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…

Minkowski Etudes: The Aftermath

It was about one year ago when I made the decision to write Minkowski Etudes as a work for solo trumpet and interactive electronics. Last week my performer Dylan premiered it in its entirety for his senior recital and he also played it as a part of the Southern Sonic Festival. The Max programming needs some final tweaking and I may want to redo my cue structure by using Antescofo (I have to decide if I want to pay for the annual Ircam fee), but given that a bulk of the creative, notational, and programming work is now complete, I thought I’d write a quick retrospective about it. First off…


Titles are a tricky thing for me.  I’m pretty happy with the titles that i’ve come up with for most of my works in both the traditional chamber setting and marching band/drumline shows, but it always takes me longer than i expect to come up with them.  Timpani Forces was called about five things before its final title, ranging from similar titles such as Timpani Dances when the fourth movement was originally “False Waltz” and the third movement was going to be “Chaconne” versus something more abstract such as Passing Measures which i nixed because it duplicated David Lang’s piece The Passing Measures.

The percussion quartet that i’m writing has transformed a great deal from its original concept as Cascadia – i could probably still call it that and create loose associations with that Cascadia concept, but it feels like fitting the square peg into the circle hole.  So i’m trying to shift my conception about the piece, find a way to capture what i’m trying to say with a proper title.

The piece is very specific in its intent – it’s a lot about space, timbre, and texture, and a pseudo-but-not-really-gradual-minimalist transformation and evolution of material both within a single part and across all of the players.  Rhythmically the first section has a very metronomic characteristic – clear beats, clear divisions, clockwork.  The second section contrasts this in being much more polyrhythmic with the intent of being chaotic.  The third section is going to mesh those two together somehow (in a way i haven’t quite figured out yet).

Yesterday when i was trying to think about titles, I started to think about the piece in three possible ways.  The first idea was that the early notes in the first section each represented a different photo capture of raindrops all from the same storm.  Time-Lapse Rain was the original ‘stupid’ thought that was supposed to lead to a version of that that didn’t sound stupid, and i failed to come up with anything.  I was strongly averse to simplifying the concept to “rain” or “storm” ideas because that feels amazingly cliché.  I started to try to think about the piece as being about the building of clouds, but that also felt too cliché.

The second idea was something like Ritual Dance.  I had a picture in my head of Balinese shadow puppet theater and African tribal sort of things.  I’m still toying with that idea, but it’s problematic because it creates a particular sort of association of order that i don’t want associated with the second section of the piece.  I don’t want someone to try to make sense of the second section in that way – it’s meant to be chaotic and unsettling, and having an implication that the whole piece is a dance will give that section an idea to latch on to that doesn’t fit – another circle peg in the square hole.

The idea that feels strongest to me is that of a rock slide – a cliff or a mountain that goes through a subtle seismic tremor that causes pebbles to fall that unexpectedly turns into a full on destructive rock slide.  But Rock Slide or Pebbles feels wrong because it’s too concrete – the piece has a high level of abstraction to it – that’s why there’s so much flexibility in its titling.  To assign it a title and a concept that has a strict physical idea such as a bunch of falling rocks takes away from that abstraction and some of the potential depth of the piece.

But there might be ways to use that concept but find a more abstract way to address it.  I’m going to think about it for a while today and hopefully come up with something i like so i can be done with the whole thing.  I need the title to help inform the piece, not roadblock it.