Muse as Music by Tip Corbett

Tip Corbett embraces the fluid nature of the virtual world in his art. Further, he shares how he fuses his virtual and real life careers. Improvisational music is as fresh for the artist as for the listener, reaching both audiences.

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Music as Muse by Tip Corbett

Although music has always been my first love, after about a decade of working in it professionally, I decided to get an engineering degree to augment my income. With this, I worked at Boeing for about eight years, until 2004. At that time, I made the decision to quit the job because I did not have enough time to focus on my music. Now I work as a church organist and music director near Portland, Maine. Although Maine is rather conservative—musically speaking—this is a vacation area, and tourism tends to govern musical tastes. Boston, with an audience more open to contemporary classical music, is just a few hours away.

I first heard about SL from a music professor when I attended Boston University in 2006, and joined SL a year after that. Soon I saw the possibilities inherent in SL for putting on concerts. I have done about 500 online concerts in SL—which would have been very impractical in real life. This has been a matchless opportunity to cut my teeth as a performer. Virtual performance is very different from the real life variety: you can stay at home in your PJ’s, but you also have have to contend with the vagaries of computers. Oftentimes, the latter is my biggest challenge in virtual performing.

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SL audiences tend to be more open- minded than real life ones, and a career in real life takes much longer to build. Here in SL, I came in-world, got an agent, made some initial contacts, and within two days, was performing. How- ever, building a good audience in SL does take momentum. I was more involved in performing here before I lost my agent. I’m doing my own bookings now, and being busier performing in real life, I do fewer gigs online. I used to play here twice a week; now I play about once a month.

In SL, some performers want to maintain their anonymity. But for me, a transparent identity in music matters, because there really is no difference professionally between an SL career and a real life one.

Musicians new to virtual performance should be certain of their technical setup before they begin performing. I practiced streaming for about two months before I felt confident enough to perform in SL. New performers should make the acquaintance of experienced performers here for all sorts of technical advice—key short- cuts, creating boards for PR, etc. Getting an agent in SL is also a good idea, though there are fewer than there used to be.

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I first developed my improvisations as an outgrowth of my written work (I’m finishing an orchestral work for CRS Recordings right now). To some extent, I need improv in my life because I write music VERY slowly. So I created written templates which allow me to do ‘randomized sight- reading’—to hop around the written page improvising, which results in a disciplined/ structured form of improv. Because I have composed a lot of works which are written-out, my improvisations end up treading a delicate balance between formal discipline and freedom.

The composers Ravel and Scriabin are my two biggest improv influences. An ongoing goal is to develop the ability to improvise more and more in their styles. I have also developed my own playing style as well, one I call “compositional improvisation.”

An interesting fact about music from about a hundred years ago is that it was, in general, more dissonant. People back then also had a greater tolerance for dissonance. So the contemporary lack of tolerance for dissonant harmony is actually one of my biggest challenges as a performer/composer—getting people to listen to my more dissonant sound.

I also derive inspiration from other forms of music. I actually listen to more pop music these days than contemporary classical— in many ways I think it’s a more honest expression of the times. However, that does not stop me from developing contemporary classical music, as that is my skill.

I support the growth of contemporary classical music in SL and in real life, more and more utilizing non- traditional means like compositional improvisation. With about 10,000 classical composers writing for an audience of about the same number of people, there has to be a better way to share our music!

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My performing career helps to balance my compositional career. I could write without improvising, but performing helps free my mind, musically speaking. Since I am a slow worker, creating so much music on-the-fly loosens up my writing. As I perform more, I am starting to improvise out beyond the templates. As I mentioned before, improv has a structure, but is also based in the moment. Each performance is different. Though there is a dynamic inter- play between writing and per- forming, in many ways they are removed from one another: one is a release from the other rather than an inspiration. In a sense I improvise backwards—I work from already written/composed themes, and improvise from there. How much I vary individual performances does depend on the moment. For example, I decided to do two improvs on the tune “Simple Gifts” during a recent performance rather than one, and I had to vary the two interpretations because of that—dig a little deeper for variety.

SL for me exists mostly as a venue to perform in, and hear other live musicians. I think this will be one of its greatest legacies. With bandwidths greater than they were ten years ago, things like Livestream now exist, with the ability to share live performances via video, and this will eventually draw more and more live musicians. But I think SL will always have a place for musicians— after all, the technical setup is less complex than that of online video performance. —Tip Corbett, http://composerimprov.com

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