Cascadia not Cascadia, Construct Deconstruct

So the Portland Percussion Group didn’t end up getting their concert into PASIC this year, which actually ended up being a good thing for me because i was pounding my head against the wall trying to make my concept for Cascadia work. Some time last week i decided that I don’t have the time or chops to intelligently mesh existing melodies and harmonies together into a cohesive serious piece in the deadline i have to get this done, so i said, “screw it” and scrapped the idea altogether.

So the question became: what do i do instead?

During my master’s degree at the University of Oregon i had a pretty close relationship with the percussion department, both the students (three of which are in this group) and the professor at the time (Charles Dowd who passed away a few years ago). Charles pulled me in for a couple of gigs with the percussion ensemble, mainly as a sound effects guy – one piece required the sound of a helicopter, another piece involved wind sound effects and other things like that. At some point during my involvement of all of that, Charles gave me an open invite to write a piece of music for his ensemble. One year i started sketching a piece, but it never made it past early stages – i knew it was a sextet, i knew how i wanted the first three minutes to go, i had put that on paper, but it never made it to a computer, never got refined.

The conception of the piece is still very strong in my head – what the first third is about, how that comes back in the last third, and what it’s trying to say, at least abstractly. It’s a strong piece that should get written, so i decided to apply that to this quartet.

I’m writing about it because of the creative process of it, which involves me having to print out the sketch and form of the first third of the piece on to paper and lay it out so i can “hear” the big picture form in my head. With some pieces, i don’t need to do that, i can grab the concept well enough via MIDI playback or just by looking at it page by page on the screen, but there’s something, well, bigger about this one, something that requires me to lay it out all old school so that i can truly refine and hone it, make it feel truly right. It’s about slow pacing and timbre and texture and not writing within the barlines right away, depicting the abstract and concreteness of it in a combination of strict and non-strict notation that well inform me about how to do the right thing with it later on.

And that feels good to do that, to have the fuel to do it this way and the current drive for it makes it incredibly intimate and personal, something that I like to think translates well to the listener.

The working title for the piece is Construct/Deconstruct, but that’s not what it’s going to end up being. That’s just a bookmark, a frame of reference to help me inform the musical shape and its philosophy. We’ll see if i can find a better way to title that later on.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

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