Titles

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.

Cascadia not Cascadia, Construct Deconstruct

So the Portland Percussion Group didn’t end up getting their concert into PASIC this year, which actually ended up being a good thing for me because i was pounding my head against the wall trying to make my concept for Cascadia work. Some time last week i decided that I don’t have the time or chops to intelligently mesh existing melodies and harmonies together into a cohesive serious piece in the deadline i have to get this done, so i said, “screw it” and scrapped the idea altogether.

So the question became: what do i do instead?

During my master’s degree at the University of Oregon i had a pretty close relationship with the percussion department, both the students (three of which are in this group) and the professor at the time (Charles Dowd who passed away a few years ago). Charles pulled me in for a couple of gigs with the percussion ensemble, mainly as a sound effects guy – one piece required the sound of a helicopter, another piece involved wind sound effects and other things like that. At some point during my involvement of all of that, Charles gave me an open invite to write a piece of music for his ensemble. One year i started sketching a piece, but it never made it past early stages – i knew it was a sextet, i knew how i wanted the first three minutes to go, i had put that on paper, but it never made it to a computer, never got refined.

The conception of the piece is still very strong in my head – what the first third is about, how that comes back in the last third, and what it’s trying to say, at least abstractly. It’s a strong piece that should get written, so i decided to apply that to this quartet.

I’m writing about it because of the creative process of it, which involves me having to print out the sketch and form of the first third of the piece on to paper and lay it out so i can “hear” the big picture form in my head. With some pieces, i don’t need to do that, i can grab the concept well enough via MIDI playback or just by looking at it page by page on the screen, but there’s something, well, bigger about this one, something that requires me to lay it out all old school so that i can truly refine and hone it, make it feel truly right. It’s about slow pacing and timbre and texture and not writing within the barlines right away, depicting the abstract and concreteness of it in a combination of strict and non-strict notation that well inform me about how to do the right thing with it later on.

And that feels good to do that, to have the fuel to do it this way and the current drive for it makes it incredibly intimate and personal, something that I like to think translates well to the listener.

The working title for the piece is Construct/Deconstruct, but that’s not what it’s going to end up being. That’s just a bookmark, a frame of reference to help me inform the musical shape and its philosophy. We’ll see if i can find a better way to title that later on.