Michael Blake’s importance as a South African composer derives from a number of factors. His music is representative of an experimental/minimalist aesthetic that found early expression in the music of the internationally celebrated South African composer Kevin Volans, and of which Blake is now (and has been for a considerable time) the foremost South African exponent. He has consistently probed the connections between experimentalism as a tradition, minimalism and African structures, rhythms and pitch material. Among the many composers who have ventured along this path since the late 1970s, Blake’s interest in these connections counts as among the most sustained, compelling and sophisticated. In the Cambridge History of Twentieth-century Music, Martin Scherzinger described this music as ‘understated translations of African music into Western idioms [that] deftly negotiate the borderline between quotation and abstraction, and, in the process interrogate the opposition between the two’. Blake has now produced work in every medium – stage, orchestral, chamber, keyboard, instrumental and vocal (solo and choral). He has worked in film and dance and in 2009 he completed the draft of an Afrikaans digital opera in seven scenes, Searching for Salome, based on Etienne Leroux’s 1962 novel Sewe Dae by die Silbersteins.

Blake has, since his return to South Africa in 1997 after a prolonged stay in the UK, become the most important single organizational figure in shaping the future of New Music in South Africa. This he has done by the creation of NewMusicSA, a South African section of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1999, the organization of the annual NewMusic Indaba (New Music Festivals) and the launch of the NewMusicSA Bulletin, an annual publication dedicated to writing about New Music in South Africa. He has also, through the composition workshops connected to the NewMusic Indaba, contributed significantly to renewing international links with the international New Music fraternity and to acknowledging and institutionally giving recognition to Black choral music as a serious contemporary compositional practice. His contribution in this regard is nothing short of visionary.

Dr. Blake has been commissioned by prominent international ensembles and his music has received significant international premiers. Most notably, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet recently commissioned his String Quartet No 4, extending a long creative relationship between this highly regarded quartet and the composer. Important CD recordings of his music include the Complete Solo Piano Music of Michael Blake 1994-2004 (recorded by Jill Richards) and the String Quartet No. 3 by the Nightingale String Quartet on the Bow Project CD (2010). The latter deserves special mention, because it illustrates the importance of Blake’s contribution to the future of New Music in South Africa. Initiated in 1999, the Bow Project aimed to give up to twenty composers an opportunity to study, reimagining and recompose music from the recorded performances of the Xhosa bow player Nofinishi Dywili. As a musical vision of how South African composition could evolve as an indigenous practice, this project has few if any rivals. It constitutes an audacious collective aesthetic experiment that produced remarkable music.

Although first and foremost a composer, Michael Blake has published important academic writing in reputable journals. This includes publications in accredited journals like SAMUS (South African Music Studies) and the international journals Fontes Artis Musicae and Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.



  Blake Seminar 29 October 2011 - Jannasch Hall - Konservatorium
  9:00 Stephanus Muller Miniature blueprints, spider stratagems: a Michael Blake retrospective at 60  
  9:40 Jean-Pierre de la Porte Permeability, Power and Scale: Michael Blake’s Small Worlds  
  10:20 George King Toxic Triads, or Breaking Through to Composition: Michael Blake and Composition Studies at Unisa  
  11:00 Tea/Coffee  
  11:30 Christine Lucia This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  
  12:10 Paul Hanmer Michael Blake, composer and instructor  
  12:50 Aryan Kaganof Film Premiere: ‘Carpet of Memory’ by Aryan Kaganof
Collaboration and Creativity, and the Nature of the Creative Process
  13:30 Closing Statement and thanks (Mareli Stolp, on behalf of DOMUS)  

John Cage 100th birthday: Recital by Michael Blake here.

CD release or works of Michael Blake here.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 August 2012 )
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