endings are malleable

Sometime a week ago, there were three parts of Moon of Eris that still needed work – the last development of the B section, how that B section lead to the A’ prime section, and the very ending (I had already written the A’ section a month or so ago because i knew that the B section was going to head there, it was just a matter of how to get there.)

I started playing through the B section i had already written in Finale and then in my head to try to monitor the pacing of it and figure out how to get out of it, and then sometime a half hour later when i was taking a break (i might have been at the grocery), the ending sixteen measures of the piece instantly appeared in my head.

Occasionally that happens, where the right thing for the piece just pops in my head out of nowhere, as if to say, “duh, mendel.  what else could it be?”

When i got home I wrote down a description of what happened in text, confident that i’d remember what it sounded like, and writing the words was incredibly gratifying.  The ending of this piece is something i had been struggling with – the A’ material was strong, but wasn’t leading anywhere yet, and i didn’t know where i wanted to take it.  To have a definite idea of how i was going to get there felt like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – all i needed to do was fill in the details and the piece that i had struggled so much with and fell so behind on was finally going to hit that hump of completion.

Between craziness at work and catching up on some much needed socializing, i ended up shelving the piece for a few days.  When i came back to it, i was revisiting the B to A’ transition, struggling because the method i was currently exploring felt stale – the way it was leading was a gradually increasing density of parts that would abruptly turn into unison hits – i initially started that way to give it a unifying element since it was a variant of how the A section led to the B section, but since i also used that technique multiple times in the B section itself, to do it a fourth or fifth time in the piece and end it the same way started to feel less like a unifying element and more like a tired overbearing repetition.

Tonight i started to go a different direction with the material leading to the recap, something that sparked in my head a few days ago.  The new direction feels right for the piece – but it bridges the transition to the A’ material so differently that that A’ section i wrote about a month ago might get thrown out, which means that those perfect sixteen measures which are pretty still well etched into my memory might not actually make it into the piece – sure it’ll end in a similar way, but it won’t be the same.

But ultimately that’s what composition and art is about – malleability and the exploration of multiple possible scenarios that lead to their own individual outcomes.  The strength of the material the way i have it written right now is enough that i don’t want to stray from it, and the fact that it’s completely changing the ending material is disappointing in some ways but is ultimately a better choice for the piece.  Even seemingly perfect endings can change drastically enough that a different ending that wasn’t even on the radar pops up out of nowhere, and that new ending becomes the perfect ending in a way that the previous one could no longer ever be.

Life is kind of like that too, i think.

For those interested, here’s the tail end of the development of the B section.  I’m plunging ahead with how it’s written with a clear level of acceptance that it might have to change because it’s not really playable.  We’ll see.


tracking the origins of Moon of Eris

even though the output of Moon of Eris has been going slower than i would like, the piece and its construction has been constantly running in my head.  As i struggle to work through the construction and development of the B section and the ending, i find myself thinking about potential influences for how the piece is turning out.

What’s clear about this B section that’s under development is that what i’m trying to create is pretty heavily influenced by Ligeti’s 6th piano etude.

the aural reaction i always have when i listen to this is something akin to “multiple lines at varying speeds in a constant downward spiral”, and that’s pretty much exactly what i’m doing with the B section of Moon of Eris.  My approach is much more straightforward than Ligeti – a process i define as “iterative” that involves each player in downward movement at a consistent rate for each individual part, although each part is moving in completely different rhythmic structure:


the climax of the phrase is the culmination of all of these three parts at its lowest metal “pitch” with accents that almost come together in loud form that get bridged by a bowed crotale note by the first player.

I’m blogging about this for two reasons: the second is merely to track my headspace on the piece and explore where the first section of the piece comes from because i have no idea where it comes from at all.  I blame part of this on how long ago i came up with the material – i was likely influenced by something i heard at the time or maybe was learning – it could have been, for example, the gamelan ensemble that i was in at the time and being in that world of five pitches being used in long cycles.  But i don’t know that for sure, and before i started developing this blog entry, the gamelan influence wouldn’t have occurred to me.

But the first and primary reason i’m blogging about this is to “talk it out” to help with the writing.

Generally with a piece like this i conceive of it as “less is more” when it comes to development materials.  As i had stated in a previous blog entry, the piece itself doesn’t feel minimalist to me in the same sense that i’d get out of Terry Riley or Phil Glass, but it has a particular sort of focus to it that has minimalist influences, the idea of capturing a particular moment or phrase and drawing it out and exploring it and having that drive the entire piece.  Yet i’m finding that after a couple of iterations and variations of the above material, i’m wanting more as a listener and as a composer, and i’m trying to justify introducing a drastically different variation element to this material in its third iteration before i go all recap of the A section material because there’s a part of me that’s loathe to introduce that if it in itself isn’t going to develop of its own accord.

Ultimately, i think that that problem may solve itself if i either conceptually conceive of it as still being close enough to the original material that it’s still just an extension of that material rather than something unique enough that it deserves its own material.  It also may solve itself in that i may start to flesh it out and figure out how to develop it in a way that doesn’t detract from the momentum of the piece overall.

We’ll see what happens.  I already skipped a bit to the ending material of the section so i knew where i was heading – that helps give the section focus, but i just need to keep in mind that the ending material shouldn’t be laid out in stone, that if the section starts to meander in a different place that i should follow where it wants to go as opposed to pigeonhole it into something that i happen to think it should go.  That’s always the toughest thing about composing anything, i suppose, the ability to experiment with something like that or run with a large concept and then freely abandon it completely if that’s not where the music is going.  beauty…beholder started out very differently in my head than how it turned out, and i’ve been taught and learned for myself that the most important thing to do is to trust my instincts when it comes to that sort of thing.

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.