beauty…beholder: the aftermath – part one

The Xavier University Symphonic Winds world premiered beauty…beholder this past weekend.  It was a pretty amazing experience on many different levels both personally and professionally, and there’s a lot of stuff buzzing around in my head about it that i wanted to get it down into a couple of blog entries while it was all still fresh.  The experience splits itself naturally into two parts – first, my experience with the ensemble with some postnotes about the trip in general, and second, the piece itself – my reaction to it, other people’s reaction to it, and my reaction to their reactions.  This entry will address the former.

First, a few words about the ensemble.

PASIC quartet: Cascadia

I’ve been thinking about and asking friends and acquaintances for ideas for a PNW-themed percussion quartet.  There were some decent ideas out there, but none of them really grabbed me as being sustainable for an 8-10 piece of music and i don’t really want to break it up into a multimovement work.

I was poking around the internet for other ideas and came across the wikipedia entry for Cascadia.  I generally ignore news and politics and therefore i had no knowledge whatsoever that this was going on, and i find it absolutely fascinating on many different levels, so after skimming the entry i decided to walk to the grocery store and see if any ideas could take shape, and some initial concepts started coming into my head, so i think this is it – a piece titled Cascadia about the concept of Cascadia.

I need to do some more reading and research about the whole movement, but the initial concept i have running in my head is that there are four major melodic themes in the piece – one for Oregon, one for Washington, one for British Columbia, and one for Northern California – and each of those themes have their own space and their own merit that then come all together at the end, get played simultaneously in a representation of those entities combining to form Cascadia.

But there’s a particular depth to the concept that i want to explore on two different levels – the first is that when the four themes combine, i want the music to be simultaneously harmonious and non-harmonious.  The easiest way to achieve that would be to have it be bitonal in nature, something very Ives-ian, and also something i’ve explored in a few of my chamber works before – there’s a lot of great tension and release that can be brought from how two distinct keys interlock with each other.

The second is to explore the concept that even an individual theme needs to have some sort of tension or clash because the politics of all of those regions are very divided depending on what area you’re talking about – e.g. politics of Portland is vastly different from the politics of Bend.  One of the criticisms about the concept of Cascadia has to do with that, that the idealists want to believe that this represents a smaller focused political unity which ignores just how divided the politics are.

So the individual themes may have their own story to tell, and then i need to bring them together in a way that’s supposed to sound unified and nonunified at the same time.  Easy, right?  Never mind that i still haven’t decided exactly what instrumentation i want to use for the piece nor if i want to include electronics.

But at least it’s a start.  The plan is to find some articles about Cascadia, read about it and absorb it, and then let it sit for about a week or two in my head.  Then i’ll probably start sketching out some ideas on paper and figuring out what the instrument/electronics map is going to be.

Here goes.

PASIC commission

So over the holidays I solidified a commission with the Portland Percussion Group. They put in a concert proposal for PASIC 2013 and one of the pieces for that concert will be written by me.

Portland Percusision Group member shot

The theme for the concert is essentially the Pacific Northwest – the concert is going to spotlight composers that have connection to the Pacific Northwest, and the group has asked me to write a piece that has a Pacific Northwest theme, the common examples being things like rain and mountains. As i’ve started trying to come up with ideas for the piece, I find myself steering away from those two examples specifically because I feel that those are very easy targets – first, it’s easy to associate the PNW with rain and mountains and i wouldn’t be surprised if half of the repertoire on the concert has one of those two things as a theme. Second, there are a lot of pieces in general that use rain and/or mountains as thematic content, and aside from my potential use of interactive technology with Max or Live with the highly-anticipated-but-yet-to-be-released Leap Motion, I don’t feel like I’d be creating anything that hasn’t been done a million times already.

So I’m putting some thought into more atypical PNW theme to use for the piece. One idea that popped into my head was to use the theme of “grunge music” since that’s associated with Seattle, but I ultimately rejected that because i thought it would be too difficult to pull off with a percussion quartet in addition to its lack of relevance in pop music these days. We’ll see what sort of ideas pop into my head in the next week or so.