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Free Music

PERCYALDRI DGEGRAINGER
Music is an art not yet grown up; its condi tion is comparable to that stage of
Egyptian bas-reliefs when the head and legs were shown in profile while the torso appeared
‘front face’ – the stage of development in which the myriad irregular suggestions of nature
can only be taken up in regularized or conventionalized forms. With Free Music we
enter the phase of technical maturity such as that enjoyed by the Greek sculptures when all
aspects and attitudes of the human body could be shown in arrested movement. Existing
conventional music (whether ‘classi cal’ of popular) is tied down by set scales, a tyrannical
(whether metrical or irregular) rhythmic pulse that holds the whole tonal fabric in a vice-
like grasp and a set of harmonic pro cedures (whether key-bound or atonal) that are merely
habits, and certainly do not deserve to be called laws. Many composers have loosened, here and
there, the cords that tie music down. Cyril Scott and Duke Ellington indulge in slid ing tones :
Arthur Fickenscher and others use intervals closer than the half tone; Cyril Scott
(following my lead) writes very irregular rhythms that have been echoed, on the European
continent, by Stravinsky, Hindemith, and others. Schonberg has liberated us from the tyranny
of conventional harmony. But no non-Australian composer has been willing to combine all these
innovations into a consistent whole that can be called Free Music.

It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying and yet not be able to execute tonal glides
and curves - just as absurd as it would be to have to paint a portrait in little squares (as in
the case of mosaic) and not be able to use every type of curved lines. If, in the theatre, several
actors (on the stage together) had to continually move in a set metrical relation to one another
(to be incapable of individualistic, independent movement) we would think it ridiculous; yet
this absurd goose-stepping still persists in music. Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and
tones; yet we are unable to take up these beau ties and expressiveness into the art of music because
of our archaic notions of harmony.

Personally I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of eleven or twelve in Auburn,
Melbourne. It is my only important contribution to music. My impression is that this world of tonal
freedom was suggested to me by wave-movements in the sea that I first observed as a young child
at Brighton, Victoria, and Albert Park, Melbourne. Yet the matter of Free Music is hardly a personal
one. If I do not write it someone else certainly will, for it is the goal that all music is clearly heading
for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically
suitable to a scientific age. The first time an example of my Free Music was performed on man-
played instruments was when Percy Code conducted it (most skilfully and sympathetically) at
one of my Melbourne broadcasting lectures for the Australian Broad casting Commission, in
January, 1935. But Free Music demands a non-human performance. Like most true
music, it is an emotional, not a cerebral, product and should pass direct from the imagination
of the composer to the ear of the listener by way of delicately controlled musical
machines. Too long has music been subject to the limitations of the human hand, and
subject to the interfering interpretations of a middle-man: the performer. A composer
wants to speak to his public direct. Machines (if properly constructed and properly written
for) are capable of niceties of emotional expres sion impossible to a human performer. That is
why I write my Free Music for Theremins - the most perfect tonal instruments I know. In
the original scores each voice (both on the pitch-staves and on the sound-strength staves) is
written in its own specially coloured ink, so that the voices are easily distinguishable, one from
the other.

Grainger’s Statement on Free Music, 6 December 1938 in exhibition case it the Grainger
Museum, University of Melbourne, Australia, reproduced by kind permission of Mrs Ella
Grainger and the Curator