Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Reflections on Class

The reading for the Ora Ensemble piece is tomorrow, which clues up this 4100 class, as well as my last composition course of my degree. I'm kind of sad about that - while I'm a Theory/Composition major, the new curriculum will allow Composition (no theory!) majors to study composition every semester. I feel like my writing has improved a lot just over this one semester, so imagine having four! It looks like it'll be a great program.

Although the character pieces were fun and a good exercise in piano writing, I think the longer, one-movement piece has been a challenge and a good learning experience. I recognize that one of my weaknesses as a composer is developing my ideas into a coherent form. Upon listening to recordings of some of my older stuff (older just being a year or so old!), I've noticed that ideas are often underdeveloped and things frequently sound fragmented. With a push to fix these things, I've become more aware of them, and as a result am writing with a bit of a different process now. I try not to just fill up the page with things that I think sound cool. Instead, I'll start with a single idea and try to draw most of the rest of the material from that idea. I'm very thankful for this progress!

Composition seminar has been invaluable for my progress this semester. I'm just a little sad that I don't get to come back!

Monday, 2 April 2012


What am I listening to? Hildegard Westerkamp

I think I may have a title for my piece finally. I kind of feel like pieces named in different languages are a little pretentious from an English-speaker (unless there's non-English text), but I do feel compelled by this one. And it wouldn't be the first time I was called pretentious sadly... haha.

I'm leaning towards calling it "Drei". This means 'three' in German, which is appropriate because of the recurring triplet motif.

But why in German?

"Drei" is pronounced like the English word "dry" - which I feel also applied to this piece. The sparse textures, the repeated attacks, the sharp and pointy articulation.. I feel like "dry" is an apt descriptor.

Now just to print and bind!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Almost, almost!!

The end is in sight!

Coming in at 4'42", there are no more bars to be added in my Ora Ensemble piece. I just need to add in a few more articulations, dynamics, and just do some minor minor tweaking to the fast part (probably just adding some crunch to clarify the downbeat in the piano.)

I'm very excited about the upcoming read. I'm hoping that if it's recorded, I'll be able to use it for a future "portfolio item." I'm hoping that despite the rhythmic interplay, reading from parts will still ensure rhythmic accuracy. I'm sure reading from the score would be useful but it's too clunky and impractical.

The only thing that's proving tricksy is the title - nothing is leaping out at me. Here's hoping to inspiration on that front before Wednesday!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Cluing up..

I presented again today in class, and it looks like my piece for the Ora Ensemble will be finished by the end of the weekend (although I'm sure adjustments and tweaking could go on forever!) I'm looking at it right now and although it's always fun to be writing, sometimes putting in that last bar just feels awesome.

Class feedback has been so useful for this piece.. I really feel like it has come together in a large part due to constructive comments. I got some good tips for the "climax" of the piece - the trill is a good way to add tension, but it originally only lasted two bars and didn't actually swell to the arrival. It was also suggested that the piano and flute keep their interplay, and increase the rhythmic interaction between them to the climax. With these edits, this section is already sounding much better and clearer in intent.

Off to do some finishing touches!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

To recap...

After some more edits to my piece, it looks a little different than before! I've expanded the opening section with some motivic development, voice exchange, and sequencing, and I've brought back thematic material from this opening into the second, faster part. I also expanded a development section to try and have a "climax" in the piece that would be easy to come down and resolve from; I got the comment that it seemed like it was going somewhere but then never did. I got that feeling too - it would be nice to have an especially exciting moment or something.

It's sitting at just over 4 minutes now; I feel that it's definitely winding down and will end soon, which is good - the deadline is drawing close!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A New Piece

What am I listening toMoondog

"I'd like to believe, that when he was 16, he closed his eyes, and fell in the most weird, bizarre and beautiful dream."

After deciding to write for band and the Ora Ensemble simultaneously, I know that the chamber group is definitely more in my comfort zone and will be the piece done first (and likely better.)

I brought the first 1'30" to class, and the reception was actually pretty good (which was nice!) I'm trying my darndest not to abandon ideas after introducing them so that the opening section and the second dance-like section are coherent. I think that is mostly effective. I got some very useful comments, including the unidiomatic repeated triplets in the piano. I've changed them to octaves and other intervals in a (mostly) unpredictable pattern. That was another comment - repetition can lull an audience, so I should let even repeated/accompaniment figures grow and develop. The first four measures of the new tempo were commented on as being unrelated to the rest of the material; I've incorporated a little later in the piece, as I kind of like how it sets the tone of the dance section by introducing our key-ish centre with intensity - before it, the piano is silent and it really has a "bang" to it (or so I think!)

Right now the piece is sitting at 2'50" and has a required time of 4'00. I think I can expand it to fill that requirement, and I'll definitely have a return-to-the-beginning type ending that is slow and atmospheric, so that should help with that too. Maybe it's just that my attention span is short, but I like shorter pieces and writing shorter pieces.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Self Promotion ?

What am I listening to? Feldman and Joanna Newsom

Achievements can be hard to talk about.

I can't seem to shake the feeling that I'm being obnoxious or boastful if I mention a success. It's almost like it's a dirty thing to be happy about something good that's happened to you.

Likewise, I also find it hard to do self-promotion (ie, come to my concert!) I don't know if this is something everyone struggles with, but I do know that it's a necessary evil. If we don't vouch for ourselves, who will? It is somewhat in our hands whether we're successful or not, and putting yourself out there is the first step.

What does that mean for people who feel a little more introverted? I didn't always feel that way but when it comes to talking about composition, I do find myself very shy in front of groups. At my composition recital, I was more nervous about the whole "opening spiel" than anything else. To be fair, everything else was out of my hands and in the (very able) hands of the performers. I can't help but feel that talking about what I write is very much "talking myself up" and it would be great if I didn't feel that way.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Ideas, ideas

What am I listening toKayo Dot and Ravel

The three pieces I've worked on for class are done, bound, and handed in. I feel good about having them done on time - I usually have a bit of trouble ending things in a way that I'm happy with.

Writing for large ensemble is the next challenge. I feel most comfortable writing for choir and chamber groups. I think for choir this is because I can sing each individual part and in the case for SSAA writing, in their proper ranges. I also tend to write horizontally for these smaller groups - the melodic lines create an incidental harmony. I feel like a harmonic structure is more important for a group like concert band, although I can't say exactly why I think so!

I showed two roughly 50 second sketches to class; one is very "safe" and has a folky feel, while the other is more unpredictable. In truth, I'm happy with neither of them. I may start again, which is common for me - I usually have a few false starts when it comes to big ensemble pieces, although usually snippets of previous versions make the cut. For example, I make take the bass melody from the second piece.

I was thinking about how programmatic music is usually very helpful for both the audience and author  - listening for the audience, and coherence in writing for the author. With that reflection, that may be the direction I go with this piece. Today in  class (and in a recent blog post) Dr. Ross mentioned polystylism. That gave me this idea: The Tower of Babel.  According to Biblical mythology, when the people built it, they all spoke one language. After its destruction, they were scattered and turned to different races with different languages.

What does this mean for a piece called The Tower of Babel? It means that in its building, the language of the piece (harmonic, melodic, whatever) would be unified. There could be the 'theme of the people.' This would likely be Bb pentatonic - accessible for band, and if  Bobby McFerrin is to be believed, the pentatonic scale can be sung by anyone. Then, whatever I use to signify the building come begin to appear in the lower voices - growing high and higher and nearer to the sky. There are versions where the tower is not destroyed, but I would take the one where it was destroyed by a great wind. The bass voices would come in first, followed by the tenor voices, ect. Then a fall, a descent, much more frenzied than the gradual building. And the fall, of course, would end with a "gibberish" of voices - they are no longer unified or understandable to each other. The brass are playing a chorale, the upper woodwinds are planing quintal harmonies, the reeds are playing something atonal. That sounds silly when I write it out but I think if it was all hushed and melted into one another, it would make sense. We'll see. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Comments and Construction

So instead of musing about the nature of music and universal experience (and my universal I mean on our pale blue dot), I'll stay a little more on topic on write about my experiences with Composition 4100 so far, and the feedback I've received.

Now all I can think about is if life exists on other planets, does music follow.. since it uses the harmonic series which is naturally occurring..

Okay, stay focused.

I missed the first few classes because I was away on a trip, but the first thing I brought to class wasn't quite in the vein of the assignment. Too many ideas, too many characters. I need a one mood character piece. I always feel tentative when writing for piano; I can't play piano. Not even a little bit. It's embarrassing to watch me try. I don't have a good understanding of the capabilities of the instrument. Note: look at more piano scores.

With the impression (and delight!) that our pieces would be played on a composition concert, I finished up the first piece fairly quickly using limited pitch material and a palindrome form. Class feedback mostly came from visiting composer Dr. Karim Al-Zand and Dr. Ross but I later had comments from classmates that it seemed lazy, and too sparse. Of course it is hard to judge color from a midi playback. The live performance went well I think - the benefits of a living, breathing player (sorry midi, maybe sometime in the future. along with skynet.) I enjoy a sparse texture as long it is contrasted eventually, which I think it was.

The next thing I brought to class was a cheesy little dance thing which was also met with mostly silence. That is very reassuring, of course. It was really the bare bones of a piece but I did get some good suggestions, again from the doctors in the house; fast 3/4 time can be a great opportunity to obscure the beat and play little tricks of 'slight of ear' on the listeners. I agree! I haven't finished this one because it's not really something I connect with and I'm mostly trying to wrap it up at this point. Although, I've found that adding tricksy dynamics can do wonders to something called a "goblin polka."

Third piece! I'm on a replay of Final Fantasy IX and therefor I've had a lot of Nobuo Uematsu in my ear.. it's easy to tell. This last/sketch piece is done now with some tinkering after the comment session. It's more dreamlike, simple, and has a sense of "naivete" (I especially like that last descriptor - thanks Dr. Ross!) I extended the second of the three "phrases" (or maybe sections is a better word) to give it a more even pacing, and launched the right hand even further into the stratosphere. I did have a suggestion to go down into the bass clef but I enjoyed the willowy feeling of the double treble staffs - it sounds more youthful and plaintive. The triplet quarter notes were pointed out as seeming awkward in the steadiness of its surroundings - I agreed but I also liked it. So to make it more coherent, I added more so that it didn't stand out as mistake. It was also suggested that the end be more of a question than a statement, to fit the nature of the piece. Again, a good idea, so I also changed the ending. I'm happiest with this piece - it fits most into my preferred aesthetic (dreamy, modal, lots of major seconds.)

Off to tinker with audacity.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Experiencing Music

Sometimes I have a hard time using words to describe my very visceral reaction to music, sound, and art (and variants and combinations of all three!)

Last night was the first of three Newfound Music Festival concerts. It was the first "pre-packaged" concert program I've seen here at Memorial - and boy, was it ever effective. I've always enjoyed the theatrical flair that comes with vocal performances (and especially those from sopranos!) and the added interaction between singer and pianist really helped the program flow into a cohesive narrative.

What really stood out to me was the text used - all French poetry. I was taken aback by the quality of all the textual choices - the poetry was beautiful, evocative, and stirring. Here's where the trouble in describing comes: I go through a bit of an emotional journey when I listen to "strong" music. I feel like art that captures the human experience is the most impacting; it stirs in me some sort of universal camaraderie - a reminder that we all love passionately, that we all feel sorrow, that we all ache, and that we all die. It's both a light and heavy feeling; there are many joys that we share but an equal amount of pain. Art that reflects life causes me to become very introspective, even during the performance - I find it embarrassing to be watched while listening to music that I enjoy, because my emotions are very transparent. Clever compositional techniques, unexpected turns in the harmony, and other parts of the music that I enjoy are all broadcast from my facial expressions. I feel like music can very easily manipulate my mood, but it is hard to describe tangibly how and why it does so.

After exhausting the introspection that always comes after a great performance of equally great music, I realized that I would really like to work with text more. I've always found that I write quickest with text; the mood of the poetry makes decision making for the mood of the music quite easy. The swells and lulls of intensity in the music should reflect that of the writing. I realized last night that there is a plethora of beautiful or haunting text to set - and I'd like to start diving into words and finding their music.