more recently.

I also pay quite a bit of attention to form. I try to be creative in my formal constructions and to take surprising turns within a piece, while still maintaining internal consistency and establishing a coherent narrative. This can be quite tricky, but I think I am usually able to pull it off. All my pieces are “through-composed” in some fashion; they may at times take more standard forms as a framework, but they quickly go beyond that. I also try to make each piece have a different form than anything I’ve written previously. I may not be able to maintain that goal in the long run, but so far I’ve managed to pull it off.

In terms of orchestration, I try to treat each instrument as equally as I can. I try to avoid locking instruments into predefined “roles” or functions within a piece – the specifics will vary from ensemble to ensemble, but for the most part I am able to have each instrument “hop around” between various levels of importance and function.

On “Inspiration”

Lay listeners in particular often seem very interested in where a composer gets his inspiration for a piece from. I know of numerous composers who say they’ve gotten inspiration for a piece from some extra-musical source – i.e. a painting, a poem, some “event” that perhaps happened in their life, or something along those lines. For them, things such as that can provide the “spark” from which a piece can begin to form, and they take it from there.

As I’ve written more and more, it’s been increasingly apparent to me that I am not one of those composers. I do get inspiration for my music, but my sources for such inspiration are purely musical in nature. I can’t see how something from another art form (i.e. a painting, poem, book, etc.) could somehow have its essence “translated” into music. For me, music is its own entity, with its own rules, forms of behavior, and means of expression. It is, in many ways, the art form that is the least explainable. As such, I always feel I should approach it on its own terms, without any outside “baggage” that might confuse and muddle the entire undertaking.

(Caveat: I am of course speaking of purely instrumental music. Vocal and choral music that sets a text obviously requires a certain amount of “bridging” between the two genres.)

As for what I may hear from other music that inspires me, it can be anything and everything. It might be a specific melody, a motive, a harmonic progression, a texture, or some rhythmic idea. It can even be something more vague like a particular formal construction that strikes me, or some other “meta” element of a piece that I find interesting. Generally though, if it’s something that I either like a great deal or find particularly inspired or interesting, it’ll eventually find its way into my music in some fashion.

Sometimes the process is very overt. I may “model” a certain motive, progression, or other idea off of something specific I’ve heard in another piece. Sometimes I may even structure a significant portion of a piece around a specific quote. Other times I’m only aware of any such “connection” after the fact – this may lead one to suspect whether such a connection really exists, but when I recognize it, it always seems obvious.

I don’t feel I’m being “unoriginal” or somehow insincere by taking this approach. As Stravinsky once said, “Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.” No art exists in a vacuum. All artists are affected by the art that comes before them and what they are exposed to, whether they admit it or not. What’s important is where you choose to go with the material selected. In my cases, the pieces are definitely still “mine” based on the directions I go with some of the pre-selected material. It’s really more of an issue of giving me something to start with, and then developing the piece from there.

As for the “sources” of such musical inspiration, they really can be everything. Sometimes it’s a concert music piece (new or old – doesn’t matter), sometimes it’s from a band that I like, sometimes it can be from a pop song or something I hear in passing; it can even be from a movie or game. It all goes in one way, and how it all will eventually come out is anyone’s guess. In particular though, I know some of my favorite composers (the ones I listen to a lot) have had an enormous effect on my output. In addition to classical music, I also listen to a lot of progressive rock, and this also has undoubtedly had an effect on my music.