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.