ideas for a minimalist fireworks display composition meant to bring a community together

most of the time i’ve ever seen fireworks, i’ve found myself dissatisfied with the lack of form and aesthetic pacing in the presentation.  Usually there’s a group of a particular type of firework that gets shot off, and then there’s a pause, and then there’s another group, and then there’s another pause, &c until the big finale where they shoot off more fireworks at once as a climax.  After a while, i just get bored.  If i want to see random flashes of pretty lights with pretty sound, i can just turn on an iTunes visualizer.

I’ve never seen the kind of fireworks that are super coordinated presentations all sync’ed by a computer program.  I bet that if composed well i would like that quite a bit, but it’s hard to make a judgement call without having any first hand experience in it.

During the Tulane homecoming fireworks show, as i found myself annoyed at the lack of form and tension and real understanding of how to make that more effective to the common viewer, this idea started to form in my head for a minimalist composition of fireworks that would span over the period of a month or more.

I heard about a piece of music that La Monte Young wrote in which a heavy weight was placed on one of the notes of  a huge pipe organ in a large church in europe somewhere and was essentially blasted at its loudest volume for the span of a couple of weeks.  The idea was based on that basic minimalist principle that an extended sound and a repeating sound isn’t the same as the time you’ve heard it before because the context of time makes it different.  There’s also the idea that the piece served as more of an installation piece – you got to walk around the church and hear how the note was different depending on the particular acoustic area that you were in, and could get yourself lost in the absolute pureness of it as it echoed in grand style that those cathedrals promote.

Thinking about pieces of music or sound installations with that sort of time scale and vastness is what brought about this idea for a fireworks composition.  Pick any beautiful night scene area – in my head i picture a waterfront – and have a single firework go off one night at a designated time.  Chances are, no one would notice it happening – they might hear the sound of it, some may see it, but they wouldn’t think much of it.

The next day do the same thing, but do it with two fireworks.  The next day do three.  All at the same time at night, all at the same location.

At some point, people will catch on to this.  You set it up like clockwork, you create that pattern of one more firework every day, and you start to create expectation.  The number of fireworks that go off have to be easily countable – everyone needs to deduce that gradually the fireworks are adding more and more.

And of course, like all great music, at some point, that pattern needs to be broken.

Exactly how it would be broken is something i don’t know yet.  The “dick move” thing would be to not have fireworks at all one day, but in my head the piece isn’t supposed to be about alienation or pulling the wool from people’s eyes.  The point is to make people excited, and bring people together.  And while i may want to play with that a little, maybe create the hint of disappointment, ultimately i would want to do that as a means to generate new excitement based on the unexpected.

Two easy ideas: first, delay the fireworks by five minutes.  People will start to get restless, maybe some people will wonder if it’s even going to happen, if it’s a wasted trip.  But five minutes is a reasonable delay – start it five minutes later, people whose expectation started to waver will find some small or large degree of exultation when the fireworks actually begin.  Suddenly the event is revitalized, becomes exciting in a new way.

Then for the next week, delay it anywhere between zero minutes and ten minutes.  You don’t want to wait longer because you don’t want to waste people’s time too much – and by creating a variable expectation that no one can really track, people who really want to see the fireworks display will show up on time or early, and in that potential wait time, strangers might talk to each other.  A sense of community develops. people strike up conversation, share in snacks and drinks.  it becomes an event.

The other variation that could get added to the mix is to change the location of the fireworks themselves – in my head i see it as “the audience is facing one way where they’ve always seen the fireworks, and then one day they go to the same spot and they have to turn around.”

The whole thing would happen with no real explanation except that in the area where there’s an optimal viewing vantage point for watching the fireworks, i’d put up a pedestal of some sort with an unmarked QR code on it.  Capture that QR code and you get taken to a website that explains what’s happening.  Maybe right away, or maybe the information will be revealed gradually.

In my head, i think the piece would last about two months.  That feels both long and short – i have to think about it more.

accidental canon

So here’s the setup:

I’m at work, and i want to send someone an ecard.  I google it and pick a random ecard website, discover that you can’t turn off music on their cards by default, decide to move to the next one.

Go to the next one.  Find a card i like, try to open that card up in firefox, but for some reason the flash part isn’t unblocking from my flashblock plugin – i’m just getting a blank screen.  So i grab the link, copy it into Chrome, try it there.  Loads up no problems.

Halfway through the card, i want to see if there’s music playing in the background of the card, so i put in one of my earbuds that is permanently attached to the headphone jack of my work computer.  Yes there’s music, but it’s fairly unobtrusive, basically piano only, a melody that’s moving in a slight triplet swing and a bass line that’s somewhat mimicking that.  single note melody, single note bass, pretty minimal, although the swing feel and the harmonies are a little strange, but whatever.

So i go to the next page in Chrome, where i have to say who i’m sending to, give a custom message, &c.  The card itself isn’t on that page, but the music is still going.  a quarter of a second later i notice that half of the music i was listening to before was missing.  and then i get it.  Even though the visual part of the flash card in Firefox wasn’t running, the card still at least somewhat loaded because it was playing the music from the card in the background.  When i was listening to the card in my earbuds, i was listening to it playing twice in an accidental canon, offset by a few beats and a rough eighth note triplet.

and it was fantastic.  i mean, for the purpose of the ecard, the single simpler version was much better because it was much less intrusive.  but first hearing it in accidental canon and thinking that that’s what was supposed to happen?  outstanding.  it kind of makes me want to write a piece of music composed entirely of samples of crappy ecard music.  file that away for “way in the future” since i have about four other pieces i’m trying to get done before the spring of 2013.

pew pew pew…

my brain is firing in about eight different directions right now. these should be written down somewhere for myself if nowhere else.

1. my wind ensemble piece entitled beauty…beholder is almost done. I feel a lot better about it than i did about a week ago because things in the end finally started to click into place. It’s not my best work mainly because i’m out of practice writing original stuff for large groups – the last large ensemble piece i wrote was somewhere around ten years ago, and between 2004-2009 i wasn’t writing any music at all. I’m happy enough with the piece generally, it’ll just need some revision if i ever get it performed again. Hopefully it’s well received, i’m a bit tickled with the shock moment towards the end of the piece. John Cage would be proud.

2. This spring i’m going to try to start writing a percussion quartet for the Portland Percussion Group. Originally i was going to have it be all thematic about my family, but these days i tend to do better writing music based on a musical concept that i then translate to a real one as opposed to starting with a real concept that i then translate to a musical one. I think that will change as i start writing more music again and get reacquainted with how my voice translates to solid ideas.

3. Also this spring i’m planning on putting the pieces together for my musical internet installation project. Basically what i’m planning on doing is buying some muscle wire and playing with it in the hopes that i can attach it to some guitar strings and have a mechanism for heating/cooling the muscle wire and a mechanism for playing the strings that is controlled and activated by both random and controlled actions from the internet. This is very early experimental stages so i can figure out what’s possible.

4. Aside from my nienteForte concert happening this spring, Mark and i had a conversation earlier about trying to pitch playing a percussion duet for the percussion ensemble concert run by Doug Walsh, and we’re already talking about trying to write a duet for the nienteForte concert in 2014. I already have a guest ensemble tentatively lined up for that, and i want to write a piece for *that* group too, which i’ll probably start in early summer right after Jazz Fest.

5. Also in mid-spring i’m going to start thinking about marching band arranging again for Hermiston. Paul was very happy with what i did this past season, so i don’t doubt that i’ll be able to write for the group again.

6. I’m planning on putting together a new music seminar class sometime in the spring semester, a volunteer thing since i can’t officially register a course with the university at this point. I just want to get people excited about some of the music that got me excited in college as well as going out there and finding other music, newer stuff that i don’t know to keep my own creative brain fresh and current.

7. Also this spring i imagine that i’ll be in some final talks with Galaxy Interactive to figure out exactly how my contract is going to work for TerraLife, a project that they anticipate will start occupying a lot of my energy this summer.

8. Sometime a year ago, Tyler and i talked about trying to put together some sort of DDR reunion this coming summer. Originally it was going to be another sight-read tournament, but the context for that sort of thing has died out as far as we’re both concerned, so more and more i’m thinking about making it into some big Johann Sebastian Joust competition or something.

I know i’m missing something, but that’s okay. Brain will continue firing off on all of this probably until next fall. Then i can relax.

In general something that’s come to light from this past fall is that I shouldn’t try to tackle a lot of creative projects in the fall. Thankfully i had the foresight to turn down an opportunity to write a piece for Kim Walker’s fianceé who wanted the piece by around christmas. I said no mainly because i knew that the wind ensemble piece was going to take a major chunk of my time, but the thing that i didn’t anticipate was how busy the fall season was – partially brought on by my rather sudden medical issues, but also because the marching band season was much busier than i anticipated it would be and i didn’t have a whole lot of energy to devote to independent projects.

Granted, it’s not like my spring and summer isn’t occupied a great deal as well, but the method behind that busy is much more in line with creative and original efforts as opposed to the fall semester teaching and administering a marching band organization. Clearly a lot depends on exactly how the football schedule falls out, but i’m starting to come to the conclusion that my creative calendar should be much more dense in the spring and summer than in the fall.

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, much needed website updates coming soon, time to try to send my Timpani piece off to another publisher for consideration of publishing, and keep the ball rolling.