evolving creative threads

I’ve suddenly found myself with two commissions for works that I need to complete over the summer – one work for the Byrne:Kozar:Duo and one for the Portland Percussion Group. The creative concepts I have for both involve using text as a vehicle for the works, but how I use and evolve the text in each piece are contrasting enough that I thought it would be a good exercise to talk about them conceptually.

I wrote in an earlier blog entry about my desire to explore atypical ways of using the role of text in music, and that’s going to be the central narrative thread of the piece for Byrne:Kozar:Duo. As the idea of that piece starts to take shape, I’m coming to a conclusion that while I want to separate the vocal performer from being a dominant force in the music because text does that by default, that doesn’t mean that I want the text to be unimportant – if anything, the opposite is true, that I want the associative separation of the text from the performer to elevate the importance of the text and its meaning by allowing the trumpet to take more of an equal part in text discovery.

When approached in that light, the actual composition of the piece feels like it will not itself break new ground in its form – the text is telling a story, and the music is meant to support that story. But the atypical contextual framework of how that story is told will hopefully imprint it with my distinct character in a manner not dissimilar to how the film Memento might be telling a story like any other movie but tells it in a way that no other film before or after has been able to do.

So the evolution of the piece’s creation will likely come directly from the narrative – in that, even my initial conceptual idea of “in the first third it will be fragmented, in the second third it will be combined, and in the last third it will bring comprehension” has changed to be less disciplined in its performer roles and in its structure, particularly if the text is a long one (my current top choice for text use is Jabberwocky).

The piece I’m planning on writing for the Portland Percussion Group is highly contrasting to this approach – the text content isn’t significant in itself other than to establish the type of content it represents. It’s not telling a story, it’s a series of unrelated phrases that are categorized by a singular theme – legal disclaimers and warnings. So the creative evolution of the piece is more dictated by how I choose to organize both the music and the text. The overall tone of the piece is also going to be lighter, more comedic, and that has its own set of challenges because the text has a gimmicky nature – which is fine, but it can’t *just* be gimmicky, it needs to change and evolve into something more than its surface gimmickyness.

We’ll see how things develop as I start writing both of the works – it will be interesting to see if working on these pieces side by side will at all influence each other.

Mendel Lee

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *