Monday, February 13, 2012

challenges in piece #3

Standard caveat applies here, that proofreading and editing takes away from the spontaneity and honesty of whatever it is I am trying to say, so this is probably less coherent than it should be.

I had discussed the process behind this particular work a few weeks ago in class (a study in aleotoric composition) and in some ways I am pleased with how things turned out, but there are many shortcomings. I think it's important to state that despite the amount of rigor that was involved in the precompositional process, it did not exert nearly as much control over the music as I thought it would.

The problems that exist in this work are problems that also exist in almost all of my music for piano, with the exception of a sonata movement I wrote 6 years ago.

First, it is about as far from idiomatic for the piano as is possible. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in my case, I think it is limiting my progress regarding exploring the intrument, even though I am a pianist. It seems that the sounds that interest (slow, quiet, the focus on what happens "after the note" or attack ((the construction of complex sonorities through ubiquitous pedal)) me the most when I am composing would be more suited to a realization by a small string orchestra.

Duration has always been an issue as well, I think. There are many times when I am working on a composition where I come to an event, or after reach a certain point, that this particular utterance feels complete, that there is nothing left to say. Again, this doesn't have to be a negative thing, but in this case, it is. By stepping away from the music completely like that, I deprive myself of the experience of applying compositional techniques that will benefit myself and my later work.

Lastly (for now, at least), though the processes of #1 and #3 are in a way opposites (total control/lack of control) the end result is too similar (something that Dr. Ross brought up in class earlier this semester, though not directed towards my writing specifically) which goes against the spirit of this assignment. I have experimented with another sketch using fast but static perpetual motion-esque figurations and harmonic development in an almost minimalist style, but that was less than successful. The contrast in process and result would have been much better though, I think. The way things turned out, it seems less and less apparent that my language is consistent, but more apparent that in terms of composition I am a one trick pony.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This isn't really specific to any piece that I am working on, just a few things I have been comtemplating.

I have been thinking a lot (moreso than usual) recently about my growth as a composer. I'm choosing to ignore the pieces I wrote for violin when I was a child (6-9, I think?) as well as the acoustic guitar pieces I wrote as a teenager, and my earliest piano pieces. I have just been considering the music I have written since I started music school. My language has changed over this time, but I have been mostly concerned with how my approach to writing has changed on a deeper level.

Composition once seemed like purely an act of creation. As if you are giving something ephemeral that existed only within your mind a tangible form, albeit the abstract construct of the medium of pitch and silence and time. Whether or not this shows in my music or not, it feels like this is an idea that I have slowly moved away from.

Composing (to me, at least) is an act of discovery and exploration. Sometimes to the point where taking ownership of an idea seems artificial. The dimension that exists when an element of control is surrendered can be an amazing experience.

This idea may have always existed in some way in the back of my head, but one very specific event really sparked my interest in pursuing it further. It was a few years ago, during a student recital for comp 3100, which Dr. Ross taught as well. It was a set 3 violin and piano pieces I had written.

as for the performance, it went for the most part as well as i could have hoped. the performers were very talented, but time was very limited. given that constraint, expecting perfection was meaningless. and i am glad for this. if the performers were as well prepared as i may have initially hoped for, i would have missed out something meaningful. (the first 2 pieces serve as a prelude to the third, which makes up the core of the work, so that will be the only one i comment on). there is a moment in the third piece that i did not intend to happen. i did not write it down. i did not compose it. it was a "mistake" on the part of the performers. but this moment becomes the raison d'etre of the entire piece, of the entire set. the music is defined by this musical event that i did not conceive of, it is defined by the motion towards this inevitability, and the motion away from it. epiphany is too strong a word, and i do not like its connotations, but this had a great impact on how i view composing. it was an important experience for me, and one that sparked a new path for my own approach to writing.

Even ideas that I (we?) come up with, the fact that they are inevitably tinkered with and "worked out" seems to have more in common with an act of exploration of the potential inherent to that idea that one of invention. It almost seems that I explore possibilities that already exist within ideas. Which is a weird way of thinking. That within an idea there already exists certain elements that are then to be discovered.

I wonder if this will end up being coherent at all. It wasn't written in one sitting, nor was it really thought out. I felt that I would be able to communicate far more if I actually just forced myself to write it in this rambling sort of way, because every time I tried to plan it out in my head I would realize that I don't really have anything to say.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

sketch no. 2

The point of this assignment is the construction of three piece, each of which should be self-contained and of a single "character". They do not need to be thematically related. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, so to speak, and explore a language that I wouldn't experiment with otherwise. This is key, within the boundaries of a composition class, if we only write exactly as we have written in the past, using only a language that we are most familiar with, we aren't going to progress as much as we could. Our language may become a little more refined, but I think we would ultimately learn less.

That is how I approached this second sketch. It is not what I would choose to write on my own, and departs a great deal from the rest of my work. The focus is the melodic saturation of perfect 5ths. And unlike the first sketch, I want the rhythm to be more forward, more driving, and jagged. This is going to be the most challenging aspect for me. I rarely, if ever, write music with the kind of rhythms I am envisioning for this work. It was hard to really convey the harmonic outline in class without the context of rhythm, since that will ultimately be an integral element in this piece. Harmonic rhythm will not be as regular as it was in the presentation, which is something that was commented on. There are moments when a certain sonority should be held on to just a little longer than the others. And there are some moment that needs to pass by in a fleeting way in order to give the moments that last longer meaning.

Dr. Ross was able to put something into words that I have felt, but couldn't really put my finger on specifically. When writing, one should hear the music, not the process behind it. That is something that needs careful consideration in this project. When I present a work in class, my aim is not to present a finished product that will eventually become a part of the finished product later, but to explain and justify the decisions that I have made, and to show the process behind them. I just need to exercise extreme caution to make sure that the process does not overshadow the music itself.

sketch no. 1

This will the the first piece in a set of three, the design of the set is based around certain limitations unique to each piece, and the exploration of the musical and expressive (I do not necessarily mean emotion expressiveness, Boulez once said that music doesn't need to express emotion, it's enough that it expresses music) potential that can be found within these limitations. This piece uses only 4 pitch classes: c#, d, d#, and e. The "music" is less a result of the notes themselves, but more the space between the notes. Both in terms of register, and in duration. Duration in particular is fascinating to me. Not rhythm, but duration. I am aiming for a feeling of stasis, rather than meter.

Dr. Ross mentioned something in class that made me see something that I otherwise may not have seen within this piece. He mentioned how a repetition of a certain chord (it sounds twice in succession) seems out of place. Aside from this moment, none of the chords in their unique voicing ever appear after they are heard once. There are allusions to certain sonorities, but they are never heard twice in the same voicing or register. This makes that particular moment really stand out. And whether or not this is a device I choose to imply (I think it is an interesting concept) the way that I wrote it is certainly not interesting in the least. That concept could be applied to an important focal point in the piece, it needs a great deal of care, something that was very lacking in my initial sketch. It could be something important, something meaningful, but I basically wasted what could have been one of the key moments of the piece.