Side effects of pitched playback on non-pitched pieces

So I generally don’t put a lot of effort into creating MIDI playback files that sound “genuine” for lack of a better term.  If, for example, i’m writing a piece for flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, i’ll keep MIDI set on the default piano sound because i use MIDI playback pretty much purely for fine-tuning of pacing, trusting my inner ear to tell me more about timbres and textures, and because having imperfect MIDI representations can sometimes muddy up what i hear in my head as opposed to help it.

I’ve been doing some heavy work on Moon of Eris, my piece for the Portland Percussion Group, and i reached a point where i was doing MIDI playback a lot to revise and fine tune the pacing.  The first third of the piece involves each player playing on four tones of non-pitched percussion instruments (temple blocks, wood blocks, &c.) that I’ve notated on the FACE pitches of the treble clef.  As per normal, i have each instrument set on piano for MIDI playback, so when i use playback, i hear a lot of F, A, C, and E running in canon across all four instruments.

Usually when i’m deep in a musical project, the piece pops in my head at random times.  I’ll be walking around or driving and i’ll hear the piece in my head.  In the case of Moon of Eris, what i’ve been hearing in my head lately has been what the MIDI playback sounds like – piano FACE – and rather randomly, my brain has also started to associate harmonic movement with those “false” pitches of the piece.

Which is pretty interesting.  The nature of the first third of the piece is such that I think it would actually work pretty well as a pitched piece with harmony behind it (fairly canonic, very minimalist), so now i’ve got this thought to create another piece that uses a variation of this material but for pitched instruments.  I know that there’s a level of cheating involved with that, but knowing how much Bach, Beethoven, and Steve Reich (as easy examples) constantly rip off their own work, i’ve got no major issues with it.

Mendel Lee

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

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