Sunday, May 6, 2012

If at first you don’t succeed ...

Sure enough, after my previous post, the next page of manuscript began to bog down in a big way, suggesting that my provisional modus operandi was not, in fact, sustainable. So I went back to the drawing board, and have now revised my framework to more thoroughly scatter what's happening at the start of the piece, and let it coalesce more gradually into a semblance of orderly musical form.

In practical terms, this means painstakingly converting strings of random digits into musical bits. It's a tedious slog indeed, but it does generate a more convincing rendition of chaos than my previous, less rigorous method of throwing notes onto staves.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!

No, I haven't converted to totalitarianism, the Taliban, and/or Tea Party. Rather, while polishing the first long page of short score (or at least, a nominal first draft of it), I found myself erasing some freely added harmony tones, and replacing them with tones from the quasi-Urlinien.
Said action immediately reminded me of the ants' lament on the space shuttle (a little more than one minute into this clip):
The funny part is that when I teach composition, I encourage (nay, bludgeon) my students to create some sort of large-scale plan for the piece, so that they're never stuck wondering what comes next. I always cheerfully emphasize that if, in the act of executing the plan, one discovers more interesting implications within the material at hand, one can always deviate from the script (and then adjust it accordingly). In this case, I did just the opposite. I leave it to others to decide whether this illustrates a propensity for formalism, formality, formicity, etc.

Friday, February 24, 2012

[ ... ]

The Pollock-esque approach of randomly throwing harmonies and motives onto a blank canvas beautifully suits a work schedule dominated by other obligations. As the canvas approaches the approximately half-empty/half-full state, I realize there's a decision I hadn't thought through previously, viz., What's the longest duration of silence I'll incorporate into the piece? ... and for that matter, What's the longest duration for an unembellished chord?
In prior works, I've routinely included silences of five seconds or shorter, and occasionally ten seconds or so. As for sustained chords ... now that you mention it, when was the last time I wrote one (say, longer than five seconds), and left it unadorned by micropolyphony, hocket, polyrhythmic punctuation, etc.?
P.S. [5:55 pm] What I neglected to type on my phone earlier is that all along, I’ve expected the piece to include copious pauses that would allow the players to regroup, catch their breath, collect their wits, empty spit from their instruments, etc. ... but in the act of composing, I haven’t explicitly placed any of these. I’ve half a mind to make a first pass without any, and then go back and randomly place the fermatas. [insert benevolently diabolical laughter here]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our story thus far

I’m currently working on an extravaganza for theremin and wind ensemble, to be titled Aether/Ore. The planning started last spring, and (thanks to a busy teaching schedule) stretched out over the summer. My original idea was to try something like unto a good ol’ 1960s Moment-Form, because I’d written several pieces during the Aughts that turned out a bit more predictable than I intended, particularly with regard to the lengths of contrasting subsections. For inspiration, I turned to images of fractal basins of attraction, e.g.,
A nifty feature of such a pattern is that if you zoom in on the boundary between two colors, you discover a small zone of the third color ... f’rinstance, in the image above, if you zoom in on the boundary between a red zone and a yellow zone, you find some blue ... but then if you zoom in closer on the boundary between the blue and the yellow, you discover a bit of red ... and if you zoom in between that red and the yellow, you find more blue ... etc., ad infinitum.
The horrible part of trying to realize this idea in sound is that early this fall, when I started to convert miscellaneous spreadsheet data into pitches and rhythms, I discovered almost instantly that I was writing something that student ensembles wouldn't stand a chance of performing! So, back to the drawing board ...
The good news is that the revised process has been going much faster. In the interest of keeping things simple, I’ve been indulging in multiple “sins” that I normally, Puritanically avoid, e.g.,

     1. moving chords relentlessly in parallel,
     2. favoring a regular rock backbeat,
     3. favoring homophonic textures (i.e., limiting contrapuntal interest), and
     4. sketching in short score.
The first three liberties derive directly from the Ore part of the title (referring to heavy-metal and proto-heavy-metal styles). And to achieve a more convincing state of quasi-randomness, I’ve been using lists of genuinely random numbers to determine when motives occur in the piece. The resulting process has left me slightly in the dark about the overall form, as the sketch pages start blank and then gradually accumulate patches of dots and lines in unpredictable fashion. Right now, I think I’m about 40% of the way along ... which is to say, some pages are half full and half blank, while others are one-third full and two-thirds blank. So the overall Gestalt is starting to take shape, but there’s still plenty of room to surprise me.
Initially, I worried that the random numbers might distribute the material too evenly, but already there are several pile-ups where two things might be happening at once. In light of item 3 above, these might become passages of rapid alternation ... or if they do manifest a textural pile-up, I won’t attempt any treacherous polyrhythmic tricks. If nothing else, I need to make sure that I won’t trip myself up with regard to finding my marks in the solo theremin part (on which count I’m firmly resolved never again to shoot myself in the foot).

The blog is dead; long live the blog.

Once upon a time, a composer created a website and a weblog, and owing to a tragic spasm of Congenital Do-It-Yourself Syndrome, he decided to administer the blog himself, within his own site, rather than farm out such low-level logistics to a site such as, say,

He did this partly for the sake of uniformity (i.e., keeping the blog under the same domain “brand”), and partly because, as a defrocked graphic designer, he liked the tremendous flexibility that WordPress offered him to control the appearance of the blog site. However, every time that WordPress updated the software, it took the composer a disproportionate chunk of time to update the software on his website. And don’t even get me started about the time that the update casually botched the conversion of dozens of special characters (proper quotation marks, em dashes, ampersands, italics ...).
Today, while attempting to update the long-neglected blog, the composer reached and crossed that fateful line of complication, that final straw of frustration, and reached that moment of clarity in which he realized that rather than wrestle with downloading software updates, deleting old files, uploading new files, etc., he could instead spend that time ... whaddya callit? ... oh, yes: composing music.

Hence the new address, new look, and for the time being, absence of previous content. (Perhaps someday I’ll find the time to migrate it to this address, but said endeavor won’t rank high on my to-do list.)